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Kate Alderdice, Socialist and Feminist

Socialist Voice, July 1983

by Joan Newbigging

Kate Alderdice, a leader of the Revolutionary Workers League (RWL) and one of its predecessor organizations, the League for Socialist Action (LSA) during the late 1960s and 1970s, died in Toronto on May 31. She was 37 years old.

Some 150 people—comrades, friends, relatives, and campus associates—came to a memorial meeting held in Toronto, June 11, in celebration of her life. Eleven people spoke, giving a moving picture of the diversity of Kate’s interests and the scope of her accomplishments.

Art Young, a member of the Political Committee of the RWL, spoke on behalf of the RWL and outlined the large contribution Kate had made to the difficult task of building a revolutionary party in Canada. We reprint his talk below.

Mary-Alice Waters, chairperson of the American Socialist Workers Party, described the valuable role Kate had played in developing the close international collaboration between the SWP and the RWL and LSA.

"It is especially true in the United States, because of the arrogant power and self-sufficiency of U.S. capitalism, that without the kind of international collaboration that we received from our colleagues here in Canada, and people like Kate in particular, you will make unnecessary errors.

"And the kind of insightful criticisms, ideas, and observations that Kate made over the years, of the work we were doing in the United States, of the common work we were doing in the international movement, of the changes going on in our different countries, made a tremendous difference to us in the United States. Just as the same kind of collaboration was essential for the building of a revolutionary movement here in Canada."

After participating as an active member and leader of the revolutionary socialist movement for 16 years, Kate decided in 1981 to cease being an active party member. She left the RWL in order to pursue other interests.

She studied English Literature at Victoria College in Toronto, winning the highest academic awards. She was awarded a scholarship to do graduate studies at Cornell University, New York. Her years as a student of literature and her academic achievements were described to the memorial meeting by three campus colleagues.

In the final months of her life, Kate was the victim of a severe attack of depression. This eventually led her to take her own life.

In his contribution to the memorial meeting, John Riddell, her companion and close comrade for many years, described her illness:

"Depression is an illness that is simply not yet understood, and we cannot know how it was able to so suddenly and unexpectedly sweep her away. But as for the guilt and pain she felt so often, she did not think of it as an individual problem. Rather she cried out against a society that punishes us with such feelings, that punishes women above all, when they strive for a free life, for the truth, for a new and better world.

"Kate thought her life was troubled because it was transitional, spanning both the darkest years of women’s confinement and the bright promise of the Cuban revolution and women’s liberation."

Kate gave the best years of her life to the effort to realize this promise—to the building of a revolutionary party in Canada. She remained, until her death, a convinced revolutionary and a socialist.

A Kate Alderdice memorial fund was launched and $2,300 collected at the meeting. This money will go towards the publication of a collection of writings of Mother Jones, by Monad Press, New York.

Mother Jones was an outstanding American working-class leader at the turn of the century.

Contributions to this fund should be sent to Kate Alderdice Fund, care of Angus, [address deleted]. Cheques should be made payable to the Kate Alderdice Fund.

The following speech was presented by Art Young on behalf of the Political Committee of the Revolutionary Workers League (RWL) to the memorial meeting for Kate Alderdice.

Like myself and many of you here today, Kate Alderdice was part of a generation of young people deeply affected by the Vietnam, war and the civil rights struggle in the United States. We were inspired by the national struggle in Quebec and the early years of the Cuban revolution.

Kate Alderdice was a feminist before the upsurge of women’s struggles made its impact in the 1960s.

She was a fighter like thousands of other women who turned their backs on the hypocrisy and double standards of this society and on the stifling and restrictive roles it imposes on women.

As a fighter, as a feminist, as a person with a keen mind, driven to probe and understand the roots of the radicalization of young people of which she was so much a part, Kate explained in a pamphlet published in 1975:

"The goals of  the women’s liberation movement—for equal pay, for childcare, for contraception and abortion, for liberation from women’s second-class status—threaten the whole basis of this profit-motivated society. That is the power of the women’s liberation movement, and its danger from the point of view of Canada’s rulers.

"… women will never win total liberation in the framework of this society. It cannot free them from the burden of labor in the home, or integrate them fully into economic and social life. It has no interest in doing so. The oppression of women is one of the main pillars of capitalist society and will not disappear until capitalism itself does.

"It will require a major social struggle and complete reorganization of society to free women from servitude."

When Kate had reached the conclusion that class-divided society was the source of the injustices for which she had developed a burning hatred, characteristically she decided to do something about it.

She joined the League for Socialist Action-Ligue Socialiste Ouvrière (LSA-LSO)—a precursor of the Revolutionary Workers League. She threw herself into the challenge of building the socialist movement, convinced that working people in Canada and around the world would one day take their destiny into their own hands to reorganize society to meet human needs rather than private profit.

Kate became a central leader of the LSA-LSO. She became part of a team of young people who stepped forward in the 1960s and 1970s to lead the organization in its aim of building a pan-Canadian working class political party. This team succeeded in maintaining the continuity between the socialists who responded to the 1917 socialist victory in the Soviet Union and today’s generation.

This leadership team, with people of the caliber of Kate Alderdice, gave the RCMP a lot of heartache. It was to counter the so-called "threat" of fighters for social justice of this caliber that the RCMP organized its "Operation Checkmate" and other illegal and criminal operations carried out against the LSA-LSO and other organizations in the labor, feminist, native, and Quebecois nationalist movements.

Kate brought to this team some special talents. She was a skillful educator and journalist. She had the ability to explain complex ideas simply and concretely.

I remember classes given by Kate on women’s liberation and economics to young men and women eager to understand the world into which they had been born. They sought to understand it, in order to be able to change it.

Another of her talents was her ability to do many different things—her willingness to take on many different assignments. She was always available to do what had to be done.

Kate Alderdice was a leader of the Young Socialists-Ligue des Jeunes Socialistes, an organization which aimed to win young people to the socialist movement.

She was a party organizer with the capacity to pull together different people into an effective team.

She was a clear-sighted and thorough thinker, contributing articles to Labor Challenge, one of the predecessors of Socialist Voice. These articles are well worth rereading today.

In 1974, Kate took on the Liberal Party as a candidate of the LSA-LSO. She ran against Mitchell Sharp, the Liberal government minister of external affairs at the time. Her campaign centered on exposing the reactionary character of the government’s foreign policy, the need for working people to vote for the NDP, and the importance of the socialist alternative.

Much to Mitchell Sharp’s chagrin, at one election meeting he found himself on the same platform as Kate.

Referring to Sharp’s role as host to the NATO foreign ministers conference a few days earlier in Ottawa, Kate said: "I was glad to see the conference greeted by a demonstration demanding that NATO be disbanded. I believe it should be disbanded, and Canada should withdraw immediately."

When it was Sharp’s turn to speak, he attempted to defend Canada’s role in NATO. "I was glad that Canada’s participation in NATO was brought up by—is it Miss or Mrs.?..."

"Ms.," Kate shot back.

Kate was one of the main leaders of the women’s liberation work of the LSA-LSO. Along with other women leaders, she helped prepare the party for the big rise of the women’s struggle. It was due in large part to women leaders like Kate, that our movement was able to understand the power of the women’s movement as a key force for fundamental social change, to welcome it, to get involved in it, and to win feminist fighters to the fight for socialism.

A party that defends the status quo can have a leadership that is all-male. Just look at the Tory convention going on in Ottawa. But a party that aims to lead the most radical social transformation in all of human history must be a party in which women play a central leading role.

Kate Alderdice understood this and she set the example.

Building the socialist movement also means building the many different struggles for social justice. For example, as a leader of the LSA-LSO’s women’s liberation work in the 1970s, Kate helped build the movement to defend women’s right to abortion and Dr. Henry Morgentaler. How relevant that fight is, as we gather here today!

All of this is part of the foundations of the Revolutionary Workers League. It stands as part of Kate’s enduring contribution to the struggle for social change.

The late 1970s was a period of turbulent change. These called for a sharp change in the work of socialists.

One such challenge was to unite all revolutionary socialists into a single organization. Kate helped lead the fusion of the LSA-LSO, the Revolutionary Marxist Group and the Groupe marxiste révolutionnaire, forming the RWL.

The changing times called for other changes. In the 1960s and early 70s socialists had responded to the search for an alternative by thousands of student youth. But as the 70s merged into the 80s, working people in industry became more receptive to socialist ideas.

The RWL—composed largely of students and white-collar workers—decided to become a party of industrial workers.

Kate responded to this challenge too. She took a job along with other socialists at the McDonnell Douglas aircraft plant in Malton. Many of these socialists were women, helping to reopen the aircraft industry to women—for the first time since the Second World War.

In 1981 Kate decided to turn her energy and talents in another direction. She ceased being a member of the Revolutionary Workers League. But her socialist convictions and fighting determination remained unchanged. She celebrated May Day with us only a few weeks ago.

Kate Alderdice devoted the best years of her life to the struggle for a future without poverty, oppression, exploitation, and war.

Her contribution to the working class is with us forever.

Her work in building our party stands as an example for us all. It should serve as an inspiration to all the young working-class fighters for social change who belong to the socialist movement today.

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