Study Guide

Eugene V. Debs' Statement to the Court Upon Being Convicted of Violating the Sedition Act Themes

By Eugene V. Debs

  • Society and Class

    If you're a committed Socialist, as Debs was, society and class mean everything

    This is the lens through which Socialists view the whole world. As a Socialist, Debs believed that society was rigged to benefit those at the top and to keep the lower classes in perpetual misery.

    In this view, everything that happens can and should be connected back to class issues—war is all about class, work is all about class, politics is all about class, etc. This speech is part of Debs' ongoing effort to educate the people of America as to the realities of the class system and its impact on society.

    Questions About Society and Class

    1. How does Debs propose to re-order society to get a better deal for the working class?
    2. What false beliefs and factors does Debs believe help perpetuate this unjust class system?
    3. What worldwide developments lead Debs to believe that Socialism will triumph?
    4. How has this struggle now become super stark to Debs? What are the two sides, in a nutshell?

    Chew on This

    Race, gender, or religion can also be seen as having powerful influence over social structure. Socialists would argue it's all about class, class, class. Who's right? 

     Is a classless society possible? Is it even something to be desired?

  • Wealth

    If you've picked up one thing from "Statement to the Court," it's that Debs is super critical of greedy rich people. On the flip side of the wealth coin, Debs portrays the poor as possessing a kind of nobility in their unceasing life struggle.

    Debs, after all, was a Bible-reader and -quoter and he would probably have agreed that "it's easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." As a Socialist, Debs felt that society's wealth should be jointly shared by all; he even used the term commonwealth to describe the ideal state. For Debs, inequalities in wealth were the root of all that was wrong in his America.

    Questions About Wealth

    1. How does Debs show his own, personal disdain for wealth?
    2. According to Debs, how does the desire for personal wealth lead to all kinds of injustice?
    3. Where does Debs argue that the lust for wealth is not Christian?
    4. What irony does Debs find in the fact that America is in many ways so rich and abundant?
    5. What would Debs make of income inequality as a political issue in our time?

    Chew on This

    Is money the root of all evil, according to Debs?

    Debs charged his working-class audience for tickets for most of his speeches—this must have been a stance that took some ideological twisting.

  • Time

    Eugene Debs was a ripe old sixty-three years old when he was sentenced to ten years in prison for his Canton, Ohio, speech criticizing the war. In those days, sixty was not the new forty…it was more like the old eighty.

    The issue of the passage of time was very much on his mind when he made his "Statement to the Court." Time was not on his own side, but he very much wanted to believe that time was on the side of the Socialist movement—his life's work.

    Questions About Time

    1. What sections of the speech indicate Debs' wistful feelings about the passage of time?
    2. Why is Debs so agitated about the way the passage of time impacts workers?
    3. Why does Debs feel that time is on the side of the Socialist movement?
    4. Debs died in 1926 with the American Socialist party in serious decline. Ninety years later, a presidential candidate talked openly about Socialism. Has time been on Debs side after all?

    Chew on This

    The old expression "It's always darkest before the dawn" could certainly be applied to Eugene Debs and his "Statement to the Court."

    The passage of time has deeply affected the way people judge socialism as a political ideology, especially the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe and the reforms that have come to Socialist economies elsewhere.