Thursday, March 3, 2016

Win With J.B. Salsberg...and Robert Laxer! -- Leftist TBT

This week's Leftist Throwback Thursday has a personal connection! 

Joe Salsberg was a towering figure in Ontario and Toronto politics in the 30's through to the 50's. Elected first as a Toronto Alderman, Salsberg became Ontario's first Communist MPP in 1943 when he won in the riding of St. Andrew which represented the part of downtown Toronto that included Spadina, Kensington Market and much of the city's Jewish community. 

At the time the Canadian Communist Party was known as the Labor-Progressive Party or LPP. 

Salsberg was an immensely popular figure in his day, fought for important civil rights and economic justice changes and legislation, and held the riding until 1955 when he lost primarily due to the rising wave of McCarthyist anti-Communist hysteria. Two years later he quit the party after the Khrushchev revelations about Stalin and his concerns about what he saw as antisemitism in the USSR. 

If you are interested in the life-and-times of Salsberg and in the politics of the time, an excellent biography of Salsberg written by Gerald Tulchinsky was released in 2013.

Perhaps my favourite Salsberg story stems from his time as an Alderman. He was regularly taunted by other members of council as nothing more than a dupe or tool of Stalin's. In response he once quipped "You're right. I got a telegram from Joe Stalin this morning ordering me to ask for a park for Ward 4"! Touche. 

If you look closely at the fine print of the election card above (from one of the post-war campaigns) you will see "Issued by Robert Laxer, Official Agent for J.B. Salsberg". That Robert Laxer is my grandfather, a noted political activist and writer in his own right. He too was a member of the LPP and was dedicated a Communist until 1956, after which he left the party as well. He had a profound influence on my life and my youngest son is named after him. 

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