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How Many Socialists Does It Take To Screw in a Light Bulb?: Finding Humor and Pathos in Class Struggle

The Appeal to Reason was the most popular radical publication in American history. This socialist newspaper, whose founding in 1895 predated the creation of the Socialist Party in 1901, reached a paid circulation of more than three-quarters of a million people by 1913. During political campaigns and crises, it often sold more than four million individual copies. From its headquarters in Girard, Kansas, the Appeal published an eclectic mix of news (particularly of strikes and political campaigns), essays, poetry, fiction, humor, and cartoons. During and after World War I, the paper declined in circulation because of the deaths and departures of key editorial figures, the declining fortunes of the Socialist Party, and the repression of U.S. radicalism. It ceased publishication in November 1922. These snippets of working-class humor and human drama were compiled for the December 23, 1911, issue.

The Class Struggle

A man was arrested and fined in Chicago because he wore woman’s clothes to get jobs as a washerwoman.

John Redpath, a civil war veteran, with his wife, was found starving in East Brooklyn in spite of a small pension he was drawing.

Exploited women workers in a macaroni factory in Fort Worth, Tex., get $4 a week. Enough for them to buy the holes in the macaroni they make.

A concrete building rising in Indianapolis fell during the noon hour and killed four workmen, eating their lunch. Fortunate is the laboring man who can hope to die on a full stomach.

An Akron, Ohio, man, thirty-five years old, has just been sent to the penitentiary for fifteen years because he stole $10 from a candy store. The way society stole the rest of his life span was like taking candy from a baby.

Table butter went to forty-five and fifty cents a pound retail in Chicago last week, the highest mark for this season of the year since 1888. High butter helps grease the way for the social method of food distribution.

Fred Whiteside, a state senator from Montana, told the late irrigation congress that thousands were actually starving in his state because of the government’s red tape delay in working out irrigation projects for which the money is raised.

An Indian witness in a case at Fergus Falls, Minn., who sold his testimony, declared in court that he “would do anything for $7,000.” The Indian is a crude and costly device compared with the ordinary plute banker who will turn any trick known for $10.

Hundreds of men are applying to the police to be arrested, reports the Cleveland Press. They are those who cannot find work and have no friends, yet they are still so in love with life that they do not want to starve, or freeze to death in the wintry streets. Absurd fellows!

A Wisconsin paper manufacturer overworked his girl employes, thirteen hours at a shift, all night, in spite of the law which limits night work to eight hours. But last week he was made to pay dearly for his cruelty in pursuit of profits. He was arrested and fined every cent of $10!

The National Founders' association recently met and resolved that it was time for confidence to return and business to boom through the suppression of the agitator and co-operation “more friendly” between capital and labor. Doubtless the “peace of Los Angeles” will bring about these divine conditions the founders speak of so lovingly.

Laura Stallo, beneficiary of one of the late Standard Oil millionaires, got into court as a spendthrift when her guardian explained that while the girl’s income is a mere $18,000 a year, she spends an average of $21,000 annually. Poor dear! She’s like the average working man who with an income of $450 a year finds himself continually living beyond his means.

A form of peonage on the Colorado sugar beet farms where city derelicts recruited from the slums are held in a veritable state of bondage was described by James Bodkin, of Colorado, before the “Sugar Trust”, investigating committee. By a labor contract system, the sugar company tied up Russians, Hindus and other poor, miserable devils, and worked man, wife and children sixteen hours daily at back-breaking toil an American would scorn to do.

Source: Appeal to Reason, 23 December 1911. Reprinted in John Graham, ed. “Yours for the Revolution”: The Appeal to Reason, 1895–1922 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990), 119–120.

See Also:The Class Ceiling: Nearing on Social Mobility
Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Socialist and the Suffragist"