Celebrating the life of Joe Flexer (March 23, 1933 - July 31,2000)

Tony Tracy tony at SPAMtao.ca
Wed Aug 9 00:36:18 MDT 2000

Title: Celebrating the life of Joe Flexer (March 23, 1933 - J
For those on this list who have known and worked with our comrade Joe Flexer
over the many decades of his socialist work up until his sudden death last week,
I have enclosed a report on the meeting to celebrate his life which took place
in Toronto over this past weekend as well as a few statements which were issued
over the weekend and read at that meeting.
Comradely greetings,
Tony Tracy Vancouver, BC - Canada
Hundreds Rally to Honour Joe Flexer
     Over four hundred people, some traveling hundreds of kilometers on a hot
summer holiday long weekend, gathered to celebrate the life of our departed
comrade Joseph Flexer.  The meeting to celebrate his life was held on Saturday,
August 5, 4 p.m., nearly filling the main auditorium of the Ontario Institute
for Studies in Education (OISE), 252 Bloor St. West, in Toronto.  The gathering
was organized by the family and friends of Joe, and by Socialist Action, of
which Joe was a central leader, and a member of the SA newspaper Editorial
Board.        Joe passed away at approximately 3 p.m., on Monday, July 31, 2000
at Toronto General Hospital.  Joe was 67 years old when his new heart failed
him, about six years after receiving a transplant.  He was buried at a private,
secular ceremony for family and close friends at Bathurst Lawn Memorial Park,
midday on August 3.
        Joe was a revolutionary communist to the core, an unparalleled
internationalist and a remarkable worker militant and unionist.  He was the
epitome of Antonio Gramsci's idea of the 'organic intellectual of the working
class'.   For decades Joe was a dedicated activist in the Canadian Auto Workers'
Union, a leader in his plant and in CAW Local 112.  He was a respected national
figure in the CAW, at the Toronto and York Region Labour Council, and across the
workers' movement which he so loved, from Palestine to North America.  Joe was a
founder and federal Co-Chair of the NDP Socialist Caucus, a movement he embraced
optimistically and to which he gave unnumbered months of devotion and activism.
Not Some Ordinary Joe
       Messages of solidarity and tribute poured in by e-mail, phone and fax
from around the world, and continue to arrive.  As the hundreds lined up to sign
the condolence book on August 5, many picked up samples of Joe's most recent
writings in editions of Socialist Action newspaper and the NDP Socialist Caucus
Manifesto.  Many read the scores of messages posted on a huge bulletin board in
the hallway.
        Each person received a printed programme for the memorial event
proclaiming the theme: "Not Some Ordinary Joe".  In addition to the agenda, the
folded leaflet shows two pictures of Joe, one at a demo wearing his beloved CAW
jacket, another attending to his bar-b-q at a backyard social.  Donations are
welcomed, naming both the Union of Injured Workers, and "A fund for publishing
Joe's works", established by Socialist Action.  The words to the song The
Internationale, and the famous Karl Marx quote "Workers of all countries unite! 
You have nothing to lose but your chains" adorn the back panel.
    The event was hosted by Mitch Podolak, founder of the Winnipeg Folk Music
Festival.  Bob Lyons, former NDP member of the Saskatchewan Legislature
delivered the Eulogy, followed by speakers:  Mary Catherine McCarthy, Joe's
loving partner; Dani Flexer, his son from Israel (one of three sons, a daughter
and two grandchildren present); Steve Moore, old friend, teacher and poet;
Hassan Yussuf, vice-president of the Canadian Labour Congress and former CAW
officer; Barry Weisleder, speaking for Socialist Action and in a personal
capacity; and Judy Rebick, media personality and former president of the
National Action Committee on the Status of Women.
  Singer/guitarist Tim Harrison performed the Phil Ochs ballad "When I'm Gone". 
Faith Nolan sang a cappela.  And after a dozen or more folks contributed remarks
during an 'open mike' segment, the meeting concluded with a rousing rendition of
The Internationale, led off by Brenda Wall and George Hewison.         Official
greetings were expressed on behalf of a number of organizations, including:  CAW
Local 112, a Toronto area club of the Communist Party of Canada, the Workers'
Communist Party of Iran, and the New Socialist Group.
   Similar events in tribute to Joe Flexer are being planned for venues in
Vancouver, Edmonton and Winnipeg.
       Dan Lovell, a young member of Socialist Action, reflected on Joe's
inspiring example for the future of the movement, and invited students and young
workers to join in the effort to launch a revolutionary socialist youth
organization in the coming months.  What more fitting tribute could there be to
Joseph Flexer than to politically arm the next generation of fighters, to
continue the struggle for a socialist future.  Can't  you just picture him
In Tribute to Joe Flexer  March 23, 1933  -  July 31, 2000
by Barry Weisleder, editor, Socialist Action
    It is difficult to imagine a more political person, and at the same time a
more passionate and caring person, than our departed comrade Joseph Flexer. 
Socialist Action has lost more than a central leader, more than a brilliant
writer, educator and strategist.  Together with the worldwide labour and
socialist movements, with his loving family, and with friends too numerous to
count, we have lost a powerful voice.
        Shakespeare wrote, "But if the while I think on thee, dear friend, All
losses are restor'd and sorrows end."
    To think and speak of Joe is to be restored, to be inspired by his tireless,
totally selfless, uncompromisingly militant example, and to once again see
clearly the way forward.  His was a life to celebrate.  It is also a guide to
   Joe's son Dani told the Toronto Star that Joe "became a communist and a
mechanic at about the same time, at about (age) 15".  His ideas took him from
his native Brooklyn, New York to the Middle East where he joined an Israeli
Kibbutz in the 1950s.  His principles compelled him to break with Zionism, and
to champion the fight for Palestinian self-determination.  In Israel, Joe was,
unhappily a soldier, and most happily, a labour militant and communist.  In the
mid-1960s, Joe returned to North America, lived in Winnipeg and briefly in
Montreal, and became an important figure in the movement against the war in
Vietnam and on the socialist left.  Joe settled in Toronto in the early 1970s. 
He became a provincial organizer for the left-nationalist Waffle movement in the
New Democratic Party.  I believe that one of his political assignments was to
counteract the radical socialist wing of the Waffle in Ontario.  Some of its key
elements exhibited the growing influence of Marxist and Trotskyist ideas.
        But a funny thing happened to Joe between the meeting hall, the library,
and the bar.  He became convinced that the Canadian nationalist and
left-reformist leaders of the Waffle were wrong, and that the young
revolutionaries, fresh from the anti-war, student and feminist movements, were
much more his political cup of tea.  Always an ardent internationalist, this was
no great leap for Joe Flexer. 
He helped to found the Red Circle, a Marxist group within the Waffle.  When
Ontario NDP Leader Stephen Lewis issued the famous ultimatum to the Waffle in
1972, and the Waffle debated what to do and then walked out of the NDP, Joe and
the Red Circle campaigned as part of the Stay and Fight Caucus.  But the
repression of the Waffle took its toll, and for a generation the NDP was
depleted of intellectual ferment and radical activism.
      It was in this period that I met Joe.  This was the beginning of a thirty
year friendship between us, one that matured into a very close political
collaboration and comradeship, one that intensified over the past five years. 
Joe, as a person, was the biggest single political influence on my life.
      The Red Circle helped to found the Revolutionary Marxist Group in 1973,
which in turn joined forces with the League for Socialist Action and the GMR, a
Quebec Trotskyist group, to launch the Revolutionary Workers' League in 1977. 
The membership of organizations to which Joe belonged looked to him as a central
political leader, a theoretician and a labour movement coordinator.  For years
Joe led an internal tendency which strove to orient the membership towards the
working class movement, to speak the language and to live the struggles of rank
and file workers.         Joe left the section of the Fourth International in
the Canadian state in the early 80's, as the RWL succumbed to sectarian policies
and practices.  But his renown labour activism continued.  If asked "what
organization do you belong to, Joe?", he would answer: "The Joe Flexer Communist
Party.  We have a small membership, but a very lively internal discussion." 
    During the break up of the Soviet Union, Joe joined the Canadian CP for a
brief period, hoping to link up with leftward moving militants.  He became a
member of a split off group, the Cecil-Ross Society, and he encouraged its
archival and publication projects.
    When the Ontario NDP was elected to government in September 1990, Joe like
many others, saw potential for some positive change.  But when Bob Rae cut
social expenditures and legislated the Social Contract against public sector
unions, Joe saw 'red', in the angriest sense of the word.  He decided to run in
the 1995 Ontario election as an independent labour candidate in Oakwood
constituency.  He had not been an NDP member for over a decade.  NDP members who
supported him paid a price, some more than others.  Joe didn't win the seat, but
his critique of the neo-liberal agenda that has swept social democracy around
the world, and Joe's crusty but uniquely endearing character, got a lot of
        In the Fall of 1995 Joe decided it was "party building time".  Of
course, size matters.  But if your aim is the transformation of class society,
the creation of a cooperative commonwealth based on a socialist democracy, the
starting point must be political programme.  And that includes a commitment to
direct involvement with working people, inside their mass trade union and
political organizations.  Joe looked around the Left and made his decision.  He
asked to join Socialist Action, and immediately became a member of the editorial
board of Socialist Action newspaper.  At the time, our paper consisted of a
meager 16 pages, published twice a year.  The paper has advanced a bit since
then.  Suffice it to say that to see the critical link between the socialist
organization today and the socialist future of humanity requires a person of
considerable vision, analysis, selflessness and dedication.  These and similar
traits are revolutionary qualities that Joe Flexer had in abundance. 
       One of Joe's most endearing pastimes was story-telling.  He had a huge
repertoire of jokes, and he had no compunction about repeating his favourites.  
Here's a small sample.
  Joe was an experienced labour negotiator.  He served Canadian Auto Workers
Local 112, as its Caruthers (later Toromont) unit plant chair and bargaining
team chair for many years.  He loved to use humour to educate co-workers.
       In one story Joe explained that whenever workers go into contract
bargaining and they put major wage and benefit improvement demands on the table,
the boss usually goes nuts -- all he wants to talk about is 'communism'.  But as
soon as workers get wise, and start talking about communism, you find the boss
is suddenly more than ready to talk about wages.  That's one way improved wages
and conditions come from communism.
  Joe also had an interesting approach to fund raising.  He once advised: "Call
a meeting.  Book a good hall, have an attractive agenda, and don't charge
admission.  But don't let anyone leave unless they pay at least $5."
    Joe was a great partisan of the Cuban Revolution.  He told the story about a
gathering of the July 26 Movement leadership, soon after the revolutionary
victory.  Fidel Castro was in the chair.  He looked across the room, and then he
pleaded for a volunteer to head up the economics ministry.  After a long pause,
Che Guevara put up his hand.  Fidel was relieved.  A week later, at a similar
meeting, Fidel asked Che for a report on economic affairs.  Che said, "What are
you talking about?"  Fidel replied, "Well, you volunteered to be our economist." 
Che said, "Economist?!  I thought you were looking for a communist!"
   Joe's fondness of humour and story-telling was a profound expression of his
socialist humanism.  So was his dedication to reaching working class people, and
our allies, and to convincing everyone he could that there is an alternative to
the exploitative and barbaric world capitalist system, a socialist alternative.
        That's why Joe joined Socialist Action, just a year after his heart
transplant in 1994.  He knew his time was limited, and he wanted to make the
most of it politically.  Joe was not interested in an academic circle.  He did
not wish simply to reminisce in a rocking chair.  He joined us in a desire to
play an active role in our working class organizations, and to fight to win
workers and all the oppressed to socialism, so that the bosses can be defeated
once and for all.
      For that reason Joe took special pleasure in helping to found the NDP
Socialist Caucus.  He was proud of the leading role he played in the writing of
the Manifesto for A Socialist Canada, and in being a federal co-chair of the
Socialist Caucus.  At the recent ONDP Convention in Hamilton, Joe ran for party
vice-president as part of an SC slate of candidates, and he got over 21% of the
votes.  A good start in an ongoing struggle to save the only mass labour-based
party in North America from neo-liberalism, we believe.
       Joe also took pride in the young Marxists emerging within the NDP Youth,
and the young socialists today joining and working with Socialist Action.  A
pledge to the future victory, Joe would say.
      Joe Flexer walked on countless picket lines, spoke at countless rallies
and demonstrations, and touched countless lives.  Everywhere Joe went he
fearlessly argued, and patiently polemicized, always keeping to the highest
Marxist standard.  Everywhere he earned respect - even amongst his most
steadfast political opponents.
     But there are many workers and activists who don't yet know the ideas, the
method, the wisdom of our comrade.  His contributions are important, we think,
to the future victory of our class.  For that reason, Socialist Action is
launching the Joseph Flexer Publication Fund.  Its aim is to publish Joe's
writings, and to improve the newspaper on whose editorial board he served for
the last five years of his life.
   His brilliant work on the Middle East, the labour movement, the NDP, and key
problems of political economy deserve the biggest possible audience.  Yesterday
I came across a major piece Joe wrote in the Winter 2000 edition of our paper,
titled "Nationalize the Airlines".  Then I thought of two things: the ongoing
crisis of passenger service at the Air Canada monopoly; and the mega-buyout of
Conrad Black's media empire by Izzie Asper's CanWest Global Corp.  You can
imagine what Joe would have to say about that.
      Joe's hatred of capitalism was based on solid Marxist analysis, which he
felt is uniquely capable of explaining Capital's increasing concentration, its
deepening exploitation of working people, and its deadly destruction of our
natural environment.  The new, young socialist fighters, and many other folks,
deserve to meet the ideas of Joe Flexer.  Your support for our Publication Fund
will help enable that to occur.
      One of the hardest things to do in life is to say good bye to a close
comrade and friend.  Joe was not big on ceremony.  But he valued human
relationships.  In his last years he often told me he felt we were like
brothers.  He expressed his affection, and so did I.  But this did not mean, for
one moment, that he would hold back critical views, or suppress political
differences.  Joe didn't do things by half measures.
    I learned more than I can describe, from him.  So did countless others.  He
can neither be forgotten or replaced.  But he is someone to emulate.  And now is
the time for all those who wish to follow his example, to step forward, to pick
up the banner Joe carried, the banner of Socialist Action.
Leon Trotsky, co-leader with V.I. Lenin of the Russian Revolution, wrote these
words in his sixty-first year, in Mexico 1940, as his health was in decline.  I
think these words, with appropriate substitutions, could have been said by our
comrade Joe Flexer:
       "For forty-three years of my conscious life I have remained a
revolutionist; for forty-two of them I have fought under the banner of Marxism. 
If I had to begin all over again I would of course try to avoid this or that
mistake, but the main course of my life would remain unchanged.         I shall
die a proletarian revolutionist, a Marxist, a dialectical materialist, and
consequently, an irreconcilable atheist.  My faith in the communist future of
mankind is not less ardent, indeed it is firmer today, than it was in the days
of my youth.
    Natasha has just come up to the window from the courtyard and opened it
wider so that the air may enter more freely into my room.
       I can see the bright green strip of grass beneath the wall, and the clear
blue sky above the wall, and the sunlight everywhere.
Life is beautiful.
      Let the future generations cleanse it of all evil, oppression, and
violence and enjoy it to the full."
Friday 4 August 2000
From: Socialist Caucus of the New Democratic Party of Canada
To: NDP Sisters and Brothers, Friends and Family,
Socialist Greetings in Memory of Joe Flexer, 1933 -2000.
We mourn the loss of Brother Joe, and pledge to fight like hell for
his beliefs. Joe was a founder and guiding light of the NDP Socialist
It's Joe's insightful, plainspoken words expressed so eloquently our
vision and unity statement -- the Manifesto for a Socialist Canada --
that bind us. It was Joe's dream to realize a Socialist Canada, the
cause to which working people and activists in the NDP would rally.
His aspiration for a "Canada in which the wealth is shared equally by
all, where exploitation by one class over another no longer exists,"
moved him during his waking hours, many of which were dedicated to
the advocacy of socialism in the NDP.
Joe was always there for the daily business, the conflicts,
challenges and tasks that characterized the first two years of the
NDP Socialist Caucus. Indeed, on every issue facing working and
oppressed people, Joe had something to say. He pushed and motivated
the NDP Socialist Caucus to speak out on the pressing issues of the
Every cause for justice and equality was his. Joe wrote and spoke for
the dignity and liberation of women, people of colour, queers,
immigrants, youth, and the disabled. Joe argued that Canada is hollow
without the right of self-determination for Quebec and First Nations
peoples. Joe championed labour in the tradition of those brave wage
slaves who first won the right to unionize and established the
eight-hour day.
Joe was a worker of the world and stood with his class, of which he
was so proud to be a member, from the insurgents of Palestine and
Zimbabwe, to those toiling to consolidate gains in revolutionary Cuba
and China.
When the capitalists made grabs for public property and assets, Joe
exposed their greed and theft, and pushed the NDP to fight for
nationalization of the airlines, rail, hydro and the banks.
Joe's class instinct was to defend the masses against assault by the
bosses' government, by wavering NDP and union leaders who would
compromise us, employing his powerful logic, militancy and history.
Joe's deep-seated conviction was that victory is possible against
great odds through education and organization.
What made Joe so exceptional is how strongly he believed and fought
for change -- cooperatively and collectively -- in a period when so
many of his peers had given up the struggle, been co-opted, or switched sides.
Joe trained his younger comrades to forge ahead, to maintain a long perspective
and thoroughness. He patiently explained tactics, strategy, and the wily ways of
our opponents. He constructively
criticized and edited our leaflets, speeches, resolutions and
platforms. He taught us how to build, maintain and advance our
We are stronger today and closer to our goal because of Joe's
leadership and example. We will not fail him in our determination to
win the NDP to a workers' agenda and a programme for a Socialist
Thank you Brother Flexer. You breathed life, inspiration, compassion
and humour into our struggle. You energized us, and taught us to keep
our eyes on the ultimate prize, taught us that all obstacles are
surmountable, and that through cogent, cohesive and combative action
we shall overcome. We share your dream, and strive to emulate and
honour your example.
Members of the NDP Socialist Caucus across the Canadian state
Learn more about the NDP Socialist Caucus, go to: http://www.ndp.org/socialist.
NDP Socialist Caucus          604 874-9048 tel
2278 East 24th Avenue           604 874-9041 fax
Vancouver, BC                   bcsocialists at ndp.org
Canada V5N 2V2                      www.ndp.org/socialist
Saturday 5 August 2000
From: Vancouver Socialist Action
Tribute to a fallen fighter. Joseph Flexer, 1933 - 2000.
Joe held a membership card in that elite club to which each
generation contributes too few: he was a titan of revolutionary
verve, a stellar and compassionate leader; he was a pillar of
knowledge, understanding and optimism.
We in Socialist Action were especially fortunate to have him amongst
us. Likewise it is an honour and testament to the value of our
organization that Joe chose it as the instrument to help advance his
lifelong aim to change the world, to rid it of exploitation,
inequity, suffering, hunger and disease.
What Joe sought is nothing less than a planet on which each
individual will rise to their fullest potential, blocked by no
economic barrier.
The uncommon course, which Joe so zestfully pursued, infected his
comrades with belief that socialism is an entirely realizable
proposition, eminently practicable, and both an admirable and
necessary profession to pursue.
Joe dedicated his life to the unimaginable opportunities open to our
species when empowered to determine our destiny collectively.
Joe's strong embrace and celebration of life stands as an example and
an invitation for all to participate in the movement he led, to
illuminate the void he left with a constellation of bright lights, to
strive as Joe did for a world of limitless wonders and abundance.
Marcel Hatch
On behalf of the comrades of Vancouver Socialist Action

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