Socialist Worker

Chanie Rosenberg 1922-2021

by Donny Gluckstein
Issue No. 2758

Chanie threw herself into the anti-capitalist movement

Chanie threw herself into the anti-capitalist movement


Chanie Rosenberg, who has died aged 99, spent her life fighting the injustices that are still at the centre of world politics today.

Born a Jew in South Africa in 1922, then part of the British Empire, she experienced the antisemitism which, in Europe, was building up towards the horrors of the Holocaust.

But at the same time, she witnessed the appalling anti-black racism that would become codified into the apartheid system.

Turning against the system she became a socialist. But she still believed the Zionist myth that a better society could be built in Palestine which was also under British rule.

So she left South Africa and went there while the Second World War raged. But even before the Nakba—the catastrophic expulsion of Palestinians in 1948—the Zionist project involved vicious discrimination against the Arabs in Palestine.

Discovering this very quickly, Chanie became a convinced anti-Zionist. This brought her into contact with her lifelong partner, Tony Cliff, himself a Jewish Palestinian.

Racism of all stripes thrived in the British Empire and it was clearly linked to imperialism and the capitalist system.

Until the end, Chanie talked about how, from the age of 17, international socialist revolution had been her guiding light.

But for Chanie and Cliff there had to be much more than simply recognising injustice and oppression. The question was what could be done about it?

Answering that question was tricky. Internationally, Communist Parties who looked to Joseph Stalin’s Moscow as a beacon of hope dominated the anti-capitalist left.

However, this was also the time of the Moscow trials during which virtually all those who had carried out the socialist revolution of 1917 were being annihilated.

Chanie became a Trotskyist. This was because Leon Trotsky—assassinated on Stalin's orders in 1940—upheld the original spirit of socialism as the liberation and self-emancipation of humanity. It was not a system of bureaucratic state control.

So this was not just a political stance. It was about how human life could be so much more than the drudgery, exploitation and oppression of daily life for the majority.

Until the end, Chanie talked about how, from the age of 17, international socialist revolution had been her guiding light.

Taking this step was no easy choice in any country. The number of Trotskyists was tiny.

But to be a Trotskyist in Palestine not only involved a life of grinding poverty but courting the hostility of both the British authorities and the rising Zionist forces.

It soon became untenable and shortly after the war, the couple left for Britain. Here the possibilities for revolutionary socialist organisation were greater.

Chanie and Cliff

Chanie and Cliff


They began the groundwork for what became the International Socialists and the Socialist Workers Party (SWP). And Chanie played a full part in that.

In terms of the theory that underpins the SWP, Cliff played a key role with writings that developed Marxist thinking after Trotsky. These covered how Stalinist Russia was a new type of capitalism—state capitalism. They also explained how economies temporarily achieved stability through arms spending after the Second World War, and the nature of the new governments in China and Cuba.

But none would have seen the light of day if not for Chanie. She was the family breadwinner and typed up the manuscripts from Cliff’s illegible handwriting—which he admitted he often could not decipher.

Yet Chanie contributed much more than money and typing. As a union activist, she was secretary of the Hackney local association of the teachers’ NUT union.

And as a campaigner on a wider variety of issues she made her own special contribution.

As a Palestinian refugee, Cliff’s ability to remain in Britain was always precarious and he had to keep clear of engagement on the streets.

At one point he was expelled to Ireland just as Chanie was about to give birth to her first child.

She provided the vital link between the development of political theory and its testing and learning from practice, which is so central to Marxism. She was also a writer herself on matters ranging from education to Trotsky on culture and more.

Fighting Fit: Chanie Rosenbergs memoir shows a life in struggle - from the kibbutz to the classroom
Fighting Fit: Chanie Rosenberg's memoir shows a life in struggle - from the kibbutz to the classroom
  Read More

Putting together all these roles and the difficulties of building a revolutionary tradition in the face of rampant capitalism was hard. Add to that bringing up of four children—of which I’m one—and you might conclude that Chanie’s life was one of unending sacrifice.

But that would be a serious misreading of the truth.

Aided by indefatigable energy reserves, she showed that a revolutionary vision of what is possible can partially transcend the alienation and disappointment of life under capitalism.

She threw herself into art, at one time even exhibiting a sculpture at the Royal Academy. Chanie always enjoyed listening to and playing classical music. Late in life she learned to swim, which she then did every single day at the local baths.

When the international anti-globalisation movement took off there she was—whether in or out of her wheelchair—whether in Prague, Florence, or closer to home.

This was not a life of tragedy but a life of fulfilment. Indeed she attributed her longevity and optimistic view of the world to the combination of revolutionary politics and swimming in her aptly named memoir Fighting Fit.

But not even that combination can defeat the inevitable passage of time.

Chanie’s warmth and enthusiasm will be sorely missed by her many friends and comrades.

Yet the struggles that inspired her early years are inspiring millions into struggle around the world today. Even though she is no longer here to witness these, her contribution to them remains.

To contribute your own memories of Chanie please email [email protected]

 


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