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1971 Norman Thomas - Eugene V. Debs Dinner

We don't know when the 1971 Norman Thomas - Eugene V. Debs Dinner was held, but it was likely in the first half of May. Nor do we know where it was held, although it was most likely at the Midland Hotel in downtown Chicago. Our only information comes from a June 26, 1971, issue of New America, the Socialist Party - Social Democratic Federation's national publication. It was probably a bi-weekly or semi-monthly publication at that time. The article, by future Debs - Thomas - Harrington honoree Henry Bayer, is reproduced below.

This was the first year that the event was an awards Dinner. The decision to make Patrick Gorman the first honoree is interesting in all sorts of ways. But also note the subsequent string of honorees out of the Packinghouse Workers: Ralph Helstein, Charles Hayes, Addie Wyatt, aand Vickie Starr.

Historians would probably note a number of interesting items. One is that the SP's Debs Caucus, a group that felt pretty strongly about maintaining a separate ballot line for socialism, was no longer much in evidence in Chicago. Another is that there are only hints of growing tension within ruling "Shachtmanites" over the war in Vietnam. Indeed, the choice of Patrick Gorman was very much an affirmation the orthodox "Shachtmanite" position, though note Harrington's greeting to the Dinner. And finally, for those familiar with the publication AFL-CIO News, published by the AFL-CIO, note the similarity in the layout of New America.

Thanks to Ken Okamoto for the research on this year's Dinner.

Chicago SP Debs Award to Pat Gorman;

O'Neal Praises Socialists' 'Sensible Strategy'


The largest audience in Chicago Debs Day history gathered recently to honor Patrick Gorman, Secy.-Treas. of the Amalgamated Meat Cutters. Those present heard speeches by AFL-CIO Executive Council member Frederick O'Neal, and Bruce Miller, Mid-West Socialist and Democratic Party leader, and they joined in the festivities and serious political discussion which accompanied the Chicago Socialist Party's annual dinner.

Socialists, trade unionists, liberals, and students responded enthusiastically to the speakers and the medley of socialist and labor songs presented by the mid-west YPSL chorus and listened attentively to the presentations outlining a strategy and program for rebuilding the democratic socialist movement and the progressive coalition.

Bruce Miller, chairman of the Wayne County (Detroit) Democratic Party and a long time socialist, spoke of Norman Thomas and Eugene V. Debs, and how they represented two major elements, middle class idealists and the labor movement , respectively, which must ally to build a majority democratic left coalition.

Calling for a strengthening of this alliance, Miller said of Thomas, "He spoke his personal convictions, and it was good psychology, and commonsense, good politics. You cannot build a coalition on name-calling and polarization."


Stressing economic solutions to the problems for which the most bizarre recommendations have been made, Miller stated, "We socialists have a program for America. We have known for a long time that the only way to fight racism is to dig it out by its economic roots. . . We need income redistribution in this country. Our wealth increases, but the gap between rich and poor widens."

He reminded the audience that many liberals and radicals who advocate a "reordering of priorities" remained silent during the two major tax cuts, which benefited the rich, that America has experienced over the past several years.

Finally, he traced the shift in America's political mood from that of the McCarthy (Joe) era, when all but [a] few abandoned their socialist beliefs, until today, when radicalism has become chic, and many have criticized the Socialist Party for its failure to succumb to that which is transiently fashionable. "Some may not call us Socialists. But many people - even the Nazis and Communists - have taken our Socialist name (as Norman Thomas pointed out), without our program so that I, for one, will settle for the program even without the name."

Frederick O'Neal, President of Actor's Equity and a Vice President of the AFL-CIO, expressed his pleasure at the resurgence of the Socialist Party in the 60s because, in his words, "As a leader in the trade union movement and as a Black American. . . I am aware that for the first time in many years, the objectives and political philosophy of the trade union and civil rights movements run somewhat parallel with those of the Socialist Party."

Outlining the vicissitudes of the SP's history, O'Neal noted that though the Party experienced both success and disappointment, it continuously projected new ideas into the political consciousness of Americans.

"Most important, it projected the idea of democratic social planning which has yet to be fully accepted in this country, and until it is accepted we will never solve our social problems."

O'Neal spoke of the growing importance of the black vote in building a majority coalition. With the increased size and sophistication of the black electorate, a progressive majority can no longer ignore the black vote. "And," O'Neal quipped, "I have heard this process amusingly described as 'the browning of America.' Believe me, this browning will do for America what a greening never could do. It might even undo the damage that has been done by some of the more prominent and irresponsible greeners."


Calling for the consummation of a "strong and lasting Negro-Labor alliance," O'Neal reminded the audience that "it is, in the end, not sufficient. We also need the middle class liberal community and student activists - not the Weatherman activists, but the Frontlash activists, the YPSL activists." The audience's reaction indicated that they, too, recognized the need for the coalition's expansion.


Jack Bollens, National Vice Chairman of the World Without War Council, presented the 1971 Eugene V. Debs Award to Patrick Gorman, seventy-nine year old Secretary-Treasurer of the Amalgamated Meatcutters and Butcher Workmen (AFL-CIO).

Bollens traced Gorman's impressive record in the fields of labor, civil rights, and peace from 1912, when Gorman took his first union job, through his efforts in the early twenties, when he insisted on the organization of integrated locals, to the present, when, in addition to his full-scale union activities, Gorman has been of great assistance to Bollen's Turn Toward Peace organization's attempt to bring about a peaceful and democratic settlement to the Indochina horror.

Tribute to Gorman was also paid by civil rights leaders A. Phillip Randolph and Bayard Rustin, whose message praised the labor leader's civil rights efforts, not only today, but in the past when support for the black struggle was not as common in labor circles as it is today.

In accepting the award, Gorman told the audience how the influence of Eugene Debs had guided his own work and thought over the past half-century. Indeed, his commitment to industrial unionism and world peace demonstrates the profound impact of Debs.

Reaffirming his commitment to the wisdom of Debs, Gorman stated, "If I had to give up all but two of the many awards I have been honored with over my lifetime, I would keep the one presented to me last year by the Eugene Debs Foundation and this award presented to me tonight by the Socialist Party which so honorably continues his legacy."

For Socialists in Chicago, the size and diversity of the audience and its trade union depth, the enthusiasm which greeted the Socialist ideas expressed and the democratic left approach that was presented, and the presence of a phalanx of members of the Young People's Socialist League, representing seven mid-western chapters, each established within the past eighteen months - all point to a future of increased growth and activity for the Socialist movement.

HENRY BAYER is the organizer for the Chicago SP and a member of the YPSL National Executive Committee.

New America V10#4p4

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