Party leaders divided
It soon became evident that the invasion caused shock, consternation, confusion and division within the world Communist movement. I was particularly interested in what effect it had within the Party in Canada. The first thing I heard was that at its first meeting in the latter part of August, the National Executive Committee was split, six to six, on the issue. But that was because Buck and a few other members were away on their summer vacations. The next thing I heard was that a meeting of the National Committee was slated for October and that preceding it a pre-plenum discussion bulletin would be published in which members would have a chance to voice their opinions.
So I wrote a lengthy article (some 16 single-spaced legal-size pages) and sent it to Toronto. (See text of my letter).
But it wasn't published. Buck ruled that there were so many articles that they couldn't possibly publish all of them before October, so they discontinued the bulletin. Fortunately, according to the rules set up when World Marxist Review was founded, Party representatives on the magazine had a right to attend conventions and important plenary meetings and have their fare paid. So, knowing that I was going to attend the Central Committee meeting, I didn't feel so badly about it.
Crucial meeting in Toronto
The meeting in Toronto had two points on the agenda, the main one being the events in Czechoslovakia. Kashtan introduced this topic with a half-hour report, following which it was announced that in the discussion members would be limited to fifteen minutes. I got up and said, "I wrote a long item for the discussion bulletin that wasn't published, now I'm asked to limit myself to 15 minutes. There's no way I can do it." So it was agreed unanimously that I be given all the time I wanted. I took the report I had sent earlier, condensed it a bit, and used that as the basis of my speech. I spoke for an hour.
When I had finished, there was a mixed reaction of applause and boos. Some, like Stanley Ryerson, Joshua Gershman and Rae Murphy, came up and shook my hand. Mark Frank, on the other hand, said: "John, we read all that in the Toronto Telegram." And Les Hunt said, "That's a lot of bullshit." The discussion that followed was split the same way, with Buck toeing the Soviet line all the way. At the end of the meeting, Stanley Ryerson, Rae Murphy and I spontaneously resigned from the Central Committee.
Before taking the plane back to Prague, I told Kashtan that I wasn't able to return to Canada until the following summer, that we had acquired a lot of stuff and had made plans to come back by ship. "In that case," he said, "we'd like you to sign a document stating that you won't be opposing the Party line while you're there." I told him I wasn't planning to fight the Party from across the ocean, so I signed.
We stayed in Czechoslovakia until the following August. And it was a good experience, because I was able to see what was happening after the pro-Soviet leaders took over. I also learned a lot more about what had really happened just prior to and during the invasion. The facts gradually came out, in great detail, facts I cannot go into detail about now. I did write a couple of articles for the Canadian Tribune, but only those that dealt with non-controversial topics were published.
My offer to Ukrainians turned down
Gladys and I came back to Toronto on Labour Day, 1969. Since I wasn't going to work for the Party anymore, I knew I no longer had a job. I decided to try the Ukrainians. All the leaders of the left-wing Ukrainian organizations, with two or three exceptions, had opposed the Party's stand on Czechoslovakia. Indeed, after the episode with the Party delegation to the Soviet Union on the Russification of Ukraine, they did not take direction from the Party leadership so readily. But they retained their membership in and ties with the Party. So I went to Peter Prokop, who was then president of the AUUC and head of the Ukrainian Party committee, and said to him: "Now that I'm no longer working full-time for the Party, perhaps there's something I can do in the Ukrainian field." And he said, "Well, Comrade Boyd (through all the years he never ever called me John always Comrade Boyd,) the fact that you are no longer in the Party can present some difficulties for us." That was enough for me. Perhaps if I had written formally to a committee or gone to someone else, things might have been different. I don't know. I just said, "That's okay, I understand," and left.
Editor at Southam
I decided to apply for a job in the publishing field. I wrote letters to Maclean's, Southam and the Weekly Newspaper Association, in which I said that I had over 30 years' experience in editing, citing the various things I had done: reporting, copy-editing, proofreading, layout, and so on. However, I added, there's one problem: all this was in the Communist movement. I then told them about my two-year stint in Czechoslovakia and how that had led to my break with the Communist Party. But, I said, if they could use my experience, I'd be glad to discuss the matter with them. I did get a call from Southam, their business and trade magazine section, and after one brief interview got a job as editor of a magazine called Hospital Administration in Canada.
On the first day I came to work for Southam I was taken around to be introduced to the various editors and departments. The director of the art department at Southam at the time was Mike Lukas. I knew him very well, because he was one of the younger leaders of the Carpatho-Russian Society, an active member of the Canadian-Soviet Friendship Society and, of course, a staunch member of the Communist Party. When we came to the art department and Lukas was told that I had been hired, his jaw dropped in surprise. After we exchanged greetings, he immediately said to me: "John, let's meet for lunch."
"I saw the fascists!"
You see, Lukas was born in the eastern part of Slovakia and came to Canada as a child. He had visited both the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia many times over the years, and it so happened that he had been visiting the Soviet Union the previous summer and was crossing the border into Czechoslovakia by train precisely on August 21st, the very day that country was invaded by the Soviet armed forces. Being a hard-line Communist, he was of course a supporter of the Soviet invasion. So when we sat down to lunch, he said to me, "John, how can you take the stand you did? I was there and I saw the fascists resisting the Soviet army." To which I replied, "I was there, too, Michael. And those weren't fascists, they were ordinary Slovak citizens." I told him much more about what I had witnessed and heard, and he didn't get very far with me.
Southam hired me on a trial basis, but within a couple of months I was taken on permanent staff, got an increase in salary, and within a few years became virtually the dean of the editors there. Because to me the job was a breeze. I had all kinds of editorial and technical help that I never had working on Party publications. I stayed with Southam for seven years.
I formally resign from the Party
On Feb. 13, 1970, I got a letter from Alf Dewhurst, writing on behalf of the Party leadership, in which he wrote:
So I immediately wrote back a lengthy letter to the Central Executive Committee in which I said that I had indeed dropped my membership in the Party, and set out the reasons why. (See text of letter.)
I should add that not long after the plenum at which three of us resigned from the Central Committee, the Party formally expelled Stanley Ryerson and announced it publicly. So I wasn't surprised to learn that after I wrote my letter there were some individuals in the Party who said, "How come John Boyd was allowed to leave just like that? He should have been expelled."
This letter is one of the documents relating to my leaving the Party. Previous to that was the 16-page letter I had sent from Prague and on which I based my speech to the Central Committee meeting. I also wrote letters from Prague to Helen Weir and other family members. I also have all kinds of letters from John Gibbons written to me after I left Prague. These I hope to incorporate in my memoirs, if I ever get around to writing them.
This ended my association with the Party.
More about the invasion
Q. After you got back to Czechoslovakia you heard some stories about the invasion that you said you could recount. What are some of the things that you heard?
Yes, there were a lot of stories about what had gone on during the invasion that many of us didn't know before. You see, the Soviet invasion was on August 21st, and the Central Committee plenum was early in October. I had heard and read a few things immediately after the invasion, some of which I mentioned in my speech. But then I learned much more from October 1968 to August 1969. Some of it I read in various documents, some I got by word of mouth. Details about how the Czech leaders were taken to Moscow, how they were treated there, and what happened after they came back. Details about how during the invasion Soviet officers arrested a number of Czech leaders and kept them confined, because they didn't know what to do with them; they had to check first with the Soviet ambassador in Prague, which took several hours. And about what happened in the interim, while they were waiting for instructions. I lived through some of those weeks and months after the invasion, after the hard-line Czech leaders took over, and learned how some of the people who had been in the reform movement were dealt with. Recently I read Alexander Dubcek's autobiography, a fascinating book he titled Hope Dies Last, which confirms much of what I had heard.
Opponents of reform silent
Q. Was there a current in the Czechoslovak party that was opposed to the reforms that were taking place? And before the invasion, how big would that current have been?
Actually, the enthusiasm for the reforms was so overwhelming that the few who were opposed didn't dare come out. That's why, for example, when the Soviet authorities said that they received a letter for help signed by 25 Czechoslovak leaders, none of them were named. Dub6ek and his colleagues knew who they were, as did many others. They included such names as Gustav Husak, Alois Indra, Vasil Bilak, a Ukrainian from eastern Slovakia, and a score more. They were known to be in total disagreement with the reform leaders.
But they didn't come out openly with their opposition. They didn't publish anything against the proposed reforms, didn't question them publicly, because the enthusiasm of the public and the party rank and file was so great they didn't dare. They would have been swamped, ridiculed, ostracized. So they did their work in an underhanded way. They're the ones that sent a letter through the Soviet ambassador in Prague appealing to the Soviet authorities for help. They came out with their opposition only in the Presidium (or Politburo) of the Party and only on the very eve of the invasion, which only they knew was going to take place. They wanted to take over the leadership, of course, and eventually they did. But first the then leadership had to be taken to Moscow, virtually in handcuffs, and undergo three or four days of arm-twisting before they could come back to Prague.
That meeting in Moscow did, of course, include some of those who were in ..opposition. The Soviets made sure of that. Also included, however, was a young reformer, Zdenek Mlynar, who used subterfuge to get there. He hadn't been arrested because he was a new member of the reform leadership. He pretended that he was on their side, and they took him to Moscow. Then it turned out that he was a Dubcek supporter. There were many, many more interesting incidents like these.
Another interesting and ironical aspect of the events of that August is that one of the reasons the Soviet leaders gave to justify their military action was that they wanted to protect Czechoslovakia from military action by the West. Yet they didn't send any troops to the borders at all; only into Prague and other cities; they knew the Czechoslovak army was there to protect the borders.
My ties with Ukrainians broken
After I left the Party, I still retained my membership in the Ukrainian organization, but not in an active way. After all, I was busy being an editor at Southam, and later elsewhere, so I was only peripherally involved, mostly attending concerts and other cultural events. But even this eventually presented some problems. My wife, Gladys, was an active member of the Ukrainian Mandolin Orchestra and my brother, Ronny, was a founding member of the Ukrainian Male Chorus, both of them at the time under the direction of Eugene Dolny.
When, in 1971, on the initiative of Eugene Dolny and others, the chorus and orchestra decided to break away from under the tutelage of the AUUC and form the independent Shevchenko Musical Ensemble, it caused quite a stir. Because I supported this move, I became a persona non grata with the AUUC leadership along with all the others. Indeed, I was charged with being the "ideological leader" of that group, which wasn't true: I was simply a very active supporter and close friend of most of its members. They all knew me very well; I spent most of my life in the organization and knew many of them from childhood.
Later, my ties with the AUUC were actually severed by a set of somewhat related events. During the post-war years I was often called upon to deliver eulogies at the funeral services or memorial meetings for members of the movement who had died, chiefly in the Ukrainian sector. In September 1979, the National Shevchenko Musical Ensemble Guild held a meeting in memory of Helen Weir, and I was asked to deliver the eulogy. In my eulogy I included some mildly critical remarks about the attitude some leading members of the movement had displayed towards her, something she had requested be done. Although I did not mention any names, the remarks were directed more at the Party leaders than any others; nevertheless, the leaders of the AUUC took offence.
A denunciatory statement
At its meeting two weeks later, the National Executive Committee of the AUUC issued a vituperative statement condemning me for my action and promptly had it published in both Ukrainian and English. Although I had been a member of the organization since my childhood years and served for many years on its leading committees, I was not invited to appear before a leading body (local or national) to present my side of the story or "explain my actions," so to speak (as had been the practice in the ULFTA and AUUC through all the years). I was simply denounced and virtually excommunicated. Although for a while I debated whether to do so, I eventually sent a lengthy letter to the National Executive Committee outlining my views on this matter. Not only did I not get a reply, but I was told that members of the National Committee in other parts of the country did not see it. (See text of my letter.)
Editing Our History
In 1994, however, I did become involved again in a different way. Peter Krawchuk had just written his book on the history of the Ukrainian left-wing organizations. He had it translated by Mary Skrypnyk, and was looking for someone to edit it. When the two or three individuals he had asked declined, he asked whether I would consider doing it. I said I would, provided I was paid at least a minimum amount for my work. I quoted a price much less than I had been charging for other books I had edited during that period.
So Krawchuk went back to the committee and proposed my name. He told me the proposal was met with surprise by some of the members, and one of them even said, "What? With his attitude to the AUUC?" To which Krawchuk replied, "What do you mean? What kind of attitude? He hasn't been an enemy of the AUUC; he gave a couple of lectures to your branch meeting some time ago and you all liked it." Which ended the matter, and I undertook the job. Mind you, there was opposition from a few individuals, not only to my editing but to some of the book's contents, particularly where it was critical of the Communist Party's role in controlling the Ukrainian organizations.
[ Continued ... ]
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