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Saturday, December 7, 2013

Mandela and Debs

Posted by on Sat, Dec 7, 2013 at 10:16 AM

One passage from Nelson Mandela's writing that I have seen quoted frequently since his death is:

But then I slowly saw that not only was I not free, but my brothers and sisters were not free. I saw that it was not just my freedom that was curtailed, but the freedom of everyone who looked like I did. That is when I joined the African National Congress, and that is when the hunger for my own freedom became the greater hunger for the freedom of my people. It was this desire for the freedom of my people to live their lives with dignity and self-respect that animated my life, that transformed a frightened young man into a bold one, that drove a law-abiding attorney to become a criminal, that turned a family-loving husband into a man without a home, that forced a life-loving man to live like a monk. I am no more virtuous or self-sacrificing than the next man, but I found that I could not even enjoy the poor and limited freedoms I was allowed when I knew my people were not free. Freedom is indivisible; the chains on any one of my people were the chains on all of them, the chains on all of my people were the chains on me.

This rang a bell with me: Eugene Victor Debs, upon being sentenced to prison for anti-War work:

“Your Honor, years ago I recognized my kinship with all living beings, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on earth. I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it, and while there is a criminal element I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.”

Of course, we can honor Mandela, but Debs remains a footnote in American history, because socialism.


Comments (7) RSS

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At the same time, though, at the national level Debs remains by far the most successful socialist in American history.

In 1912, he received just over 900,000 votes (nearly 6% of the popular vote) for President.

His vote total was a bit higher in 1920 (913,693), but that was only 3.4% of the total. That was the first Presidential election in which women could vote, hence the much larger electorate. Oh, did I mention that he campaigned from prison in that election?
Posted by N in Seattle on December 7, 2013 at 10:59 AM · Report this
Thanks Chicago Fan.

I know this is unlikely to succeed internationally, but here in the a-historical US there is going to be an ongoing effort to make Mandela's corpse into a capitalist ideological monkey.
Posted by cracked on December 7, 2013 at 11:44 AM · Report this
rob! 3
This is a really nice parallel, Bill. Thanks. A link for Debs that includes much more of his sentencing statement:…
Posted by rob! on December 7, 2013 at 11:45 AM · Report this
rob! 4
@2: This may vaccinate against that pestilence.
Posted by rob! on December 7, 2013 at 12:32 PM · Report this
Pope Peabrain 5
Debs is too utopian for my taste.
Posted by Pope Peabrain on December 7, 2013 at 1:35 PM · Report this
venomlash 6
All I really know about Eugene V. Debs I learned from reading Kurt Vonnegut.
Posted by venomlash on December 7, 2013 at 4:18 PM · Report this
Don't be silly. It's not "because socialism". It's because "America!". Mandela was a Socialist too (possibly even a communist) but the reason we love Mandela is that he fought an oppressive regime in a foreign country. We don't hear about Debs because he fought against an oppressive regime here in the USA.
Posted by Root on December 9, 2013 at 11:41 AM · Report this

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