Socialist Worker

Remembering Chanie Rosenberg

Issue No. 2758

Chanie Rosenberg

Chanie Rosenberg


Here we publish our readers' memories of Chanie Rosenberg. You can contribute yours through [email protected]  To view and download the booklet of photographs that will be distributed at Chanie's funeral, go here

 

Salute to a great comrade

We in the Socialist Workers Network in Ireland wish to pay tribute to our revolutionary comrade Chanie Rosenberg on her passing after a lifetime in the struggle.

Chanie was an inspiration to all who met her.

Her indomitable commitment to the working class and what she held to be the core principle of socialism and Marxism—that the emancipation of the working class is the act of the working class itself – combined with her immense energy and infectious  enthusiasm for the cause left an indelible mark  on all whom she encountered and wherever she went.

This included Ireland which she visited on a number of occasions beginning with regular trips to Dublin in the late 40s when Cliff was forced to be here due to exclusion from England. She came also in the 80s when she spoke with the Waterford Crystals workers and other Waterford comrades  and then more recently in 2011 when she was nearly ninety. But Irish comrades also met her frequently in London especially in the early days of establishing and building our forerunner organisation, the Socialist Workers Movemen (SWM)t, and then regularly at London Marxism and at other international events such as the dramatic anti-capitalist Genoa protest on 2001 and the World Social Forum in Florence in 2002.

Chanie’s experience of building as a very small group and in very difficult circumstances, first in Palestine in the 1940s and then in Britain in the 1950s was of considerable assistance to us in Ireland as we sought, back in the seventies to get together, to organise and to establish our first roots in the working class.  Mike Milotte recalls how influential Chanie was in his decision to return to Belfast to set up a Belfast branch of the SWM in 1971.  

But what is really striking is how what were always the main characteristics of Chanie’s Marxism—her loyalty to the class and to the project of building a revolutionary party, her commitment to rank and file trade unionism, her intense anti-racism and anti-fascism, her uncompromising anti-Zionism and support for the liberation of Palestine—remain not only relevant but absolutely central to revolutionary socialist practice today.

Chanie was the last survivor of those who laid the foundations of our international political tradition more than 70 years ago and made an immense contribution to its survival and development.  All of those who still stand and fight in that tradition stand on her shoulders and in her debt.

Socialist Workers Network


Tear gas in Genoa

I first met Chanie early in 1977 in a cold hall behind a pub in deepest Cornwall. Tony Cliff was speaking at a meeting of Devon and Cornwall SWP district. I can’t remember what he said, but I was the young new member and Chanie made a beeline for me.

She gave me a crash course in revolutionary politics—socialism from below, the Russian Revolution, Stalinism, State Capitalism, the failures of the Labour Party. She listened intently and took my bumbling questions seriously. I was so impressed.

But my abiding memory is from 2001. Four of us were flying out to join the great anti-capitalist protests in Genoa but Anna fell ill at the last moment.

Sue Caldwell and I agreed to look after Chanie (aged 79)—actually, I don’t think we had a choice.

The journey was a saga in itself. Genoa airport was closed and all flights were diverted to Turin. All trains from Turin to Genoa were cancelled.

It seemed the whole country was in lockdown. Carlo Guiliani had been murdered by the police and the left had called for a mass mobilisation in Genoa the next day.

Chanie had made friends with Christian activists on the flight who had contacts in Turin and we managed to get onto coaches heading to Genoa very early the next morning.

It was a scorcher and there were so many coaches backing up that we had to get off on the motorway and walk into Genoa. The coach stewards were paranoid about potential attacks from the riot police and the “black bloc”.

It was very tense and we were under heavy instruction to stick together but Chanie blithely ignored this. She kept wandering off into the packed crowds, chatting with people and taking photos, lots of photos.

She was annoying our stewards who were very concerned about having responsibility for an elderly woman—little did they know.

Strangers

Chanie’s ability to strike up conversations with complete strangers was extraordinary. For an hour or two the dense demo did not move.

But out of the blue Chanie spotted a young man carrying a Socialist Worker placard. She was onto him in a flash and he confirmed that the British contingent was a long way ahead. We decided to go for it and pushed our way through to go forward.

The cause of the delay became obvious. On the gorgeous Genoa seafront promenade there were many hundreds of Black Bloc activists tooled up with shields, crash helmets and staves. Across the road were the riot police, who looked remarkably similar.

An epic battle appeared imminent but we had to get through between them. Chanie was fearless and urged us on, so we legged it.

For the first time she faltered—the heat, the exertion, her age were catching up with her. But through sheer bloody-minded willpower she kept going.

Then the demonstration came under tear gas attack from the riot police and police boats off the beach. Once again we were on the move but we knew we were in trouble when young men started sprinting past us and the gas canisters were getting closer.

We ducked out into quiet side streets. I will never forget Chanie grinning and saying, “Don’t worry, look what I’ve got.” Out of her carrier bag she pulled out some strips of cloth and a bottle of Sarsons vinegar, all the way from England.

Chanie Rosenberg taught me how to cope with tear gas.

Simon Hester


Great devotion

My memories of Chanie go back a long way. What I especially remember is the first production of the new journal International Socialism. This was back in the late 1950s and the IS group as we were called was small, certainly less than 100 members.

It was decided that we needed a theoretical Journal to fight for the group’s ideas especially the developments of Russian State capitalism and the impact of the arms budgets. Working in the Labour Party’s Young Socialists it became essential.

The problem was in what form could we as a small group of workers with no money produce a journal. I understand that Chanie came into some money from South Africa, and this was invested in a hand operated Roneo Duplicator.

Duplicating required that someone type onto a wax sheet called a stencil, this is placed on the machine’s drum and by turning the handle you produce the copy hopefully in some legible form.

John Phillips and I were told by Tony Cliff how important it was for the future of the group and everything depended on us

Chanie would type the articles up and then myself and John would turn the handles, collate the pages, staple them and eventually have to sell them.

Considering that the journal was over 50 pages that meant over 100 stencils had to be typed which would include deciphering Cliff’s handwriting.

We worked in John’s lodging room, so we had to be quiet and come and go carefully. It was a bit like working as an illegal organisation.

Chanie was typing away singing, one of us turning the handle, the other finding where the missing pages had been put.

Chanie did all the typing. We met most evenings and at weekends and Chanie kept us at it for about two weeks.

The important thing I remember was how Chanie’s devotion to producing the journal was an example to us. Never complaining, she never scolded us if things went wrong and was always available to discuss as we worked.

Despite the fact that we were in our teens, she was never patronising and always argued with us when we were wrong.

The publication did sell well and was part of the group’s growing confidence to assert our ideas in the movement. Chanie was central in this not just by all the typing but by winning two young men to give some of the same dedications to the struggle that she gave all her life.

Roger Cox


Enthusiasm and encouragement

I'm so sorry to hear about Chanie. I remember when I joined the SWP in Hackney during the late 1980s she popped round for a pep talk. I was a bit intimidated at first because here was a socialist with so much experience but she really encouraged me to get stuck into the branch which I did.

I will never forget her enthusiasm and encouragement. We are able to carry on that tradition because she kept it alive.

Ray Brazier


One of the nice people

I have so many memories of Chanie from the first meetings I went to at Allerton Rd where Chanie, as treasurer, would collect half a crown (12.5p) from each of us.

It was a house crowded with comrades and children, all made to feel welcome with constant mugs of tea.

There was Tony Cliff interrogating workers about the minutest details of their working conditions.

There was Chanie talking about education and her union activities and telling us how when Roger and his teenage friends first became involved, she had organised educationals for them. She added, “And I set them little exams and theylovedit.”

Most of all, though it is her kindness and generosity to me when I was on maternity leave.

Her timetable meant she was off on Friday afternoons. She would take me shopping in her car—which Roger had the unenviable task of maintaining. Cliff used to be very rude about his efforts and I staunchly defended him.

Chanie's driving technique, if you can call it that, was not kind to an elderly vehicle.

But the occasion I shall never forget came one evening towards the end of my first pregnancy, in fact I had already passed my due date.

Roger was out doing a meeting somewhere and I had been watching a tragic play on TV, I think it was A Taste of Honey, and was feeling very emotional.

I rang Chanie and through my tears said, “Do you know where Roger is?” Although it must have been about 11pm, she and Cliff were round in ten minutes.

That's the sort of person Chanie was.

That's why the International Socialists were described as the “nice people” and that's why so many of us are so proud to have known her.

Sarah Cox


An inspiration

It wasn't that long ago that Chanie was still selling Socialist Worker with us in Dalston.

She was a Marxist revolutionary, a Trotskyist, an anti-racist and anti-fascist, a founding member of the Socialist Workers Party who kept faith with the party all her life, a teacher, a sculptor, a swimmer, and a fighter for a better world.

About ten (ish) years ago I was cycling down Church Street in Hackney, dropping off copies of the paper to various comrades. When I passed a bus shelter, I saw Chanie sitting in it.

I stopped to say “Hello” and ask how she was.

“I've just been to my belly dancing classes and am finishing up Fingersmith by Sarah Waters—it's about a Victorian lesbian couple who outwit an aristocrat—and then I'm joining some friends in the pub for a drink," she said.

Not bad for a woman entering her 90s.

She was a great comrade and a great activist and a great teacher. She was an inspiration.

Chanie’s was a life well lived and I think I would have lived a worse life if I had never met her.

Sasha Simic, Hackney SWP


A brave fighter

During her extraordinary life, Chanie achieved crucial contributions, along with Cliff, to the theoretical development of Marxism.

But I also remember Chanieas a quite extraordinary human being.

She had so much energy and so many gifts. I was a member of HackneyNUT Teachers’ Association and she was my guiding light and inspiration as a rep at Skinners’ School.

I also swam in that same swimming pool at Clissold Park. Chanie had this unique “rolling style” crawl which would just go on and on and on, length after length.

It mirrored her political and unique determination to fight for a better world.

Leon Trotsky while in the middle of leading the Red Army to defeat the Russian white armies made time to read the latest French avant-garde literature. So Chanie was also inspired by art, literature and music.

Chanie’s friends were not confined to party members. We shared one such friend, Dorothy McColgan, a veteran of the William Tyndale fight to defend progressive education in North London.

They shared a great friendship and passion for art, films and literature. Dorothy died 11 years ago at the age of 90 and Chanie was there at the funeral to say a final farewell. Dorothy, if alive today, would have done the same for Chanie.

Chanie was a brave fighter against fascism. I remember one evening when the fascists attacked an SWP meeting in the Rose and Crown pub in Hackney. Chanie was at the heart of fighting them off, following it up with a meeting with the landlord of the pub the next day to try and persuade him to let us keep meeting there.

Whether it was demonstrations in hackney, London or further afield Chanie was always there with determination, warmth and encouragement.

Thank you Chanie for so many inspiring moments both personal and political that have helped to sustain me over the last 46 years of socialist activism.

Roger Green


Dublin visits

It was great to be in Dublin with Chanie. I saw my town through her eyes, and was privileged to hear her stories of when she travelled back and forth between Dublin to visit Tony Cliff, and London, to mind her kids and keep her job.

Her visits were infrequent and difficult, back in those years, when his "domicile" was tenous, and in question with the authorities. I think this was in the late 1940s, early 1950s. But she brought joy and vigour and sunshine to the stories and to the remembrances, when she visited us in Dublin, many years later.

Would he have managed to make the contribution he did, without her? Maybe. But then again....

Some woman for one woman, was our comrade Chanie. 

Always in our hearts, and in the struggle.

Mary Smith, Dublin


Austrian strikers

Chanie Rosenberg visited Austria several times and left a deep impression on Linkswende (Left Turn), our branch of the International Socialist Tendency in Austria. 

In 2004 she spoke in Linz at the Austrian Social Forum about her years in Palestine and why she turned her back on Zionism.

She left the event at once for Vienna when she heard that a strike of bicycle delivery workers was in trouble—our boss tested our strength by firing one colleague. She sat down with us members of the strike committee for hours when we had to call all our colleagues and gave her support.

Every time we ended a call she asked how the other worker reacted and did everything to make us realise and feel our collective strength.

My comrades of the strike committee were deeply impressed by her spirit and the fact that she took our struggle so seriously. In the end we won the strike and we shall never forget that she had her share in this victory.

Manfred Ecker


Authentic revolutionary Marxism

I was very sad to hear of the death of Chanie Rosenberg at the age of 99. She must have been one of the very last of the generation who rallied to authentic revolutionary Marxism during “midnight in the century”—the era in the 1930s and the 1940s dominated by Hitler and Stalin.

Born to an affluent Jewish family in South Africa, Chanie rejected colonialism and segregation and became a socialist in her teens. Moving to Palestine in 1944 when it was still a British colony rapidly disillusioned her with Zionism. It was there that she met the Trotskyist leader Tony Cliff, who became her lifelong partner.

After the Second World War, during which many of Chanie’s and Cliff’s families fell victim to the Holocaust, they moved to Britain. In the 1950s, when Western capitalism seemed stronger than ever, Chanie and her brother Mike Kidron—a brilliant Marxist economist—helped Cliff to build the Socialist Review group, forerunner of today’s Socialist Workers Party.

In London she bore and raised four children, and was the family’s main breadwinner, an activist in the teachers’ union, and a determined and absolutely persistent revolutionary socialist, always on the lookout for new buyers of Socialist Worker and recruits to the organisation.

“I was three full time people in one,” she recalled.

Anyone who knew them can be in no doubt that Cliff couldn’t have achieved what he did without Chanie. It wasn’t just the practical support she gave him—Chanie typed everything that he wrote.

Manuscript

Cliff told me that when he wrote the first draft of his seminal biography of Lenin in the early 1970s he lost the manuscript. He was so depressed that he took to his bed. Chanie told him to stop feeling sorry for himself, get out of bed, and start writing the book again—and he did. Theirs was a real partnership.

Chanie was an author in her own right—writing extensively on education, but also on a variety of other subjects, from the revolutionary year of 1919 in Britain to women and perestroika.

These writings revealed a broad vision of socialism as no mere economic or political change but a total human liberation. Her home with Cliff was full of her artworks including the busts she made of various comrades’ heads.

Retirement didn’t slow Chanie down but gave her more time for activism. This continued after Cliff’s death in April 2000.

I remember seeing Chanie in Genoa in July 2001 on the huge anti-capitalist protests against the G8, which were violently attacked by the carabinieri security force. The next year she was back in Italy for the European Social Forum in Florence.

Chanie was an indomitable socialist fighter. Till the pandemic you would find her at Hackney SWP meetings, sitting in the front row to make sure she heard the speaker.

Chanie learned her politics in a hard school when revolutionary Marxism was marginalized and excluded to a far greater extent that it is today. But her principled and imaginative Marxism, and her determined and undefeatable activism can inspire new generations of revolutionaries.

For me personally, Chanie’s passing is a huge thing. For decades I would go several times a week to their home the other side of Clissold Park from where I live, for meetings with Cliff.

Chanie would usually be there, busy with all her own activities, amid an atmosphere of amiable chaos. And now they’re both gone. Our last link with the heroic era of Trotskyism has gone.

All my sympathies to Chanie’s children, Elana, Donny, Anna, and Danny, and to all her descendants.

Alex Callinicos


Total commitment

Saddened to hear of Chanie’s passing but so proud to have been her comrade and spend time with her in Florence at the global anti-capitalist movement’s gathering. That was when the movement called for international mobilisations against war in Iraq.

Chanie and a few comrades from Dublin stayed with Hazel in Florence and we shared chats, and drinks and walks around art galleries where Chanie enlightened us all on art and social history.

But she was at her best when we walked the streets of Florence singing and chanting for social justice and an end to war. She marched and shouted and ran and sang her heart out. Beautiful to see such unrelentingly total commitment to social revolution—no stopping our Chanie.

Will we ever see the likes of her again?

Respect

Bríd Smith, TD People Before Profit, Ireland


A generous host

I had the great privilege to be put up at Chanie's house a couple of times over Marxism together with a great group of Austrian comrades. Chanie was an extremely rich personality and an accomplished artist. I took some photographs of her wonderful work scattered around in her garden. Also had the pleasure of being offered a cup of tea it wasn't just teait was a poem.

David Paenson, Frankfurt


An inspiration

In the 70's we rank and file NUT union militants would meet regularly in Cliff's and Chanie's home in Hackney. Her unswerving positive belief in a socialist world was inspirational. And to begin with I thought her name was Honey, which, in reality it was.

Anthony Dooley


An indispendable contribution

I joined the International Socialists—forerunner of the SWP— in 1962, and a couple of months later I came to London for a meeting at Cliff's home in Chatterton Road, Finsbury Park. And there I met Chanie for the first time.

I had never seen a household quite like it. Cliff's formidable collection of books was surrounded by what often seemed to be chaos, with three children, later four.

When I moved to London in 1964 I stayed with Cliff and Chanie for a few days while I looked for somewhere to live. Chanie was on maternity leave, which she welcomed as a sort of holiday, taking the opportunity to visit art galleries.

The house was permanently open to visitors—many comrades who moved to London stayed there, sometimes for months. Cliff and Chanie made the place warm and welcoming, but of course this was not just natural friendliness. The whole house revolved around the project of building the tiny organisation—just over 100 members when I joined—and drawing people in to an ever greater involvement.

Chanie was the main breadwinner, with a full-time teaching post. Cliff did occasional lecturing but never had a “proper job”.

Cliff did his share of child care, but necessarily a fair amount of that also fell on Chanie. Then she was a political activist—she lectured for the National Council of Labour Colleges, was an active trade unionist, and was a member of the Labour Party. The IS was an “entrist” organisation till 1968. In 1963 it was reported that Chanie was being investigated by Islington Labour Party.

And on top of that she assisted Cliff with his theoretical work. She typed the manuscripts of his books and articles—and remember that was on an old style typewriter, on which it was much more laborious to make corrections than on a computer.

When Cliff wrote his document on state capitalism in 1948—his most important contribution as a theoretician—Chanie typed up the manuscript.

Cliff's English was still limited and part of it was written in Hebrew so she had to put it into English. On any reasonable assessment she would count as joint author.

Cliff never learned to type or to drive a car—Chanie did both.

Pages

On top of that, there were many other tasks. I once spent an evening with Chanie folding copies of Labour Worker, the forerunner of Socialist Worker, and inserting the centre pages.

There were perhaps 2,000 copies and we did this to save a few pounds on printing costs. Cliff was in the next room reading a book. He looked in to help us towards the end.

Later when Cliff published his book on productivity deals Chanie took a term’s leave of absence from her job as a teacher to work full-time for the organisation promoting the book around factories in north west London.

To live all these lives at the same time must have taken a prodigious amount of energy, yet I never remember Chanie seeming tired or harassed. She was generally cheerful and relaxed, just getting on with the jobs that had to be done.

When I wrote my biography of Cliff I did several interviews with Chanie—she was an invaluable source of information about the couple's earlier life. She told me of activity in Palestine—she had the job of taking papers to the university library in Jerusalem, where she left them on the tables and hastened to disappear. Very different from Socialist Worker sales in later years.

And in 1947 she was involved in trying to prevent Oswald Mosley's fascists organising meetings in Ridley Road in Dalston, activity which sometimes turned violent.

Cliff's work and the building of the International Socialists before 1968 would have been inconceivable without Chanie's contribution. But it would be quite wrong to see her as having simply a secondary role to Cliff.

She had a political life of her own. She was a very active member of the NUT teachera' uion, and involved in building the Rank and File grouping within the NUT. This provided a model for the various rank and file groupings that the IS built in the 1970s.

Cliff was very much an advocate of the rank and file strategy in 1970s, but it was Chanie along with Duncan Hallas who had pioneered rank and file work in the 1960s with no particular encouragement from Cliff.

The move to involvement in tenants' campaigns was an important stage in the evolution of IS away from purely propagandist work inside the Labour Party Young Socialists. Again it was Chanie who did the work on the ground, getting involved in campaigns by private and council tenants and drawing in people like Ian Macdonald.

Weapons

Nor did she always agree with Cliff. I remember, though the details are a bit vague, n episode in Islington CND when an activist took a job with a firm making weapons of some sort and then provoked dismissal by refusing to do any work.

There was a demo in her support. Cliff—with some justice, I think—dismissed this as not worthwhile. But Chanie told me she would be attending the demo.

Cliff and Chanie's marriage lasted over 50 years, from the early days of illegality in Palestine to Cliff's last illness. It would be wrong to portray it as idyllic—Cliff could be very irritable and would sometimes criticise Chanie quite unfairly.

But what held them together and overcame any superficial friction was not only a deep personal bond but a commitment to shared values.

Cliff's death was an enormous loss, but Chanie continued her activity. Retirement for her was not a winding down but the opportunity to explore new activities she had not previously had time for.

She took up sculpture, and, together with John Molyneux helped to organise art exhibitions at the SWP's Marxism festival. At her 80th birthday party in 2002 there were chants of “Eighty more years!” It was not entirely a joke.

Less well-known is the fact that after her ninetieth birthday she wrote a short novel, Finding Father. This took up the theme of spy-cops, about which information was just coming out. The moral—typical of Chanie's optimism—was that people can and do change as a result of their experiences in society. Sadly she was unable to find a publisher – perhaps it could be published now as a tribute to her.

Nobody can doubt Chanie's absolute commitment and loyalty to the organisation she played such a role in building. She remained active until her final illness with dementia.

She had seen the organisation develop over nearly 70 years, from the original meeting of twenty-one to the thousands of members—and the problems—of later years.

But it is also worth remembering that she always took a very fraternal attitude to ex-members, recognising that they were still part of the movement and that it was important to work with them. In 2010 the Counterfire group split from the SWP. A few months later I was invited to dinner at Chanie's, and was somewhat surprised to find that among my fellow-guests were John Rees and Lindsey German, the two leading members of Counterfire. They were old friends of Chanie's—and she was anxious to discuss activity in Stop The War.

Tony Cliff would have been inconceivable without Chanie; it was their partnership that made it possible for him to play the role he did. Tony Cliff was the most remarkable person I ever met. But Chanie is in the top ten in her own right.

Ian Birchall


A truly exemplary revolutionary

In a way there is very little that needs adding to this splendid tribute from Donny Gluckstein and the excellent piece by Alex Callinicos on Facebook, so I will just contribute a few personal observations and memories.

Above all it is Chanie's effervescent, ever energetic personality that sticks in the mind. Always working, always positive and encouraging, always teaching in the very best sense, always smiling and always in the struggle.

In this and many other respects she was the perfect match and complement to Cliff. One particular role she played, which is not evident from the public record, relates to the restrictions placed on Cliff's activity due his refugee situation and statelessness. For Cliff, Chanie—the amazing activist—was always feeding back her experiences in the class and in party branches. And that was an important component in the unity of theory and practice that characterised their and the SWP's Marxism .

Of course this depended on her being able to argue with Cliff —no easy task as all of us who ever tried it will testify. But I think her input was always significant and at certain turning points really crucial.

I was also drawn to Chanie because of her love of art. She was a fine sculptor and the house at Allerton Road was full of her work. The head which she exhibited at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition was a particularly fine piece of work and she was very supportive of my efforts to promote art through the Left in Vision shows at Marxism.

Then I remember with great pleasure her visit to Dublin after I moved here in 2010 with our mutual friend, Obiara, from Hackney. It was so good to see her, to take her round Trinity and the Book of Kells and to have dinner with her on the banks of the Liffey.

But most of all I remember her personal kindness and friendliness to me, sometimes in difficult circumstances. Though in this I'm sure there would be so many comrades, and pupils, and fellow teachers and workers who would say the same thing.

A truly exemplary revolutionary whose loyalty to the class and the cause never wavered!

John Molyneux


Spaghetti, solidarity and an extraordinary talent

Here are but a few of the memories that I have of that most wonderful Chanie who for years I thought was called “Honey”

In about 1961-62, when I was 15 or 16 years old, I hitch hiked from Newcastle to London for a quarterly meeting of the International Socialists. It was 287 miles with no motorways, and it was the first time that I had set foot outside of the North East by myself.

It was November. I set off at about 7pm. I had no idea what I was doing and arrived at Chanie’s house, after 22 hours through the night and the next day, just as the meeting was ending.

Chanie looked at me. I was wet and wretched. She put me in a bath. Fed me something she called “spaghetti”, which I had never heard of, and then put me to bed.

The next morning, she drove me to Victoria coach station, bought me a ticket and put me on a bus for Newcastle.

I then lived with Chanie and Cliff for a few weeks in 1964. I was not the only lodger. For years, a steady stream of young people, many from Glasgow, were welcomed by Chanie.

We slept in the front room. You knew how many were there when you went to sleep but you did not know how many would be there in the morning as apprentices, building workers, shipyard workers and printers came in through the window that Chanie would leave ajar.

One such person was Gus Macdonald, an apprentices' strike leader from Glasgow, now Lord Macdonald and a banker. He stayed several months. At the annual CND march at Easter 1965 there was only standing room in the front room.

That brings me to the extraordinary talent that Chanie had for engaging and recruiting people to revolutionary politics.

Off we went that Easter, in Chanie’s old Austin car to High Wycombe, to the march. A young lad was standing by a roundabout. Chanie stopped. Get in. No, he hadn’t been on the march before and yes he would like to sell International Socialism no.20.

He was an ace seller and Chanie was much impressed. He had nowhere to stay so she added him to the front room. And there he stayed for a week or two, saying very little, hardly going out, but being fed and watered by Chanie.

Fed up, she persuaded Ross Pritchard, a printer, to put him up and Frank Campbell, a painter and decorator, both originally from Glasgow, to get the lad a start on his building site. On the first day at work the lad fell and broke his leg and was admitted to hospital.

Chanie visited him every day, until, that is, an army sergeant from Catterick Camp in Yorkshire arrived to claim his 15-year-old son who had run away from home.

Legendary

You might be forgiven for thinking that Chanie mended her ways. No. There is the legendary story, retold by many, of Chanie knocking over the Hackney bin worker with her car. She picked him up and sold him a Socialist Worker.

In the mid 1960s there was a nasty racist firm of estate agents called Prebbles, “No blacks. No Irish”, operating from Upper Street in Islington. Chanie was relentless against them, until there was victory.

In the late 1960s I became the national treasurer of the International Socialists. It was then that I discovered that the organisation’s bank account and Chanie’s personal bank account into which her teacher’s salary was paid were one and the same thing. She took what was necessary to run the house and what was left over went to run the organisation.

On money matters Chanie’s commitment to building a new organisation knew no bounds. The early 1970s were exciting times for revolutionaries. In the International Socialists we made progress winning workers to revolutionary ideas.

Resources were tight so it was hardly surprising that when Chanie inherited £11,500 (value today, according to the internet, £144,630.39) from a relative in South Africa she came to see me and gave me the whole amount for the organisation.

Then she asked, somewhat embarrassed, if she could have a little back to buy a small second-hand VW Beetle, as her car was destined for the scrap yard. She needed the car for her political activity and to ferry Cliff around from time to time.

The Beetle was bought. The very same Beetle that knocked over the bin worker.

Chanie organised family holidays to be with her children and Cliff. Cliff, she reckoned, needed a break. That’s not what Cliff thought.

Everyday I received the call. “What have you got to report—how many did we recruit—how many were sold.”

Then Chanie rang from a phone box in the village. “Under no circumstances are you to speak with Cliff for the rest of this holiday”. Two minutes later Cliff is on the phone (there must have been two phone boxes in the village). “Under no circumstances are you to listen to Chanie. Now tell me, how many did we recruit…”

On two or three occasions Margaret and I were, after lunch, invited to join Chanie, Cliff and the extended family. It was something else, something special, something that I had not seen before except perhaps at the pictures.

Turns were taken to play the piano, someone played the violin and everyone sang. For me it was truly wonderful.

Warmth

The warmth and openness of Chanie and Cliff’s household never ceased.

Apprentices from Glasgow gave way to strikers and trades unionists from all over. By now most came in through the front door of 58 Allerton Road.

Frank Clark and Dave Edwards, members of the engineering union, were strike leaders from a factory called Fine Tubes in Plymouth. The strike lasted three years and became the longest official strike in British history.

Allerton Road was often their HQ and hotel in London. Chanie would pile them into her car for factory and workplace visits and then feed them in the evenings.

To show their appreciation, after everyone had gone to bed, Frank and Dave left the front room, headed for the kitchen and cleaned it from top to bottom. Chanie was very pleased.

The welcome and solidarity from Chanie to Frank and Dave was repeated over and over again for decades. That was Chanie’s life.

I’ll end with this little story. Chanie and Cliff were about to set off for Edinburgh in the by now clapped-out Beetle. It was raining. The windscreen wipers only partly worked—they cleared the screen once but did not return.

The resourceful Chanie solved the problem. She attached a piece of string to each windscreen wiper and fed the ends through the passenger side to Cliff who did not drive.

Off they went, and when it rained the wipers swooshed forward and Cliff pulled them back and then they swooshed forward again, back and forth all the way North. This is clearly theory and practice.

If I wanted someone to be by my side in a war, a class war, then I’d chose Chanie.

In South Africa, where Chanie was born, the rallying cry of the resistance against apartheid, shouted by the leaders to the mass meeting was “Amandla” meaning “Power” The masses would shout back “Awethu” meaning “To us”.

To Chanie Rosenberg:

AMANDLA

AWETHU

Jim Nichol

 

 

 

 


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Mon 7 Jun 2021, 16:53 BST
Issue No. 2758
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