A review of Left of the left: my memories of Sam Dolgoff by Anatole Dolgoff

A review of Left of the left: my memories of Sam Dolgoff by Anatole Dolgoff

A short review by Juan Conatz of Anatole Dolgoff's Left of the left: my memories of Sam Dolgoff.

It is a bit mind-boggling to think of the time that Sam Dolgoff’s life spanned. When he was born, there was at least one veteran from the War of 1812 still alive. When he finally passed away, at the age of 88, I was a 7-year old kid who had just moved from the suburbs of Chicago to the farmlands of Iowa. In between that time, Sam put an enormous amount of effort into the anarchist movement, as well as the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Although Sam is somewhat known in IWW and anarchist circles, his story is not as well-known. Publications he helped create and write for, such as The Road to Freedom, Vanguard, Why? or Views & Comments have, until recently, been not online and quite hard to come by. His autobiography, titled Fragments: a memoir has been in and out-of-print.

Left of the Left is a good reminder of who Sam was and what he did. Written by his son, Anatole, the book offers a side that you wouldn’t be able to necessarily learn about from reading old anarchist papers or autobiographies. Reading somewhat like a smorgasbord of memories recollected during a long conversation, the book reveals many anecdotes and experiences on the far-left of the 1930s until the 1980s. We hear about Anatole watching a Brooklyn Dodgers game with Ben Fletcher around the time that Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in professional baseball. We find out about the time Esther Dolgoff, the author’s mother, and an anarchist activist in her own right, refused to stand up and recite the Pledge of Allegiance during a school play that her son was in.

Many of the memories we get to learn about happen in the living room of the Dolgoffs, where many an anarchist or Wobbly came through for a visit, or to stay a few nights. Characters like Paul Goodman, G.P. Maximoff, Mark Schimdt (a.k.a. Senex), Fred Miller, Abe Bluestein, Russell Blackwell and Federico Arcos are just a few of these visitors. Eugene Worth, whose suicide in 1946 haunted James Baldwin for years, also briefly appears. The author’s childhood was lived partly with a who’s who of the American anarchist movement during the post-war years.

Because of the writing style and the nature of the experiences, Left of the Left is easily the most personable and warm history of this period that I am aware of. People who may only exist as names and static pictures to those appreciative of radical history are given a breath of life and become real, tangible people. Individuals, situations and events that seem black-and-white from our perspective are portrayed in the complex way that they were probably viewed at the time.

Coming out not too long after Andrew Cornell’s excellent Unruly equality: U.S. anarchism in the twentieth century, we’re finally seeing some nearly forgotten groups, publications and radicals receive some recognition. Left of the left is a welcome addition to this recent trend.

Comments

jesuithitsquad
Jul 19 2016 08:21

Sounds really interesting. Thanks for the review. I"ll definitely give it a whirl.

Can i also just say that syndicalist's post of a few anecdotes in the other thread was a real treat as well? I'd love to read more, for what it's worth...

syndicalist
Jul 20 2016 14:55

^^^^^ Thank you for the kind words. But this is Juan's space and I want to respect that
I'll keep my comments to the more general libcom topic on the book

x359594
Jul 21 2016 03:00

Juan mentions Andrew Cornell's Unruly Equality. Both books taken together give an excellent picture of anarchism in the US during the 20th century.

I met Sam and Esther shortly after I lined with the NYC GMB of the IWW in the autumn of 1974. I heard many stories from Sam and Esther about comrades from before my time, and Cornell's book and Anatole's book connected all the dots.

ajjohnstone
Aug 25 2016 01:13