Obituary: Isaac Rabinowich
We have learned of the death of Isaac Rabinowich – or Rab as he was known – a founder member of our companion party in the United States. He was a warm, boundlessly energetic comrade who will be surely missed. As an obituary, we publish this account of his life which he gave in an interview with an American student newspaper in 1978.
‘Rab’: a lifetime in the socialist movement
On Sunday mornings, a small group of people meet in a room over Church’s Fried Chicken on Huntington Avenue. This is the public discussion group of the World Socialist Party, a small, proud party. One man who prides himself in “telling it like it is” in these meetings is Isaac Rabinowich, or Rab for short. He helped found the party in 1916 and has been active in it ever since. The Fenway News interviewed him on a recent Sunday.
Fenway News: How did you first become a socialist?
Rab: From my birth, I’ve been exposed to socialist ideas. Both my mother and father were revolutionary socialists in Russia before they came to the US. They came to Boston in 1893, and I was born later that year. The first thing my father did when he came to Boston was to inquire whether there was a socialist group in Boston . . .
About 1897, they had organised a socialist Sunday school in Boston, for kids 6-10. We used to have socialist songs a general good time. About 1905, the labour unions of Boston organised a march to protest the trial of Moyer, Haywood and Pettibone for killing the governor of Idaho. The labour unions picked out the socialist Sunday school to be at the head of the parade, and I was the marshal of the parade.
Fenway News: What led you to form the World Socialist Party?
Rab: Well, I joined the Socialist Party of America in 1909 and remained a member until 1916. In 1915 I went to Detroit. I had many jobs there – some good, some poor. I worked in the tool cribs as a carpenter. I worked in the automobile plants. The original auto workers’ union was formed in Detroit in 1915. I joined that union.
At that time workers were coming from all over the world to Detroit. Detroit was a prominent maker of war materials, so workers expected to find good jobs at good pay. Among the workers were scientific socialists from Canada and England. They organised study classes and held lectures. As a result of the classes, I became aware that the Socialist Party of America was a reformist organisation and not a scientific socialist one. So 43 of us organised a new party called the Workers’ Socialist Party (later changed to the World Socialist Party) in 1916.
Fenway News: What stand did the WSP take on the issues of the day—like the world war?
Rab: On the war, the Socialist Party was divided. They took a milk and water attitude; they didn’t “approve” of capitalist wars. But they really weren’t anti-war. We were opposed to the war, and to all wars. Wars are only of benefit to the capitalist class: to win markets, trade routes and spheres of influence . . .
Fenway News: When did you come back to Boston?
Rab: I came back in 1921 to help my father run his cigar and tobacco business. He delivered all over the Boston area with a horse and wagon. Later I worked in an electrical, locksmith and hardware shop.
Those were the days of Sacco and Vanzetti (two Massachusetts labour activists who were framed and executed for murder). At their funeral, there was a huge parade. My wife and two children and myself were in the parade. On the 50th anniversary of their execution last year, the Globe ran a picture of the parade and there were the four of us!
I spent six years almost single-handedly holding street meetings, directing boys’ clubs, and especially conducting classes in socialist theory. Then in 1927, the Boston local of the WSP was formed. It wasn’t long before we had a wonderful membership. Seven days of the week we had activities going on.
Fenway News: I understand you later joined the Boston Typographical Union. Did you do organising in that union?
Rab: I wasn’t organising. I was just teaching and explaining. I was a proofreader, and men would always come into the proofroom for explanations of science or other things.
Above all, I was a militant guy. For example, sometimes contract provisions were violated by the foremen and managers. The other guys would hesitate about calling them on it, but I never did.
Fenway News: What do you see for the future?
Rab: I’m an optimistic guy. They say the guy on the street is dumb, but he’s not. I think the wheels are beginning to turn up here (taps head). He’s not acting on it yet, but he realises there’s something wrong with capitalism. The conditions have never been better for socialism, and there will be a majority of people in favour of socialism.
(The Fenway News, October 1978).
Note: More on Isaac Rab here – a review of Karla Doris Rab’s political biography of her father.