Academic journal article Labour/Le Travail

Family Quarrel: Joe Salsberg, the 'Jewish' Question, and Canadian Communism

Academic journal article Labour/Le Travail

Family Quarrel: Joe Salsberg, the 'Jewish' Question, and Canadian Communism

Article excerpt

JOSEPH BARUCH SALSBERG was one of Canada's best known and respected communists when he left the Labor-Progressive Party in 1957 after years of anguish over clear evidence of antisemitism in the Soviet Union. After a 30-year career in the Party in which he and numerous Jewish radicals had invested their belief that communism heralded a "better world's in birth" and solutions for all mankind's troubles, including the "Jewish question," Salsberg concluded that the poison of antisemitism was alive and well in the communist nirvana--and, with a broken heart, he walked away after vainly trying to convince Soviet leaders to reverse the trend.

JOSEPH BARUCH SALSBERG etait l'un des communistes les plus connus et les plus respectes du Canada quand il a quitte le Parti ouvrier-progressiste en 1957 apres des annees d'angoisse sur l'evidence d'antisemitisme au sein de l'Union sovietique. Apres une carriere de 30 ans au Parti dans lequel de nombreux militants juifs et lui-meme croyaient profondement que le communisme ouvrait la voie a la << naissance d'un meilleur monde >> et aux solutions de tous les problemes des etres humains, y compris la << question juive >>, Salsberg est enfin arrive a la conclusion que le poison de l'antisemitisme etait tout aussi repandu dans le nirvana communiste--et, avec le coeur brise, il est parti apres avoir essaye en vain de convaincre les dirigeants sovietiques de renverser la tendance.


WHEN JOE SALSBERG (his full name was Joseph Baruch Salsberg but everyone called him Joe; Yiddish-speaking intimates called him Yossele, the Yiddish diminutive for Yosel) left the Canadian Labor-Progressive Party of Canada [LPP] in early 1957, he effectively ended a 30-year career of intense activity in the communist cause, including momentous contributions to the labour movement, to progressive legislation as a member of the Toronto City Council and the Ontario legislature, and to the Jewish radical left in Ontario. But while his departure was an anguished one, it was based essentially on his identity as a Jew and his conviction that in the Soviet Union not only had Jewish culture been suppressed under Josef Stalin but that his successors were also determined to continue that policy. Joe believed that the communist family had rejected him and other Jewish devotees of the great cause--and it broke his heart.

Salsberg, a capmaker by trade, was born in Lagov, Poland, in 1902 and had immigrated with his parents to Canada in 1913. To help support his family, he began a full-time working career when he was a mere thirteen years old. Joe's parents were devout Orthodox Jews, his father Abraham (known as Avremele in the community) was a follower of the Hasidic tradition who prayed that Joe, his firstborn, would become a rabbi, while his mother, Sarah-Gitel, was a veritable dynamo who had founded and carefully managed Toronto's important Malbush Aromin (clothing the poor) Society. Until he was sixteen, Joe seems to have been an ardent follower of his parents' wishes, studying with Rabbi Graubart and other teachers in his spare time the traditional texts on Jewish law and commentaries, Mishnah and Talmud, imbibing deeply both the detail and spirit of a system which mandated humanity and social justice with the haunting injunction: "You are not obliged to finish the work, but neither are you free to desist from it!"

When Salsberg joined the Party in 1926 after an eight-year intensive involvement in the Poalei Zion (Zionist Workers) Youth, especially in its left faction, his efforts to affiliate the movement with the Third International had failed. (1) Having by then become an officer of the Hat, Cap, and Millinery Workers International Union, Salsberg was shocked, he later recalled, by the British government's brutal suppression of the general strike in 1926, and concluded that "there is no way out, but the more militant paths as advocated by the Third International and the RILU [the Red International Labour Union]. …

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