Arnie Mintz: A Communist
Apprenticeship in the Vietnam Demonstrations, 1966-1972
Arnie Mintz wrote this pamphlet published it privately with no
authorís name and no publication date, sometime in the early 1990s. For
information about Arnieís political activity after the period described
in this pamphlet, see the tribute to
him in our obituaries section.
We have corrected some spelling errors, but have generally left
Mintzís idiosyncratic style, punctuation and orthography as it appeared
in the original.
A Communist Apprenticeship in the
Vietnam Demonstrations, 1966-1972
In the summer of 1966 I got in touch with a group of students called
High School Students Against the War in Vietnam. They were easy to find.
There was a meeting at one of their houses. There were six of us there.
I was seventeen years old.
Vietnamese were then fighting a U.S. army of 280,000. The city of
Hanoi was being evacuated in expectation of terror bombing by U.S. war
800 of us from Toronto, Hamilton and St. Catharines went in buses and
cars to Niagara Falls. We marched round the town with placards and
banners and chanting. We handed out leaflets and wore sashes with the
words "Stop the War on Vietnam" through the main tourist area, and past
the falls to a park. The demonstration was observing the anniversary of
the U.S. bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and calling for the immediate
withdrawal of U.S. troops from Vietnam. Similar protests were taking
place across the U.S. and Canada where the League for Socialist Action
and its U.S. sister party had branches. At that time the LSA had
branches in Vancouver, Edmonton, Toronto and Montreal. The main
activists of English Canada Vietnam demonstrations were in the LSA.
At the demonstration all the other kids from the high school meeting
were selling a socialist newspaper. There were socialist meetings too.
There were Saturday evening forums every two weeks at the LSA youth HQ
on Cecil St. We showed films there too. It was a converted house with a
large meeting hall that could hold as much as a hundred people. We had
meetings and dances and other events there. We had some literature
racks, offices in the back and a stencil duplicator. For larger events
such as the annual Cuba banquet we could get a union hall.
There were also weekly Friday evening forums in another hall behind
the LSA bookstore at Cumberland and Yonge. Most of what went on at the
meetings was over my head but there was this one older man with a bald
head whoíd speak in the discussion time. That was Ross Dowson. Heíd rant
against capitalism. That made sense. He had tremendous energy. Rossís
drive and confidence were infectious. He had fire in his belly. You
spoke to Ross and you had fire in your belly.
After the meeting someone would approach for a chat, "So, what did
you think of the forum?" The LSA had an efficient contacting system. It
got so there were two regular contactors, an aircraft worker and a young
girl who also worked. Theyíd go through the whole forum again.
There had been a split in the Vietnam demo committee. The Communist
Party had walked out. The CP wanted peace type slogans. The LSA wanted
and won conference votes for "Withdraw U.S. Troops". The CP had about
500 members in Toronto but it could not get its members to a conference.
The LSA with about 70 members in Toronto was young activists and
recruiting quickly, selling books by Trotsky. The LSA threw itself fully
into the protests handing out leaflets, supplying speakers, raising
money etc. For a while the CP organized some demos separately sometimes
Occasionally you would meet a CPíer who would talk - ominously - of
the 1950ís and you didnít know what they were saying. You could
understand their words in some way but it was not real to a young
activist immersed in the new found hurly burly of demonstrations. If you
were serious though you kept the 1950ís in mind as something important
you did not understand. The 1950ís had formed the framework - worker
activists driven out of factories- for the sixties. Itís hard to know
when you havenít been through it.
Malcolm X was murdered February 21, 1965. He was someone decent in
America. As in this 1963 outdoor rally Malcolm X was loved because he
brang out the best in us.
"Our people here in Harlem are trapped, trapped in a vicious
cycle of ignorance, poverty and disease, sickness and death. And
there seems no way out. There seems no way of escape.
"And the wealthy, educated, black bourgeoisie
"The upper class negro
"Those who do escape. They never reach back and pull the rest of us
up along with them."
"They move up in Westchester with their white friends
"With the white liberals
"Say it again.
"Or up in Stanford, Connecticut. The black masses remain trapped
here in the slums.
"And because there seems no hope, no other way of escape we turn to
wine, as a way out. We turn to whiskey as a way out. And many of our
people here in Harlem and especially in this neighbourhood turn to
that dreadful needle, heroin, morphine, cocaine, opium, poison,
nothing but poison.
"But you turn to it seeking an escape from the misery, the brutality
and the defeat the white man has trapped us in here in Harlem.
Thatís the only thing you know of escape. Many of our people have
turned to crime, stealing, gambling, prostitution, organized crime.
Crime that has been organized here in Harlem by the white man.
"We donít organize any crime. He organizes the crime.
"He controls the prostitution. He controls the numbers racket in
"He controls the drug traffic in Harlem.
"He is the one that controls it.
"The master criminal. He is the arch enemy. He gets you drunk then
locks you up for being drunk.
"He sells you whiskey then locks you up when he catches you drunk.
"He sells you a deck of cards then locks you up when he catches you
using them. You are dealing with nothing but a deceitful blue eyed
Malcolm X had the kind of effect that stayed with us.
In an October 1966 weekend there was a convention of the Ontario NDP
Youth. The LSA youth wing was fully involved in the ONDY. There were a
couple dozen LSA youth at the convention. The ONDY had grown to 500 due
to the LSA building new clubs. This did not sit well with the NDP. You
can just see these well-dressed aspiring parliamentary types cowering
together in an expensive hotel suite terrified by a couple dozen LSA.
The NDP decided to re-register the ONDY membership, get rid of the LSA
youth and kill the ONDY rather than see it and the LSA grow together. A
bare majority of the ONDY club members voted for the LSA positions but
since the old executive were automatic conference delegates the LSA only
received 43% votes at the ONDY conference.
The main plank of the LSA in the ONDY was for the NDP to lead the
Vietnam protests which is wrong to throw away our hard work to them. The
NDP didnít want to know and dissolved the NDY. The NDP though had a
social democratic effect on the LSA.
The convention was a turning point for me. In response to an LSA
motion it did not want to hear the convention chair moved a motion to
refer. Iíd seen quite enough of obfuscation, made a decision I was a
communist and joined the LSA youth. The meeting exposed democracy for
what it is; a device owned by wealth, bought by them and manipulated by
them.- theirs. Proletarian dictatorship was just starting to become an
idea to me.
The October Vietnam demonstration was 10,000 in New York and 1000 in
Toronto. The CP organised a November demo of 700.
The main organiser of the English Canada Vietnam protests was Ross
Dowson. He ran the LSA bookstore. He was usually in the store reading or
writing. Heíd stop to give you his full attention. Ross was special. He
always had an encouraging word for you and a good pocketbook because he
knew you and what you would enjoy. He listened to you and had already
stocked that book into the store for you. Ross never kept you waiting.
He had been through periods of isolation and now he was thriving on
expansion. And he had answers for many questions. Even when he was in an
office downstairs Rossís door was always open.
There were about three dozen in the Toronto LSA youth wing. We read
Trotsky, attended meetings, distributed leaflets and coaxed others into
coming to the socialist meetings. That year 15 or 20 high school
students came downtown to check out meetings. There was this one group
of students who came to the LSA New Yearís Eve Party. This group was
from Poland. They were intent on turning their back on that. At midnight
we all sang the Internationale. These kids sang in Polish with
tears in their eyes. That was the only time they came but it left a
At the beginning of 1967 most Vietnamese were resisting a U.S.
invasion of 400,000. In Hanoi factories and workers districts were
standing up to criminal bombing. The United States claimed it was
winning the war. Their lackeys in Saigon claimed an army of 750,000.
Despite the terror the Vietnam Communist Party obviously had
overwhelming support both north and south.
We were building the spring protest. We were handing out many
leaflets at high schools. There were two large demonstrations each year,
one in the spring and one in the autumn, in addition to smaller building
actions to organize the activists. The LSA HQ in Montreal was raided.
They took the mailing lists. Two dozen LSA were expelled from the NDP
Youth. They even went so far as voting on expelling an obscure high
school student. There was a tie vote and it was to the chairman of the
meeting to vote. He declined to vote saying the kid was "too stupid to
be a trotskyist."
A number of us joined the LSA while in our middle teens. The high
school activist is under intense pressure. The main pressure is
financial. Many are broken by it. The high school activist is subject to
interrogations by school authorities etc. All those years and years of
school to try to break the free spirit of youth.
One day a couple of us were putting up posters announcing a Vietnam
demonstration. We pasted one on a church door and then the two of us sat
down on the steps for a few words. This fella asked me what was I going
to do with my life. Write advertising copy I said. "What you want to
waste your life with that for? A communist life is good." That made
sense and he said it just at the right time.
Our main campaign was to organize buses to take activists down to New
York city for a big protest in April. 200 from Canada took part in a
demo of 100,000. In Toronto 400 of us demonstrated at the U.S.
consulate. In Vancouver 3000 marched and the Vietnam Committee
organisation spread to new cities with more street marches as the LSA
expanded to set up new locals. In May the Communist Party organised a
Vietnam protest march of 1500 in Toronto.
In July the LSA youth held its first open convention for three days
at a hotel in downtown Toronto. We had grown to one hundred members. We
formally gave up on entry activities inside the NDP Youth, there was
plenty else to do. The LSA remained a part of the NDP and we reaffirmed
loyalty to the NDP. In the summer of 1967 I finished with school and
like any good communist went to work in a factory. Ross encouraged me to
get a trade.
Another activity of the LSA was support to Cuba. From our offices we
mailed out the subscriptions to Granma. The mailing was a fairly
relaxed session. Once a year we had a big banquet and social event. That
year we had two hundred along with the Cuban ambassador at the banquet.
October 8, 1967 Che Guevara was murdered in Bolivia. Che inspired an
entire generation of us. Che Guevara wasnít content to be sitting
comfortable behind a desk in Havana. He died in battle, fighting
imperialism. He was a hero to us. We had Che badges, flags, stickers and
In October the Vietnam Courier reported that the 2500th plane
had been shot down over the north. In Toronto we built the October
demonstration. A couple of us went to apply for a parade permit. They
were waiting for us, on good behaviour. They asked a number of
questions. The interview was over in short order.
25,000 marched in New York. 50,000 in Washington, 4000 in London and
1,500,000 in Japan. In Toronto 6000 marched from a park to city hall. We
were not allowed a permit for Yonge St. so the large demonstration just
took it with little difficulty. The demo organiser was arrested. In
Vancouver 4000 marched and 500 in Ottawa where we had just set up a
branch, 600 in Edmonton, 300 in Halifax, 500 in Winnipeg and 500 came
onto the streets of Montreal.
We had many fine characters in the LSA. There was this one fella who
played a banjo. Around that time he was warning us about a rock and roll
group that was being highly touted. Promoters were hustling this rock
group with the same dedication with which they had hustled a certain
group of comedians in the thirties Ė consciously at every step of the
way. In the nineteen thirties they had invented an actor with the
identical name to Karl Marx and kept promoting the actor at every turn
to try to obscure the real Karl Marx. Now in the sixties they had a rock
singer with the same name as V. I. Lenin. It was a very deliberate
In November a war recruiter was driven off a Toronto university by a
sit-in. A renewed movement of direct action was growing, largely outside
the LSA but not entirely. We took principle in demonstrating against
U.S. and Canadian government spokesmen who appeared on a campus or in a
city where we could muster a demonstration.
In the United States there was a very large new left organisation
called Students for a Democratic Society. SDS was enormous. Its
membership was fluid but said to be 100,000 or so. SDS dwarfed the
socialist groups. Developments in Canada were determined in the U.S. for
example politics in the Vietnam demos were decided in the U.S. In Canada
the new left was different, nowhere near as large, not students per se,
named socialist and confined to one province or city. Politics was
inescapable. By the end of the SDS, which was not that far away, every
corner, every nook, every tiny little wee cranny of the SDS had been
ravaged by Marxism, Leninism. In spite of all the refined pretence of
new leftism it had zero answers to Marxism, only questions.
The Tet Offensive was the turning point of the war. Throughout the
south the National Liberation Front hit government buildings in all the
large cities. Dalat, Quang Tri and Kontum were taken. Hue was liberated
for a month. Thirty capitals of provinces and many cities, towns and
villages were taken or shelled. The NLF was then standing up to a U.S.
army of 500,000 ground troops. The U.S. claimed it was winning the war
and announced itís complete triumph.
Areas with over 1 million people had been added to the protection of
the NLF in the Tet Offensive. International capitalism was dealt a
staggering blow. As protesters in Toronto we did not understand the Tet
Offensive but somehow it was felt. In France it was understood clearly.
Shortly the French working class sensing the situation with keen
calculation, would insurrect. In Vietnam mutinies among U.S. troops
increased sharply. Afro americans took the lead.
In February 20,000 people took the streets in West Berlin with NLF,
Che and red flags. Demonstrations in Berlin and Paris were linked
stirring revolutionary fervour. In a march in London 20,000 took the
streets against the war.
At the beginning of April a garbage workers strike in Memphis shook
the U.S. A youth was killed on a strike march. Then a prominent Afro
American minister was gunned down in Memphis where he was speaking to
the strikers. Millions of poor americans felt that if a very moderate
leader was killed like that then the only answer was rebellion. Afro
american poor in every large and medium sized U.S. city came into the
streets. Large areas of many cities were in ruins. Occupying troops shot
and killed hundreds. Tens of thousands of ordinary people were arrested
Demonstrations in Berlin and Paris escalated into large street fights
in several German cities. The portrait of Rosa Luxemburg was displayed
in the streets. In Toronto a number of strikes were developing. Towards
the end of April at 1200 U.S. colleges there were boycotts against the
war in Vietnam. Vietnam demos went on from Africa to Moscow to Latin
America. In Toronto the April Vietnam march was 1500 to Queenís Park
where there was a rally of 4000. At the same time a few minutes walk
away 150 supporters of the NLF had assembled at the U.S. consulate.
There was a fight with fascists. Nine NLF supporters were arrested. That
demo marched to Queenís Park and returned to the consulate with 600.
In Paris there was a rapidly escalating series of massive demos,
college occupations and confrontations with police. In early May the NLF
launched another offensive in Vietnam attacking enemy positions in 120
cities, towns and bases. The guerrilla fighter in Vietnam took
satisfaction from the demonstrations in a thousand cities round the
world. In Paris a huge march of students had a 14 hour battle with
police. Striking taxi and postal workers joined in. There were more
marches. Each event built the next.
A huge student march on May 10 was attacked. Students were joined by
significant numbers of young workers and some not so young eager to have
a go at the hated enemy. The battle went on through the night. At
daybreak delegations were sent to Paris factories. One factory came out.
Then another. Strikes spread over France. Red flags flew over factories.
Factories were occupied. Many strikers took control of food and traffic.
The bosses were isolated but alive. There was still street fighting.
Proletarian dictatorship was the daily guide. Thought was action. A week
later the strikes were still spreading. There were ten million on
At the beginning of June the NLF launched another offensive. The
3000th U.S. airplane was shot down over the north. In one attack on a
U.S. base 150 aircraft, mostly helicopters, were destroyed in one hour.
Around Toronto workers struggled to join in. Railworkers, aircraft
workers, drivers, printers, longshore and other factory workers tried to
push or pull the union into action. Some strikes had started in the
spring at a farm machinery plant, a brass shaping factory, autoworkers
and an electric works as well as a number of smaller factories. An
important strike of 2200 tire workers started in early May. Flying
pickets moved to stop the shipment of stockpiled tires. Railworkers
honoured the picket line.
In France a desperate bourgeoisie summoned the CP/SP. Striking
workers battled in the streets of Genoa, Italy. There were huge street
fights in Rome, Tokyo, Denmark and Saigon. In France in the fourth week
of the strike there were four million on strike.
In mid June Toronto tire workers organised a mass picket at the
plant. For the strikers the stoppage was freedom from production,
freedom to enjoy life. More than a thousand pickets blocked the front
gate. Strikers, workers from the area and trade union members from other
Toronto plants joined in. Large numbers of police roared up in cars,
vans and motorcycles to try to open the gate but were driven back by the
bravery of pickets.
In France the strike was in its fifth week. 500,000 were still on
strike. The government banned several left wing groups and their
meetings. They were forced to learn to operate in a different way.
By the time an eyewitness account was written in France, mailed,
typeset, printed and distributed in Toronto events had moved on. All the
literature about France was eagerly bought whether at street corners,
factories or rock concerts. We couldnít print enough. Every gathering of
ordinary people wanted as much first hand material as we had, even
At the tire plant in west Toronto three times a ballot was turned
back. The LSA had a handful of friends at the plant. They put out a
number of leaflets which were eagerly taken up like drops of water in a
desert. 1968 was the peak of the revolutionary upheavals in those years.
Towards the end of June 3700 Toronto garbage and water workers came out.
A strike of 300 beer workers at one plant spread by the next day to all
Ontario. Around Toronto several other small strikes started up. In mid
July there was a full postal strike.
There were a couple posties in the LSA. They did not have the quick
tongue of the student or the doctor. One of them tried to laugh it off
and take part in debates. He read the tracts. He joined in the wind. He
was a loyal member. He didnít look to be given laurels. He joined the
socialist group with enthusiasm. He hoped the graduate students and
accountants were better than in his heart he knew them. In his own mind
he knew he was worth more than all the architects and professors
combined. Far all their articulated talk of fighting the boss he did it
every day but his natural worker revolutionary instincts got no help in
the LSA. Ross listened to the worker members. But then Ross also
listened to the analyst and the engineer too. The fact that Ross did
have time for workers made Ross unique among the leaders of the LSA. But
Ross believed we were using the toffes. The reverse was true. The toffes
hated us because labour is honest.
By the end of the summer 1968 the strike wave in Toronto had
The best part of the bookstore was lunch. Rossíd cook some soup in
the hall behind the store and there was plenty bread with honey. Aside
from filling your belly the other good part of lunch was listening to
Every once in a while Ross would start ranting in an LSA meeting.
Heíd be shouting with the veins popping out of his solid neck. It was
We had a small print shop a few minutes walk from the bookstore.
Every two weeks we had a newspaper to put out. It took two of us about
24 hours to do the job. In the morning the editor would arrive with most
of the articles set in galleys and a rough plan for the issue. The
headlines were set and later the pasteup. The headliner was a light box
and we had film strips of different type styles. We always wanted to
cram many words into the headlines, leaving but a fraction of space
between one letter and the next.
We were picking up a scattering of new members here and there. So in
the autumn the LSA sent a tour of four worker youths out to the western
provinces. We had a mini van. On top of the van was built a platform for
a pup tent where two of us slept. Inside the van were two benches for
sleeping and eating meals. These benches were maybe twelve inches wide
and hard but we were young. We sold newspapers from town to town as we
travelled west. We kept the money from sales for food. There were
meetings to organise and subscribers to visit.
We drove through the beautiful mountain region just north of the
great lakes. One time we argued over paying for one tour memberís
cigarettes. The LSA were usually decent about that and the smoker won
out by taking a solid position.
The funniest moment of the tour was when we got to Winnipeg. We
didnít have members there then so we werenít too sure where we were
going in this big city. As we drove up to a crossroads one person wanted
to go straight ahead, one turn one way and one wanted to turn the other
way. The driver was a mild tempered fellow so the van just sat where it
was and we all shouted for a while.
In October there were big Vietnam demos; 100,000 in London and 15,000
in San Francisco. In Toronto 3000 marched. We were unable to get a
permit for Yonge St and the way was blocked by horses.
Most every year we had a turkey dinner December 25th. It would be at
HQ or one memberís apartment. The dinner was for out of town members,
latecomers and whomever. We sang carols like, "Give me that old time
Marxism, itís good enough for me. It was good enough for Lenin, itís
good enough for me."
At the beginning of 1969 the U.S. had 550,000 reluctant troops in
Vietnam plus 50,000 in Thailand plus more troops on boats offshore plus
50,000 from South Korea plus the U.S. was paying for the 850,000 it said
were in the Saigon army. The U.S. claimed it was winning the war. It
began escalated bombing of Cambodia. The NLF continued attacks on the
outskirts of Saigon and sometimes inside.
In the spring 100,000 marched in the streets of New York city and in
Chicago 40,000. Toronto had its biggest Vietnam protest. Ten to twenty
thousand walked down Yonge street. The LSA contingent carried red flags
with Che Guevaraís portrait silk screened on. The speakers we put up
were the usual run of bourgeois democratic creeps.
Saturday night at the LSA youth HQ after some activity there was
often a guitar and singing of socialist songs. Our favourite was a tune
with Italian words we werenít too sure of. We could understand the song
ending which we sang very loudly, "Beeba Communisme and la Liberta."
Gradually the chairs were pulled off to the side. Music started up and
dancing. The music got louder, the lights got dimmer and there was
Loud music with beer was to try to drown out the world. It is a wind
up. Loud music serves to keep the pace of capitalism on the go; killing
the older workers off and sucking the blood of younger ones. But that is
hindsight. We liked loud music then.
There were any number of hard working and dedicated members of the
LSA as well as others less so. Sometimes the others would come up with
their snide challenge: " Do you think youíll see socialism in your
lifetime?" They wanted to shove their demoralised words at us. They had
already heard the answer. The job is to get rid of capitalism. That was
not what they were in the LSA for. Of course in oneís lifetime, yes it
can be done and itís worth working hard to get rid of capitalism.
There were others, better people. There were a couple guys who worked
at corner newspaper stands. But in general the LSA did not get top
quality people like cleaners or dishwashers or laborers or waitresses.
We had a couple of typists but they were not promoted to the leading
committees, that went to students.
Then there was a twelve year old girl we recruited. Sheíd already
been active for a while. She didnít have any answers for the LSA social
life but she knew what she wanted and knew she didnít fit. She stayed
for a short time then left quietly.
In May the NLF launched an offensive striking military positions
including Saigon and Hue. The U.S. government admitted losing 5700
planes so far in Vietnam. In August occupations of factories spread
throughout Italy. In the same month the NLF attacked 200 enemy positions
and bases. The moral of both U.S. and puppet forces was at its lowest.
Occasionally the NLF newspaper showed up. We tried to turn imperialist
papers upside down. It would have been easier to try to use the
stalinist paper but we did not have the confidence.
In Winnipeg we started up an LSA group recruiting students. The banjo
player had set it all up by padlocking a war recruiter into a room on
the university. That recruited some people to the LSA. By the fall
Vietnam demonstrations we had several members. The banjo player was the
genius behind our breakthrough on the prairies. He never tired of
playing to us. We had many pleasant evenings listening to his large
collection of tunes.
We had our meetings in an apartment. In a walk in closet was our
literature all neatly laid out on shelves. We organized the autumn
Vietnam demonstration. In the LSA youth we debated what slogan to paint
on our banner for the demo. Two slogans were proposed. One was "Down
With Capitalist Wars" and the other was "Down With Imperialist Wars."
Both were about the same but we had a heated debate. The imperialism one
was the more scientific of the two while the other said the main enemy
was at home.
The demo went off okay. We started with a rally at the university.
Two visiting reps of the NLF spoke to the rally. As November is cold in
Winnipeg we decided for a quick, spirited 20 minute dash of the 300 of
us to the other end of the main street. There we had a rally for a few
minutes. In the U.S. one million took to the streets in protest. In
Guelph 90 marched in bitter cold down the main street. There were 5000
in Toronto and Vancouver, 50 in Brandon, 200 in Halifax etc.
By the end of 1969 the U.S. had begun a retreat from Vietnam. The
U.S. increased troop strength in Laos, Cambodia, Guam, Thailand and in
boats offshore. Attempts to build up U.S. armies in Laos and Cambodia
were defeated. Officers who displeased the soldiers would turn up in the
morning as dead officers. The U.S. escalated bombing. It cut ground
troop strength to 480,000 in Vietnam. The U.S. claimed it was winning
The NLF continued defeating the U.S. army. So far 10,000 military
vehicles had been put out of action. This included 6000 tanks. Russian
guns had helped. The puppet government in Saigon claimed to control 93%
of the south. The U.S., in an attempt to rally its demoralized troops,
invaded Cambodia where it was defeated. Mutinies increased.
In Winnipeg we found a marxist cell of six in a high school. They
decided to run in an election. In the main school foyer they put up a
huge banner saying "Vote Bolshevik". They were sophisticated kids. One
gave a competent talk on eastern europe to our group. Over the next few
months, one by one, we lost them all.
Also there was a woman who was working in a cafeteria. She got in
touch with us and wanted to help. At the age of twelve she was sent for
shock treatment because she was a communist. A true story and her nerves
were damaged. She wanted to stuff envelopes for us. We didnít have such
a category and we lost track of her through stupidity on our part. She
had the only useful credential, she worked.
One day some of us were trooping through a park and came across a
religious hustler. So we struck in with a Wobbly tune;
And the starvation army they pray,
And they sing and they dance and they pray.
But when asked about something to eat,
They will answer with voices so sweet.
You will eat bye and bye,
In that glorious land above the sky.
Work and pray, live on hay,
Youíll get pie in the sky when you die,
ó thatís a lie.
Another day a friend greeted us by waving a red book at us to inform
us we had been expelled from the Manitoba NDP Youth. They had gone
Maoist apparently. Well we didnít have a real interest in the NDP but
expulsion that irked us. So we got back in touch with them and said as
we were communists they had done an anticommunist act. This made sense
to them and we were reinstated.
In the U.S. there were student boycotts at 400 colleges protesting
the war. In Paris 250,000 marched. Washington saw 100,000. In Winnipeg
we held a modest street rally. A group from CPC/ML wanted to speak to
the rally. Being reasonable types we let them speak but kept a hold on
the megaphone. That was good thinking by the banjo player because the
CPC/ML speaker tried to get hold of the megaphone and when that failed
they tried to hold a vote on marching off somewhere else and failing
that they left.
During this period we carried an important regroupment of the
Saskatchewan Committee for a Socialist Movement. It claimed 100 members.
The Winnipeg LSA was invited to give a talk on Lenin to the Saskatoon
group. It was a small opening. There were 25 at the meeting. There was a
brief presentation then discussion by the end of which the Saskatoon
group decided to join the LSA. That night the leader of the Saskatoon
group was shattered about losing some of his new left friends so we had
to stay up all night with him playing the guitar to soothe his nerves.
We had changed the whole path of the new left on the prairies in one
night. In one year the prairie LSA had gone from 15 to 60 members. In
four years the LSA had gone from four branches to twelve. The tragedy of
Winnipeg was that we were just energetic kids. We did not realize the
potential of even the weak brand of socialism we had. We could have
recruited hundreds in Winnipeg. Millions of workers in the country were
eager to find organization. Instead we recruited a few students. It was
fun indeed but there were no teachers around to show us better.
Other socialist organisations had also grown after 1968. There were
many socialist newspapers. The Maoist CPC/ML had become almost as large
as the LSA, a few hundred. The CPC/ML was then in its tit for tat
period. They took on the police in the streets. With slogans like
Blood Debts Must Be Paid In Blood the CPC/ML suffered a lot of
arrests. They had other slogans as well, like Every Thing Reactionary
Is The Same, If You Donít Hit It, It Wonít Fall. In some ways it was
a heroic group but full of pretence. For all its posturing as The
Movement CPC/ML wasnít that different from the other socialists. For
instance here is a revealing breakdown they published of their members
at an important conference: "309 working class, 179 bourgeois and 539
There were three other Maoist groups of a hundred or so each, plus a
number of smaller socialist groups and collectives. Likewise there were
big developments among native Americans. We could have learned a lot
from the long and brave history of native struggles against capitalist
invasion. In Quebec there were some large French speaking socialist
organizations. All the socialist groups had something to add. None had
all the answers.
In Toronto the LSA had moved into new headquarters several times as
large as the previous offices. We had spent a lot of time, effort and
money to refurbish the space. We redid the plumbing, the electricity,
the floors and the walls. Around this time the LSA was fielding
candidates in a number of public elections sometimes winning large
votes. In October there were Vietnam demonstrations across the country.
The size of the demos was smaller.
In the Maritimes the LSA youth was growing fast with a branch of a
dozen in Fredericton, the same in Halifax and more than a branch in a
harbour town. The masters ridicule the small town. Actually the small
town gives a valuable insight on life. The harbour town chapter of the
LSA was of the finest although not at all appreciated for its front line
The Maritime LSA started in Fredericton with some very capable
people. Whatever protests were happening the LSA was involved. The LSA
ran in elections receiving sizeable votes. In the harbour town the LSA
ran under the banner "Vote Proletarian". The LSA became a part of the
leadership of the NDP in New Brunswick. The Fredericton LSA thought it
would be a morale boost for the rest of the LSA to see us leading the
NDP/Waffle in a province.
Some workers were recruited in a harbour town with a fish plant. It
was a company town. Such that there was an NDP in town, a Waffle, a
union Ė and there was Ė it was the LSA, young and red. The LSA was a
mass party connected to a student group in Fredericton. The union was
underground, a valuable experience. The LSA held a meeting 20 miles from
the fish plant. It was difficult finding a hall. Large numbers of
workers showed up. The loyalty of the fish plant workers to the tiny LSA
was instructive. An organization of factory workers is fearless and
bold. The workers needed support. The provincial NDP got involved doing
a lot of damage. Two unions got involved and union qualities like
loyalty and trust got obscured in the shuffle. The entire struggle
became interwoven with LSA internal tussles.
In October troops had been sent in to Montreal to quell rebellion.
Montreal was under military occupation. We held our LSA youth convention
there new yearís 1970/1971. There were troops round Montreal, with guns
at the ready lest the poor speak up. We kept to our convention site. At
night we filled our meeting hall with rented sleeping cots. We had grown
to 200 members.
In 1971 the NLF was pushing the U.S. army out of the northern region
of south Vietnam. U.S. troop strength was then 280,000. The U.S. claimed
it was winning the war. A U.S. invasion of Laos was defeated. In
February 3000 demonstrated in the streets of Quy Non with a banner Down
With U.S. Aggression setting fire to U.S. offices and also to some
In April the Federal NDP held a convention in Ottawa. A big left
wing, the Waffle, was at its height. The LSA, which had been in the NDP
a long time was largely bypassed by the Waffle, for a while at least.
The LSA appeared as a conservative force in the Waffle. A section of the
Ontario Waffle hooked up with a left wing looking dissident grouping
inside the Montreal LSA and launched its own newspaper competing with
the LSA and also a student group in Toronto.
The spring Vietnam demonstrations were 5000 in 15 different cities in
Canada, 300,000 in San Francisco and 500,000 in Washington. The Toronto
LSA organized nine buses to go to Ottawa to a demo of 700 against the
appearance of the U.S. President. There were a variety of different
demonstrations going on then in Toronto. A dozen socialist groups
demonstrated, unemployed, Afro Americans, pro-abortion, support groups
for causes in other countries and unions as well marched in the streets.
Around this time the Chinese government befriended the U.S. government.
That threw all the Maoist groups into very serious confusion.
The LSA had its own problems. Starting on the prairies a feminist
wave swept the LSA. Men were excluded from branch executives save one
token quiet male. Split seating put men in the rear. The feminist wave
carried right into Toronto where it fizzled. Within the growing womenís
liberation movements the LSA argued for an abortion focus. Pro abortion
demos had been started in 1970. The LSA founded the pro abortion groups.
It coordinated the demonstrations across the country and built the
groups, supplied staff, got office space rented etc. After first
opposing womenís organizations capitalism sought to use feminists to
criminally divide poor against poor.
In the summer the LSA held a conference in Waterloo. 430 people
attended. Black clouds were gathering, a welcome storm was readying to
In Hamilton we had a small branch. All of us were by then seriously
questioning what we were doing. For instance we organised a large
protest over a U.S. nuclear test off the Amchitka islands. We had a desk
in a student building and less than a handful organised several
universities to go down to the border at Niagara Falls for a
demonstration. We got the student association to pay for buses, a sound
system we mounted on a car, placards, leaflets, phone calls etc. In the
event 5000 showed up. We didnít bother with titled speakers so that was
okay. At the end of the rally on the cross border bridge someone jumped
up and started singing the national anthem. That was not our cup of tea
so we closed off the sound system and the rally was over but it made us
question what we had done. That was our autumn Vietnam protest.
Our next experience in Hamilton was even more telling. There was an
election on and the NDP didnít have any youth wing so we substituted. We
organised something called a Youth for NDP Rally on the university. It
was complete with a list of titled speakers, a rock band and beer. We
drew 400. But the experience of pimping for pink capitalism drove some
of the rally organisers to serious drinking that night. In the morning
we had decided. No more of this filth. It was LSA politics but it sure
was not ours. So we read a lot trying to figure out the alternative. For
sure we didnít want nothing to do with the NDP. Along with the
rethinking there was demoralization. We were disoriented. We allowed to
collapse a branch with some workers.
At this time there was a nine week strike at a Toronto aircraft plant
where we had three people. As well there were a dozen members of the CP.
It was a big plant; a medium sized town. Outside the walls of the plant
life proceeded at a frightening pace. Inside the factory walls we are
decent to each other. Inside the walls the union could not be ignored.
The background to the strike was the repeated efforts by management to
housebreak the union. This had been going on for years. They tried many
things to provoke. They harassed workers about wearing badges, coloured
badges, going from one area of the plant to another, speedup etc. There
were many experienced workers at the plant who had been at several
factories and different countries. Many workers had communist experience
in the blood. The workers had seen worlds of experience; war,
revolution, famine, the east, the west and reaction. All this came to
the fore when nurtured. When one set of management provocateurs was
foiled new ones were brought in.
The worn out sop of a pension plan had been discredited by our
people. Over the years the three LSA aircraft workers had published a
number of leaflets, for instance tearing apart bit by bit pension plans.
We had three very effective people. Our people were recognized all over
the plant. We got involved in all the issues at the plant. This factory
made airplane wings. All strikes take place in time and place. All
strikes are political. The strikers knew the stoppage effected
immediately thousands of California aircraft workers. This strike was in
the midst of the Vietnam war. The workers rejected the company offer. In
the end a settlement of the strike was imposed. This strike was part of
changes in the UAW.
The quickest response of the LSA aircraft group was once after
sitting in on a stewards meeting. Then it was over to one personís place
for a gathering to thrash out the words of a leaflet. Then the statement
was typed onto a stencil. This group kept its own box of duplicator
stencils, correcting fluid, backing sheet etc. Then two from the factory
group drove downtown to the LSA offices so as to arrange access to the
duplicating machine. The aircraft crew paid cash for the paper and ink,
ran the leaflet off, grabbed something to eat and distributed the
leaflet in the morning. This was the LSAís only factory group. Yet there
was a certain separateness.
Dangerous conditions breed strong unions. It was a dirty, loud
factory but sort of tolerable as long as our side kept our wits about
us. Compared to others it was pleasant enough to work there. The LSA
fraction worked as critics of the CP which was a central part of the
union executive. The LSA group worked as a pressure group on the CP,
forcing them to fight the Socialists by publishing a leaflet and calling
attention to that fact any time the CP made a move in that direction.
The LSA group at the plant played an indirect but integral role for many
years. Most everybody at the plant had worked with, eaten or talked with
the three LSA members.
The senior man of our three was Hugh. Hugh did a tool and die
apprenticeship prior to the war. He joined the trotskyist party while he
was in Britain during WWII. He was a ground crew mechanic in the air
force. He carried food and messages to the French trotskyists. These
comrades always insisted he sit down and eat some food with them. Later
from the continent he brought back typewriters to Britain. At the
trotskyist meetings in Britain the members from Canada and Britain wore
uniforms while the members from the U.S. wore civilian clothes.
After the war Hugh was in Windsor for four years working in a car
plant. At the plant there were continuous walkouts, every few days.
After Windsor he went to work in a Toronto aircraft plant. Hugh taught
to explore those areas most distasteful to us, like pensions. He said go
through it in detail. Pensions are selling a dream of security. He took
this dream and took it up piece by piece. He just had a sense this was
where the system was most vulnerable. The LSA aircraft members would go
to the union meetings, regionals and conferences and ask questions, like
about pensions, "What is it worth?" Many leaflets were printed. By the
time of the strike pensions were discredited.
Hugh built a darkroom for the LSAís new HQ. The job was typical of
him, solid. Everything fit well, just so. He was an easy going, slow,
deliberate workman, very precise. He was well respected because even
when there was disagreement, he gave respect. Even with those the
company used as pawns Hugh had a way of insisting, forcing them really,
to act like people. His attitude was born of confidence in the working
class. He never worked overtime.
Onetime he was working alongside a younger man who was putting
together a casting. Hugh felt the man had made the assembly in not the
safest way and he could get hurt badly. The fellow shrugged it off
saying he could handle it. Hugh went and found a magic marker and wrote
the hospital phone number on the casting. The man accepted the humour
and reassembled the job. One of Hughís favourite quips was about
fairness. The CPers would always complain about some trick by the
exploiter. But thatís not fair, theyíd say. Hugh thought all such talk
ludicrous. Heíd try to explain patiently that profit is theft.
Vietnamese Communist Party troops were closing in on Quang Tri,
Danang, Hue and Kontum. There were still vast armies of U.S. troops in
Southeast Asia, including 140,000 reluctant ground troops in Vietnam. As
they boarded boats and planes out the NLF pursued and shelled them. The
U.S. continued its bombing and its wars in Cambodia and Laos.
In the Hamilton LSA we were not doing much activity. Some of us were
intently reading Trotsky trying to figure out what to do. The spring
Vietnam demo was 10,000 in New York. The LSA was still organizing
demonstrations across the country including in Montreal where 400
Vietnam war protesters were assaulted.
In Quebec a strike wave was beginning. In the wake of the strikes
much of the LSAís Montreal members would walk out and within a short
while the rest of the LSA was in pieces. The Waffle movement in the NDP
was in conference trying to figure out what to do. It is a feature of
organizations in crisis that it is easy to get a hearing. All the talk
about entryism aside the doors to the Waffle were wide open. The door
men were waving people in.
April in Quebec saw strikes and more strikes led by government
workers. It was the Front Commun; printers, hospital, hydro, teachers,
garbage and city workers.
In May Quebec factories insurrected. The strikes started in ports all
along the north shore of the St. Lawrence. Longshore workers tied up the
docks. Construction, school maintenance, shipbuilding, nurses and
hospital workers, copper and asbestos miners came out on strike. There
were plant walkouts in Laurentian, Gagnon, Chibougami [Chibougamau], Black Lake and
Port Cartier. Workers took control in St. Jerome, Joliette, St.
Hyacinthe, Murdochville, Sept. Isles, Hauterive, Thetford, Levis and
Baie Comeau. There were strikes in Gaspe, Victoriaville, St. Lambert,
Becancourt, Shawinigan, Trois Rivieres and Quebec City. In half a dozen
towns workers liberated radio stations and broadcast our story.
Telephone stations were taken. Worker patrols controlled traffic.
Workers with baseball bats. There were barricades. The whole rotten
system was turned upside down: The labourer was in charge, the janitors
were running affairs.
Flying pickets moved widespread and fast to other factories. Workers
were marching in the streets. There were strike committees and regional
committees. Postal workers, railworkers, subways, newspapers, teachers,
warehouses, large supermarkets and truck drivers. There were strikes in
LaSalle, Louisville, Sorel and more. There were general strikes in many
industrial towns. City after city was struck; Amos, Carleton, New
Carlisle, Hull, Montreal, Sherbrook [Sherbrooke], Jonquiere, Kenogami and Wabush.
The strike challenged LSA loyalty to the NDP. May 1972 was the end of
my apprenticeship. May 1972 changed a firm belief in workers strength
into solid certainty. Even hundreds of miles away you could feel the
ground rumbling and every worker took a step forward. Capitalism is
unnatural and unhealthy. It is a system of war, genocide, starvation and
degradation. The Quebec Commun of 1972 showed the way out.
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