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.