To Sheffield and Warsaw
As a representative of the Slav Committee, I attended the 1950 World Peace Congress, which was supposed to be held in Sheffield, England, but was quickly shifted to Warsaw when the British government refused visas to most of the delegates from the Communist-controlled countries. In Warsaw, a large printing plant that was being built was quickly converted into an assembly hall to accommodate the congress. Other delegates from Canada included Joe Zuken, the Communist school trustee from Winnipeg, Misha Korol from the AUUC, and Karl Kettola from the Finnish organization. After the congress I made a quick tour of Poland. It was right after the war, so much of the country was in ruins, especially Warsaw. Then I was invited by the Slav Committee in Moscow to make my first visit to the Soviet Union. This included a tour of several areas, including Ukraine. I also traveled to Bulgaria and Czechoslovakia, where I acquired a variety of folk art and musical records for an eventual exhibit.
A trip to China
In 1952, again as a representative of the Slav Committee, I attended the Peace Congress of the Pacific Rim countries, which was held in Peking. At that time the leaders of the Canadian Peace Congress included James Endicott and his wife, Mary, Bruce Mickleburgh, Mary Jennison, and Ray and Kay Gardener. (Ray was an executive editor on the Toronto Daily Star and Kay was a Ukrainian girl, originally from Edmonton, and is currently a member of the Toronto City Council).
Our Canadian delegation of 12 was quite mixed. It included the Endicotts and the Gardners, Ted Baxter, who represented a religious group, Eva Sanderson, a CCF activist, Ethel Nielsen, a retired music teacher, and Gerard Filion, who was then the publisher of Le Devoir in Quebec. He subsequently, became president of the Canadian Manufacturers' Association, and later was also involved in a dredging scandal in Toronto and Montreal. We traveled from Moscow across Siberia to China. This was still in the days of propeller planes, not jets, and we had to make four overnight stops across Siberia — in Omsk, Khabarovsk, Irkutsk on Lake Baikal, and in Ulan Bator, the capital of Outer Mongolia, before landing in what was then called Peking. While stopping in each of the Siberian cities, we were struck by the terrible poverty and inferior service. Mind you, this was not long after the war, so some of it was understandable, but a lot of it wasn't, especially the bureaucracy and the cavalier attitude to people.
Our stop in Irkutsk happened to be just before the 19th Congress of the CPSU was scheduled to 'begin in Moscow, so when we stopped at Irkutsk it happened to be at the same time as the big Chinese delegation to the Congress was stopping there. As a result, they closed the airport hotel where we were staying and didn't allow anybody to even look out the windows, although I did manage to take a peek and watch the honour guard ceremony on the airport tarmac. But there was some consternation and panic among the passengers, because they weren't told what was happening; everything just tightened up. Two hours later it was all over.
We meet Mao and Chou En-lai
Like everyone else who went, I was very enthusiastic about that trip to China. It was just three years alter the so-called Mao revolution, so there was a lot of euphoria and enthusiasm. The Congress was, of course, very well organized and well orchestrated. There was one particularly exciting moment when the Indian delegation of some fifty people demonstratively entered the hall and during a prolonged standing ovation was greeted by children bearing flowers. It was genuine enthusiasm for the delegates of both nations, but I'm sure the leaders were more pragmatic about it, because it was not long after that China and India were involved in a border war. At one point, during the Congress banquet, Mao Zedong, Chou En-lai and Chu The, a veteran of the Long March, came to our table and exchanged toasts.
After the Congress, the Canadian delegates were taken on a month-long tour of China. Filion and I didn't join them, because we had to go back to Canada. I went back, because I got a cable asking me to do so, even though there really was no urgent need for me to do so. In retrospect, though, it was for the best, because I would have been away from the family for too long, causing an even greater hardship for my wife.
Tour of Soviet artists
Because this was the height of the Cold War, no impresarios were inviting Soviet artists to come to this continent. So on Moscow's initiative, arrangements were made for the first group of Soviet artists to come to Canada. And because I was deeply involved with concerts and Slavic culture, I was put in charge of their concert tour. The group included Leonid Kogan, who was then considered the third most important violinist in the world, after David Oistrakh and Jascha Heifetz, a ballet duo, a pianist, a theatre director, two accompanists, and a journalist, who was also the translator. We were all quite certain that the journalist was also very likely the KGB man.
For me, the entire project was both an exciting experience and a great challenge, because I had to book all the halls across the country, prepare all the publicity, contact the media, book the hotels and travel arrangements, and be the m.c. at all the concerts from Montreal to Vancouver.
Because of the success of that tour, they asked me to organize the concert for Mstislav Rostropovich on his first visit to Canada. He wasn't very well known here then. The only people who had heard about him were the cellists. So when we organized the concert for him at the Eaton Auditorium in Toronto, the hall was only a little more than half-full and was made up mainly of a few cellists and left-wing ethnic Canadians, mainly Russians and Ukrainians. But he got very good reviews, so that on his subsequent trip, this time organized by an impresario, he filled Massey Hall.
A year later, I was also asked to organize a concert for the Polish pianist Czerny-StefaiIska in Massey Hall. In 1956, I helped to organize Paul Robeson's last concert in Toronto, in which the Party also had a hand. I worked on that project with two other Party members, Leo Claver, of Toronto, and "Binky" Marks, of Montreal. Robeson filled Massey Hall to capacity.
The Slav Committee lasted almost ten years, from 1948 to 1957.
Moscow tried to recruit me
Another thing I should tell you about is the way some of the people in Moscow and in the Soviet Embassy in Ottawa tried to get me involved in some of their intelligence activity, chiefly in gathering information. Most of it was of a general nature about Canadian society, but they were obviously also interested in the Party and its members, because over the post-war years Soviet embassy people asked me on three separate occasions for my biography — a detailed biography —which I supplied. And I know others were also asked. They tried to involve me during some of my earlier trips to the Soviet Union, before the exposure of Stalin's crimes, and they might have succeeded, because I was, after all, a very loyal Communist, and an ardent supporter of the Soviet Union. But soon after I began to have many doubts and reservations. It so happened, however, that in 1956, after the split in the party, I was elected to the National Executive Committee. And apparently after the Gouzenko affair in 1946 the higher-ups in Soviet intelligence had agreed to keep their hands off Party members who were on the National Committee.
Why I didn't quit in 1956
Speaking of 1956, I often ask myself why I didn't leave the Party at the time of the split. I certainly felt very much like doing so at the time. I agreed with most of the criticisms that were made by MacLeod, Salsberg, Penner, Binder and Edna Ryerson, and especially John Stewart, whom I admired and respected very much. I was very much on their side in the arguments that were presented, although I also felt badly about the fact that the Party was being rent asunder. I was with them ideologically, but I found it hard to actually leave the Party. It would have been a heart-wrenching experience for me. All my family, including my wife's side of it, were loyal Communists, especially my father, who had been an ardent Communist all his life. I would have been renounced by my family and close friends and become a virtual pariah among them. An indication of that was that after the events in Czechoslovakia there was a painful split in the family, wherein my wife's sister didn't speak or write to her for a long time.
The other reason was that I was anxious to preserve Party unity. I thought that perhaps the Party could still be saved, and I had great hopes that with Leslie Morris in the leadership it could change. It was a false hope, of course, but it was there. So I went along. I was elected to the National Executive and was still was very much under the influence of the ideology that prevailed in the Party at that time.
I should add that after 1956 my attitude to the Party changed considerably. I became much more critical of its policies in discussions. I questioned a lot of things. The one positive thing was Morris's leadership. I had great hopes, because he tried to change the Party, to improve the Party, to make it more Canadian. Unfortunately, he died soon after that. Later, I realized that he could not have succeeded.
A nervous breakdown
In 1958, however, I became quite ill with severe stomach problems and numerous other ailments, which eventually was diagnosed as a nervous breakdown. So the Party leadership arranged to have me go to the Soviet Union for treatment. I was sent to Sochi, in the Caucasus mountain region, for 28 days — that's the usual term — but my symptoms were so severe that they kept me there for 40 days. In Sochi I met a young man from Hungary, Karol Erdelj, who turned out to be the personal secretary of Janos Kadar, the Hungarian Party leader. We got along very well, and before we parted, he said, "Why don't you visit Hungary?" I told him I wasn't scheduled to, but he said, "Just say the word and we can arrange it, and I'll meet you." I decided to take him up on it, and when I got back to Moscow I told the Party officials about the offer.
Arrangements were made, and on my way back to Canada I stopped in Hungary for a few days. I was shown around Budapest and environs and, since this was only two years after the revolution there, I was also told a lot about how and why it happened, both the official and unofficial versions.
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