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Ruth Bullock, 1909-1994

Message sent to memorial meeting in Vancouver

by Richard Fidler

I first met Ruth Bullock in September 1961. I was 19 years old, a supporter of the Cuban revolution, and had hitchhiked to Vancouver from Toronto. At a socialist forum at 875 Hastings, I heard Ruth and other comrades of the newly-founded League for Socialist Action speak on the equally new party, the NDP. As a well-known activist and the leading spokesperson for the Socialist Information Centre, Ruth had co-signed (with Ross Dowson) the public call for the formation of the LSA in 1961.

Although I remember little else of that meeting, the memory lingers of Ruth's incisive speaking style and the sharp logic she displayed in analyzing the contradictory political and social forces being expressed within the English-Canadian labour movement and social-democracy. In the days that followed, Ruth and others (Malcolm Bruce, Winnie Henderson, etc.) helped convince me to join the LSA and the internationalist struggle for a socialist society.

Over the following decades I knew Ruth primarily from afar, as one of the leading revolutionary Marxists on the West Coast. To my knowledge, she travelled east only once in that period, to attend the League's 1966 convention in Toronto. But all of us, no matter where situated across this huge country, knew that for much of that period Ruth was as much if not more than anyone else the "public face" of our movement on the Coast. For many years anyone who dropped in at our well-stocked bookstore at 1208 Granville encountered Ruth, the store's manager    and got the benefit of her counsel on the latest publications and events on the left. She and Reg often hosted the younger comrades at the house they had built together in North Vancouver, and it was through them above all that many of us came to have some feel for the rich traditions of the revolutionary left in British Columbia. Within the Vancouver branch, Ruth was of course a leader in the best sense an educator, collaborator and skilled organizer. Not least, she set a powerful example for her younger women comrades as a proud, self-confident feminist from an earlier generation.

Ruth's convictions ran deep and strong, and she was never one to mince words where she felt a political principle was at stake. But she hated sectarianism, recognizing it as the deadliest enemy of small groups like ours that were attempting to apply the insights of the international Marxist movement to the reality of the North American working class. In her later years she watched with dismay as the organization she had worked most of her adult life to build itself succumbed to this scourge. During a visit with her in the early 1990s, we discussed the Sandinista defeat in Nicaragua and a lengthy explanation of this event by her former comrades in the leadership of the U.S. Socialist Workers Party, who had denounced the FSLN for failing to achieve a Cuban-style revolution while conveniently ignoring such factors as the different international context and particularly the lack of assistance from the Soviet bloc. Ruth summed up in a phrase what I had been trying to explicate for months. "What did they expect the Sandinistas to do," Ruth asked. "Create socialism in one country?"

Ruth - unlike so many in our movement, including the author of these lines, alas - was not one to draw a hard line between the personal and the political. She took a keen personal interest in comrades, sharing in their joys and sympathizing in their sorrows. A perceptive observer of human nature, she understood that building a new society was ultimately a cultural project, and that no matter what the institutional forms of struggle or construction, it was human beings, with all their warts and deficiencies, but also their intelligence and solidarity, who were decisive.

Ruth was delighted in September 1991 to hear of the birth of our daughter, Sophie Anne. She sent Sophie a Squamish carving by [Native artist] Darcy Joseph, with a letter to Patty and me that concluded:

"Sometime this advanced 'civilization' will understand what 'primitive' societies have noted: You must treat the Earth well it was not given to you by your parents but loaned by your children and grandchildren."

Let us hope that the story of Ruth's life and work will be available for our children and grandchildren.

Ottawa, April 25, 1994

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