As I sit down with the ninety-four-year-old editor of a Yiddish- language radical weekly in New York, I have the impression of whole eras passing before me. I'm his confidant--mayne touere ('my dear one' or 'dear son')--not really Yiddish-speaking, not even Jewish, but close enough to the old man's sympathies in a world that has outlived his time and his milieu. We talk about his problems of the day: raising huge sums from retired garment workers living on Social Security in order to keep the paper going; and his preparing himself, through reading and meditation, for the upcoming Rosh Hashona issue. He's preoccupied as always with questions of international peace, class struggle, and the unending contest for the Jewish soul (although he is too secular to put it that way). I ask him to analyze the accomplishments of the paper he has worked on since its founding in 1922. He says honestly that it has not been a success, despite its contributions to all those causes. He concludes that the paper discovered its own unique identity and mission within the Left too late. I see his point. I've read the old files and winced at the illusions, the hyperbole, the meanness toward competing radical entities and personalities--all seem so tragically mistaken.
But they are mistakes as historically inevitable, in one form or another, as the sectarian blunders Socialists made in 1871 or we New Leftists made in 1971. In the face of the errors (what my old friend would call, including his own mistaken actions, 'crimes against socialism'), there remains something of overriding importance: the life of radicalism itself, the survival of the movement through all its tragedies.
From a historian's viewpoint, his paper looks and feels like