In Memory of Ernie Tate (1934-2021)

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In Memory of Ernie Tate (1934-2021):
A Life of Revolutionary Activism

John Riddell

The socialist movement lost an outstanding educator and organizer with the passing of Ernest (Ernie) Tate in Toronto on 5 February. An outstanding partisan of global anti-imperialist solidarity, Ernie also contributed, with his partner Jess MacKenzie, to building revolutionary Marxist groups and to promoting socialist unity in Canada and Britain.

Raised in an impoverished working-class community in Belfast, Ernie left school at age 14, taking a job at Belfast Mills as apprentice machine attendant. An avid reader and a rebel at heart, Ernie sympathized – unusually, given his Protestant background – with the Irish republican movement.

During a... youthful jaunt through France in 1954, Ernie was deeply impressed by the mass solidarity actions celebrating the victory of Vietnamese freedom fighters in Dien Bien Phu. The following year, Ernie took the path of so many of his countrymen and emigrated, settling in Toronto.

Soon after his arrival in 1955, Ernie dropped by the Toronto Labour Bookstore, a small socialist organizing centre which he had seen mentioned in an Irish newspaper. Entering the store, he asked for the novel King Jesus by Robert Graves. Fortunately, the proprietor Ross Dowson turned out to be a socialist with a similarly broad intellectual scope. Dowson had a lot to say about Graves, a British radical poet and historical novelist but soon steered Ernie to a display of socialist newspapers and pamphlets in the back of the store.

Ernie was pleased to see the display’s pro-Soviet orientation but also noted many writings on display by Leon Trotsky, the historic antagonist of the Stalin regime in the Soviet Union. A long conversation ensued. Pro-Soviet currents were then in turmoil as a result of revelations regarding the crimes of Stalin and his regime. Dowson advocated responding through discussion and collaboration among diverse socialist currents, a process that he called “regroupment.” Ernie embraced this goal and pursued it diligently throughout 65 years of activism.

The bookstore, Ernie discovered, doubled as headquarters of a group of about fifteen socialist activists, which that year took the name Socialist Education League (SEL). Dowson introduced Ernie to other members of the group, and Ernie soon joined its ranks.

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