Eugene Debs and the Socialist Republic

Political Theory 50 (6):861-888 (2022)
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I reconstruct the civic republican foundations of Eugene Debs’s socialist critique of capitalism, demonstrating how he uses a neo-roman conception of freedom to condemn waged labour. Debs is also shown to build upon this neo-roman liberty in his socialist republican objections to the plutocratic capture of the law and threats of violence faced by the labour movement. This Debsian socialist republicanism can be seen to rest on an ambitious understanding of the demands of citizen sovereignty and civic solidarity. While Debs shares some of the commitments of earlier American labour republican critics of capitalism, he departs from them in his thoroughgoing commitment to common democratic ownership of productive property. His socialist republicanism remains valuable today for its ability to illuminate features of plutocratic control, judicial autocracy, and the regime of property best suited to suppressing economic domination. I conclude that Debs not only deserves a prominent place in an emerging radical republican canon but presents a distinctive contrast with many of his Marxist contemporaries and offers a compelling challenge to recent liberal, plebeian, and socialist forms of republicanism.

Author's Profile

Tom O'Shea
University of Edinburgh


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