The October Revolution in the American Press

46. “I Plead Guilty to The Charge”

On June 29, 1918, Eugene V. Debs was indicted for violating the Espionage Act during an anti-war speech he delivered in Canton, Ohio, on 16 June. In his speech to the jury, Debs defended the Bolshevik revolution. He was found guilty, sentenced to ten years in prison, and remained imprisoned from April 1919 to December 1921. In 1920, while still in prison, he received 901,000 votes for President of the United States, running on the Socialist ticket.

I have been accused of expressing sympathy for the Bolsheviks of Russia. I plead guilty to the charge. I have read a great deal about the Bolsheviks of Russia that is not true. I happen to know of my own knowledge that they have been grossly misrepresented by the press of this country. Who are these much-maligned revolutionists of Russia? For years they had been the victims of a brutal Tsar. They and their antecedents were sent to Siberia, lashed with a knout, if they even dreamed of freedom. At last the hour struck for a great change. The revolution came. The Tsar was overthrown and his infamous regime ended. What followed? The common people of Russia came into power, the peasants, the toilers, the soldiers, and they proceeded as best they could to establish a government of the people.

It may be that the much-despised Bolsheviks may fail at last, but let me say to you that they have written a chapter of glorious history. It will stand to their eternal credit. Their leaders are now denounced as criminals and outlaws. Let me remind you that there was a time when George Washington, who is now I revered as the father of his country, was denounced as a disloyalist, when Sam Adams, who is known to us as the father of the American Revolution, was condemned as an incendiary, and Patrick Henry, who delivered that inspired and inspiring oration that aroused the colonists, was condemned as a traitor.

They were misunderstood at the time. They stood true to themselves, and they won an immortality of gratitude and glory.

- New York Call, 12 September 1918.

47. Russian Policy

On 1 September 1918, General Graves arrived in Vladivostok to take over command of the American Expeditionary Force in Siberia which consisted of approximately 8,000 soldiers. Although General Graves tried to adhere to the policy of “non-interference with the internal affairs of Russia,” Americans did engage in battle with Red Army detachments.

There was one disappointing feature in President Wilson’s great speech—he told us nothing about his Russian policy. So far as the country as a whole is concerned, it is entirely in the dark as to what is going on. Only one thing is clear, and that is that The Nation was well within the truth a few weeks ago when we wrote that our war with Russia had begun. Thus we read of American troops occupying Shoushough, Tulgoisk, and Seltzo in the advance toward Kotlas, The dispatches have all the familiar phraseology. They tell, of course, of “enemy atrocities,” of “undoubtedly large enemy casualties,” of sinking “enemy gunboats,” etc., etc. Thus the “friendly intervention” takes on all the marks of ordinary hostilities. How can the plain Russian be expected to differentiate? May he not say to us, that is all very well to dissemble our love, but why do we kick him downstairs—to say nothing of our artillery and machine guns? Those who object to any criticism of our policy aver that if the critics only knew the facts they would write and speak differently. They may well be true. But if it is so why should we not be told the facts? The President is opposed to secret diplomacy; why should we be kept ignorance as to his reasons for proceeding into Russia? It does not help to give out documents of doubtful authenticity alleging that Trotsky and Lenin are in German pay; particularly as some of the European correspondents declare that, despite the atrocities committed by the Reds which our government has so eloquently portrayed, the Bolsheviki are stronger than ever.

- The Nation, 29 September 1918.

48. The Truth

The truth is that Russia is now in process of working out the most significant social experiment since the French Revolution. In the Soviet form of government she has made a unique contribution to the organization of the political state. But that is the smaller part of the story. Her great task is that she is striving to secure economic democracy as a basis for the development of mankind. If her revolutionary emphasis has been over much on economic changes we must remember how desperately the great masses of the dispossessed have suffered not only in body but in mind and soul at the hands of the owners of the earth. Surely that unique spiritual quality of Russia which found noble expression in Tolstoy and Dostoevsky is not dead, and on the basis of economic liberation, it will yet build a new and glorious structure of humanity.

- Norman Thomas, The World Tomorrow, September 1918.