Elizabeth Hnatyshyn, 1952-1977
By Beverly Bernardo
On July 29 Elizabeth Hnatyshyn, a member of the Young Socialists (YS) and League for Socialist Action (LSA) in Edmonton, died of leukemia. She was 24 years old.
When Elizabeth joined the YS in Winnipeg in August 1974, she was aware of her terminal illness. Determined to get the maximum out of life, she was extremely active. In addition to being a full-time student with three part-time jobs, she also managed the students co-op store and was a member of the International Students Organization.
Nobody could keep up that pace for long. Gradually Elizabeth became convinced that her role in fighting for a socialist world had to be her top priority. She was won to this perspective both through her experiences in campaigns such as defense of Chilean political prisoners and education in the ideas of scientific socialism. A Christian when she joined, Elizabeth became convinced of the reactionary role of religious superstition.
In May 1975 the LSA decided to close down the Winnipeg branch in order to strengthen other branches across the country. Elizabeth agreed to go to Edmonton, although she had originally wanted to go to Vancouver.
This meant she had to set aside her personal plans — a small sacrifice for most of us, who have confidence we have plenty of time to accomplish our various goals. Elizabeth, however, lived in uncertainty about her future. Yet her decision was firm — to go to Edmonton.
She spent the last two years of her life building the socialist movement in Edmonton. After November 1976, even though her health began to deteriorate rapidly, she continued to work to her capacity — planning classes or helping at whatever task needed to be done.
She argued strongly for the fusion of revolutionary Marxist organizations in Canada. And she died in the knowledge that this battle was won: the fusion conventions were under way and the Revolutionary Workers League was about to be born.
Elizabeth fervently believed that building a revolutionary party was the most useful and fulfilling way for a person to spend her life. The strength of her example helped to transmit that conviction to other comrades.
Published below are excerpts from two of the talks given at an August 26 memorial meeting in Edmonton. They indicate the impact that Elizabeth had on other comrades.
In the movement there exists no formal title which designates one as an "educator." The movement needs education and forum committees to organize our educational program, but all of us as individuals can play a role in the political development of comrades. Elizabeth fulfilled this dual role of educator.
It was during the preparation of our highly successful Vanguard forum on Argentina, that I first had the opportunity to work with Elizabeth.
Elizabeth was to speak at the forum. I was assigned to collaborate with her in working with our other speaker, a leader of the Chilean MIR Support Group.
This comrade thought that Trotskyists were far removed from the "action" in Latin America and as such incapable of understanding Latin American politics.
During the course of the pre-forum discussion, Elizabeth not only defended our politics, but did it in such a manner as not to alienate the MIR comrade. She also managed to convince me of the correctness of the Trotskyists’ approach to Latin America.
In the months before she died Elizabeth and I spent many hours discussing books, films, politics, and day-to-day life. The focus of most of these conversations was anything and everything that related to women. We discussed our common experience of growing up and living in our anti-female society.
In addition to being committed to feminist ideas, Elizabeth was active in various women’s liberation struggles, including the campaign to repeal Canada’s anti-abortion laws. I think one of the experiences we had in Edmonton organizing the tour for Evelyn Reed, a Marxist anthropologist, shows what a fighter Elizabeth was.
The Student Union Forums director had promised the tour committee $500 for expenses: then a few days later he announced to Elizabeth that he was cutting the amount in half. Somehow , she managed to convince him to come to our meeting, despite the fact that he knew he would be facing 10 angry women.
The discussion on the funds was long and heated. The more we talked the more adamant was the forums director’s refusal to give us the money we had been promised. We were just about at our wits’ end when a young woman who had been sitting quietly in the corner spoke up.
She was a student council representative whom Elizabeth had invited to the meeting when she realized we were in for a battle. Her support for us was the final blow to the forums director, and he left the meeting quickly. We got the money. We all felt we had won a big victory.
Conditioned as we are to passive acceptance, other women might have given up. What Elizabeth knew, and what I learned, is that sometimes you have to fight hard just to stay even — but also that it is possible to outmaneuver our enemies.
Copyright South Branch Publishing. All