Farewell, Ruth Schein (1917-2004)
By Bonnie Weinstein
Ruth Schein passed away October 17, 2004 at the age of 86. She would have been 87 years old on December 7 of this year.
I first met Ruth in New York in the early ’60s. I couldn’t have been more than 16 years old at the time. I was a new member of the Young Socialist Alliance (YSA), the youth group affiliated with the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), the publishers of The Militant newspaper.
Ruth was their proofreader and copy editor. She was never a member of the SWP but was as loyal to the politics of the party as any of its members.
It was made known to the members of the YSA that Ruth needed someone to help proofread the final hot-lead galley proofs of The Militant. I volunteered.
Unfortunately for Ruth, I had no idea what the job was. But that did not stop her from beginning my training. I read the galleys aloud to her, learning the proofreading “lingo” and, under her patient and kind tutelage, I learned to be of some help to her. I hadn’t even begun to learn how to be a copy editor. But I did gain a tremendous respect for her and the care she took at her job.
Good proofreading and copy-editing in The Militant was important to Ruth because of how much respect she had for workers. To her, workers held the key to humanity’s greatest achievements. Nothing was too good or too carefully done for the working class that would end the barbarism of capitalism. Ruth understood that worker’s control over the means of production could raise human society to its highest reaches.
Our job as revolutionaries, she believed, was to keep our work at the highest level possible. A typo in The Militant was an abomination to her. She didn’t yell or carry on. It just wasn’t acceptable to her. To her, it just meant more diligence was needed. She went over The Militant with a fine-tooth comb. In fact, under her care, The Militant won an award two years in a row, for its high degree of accuracy and quality of writing as compared to other newspapers on the left. Ruth was very proud of that.
As it turned out, we sort of lost touch with each other when Ruth went to Paris and then to California, until I also moved to California.
We both wound up in San Francisco and I ran into her from time to time at various demonstrations and meetings. I had been expelled from the Socialist Workers Party and Ruth was no longer associated with the SWP, even though she remained true to the politics of Trotskyism and Marxism.
Lucky for me, I ran into her again, in 2004, at the memorial meeting for Asher Harer, another revolutionary fighter who had just passed. By then, I had started writing for Socialist Viewpoint magazine—one of the magazines of the left Ruth still subscribed to. She stopped subscribing to The Militant.
At a break in the memorial for Asher, Ruth asked me to take her outside for a few minutes; she had something she wanted to talk to me about. Her eyesight was failing so she held on to my arm as we crossed the street to the water’s edge of the Embarcadero where the Longshore Hall was and where the memorial meeting was being held.
She said she had read some of my articles, “I like your articles very much, Bonnie dear. You have a flair for writing, but you need a copy-editor.”
Quick and to the point, with an air of earnest sweetness, she blurted out her opinion and volunteered to help me with my articles—resuming our relationship that began over 40 years ago.
The first article I gave her was based on a talk I had given in Boston at a “Free Palestine” conference at MIT at the end of March. I had prepared two one-hour talks for a two-day workshop at the conference. It was 22 pages long. Ruth brutally cut it to six pages. She called me after she had worked on it for several hours and said, “Bonnie, dear, this is just terrible. It’s way too long.”
When I read what she had done to my horrendously long and wordy article I not only gained the utmost respect for her copy editing skill—but most of all, for her sharp political understanding.
I began to send her my articles (in 16 point type so that she could read them) and she would carefully mark them, re-writing paragraphs and sentences.
Then came the most important part. I would come to her house and we would painstakingly go over every correction or change of wording she made or suggested.
She insisted I understand why she made the corrections and always wanted it to be a “learning session.” She was an excellent teacher and wanted to pass on her skill to a comrade. I looked forward to every lesson.
Ruth Schein was an activist. She was at every major demonstration for women’s rights, against the War in Vietnam, the first Gulf War, the current War in Iraq, and more. She defended Mumia Abu-Jamal and the Cuban revolution. She was one of those people who never crossed a picket line and never voted Democrat. She stayed true to her working class principles.
She enjoyed all forms of art and loved to visit Paris. She learned to speak and write French fluently. She lived a full life dedicated to a better world she knew workers could build.
On October 17, 2004 Ruth Schein took her life. In a letter to family and friends she explained about her rapidly failing health and eyesight. She wrote, “I have always believed in choice, and I now choose to hasten my death (which cannot be far off considering that I am almost 87). I do not choose to continue to live in this diminished condition. Although there is still some quality left in my life, I choose to leave now, while I am still physically and mentally capable of taking my life, before I become completely dependent. And the writing is on the wall.”
Further in the letter she expressed her opinion about an afterlife: “How I wish that I could believe in an afterlife. What a comfort it would be to think that I could look down, from some perch in the sky, at all the people I love. But I cannot be intellectually dishonest. What lives on is one’s contribution to society. And I trust that the teaching I have done, the love of our magnificent English language that I have instilled in my students, the work I have done to bring to birth a new and better world—I trust that all this will be what lives on after me.
“So good-bye, dear family and friends. May you all live as many years as you want. And may they all be healthy, happy and fulfilling years…Ruth”
On her eightieth birthday Ruth’s friends and family threw her a party. She recently gave me a booklet made for that party. It contained an introduction by her, which consisted of a list of her favorite songs that would be sung to start the party off. For each song she chose she had a short introduction. Here’s what Ruth said about the first song on her list.
“The unifying thread that runs through my life is my unfailing devotion to the labor movement and to my belief that labor and its allies will build a new and better world. So we’ll start off with a couple of verses from ‘Solidarity Forever,’ the best-known union song in this country, called the ‘anthem of the American labor movement,’ It was written in 1915 by Ralph Chaplin, one of the most prolific of the IWW songwriters and poets…”
In honor of Ruth, we print the whole song:
When the union’s inspiration through worker’s blood
Solidarity forever, Solidarity forever, Solidarity forever,
Is there aught we hold in common with the greedy-parasite;
Refrain (Solidarity forever...)
It is we who ploughed the prairies, built the cities where they trade;
All the world-that’s owned by idle drones is ours and ours
They have taken untold millions that they never toiled to earn,
In our hands is placed a power greater than their hoarded gold,
Solidarity forever, Solidarity forever, Solidarity forever,