Carrying the Platform Ten Thousand Miles
When two members made known that they were visiting the USA as speakers as well as fraternal delegates to the conference of our Companion party of the WSP, the Socialist Party of Canada wanted them too. The result was that by the time our pair arrived in Boston on 9th October an itinerary right from Canada, down the West Coast to California and back to Montréal, had taken shape.
Things started moving in Boston, Pennsylvania, New York City, New Jersey, and New York State. A flood of striking publicity material went out to radio stations and universities; lectures, seminars and interviews were lined up.
The tour started with a one-hour talk on the history of the SPGB at the Boston Conference. Monday being Labour Day made an ideal occasion for an outdoor meeting—out we went, quickly gathering a crowd before whom we had a running debate with a divinity student on Socialism versus religion, Next morning we were up and away for our first college date a Stroudsberg University, Pennsylvania. 50 students of the political science faculty were the audience; “Marx or Lenin” was the subject. Then to New York for the Barrie Faber radio show (biggest commercial station in New York) with seven speakers, who started arguing about Carter and Ford but ended discussing Socialism.
And so it went on day after day. College lectures, radio programmes, newspaper interviews across the continent, finishing with a great meeting of students at Bishops College, Lennoxville, Quebec, on 15th November. In 44 days we gave talks at some of the biggest colleges in North America including Winnipeg, Vancouver, Los Angeles and San Francisco. We had to refuse others because of the itinerary. We had invitations to Columbia, New York, and New York Polytechnic (whose dean of political science interviewed our man on WBAI radio). Berkeley, California, and Edmonton, Alberta, wanted notice which we could not give to organize lectures for the whole faculty.
There were twelve radio interviews, in most cases phone-ins—sometimes two hours answering questions about the SPGB and Socialism, the Labour Party, Marxism, the Communist Party, etc. In Winnipeg an irate lady shouted “Get the old goat off the air and out of Canada at once”; whereupon another rang in to apologise profusely. The response to the interviews was terrific, and the interviewers were delighted. Jack Webster, whose programme is heard by millions on the West Coast, said: “You are listening to a real Socialist now—not a British Labour Party phoney.” He added: “I’m going to announce your meeting at the Langara College”—which he did, with the result that the hall was packed.
On television in Vancouver City we had five minutes to answer questions like “What is your opinion of Russia today?” The studio audience applauded the answers spontaneously, and the producer said “We could have done with half an hour of you!” At Bucknell University they gave out a leaflet describing our speaker as “a modern Robin Hood who stands up for the poor against the rich, every Sunday in Hyde Park, London”.
Then three days’ trek in the Greyhound bus across Ontario. Anyone who thinks the world overpopulated should make the trip: in two days we saw one man and two moose. Arrived in Winnipeg, radio all the morning, university in the afternoon, having broken our journey to speak at Sullivan County College, Monticello, NY State. A debate with a City Councillor on aspects of Marx. In Edmonton listeners rang in and offered to drive us to the university. Whole afternoon discussing with political science tutors. Another 1500 miles through the Rockies, arriving in Vancouver at 12.45 a.m. They greeted us with bad news: we had to be up again at 5 to catch the ferry to the Island, to be on TV at 10. More colleges, more radio shows. In Vancouver we met Chris Luff (94) and Harry Brownrigg (91) and photographed Lestor’s Corner (could not speak there—it’s a car park now).
5th November, the long drive to ‘Frisco. In Los Angeles we gate-crashed a meeting of the “Marxist Group” at the university; after speaking, we were pressed to stay for more—sorry, we have to go! All aboard the New York bus! Change at St. Louis and Chicago! (How we groaned that, of all the cities of the USA, in this one—home of the IWW and the Kerr Publishing Co., famous for its Socialist lectures in the ‘twenties, we had no meetings.)
3,500 miles later we were greeted in Montreal and spent the day discussing plans and books, arranging articles for Socialisme Mondiale. From there a hundred-mile for another smashing meeting! and next day, straight through to Boston to report to the NAC of the WSP on Sunday morning. After that, we boarded the London place to arrive back at Heathrow on 22nd November.
The hospitality of the American and Canadian comrades is fabulous. Our grateful thanks to Larry, George, Jim and Doré in Victoria, Carrie in Boston, Jean in New York, Jack in Stroudsberg, John and Anne in Winnipeg, Phil and Ben in Monticello, Bill in Vancouver, Brian and Bill in LA, Harry and Renée in San Francisco, Serge and Michelle in Montreal—their hospitality made it all possible. Sam Leight gave tremendous help, and George Gloss generously underwrote the trip.
Some college lecturers, like Dr. Bill Coope, gave great help and went out of their way to arrange things for us. Why colleges in Britain are so slow in taking opportunities is perplexing. When Jack Webster asked “Why do you do it?” we replied: “There is no greater satisfaction in this life than spreading knowledge to the benefit of humanity.”
We don’t even know if we made one member. We do know we revelled in every second of it!
Horatio and Steve
See also Harry Young radio interview 1976