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Jack McDonald, 1889-1968

(SHP Note: This is not the Jack MacDonald who was a leader of the Communist Party of Canada in the 1920s and the Trotskyist movement in the 1930s. Thanks to Peter Campbell for providing this article. )

Western Socialist #4, 1968

Jack McDonald, 1889-1968

By "Harmo"

The socialist movement, small in numbers as it is, has within its ranks a fair representation of so-called civilized man. The majority are not noticeably vocal, nor do they have the ability to express themselves in writing. Another section, albeit possessing certain talents for communicating ideas, are unfortunately constrained to keep their propaganda activities at a minimum, even in some cases to the extent of secrecy. Finally, there are those, all too few, among us who have the knack for imparting knowledge and who have neither the compulsion nor the desire to keep their mouths buttoned. Such was Jack McDonald, without doubt one of the very finest teachers and propagandists in the history of the World Socialist Movement.

A column in the "San Francisco Chronicle" dated July 6, 1968, informs us that: "Bookseller McDonald Dies at 79," as the result of being struck by an automobile near his home in Oakland, California on July 1, 1968. The column deals briefly with his colorful life and states that he was always proud of his one-time membership in the "International (sic) Workers of the World" and that he was a "life-long radical and supporter of Marxian socialism."

We do not know who authored the column but it was obviously one who was ill-informed. At the time of his death Jack McDonald was a member of the National Administrative Committee of the World Socialist Party (U.S.), was proud of his membership for many years in the organization, and was a steady contributor of articles and financial support to "The Western Socialist." Although Mac had many close friends among Wobblies and other radicals he was, himself, not a "radical" but a scientific socialist. A perusal of his articles through some 35 years of "The Western Socialist" will show that he knew the difference and explained the difference.

As one who knew McDonald personally—although as far back as 1937 and 1938—and who maintained a steady contact with him via mail in connection with his manuscripts to "The Western Socialist" the news of his sudden death came as a tremendous shock. It seems to me that anyone around today who knew Mac—even if only through his writings—did not think of him as old, or aging. He seemed a living example of eternal youth. It will be difficult, indeed to replace him as a consistent writer of readable and informative articles. He had the ability to break down a variety of important subjects into terms that won the interest of the average reader of "The Western Socialist". The scope of his subjects was so vast, in fact, that to read all he has written is almost to acquire the basics of a liberal education. And advancing age did not seem to slow his output. Certainly he has been a source of inspiration to other writers in our movement and I, for one, am only too happy to acknowledge my personal debt to him.

Over the years prior to his retirement from active duties at the store, McDonald’s Bookstore was a sort of permanent meeting place—a rendezvous for socialists and for various types of radicals who knew him or knew of him. They came from near and far. And McDonald was never one to permit the cash nexus to interfere with this fact of life in San Francisco. He had time for his customers and his comrades. He was widely known, himself, as a socialist; had spoken for many years at both indoor and outdoor (soap-box) meetings; and had conducted the Jack London Labor College. Despite his socialist activities he was widely respected and liked, by non-socialists and foes of socialism as well as by comrades.

Jack McDonald was noted, among other things, for a fine sense of humor and for the knack of converting a funeral oration over a departed comrade or friend into a cheerful—rather than a gloomy—chore. Not having been privileged to attend his cremation I would like to end this obituary with an anecdote which Jack personally related to me in 1937 of how he had become acquainted with socialism.

As a young man in Western Canada Mac had been a Sunday School teacher. It came to pass, that a socialist Member of Parliament from Alberta, one Charles O’Brien—referred to by McDonald’s pastor as an "emissary of the Devil"—was scheduled to address an audience on the evils of capitalism. McDonald, curious to see and hear an emissary of the Devil, attended. Whether or not O’Brien looked like the Devil he apparently possessed a Devilish gift of persuasiveness. At any rate he converted McDonald from Christianity and if O’Brien never accomplished anything else of consequence in his own career he should be remembered by us for that one feat. The socialist movement has been richer because of it.

As of 1968, we are still a distance from our goal—as far as outward appearances are concerned. But, as did Jack McDonald, we are going to go on punching. Our sympathies go to his family.

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