Monday, February 27, 2017

"Beloved Comrades," Annette Rubinstein, Marc and the Great Tradition in English Literature

Annette T. Rubinstein was a titan who excelled as an author, educator and activist known to very few.

That was by design. Rubinstein was an uncompromising leftist, a member of the Communist Party for 15 years, but even McCarthyism and the blacklist could not silence or still her completely.

As with Vito Marcantonio, with whom she ran on the American Labor Party ticket once, her extensive labors ceaselessly expended over most of her 97 years, have been erased from this country's recent historical memory.

The Vito Marcantonio Forum (VMF) will take a first step in the remembering of Rubinstein on March 4, with a program entitled, “Beloved Comrades,” featuring Dr. Gerald Meyer, author of “Vito Marcantonio: Radical Politician,” VMF co-chair, and a friend of Rubinstein's, who will discuss the nature of her relationship to East Harlem's congressman.

Meyer has written of Rubinstein and her ability, “to influence countless numbers from every generation and to continue her work under all circumstances, including political repression and advanced age, in combination with her decent and caring approach to individuals, stands as a model for those who themselves have questioned what it can mean to live a good and productive life within the often vilified and marginalized American left.”

Her political and life choices, he has written, were motivated by her progressive secular Jewish identity.

Rubinstein was accepted to Barnard College at the age of 15, but was turned away on orientation day, because the quota for Jews had been calculated incorrectly. She went to New York University instead, and by the age of 24, had earned her doctorate.

Bryn Marr offered her a professorship at the height of the Great Depression, if she would anglicize her name, and Rubinstein refused.
George Gordon - Lord Byron

That led to a job in the Depression-era Home Relief Bureau where she encountered the difficulties of Italian and East European Jewish families coping with America. Characteristic of most everything to come, Rubinstein joined efforts organize her fellow caseworkers into a union.

In 1939, she joined the American Labor Party (ALP) and ran for assembly on Manhattan's upper West Side in 1942 and 1947. In 1949, she returned to the hustings at Marcantonio's urging, unsuccessfully contesting a congressional seat against Franklin Delano Roosevelt Jr.

She became an educator, through her purchase of the Robert Louis Stevenson School, which eventually started accepting GI education benefits from World War Two Puerto Ricans veterans. The school absorbed 600 of the vets, whom nobody seemed willing to take on.

Rather than lauding Rubinstein, the federal Veterans Administration initiated a process that ended with her blacklisting and that of 12 other teachers at the school, including her 67-year old mother.

Of course, Marcantonio is gone by now. How many lost a protector with his untimely passing?

Writes Meyer, “[I]t was really from the moment of her blacklisting that her work as an important left intellectual began.” More than half of Rubinstein's output was concerned with literature, according to Meyer.
John Keats

Her signature work is the 900-plus page volume, “The Great Tradition in English Literature From Shakespeare to Shaw.”

As part of the “Beloved Comrades” program, author Stephen Siciliano will discuss Rubinstein's analysis of the 18th century Romantics.

Rubinstein was influenced by Hungarian social and literary theorist Georg Lukacs. In his 1937 book, “The Historical Novel,” Lukacs developed a new Marxist aesthetic intent on humanizing the way history is recounted by breaking down broad based political and social movements to the interaction of its particular agents, the people.

Rubinstein's reading of English literature at the dawn of the great bourgeois epoch focuses on the writers' public lives, political activities and the social component to their work.

She penned a second review following "The Great Tradition..." entitled,  “American Literature Root and Flower: Significant Poets, Novelists and Dramatists, 1775-1955.” Rubinstein was the driving force and editor behind the publishing of “I Vote My Conscience,” a collection of Vito Marcantonio's speeches, debates and writings in the years immediately after his death in the 1950s.

She wrote some 200 articles and reviews for outlets diverse as “Mainstream,” “Monthly Review,” “Jewish Currents,” “Science and Society,” and the “National Guardian.” There were countless pamphlets, essays and letters, almost all of it, Meyer writes, “organically connected” to Rubinstein's political activism.

In the communist world, her reception was otherwise. “Root and Flower,” was published in China where schools used it as a text. She traveled the Soviet Union and Eastern block, where her works were celebrated and she got to see socialism in practice.

Percy Bysshe Shelley
She continued an activist's life, was called to testify before Congress a few times and was questioned by Tailgunner Joe McCarthy himself. Lecturing was yet another activity which she engaged at a heroic pace, covering the length and breadth of the country.

Professor Meyer has written that Rubinstein explained how her lectures on Shakespeare, “were motivated by an encounter during the thirties with a Communist who scoffed at her suggestion that he attend a production of 'Macbeth.' He responded, 'Why would a leftist want to see a play about kings and queens?'”

Answering that question became, “a type of life-long mission for her,” wrote Meyer. 

Rubinstein died in 2007 and achieved too much, worked too hard, affected too many lives for the good, to be erased from memory by a collective insanity that impacted she and so many others.

Please join the Vito Marcantonio Forum for a revival of Annette T. Rubinstein's politics and literature and life.  

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Vito Marcantonio Forum to Honor Melissa Mark-Viverito

And yet, there is a legacy.
Melissa Mark-Viverito.

Destroyed politically by his enemies, shunted into historical anonymity by the same forces, Vito Marcantonio's efforts resisted complete erasure. Concrete structures and subtler traces of Marc's presence testify to his having lived and been democratically chosen to lead.

Vito Marcantonio's influence on those who came after him embody the continued projection of his values.

Melissa Mark-Viverito, outgoing president of New York's city council, is one such projection of those values and on Feb. 5, the Vito Marcantonio Forum (VMF) will honor her service to East Harlem and to the memory of its favorite congressman during a First Annual Awards Luncheon.

The blacklist and the victims of the Red witch hunt that possessed America in the 1940s and '50s destroyed lives, not just in the moment, but going forward for decades thereafter. Defeated in his own time, Marc was defeated in perpetuity as well.


It has never been easy to come out for Marcantonio in New York City or beyond, but Mark-Viverito enthusiastically embraced the hopes and aspirations he had for their shared constituency.

Guided by her mentor, activist Gloria Quinones, she never ran from the legacy Marc left in the northeast corner of Manhattan Island, instead worked to restore and build on it.

Significantly, over its five-year labor to recuperate the forgotten Marcantonio, the VMF has been able to count upon the support of the city council president's office.

VMF co-chair Gerald Meyer has called Melissa Mark-Viverito, “A great hero who follows in the footsteps of Vito Marcantonio.”

It is her track record of actions and collaboration which made Ms. Mark-Viverito the obvious choice for the Vito Marcantonio Award.
At Woodlawn Cemetery.

On Aug. 9, 2014, the councilwoman joined the VMF beside Marc's grave site at Woodlawn Cemetery.

She honored Meyer and the group for its passion in keeping the memory of Marcantonio – whose name she pronounes with a Castilian clip – alive.

“We all know that too often, it is the brave and those that stand up for their ideals that are overlooked in the history books,” she told the gathered that day.

“As a Puertoriqueña, I am even more grateful, because he was a true ally for Puerto Rico and for the independence of the island at a time when many were afraid to speak up. He was our voice, he was our congressman. He stood up against the repression of the nationalist movement at time when it was very difficult to do that.

So we, as a community, are very grateful,” she continued, “and I think that aspect of his advocacy and what he represents needs to be learned, because there are many in Puerto Rico who don't even know who Vito Marcantonio was.”

In 2016, she enthusiastically joined the VMF on its People's Procession: A Walking Tour of East Harlem,” which she deemed a great way to honor, “A voice for disadvantaged individuals who really fought hard on behalf of many issues that we still care about today, in terms of living wage, in terms of immigrants and empowerment in general. I feel proud to represent a district that was represented by Vito Marcantonio.”

During the People's Procession.

During last year's Aug. 28 commemoration at the downtown Manhattan location where Marcantonio's remarkable, yet untold, story came to an untimely end, Mark-Viverito said (minute 18:40), “He could fight across communities, he was an ally to us as Boricuos – as Puertoriqueños – an ally to immigrant communities. That is how I look at the work that I do: If I want equality and justice for myself as a woman and Latina I have to fight as hard as hell for equality and justice in the LBGT community, immigrant communities, for our African-American brothers and sisters. Vito did that well and strongly.”

Melissa Mark-Viverito was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico and raised in Bayamon. She came to New York as college student and graduated from Columbia University in 1991.

She earned a masters from Baruch College and went on to organize for Local 1199, Service Employees International Union, a long-time progressive force in New York politics. She was elected on a second try to represent Council District 8, which includes Marc's old East Harlem bailiwick.

Her office is located on 116th Street in East Harlem, just as Marcantonio's was, and La Guardia before him.

Mark-Viverito was elected Speaker of the City Council in 2014 at the age of 44, the first member of that body's Black, Latino and Asian Caucus to assume the position. She is co-chair of the Progressive Caucus, which counts 16 of 51 city councilmembers among its number.

In 2016, she introduced the Justice Reform Act, which reduced the penalty for petty offenses such as violating park rules, public urination, and littering.

In mid-October 2016, following Donald Trump's remarks on “Access Hollywood,” Mark Viverito announced that she had been sexually abused as a child.

She held a press conference providing the particulars of that abuse during which the “New York Times” quoted her thusly:

“When you have an individual,” she told the press, “who is boasting about violating, and taking from, a woman something without her consent, I just couldn't anymore. And to have someone laughing and goading it and enabling it is just, it is very painful for me and it triggered things that I hadn't felt in a long time.”

The Times,” reported her as citing Trump's revealed behavior as triggering the announcement.

A lifelong spokeswoman for domestic violence awareness, she has admonished local baseball teams for signing men accused of beating on women (Aroldis Chapman, Jose Reyes, Josh Brown).

A long-time advocate for the release of imprisoned Puerto Rican nationalist Oscar Lopez-Rivera, “Politico” reported that Mark-Viverito “burst into tears” upon hearing that former President Barack Obama had pardoned the 74-year old on his way out the White House door.

Like Marcantonio, Mark-Viverito stands for Puerto Rican independence.

Her closing days in office suggest that madame president is not going quietly, or going anywhere, once her term is up.

Just weeks after Trump's victory, the “New York Post” reported Mark-Viverito leading a march to his Tower in protest of the president-elect's “racist, sexist, anti-gay” views.

Like Marcantonio before her, she has taken the side of immigrants in the face of Trump's deportation-minded policies.

The city council president will be on hand to accept the Vito Marcantonio Award, bestowed upon her for following “the often rocky, hard path of fighting the powers-that-be on behalf of the people.”

Prior recipients include Ralph Fasanella, Annette T. Rubinstein, and Pete Pascale

The place is Gaetana's Ristorante Italiano at 143 Christopher Street (at Greenwich Street). The time is 12-4 p.m. The program will be emceed by poet Maria Lisella, and include a talk by Dr. Gerald Meyer, dramatizations by LuLu LoLo Pascale and Roberto Ragone, and a reading by poet Gil Fagiani.

Tickets are $20 in advance and can be purchased at Brown Paper Tickets.

The Wilson-Pakula Act of 1947

Vito Marcantonio said the new law had everything but his picture on it.

That's because legislative text has no pictures, otherwise it might have, with a target superimposed over Marc's face. 

But the bill had names affixed to it and they were the names of Marcantonio's enemies.

Among them were Republicans gone apoplectic at the prospect of the leftist radical winning their own primary along with those of the Democratic and American Labor (ALP) party contests.

In 1942, Marcantonio got up the nose of Tom Curran, leader of the New York County Republican Party. Curran said his outfit “had no room for communists” and posted one Charles Mucciolo against Marc.

Mucciolo, and Curran, got their hats handed to them in the process, 2,784 to 291.

That same year, the Democrats nominated Franky Ricca as candidate in the 20th Congressional District, maybe a sacrificial lamb given Tammany's willingness to cut a deal with Marc's ALP over who was to be balloted and for what job. Marcantonio beat Ricca 5,247 to 2,529.

The ALP primary was, of course, Marc's for the taking.

A “New York Times” editorial noted that Marcantonio could not be a communist, as frequently charged, because communism is a one party system whereas the East Harlemite, “can run on three party tickets, and very likely a lot more if there were any.”

Mssrs. Wilson and Pakula
In 1944, Marc repeated the trick in spite of the fact his district had been redrawn to include a constituency less tailored to his progressive brand.

Nonetheless, he defeated Martin Kennedy on the Democratic line 10,311 to 7,761. He bested Republican Robert Palmer by less than 200 votes, but the result was the same.

Alan Shaffer, in his book “Vito Marcantonio: Radical in Congress,” dubbed him the “all-party candidate” and dedicated a chapter to the phenomenon.

It was not a situation to everyone's liking.

During her testimony before a congressional committee investigating election conditions in East Harlem following Marc's 1946 victory, Republican activist Beatrice Brown testified, “Two years ago he ran on all three tickets and won all three, and that is enough to get any American upset, to have anybody go in on all three. That is the first time it ever happened [it wasn't]. The Republicans were so sure that he could win that they didn't work very hard. I carried my district seven-to-one against him, but a lot of them didn't.”

The forces of reaction found their antidote in the Wilson-Pakula Act of 1947, which was signed by Gov. Tom Dewey (R). Republican Senator Irwin Pakula and GOP Assemblyman Malcom Wilson were the measure's sponsors.

Wilson would one day govern the state for a short time, when Nelson Rockefeller assumed the vice presidency, but fail in his bid to reclaim the job electorally. “The Times” called the law “Senator Pakula's most enduring legacy.”

But we digress.

In an in an April 2, 2013 post, “New York Times” blogger Sam Roberts broke the normal silence associated with Marc's name, noting that, “The legislation was largely aimed at the left-wing parties and their crossover candidates, particularly Vito Marcantonio, who was elected to the House of Representatives from East Harlem as a Republican in 1934, was defeated by a Democrat two years later, but returned to Congress in 1938 after winning on the ballot of the American Labor Party, a left wing party that was linked to the communists. He also ran on the Republican line, but after he won, Marcantonio identified in the House with the American Labor Party.”

In a March 11, 1947 article headlined “Assembly Adopts Marcantonio Curb,” “The Times,” said the bill was intended to “make it more difficult for Representatives Marcantonio and Adam Clayton Powell to enter the primaries of more than one recognized party.”

In “Vito Marcantonio:Radical Politician,” professor Gerald Meyer noted that a secondary provision required candidates accepting second-party help to do so in writing, which is to say, in public.

This, Meyer wrote, “undermined the potential deals between the ALP and the major parties because the recipients of the ALP's endorsements would have to go before the electorate having openly accepted the endorsement of what was increasingly considered a 'communist-dominated' party.”

If you haven't guessed by now, the Red Scare was in full blossom, making the passage of restrictive legislation like Wilson-Pakula an easy rout of its progressive opponents.

The ALP challenged the measure on grounds it targeted Marcantonio, limited voters' rights and enhanced the power of political bosses. A New York Court of Appeals disagreed.

In the end, the law had the impact the ALP said it would. The “fusion” electoral process peculiar to New York State placed party bosses in a position to extract what they could from “outside” candidates wanting to run on the their ticket.

In 2013, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) introduced a package of reform bills that included repeal of the act, but it did not prosper.

The law reared its uglyhead again in the presidential election of 2016, when the possibility of keeping independent socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders (I) off the ballot in the New York State primary became a campaign issue.

Immigrant Stories

Anthony Tamburri
Anthony Tamburri recently wrote “When We Were Were Muslims,” for “La Voce di New York,” hearkening back to a time when Italians in America were declared enemy aliens. 

President Trump's Muslim travel ban edict reminded Tamburri, dean, John D. Calandra Italian American Institute, of his grandmother who came to the United States from Puglia in 1906.

On Feb. 14, 1942, at the age of 61, this mother to 11 children, “along with approximately 695,000 other Italian citizens residing in the United States,” he wrote, “was designated an 'enemy alien,' identity card and all; and as a consequence, she was restricted from sensitive areas in this country, wherever they might have been classified.

“The absurdity of all this,” he continued, “was that she, like the preponderance of the other 695,000 enemy aliens from Italy residing in this country, was one of many harmless individuals who had escaped an impoverished and, in some areas, naturally diseased (malaria) land (southern Italy).”

The proposed ban on Muslims, he said, is an echo from that terrible time.

“As all Italians were seen as swarthy, violent, womanizers, Mafiosi (some would insist such stereotyping still exists) now, so it seems,” he continued, “all Muslims are potential jihadists and hence need to be kept out of the United States for at least 120 days, until they can be vigorously vetted.

“The painting of one brush is simply something we have witnessed too many times in our modern era.”
Salvatore LaGumina

In “Vito Marcantonio: The People's Politician,” Salvatore LaGumina identified the radical congressman as one who fought often and early for the rights, not only of immigrants, but for those branded as “illegal.”

In 1935, LaGumina noted, a bill was proposed authorizing the Secretary of Labor to deport aliens found guilty of disseminating propaganda from foreign sources (H.R. 7221). Marc called it a “vicious bill which presaged an avalanche of punitive alien and sedition bills aimed at further persecution of immigrants.”

The World War was passed, he asserted, “Let us legislate not by hysteria but with common sense.”

Wrote LaGumina, “In his objection to the proposed legislation, he left an excellent statement of his position on civil rights, a policy he adhered to consistently throughout his career. He maintained that he did not believe in the deportation of anyone because of his different political views, since this government was based on the principles of freedom of speech, press, religion, and thought.”

Marcantonio, LaGumina said, was teaching the moral that minorities should be protected, citizenship status notwithstanding. He fought for the rights of those faced with deportation based on illegal entry, but who were, otherwise, of good character.

Immigrants, Marc noted, had fought in the European war. “They were good and decent people then. Why are they not good decent people now? Against this disgusting bigotry, I cry shame.”

And thusly did he convince his House colleagues to approve a stay of deportation resolution.

When Tamburri's grandmother was issued an alien ID card, Marcantonio was leading the fight to protect Italian-American immigrants from legislation targeting them for special handling as “enemies.”

Below is a chapter from “The Goodfather,” a novel about Marc's life by Stephen Siciliano, dramatizing the issue of Italian persecution during the war.

(Then) Domenica Behind Bars (July 30, 1940)

Grandma Rose Siciliano

"You should leave her there," Rosina huffed.

"Rosie," The Marc scolded. "She's your mother. You can't leave her in jail."

"She acts like she sits at the right hand of the Madonna when it comes to judgin' me. Then she goes and gets picked up for playing the numbers."

Marc knew how the ladies of East Harlem Puerto Rican Negro and Italian were all serious players of the numbers games operating out of barber shops shoeshine stops and candy stores all over the place.

"Where does she get the money?"

"Pat," Rosina answered. "Who do you think runs the show? He gives her money for food and some of it goes to the numbers."

"She ever win?"

"Who knows? She don't make confessions Vito. She only demands them."

"Well, alright. I'm not getting in between you and Domenica, but she is a constituent and she is in trouble and I don't see how I could possibly not help her." He threw on a jacket. He was wearing a sharp summer suit no vest for once. "You comin'?"


Marc found out that a Puerto Rican bodega where Domenica did her business got raided while she was in there. He got her released for a promise she would not gamble again. They left the precinct together.

Somebody's Mamma.
"What are you doing in a numbers bank in El Barrio?"

"That's my business."

"I thought you didn't trust the Puerto Ricans."

"You can't fix the games any more. The Numbers King made it so the numbers are based on the stock market numbers they put in the daily paper. The three-number winner comes from a combination of the last two numbers of what they call the 'exchange total'. Then they take the third number from the last number of the 'balance total.' Capito?"

"No. I don't follow you and I should point out that The Numbers King, as you call Mr. Caspar Holstein, is not someone you should trust just like that."

"Nonsense. He's like you used to be. Good to his people. Besides, I go over there so nobody from the neighborhood sees me. You know why they raided that place, Vito? Because they said it was full of aliens. These Spanish people are bringing the law down on the neighborhood and good Italians like me are getting caught up in it. They were all talking in the jail and they are afraid of a law that will make aliens register with the government and that you are trying to stop it. Don't stop that bill Marc.”

“What? You were born in the United States?”

My friend Gilbert's Mama.
“You know very well that I was born in the old country.”

“You got citizenship?”

“What for?”

“Then you are an alien, Domenica, just like them.”

“Well then you gotta stop that bill Marc. Do everything you can.”

“I was going to give a radio talk on it.”

“You have to do more. In Congress maybe. And while I have you I want to say that I see you going in with the Spanish people. Abandoning us Italians in Harlem.”

"I'm here," Marc barked. "It's the Italians who abandon the Italians. For heaven's sake Domenica, I come to bail you out and you ball me out? You're gambling in a Puerto Rican bodega. Your daughter lived with a Puerto Rican for years-"

"Don't remind me!" her hand chopped his chest. Vito grimaced but was used to it. "That's your fault. You were for bringing those Spanish people here. Everyone says it."

"You blaming me for helping Puerto Ricans or for the way your daughter lives?"

"I think you know," she jumped into Marc's Packard and turned away to the window and made no more noise all the way home. When she got out of the car Domenica said, "Can you keep quiet about this? I don't want Pasquale to know."

"What about Rosina? She knows."

"Don't you worry about Rosina, Vito. I will handle her."

Somebody else's Mama.

"That would be a first," the Marc shot back and closed the door before she could fire in return.

They passed the bill but not before Marc had his say about H.R. 5138 or what they were calling the Smith Act.

He told those who said the bill was needed to protect American democracy that its true result would be to "destroy American liberty. In a period as trying as is this period, the test of democracy lies in the ability of that democracy to maintain its liberties, to preserve those liberties, and to have more freedom rather than less freedom."

The Hon. Rep. Joe Gavagan, an Empire State Democrat, asked The Marc, "Would not my colleague from New York concede the right of a democracy to defend itself?"

Said the Marc: "A democracy has a perfect right to protect itself, but remember this: you are not protecting democracy by this legislation. Spies and saboteurs will not register nor submit to fingerprinting. I believe that spies and saboteurs and anybody who engages in illegal activity should be immediately apprehended and severely punished. You do not accomplish that end by this bill. You only undermine American freedom."

Word of the speech ran through the streets of East Harlem. Nobody didn't agree.

And Vito was not finished. On July 30, 1940 the neighborhood sat down in their bars and social clubs and kitchens next to the radio to hear Marc's latest version of events.

They would want to hear his side of the story about the rackets about the Russians about Scottoriggio.

But The Marc had other things on his mind:

"On June 28, 1940, the President of the United States approved an act which provides that within 60 days thereafter, every noncitizen who is 14 years of age or older, and who has not been registered and fingerprinted prior to his entry into the United States shall report to the nearest post office or at such places as may be designated by the commissioner of immigration, to be fingerprinted and registered."

The neighborhood was listening.

"I told him to give this radio talk," Domenica explained to Art and Pasquale as the macaronis were dished into shiny chipped plates.

"When did you talk to The Marc?" Pat wanted to know.

“I don't know. On the street.”

“You don't know, or on the street? Which one?”

Marc interrupted them: "I submit that the best way to preserve the American way of life is to preserve our liberties. American democracy can live only by letting it live. Limiting it will not permit it to live. It will choke it and kill it. Only by strict adherence to the Declaration of Independence, only by strict adherence to the Bill of Rights, only by the militant and vigilant realization that there are no 'ifs' and that there are no 'buts' to these great principles of our country, can we successfully defend our American way of life."