'The most radical man in Canada'

Richard Fidler rfidler at SPAMcyberus.ca
Fri Jan 12 07:11:13 MST 2001

'The most radical man in Canada'
Activist's ideology was forged during the desperate days of the Depression


Friday, January 12, 2001 [Toronto Globe and Mail]

VANCOUVER -- Jack Scott, once described in a mainstream national magazine as the
most radical man in Canada, has died of a heart attack at 90.

His death cuts off a remarkable 70-year involvement in socialist activism in
Canada that began with a 1930 May Day rally in Montreal and ended with Mr. Scott
just two chapters short of completing his fifth book, a critique of the early
days of the Russian Revolution.

Along the way, Mr. Scott founded the Canada-China Friendship Association,
advocating closer relations between Canada and Communist China during the depths
of the Cold War, met legendary Chinese revolutionary leader Mao Tsetung, and was
awarded the Croix de Guerre by General Charles de Gaulle for gallantry under
fire during the Allies' Normandy landings of 1944.

But Mr. Scott achieved his greatest prominence amid the turbulent West Coast
politics of the 1960s and '70s, when he became an inspiration and mentor for
many serious young Marxist-Leninists who found the old-style leftism of the
Canadian Communist Party too conservative and too wedded to the Soviet Union.

Groups spearheaded by Mr. Scott supported the fierce Maoism of the People's
Republic of China and the formation of independent Canadian trade unions free of
control from U.S.-based unions.

Advocating these positions led to Mr. Scott's expulsion from the Communist Party
and led him to form the Progressive Workers Movement in the early 1960s, calling
for revolutionary socialism in Canada.

By the 1970s, however, the PWM had disbanded, and thousands of hard-core
socialists across the country were joining intense study groups, belabouring
each other over arcane political points and claiming to be in the vanguard of
Marxist-Leninist revolution.

Mr. Scott took a leading role in the Vancouver Study Group and Red Star
Collective during this time. But unlike the bitterness that often accompanied
the inevitable collapse of other study groups, most participants in Mr. Scott's
groups remained close to him long after they left their hard-core politics
behind and got on with their lives.

"The groups lasted until the babies started coming," laughed former study group
member Janet Hall, now working for the Canadian Auto Workers in Vancouver. "The
whole radical left was dying out at the time."

Mr. Scott spent his last 20 years writing books on early labour history, working
at the left-wing Spartacus bookstore, continuing to closely scrutinize and
analyze political events and maintaining an active social life with his former

"I've heard from so many people touched by his death," said Ms. Hall. "We all
remember the knowledge and memory and analytical ability he had. He was never
power hungry. He came from such humble roots and worked really hard all his

Indeed, Mr. Scott's demise is another loss for the dwindling group of surviving
veterans who took part in the highly charged political and organizing struggles
of the desperate 1930s in Canada, when tens of thousands of working-class
protesters would turn out on a day's notice, and pitched battles with
authorities were commonplace. Few are now left to tell those stories.

Mr. Scott left his poverty-stricken roots in Belfast to come to Canada in 1927
at the age of 17. He found work as an indentured farm labourer and construction
worker before being thrown out of work and riding the rails during the

His left-wing radicalism was forged in the fight for unemployment insurance and
relief for the hungry. Mr. Scott helped organize the high-profile Ontario Hunger
March that drew thousands of unemployed workers on a march from Windsor, Ont.,
to Toronto in 1934. He was also involved in the historic but ill-fated On to
Ottawa trek broken up by the RCMP in Regina in 1935.

After the war, Mr. Scott worked as a Communist trade-union organizer in mines
and factories from Yellowknife to Trail, B.C., before ending up in Vancouver,
where he became increasingly committed to revolutionary socialism even as he
took a respite from political struggle to care for his ailing wife.

Because he never sought elected office in any organization or took high-profile
public positions, preferring to organize and agitate at the grassroots level,
Mr. Scott was not well known outside radical circles.

But with his distinguished shock of white hair and captivating manner of
speaking, Mr. Scott attracted many converts, especially among the young.

Although he had virtually no formal education, he was a voracious reader. And
for many idealists pouring out of university, yearning to take on the
establishment, Mr. Scott, as both a worker and an intellectual, was an inspiring

"For the university crowd, here was a guy who was working-class but who became
very politically learned by dint of self-study and research," said one former
activist drawn to Mr. Scott at the time.

"He had personally lived political action, and even though he led a very modest
personal life, Jack was charismatic. He was also a kind, thoughtful guy."

The former activist said Mr. Scott was always a strong Canadian nationalist
despite the opposition of many leftists in those days who considered nationalism
a reactionary concept.

In recent years, the disappearance of a radical left, the introduction of
capitalism into Communist China and the sad state of social democracy must have
had Mr. Scott shaking his head at the way events have unfolded.

But Ms. Hall said the old Marxist-Leninist never expressed any bitterness.

"He was completely practical. He accepted that the country wasn't ready for
revolutionary socialism. He realized it wasn't going to happen, but he continued
to write and analyze."

Toward the end, said Ms. Hall, Mr. Scott was becoming more interested in the
role of democracy in a one-party system, pointing to his support for student
protesters crushed by Chinese authorities in Tiananmen Square in 1989.

Longtime friend Graham Johnson, a university professor who shared Mr. Scott's
deep interest in China, said Mr. Scott was feverishly trying to finish his last
book before he died. "Like Marx, he basically died at his desk."

Mr. Scott had no children. His wife Hilda died during a visit to China in 1976.
She is buried in the country's cemetery for Martyrs of the Revolution.

A memorial service for Mr. Scott will be held on Sunday at the Maritime Labour
Centre in Vancouver.

[end of Globe item]

for a more sympathetic assessment of Jack Scott, see

A Communist Life:Jack Scott & the Canadian Workers Movement, 1927-1985
(Editor Bryan D. Palmer)

$16.95 (Can) from www.chapters.ca

Richard Fidler

More information about the Marxism mailing list