Reviews - What do customers think about The Bending Cross: A Biography of Eugene Victor Debs?
dated but good Jul 1, 2008
A decent, if dated, biography of Eugene V. Debs first published in the 1940's. Author Ray Ginger has a stilted and rather dated style of narrative writing reminiscent of the 19th century classic style. Ginger used good sources and information for his biography but none of it's footnoted so good luck tracking down anything that you might wish to find out more about. But that's what happens when you go back six decades for your sources.
I really wish that the American labor movement had followed the Debs model of class unity instead of the AFL/Sam Gompers model. Our country would be an entirely different and to my mind, likely better place today if it had. I recommend this book for those interested in the life and times of Eugene V. Debs.
The authoritative biography of the best American who ever lived Apr 19, 2008
Ray Ginger's absolutely authoritative biography of the great man, Eugene Debs, deserves as wide a reading audience as can possibly be achieved. In this marvellous, well-written and well-researched book, the life and times of Eugene Debs are made accessible to the people of today (or rather, 1947, but it is equally readable now), and thanks to the Haymarket Books reprint Debs can continue to inspire all men of good will even now.
The book describes every detail of Debs' life: his upbringing in a petty bourgeois merchant household in Terre Haute, IN, where he was taught the German and French romantic classics by his father (the name Eugene Victor comes from Eugène Sue and Victor Hugo), his first jobs and union involvement on the Vendalia railway, his early leadership in the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen, his subsequent higher and higher promotions in the union ranks, holding office in Terre Haute in between, then the formation of the American Railway Union, the general strike and destruction of the same, his periods in prison and conversion to Marxism, and finally his political career in the Socialist Party where he made himself immortal in the annals of radical history by winning 6% of the vote in 1912, and also being the only person in American history to win a significant amount of votes while in prison (1920).
Some of these events may well be known to many Americans, but many of them probably are not, and all depict the absolute humanity, loyalty, intelligence, cordiality, and charity of Eugene Debs. Indeed sometimes it is astounding how one man could unite so many virtues and be so utterly uncorruptible, leading one to become suspicious whether Debs' reputation is not exaggerated, but fortunately biographer Ray Ginger is always careful to substantiate the claims when true (which is almost always) and to apply criticism where deserved.
Less known in general perhaps, even to people with an existing knowledge of radical history, are the many connections Debs had with other important people of his time: Lincoln Steffens, Robert Ingersoll, Victor Berger, John Altgeld, Susan B. Anthony, and even a short conversation with Warren Harding in the White House. Debs was never much of a theoretician, and did not read any of Marx' own works (though he knew the popularizers like Kautsky), but he had an infallible sense of the failures of both extreme left sectarianism and excessive reformism in radical movements and labor unionism, and it is rare in the course of this history of Debs' union activities that one can conclude he made the wrong decision. Moreover, much unlike many radicals today, Debs had a supreme capacity for personal love and charity, and was capable of opposing the political decisions and strategies of many other union activists without in any way lessening his personal loyalty or affection for them, or blaming them in person for their views. While an inveterate opponent of all capitalism, he was at the same time by no means a rabid sectarian, and could make himself loved and respected even by his enemies - once he so effectively inveighed against a railroad director in his own office that the director started offering him high level jobs in the company!
Debs of course made American political history, not just with his prison campaign in 1920, victim to Woodrow Wilson's political terror; but also with the first campaigning train tour through America (the "Red Special"), with the highest percentage of votes in a Presidential election any left-wing candidate has ever received, and last but not least with his fierce opposition to American participation in World War I, when all tides were against him. This alone would make him a hero of socialism. But he equally deserves recognition for his remarkable goodness in his personal dealings: he refused all offers of careering and high wages, refused all attempts of union federations to lavish gifts or praise upon him, and was known for giving away large amounts of his money even when he could not afford it. When the ARU collapsed under the military terror of the American government, he personally took all the debts of the union on him, which it took him 18 years to pay off. He was even loved by all the inmates of the Atlanta prison during his stay there. Add to this his visionary and consistent support for the rights of women, blacks, and immigrants, when such things were radical even among radicals, and Eugene V. Debs indeed is nothing but an example to us all. If I had but one-tenth of the quality of Debs, I would have much to be proud of.
An Amazing Life Story Jan 22, 2008
This is a beautiful portrait of America's foremost labor leader Eugene Debs---his transformation from conservative union official to revolutionary socialist. I've always admired Debs, but honestly didn't know the half of his life, personality or politics before reading Ginger's biography of him. This book is a treasure for socialists, radicals and other activists. Every page is engaging, every chapter is a lesson without didacticism.
An amazing, in-depth portrait of one of the most eloquent speakers of the socialist movement. Oct 6, 2007
Originally published in 1947, The Bending Cross: A Biography of Eugene V. Debs is now in a new 2007 edition featuring an introduction by historian Mike Davis. The Bending Cross unapologetically advocates activism in its story of the life of railway organizer and socialist Eugene Debs. Yet though Debs devoted his life and his passion to his cause, neither did he turn away from people who were nonpolitical, or even anti-socialist, in their hour of need. Though Debs suffered imprisonment for "disloyalty", his moral compass and loyalty to the labor movement were both unwavering. An amazing, in-depth portrait of one of the most eloquent speakers of the socialist movement.
Obsessive honesty Oct 27, 2002
Zealot, compassionate, humane, intemperate, ambitious, intensely honest and driven to greatness despite his flaws -- such is the biographical picture aptly drawn by Ray Ginger in this highly readable biography of Eugene Debs, five time socialist candidate for President of the United States.
Hardly ever without hope, Eugene Debs faced overwhelming odds in trying to change society for the better. His initial goal was to strengthen the labor movement, to give it suficient power to negotiate with its bosses. His intense dedication and his obsessive honesty gave new life first to the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen in the late 19th Century and then for nearly 50 years his great energy served the labor movement in general. Even though he came from a middle class merchant family, Debs recoiled at the cruel advantage big corporations took of its laborers who were forced to toil long hours for low pay under miserable conditions. He was their dynamic, compassionate general who led non-violent, wide-spread strikes to force employers to agree to improve the lot of the people who worked for them.
Debs was not always successful but he succeeded in so many ways that his followers and admirers elevated him to near sainthood.
Ray Ginger has sifted through a monumental amount of written material to produce a fascinating study of a man who deserves to join the ranks of Great Americans in History. Though a paeon to Debs, Mr. Ginger did not gloss over Debs' faults: his naivete, his drunken bouts, his inflexibility and even his bigotry.
A minor point: Mr. Ginger incorrectly writes Vladimir Ilich Lenin's first name as "Nicolai" -- several times. How such an error escaped an otherwise thorough author or his editors was a mild distraction. Nevertheless, for those interested in the history of labor unions in the United States, this book is a 'must-have'.