In Memory of Robert Fitch

In Memory of Robert Fitch

Bhaskar Sunkara: In Memory of Robert Fitch

This month, the American Left was robbed of one of its most articulate voices. Journalist Robert Fitch was a strong critic of corruption in the labor movement and an advocate for structural reform within it. He also wrote extensively about the transformation of New York from an incubator of working- and middle-class dreams into a playpen for financial and real-estate elites. Fitch leaves behind two classic texts—Solidarity for Sale and The Assassination of New York—and a host of contributions in shorter forms.

On a personal note, over the year or so that I was privileged enough to get to know him, Bob was a regular source of encouragement and more than generous with his time. He wasn’t afraid to challenge sloppy thinking or offer up an anecdote, story, or joke (of disparate quality).

Doug Henwood penned a tribute worthy of his friend in the Nation last week:

For all his truth-telling, Bob was ostracized not only by the progressive establishment in New York but also by academia, which found him not only too outspoken, but too polymath as well. Universities like well-behaved specialists, not rude questioners. Though his material situation improved somewhat in recent years, he lived most of his life on very little money. His major sources of income were freelance writing fees, small book advances, and the sweatshop wages enjoyed by adjunct faculty (which is what you call a temp worker with a PhD). As Guttenplan, the former Village Voice editor who introduced me to Bob, wrote just after his death: “[It’s a] scandal that they scrape the barrel to give these so-called genius grants to third-rate conventional fakers when Bob Fitch, a man who did his own thinking and his own research, and who came up with truly original insights about some pretty important topics—urban planning, organized labor, critical journalism—had to live like a luftmensch.”

Much to my regret, I’d fallen out of touch with Bob in recent years, and had just resolved to reverse that. I missed his mind—and, though he could be a prickly character at times, his warmth. RIP, Bob. They don’t make many like you.

Doug’s last point is an understatement. The best that members of my generation can do is aspire to continue his crucial work.

Socialist thought provides us with an imaginative and moral horizon.

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