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Ken Johnstone, Pioneer Canadian Trotskyist

Socialist Voice, October 16, 1978

by Ian Angus

Kenneth Johnstone, one of the leaders of the Trotskyist movement in Canada in the 1930’s, died in Montreal on June 23.

Johnstone, who often used the pen name "Alexander" in his revolutionary socialist writings, joined the International Left Opposition’s Toronto branch in 1931. He was editor of Canada’s first Trotskyist newspaper, The Vanguard, from its first issue in November 1932 until 1935.

In November 1935 Johnstone visited Leon Trotsky in Norway, together with another young Trotskyist leader, Earle Birney ("Robertson"). Transcripts of their discussions with Trotsky were published in England, Canada, and the United States. They are most readily available today in Writings of Leon Trotsky, 1935-36, published by Pathfinder Press.

From Norway, Johnstone traveled to England, where he played a central role in efforts to assemble the cadres of a new revolutionary party. He was a contributor to Young Militant, newspaper of the Bolshevik-Leninist Group in the Labor Party’s youth organization, and was secretary of the Militant Group.

Johnstone subsequently returned to Canada to participate in the newly formed Socialist Workers League. The SWL, which took a strong antiwar position, was driven underground at the outbreak of the war and lost a large portion of its membership, Johnstone was one of the casualties. Although he maintained formal relations with the organization, he was never again active in it, and left its ranks after the war ended.

During the 1950’s Johnstone gained prominence as a journalist in Montreal, and as a translator for such CBC television programs as The Plouffe Family. He is survived by his wife Suzanne and his daughter Nahanni.

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