Sam Dolgoff's review of Boris Yelensky's book. Originally appeared in Views and Comments, n.31 (October 1958).
Human beings make events and historians record them for the guidance of coming generations. Both are needed. The honest historian always tries to get information from original records, or if possible from the people who witnessed or took part in the events themselves. All too often the actors in the drama of history leave no written record of the parts they played. Significant pieces in the historical puzzle are lost forever and the missing parts are filled in by outright lies or unintentional distortions. In either case a false picture is projected.
Our fellow worker, Boris Yelensky, understood this and decided to set the record straight. With the help of his friends he has written a provocative little book - In The Struggle For Equality. The title is well chosen. It describes the struggle and the part he played in it. Yelensky tells about his fifty years of unceasing activity to help the victims of oppression and injustice. He dedicated his life and his book “to the Fighters for Freedom, Humanism and Justice, to those who endeavored to help these fighters by applying the principle of mutual aid.”
The book begins by sketching the history of the Russian Revolutionary movement and the part played by the Anarchists. Then Yelensky gives the history of the Anarchist Red Cross which was founded in 1905.
In telling why a special Anarchist Relief Organization became necessary he calls attention to a neglected aspect of revolutionary history - the sabotage and discrimination of many social-democrats against their fellow-prisoners and in the outside relief organizations. Of the vast sums collected all over the world, from Czarist times up to the present, very little reached the Anarchist prisoners. Yelensky quotes H. Weinstein who was jailed in Czarist times for radical activity:
“In July or August of 1906 I was placed under arrest in the city of Bialostock. When I arrived at the prison in that city, I met there, Jacob Krepleich and a friend of his, a Russian teacher; they likewise informed me that the organization which then existed in Russia, set up by the social-democrats to extend aid to all revolutionary captives regardless of political affiliation was refusing to help the Anarchists; and during the brief period that I remained in the Bialostock prison we received letters from the Grodno jail which gave confirmation of the truth of these statements.”
This discrimination still persists. As Yelensky points out in telling about the conduct of the social-democrat relief organization, The Jewish Labor Committee in the United States. It is not a pretty tale, but it had to be told.
The Anarchists have continued relief activities all this time. The bulk of this work is now carried on by the Alexander Berkman Aid Fund, which is not limited to Russian or Jewish prisoners. Aid is being sent to Spanish, Italian, Bulgarian and other prisoners all over the world. The fund also published a documentary history of Bolshevik terror against revolutionists, The Guillotine At Work, by G. P. Maximov.
In relating the relief activities, Yelensky gives us a picture of the great contribution made by the Eastern European Jews to the radical movement in this country. This book should be read not only for its factual contributions but also because it demonstrates that people of meager means in a strange country, against great obstacles, can carry on great work. It is the people who do the unglamorous but indispensable tasks, who are the true life's blood of every worthwhile movement.
This book was published by the Alexander Berkman Aid Fund, a non-profit organization and all proceeds from its sale “Innure to The Fund For Political Prisoners and Refugees”.
Taken from The Kate Sharpley Library