Joyce Meissenheimer: Communist fighter

By Beverly Bernardo
July 8, 2019
Joyce Meissenheimer in Toronto in December 2007.
Militant/John SteeleJoyce Meissenheimer in Toronto in December 2007.

MONTREAL — Joyce Meissenheimer, 96, a member and cadre of the Communist League in Canada for almost 50 years, died in Calgary June 7 of heart failure. Before coming to Canada, Meissenheimer was a fighter against the apartheid regime in South Africa for more than two decades. For the last 20 years of her life, deteriorating health prevented her from active participation in political life.

Born in 1922 in Capetown, South Africa, Joyce grew up under the jurisdiction of the Coloured Affairs Department, one of the apartheid government institutions depriving non-Caucasians of political rights. In 1937, at the age of 15, her father took her to her first demonstration against racial segregation.

She married George Meissenheimer and they had four children — Martin, Richard, Linda, and Laura. She became head of a parent-teacher organization that campaigned against the Coloured Affairs Department.

From 1948 to 1961 Meissenheimer was the editor of the Torch, the publication of the Non-European Unity Movement. Because the paper exposed the injustices and brutalities rampant under the apartheid system, supporters of the paper lived under constant police surveillance.

In 1961, Meissenheimer was “banned” — meaning she could not participate in meetings of more than two people. Because of this stifling restriction on her political activity, and that her husband was ill with a heart condition, they decided to move to Vancouver in 1965.

She joined the League for Socialist Action, one of the predecessor organizations of the CL. She threw herself into building the group’s weekly Friday night forum series and took part in rising actions opposing Washington’s war against the people of Vietnam and the Canadian capitalist rulers’ complicity with it.

In 1969 Meissenheimer joined the fight to repeal Canada’s restrictive abortion laws, leading to the Canadian Supreme Court’s ruling repealing them in 1988. She continued to fight to extend access to family-planning services for women, including abortion.

In 1977, Meissenheimer helped lead the successful political fight to fuse the League for Socialist Action/Ligue Socialiste Ouvriere with two other revolutionary organizations — the Revolutionary Marxist Group and Groupe Marxiste Revolutionnaire. This led to the formation of the Revolutionary Workers League, which changed its name to the Communist League in 1989. She was a strong supporter of the CL’s efforts to get the overwhelming majority of its membership into industry and the trade unions.

She was a member of CL branches in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal until 2001, when poor health forced her to move to live with her son Richard.

She remained in contact with the League, following its political work and supporting its activities, for the rest of her life.