by Jacob Abrams, edited by the Jewish Cultural Center in Mexico, translated by Ruth Murphy
privately published by Rebecca Nestle, 301 pp., $20
by Anatole Dolgoff
AK Press, 400 pp., $22
The history of American anarchists, and of Jewish anarchists in particular, has been forgotten, largely overshadowed by the history of the more well known (and far less defensible) American communist movement. Two recent books—neither of them is a conventional biography—reintroduce us to two fascinating 20th-century Jewish anarchists. The volumes are almost as quirky and unconventional as their subjects. The J. Abrams Book: The Life and Work of an Exceptional Personality is a kind of scrapbook-memoir published by friends and coworkers of the subject after his death in 1953; Left of the Left: My Memories of Sam Dolgoff is by the subject’s son Anatole, who keeps up a running dialogue with his long-dead father.
The J. Abrams Book contains fragments of the subject’s autobiography. The most compelling is his account of the five years he spent in the Soviet Union, which takes up half of the book. Surprisingly, nothing that Jacob (“Jack”) Abrams put in writing deals directly with the famous Supreme Court case that bears his name: Abrams v. United States. It’s the free speech case with which every law school graduate must be at least vaguely familiar, without necessarily remembering anything about the man it immortalized.
In July 1918, when the United States sent 15,000 troops to intervene in revolutionary Russia, Jack Abrams and some of his fellow anarchists organized a protest. They rented a six-room apartment in East Harlem as their headquarters and installed a printing press in the basement, where they produced two leaflets, one written in English and the other in Yiddish, to be distributed on New York City’s Lower East Side. “Workers,” it proclaimed, “our reply to barbaric intervention has to be a general strike! An open challenge only will let the government know that not only the Russian Worker fights for freedom, but also here in America lives the spirit of Revolution. . . . We must not and will not betray the splendid fighters of Russia.”