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Annette T. Rubinstein: 95th Birthday Celebration

by Gerald Meyer

Annette T. Rubinstein—educator, author, activist—celebrated her ninety-fifth birthday three days early on April 9, at the Brecht Forum’s new headquarters. At a gathering of more than two hundred of her devoted family, friends, colleagues, comrades, speakers regaled the audience with personal stories and memories of Annette’s fabulous life. John Mage, representing Monthly Review, suggested that she must have had previous lives because “the breadth of vision, the historical understanding, and the contents of the memory could not have been acquired in one lifetime—even hers.” Harry Magdoff, via a taped recording, reminded the audience that “Annette in personality, in her life of creativity, activity, and humanism, illustrates the ways of Socialist women and men.” He concluded by saying “I love you”—in Yiddish.

For seventy years, Annette has been active in left politics. During the thirties, she played increasingly important roles in the movements for the unemployed and the defense of the Spanish Republic. She was a major leader of the American Labor Party, under whose banner, in two special elections in 1949, she ran for State Assembly (winning nearly one in six votes) and for Congress against Franklin D. Roosevelt, Jr. Her work in the ALP brought her into close collaboration with Vito Marcantonio, whose Congressional record she documented in I Vote My Conscience: Debates, Speeches, and Writings of Vito Marcantonio.

Annette is a consummate teacher, who taught at the School for Democracy, its successor, the Jefferson School, and since its founding thirty years ago, the Brecht Forum. She also served as a high school principal, until 1952, when the Attorney General of New York State forced her departure from that post. Her revenge was to go the New York Library where she began the process of producing an unending stream of books, articles, and reviews. Since its inception, Annette has maintained a close relationship with Monthly Review. She has steadily contributed book reviews and an occasional article for the journal; Monthly Review Press has published her most important work, the two-volume, The Great Tradition in English Literature: From Shakespeare to Shaw, which very much remains in print.

Annette closed her ninety-fifth birthday celebration with a most thought provoking and affecting talk. She reported that she had had “an extraordinarily fortunate life….[Despite] the great many tragedies, what has made it a very happy one are two reasons….I do have a real passion for poetry, and that actually, even in the darkest times, art …is very important.” A second reason Annette cited was that she had “a great cause to believe in….”

Annette closed with something that brought these two main stays of her life together—a six-line poem by Bertolt Brecht, where, in Annette’s estimation, “he succeeded in summing up the law of dialectics”:

Everything changes.
You can begin a new life with your latest breath.
What has happened has happened.
The water you poured into the wine cannot be drained off,
But everything changes.
You can begin a new life with your latest breath.

Dr. Rubinstein has never ceased being able to make being a leftist meaningful for herself and through her activities for others. She has flourished in the good times and turned the adversity of the bad times to good advantage. Her steadiness of purpose has attracted and encouraged and inspired so many others to the struggle for socialism.

Annette, who one speaker explained “has everything,” suggests that in lieu of presents friends, students, and other well wishers who are so moved can send contributions to the capital fund of the Brecht Forum, which is currently renovating a new headquarters, at 451 West Street NYC 11014.