Socialism truly is a dying religion. Tonight, I’m lighting some red candles for some wonderful comrades who have passed on this year. Yesterday, I learned that Ruth Greenberg-Edelstein passed away on November 24th. Ruth was a stalwart of the Socialist Party in upstate New York. On the National Committee, she was an effective advocate for feminist process and gender balance. A retired faculty member at both SUNY and Rutgers, she had, more or less, left active service on the National Committee by the time I got on there – although she had clearly left her stamp. I remember her as a friendly and vivacious backbencher who genuinely enjoyed the company of her comrades – especially the younger ones. Herself, she seemed much younger than she must have actually been, which is why her death comes as such a shock.
Her death follows so closely that of her husband J. David Edelstein, who passed away this July. His death was – forgive me – slightly less of a shock. Retired from Syracuse University for goodness knows how long, he was 90 years old and physically frail. Mentally – and ideologically – he was sharp as ever, and firm and determined in his convictions. Maddeningly so, from my perspective as a teenage socialist. How could such a good Marxist reject our Socialist Party Presidential campaigns in favor of the Greens? In retrospect, I came to see the logic of his argument, but at the time I got hot and bothered in our debates, and out of line, while he remained calm and civil. Fortunately, I was able to apologize while it still mattered. He remained a calm presence and a beacon of sorts. Looking through my inbox, I found a four-year-old email from Dave, gently admonishing me for an irreverent (and highly controversial!) cover from my two-issue stint as editor of “The Socialist” magazine while firmly standing in favor of my continued tenure as editor.
Finally, the most upsetting passing of the year was of Robert W. Tucker. Rob was my favorite old man in the party. A Quaker pacifist and expert on socialized medicine, he had become a lovable curmudgeon by the time I joined the party. For example, Rob had used his (slight) loss in hearing to make a mockery out of Robert’s Rules. I remember a young comrade from Boston rising to make a speech during a convention, and Rob (LOUDLY) whispering to his brother beside him “HE’S THE BEST ONE WE HAVE IN THAT STATE – GOD HELP US!!!” Kinda took the wind out of the sails of the young man’s speech.
In the true spirit of socialism, Rob would share his talent for LOUDLY whispering by acting as an amplifier for your private asides, as when the same young comrade from Boston took a shot at our YPSL National Secretary who was running for Vice Chair of the Party by questioning if the duties of both offices weren’t too overwhelming. “Well, I did them both at the same time,” I whispered to Rob. “YEAH, SHAUN DID THEM BOTH,” Rob shouted to the convention hall. No one ruled him out of order.
It was a bit of a kick in the guts to see see Rob quoted in Maurice Isserman’s biography of Michael Harrington, which I’ve been working my way through since before I learned of Rob’s passing. In it, Rob tells of Harrington’s tendency to date skinny minnie model-types who would sit – wearing their brand new leopard-skin pillbox hats – in the back of whatever hall Mike had dragged them to while he carried on with speeches and parliamentary maneuvers. Isserman does not publish the ribald conclusion of this anecdote that Rob loved to share, which involves (an unofficial) debate about the protein content of semen and Harrington admonishing all participants, “Oh, no, don’t tell her that!”
Nor does Isserman (or anyone as far as I can tell), share accounts of the younger Shachtmanites’ propensity for group-sex at conventions, in which, Rob, as a Quaker, was too prudish to participate but not too prudish to inquire what it was like. “It’s a wonderful feeling of comradeship,” he was told.
Rob was full of stories like these, and I loved hearing them. I don’t think I had seen Rob since the 2005 convention in Newark. By 2007, I had quit the party. Looking through my records, my last contact with Rob was at the time of my resignation from the party’s National Committee to which he responded with a fairly stern disapproval. Four days after I resigned from the party Rob noted his 50th year as a member, asking – a broad list; I was merely the audience – if he would finally be shown the secret handshake.
A few weeks ago, after being assigned to Philadelphia (Rob’s hometown) by my union in August, I wrote to Rob’s AOL email account to see if he was up to meeting for dinner. His wife – well, widow, now – Cornelia wrote back to inform me that Rob passed away in February after a long illness beginning the previous November. I cannot begin to tell you how shitty I feel that it took me so long to learn of Rob’s passing. I’m mad at a lot of people about not being informed at the time of his passing, but none more than myself.
Robert W. Tucker deserves a fuller obituary than this, and hopefully one day I’ll feel up to writing it. But for now, i just feel awful. But grateful to have written this much and to have known him while I could.