[Excerpt] This is a social biography of Eugene Victor Debs. It is a traditional biography in that it emphasizes this one individual's personal and public life as far as the evidence allows. But the book is also a piece of social history that assumes individuals do not stand outside the culture and society they grew in and from. I have stressed each aspect of Debs's story in order to present both the importance of the man and a more complete picture of the political and cultural struggles his society engaged in during his lifetime.
Neither in his time nor in ours would Debs stand as an architect of a specific program for the future. His talents were unsuited to such an approach and to that extent limited him. But his life and those of his comrades in the labor and Socialist movements have a far broader significance. The issues first raised in the transition to an industrial capitalist society are not yet resolved. The value of the individual in a corporate-dominated society; the meaning of work in a technological environment geared primarily for profits; and the importance of citizenship amid widespread malaise brought on in large part by the manipulative practices of political leaders—all these are questions of vital concern today. Eugene Victor Debs cannot speak directly to our present; the contexts are not identical. But a study of his life does suggest that the moral and political values this preeminent native son embodied shed light on the past and are still instructive today.