A history of Vanguard

A history by Andrew Cornell of Vanguard, an anarchist journal produced during the 1930s in New York. Taken from Cornell's excellent “For a world without oppressors: U.S. Anarchism from the Palmer Raids to the Sixties"

Submitted by Juan Conatz on June 13, 2015

In 1932, the Vanguard Group formed. It would become the leading English-language voice of anarcho-syndicalism in the interwar period. Vanguard began as a circle of a halfdozen anarchists in their twenties and early thirties who met under the auspices of the Road to Freedom Group and through their parents’ involvement in New York’s Jewish anarchist milieu. The political direction of the group was shaped primarily by Abe Bluestein and his friend Sam Dolgoff, working under the tutelage of an older activist, Mark Schmidt.

The Vanguard Group and launched its organ, Vanguard: A Libertarian Communist Journal, partially to counteract anti-organizationalist and commune-building tendencies in anarchism. Clara Freidman, a founding member, explained, “Our purpose was to work out a positive program, to deal with anarchism in less amorphous and more concrete terms, to show it was a viable social philosophy.”1 Dolgoff elaborated:

We wanted a paper which would appeal to people who have a modicum of common sense and who actually want to read an explanation of what’s going on that will give a feasible and intelligible approach to the problem of socialism. To present the classic anarchism of Kropotkin and Bakunin, and to some extent Prodhoun, and the real anarchist movements that have roots among the people, among the masses and the labor movement, and that puts anarchism in the perspective as a part and parcel of the socialist movement. We considered ourselves to be the left wing of the socialist movement. We were socialist anarchists, we were not individualists, or all sorts of things. So we called ourselves an anarchist-communist journal to differentiate ourselves from the others.2

The Vanguard Group also included Dolgoff’s wife, Esther, and his younger brother, Tommy. Bluestein’s wife Selma, and his City College friends Sidney Soloman and Roman Weinrob participated in the founding meeting, which took place in the home of Clara Friedman. Freidman’s father was an officer in the ILGWU and served, for a time, as secretary of the Jewish Anarchist Federation. Freedman served as the Vanguard Group’s secretary, and, according to another member, “did fives times as much work as anybody else: correspondence, selling papers, organizing meetings, debates, and lectures.”3 Though the group was formed by the children of Jewish immigrants, it eventually attracted some members with different ethnic and racial backgrounds. Eddie Wong, according to Bluestein, was “an Anarchist from China. He had to escape from China because otherwise he would have been executed.”72 In New York, Wong joined the Vanguard Group and translated works by Kropotkin into his native language. Together with Vanguard member Yat Tone and other Chinese anarchists, Wong established a cooperatively-owned Chinese restaurant located near Union Square that hosted fundraising dinners for the movement.4 The Vanguard Group also claimed a few Italians, a handful of Irishmen, and a single African- American member, Glenn Carrington. Carrington, who was gay, worked as a parole officer, and occasionally wrote short articles for Vanguard on “the negro question” under the name George Creighton.5

Abe Bluestein recalled, “We had one guiding teacher, you might say, who was older than us, a very intelligent, very well-read man.”6 Mark Schmidt had lived in the United States for years, but had returned to Russia when the revolution broke out, only to sail west again after becoming disillusioned with the Bolshevik regime. Dolgoff acknowledged that Schmidt’s “erudition, his knowledge of anarchist ideas and history, his revolutionary experience, all helped to clarify and work out the orientation of Vanguard.”7 Moreover, according to Bluestein, he “had great energy and drive and kept us together as a group more than we would have been if left to ourselves.” Schmidt, writing under the pen-name Senex, contributed some of the most original and sharply argued articles that Vanguard printed. However, some of his personal traits also proved to be liabilities for the organization. Louis Slater remembered, “When someone made a mistake, he laughed mockingly.”8 Clara Freidman (Soloman) likewise found him “ungeblozn [puffed up], to use a Yiddish expression, unapproachable.” She recalled that “he would work on one person at a time and gain control of them…He took a dislike to certain people, and he had contempt for women, whom he considered inferior.”9

The principle work of the group was the publication of Vanguard: An Anarchist Communist Journal, which it issued monthly when funds allowed. The paper reached a peak circulation of 3,000 to 4,000 subscribers, many of them abroad. Dolgoff recalled that it maintained “a good circulation and a good reputation. We had a very good staff of foreign correspondents.”10 Indeed, the journal carried regular contributions from the likes of Emma Goldman, Alexander Berkman, the German anarcho-syndicalist Rudolf Rocker, and officers of the French and Spanish syndicalist labor federations, among others. Vanguard was more of a theoretical journal than newspapers like The Road to Freedom or Man!; while Man! advocated a “planless anarchism” the Vanguard Group launched its publication with a vision of anarchist-communism so detailed it spanned three issues.

Vanguard believed in organizing working people to struggle for immediate demands in the short term and to organize a general strike or insurrection capable of instituting a self-managed communist society in the future. According to Sidney Soloman, “In Vanguard we made no hard and fast distinction between anarchist-communism and anarcho-syndicalism, but we were not anarchist-individualists.”11 Like Kropotkin, the group desired a society that provided for each according to their needs, instead of according to their labor input. However, Vanguard believed, alongside figures like Rudolf Rocker and G.P. Maximoff, that the surest route to such a end goal under contemporary conditions was the via the creation of powerful, revolutionary labor unions. While Man! portrayed labor unions as a means of containing working people’s spontaneous rebellions, Vanguard saw radical unions as the primary instruments to initiate a self-managed industrial order. Vanguard distinguished itself clearly, then, from avowedly individualist anarchists who insisted on the right to private property, as well as those that sought to straddle or synthesize individualist and socialist perspectives. While this established a clarity of vision, the editors’ interpretation of what issues smacked of individualism left the contents narrowly focused: anything “bohemian,” such as consideration of modern art, or the promotion of progressive gender roles, was out.

The editors of Vanguard insisted on presenting a more clearly defined vision for how to create change than their counterparts at Road to Freedom or Man!. To be effective, they believed, members of anarchist groups must go beyond “vague adherence to elementary generalities” and share a significant degree of political unity. “The members of such a group must agree upon the general tenets of its anarchist philosophy as well as upon its concrete form of expression in the field of social action; upon the general tactical line coming as the crystallized experience of the anarchist movement as a whole, as well as upon the local strategy, evolved in accordance with the specific needs of each and every place and historical moment.”12

Despite it’s outspoken intention to organize and provide leadership in the movement, the group was conscious that taking the name “Vanguard” would be contentious, especially during a period when Communists were so intent on claiming that mantle. Demonstrating a clear grasp of Marxist philosophy, the group explained:

We want to revive here, in America, the great anarchist idea of a revolutionary Vanguard, the minority in the great mass struggles of today and the near future. The idea of an active revolutionary Vanguard is not a specifically communist idea. The communists distorted it, degraded it to the level of a hierarchical apparatus. We anarchists also believe in the idea of a revolutionary Vanguard, but we do not claim any divine rights. We do not claim to be the only true mouthpiece of the dialectical process of history, or the vicarious representatives of the will of the proletariat.13

Vanguard admitted it did not yet have a fully coherent program to present, but it did not dismiss questions of vision and strategy as unimportant or an imposition on future generations. Rather, contributors sought to chip away at hard questions in a practical manner. For example, group members dedicated a series of articles to theorizing an anarchist “transition program”—a concept likely to reek of Bolshevism to many of their contemporaries. The group also critiqued the idea of building anarchist colonies as a sufficient means of making change, and blasted anarchists content to spend their life conducting such “experiments.” Anonymous contributor wrote:

An experiment…cannot be indefinitely pursued, without taking stock of all previous failures and without introducing a certain variant in each and every attempt…The history of such attempts, for almost a century, to solve the social problem via colony building has clearly shown the futility of such a method. To keep on repeating the same attempts, without an intelligent appraisal of all the numerous failures in the past is not to uphold the right to experiment, but to insist upon one’s right to escape from the hard facts of social struggle into the world of wishful belief.14

Against such strategic complaisance, Vanguard advocated a hard-nosed anarcho-syndicalist approach and asserted the need for wide scale organizing. As mostly second generation immigrants, who grew up speaking English and attending public school in the United States, the Vanguard Group presented a budding understanding of the toll the profound shift in the population of the United States, following the restrictive immigration laws of 1924, was taking on the anarchist movement. They declared themselves a “youth group,” not because they restricted membership based on age, but because they believed that their was a strategic necessity for the movement to focus on bringing young people into the fold.

We are of the opinion that the anarchist movement of America has woefully neglected the elementary task of building up a youth movement. Cooped up within the confines of little national colonies, broken up and fragmented into water-tight compartments of national movements, it never rose to the realization of the urgency of the youth movement. It could not think in terms of American life, its future and the place of the anarchist movement in it.15

For all its intention to develop an anarchism relevant to daily lives of Americans living outside of European immigrant enclaves, however, the group devoted increasing amounts of space to the consideration of events transpiring in Europe. This is not entirely surprising, given the international character of the economic depression and, especially, the spread of fascism and the deepening hold of Stalinism affecting Europe and the Soviet Union. Vanguard covered all these developments from an anti-authoritarian perspective. However, the editors also dedicated hundreds of column inches each year to the activities of anarchists syndicalist unions in France, Spain, and elsewhere in Europe, even finding hope at one point in the burgeoning Bulgarian movement.

The Vanguard Group maintained a hall in the vicinity of Union Square. It had its own study and discussion circles, debated other New York City-based young left groups, and held entertainment events as fundraisers. Members took short trips throughout the Northeast seeking to recruit new members and presenting lectures on anarchism to college students. Bluestein recalled, “In addition to our magazine, we conducted forums and lectures and made soapbox speeches on street corners, getting into fights with the Communists all the time, protected by Wobblies with iron pipes wrapped with hankerchiefs.”16 Vanguard sought to develop a network of young anarchist groups around the country as a contribution to a broader resurgence, but was generally unsuccessful in launching groups with much staying power outside of the New York region.

In 1933 Rudolf Rocker was forced to flee Germany under threat from the Nazis. Other anarchists residing there also left abruptly upon Hitler’s rise to power. Mollie Steimer and her partner Senya Fleshin relocated to Paris. Rocker emigrated to the United States and settled at the Mohegan Colony. The Vanguard Group was honored to host a lecture for him in New York—Rocker’s first public presentation in English—and to help him arrange a speaking tour to alert American workers to the dangers of Nazism. The Vanguard Group also began developing a close relationship with the legendary Italian anarchist, labor organizer, and anti-fascist, Carlo Tresca, when it rented space in the same building as the offices of his newspaper, Il Martello. (The IWW also maintained an office in the building, 94 Fifth Avenue.) When the Vanguard Group was unable to continue funding publication of its periodical in 1934, Tresca offered the group one page in each issue of his Italian language newspaper, Il Martello (The Hammer). Vanguard provided content for this English language page until it was able to secure enough funds to return to printing an entire journal in March of 1935.17

Vanguard members, most notably Roman Weinrebe, contributed significant amounts of time to the legal defense of anti-fascist militants engaged in physical confrontations with Italian American fascists.18 This partnership with Tresca ensured that members of Vanguard would be treated with hostility by the Italian anarchists grouped around L’Adunata dei Refretari and Man!.

Even though the Vanguard Group saw itself as a youth organization, in 1933 it established the Rebel Youth, a circle of anarchists “even younger” than the membership of Vanguard itself, sometimes also referred to as the “Vanguard Juniors.” Members of Vanguard helped Rebel Youth establish study groups and lectured to them on anarchism and contemporary events. Initiated in 1932 by Irving Sterling, the members of Rebel Youth were junior and senior high school students, many the children of anarchists and other radicals. Sterling, a high school student in Brownsville, Brooklyn, had been raised in the anarchist movement. He grew up attending [/i]Freie Arbeter Shtime[/i] dinners and participating in May Day parades. Among approximately twenty other members, the group also included David Koven, who would help lead anarchism in new directions during the 1940s and 1950s.19

A second circle of Vanguard Juniors developed in the Bronx at about the same time. Audrey Goodfriend, a daughter of Jewish anarchists active in Freie Arbeiter Shtimme circles, launched the Young Eagles with three friends when she was fourteen. Soon Abe Bluestein, who lived in a nearby housing co-op, began a Saturday morning study group with the Young Eagles which eventually attracted other neighborhood high school radicals, such as David Thoreau Wieck. The Young Eagles eventually became incorporated into the Vanguard network. Goodfriend remembers, “We would read [Berkman’s] The ABC of Anarchism; we would read an article from the Vanguard and discuss. And we read some Kropotkin or talked about Kropotkin.”20 Rebel Youth organized fundraisers and social events with the Vanguard Group proper. The February 1933 issue of the journal, for example, advertised a “Dance and Entertainment” in which Rebel Youth was to present two one-act plays and an interpretive dance. Eventually some of the members joined the Vanguard Seniors, while others continued to attend the group’s events and operate on the periphery.

The creation of the Vanguard Junior groups were likely Vanguard’s most successful organizing effort. In principle, the the group maintained a commitment to organizing on two fronts simultaneously. It believed, first, in building the power of the labor movement by organizing all working people into radical industrial unions. Secondly it sought to expand the ranks of the anarchist movement itself, so that anarchists might intervene more effectively in all the progressive mass movements of the day. However, the group made certain decisions that stymied that commitment to organizing in practice.

In 1933 the new group was handed an opportunity to take part in a campaign to increase the number of New York City garment workers represented by the ILGWU. After the divisive “war” between Communists and socialists in the mid-1920s, the union had begun to fall under the influence of organized crime. In 1933, David Dubinsky, the union’s president, launched an effort reorganize the union “on a new, clean basis” while revitalizing it through a massive membership drive. Recognizing its core of organizers to be insufficient for the task, the union’s leaders requested the assistance of five leftist youth organizations from the city. The Young People’s Socialist League (youth group of the Socialist Party), the League for Industrial Democracy (another social democratic organization), The Young Circle Leauge, the Youth Section of the Communist Opposition (former Communist Party leader Jay Lovestone’s organization), and the Vanguard Group were invited to a joint meeting in February. The youth groups of the Communist Party and the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party were not invited. Dubinsky and his colleagues appealed to the assembled radical youth to encourage the members of their respective organizations to serve as volunteer organizers in the campaign.

The next issue of Vanguard carried a report about the meeting signed S. Morrison, the pen name of Sidney Soloman:

At the general conference on February 3rd, all the participating groups, except the Vanguard, pledged their support in the campaign, in strikes, in picketing, etc. Their attitude was apparently one of complete acceptance of the A.F. of L. principles and tactics…The Vanguard Group, however, was of the opinion that an unqualified acceptance of that which is handed down by the A.F. of L. would have resulted in an utter waste of its efforts, and the assistance in the continuation of the same useless and noxious work of organizing limited, ineffective, politically controlled craft unions.

The Vanguard members present declared their approval of the idea of the organizing drive in principle. However, they demanded that the ILGWU leadership first create a document committing the union to “full worker’s democracy within the union,” total rejection of using gangsters, “complete dissociation from any political clique,” commitment to organize on industrial rather than craft lines, and a commitment to revolutionary anti-capitalist goals. Not surprisingly the union leaders at the table did not immediately adopt the Vanguard Group’s resolution, but agreed to give it “careful consideration.” The report ended with a note of confidence that the issues members raised would be further debated at “subsequent discussion conferences,” and would eventually steer the campaign in a more revolutionary direction.21 Apparently, however, no further conferences were held.

Five years later, during an uptick in support for anarchism occasioned by the Spanish Civil War, the Vanguard Group held a meeting to strategize about expanding its own ranks. The assembled comrades agreed that it was unwise to undertake “practical work” until they had a larger membership and more resources at their disposal. Therefore priority was placed on increasing the combined membership of the groups to at least one hundred members in the coming months. The gathered comrades agreed that “Our efforts must be directed toward, mainly though not exclusively, those elements who are already sufficiently class-conscious. We do not have the facilities at present to undertake mass propaganda or mass educational work among new-comers to the revolutionary arena.” Instead, they decided that efforts should be aimed at “the many sincere and class-conscious revolutionists who are today disillusioned with the Marxist movements and who have libertarian tendencies.”22 The Vanguard Group, then, adopted a strategy of increasing its membership by winning over members and sympathizers of other radical tendencies, by promoting its literature, hosting public events, and organizing study groups. The members believed, to paraphrase Proudhon, membership was the mother, not the daughter, of political engagement.

Reflecting back on his experiences in Vanguard forty years later, Sidney Soloman—author of the report on the ILGWU meeting—considered this approach Vanguard took to campaign work to be the group’s biggest error. Soloman believed the group refrained from action largely because Mark Schmidt discouraged it.

We were vigorous and wanted to do things…[Schmidt] never actually did anything. More than that, he prevented us from doing anything. He felt we were theoretically unprepared for action, such as labororganizing or forming cooperatives. He stopped us from organizing for the ILGWU…Schmidt got us to decline. The YPSL accepted and did useful work; hence their big reputation today. It was this failure to act that led to the collapse of our group and of the anarchist movement in New York.23

In retrospect, Vanguard members realized that they had put the horse before the cart in a number of respects. First, they assumed taking action required a perfected theoretical analysis, rather than recognizing that activity and theory were mutually constitutive parts of radical activity that must constantly inform one another in a circular process. Secondly, the young anarchists mistook their goals for preconditions of participation. Rather than viewing the opportunity to participate in the ILGWU organizing drive as an opportunity for anarchists to continue shaping the union in accordance with their vision, they rejected the opportunity as too compromising to their principles.

When the Spanish Civil War broke out in 1936, U.S. anarchists were not in a good position to aid their Iberian comrades. Freedom had ceased publication four years before, leaving Man! and Vanguard as the only English language anarchist periodicals published on a consistent basis. Newspapers in Yiddish, Spanish, Italian, and Russian still catered to immigrant anarchist circles that were aging and dwindling in size. Still, recognizing that the Spaniards represented the movement’s greatest hope for founding a new society based on anti-authoritarian principles, U.S. anarchists mustered what energy they had to support the resistance to General Francisco Franco and the social revolution unfolding behind the front.

In early 1937 Abe and Selma Bluestein determined that they would travel to Spain to provide assistance to the CNT. Abe Bluestein made contact with the Spanish anarchists via Mark Mrachney, the editor at that time of the Freie Arbeiter Shtimme. Mrachney, a Russian Jew deported from the Soviet Union in 1922 alongside Maximoff, was personally acquainted with key players in the Spanish movement. Mrachney sent a letter to CNT chair Augustin Souchy, vouching for the Bluesteins’ commitment and abilities. Abe and Selma set sail for France in April of 1937 and entered Spain through a border checkpoint staffed by loyalists before making their way to Barcelona. They were welcomed at the CNT Casa de Trabajo (Worker’s House) and given accommodations in an anarchist-controlled hotel nearby. Abe was immediately assigned to work as an English radio announcer for CNT radio—a position he had no prior experience with. In addition to his radio broadcasts, which listeners with short-wave radios throughout Europe tuned in to, Abe sent written dispatches in English and Yiddish to the Freie Arbeiter Shtimme and Spanish Revolution, as well as the latter’s British equivalent, Spain and the World.24

The exigencies of the Depression, the conflict in Spain, and the upswing in radical activity during the Popular Front period in the United states created contradictory tendencies for the anarchist movement. During the late 1930s, the morale of the U.S. movement fluctuated in rhythm with the fortunes of the anarchists of Spain. The achievements of the rebels and the depredations of the fascists prompted more interest and sympathy for anarchism than activists had seen in many years. At an August 1938 meeting, the Vanguard Group noted “the present reawakening within our own movement,” and “an influx of new members into our ranks.” Yet by the Spring of the following year it had disintegrated completely.

In late 1938, Vanguard split into two groups. Many members of the Vanguard Group dated one another. When couples split and then began dating other members of the group, jealousy and resentment flared.25 Soloman notes that tensions also developed when the group’s “association with Il Martello was opposed by a few who preferred L’Adunata.”26 Audrey Goodfriend, who came to Vanguard from the Bronx Vanguard Juniors, was likely one such member, as we will see in the next chapter. Finally, the younger members respect for Mark Schmidt began to fade by the late- 1930s on grounds both personal and political. In addition to his manipulative behavior, Schmidt was drifting towards support for the Communist Party. He urged the Vanguard Group to join United Front organizations, which they refused to do.27 The threat of a fascist victory in Europe eventually moved Schmidt fully into the Communist camp. Later, Schmidt explained, “Without the rapid industrialization of the thirties, and even without collectivization, Russia could not have defeated fascism….It was Russia’s struggle against Hitler and fascism that led me to support it.”28

Abe and Selma Bluestein had returned to the United States in January. Sick of the petty quarrels, Abe and Lou Slater launched a new group with its own publication, a weekly newspaper called Challenge. Bluestein recalls, “The two papers didn’t disagree or fight with each other, we were just running in different ways. The main difference was that we wanted to work with the unions, and appeal to the unions, whereas the Vanguard was a theoretical journal exclusively.”29 The Challenge Group sought to create an agitational weekly that saw union members as a potential base to recruit more active militants from. Although ostensibly the responsibility of a collective, responsibilities for editing the new paper quickly fell largely into Bluestein’s hands. Working by day as a shipping clerk in the garment industry, and partially supported by Selma’s job as a painter under the auspices of the Works Progress Administration, Abe worked into the night to turn out an edition of Challenge every week. The paper was focused, more than any other anarchist paper since World War I, on being relevant to left leaning working people. It was partially subsidized by locals of the ILGWU and the Amalgamated Clothing Workers, which, even in 1938, retained a coterie anarchists in their ranks.30

The final issue of Vanguard was distributed in February 1939. Less than two months after the demise of Vanguard, Challenge also folded due to mounting debts with its printer. Always financially tenuous projects, contributions fell to almost nothing following the defeat of the Spanish anarchists. “The fascist victory disastrously undermined not only the morale of the readers but the morale of the members of the Vanguard Group itself,” Dolgoff admitted.31 Despite the knowledge that the anarchist movement was an insignificant force in U.S. social life, members had managed to continue their work through a faith built on hopes for the movement abroad. The defeat of the Spanish anarchists by Franco and his fascist allies, then, dealt a lethal blow.

Edited to become a stand-alone libcom.org article

  • 1Avrich, Anarchist Voices, 448.
  • 2Sam and Esther Dolgoff, interview, 1975, compact disc, LC.
  • 3Quoted in Avrich, Anarchist Voices, 450. Solomon later married Freidman, so his recollections may not be wholly unbiased. Nonetheless his comments indicate that although the group’s men did the preponderance of speaking and writing in the Vanguard Group, the unsung efforts of women were fundamental to keeping the Group’s projects operating smoothly.
  • 4Avrich, Anarchist Voices, 424, 444
  • 5Avrich, Anarchist Voices, 423-424, 450-451. Cf. George Creighton, “Self Determination for Black Belt,” Vanguard, April-May 1936, 12-14.
  • 6Bluestein, Oral History, C-5.
  • 7Dolgoff, Fragments, 23.
  • 8Avrich, Anarchist Voices, 444.
  • 9Avrich, Anarchist Voices, 448.
  • 10Sam and Esther Dolgoff, interview, 1975, compact disc, LC.
  • 11Avrich, Anarchist Voices, 451.
  • 12“A Declaration of Policy,” Vanguard, April 1932, 1-4.
  • 13“A Declaration of Policy,” Vanguard, April 1932, 2-3.
  • 14“From Our Mailbag,” Vanguard, January-February 1936, 23.
  • 15“A Declaration of Policy,” Vanguard, April 1932, 3.
  • 16Avrich, Anarchist Voices, 438.
  • 17“Why This Magazine?” Vanguard, March 1935, 1; Dolgoff, Fragments, 31.
  • 18Avrich, Anarchist Voices, 450.
  • 19Avrich, Anarchist Voices, 457-8.
  • 20Audrey Goodfriend, interview with author, November 10, 2008.
  • 21S. Morrison, “The I.L.G.W.U Calls Upon Youth,” Vanguard, February 1933, 8-11.
  • 22Vanguard Group Internal Bulletin, no. 1, Vertical File: Anarchism—Vanguard, LC
  • 23Avrich, Anarchist Voices, 451.
  • 24Bluestein, Oral History, C-10 to C-38; Avrich, Anarchist Voices, 439.
  • 25Clara Freedman left Lou Slater for Sidney Solomon. Then, when Slater began dating Elsie Milstein, Slater’s “own mentor,” Mark Schmidt, succeeded in winning Milstein away from him. Avrich, Anarchist Voices, 458. Schmidt launched personal attacks against Slater as part of his campaign to win Milstein’s affections. Sam Dolgoff later explained, “As far as I and the comrades were concerned, she had every right to live with whomever she pleased without interference. But Schmidt had no right whatever to try to drive this sincere comrade out of our movement by labeling him a scab without the slightest evidence to support his false charges.” Dolgoff, Fragments, 24.
  • 26Avrich, Anarchist Voices, 451.
  • 27Dolgoff, Fragments, 23-24.
  • 28Avrich, Anarchist Voices, 453.
  • 29Bluestein, Oral History, C-5 to C-7.
  • 30Bluestein, Oral History, H-8 to H-10, H-19, K-36.
  • 31Dolgoff, Fragments, 21.



9 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by syndicalist on June 13, 2015

Awright slueths..... your next assignment is to find out information on the 1930s New York Group, the Libertarian Workers Group.


9 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by syndicalist on June 13, 2015

Abe and Selma Bluestein had returned to the United States in January. Sick of the petty quarrels, Abe and Lou Slater launched a new group with its own publication, a weekly newspaper called Challenge. Bluestein recalls, “The two papers didn’t disagree or fight with each other, we were just running in different ways. The main difference was that we wanted to work with the unions, and appeal to the unions, whereas the Vanguard was a theoretical journal exclusively.”29 The Challenge Group sought to create an agitational weekly that saw union members as a potential base to recruit more active militants from. Although ostensibly the responsibility of a collective, responsibilities for editing the new paper quickly fell largely into Bluestein’s hands. Working by day as a shipping clerk in the garment industry, and partially supported by Selma’s job as a painter under the auspices of the Works Progress Administration, Abe worked into the night to turn out an edition of Challenge every week. The paper was focused, more than any other anarchist paper since World War I, on being relevant to left leaning working people. It was partially subsidized by locals of the ILGWU and the Amalgamated Clothing Workers, which, even in 1938, retained a coterie anarchists in their ranks.30

Herein lay the rub and a much more complex web:

" It was partially subsidized by locals of the ILGWU and the Amalgamated Clothing Workers, which, even in 1938, retained a coterie anarchists in their ranks."

The policies of the Challenge, like that of the Yiddish Freie Arbeiter Shittmer, were not critical of the right wing socialists of the ILGWU and ACW. Some of the parents of these comrades were ILGWU functionaries, many for decades. The paper really wasn't critical of the ILGWU or the ACW. The financial support was generally top down in the Locals. Old trade unionists that was still philosophically supportive. And then there were a few younger comrades who worked for the ILGWU as well. But let us not think that the support was strictly, exclusively or even big time from rank-and-filers.

This is a “nice” version written by someone who didn’t know the players or the politics. But it is generally a decent enough accounting of things.


9 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by fnbrilll on June 13, 2015

I'm not too familiar with ILGWU and ACW but wasn't there kind of a significant debsian style left-socialist wing? Or was that in 1920s


9 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by syndicalist on June 13, 2015

Rushing now to get home. So I'll be brief, fast and perhaps somewhat sloppy, sorry.


I'm not too familiar with ILGWU and ACW but wasn't there kind of a significant debsian style left-socialist wing? Or was that in 1920s

It's sorta complex and depends on what period of time we're talking about.

The trade union bureaucracy in the ILGWU (and largely ACW) of the right wing European social democratic sort.

The Jewish members were usually the most socialistic and anarchistic. They made up the bulk of both unions membership (more so ILGW) until the 1930s. The ACW Italians (who were many) were either social democractic and some were syndicalistic leaning. The Lithuanians in Chicago ACW were prolly the most "syndicalistic" in practice, but not so much ideologically from what I can tell. .

As the main socialist party went through its changes during the 1910s, so to did many members orientations change. The bulk in NYC ILGWU sorta went right wing (sp) - ypsl (left)- workers party(cp) split in cp lovestonites - small numbers of trots - smallish and declining numbers of anarchists

An interesting artilce can be found here: "The I.L.G.W.U. calls upon youth by S. Morrison"