Editor of Canadian Tribune
When I returned home, in the fall of 1958, Leslie Morris asked if I would be willing to take on the job of editing the Canadian Tribune. Nelson Clarke was the editor at the time, but they wanted him to be National Organizer. I was somewhat taken aback by the offer and a bit frightened by it. I thought it was too big a challenge; I didn't think I could handle it. But Morris kept twisting my arm and telling me that he and the other members on the committee would give me all the help I needed. So I took it on. And I was editor for nine consecutive years, longer than anybody else, except perhaps for Morris, who had served longer, but only two or three years at a time. Nobody else had served that long a stretch, from 1958 to 1967.
In the beginning I found it a greater challenge than I had anticipated. For the first two years I worked every weekday, all of Saturday and half of Sunday, to make sure I could cope. But I had good people on the staff. There was Greg Billings, Bert Whyte (between his stints in Peking and Moscow), and others. And I received a lot of support from Morris, when he was leader of the Party, but after he died and Kashtan took over it became very difficult. Kashian wanted to control and have a say in everything that was done. For example, when I'd be in doubt about some serious problem or issue, I'd phone Stanley Ryerson or Nelson Clarke or Bill Kashtan, sometimes all three, to get their opinion or advice. Invariably, if Kashtan found out that I didn't take his advice he would raise the matter with me, sometimes quite sharply. Which really pissed me off. Finally, as I gained more confidence, I said to hell with it, I'm not going to consult anyone, I'm going to go ,by what I think and let the chips fall where they may. And I told Kashtan that. That's when they decided to make me a member of the Secretariat, so that every week they could discuss what should go into the next issue of the Tribune and thus have more control over it.
Party leaders disturbed
Another example. One summer I came back from my vacation to find Bert Whyte and Greg Billings in the office along with a young fellow we had hired for the summer as a reporter. He was from Quebec, although he wasn't French Canadian. As I walked in, Bert said to me, "I think we have a problem. Take a look at this." And he showed me the proof of a full-page feature, an interview the young reporter had with Phil Ochs, the young U.S. singer and songwriter, who was popular at the time. At one point in the interview, Ochs was giving his opinions about the different political trends in his country during a certain period, and when he was asked, "What about the Communist Party?" he said, "Oh, it was irrelevant." I read the full interview and said, "1 don't see anything wrong with it. Those are Ochs's views. Just add a footnote saying these are his views and not necessarily those of the Tribune." So we published it. And that's when the "shit hit the fan." The Party leaders criticized me for it. Just like in the Soviet Union, I thought, you had to conform.
Just after U.S. President Kennedy was assassinated, I wrote an editorial on Kennedy in which I tried to give a balanced picture and not be totally negative. I quoted some of the things Kennedy said not long before he died, especially a speech he made in California in which he said there was a need for more dialogue and cooperation between nations instead of confrontation and hinted at the need for some rapprochement with Castro's Cuba. I wrote that this was an indication perhaps of some new trends, which was proved later, of course, when Nixon went to China. Again I was sharply criticized for it by some; on the other hand, some thought it was good.
My trip to Cuba
During my stint on the Canadian Tribune, I had the opportunity to make two trips abroad. On January 1st, 1961, Bill Sydney and I were in Havana as representatives of the Party at the celebration of the second anniversary of the new Cuban revolution. We had a bit of trouble getting there because, although flights from Toronto to Havana at that time made a refueling stop in New York, we weren't allowed to take one of them, because we were on the list of those who were barred from entry into the United States. So we had to take the roundabout route via Mexico, which was pleasant enough, because it gave us a chance to be in Mexico City during Christmas week, a worthwhile experience in its own right. We did note also that at the airport, like all the other passengers to Havana, we were photographed before boarding, presumably for the FBI or the CIA.
Those were heady and exuberant days in Cuba. Only two years had passed since Fidel Castro and his fellow revolutionaries had driven triumphantly into Havana after their five-year guerrilla struggle against the regime of the dictator Batista. During those two years, many new positive changes were introduced, changes that most of the population, especially the working poor, enthusiastically welcomed: slum shanties were bulldozed and sturdy modern individual homes and apartment buildings constructed to house their former occupants; a social safety network that gave special attention to the elderly, the sick and otherwise disadvantaged was implemented; that very year was declared the Year Against Illiteracy, during which young people were to sent out to teach all citizens, especially the seniors, how to read and write.
The demonstration in Havana lasted most of the day, since more than half a million people took part in the march past in front of the dignitaries and guests on the podium and then jammed the huge Plaza of the Revolution to hear Fidel Castro speak. He spoke for an hour, which we were told was his shortest speech yet, since prior to that his speeches had lasted as long as five and six hours.
Fidel and Che on the podium
On the podium with Castro was Che Guevara, Fidel's brother Ratil, and several other members of the original revolutionary group that landed on the shores of Cuba in 1956. It included also several leading members of the Communist Party of Cuba, like Bias Roca, its general secretary, the two Escalante brothers, and Carlos Rafael Rodriguez, the editor of the newspaper Granma. You see, after Castro came to power, he made a power-sharing arrangement with the Communist Party and the Revolutionary Directorate, a student anarchist organization, so the leaders of the three centres worked together in what was called the Integrated Revolutionary Organization, and Anibal Escalante, one of the Communist Party leaders, was made its organizational secretary. This in spite of the fact that earlier, when Castro and his colleagues first landed in Cuba on the ship "Granma," the Communist Party considered them "liberal adventurers" and didn't think they would get anywhere. Not long after the landing, Carlos Rafael Rodriguez joined the Castro group and was with them until their victory.
After the demonstration, I had an interview with Rodriguez, and he related to me some of his experiences and shared with me some of the problems he had as editor of Granma. The irony is that three months after that celebration, Anibal Escalante and a large group of his colleagues were charged with taking orders from Moscow and trying to place their men in key positions in the new government — virtually spying for Moscow. Later they were tried and convicted. Escalante was sentenced to 15 years, and 36 members of the group were given sentences ranging from 12 years in prison to two years' house detention.
Another trip to Moscow
In 1962, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the publication of Pravda, the Soviet Communist Party central organ, the -editors of all Communist Party newspapers were invited to Moscow to take part in celebrating that event. And for this event, Moscow pulled out all stops, so to speak. First there was a ceremonial gathering in the Kremlin's ornate and luxurious St. George's Hall at which almost all the editors were invited to give toasts, and which seemed to go on forever. This was followed by a sumptuous banquet at which Nikita Khrushchev made an hour-long off-the-cuff speech, prior to which we were told not to take notes. In the speech he lauded the achievements of the Soviet Union, related how it was helping out the third world, and boasted of its military advances and of the "surprises" it had for U.S. imperialism. He didn't say what those surprises were, but since this was just a few months before the Cuban missile crisis, he must have had the secretly installed missiles there in mind.
My interview with Khrushchev
While the toasts were being delivered in St. George's Hall, I found myself sitting next to Khrushchev's wife and had a nice chat with her in Ukrainian. Also sitting nearby was the old civil war hero and Stalin's faithful toady, Voroshilov. Khrushchev's wife introduced me to him and we chatted briefly, but when I spoke to him in Ukrainian, he replied in Russian, even though he is supposed to be a Ukrainian. Later, I was told I could have 10 minutes with Khrushchev (I don't know who had suggested it), which was a very pleasant experience. We spoke to each other in Ukrainian, he asked me a lot of questions about the life of Ukrainians in Canada and was surprised that I spoke Ukrainian as well as I did, even though I was born in Canada. The next day all the editors were taken on a cruise on the Volga, which included a visit to a nuclear plant.
As I said, I had held this job for nine consecutive years and was pretty tired — not only physically, of the day-in-day-out of putting out the paper, but also of the continuing hassle I had with the Party leadership, especially with Kashtan.
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