Bernie Sanders Time as an Educational Filmmaker: Watch His Documentary on Socialist Activist Eugene V. Debs (1979)

If you grew up in the Unit­ed States of Amer­i­ca, you’ll remem­ber the name Eugene V. Debs from his­to­ry class. And if you grew up dur­ing a cer­tain era in the Unit­ed States of Amer­i­ca, you might have learned about Debs from Bernie Sanders. Try to recall one of Debs’ speech­es; if you hear it in Sanders’ dis­tinc­tive Brook­lyn accent, you have at some point or anoth­er seen Eugene V. Debs: Trade Union­ist, Social­ist, Rev­o­lu­tion­ary. A film-strip slideshow with an accom­pa­ny­ing audio track, it came out in 1979 as a prod­uct of the Amer­i­can People’s His­tor­i­cal Soci­ety, Sanders’ own pro­duc­tion com­pa­ny.

That ven­ture con­sti­tutes just one chap­ter of a sto­ried life and career, which includes peri­ods as a high-school track star, a folk singer, and the may­or of Burling­ton, Ver­mont. Now that Sanders, junior Unit­ed States Sen­a­tor from Ver­mont since 2007, has pulled ahead in the race for the Demo­c­ra­t­ic nom­i­na­tion in the 2020 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, peo­ple want to know what he’s all about — and he has long been giv­en, cer­tain­ly by the stan­dards of U.S. politi­cians, to clear and fre­quent expres­sion of what he’s all about. He has made no secret, for exam­ple, of his admi­ra­tion for Debs, a social­ist polit­i­cal activist who five times ran for Pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States. You can see it come through in Eugene V. Debs: Trade Union­ist, Social­ist, Rev­o­lu­tion­ary, which Jacobin mag­a­zine has recon­struct­ed and made avail­able on Youtube.

Hyper­al­ler­gic’s Nathan Smith writes that the doc­u­men­tary frames Debs “as a lost prophet before explain­ing how he end­ed up where he did ide­o­log­i­cal­ly. It opens with Debs’s final pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, con­duct­ed in 1920 from prison. If a mil­lion peo­ple vot­ed for this man while he was behind bars, if more peo­ple went to hear him speak than Pres­i­dent Taft, then how could his­to­ry have for­got­ten him?” Sanders explains Debs’ social­ism “as a response to issues which still res­onate today: the exploita­tion of work­ing peo­ple, seg­re­ga­tion and vio­lent racism, vot­ing rights, and the sup­pres­sion of free speech and dis­sent dur­ing World War I.” More so than see Sanders’ admi­ra­tion for Debs — Jacobin hav­ing had to use visu­als oth­er than the ones on the film strip at the time — you can hear it: as in all the shoe­string pro­duc­tions of the Amer­i­can People’s His­tor­i­cal Soci­ety’s shoe­string pro­duc­tions, Sanders him­self plays the roles of the his­tor­i­cal char­ac­ters involved.

In this case, that means we hear Sanders give Debs’ speech­es, and in cer­tain moments we view­ers of 2020 could eas­i­ly mis­take Debs’ indict­ments of the dis­tri­b­u­tion of wealth, goods, and the means of pro­duc­tion in Amer­i­ca as Sanders’ own. A self-described social­ist, Sanders has in his polit­i­cal career placed him­self in Debs’ tra­di­tion, and hav­ing made a doc­u­men­tary like this more than 40 years ago shores up that image. The Wash­ing­ton Post’s Philip Bump points out that, before becom­ing a U.S. sen­a­tor, Sanders did a cou­ple more act­ing jobs in fea­ture films, once as a man stingy with Hal­loween can­dy and once as a Dodgers-obsessed rab­bi. As much as those roles might have suit­ed his demeanor, it’s safe to say he played Eugene V. Debs with more con­vic­tion.

via Hyper­al­ler­gic

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Bernie Sanders: I Will Be an Arts Pres­i­dent

Spike Lee Inter­views Bernie Sanders: Two Guys from Brook­lyn Talk About Edu­ca­tion, Inequal­i­ty & More

Bernie Sanders Sings “This Land is Your Land” on the Endear­ing­ly Bad Spo­ken Word Album, We Shall Over­come

Allen Ginsberg’s Hand­writ­ten Poem For Bernie Sanders, “Burling­ton Snow” (1986)

Albert Ein­stein Writes the 1949 Essay “Why Social­ism?” and Attempts to Find a Solu­tion to the “Grave Evils of Cap­i­tal­ism”

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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