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Friday, 11 March 2011

Role-Modeling Social­ist Behav­ior: The Life and Let­ters of Isaac Rab

For most of the twen­ti­eth cen­tury, Isaac Rab (1893 — 1986) was well known in the Boston area as a social­ist soap-box ora­tor, lec­turer, and teacher. He was a found­ing mem­ber of the World Social­ist Party of the United States and a cen­tral fig­ure in its Boston Local for many years.

In this book, Karla Rab, who is the grand­daugh­ter of Isaac Rab, tells the story of his life and presents a large selec­tion of his sur­viv­ing cor­re­spon­dence as well as many pho­tographs. She draws on her own rem­i­nis­cences and on those of many oth­ers who knew her grandfather.

Isaac Rab was born into an immi­grant social­ist fam­ily on Decem­ber 22, 1893. He devoted his whole life to the cause until his death on New Year’s Eve 1986. In 1916 he helped form the WSP from the left wing of the Michi­gan Social­ist Party in Detroit. Later he set­tled in Boston, where he orga­nized the Boston Local of the WSPUS in 1932. He also taught classes on Marx­ian eco­nom­ics for other orga­ni­za­tions, includ­ing the Com­mu­nist Party, the Pro­le­tar­ian Party, and var­i­ous Trot­sky­ist groupings.

Karla Rab’s book is, of course, about much more than her grand­fa­ther as an indi­vid­ual. It is the first his­tory of the World Social­ist Move­ment in the United States. Its impor­tance is great but sub­tle. It is often said that his­tory is writ­ten by the win­ners. Even the obscure his­tory of North Amer­i­can left pol­i­tics has its hier­ar­chy. Cred­i­bil­ity is given only to “win­ners” such as the Inter­na­tional Work­ers of the World, the Com­mu­nist Party, and the Con­gress of Indus­trial Orga­ni­za­tions — even though many of the prob­lems that plague the work­ers’ move­ment are the log­i­cal out­comes of their policies.

Social democ­rats and Lenin­ists like to por­tray smaller groups like the WSPUS as “iso­lated sects.” And as the his­tory of the work­ing class move­ment has been writ­ten mainly by them, who is to chal­lenge what they say? How­ever, with the col­lapse of the left in the United States there has been a reassess­ment of what var­i­ous polit­i­cal orga­ni­za­tions actu­ally accomplished.

This book demon­strates that the WSPUS, while small, was hardly iso­lated. Rab’s let­ters demon­strate involve­ment in the United Auto Work­ers and the Typog­ra­phers’ Union (a model of demo­c­ra­tic union­ism) as well as dis­cus­sions and debates among a wide range of left groups. Among the mem­bers of the WSPUS there were highly expe­ri­enced class war­riors. William Pritchard and Jack McDon­ald had helped lead the West­ern Labour Rebel­lion in Canada. Sam Orner had been an IWW orga­nizer in the hard metal mines of the Amer­i­can Rock­ies as well as the leader of a famous strike of New York City taxi cab dri­vers in 1934. (He was the model for the char­ac­ter Lefty in Clif­ford Odett’s famous play, Wait­ing for Lefty.) The Detroit Local of the WSPUS had mem­bers who had helped form the United Auto Work­ers and played roles in the edu­ca­tional ser­vices of the most mil­i­tant UAW locals (Irv­ing Can­tor, Joe Brown, David Dav­en­port, Frank Marquart).

Another impor­tant thing about Karla Rab’s book is that it shows how Rab orga­nized his polit­i­cal activ­ity. His let­ters are a les­son of last­ing value in how to approach the per­sonal as well as the intel­lec­tual and edu­ca­tional aspects of build­ing a move­ment for socialism.

Buy on Ama­zon (ben­e­fits WSPUS): Role-Modeling Social­ist Behav­ior: The Life and Let­ters of Isaac Rab

Taken from a piece by FN Brill on the World Socialist Party (US) website

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