How did I become a Socialist? By reading. The first book I read was Wells' New World for Old. I read it on Mrs. Macy's [Ann Sullivan] recommendation. She was attracted by its imaginative quality, and hoped that its electric style might stimulate and interest me....
If I ever contribute to the Socialist movement the book that I sometimes dream of, I know what I shall name it: Industrial Blindness and Social Deafness.
Helen Keller was a suffragist, pacifist, and birth control advocate. In 1920, she helped to found the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). She was a Socialist who supported EV Debs, opposed US entry into WWI, and joined the IWW.
In Why I Became an IWW, Helen Keller explained her reasoning to an interviewer:
“I was appointed on a commission to investigate the conditions of the blind. For the first time I, who had thought blindness a misfortune beyond human control, found that too much of it was traceable to wrong industrial conditions, often caused by the selfishness and greed of employers. And the social evil contributed its share. I found that poverty drove women to a life of shame that ended in blindness....”
"It is my nature to fight as soon as I see wrongs to be made right. So after I read Wells and Marx and learned what I did, I joined a Socialist branch. I made up my mind to do something. And the best thing seemed to join a fighting party and help their propaganda. That was four years ago. I have been an industrialist since."
"An industrialist?" I asked, surprised out of composure. "You don't mean an IWW--a syndicalist?"
"I became an IWW because I found out that the Socialist party was too slow. It is sinking in the political bog. It is almost, if not quite, impossible for the party to keep its revolutionary character so long as it occupies a place under the government and seeks office under it. The government does not stand for interests the Socialist party is supposed to represent."
Socialism, however, is a step in the right direction, she conceded to her dissenting hearers.
"The true task is to unite and organize all workers on an economic basis, and it is the workers themselves who must secure freedom for themselves, who must grow strong." Miss Keller continued. "Nothing can be gained by political action. That is why I became an IWW."
"What particular incident led you to become an IWW?" I interrupted.
"The Lawrence strike. Why? Because I discovered that the true idea of the IWW is not only to better conditions, to get them for all people, but to get them at once."
"What are you committed to--education or revolution?"
"Revolution." She answered decisively. "We can't have education without revolution. We have tried peace education for 1,900 years and it has failed. Let us try revolution and see what it will do now.
I have visited sweatshops, factories, crowded slums of New York and Washington. Of course I could not see the squalor; but if I could not see it, I could smell it.
With my own hands I could feel pinched, dwarfed children tending their younger brothers and sisters, while their mothers tended machines in nearby factories.
Besides the advantages of books and of personal experience, I have the advantage of a mind trained to think....
People do not like to think. If one thinks, one must reach conclusions; and conclusions are not always pleasant. They are a thorn in the spirit. But I consider it a priceless gift and a deep responsibility to think.
When we inquire why things are as they are, the answer is, the foundation of society is laid upon a basis of individualism, conquest and exploitation, with a total disregard of the good of the whole.
The structure of a society built upon such wrong basic principles is bound to retard the development of all men, even the most successfulones because it tends to divert man's energies into useless channels and to degrade his character. The result is a false standard of values. Trade and material prosperity are held to be the main objects of pursuit and conquest, the lowest instincts in human nature — love of gain, cunning and selfishness — are fostered.
The output of a cotton mill or a coal mine is considered of greater importance than the production of healthy, happy-hearted, free human beings.
Crushed, stupefied by terrible poverty, the workers yet demand that they shall have some of the beauty, some of the comforts, some of the luxuries which they have produced.
Thanks, boingboing, for the archival video.