Arnie Mintz Is Gone

Arnie Mintz, a longtime leftist active in Canada and Britain, died on 9 January 2000 in the Riverdale Hospital in Toronto, a chronic care facility where he had lived for the past four years. Arnie suffered from multiple sclerosis, a condition he attributed to a combination of earlier indulgence in tobacco and alcohol; chemicals he was exposed to as a printer, and a particularly brutal beating administered to him by British police during the militant printers' strike in the mid-1980s.

Arnie, born in 1948, became involved in socialist politics in the mid-1960s in Toronto in his final year in high school. His immediate family (including his twin sister) were not political, but one of his uncles, Sam Walsh, was a leader of the Communist Party of Canada. Arnie's first exposure to politics came when his cousin (Sam's son), who was active in the Young Communist League, invited him to an anti Vietnam War meeting. Arnie told me that he was unimpressed with the political timidity of the YCL and was more interested in the Young Socialists (YS), who presented a more aggressive brand of socialist politics and openly identified with Che Guevara and the Cuban Revolution. The YS was the youth group of the League for Socialist Action (LSA), the Canadian affiliate of the United Secretariat of the Fourth International (USec).

Arnie served as a YS regional organizer in several areas and was eventually elected to its central executive committee. One of his most celebrated exploits was a "trail blazing" trip he made in Saskatchewan which resulted in the recruitment of a number of well-known New Left and New Democratic Party activists. Together with Mitch P., Arnie also established the Winnipeg branch of the YS/LSA -- which soon became a hotbed of leftist dissension and a thorn in the side of the LSA leadership.

Ross Dowson, the central figure in the Canadian Trotskyist movement after Earle Birney and the rest of the leadership melted away at the beginning of World War Two, regarded Arnie fondly even after they parted ways politically. Under Ross' direction Arnie learned how to operate the LSA's printing press. (Ross, himself a printer, had learned the trade from his father who was a unionized printer and sometime bookseller with an anarchistic bent.)

Ross regretted Arnie's decision to join the left-dissident Revolutionary Communist Tendency (RCT) within the LSA in 1972. Arnie was proud that when Dowson learned of his defection to the RCT he commented that he was sorry to have lost such "a good militant." Years later, in the late 1980s, after Ross suffered a debilitating stroke and was put on life-support in the Toronto Western Hospital, Arnie became a regular visitor. In 1988 Arnie published a small pamphlet entitled "A Sketch of Ross Dowson" which dealt with Ross' political activity from his first contact with the Trotskyist movement in 1934 up to his discharge from the Army in 1945 at the end of World War II.

In 1973 the RCT split from the LSA to launch the Revolutionary Marxist Group (RMG), which was affiliated with Ernest Mandel's wing of the United Secretariat. Arnie was a founding member and within the RMG he was associated with a "workerist" minority tendency led by Joe F. and Bob M., who opposed the majority led by Bret S., Walter D. and Varda B. Arnie published two factional documents in the RMG: "Out of the Impasse" and "The Tasks Before Us."

Arnie's long exposure to the LSA's entry work inside the NDP (Canada's social democracy) led him to reject the perspective of "winning the NDP to socialism." Arnie was proud of the role he had played while still a member of the RMG in helping develop the Spartacist League's policy of "conditional opposition" to candidates of this reformist workers' party "until such time as the NDP repudiates its past practice of entering into a tacit coalition government with the [bourgeois] Liberals" (Workers Vanguard, 21 June 1974).

In July 1974 Arnie quit the RMG in solidarity with the international Spartacist tendency. His resignation letter, signed "Williams," was published in the 2 August 1974 issue of Workers Vanguard. Arnie was among the first half-dozen people to join the Spartacist tendency in Canada. As the person with the longest political experience in the fledgling group, Arnie became a member of the leadership and acted as the group's treasurer, as well as archivist and chief mimeographer. He also wrote drafts for various leaflets and political statements.

In February 1975 Arnie chaired, with considerable firmness, a meeting at the University of Waterloo which a goon squad dispatched from the then-Maoist Communist Party of Canada (M-L) unsuccessfully attempted to take over. A few months later Arnie's functioning led to some sharp internal controversy and a visit from two leading members of the SL/U.S. whose mandate was to remove Arnie from the local leadership and accelerate the integration of the Toronto branch with its American parent.

Arnie remained in the group and was among the founding members of the Trotskyist League of Canada in August 1975. Under the pen name "Arnold Michaels" he made several original contributions on the history of Canadian Trotskyism in early issues of Spartacist Canada (see: "Origins of Canadian Pabloism," co-written with Murray Smith in the February 1976 issue and "Maurice Spector, the Early Communists and Canadian Nationalism," in the January 1977 issue). In 1977 Arnie left Toronto and moved to England, along with Pat S., his companion at the time, who had also been in the RMG.

Arnie arrived in London in time to be among the founding members of the Spartacist League/Britain in March 1978. While in the SL/B he and Pat went their separate ways and Arnie established a relationship with Di P., who had joined the SL/B from Alan Thornett's Workers' Socialist League. Arnie left the SL/B a few years later and returned to Toronto in 1981. While he considered himself to be a supporter of the Trotskyist League, his social relationship with members of the dissident External Tendency of the iSt strained his relationship with the TL. These tensions played a role in his decision to once again move back to London.

Upon returning to England, he secured a job in a Fleet Street printshop where he worked on one of London's dailies. In the run-up to Rupert Murdoch's all-out assault on the printing unions that culminated in the 1986 Wapping strike, Arnie got a "buy-out" from his employer. This did not prevent him from playing an active role on the picket lines during the strike. The strike, which was ultimately broken, lasted many months and involved ferocious struggles in which the unionists and their supporters were pitted against the cops and scabs. Arnie was very proud of his participation in this struggle, and particularly of his role in producing the strikers' paper, Picket, which he helped edit.

At this time Arnie was connected with a group of direct-action anarchists, some of whom were subsequently associated with the publication Class War. Arnie thought that his role in the strike had led the police to target him for particularly brutal treatment, which in turn, he believed, triggered the onset of Parkinson's disease which gradually progressed to full-blown MS.

After the strike was defeated, Arnie returned once again to Toronto. By the early 1990s, as his condition deteriorated, he found himself less able to participate in political activity and eventually had to agree to be hospitalized. Early on in his stay at Riverdale Hospital, he rejected most of the programs offered by the hospital, on the grounds that he did not wish to play the role of a "guinea pig" for the big pharmaceutical companies. He was determined to get out of his wheelchair and walk out of the hospital, and was convinced that in order to do so he needed to find alternative paths for treating his condition. He created his own program of meditation, fresh air, acupuncture and healthy eating. In this effort he was aided by a remarkable Chinese doctor, a woman in her sixties who had participated in Mao-Tse Tung's Red Guards in the 1960s. She visited Arnie regularly and traded acupuncture treatments for English lessons.

Arnie did appear to be making progress (even if very slowly). During his time at the hospital he wrote poems and stories, and also did some drawing. His rather abrasive personality, which had alienated many of his acquaintances and comrades over the years, was softened considerably as a result of his experience with MS. This did not prevent occasional conflicts with patients, doctors and staff at the hospital, but almost everyone admired his fighting spirit.

Arnie was very stoic, he never whined. He maintained to the end that "I am a communist and an atheist." At the same time, he exhibited a considerable fondness for anarchism and came to feel that the "lines of demarcation" between the different currents on the left were an obstacle to the successful pursuit of mass activity. In the last federal general election in Canada Arnie cast Riverdale Hospital's only vote for a "communist" when he marked his ballot for the candidate of the ex-Maoist Communist Party of Canada (Marxist-Leninist).

For many years Stew S., who had known Arnie in the LSA and RMG, helped him look after his affairs and offered him assistance in pursuing alternative treatments. A few years ago this relationship became strained, but Arnie was always grateful for the help and support that Stew gave him.

Arnie was also grateful to old friends who remembered him and visited him in the hospital, including Carla C., Adaire H., Paula M., Melody M., John R., Murray Smith and, particularly, Jim M. I last saw Arnie on December 19, 1999, with Bill Logan, who had been a leader of the SL/B when Arnie and I were members. Arnie was particularly interested in talking over old times with Bill, offering political advice and sharing his theories and experiences with the problems of medicine under capitalism. At one point Arnie leaned over to Bill and asked him what he had against Jim Robertson (who had orchestrated Bill's removal from the group twenty years earlier). Bill laughed and suggested to Arnie that perhaps the question would be better put the other way around.

Toronto has been hard-hit by a flu epidemic this year and Riverdale Hospital had encouraged all patients and staff to get a flu shot. Arnie, true to his policy of "just saying no" to the drug companies, refused. On Thursday 6 January he began to show some symptoms of the flu. When offered an anti-viral treatment he again refused. He was still up and about on Friday, but by Saturday he had developed pneumonia and was laid low. The next day he died.

The hospital had no one listed in his records to contact except for Stew whom they were unable to reach. Eventually they made contact with a family member of his and a brief notice appeared in the Toronto Star on 22 January. (After joining the YS in the 1960s Arnie lost almost all contact with his family and never reestablished it.)

Whenever I visited the hospital I took my dog, Meg, who Arnie was very fond of, and we invariably found Arnie outside, usually on the second floor patio. On the morning of 10 January Meg and I went to look for Arnie on the patio but did not find him. There were notices up regarding the flu which suggested that visits to the wards should be restricted, so we decided to come back another time. We went back several times in the next two weeks, but Arnie was not in any of his usual spots. Today we finally ventured up to Arnie's ward.

Reuben Samuels, a leading member of the SL, once remarked that "Arnie is a prick--and I know, because I'm a prick too." Arnie used to gleefully recount how he and a few pals in the RCT had ground up pro-majority organizers in several LSA branches. While he often appeared to take pleasure in aggravating his comrades as much as his political opponents, he had a spine, and was doggedly devoted to the struggle for socialism as he understood it. The pursuit of that struggle defined his life. And for that he deserves to be remembered.

Tom R.
23 January 2000

Published: 28 January 2000