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Vol. 72/No. 6      February 11, 2008

Toronto meeting celebrates life of Robert Simms
‘A soldier’ for 38 years as a cadre
and leader of the communist movement
(feature article)
TORONTO—More than 100 people attended a January 19 meeting here at the Steelworkers Hall to celebrate the life of Robert Simms, a cadre and leader of the communist movement in Canada for 38 years. Simms died in Toronto on December 3, at the age of 61.

Members, supporters, and friends of the Communist League in Canada; the Socialist Workers Party, sister organization of the CL in the United States; and the Young Socialists came from cities across North America to celebrate Simms’ many political contributions. The Communist League in the United Kingdom sent a representative to the meeting. Others who had worked with Simms over his four decades of political activity also came. Among those who attended were Robert’s brothers Brian and Laurie, his sister Karen, and two other family members.

During the reception prior to the meeting, participants looked at an attractive photo display depicting Simms’s involvement in world politics, and read binders containing some 30 messages sent to the meeting. A delicious dinner and a party followed the program.

In the month before he died, Simms participated in a Toronto conference to free the Cuban Five and traveled to New York for an international public meeting and celebration hosted by the SWP and the YS.

In addressing how Simms came to join the communist movement in the late 1960s, Jack Barnes, national secretary of the SWP, noted, “Robert wasn’t influenced primarily by what his generation did. Above all, he was inspired by the millions of Vietnamese battling against all odds—going back for decades—to eliminate the boot of foreigners on their necks. Their example and conduct in the struggle against U.S. imperialism inspired many—including women and members of oppressed nationalities such as Blacks in the U.S. and the Quebecois—to proudly say they were socialists and begin to act accordingly.”  
‘A soldier’
At some point in the early 1970s, “Robert came to the conclusion that nothing on earth but organizing to fight and prevent the capitalist rulers from destroying humanity and destroying the earth was worthy in our time,” Barnes told those at the meeting. “If I had to pick one thing, I have absolutely no doubt how I would describe Robert. He was a soldier.”

Barnes spoke about the importance of the political fight that took place in 1972-74 in the League for Socialist Action/Ligue Socialiste Ouvrière (LSA/LSO) over an adaptation to Canadian nationalism by some of its oldest leaders. At the time Simms was a member of the LSA/LSO, a predecessor of the CL.

“Fighting this adaptation was a question of life and death for Robert’s party,” he said. “The absolutely necessary clarification and split in the LSA/LSO made it possible for the party to take its place in carrying out the fusions that made the Communist League what it is today.”

John Steele, a leader of the CL in Canada and one of the meeting’s co-chairs, described how, after attending Brigham Young University in Utah for two years, Simms had traveled to Europe and the Middle East. While in Iraq, he was in a car accident that left him a paraplegic for the rest of his life. Simms’s father immediately flew to Iraq and arranged for him to be moved back to Canada.

After recovering, Simms attended Carleton University in Ottawa, where he became involved in protests against the Vietnam War. In 1969 he joined the Young Socialists and a year later the LSA/LSO.

Michel Prairie, the organizer of the CL’s executive committee, told the audience, “I first met the LSA/LSO in 1970 when the Pierre Trudeau government used the War Measures Act—sending in 2,000 troops and suspending civil liberties in Quebec—in an effort to stop the fight by the Quebecois against national oppression.” The LSO in Quebec ran Manon Léger for mayor, to campaign against this assault, Prairie said. More than 7,000 people voted for Léger, including Prairie.

At the same time in Vancouver, Robert and other LSA members were organizing large meetings with other groups to protest the War Measures Act and win support for the struggle by the Quebecois for their national rights.

In the early 1980s the Revolutionary Workers League, formed by a fusion of the LSA/LSO with three other revolutionary organizations, established a single political center in Montreal. Simms and his companion Joan Newbigging moved to Montreal in 1981 to help lead this process.

“Robert was part of the staff of our newspapers in 1985 when we fused Socialist Voice and Lutte ouvrière, with the same political content in both French and English,” Prairie said. “That year we also began publishing Pathfinder books and pamphlets in French.”  
Fervent partisan of Cuban Revolution
“Robert was a fervent supporter of the Cuban Revolution,” Prairie said. “He saw it as an example of what workers and farmers could do here, in Canada.”

Simms was an active builder of seven meetings last year across Canada to promote Pathfinder’s book Our History Is Still Being Written: The Story of Three Chinese-Cuban Generals in the Cuban Revolution. More than 600 people attended these meetings, many of them coming to their first event about Cuba. “The Communist League and Young Socialists are looking forward to building more of these meetings on Our History Is Still Being Written this year,” Prairie concluded.

Mary-Alice Waters, the editor of the Marxist magazine New International and a member of the SWP National Committee, also highlighted Simms’s internationalism. She read from a message sent by Sean O’Donahue from the Table de Concertation Québec-Cuba paying tribute to Robert’s defense of the Cuban Revolution.

Waters, who co-chaired the meeting, pointed to a 1971 issue of the Young Socialist magazine in which Simms wrote the text for a cartoon history of British Columbia. In it, said Waters, Simms explained “that what upset the colonizers the most about Native people was their underdeveloped sense of private property. It’s done with humor and real historical insight.”  
A citizen of time
“I got to know Robert well during the leadership school that the SWP organized from 1980 to 1986, as the party was making a turn to get a majority of its members into the industrial unions,” Waters said.

At the school, leaders of the international communist movement studied for a six-month period the writings of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, the founders of the modern communist movement. A message received from Catharina Tirsén, on behalf of the Communist League in Sweden, described how immersed Robert became in these studies.

During a break from the school, Tirsén recounted, Simms “ran into comrades who asked him how everything was going. ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘the Communist League just split,’ referring to the time frame he was in, when the organization of Marx and Engels had been dissolved in 1852.

“‘What?’ one of the comrades, who was living in the present, in the late 1980s, exclaimed with surprise. ‘The Communist League in Britain?’”

Steve Penner, a volunteer in the Pathfinder Print Project today, also spoke. He was executive secretary of the Communist League in Canada when Simms was assigned to lead the distribution of Pathfinder Books in 1988-91.

“Twice a year Robert would get in his car to travel across the country to sell Pathfinder books. These efforts led to Pathfinder accounts in some 200 bookstores in Canada,” Penner said.

Ben Joyce, a member of the Young Socialists national steering committee in New York, encouraged those present to look at the displays, “which depict the life of a real party person.” His “in-it-for-the-long-haul approach” is an example to follow in building the communist movement, Joyce said.

“Without any hesitation, any qualifications of any kind, we can truly recommend Robert as an example to be emulated and admired to all the generations coming forward, now and in the future,” said Jack Barnes in concluding his remarks.

In response to an appeal to contribute to a Robert Simms party-building fund, to continue the work of publishing Pathfinder books in French, participants at the meeting contributed more than $9,100.  
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