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How I Became a Socialist

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.

from New Vision for the Blind

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.

Originally posted to gmoke on Fri Aug 28, 2009 at 07:06 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Thanks for Reading (16+ / 0-)

    Solar is civil defense. Video of my small scale solar experiments at solarray.

    by gmoke on Fri Aug 28, 2009 at 07:08:14 PM PDT

    •  I always find it amusing (5+ / 0-)

      that we have a socialist activist on a state quarter while there so many people in this country who rant against socialism without knowing what it actually means.

    •  I loved it when Alabama for its (5+ / 0-)

      state quarter used her image with her name in braille -- one of three designs submitted to the U.S. Mint by then-Gov. Don Siegelman after a statewide competition.  

      But if you go to sites with ironic names like www.jesus-is-savior.com, the spirit of those Alabamans is, shall we say, not in evidence:

      Few Christians realize just how wicked some of the most revered people in history were. Helen Keeler [sic] (1880 to 1968) was a wolf in Sheep's clothing, NO hero. Just as Martin Luther King Jr., Einstein, and so many others...Keller was a Communist! She was also involved with the occult. Tragically, I see Christian websites praising this godless woman.  

      And from www.4hearingloss.com an equally insightful view:

      Jonas: "Professor, would you say that Keller, drunk off fame and wealth, went mad with socialist power beyond her wildest fantasies?"

      Roebucks: "Yes. Yes I would."

      And so the debate ends. Still, the mission of exposing the truth to the masses remains. I, myself, am doing my part, by holding protests at Keller's memorial and burial spot at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC, which I am doing right now. Sure, people don't seem to enjoy it when I scream "TRAITOR!!!" in their ears as they attempt to pay their respects. But dammit, if we don't make a stand, doesn't Stalin win out yet again?

      Tell me again why we're trying to negotiate with these people?

      "Injustice wears ever the same harsh face wherever it shows itself." - Ralph Ellison

      by KateCrashes on Fri Aug 28, 2009 at 07:24:25 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Wow! Thanks for the laughs... (0+ / 0-)

        I didn't visit jesus-is-savior.com, but the 4hearingloss.com article is actually a pretty humorous, onion-style parody of anti-communist hysteria. It can be hard to tell the genuine nutjobs from parodies these days, but I have to say this was a bit of a giveaway:

        "Sure, people don't seem to enjoy it when I scream 'TRAITOR!!!' in their ears as they attempt to pay their respects. But dammit, if we don't make a stand, doesn't Stalin win out yet again?

        I mean that's some dailykos-worthy snark-comedy gold!

        Some other choice passages:

        Born in Tuscaloosa Alabama in 1880, Helen Keller, contrary to popular opinion, was not blind and deaf from birth. Much like autism or homosexuality, Keller developed her handicaps as the result of inner sin and an unclean soul.

        Legend has it the Kellers visited Alexander Graham Bell in Washington DC for help concerning their daughter. Bell, inventor of the telephone and also an expert in educating deaf children, made several offensive jokes about how Helen could have simply phoned instead of traveling such a far distance. Bell proceeded to laugh and laugh and laugh, allowing him to take credit as the inventor of the 'Helen Keller' joke as well.

        ...Then, tragedy. With a college diploma in hand, Keller did what many self-indulgent academics do: join the socialist party. There she abandoned her honest, hard-working American ways, only to embrace and advocate such left-wing, lunatic fringe, liberal non-sense as women's suffrage and birth control.

  •  Isn't it funny (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    gmoke, Neon Vincent

    how the IWW and WILPF parts of her life somehow didn't make it into The Miracle Worker?

    I don't remember seeing it in the biography of Keller I read when I was a kid, either...

    Richard "The Dick" Cheney: screwing America since 1969

    by litho on Fri Aug 28, 2009 at 07:24:38 PM PDT

  •  I too have diaried on this. Thanks for this one! (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    gmoke, Neon Vincent

    I have one on socialism today about 4 down.

    An idea is not responsible for who happens to be carrying it at the moment. It stands or falls on its own merits.

    by don mikulecky on Fri Aug 28, 2009 at 07:37:06 PM PDT

  •  My 14 year old daughter (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    gmoke, Neon Vincent

    enlightened me on this just the other day.  Amazing.  

  •  The same year she became an IWW (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Neon Vincent

    Jack London, another well-known socialist, resigned from the Socialist Party, saying it had lost its fight. There were a lot of well-known radicals in those days.

    Somewhere a senator sits behind a big wooden desk...he took his money just like all the rest- Neil Young

    by ctami on Fri Aug 28, 2009 at 08:56:30 PM PDT

  •  There's a whole chapter on this (0+ / 0-)

    in "Lies My Teacher Told Me" by James Loewen.

    Incredibly interesting book!

  •  Albert frickin' Einstein! (0+ / 0-)

    Another lazy, unaccomplished, simple-minded fool who fell in with the Socialist crowd...

    Inspired by the quote below in a fellow Kossak's sig-line (sorry - I don't remember who deserves the credit - I'm no Einstein, clearly), I recently came upon Prof. Einstein's 1949 essay Why Socialism.

    This section is spot-on, and depressingly relevant to the challenges we face passing meaningful health-care reform today:

    "The result of these developments is an oligarchy of private capital the enormous power of which cannot be effectively checked even by a democratically organized political society. This is true since the members of legislative bodies are selected by political parties, largely financed or otherwise influenced by private capitalists who, for all practical purposes, separate the electorate from the legislature. The consequence is that the representatives of the people do not in fact sufficiently protect the interests of the underprivileged sections of the population. Moreover, under existing conditions, private capitalists inevitably control, directly or indirectly, the main sources of information (press, radio, education). It is thus extremely difficult, and indeed in most cases quite impossible, for the individual citizen to come to objective conclusions and to make intelligent use of his political rights."

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