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Ferrua, Pietro (Reviewer)
The Free Voice of Labor: The Jewish Anarchists
A film by Steven Fischler and Joel Sucher
Article published on 31 August 2003
last modification on 22 February 2016
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USA, 1980.

B&W and color, 60 mins.

Pacific Street Film Collective.

Cinematography by Judy Irola.

Editing by Kristina Boden

Music by Zalmen Mlotek.

Research by Erika Gottfried.

Sound by Steven Fischler.

Consultants: Paul Avrich and Ahrne Thorne.

This wonderful documentary has a particular meaning for Portland because its world premiere happened here, at The Movie House, during the First International Symposium on Anarchism, held at Lewis and Clark College in February 1980. At this important event, both directors were present, as well as their assistants Maria Gil and Erika Gottfried and the two consultants, Paul Avrich and Ahrne Thorne. The first part of the film’s title, The Free Voice of Labor, is the translation of the Yiddish-language title: Freie Arbeiter Stimme, founded on July 4, 1890, and published until 1977. The newspaper was directed by a series of editors, including Sol Yanowsky, Joseph Cohen and Ahrne Thorne. One of the interviewees in the film explains to us that the adjective "Jewish" here has no religious connotation - most of the "Jewish anarchists" were atheists or secular Jews. But it was because American authorities treated Jews as a "nationality" that they were labeled as such. In fact, there is no racial connotation either, for the German anarchist Rudolf Rocke was not a Jew but had learned Yiddish and lived among the Jews all his life, influencing many of them, including, by his own admission, the eminent thinker Noam Chomsky.

In The Free Voice of Labor , Avrich leads us through the history of the newspaper and the union organizing aspects of the multifaceted activities of the militants involved. We see the Jewish anarchists of America present in all struggles and in solidarity with their Russian comrades, before the Revolution, organizing benefit balls for the prisoners of the Czar; during the Revolution, when many returned to Russia hoping to build a new country (250 of them had been deported for having opposed the war and military compulsory service); and also after the liquidation of the anarchists by the Bolsheviks, when they founded the Anarchist Black Cross.

The following anarchists are interviewed in the film: Franz Feigler, an IWW member who had smuggled Eastern European Jews to Palestine; Fanny Breslow, a union activist; Sonia Farber; Sara Rothman; Charles Zimmerman; Irving Abrahms; Abe Bluestein; Clara Larsen; James Dick Emma Cohen; Sam Dolgoff; and Joe Conason. Each one of them contributes to the reconstitution of almost a century of incessant political, cultural and syndicalist action. With beautiful music, excellent cinematography, accurate research, and well-chosen archive footage, the film is a great contribution to the history of Yiddish culture - poems by David Edelstadt and Mani Leib are recited and we are told that all the famous Yiddish writers started out by publishing in the columns of the Freie Arbeiter Stimme - and to the development of political ideals.

Pietro Ferrua

P.S. :

See the video :

Part 1- Part 2 - Part 3


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