Simone Plastrik: 1919-1999

Simone Plastrik: 1919-1999

Mark Levinson
One of the most important people to this magazine, Simone Plastrik, never appeared in its pages as a writer. In fact, when I think about Dissent, I think about Simone. This is not only because of the role Simone played as business manager for the last eighteen years, or because when I first came around the magazine twenty-two years ago the editorial board meetings were in her living room, or because the office was in her apartment, although all of these things are part of it.

In my last conversation with Simone she announced she was dying. She wanted no more treatment. We spoke about many things—our families, our mutual friends, and the future of Dissent. But one of the last things she said to me was that she lived her life as a socialist.

The way she lived embodies what Dissent is, or should be, about. Let me say about Simone what Irving said about her husband, Stanley, at the time of his death eighteen years ago, because it applies equally to Simone:

The idea of socialism may have become increasingly problematical, but the rightness of being a socialist had remained clear. And to be one meant to be like Simone, meant to stand fast in good times or bad; meant to be on call for whatever task was needed; meant to live by a code, largely unspoken yet not to be violated, of concern for the lives of men and women. Those of us near Simone never had to talk about the moral basis of anything, since we felt through her its constant warming presence.

For those who have been around the Dissent office, who can forget how Simone worked, tallying long columns of numbers with paper and pencil? When I first started working at Dissent, we did not have computers or even an adding machine. If the numbers were off by a few cents, she would start all over again with simple paper and pencil. There were times when she pored over those numbers late into the evening. I used to tell her, “Simone, it’s only a few cents! No one will care. The IRS has bigger things to worry about.” But no, it had to be done absolutely correctly. And it always was.

Simone was a taskmaster at the office. She made sure the work got done. When I worked at Dissent, one of the things I used to look forward to was when [executive editor] Manny Geltman would come to the office. Manny loved to talk and tell stories. Trotsky, Shachtman, the Lovestonites, the Goldmanites, the origin of the term “bureaucratic collectivism,” the early years of Dissent, Meyer Schapiro and on and on. I loved it and it drove Simone crazy. I once overheard Simone and Irving arguing in the other room. Simone was telling Irving that when Manny was in the office I never got any work done. Irving insisted that we be there together. “The kid might learn something,” he said. Simone laughed and r...

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