The Fortunate Marxist: Ernie Tate (1934-2021)

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The Fortunate Marxist: Ernie Tate (1934-2021)

Bryan Palmer

Born poor on Belfast’s Shankill Road in the midst of the Great Depression was certainly no entré to a life that would cross paths with Bertrand Russell, Vanessa Redgrave, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Simone de Beauvoir. Ernest (Ernie) Tate would nevertheless work closely with luminaries such as these and many others who, like him, opposed the war in Vietnam in the 1960s. A lifelong revolutionary socialist, Tate was a leading organizer of the Vietnam Solidarity Campaign, worked for Russell’s Peace Foundation and its International War Crimes Tribunal, and partnered with the then leftist, David Horowitz (now a prominent conservative spokesman), in taking... the anti-war side at an Oxford Union debate.

This was quite something for a lad who dropped out of high school before he was 14. As a teenager Tate apprenticed as a machinist’s attendant in the Belfast Mills. At that young age, Ernie could look forward to a life of dreary, non-union factory labour, his day commencing with the screech of workplace sirens. Keen to escape this fate, a 21-year-old Tate emigrated to Canada in 1955.

Young Ernie soon crossed paths with Ross Dowson, proprietor of the Toronto Labour Bookshop, a pioneering figure in the small Canadian movement of dissident communists who aligned with Leon Trotsky. Dowson, whose brothers Murray and Hugh, were also part of this oppositional politics, ran for mayor in Toronto under the banner, “Vote Dowson, Vote for a Labour Mayor, Vote for the TROTSKYIST Candidate.” His campaigns, at their highwater mark in the late 1940s, garnered 17 percent of the vote.

Tate, who landed his first job at Toronto’s premier department store because his Ulster lineage seemingly aligned him with the store’s patriarch, Timothy Eaton, quit in disgust when he found out that his two-week paycheque totalled $60. He found better paying work in a variety of factory employments at Maple Leaf Milling, Radio Valve, and Amalgamated Electric. But Tate longed for more out of life than a mundane job.

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