[Marxism] Remembering Frank Rosengarten

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sat Feb 20 10:50:06 MST 2016

I don't know how many people knew Frank who was a member of the SWP in 
the late 70s but I knew him quite well and really liked him. This is a 
commemoration from a couple of his colleagues in the CUNY system from 
the journal Socialism and Democracy (Issue 2, 2015), a journal he helped 
to found.

1. Michael E. Brown

Frank Rosengarten and I were colleagues at Queens College from 1967 
until his early retirement, which I remember asking him to reconsider in 
the light of what he had to offer students. By then, however, he was 
uncomfortable teaching and had a number of projects that he needed time 
to develop and complete, and I am sure that there were family 
considerations as well. Frank and I got to know each other during the 
sit-ins of 1967–69 at Queens. Both of us spoke often at meetings of 
students and faculty. I believe that it was at the end of the sixties 
that Frank interviewed me for an Italian newspaper as someone he 
considered to be an activist of the New Left. The result used two full 
pages of the newspaper, and when I look back on what I said about what 
inspired me as an activist, I realize that knowing Frank in the 
subsequent years helped my view of left politics to mature, or at least 
I hope it did. I was struck by his productive ambivalence toward the 
Communist left in the US, and by his attempt to reconcile his own 
political interests and dispositions with those on the left with whom he 
had differences of opinion. He was willing to work with them because his 
conception of a left was broad enough to sustain what Castoriadis 
referred to as the “revolutionary perspective.”

I remember going to a convention of the Socialist Workers Party in the 
late 1970s. While I was impressed with the discussions, and found them 
more informed, more complex, and in some ways more open and interesting 
than what I saw in various meetings of the CPUSA (which I occasionally 
attended with friends who had remained members), I remained convinced 
that there were many ways of realizing a socialist vision and that the 
history of the CPUSA was part of all of our history and not something to 
be dismissed as “the old left” as my friends and comrades in SDS 
described it (often somewhat lovingly at any rate). I was more favorably 
disposed to the Russian Revolution and its long aftermath than Frank, 
and our discussions always left me with a greater understanding of the 
usefulness of ambivalence on the Left.

When we began the Research Group on Socialism and Democracy, and started 
publishing the journal in the form of a newsletter, we thought of it as 
far more limited and local than it turned out to be. When we expanded it 
to the form of a journal, our first aim was to publish different points 
of view on the left, views we might have disagreed with but felt should 
be part of the general discussion. Our second aim was to consider 
methodological and theoretical problems intrinsic to the continuing 
debate over the Russian Revolution and the history of American 
Communism. Thanks to Frank's willingness to devote an enormous amount of 
time to building Socialism and Democracy, we found ourselves with a fine 
group of board members and with regular correspondents from around the 
world. Randy Martin and George Snedeker eventually joined us and helped 
assemble the papers given at our conference on the history of the CPUSA. 
The book we edited is still in print and remains one of the important 
contributions to the literature on American communism.1
Between meetings and the work involved in assembling the issues of the 
journal, acquiring mailing lists, and mailing it, Frank and I put in 
what, in retrospect, was an incredible amount of time and energy. Frank 
was deeply involved in everything that appeared in the journal. The two 
of us wrote many introductory essays to issues, and always tried to 
sustain a sense of dialogue on the left rather than promoting a specific 
line. Still, we had our own way of understanding the left, and articles 
written by Frank, me, and Randy reflected both our differences and how 
we reconciled those differences. Frank was a generous colleague, willing 
to discuss issues on the left at a moment's notice and with a 
thoroughness that one finds in all his scholarly work, which was itself 
of considerable importance in various areas of study. Frank was not only 
generous and tremendously hardworking; he was creative and able to reach 
out to others so that Socialism and Democracy gained a reputation as an 
important interdisciplinary journal of the Left.
When Marie and I moved to Boston, and Frank could no longer support the 
journal primarily on his own, it seemed that that chapter was over. 
However, John McDermott called me and suggested renewing the journal in 
the Boston area, which we were able to do with the help of Victor 
Wallis, who eventually became its executive editor. As one would have 
expected, the change in personnel led to a change in content and focus. 
Under Victor, the journal has continued to be important and its 
influence has expanded.

Frank later rejoined the journal, but as a participant rather than an 
editor, and he was supportive of the new direction. Frank was a model of 
a left thinker who was always willing to listen to the ideas of those 
who differed profoundly with him. I found the few times I heard him 
speak to audiences about political issues inspiring because he was so 
thorough in his preparation, so modest and open in the ways in which he 
developed arguments in favor of and potentially critical of his own 
point of view, and so respectful of the other speakers – some of whom 
were occasionally quite disrespectful toward him. Students lucky enough 
to have attended those events learned, I believe, how to be a serious 
thinker and yet never take one's mind off the most fundamental ideas at 
the heart of the left project. Like so many others, I miss Frank as a 
good friend, a colleague, and an exemplary thinker and humanist in the 
best sense of the term.

2. George Snedeker

The first time I met Frank Rosengarten was in 1982 when he came to a 
talk I gave at the CUNY Graduate Center about E.P. Thompson's theory of 
culture. Frank showed an interest in my remarks and asked several 
thoughtful questions. He and Mike Brown had recently founded the 
Research Group on Socialism and Democracy (RGSD) in the sociology 
department of the Graduate Center. They invited me, along with several 
other graduate students, to become involved with the RGSD, which began 
publishing Socialism and Democracy in 1985, with Frank and Mike as its 
first editors.

Frank and I became friends, and he participated in several study groups 
which met at my apartment. One of these focused on the history of the 
Communist Party USA. In 1989, largely upon Frank's suggestion, the RGSD 
organized a conference on the history of the CPUSA. The focus of the 
conference was on the revisionist historiography of Communism that was 
then being produced by a new generation of historians and sociologists. 
The book we edited, New Studies in the Culture and Politics of U.S. 
Communism, was widely reviewed and is still in print.

Frank was very supportive of my scholarly work. After reading my article 
about the radical black sociologist Oliver C. Cox called, “Race, Class 
and the Struggle for Democracy,” he suggested that I submit it to S&D, 
where it was published in 1988 (a revised version appears in my book, 
The Politics of Critical Theory). Frank's editorial comments were always 
helpful to me. It was easy to see that he had read my essays with great 

Frank read my satirical novel, The Cutting Edge (published under the pen 
name David Lansky). He told me that he enjoyed my criticisms of 
contemporary college life as well as my sense of humor. He laughed as he 
said this. Frank had a great love of literature. He was always telling 
me that sociologists should read more novels to get a broader 
understanding of society.

Frank believed strongly in the values of liberal humanism. His 
commitment to the goal of achieving a socialist society was grounded in 
a belief in liberty, equality and democracy. He was confident that 
creating a socialist society was possible. He believed that the choice 
we face is between socialism and barbarism.

During one of our last phone conversations, Frank and I discussed his 
review of Lawrence Friedman's biography of Erich Fromm (in this issue of 
S&D). Frank told me that he greatly enjoyed the biography, particularly 
its discussion of Fromm's participation in the Frankfurt School research 
project on German fascism – comparing middle- and working-class 
families, with a focus on the role of the authoritarian personality in 
Hitler's rise to power. Erich Fromm became one of the most important 
public intellectuals in post-war America. Like Fromm, Rosengarten was a 
socialist humanist.

Recent developments in social theory were some of Frank's major 
interests. His intellectual curiosity led him to consider new ideas on 
the nexus between the personal and the global dimensions of capitalism. 
I never understood how Frank could get so much work done. He produced 
one book after the other: from Proust to Gramsci to C.L.R. James to the 
Italian poet and philosopher Leopardi. Frank was a Renaissance Man. He 
seemed to have an endless supply of energy. After his retirement from 
teaching, he enrolled in the PhD program in French at the CUNY Graduate 
Center where he wrote a dissertation on Proust's early writings. He had 
a particular interest in the novel as an expression of culture.
Frank's scholarly work as an Italianist focused on the struggle against 
Fascism. It would be an understatement to say that his intellectual 
interests and scholarship were wide-ranging. I read his book on Proust 
as well as his innovative study of C.L.R. James. Both were well 
researched and carefully written.

Frank Rosengarten was one of the most generous people I have ever known. 
His death was a great loss to me, as I'm sure it was to everyone who had 
the good fortune to know and work with him.

1 New Studies in the Politics and Culture of U.S. Communism (New York: 
Monthly Review Press, 1993).

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