I Belong to the Working Class: The Unfinished Autobiography of Rose Pastor Stokes
"I slipped into the world while my mother was on her knees scrubbing the floor." So begins inauspiciously on July 18, 1879, the life--and the unfinished autobiography--of Rose Pastor Stokes. An East European Jewish immigrant, Stokes became a member of the American Socialist party, a founding member of the American Communist party, and such an outspoken critic of U.S. policies that she was convicted of seditious activities during World War I. Indeed, Stokes was one of the most deeply committed American radicals in the first decades of this century.
In a lengthy introduction the editors provide a detailed outline of Stokes's life. As a young girl living in the slums of Cleveland, she helped support her family with earnings from her job at a cigar factory. There, Stokes came in contact for the first time with socialism and the hope of a better and more equitable world.
Eventually leaving the cigar factory for a job in New York at the Jewish Daily News, she met and married James Graham Phelps Stokes, an outspoken Socialist and a member of a wealthy, aristocratic New York family. Never comfortable with wealth and position, however, Rose remained loyal to her class and dedicated to workers' causes. Although the marriage lasted nearly twenty years, she became increasingly radical as her husband gradually returned to the safety of conventional politics.
Stokes helped organize labor strikes in New York, distributed birth control information to the poor, spoke widely on behalf of the Socialist party, and worked in general to expunge what she perceived as the evils of capitalism. Late in her life, when fighting cancer, she attempted to write an autobiography that she hoped would give final meaning to her life's work for "a world in which there will be no unemployment, hunger, insecurity, or war."
The manuscript was never completed, however, and has never before been published. The work conveys Stokes's intense, passionate personality, commitment to principles, and fierce dedication to the working class. Viewing a vital era of American social history through Stokes's individual experience, the reader is offered a vivid firsthand perspective of the movements for social change that galvanized the American labor force in the early twentieth century.
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