Sunday, April 15, 2012

Yes, Helen Keller DID Nail It

I noticed that virtual NGO was passing around a Helen Keller quote. It's a nice quote about class, ("The country is governed for the richest, for the corporations, the bankers, the land speculators, and for the exploiters of labor, The majority of mankind are working people. So long as their fair demands are naught...we can have neither men's rights nor women's rights....") but it's an incomplete thought about the legacy of the legendary Helen Keller. Because the absolutely incredible Helen Keller was not just a social justice activist, she was a revolutionary socialist. First a member of the Socialist Party and later the Industrial Workers of the World, she had remarkable insight into the way the world worked, despite her disabilities. One might literally say that capitalism is such an oppressive system that even a blind person can see it.

A lot of the people in are well-meaning, but the group has become a sort of shill for the Obama administration, and it's busy somewhat questionably muddying the waters between the Occupy movement and the Democrats through its "99% Spring" initiative. Somehow one doubts that wants people to dig too deeply into Helen Keller's political legacy.

There was no nonsense or equivocation about the First World War from Keller. Like the wing of the socialist movement that broke from social democracy to form the communist movement, Keller refused to let her nationality get in the way of her solidarity with working people on the other side of a brutal, meaningless battlefield.

Here's a few ore choice quotes:

"I am no worshiper of cloth of any color, but I love the red flag and what it symbolizes to me and other Socialists. I have a red flag hanging in my study, and if I could I should gladly march with it past the office of the Times and let all the reporters and photographers make the most of the spectacle."1912

"The worker has nothing to lose but his chains, and he has a world to win. He can win it at one stroke from a world empire. We must form a fully equipped, militant international union so that we can take possesion of such a world empire. "1915

"In such a crisis the capitalist class cannot save itself or its institutions. Its police and armies will be powerless to put down the last revolt. For man at last will take his own, not considering the cost. When that day dawns, if the workers are not thoroughly organized, they may easily become a blind force of destruction, unable to check their own momentum, their cry for justice drowned in a howl of rage. Whatever is good and beneficent in our civilization can be saved only by the workers. And the Industrial Workers of the World is formed with the object of carrying on the business of the world when capitalism is overthrown. Whether the IWW increases in power or is crushed out of existence, the spirit that animates it is the spirit that must animate the labor movement if it is to have a revolutionary function."1918

"Men vanish from earth leaving behind them the furrows they have ploughed. I see the furrow Lenin left sown with the unshatterable seed of a new life for mankind, and cast deep below the rolling tides of storm and lightning, mighty crops for the ages to reap."1929

Find more of her socialist writings here. There is also speculation that Helen Keller was a lesbian.


  1. not to brush this excellent post aside, but the last bit is interesting.

    the sociological and psychological implications of keller's sexuality are very interesting, don't you think? for surely a total lack of the two most vital sensory inputs that human beings typically posess would inform greatly keller's views and preferences on most things. how did keller perceive or experience sexual attraction? interesting stuff.

  2. It is really interesting. I've ofen heard it repeated that she was lesbian, but as the passages I linked to say, there's not a lot of evidence for it. But there's a lot of interesting explication there about how cultural assumptions about sexuality or about Keller's behavior are inadequate to guess, in the absence of hard evidence, what her sexuality might have been about. Society presumes that severely disabled people are somehow outside having "normal" interests and drives, clearly not true at all, but nobody seems to want to look too close. And it's not unrelated to how shocking it is to learn of Keller's political views, the first time, since her political passion immediately confronts our assumptions, as able-bodied people, about what might be going on in her head. It is all really interesting and challenging...and liberating.

  3. Isn't it funny how you hear all sorts of stories about Keller as a girl, but never about her as an adult. This is history: fit the template and you get a place in the history books. If you can personify American ideals, like overcoming adversity, you can be famous in America, and an inspiration to little children. If you're against the war machine though, they'll make sure you're forgotten...