Steve Fischler and Joe Sucher founded Pacific Street Films in 1969 while they were film students at NYU. Since that time, they have produced and directed documentaries on subjects as diverse as surveillance, martial arts, animal rights, Hollywood and anarchism, all from a uniquely personal point of view.
By the late 1970s the two turned their activist interest in anarchism into Guggenheim Fellowships in film and their research into the subject resulted in the production of two films, Free Voice of Labor: The Jewish Anarchists (1980) and Anarchism in America (1982). The Jewish anarchist counter-culture, well-established by the turn of the century, included social soirees and gatherings, periodicals, newspapers and book clubs. Plays, operas and poetry readings were offered in Yiddish. Jewish Anarchists were among the most dynamic activists in the burgeoning labor movement and were eager supporters of the social revolution in Spain that culminated in the 1936 Spanish Civil War, led in part by the Anarcho-Syndicalists.
While today anarchism may seem a fringe movement, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries its following in the United States rivaled that of the socialists in terms of numbers and influence. Immigrant Jews in the 1870s and 1880s fleeing oppression in Russia and Eastern Europe found not “milk and honey” but exploitation of the Capitalist variety. Emma Goldman’s exhortations “of a new social order based on liberty unrestricted by man-made law; the theory that all forms of government rest on violence, and are therefore wrong and harmful, as well as unnecessary,” found an eager audience. The legacy of the Jewish immigrant anarchists was significant not only in the area of trade union organizing and related political work but in helping celebrate and preserve Yiddish, seeing it as a language for artistic expression, not just the lingua franca of the shtetl.
About the Collection
In 2013, Pacific Street Films deeded its entire collection of anarchist media materials to the Harvard Film Archive, a substantial portion of which focused on the Jewish immigrant anarchist movement in the United States. The collection consists of picture negatives and audio master elements for two documentary films: Free Voice of Labor: The Jewish Anarchists (1980) and Anarchism in America (1982) as well as nearly sixty hours of 16mm negative film and ¼” audio reels for the complete interviews shot for each film.
The complete collection, including completed films, interviews, outtakes, still photographs and additional materials, taken as a whole offers extraordinary testimony and first person accounting of a period of history that was significant but now rapidly faded from memory. Highlights include complete interviews with Mollie Steimer, a close colleague of Emma Goldman, imprisoned for her activities and later deported to Russia; her companion Senya Fleshin, an early Russian activist who participated in the 1905 "Bloody Sunday" assault on St. Petersburg's Winter Palace. Phil Mellman, interviewed in his eighties, was a former merchant mariner, anarchist member of the IWW, openly gay and perhaps the oldest individual arrested for LSD possession in the 1970s. Abe Bluestein, the son of Russian immigrants, helped establish the Anarchist “Ferrer Colony” in Stelton, New Jersey. Bluestein also worked alongside Emma Goldman, producing propaganda for the Anarcho-Syndicalists in Spain during the Civil War. Alfred Levitt—who fled Russian pogroms with his parents—found a job running errands for Emma Goldman during her tenure with Mother Earth, eventually becoming a noted painter (and dying at the ripe old age of 104). Irving Abrams, an IWW activist and friend of Goldman who helped retrieve her body from Toronto to be interred at Waldheim Cemetery. Finally, Ahrne Thorne, the articulate last editor of the Freie Arbeiter Stimme (“Free Voice of Labor”) established in 1890, was interviewed during the newspaper’s closing day in 1979.
In 2019 with the support of the Harvard Library Lamont Digitization Fund and in partnership with IndieCollect and Harvard Media Preservation Services, the HFA digitally preserved Free Voice of Labor: The Jewish Anarchists (1980). This version is available for streaming to Harvard affliates at this link. In addition, the full interviews recorded during the production of Free Voice of Labor: The Jewish Anarchists (1980) and Anarchism in America (1982) are being digitized and will be available streaming for research use in 2022. The materials are closed for research until this project is completed.
For more information about the filmmakers and for information about showing their work, visit the Pacific Street Films website.