Thursday, May 19, 2011

Role Modeling Socialism

New Biography of WSPUS founding member Issac 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

1 comment:

Mitch M said...

Just a few words.

A WSP comrade was kind enough to send me a copy of the book. Although I am not a marxian socialist, I find this book of great interest. And an easy read to boot. A recomended book for all radicals and those interested in the unique history
that the World Socialist Movement brings to the table of socialist
ideas in the US and beyond.

I would recommend this book to those interested in getting a real feel for the life and struggles of
trying to build a socialist organization from scratch...one whose politics are centered around building socialists, one socialist at a time.

In closing, Karla, the love for your family and the socialist vision you were raised in, is ever so present throughout the pages.