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Letter from Eugene V. Debs to Joseph Labadie, May 5, 1908

This is a letter from the labor organizer and Socialist Party of America leader Eugene V. Debs to his fellow organizer, the individualist anarchist Joseph A. Labadie, in reply to an earlier letter from Labadie about misrepresentations of Anarchism coming in from Socialist Party members. The letter also refers to Debs’s correspondence with Voltairine de Cleyre. At the time, Debs was running for President of the United States on the SP ticket.

May 5, 1908
Girard, Kansas

My dear Joe:–

Some days ago a letter came from you which I had but time to glance at and meant to answer later, but to my regret I am now unable to find it. In the thousand or more letters which pour in here daily yours seems to have gone astray. I remember, I think, the substance of your letter and regret you felt that ytou had cause for writing it. It is quite probable that there is good ground for your complaint. I do not justify nor attempt to justify any misrepresentation of anarchism or anarchists. But this sort of thing has been engaged in on both sides. At Chicago and some other places there are those who call themselves anarchists who are to be found in every election with the money of capitalist politicians in their pockets and doing the service of ward-heeling politicians, denouncing Socialists and visiting their wrath on the Appeal to Reason and other Socialist papers. Between elections of course, they have no use for politics and denounce all politics as corrupt but when there is an opening to make a few dirty dollars they are in the thick of the vilest kind of politics. But I know you do not defend this and I am simply mentioning it to show that there are those on both sides who are engaged in the reprehensible work which you and I both condemn.

I have a letter from Voltairine de Cleyre on the same subject and have just answered her. Of course you know that I am not an anarchist and do not agree to the anarchist philosophy, but I can none the less admire such a comrade as Voltairine de Cleyre, in whose letter which lies before me there is everything that is commendable and not one word to which any fair and decent person could take exception.

I have often defended anarchists and I think no one more fully appreciates the moral heroism of the Chicago anarchists who were legally murdered than I. Certain anarchists have at times treated me unfairly but I have rarely paid any attention to them for the very reason that I do not wish any personal controversy with those who are opposed to capitalism. So far as we can work together well and good. Where we cannot do this we can each pursue his own course with all due respect for the other. I number some anarchists among my warmest personal friends and the only change I could wish in them is that they were Socialists.

I appreciate the kindly spirit in which you have written me and you may rely upon me to do what I can to prevent any misrepresentation of anarchism on the part of Socialists.

I am glad your mail has been held up by the government. This gives you fresh credentials and increases, if possible, my personal regard for you. In any such fight, if it became serious, I need not assure you that you could count on me without fear of disappointment.

I hope you are well and cheerful, and with all good wishes, remain as ever,

Yours faithfully,

E. V. Debs

The letter is printed in Letters of Eugene V. Debs, Vol. 1, ed. J. Robert Constantine (University of Illinois Press, 1990), pp. 264-266. It is preserved in the Labadie Collection at the University of Michigan.

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