The Anarchist Encyclopedia:
Abe Bluestein, a lifelong anarchist, passed away on December 3, 1997, at the age of 88. We should remember him as someone who fought to embody anarchist principles all his life, & celebrate the inspired example he offers to the present generation.
Like many anarchists born in the early 20th century, Abe came from a radical, immigrant family. His Russian parents, Mendel & Esther Bluestein, were active in the anarchist group in the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union & also became part of the Modern School of Stelton, NJ.
Abraham Bluestein, 88, an Advocate of Anarchism
From the NY Times, December 14, 1997
By Robert McG. Thomas, Jr.
Abraham Bluestein, who made his living as a social services administrator while devoting his life to keeping an old anarchist dream alive, died on Dec. 3 at a nursing home in Croton-on-Hudson, N.Y. He was 88.
He may not rank with Proudhon, Bakunin, Malatesta, Kropotkin & other giants of anarchism who saw government as the inevitable enemy of freedom & freedom as the indispensable element of social harmony, but Bluestein was a believer, & over the better part of a half-century he turned out anarchist tracts.
In the 1930s he was an editor of the newspapers Vanguard & The Challenger, & long after anarchism had become archaic he was still at it, as a Libertarian Book Club editor in the 1970s & as co-editor of News From Libertarian Spain until 1980.
Along the way & afterward, he worked as director of the Sidney Hillman Health Center, as executive director of the New York Diabetes Association & as business manager of Co-Op City & of the Amalgamated Housing Cooperative in the Bronx.
But for Bluestein those were merely jobs. Anarchism was his life.
If Bluestein wasn't a born anarchist, he came pretty close. His parents, immigrants from the disputed Russian-Polish borderland, had fled to the United States & settled in Philadelphia after his father killed a czar's soldier & anarchist literature was found in the Bluestein house.
Whatever his genetic disposition to anarchism, Bluestein, who was born in Philadelphia, began getting a full indoctrination early.
When he was 8, his parents, determined that their son would at least grow up free from the tyranny of the classroom, moved to the anarchist colony in Stelton, N.J., near New Brunswick, so Bluestein could attend the so-called Modern School, the centerpiece of the colony & its reason for being.
One of more than 20 such schools established in the United States in the early years of the century, the Stelton Modern bore little resemblance to traditional schools in the United States.
On the assumption that children would want to learn what they needed to learn when they learned that they needed to learn it, Modern's students were given almost total freedom.
Teachers at the school took the philosophy to such extremes that sometimes children as old as 10 had not bothered to learn to read. Sooner or later, however, they came around. In one celebrated instance in the silent-film era, a group of children, exercising their right to play hookey, hiked to a nearby movie theater and were so dismayed when they couldn't read the subtitles that they returned with a thirst for education.
For all its unorthodox teaching methods, the school, which ran through the eighth grade, seemed to work -- so well, in fact, that its graduates were regularly valedictorians & salutatorians at the nearby public high school before going to college and often to graduate school.
Many became teachers themselves, & for a while Bluestein, too, considered becoming a teacher. But after receiving a degree in education from City College he was soon caught up in the anarchist movement in New York, working as an editor, getting to know Emma Goldman, & falling in love with a young anarchist artist, Selma Cohen, a Bronx doctor's daughter.
To adherents of a movement that had been among the fiercest opponents of Communism in Russia, Nazism in Germany, Fascism in Italy & dictatorship in Spain, the Spanish Civil War proved an irresistible lure for many anarchists in the United States, among them Bluestein, who went to Spain as a reporter for the Canadian Broadcasting Co., renewed his friendship with Emma Goldman & served informally as information officer for the National Confederation of Labor, an anarchist organization.
Returning to New York after Franco's victory, he began his career as a health administrator but never forgot his anarchist ideals.
Years after the Modern School at Stelton closed in 1951, Bluestein organized a series of reunions at the site & appeared in a public television documentary about the colony.
He grudgingly accepted life under government, but it wasn't until the 1970s that the lure of Social Security benefits finally induced him to marry Miss Cohen, who had lived with him as his wife for almost 40 years. The civil ceremony was performed on the steps of the Peekskill City Hall as their grandchildren looked on, & afterward the newlyweds took them to Carvel's for ice cream.
Abe Bluestein translated a number of works:
- With The Peasants of Aragon (1982) by Augustin Souchy Bauer, translated, with introduction by, Abe Bluestein.
- Anarchist Organization: The History of the FAI by Juan Gomez Casas, translated by Abe Bluestein
- See also the memorial volume edited by Abe Bluestein, Fighters for Anarchism: Mollie Steimer & Senya Fleshin ([New York]: Libertarian Publications Group, 1983).
Since I first created this page in August 1999, a number of other pages about Abe Bluestein have now been added online (two at infoshop.org/ are unfortunately no longer accessible in 2005, & are removed here):
See "Abe Bluestein: An Anarchist Life", by Rebecca Dewitt,
http://www.carolbluestein.com/links_shows.htm http://www.home-buy-sell.com/bayarea/newsarticles/familymisc.html NY Times obit,
Page updated Oct 2003, Sept 2005
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