How I Became a Rebel: James Maurer

James Maurer
Originally uploaded by Tobias Higbie

How I Became a Rebel. A Symposium. Part 2. The Labor Herald, July 1922, p. 24.

By James H. Maurer

I AM asked to tell how I became a rebel. This, I fear, is not any easy question to answer.

I am decendant of old, conservative Pennsylvania stock, was born in a shanty during the stormiest period of the Civil War, reared among very poor and superstitious people, left fatherless at the age of seven. I became a news boy first and a factory worker before my tenth birthday. I was a machinists’ apprentice at fifteen and a member of the Knights of Labor at sixteen. Less than thirteen months of my life were spent in school. What education I did secure, I got, not on acocunt of the State, but in spite of it.

Handicapped, of course, on account of being illiterate, yet a greater handicap was the misfortune of having a step-father who knew less than I did and who never tired of gloating about his superior wisdom. The one outstanding asset of my life was my dear, little mother, to whom not one of her four sons ever spoke an angry or unkind word. She was lovable, gentle and yet, when roused, knew no fear. She was ever ready to share her last crumb with the unfortunate, fight an evil or defend the under dog.

This may answer the question as to how I became a rebel or perhaps I should say why Mother’s four sons turned rebels before any of them turned twenty-one. It was not from what I read, because I was active in radical circles long before I could read. It came from what I lived.

Before I was eighteen years of age, I joined hands with the “Green-Backers,” at twenty, I read, “Progress and Poverty” and, became a “Single-Taxer.” Later I joined the “Populists Party” but, through it all remained active in the Organized Labor Movement; studying and reading, of course, added fuel to the fire. In my search for good pamphlets and books, I came across the “Communist Manifesto.” This, of course, helped weld still more closely my inherent rebel spirit. Twenty-four years ago, I joined the Socialist Labor Party and, four years later, the Socialist Party where I have remained ever since. So, the question as to just how I became a rebel is still unanswered. I guess dear, little Mother could have answered the question better than I.


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2 Responses to How I Became a Rebel: James Maurer

  1. Tim Lacy says:


    I’m afraid that Mr. Mauer’s motivations are less than convincing. It sounds like he needed counseling more than he needed socialism! Still, it’s enlightening to compare and contrast these.

    – TL

  2. Toby Higbie says:

    You might say that he had a less studied conversion than the others, perhaps a generational issue. But yes, the “Mother” issue is a big one.

    The interesting part for me is that he was illiterate as an adult (none of the others were so), and worked his way through some difficult texts. By the time he wrote this he was the head of the Penna. State Fed of Labor and a mover and shaker in the worker education world.

    Still working my way through is long autobiography.

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