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  • Writer's pictureJoseph K.

Introducing the Memoirs of Rudolf Rocker

I’m working on a book-length translation of Rudolf Rocker’s memoirs for PM Press. Rocker (1873–1958) was a labor organizer, orator, and leading early theorist of anarcho-syndicalism. The text below is the first draft excerpt that I’m publishing here (and on my Medium page here). I intend to publish additional drafts at least once a week until the book is done. If this project is at all interesting to you, please consider making a small donation. These posts will be freely available regardless, but any support I get will make the work easier and allow me to devote more time to it.


Please note: these posts are only drafts. They still need further revision, and some of them may not even make it into the final version of the book. I don’t intend to publish anything that I can’t back up, but I also can’t promise perfect prose every time. That will come later.


 

A portrait of Rudolf Rocker. In this photo, he has oval-shaped, wire glasses, a white mustache and goatee, and salt-and-pepper, slightly curly hair. He's wearing a suit with a vest and a tie.
Rudolf Rocker (1873–1958)

I was about 11 years old when my uncle got married and moved into another apartment with his young wife. That sad day, he packed his things and I helped him bring them to his new home. It wasn’t far from us and I was able to see him every day, but it wasn’t the same. He didn’t live with us anymore. Uncle Rudolf had stayed with us during the years after my father died and he became a fatherly presence for us kids. His quiet, humble nature, his gentle, understanding way of assessing people and things, and above all his tremendous warmth toward us children had made him an essential part of our household. He was a bookbinder by trade and worked in the building where we lived, so we often got to see him during the day as well. When he left, it was a huge loss for all of us.

My mother remarried a few months later. Our stepfather was a colleague of my uncle’s who visited us often, and later also began having meals at our place. He genuinely adored my mother. We kids had nothing to complain about either, but he could never replace Uncle Rudolf. We felt like our lives were intertwined with his, while our stepfather was always a stranger in the family. Our other relatives’ relationships with him were also different. Not that anyone was unfriendly. On the contrary, everyone was respectful toward him, because he was a hardworking man who gave his family every penny he earned. Still, there was an invisible chasm between him and the others. Only my old grandmother was really affectionate toward him.

That internal contradiction must have been difficult for my mother, because she often looked sad and gloomy. At the time, of course, I was far too young to really understand why, but I could sense that not everything was the way it should be. Our family had a strong sense of togetherness. Everyone knew everyone else from childhood and we all felt like limbs of the same body. It wasn’t unusual for our pronounced family spirit to grow into a family egoism. Our stepfather was an outsider who came from far away and didn’t have the same bonds connecting him to the rest of the family, so a lot of things that were completely obvious to us must have seemed strange and not always pleasant to him. So he probably often felt hurt when nobody meant to offend him. But my mother was certainly aware, and she suffered greatly for it.

Unfortunately, my mother’s marital bliss didn’t last long. Shortly after the birth of my half-brother Ludwig, who later died, she got sick and never recovered. After she was married, we left our old apartment on Münstergasse and moved to the Gallhof. We lived there for a few years, but the new environment never really appealed to me. Our old home, where I had spent the best years of my childhood, felt too integral to who I was. So I maintained all my old relationships and visited my young friends on Münstergasse almost every day.



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