An Obituary for Aaron Rogat

By Marcus Graham
Black Flag Vol IV No 13, 1977

It is with great sorrow and a feeling of deep loss that we learned recently of the death in December of our close comrade and collaborator Aaron Rogat. Whenever we were faced with a financial crisis – which was (and is) often – Aaron was always among the very first to contribute his hard earned cash. Aaron’s widow informs us that he has left a considerable sum of money in his will to Black Flag, Cienfuegos Press, Black Star and the Bulletin of the SRAF. We can only try to live up to the high expectations of this sorely missed veteran who played an important part in giving continuity to the ideas of revolutionary activism. We hope we do credit to his memory. [Black Flag]

AN OBITUARY FOR AARON ROGAT

Marcus Graham, one of Aaron Rogat’s closest comrades of many years standing, writes:

California in the late 1920s was the Mecca which attracted many radical youngsters of which I was but one. I had known beforehand of the existence of the anarchist group ”Free Society” and it was there I met Aaron Rogat for the first time. The majority of the group members were readers of the Jewish anarchist paper Freie Arbeiter Stimme (Free Workers’ Voice), issued by the group of the same name and sponsored by the Jewish Anarchist Federation which in turn was made up of groups in different parts of the country. The paper had a chequered list of editors, the most outstanding being David Edelstadt who was considered by many to be one of the most outstanding poets in Yiddish literature. Through carrying out his editorial duties in a damp basement David contracted TB and died in a sanitorium in Denver, Colorado. Another M. Katz, was a well-known literary critic, but the longest to hold the position of editor was Sh. Yanovsky who was brought over from England to do the job. Yanovsky was a brilliant journalist, compared with Rudolf Rocker, the editor of the London paper Arbeiter Freund (The Workers’ Friend) he was far from being a revolutionary anarchist. In World War I Yanovsky sided with the anarchists who opposed it, but in World War II he did a complete volte face and went as far as including an advert placed by the U.S. Government urging readers to buy Liberty Bonds! He ended his editorship when he started collaborating on the socialist daily Forverts (Forward).

When the social revolution took place in Russia and the Bolsheviks managed to absorb the then editor of Freie Arbeiter Stimme, Dr. J.A. Merryson, although thought of as a revolutionist, realised that the revolution has been betrayed by the Bolsheviks and set out to expose them. Most anarchists outside of Russia were pro-Bolshevik, including the business manager of F.A.S., Joseph Cohen. Cohen succeeded in ousting Merryson as editor of the paper and took on the job himself. At that time I was editing an English language monthly which was published clandestinely by the ”Free Society” Group and when Cohen began to reveal his revisionist position outdoing even that of Dr. Merryson, I wrote two articles showing how non-anarchist his position was. He replied, but refused to allow any follow up to the discussion by saying that my reply quoted too many anarchists. Most of the ”Free Society” Group were in sympathy with my position and, after many discussions, it was agreed that a new Jewish speaking movement should be formed to counter the revisionist and pro-Bolshevik stand taken by the Free Arbeiter Stimme. I drew up a manifesto which was read and approved by the group, and which was signed by Aaron Rogat, Joseph Spivak and myself. This manifesto also announced that I was to embark on a hitch-hiking lecture tour to enlist the support of the Jewish speaking groups. Cohen’s reply to this was to publish an attack on us in an attempt to ridicule Rogat and Spivak as ignoramuses and to call into question the method by which I earned my living. (It was well-known in our circles that I only worked at either of my two trades if I was in material need). The immediate protest made against this libel by the ”Free Society” Group was suppressed by Cohen. Our group sent representatives to the publications group which issued Freie Arbeiter Stimme to demand that Cohen retract his unfounded and unwarranted accusation. They appointed a committee to investigate the matter and later printed a partial retraction. The Radical Library of Philadelphia, where Cohen and I were once members, set up an honourary tribunal composed of seven members, and both Cohen and myself were asked to attend. Cohen refused to come, but I did attend and after many sessions the committee published a lengthy report which denounced Cohen’s insinuations as utterly false and indefensible, and demanded that he retract them. He printed the report, but issued no retraction and it was only when Dr. Michael Cohn became secretary to the Federation that Cohen was forced to retract publicly in the paper. However, Cohen did succeed in putting our attempt to form a new movement on the defensive, and thereby killing it. It was at this juncture that Aaron Rogat, Joseph Spivak, myself, and many others of the ”Free Society” Group withdrew from any further participation in the Jewish speaking anarchist movement.

In 1923 Hippolyte Havel and a group of comrades founded ”The Road to Freedom”. This paper was to appear monthly until 1932, and Rogat, Spivak and myself gave it moral and material support. Within the labour movement itself Freie Arbeiter Stimme took the side of the socialists who were in control of the paying jobs. Cohen and his associates wanted the Road to Freedom to do likewise and, when Havel refused they withdrew their support. It was then Havel wrote to me to say that this decision sealed the fate of the paper’s continued existence, and to encourage me to start a new paper. The Italian speaking comrades of San Francisco were most anxious to have a paper to take the place of Road to Freedom and they agreed to suspend publication of Emanzipazione to support our venture. Thus MAN! first appeared in January 1933 published by the International Group of San Francisco. When the paper was moved to Los Angeles Aaron Rogat was overjoyed. The International Group consisted of comrades of many different nationalities and languages and lasted up until 1940 when it was eventually suppressed by the U.S. Government. Rogat was the Treasurer of the Group, and having learned the key typing system was of enormous assistance (I could not break the habit of two finger typing). Aaron was also invaluable in proof reading galley pulls.

In 1968 when the magazine Anarchos first made its appearance Aaron gave it his full enthusiastic support and, in 1969, when a group of comrades in Seattle, began to publish a duplicated newsletter called Ideas (later renamed Black River) he also gave it material support. The same whole-hearted material support was forthcoming for Match and Aaron did everything he could to build up its subscription list. When the break between the editor of The Match and myself came (because of my criticism of the anti-revolutionary stand taken by that paper) Rogat was deeply hurt when the Italian speaking comrades – at whose affairs he was one of the most active participants – continued to support that paper financially, disregarding the vicious attacks made against me by the editor. Aaron went through all the correspondence between myself and the editor of The Match and typed it all out as the best proof of the editor’s anti-revolutionary position. There was no need to issue this correspondence after Black Flag denounced the editor for the rogue he was, (although Aaron had prepared everything for the printer who was eventually to do it). Aaron also insisted in sharing with me the cost of publishing MAN! through Cienfuegos Press (as well as leaving them a considerable sum of money to enable them to continue the good work they are doing).

Rogat has left a companion, a son and two grandchildren. As a furrier by trade Rogat was also active in its union, refusing to side either with the right wing which controlled it, or the left that aimed at gaining control.

His passing at the age of 86 is a great loss to our movement, but at the same time he is an inspiring example of the fine devotion that our ideal inspires among sincere thinking people.

Marcus Graham

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