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Manitoba History No. 90

No. 90

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Jack Houston’s Editorials in the OBU Bulletin: 19 March 1921

Link to:
Previous editorial | Introduction

The Passing of Comrade Houston
presumably by Frank Woodward

It was with feelings of deep regret and sorrow that the workers of Winnipeg received the news of the death, on Friday last, of John Houston, who for the last eighteen months has been editor of the O.B.U. Bulletin. In the passing of Comrade Houston, the working class movement has lost one of its most trusted and able workers, who has contributed to it no mean portion of mental and physical energy, and who leaves it enriched by the application of his keen intelligence and wide practical experience.

A man of massive built, [sic=build] Comrade Houston was a striking personality, and his wide general knowledge, which made him a clever conversationalist, procured him a wide circle of friends who will carry with them for many years pleasant memories of “Old John.”

Comrade Houston, who was 64 years of age, came into the movement at an age at which most men have already become static in their views and incapable of progressing. In this respect, Houston was a remarkable exception; he was always bitter in his criticisms of the doctrinaire and always kept himself informed of the latest scientific achievements, and it was characteristic of him to always be the first to give the new proposition his support or condemnation.

Comrade Houston received a first class education and in his early manhood followed the profession of school teacher, and on entering the working class movements was exceptionally well read. His first active participation was as a member of the Socialist Party of Canada [SPC], and there are now very few comrades whose membership in that organization antedates his. He was S.P. of C. Candidate in the Dominion election of 1908 [in Winnipeg?], when Mr. A. Haggart and D.C. Cameron were the bourgeois candidates. He contributed much to the educational advancement of the party at that time, lecturing regularly on the various phases of the Socialist philosophy, and for some time conducting a class on Industrial history.

The S.P. of C. placed him in the field as a general organizer in 1909, when he did valiant work for the movement. These were the days of pioneer organizers, when it was no armchair proposition to organize for the Socialist movement. In these days, it was no rare thing for an organizer to find himself stranded in a small country town, without money and surrounded by a hostile populace, with a few hundred miles of snow-covered prairie between him and the next burg. Only men strong in mind and body could carry on the fight for slave liberation under these circumstances. Comrade Houston possessed these qualities to a high degree and in spite of terrible obstacles carried on the fight, working between Winnipeg and Vancouver.

In 1914, Comrade Houston, still carrying on organization work for the S.P. of C., transferred his activities to eastern Canada. He spent considerable time lecturing in Toronto, afterwards taking up his residence in Montreal.

Speaking of his entry into S.P. of C. Circles there, a Montreal comrade says: “John introduced to the Montreal comrades the works of Thornstein [sic = Thorstein] Veblen, and for a while was hated by everybody because he had the habit of looking at human relations from the new angles and not according to the methods of the old prophets. After an intense struggle inside the local, his views became the prevailing ones, and under his teachings the members received a set of ideas that were modern. Houston taught Veblen every chance he had, and during his stay on Montreal demolished many a “metaphysical postulate” of the S.P. of C. Members.

Comrade Houston was fearless in his criticism of the corrupt labor leader with which the labor movement on this continent is cursed. In 1918 he represented the Machinists’ Union at the Dominion Trades and Labor Congress in Quebec, where he came into prominence by the formulation of his famous dictum, “Labor leaders who cooperate with the government are crooks.” The boys in the Montreal movement came to call him affectionately “The Bishop,” and he became the mainstay in an organization known as the St. Patrick’s Labor Club, which was formed after the Socialist Party had been raided by the police. Comrade Houston was teacher for the club, and twice a week delivered lectures on modern viewpoints in sociology.

The formation of the O.B.U. received the hearty support and co-operation of Comrade Houston, and he delivered a series of lectures in Montreal on “The Stage Setting of the O.B.U.,” which were later printed in the Bulletin. These articles are of considerable historic significance as it is the first attempt of its kind to write the history of Canada from the viewpoint of the “class-conscious worker.” The sterling qualities of Comrade Houston have earned for him a wide circle of friends in Montreal.

He came to Winnipeg in August, 1919, at the request of the Central Labor Council, to take over the editorship of the O.B.U. Bulletin, a position he has ably filled until taking to his bed some ten weeks ago. His usefulness was not confined solely to the use of the pen during that time, his ability on the platform was oft times called into play, and his abundant fund of knowledge was a gold mine when a speaker was required in a hurry, it being well known that John was never stuck for a subject. He had considerable experience as a debator [sic]; his latest appearance in that capacity was in September, 1920, when he and Comrade Joe Knight debated the merits of the O.B.U. with Hoop and McCutcheon, in the Industrial Bureau.

The flagrant betrayal of the cause of the working class by his opponents’ position in this debate was often spoken of by Comrade Houston, and he never hesitated to place them in the category of “agents of the master class.”

We have indeed lost a valiant fighter and an able teacher in the passing of Comrade Houston. Let us strive to be as useful in the class struggle and as worthy of mention when the history of the slave’s struggle for freedom is written, as was “Old John.”

Page revised: 27 July 2013

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