Forward, March 1975
Hugh Dowson, Feb. 12, 1922 - Feb. 13, 1975
The following article is based on an address by Ross Dowson of the Socialist League at a service held in memory of Hugh Dowson at the chapel of the Toronto Necropolis and Crematorium on February 17, 1975 and attended by some 130 friends and associates of the deceased and his family.
It was preceded by an address by Murray Dowson on behalf of the family, by a contribution of Ed Corbett of Douglas Local 1967 UAW-CIO, and followed by contributions of Vern Olson of the League for Socialist Action and Bob McCarthy of the Revolutionary Marxist Group.
The picket line mobilizations, the protest demonstrations, the solidarity actions, all such struggles as have taken place over the past thirty years and all those that will continue in the days ahead—from this time on—will be a head shorter with the death of Hugh Dowson.
He was always there, building them, steeling their ranks, distributing leaflets, carrying banners, shouting slogans. And now, he will no longer be there. He will be there only in spirit, in those who took courage and inspiration from him, or from the collectivity that has come out of his contribution.
Whether as an individual on the shop floor by a mill or a lathe, or as a steward, a committee man or a picket captain, in local union meetings, area assemblies and councils, no matter the level, he was a tireless advocate of militant class struggle policies over a span of some three decades in Windsor, Vancouver, and Toronto, for the most part under the banner of the United Automobile Workers.
Hugh Dowson was a worker-militant, an exemplary worker militant—one who not only moved out in the radical forties, but knew how to hold on during the fifties and to take the necessary initiatives in the sixties and seventies. He played an extremely important role as one of the few, and therefore all the more precious, links that the relatively small though vigorous band of revolutionary socialists had with workers-on-the-job in the mass production industries of this country. He was grounded and rooted in the industrial working class of Canada. He helped to temper, to stabilize and thereby deepen the thinking and the actions of the Canadian Trotskyists.
What made him an exemplary worker militant was not only his high level of activity but his understanding that the chief significance of the day-to-day struggles of his class and its achievement in higher wages, better working conditions, was above all that they posed the need for, and the possibility of, a serious political struggle against the capitalist class, and that the resolution of this struggle could only be through the establishment of a socialist society in Canada and on a world scale. For this there was required a combat party of revolutionary socialists rooted in the working class.
Hugh came to commit himself to socialism in his own way, and only in part through the influence of his two older brothers and his experiences as a youth in Canada. He joined the Trotskyist movement, not in Canada, but while working as a technician in the Canadian tactical air force in Europe which suffered some of the most horrendous crimes, committed by imperialism during World War II, which he witnessed with his own eyes.
On his own initiative he established contact with the Trotskyists in England who, thanks to the power of the working class movement there were not driven underground as their co-thinkers in Canada but were openly campaigning against the war and for a socialist Britain. While the cultural achievements of Europe and hundreds of thousands of her working people were being destroyed, Hugh, particularly by obtaining scarce paper, ink and reproductive equipment, joined with the British Trotskyists and the European partisans of the Fourth International in their efforts to propagandize for a Socialist United States of Europe.
After participating in the "We Want Home Now" armed forces movement which blocked the use of Allied forces against the USSR, he stepped into the tiny Canadian Trotskyist movement then trying to link itself up with the powerful post war industrial union upsurge. His savings and rehabilitation grants helped launch the Trotskyist press, and from then on in Hugh was one of its financial mainstays. From the time of his return from Europe in 1945 until he excused himself for not feeling well from a Socialist League meeting on the fateful evening of February 13, he maintained an unflagging commitment to the cause of the Canadian working class and the world socialist revolution.
His marriage to Claire Lagace, the birth of their four children and his love and devotion to them added a new dimension to his commitment to socialism. His commitment was total, and while passionate, it nonetheless contained a serene element, an expression of confidence, no matter the vicissitudes, in ultimate victory.
The new generation of revolutionists, particularly those who have come to Trotskyism in the past five years since he suffered a massive heart attack in the fall of 1970, were deprived of an opportunity to arrive at a full and correct assessment of his contribution as a worker-militant. Faced constantly with the danger of death he had to pull back to protect himself from the stresses of the struggle. But in his last year, with the formation of the Socialist League and the new motion in working class ranks, despite the dangers, he gradually commenced a process of increased activity on every level.
His fall leaves a big gap in the socialist ranks which, despite his example, will not be filled. But the fighter he was would have us rearm ourselves in the spirit of the Industrial Workers of the World which he admired, and the words of its poet Ralph Chaplin:
May I be permitted to use the pages of Forward to pay tribute to our comrade and friend, Hugh Dowson.
Canadian Trotskyism has had very few funerals because it’s a movement in the main composed of young people. Its program is in tune with the radicalising process of the class and is more and more an attractive force to the layers of new militants coming to awareness by the continued decay of capitalism.
It is because of this that the loss of Comrade Dowson is such a blow to the working class of Canada. The proletarian roots of revolutionary socialism are thin enough as it is. This was a comrade who was not always the most vocal at meetings but often preferred to sit back and weigh all the arguments. When he did speak, it was with the logic of working class common sense, born of long experience and many battles. And surely it is precisely this logic that forms the basis of the logic of Marxism.
Many younger comrades may be unaware of the extent of Comrade Dowson’s contribution to the cause of socialism but every time they have to fight their first class battle, they should know that this comrade helped to forge the weapons they carry into that battle:
But he was not only a tough revolutionary fighter, he was also a warm and loving man who brought many a cheery word to those of us who sometimes lost our optimism for a short while. He called us gypsies because we were impatient to make the revolution and were not inclined to stay in a job long enough to become integrated in the union. It was these friendly kicks in the rear that many of us got that kept us going in tough times.
Comrade Dowson drew special inspiration in the last year of his life from the formation of the Socialist League. He moved out boldly in the trade union and working class movement, despite his weakness from an earlier heart attack. He saw in Forward a paper that was really in touch with the level of consciousness of his class.
We will all miss him greatly but I think he would want us to remember the last words of Joe Hill—"Don’t mourn for me, organize."
Copyright South Branch Publishing. All