Mac Makarchuk (led Canadians to SPC events), 1990

Mac Makarchuk interview Vienna, about Oct. 24, 1990
Interviewer — Metta Spencer

M.S. – Tell me how you got involved with this Peace Council business. I always figured you were sort of the front man for the Peace Council. And how did that happen? And tell me some of the early events in which you were participating. How did you even connect with them?

Mac Makarchuk: I think the way it probably happened and I couldn’t be certain, the fact that I was in University, I was involved back in ’58, ’59, ’60 and ’61, we were at U of T and involved in various activities and we were, there was Dimitri Roussopoulos, Jerry Hunius, myself, Howard Adelman, we started a combined campaign for nuclear disarmament and then we went into the students union for peaceful action. I think the first Allen Gardens speech, we were holding a meeting in Allen Gardens, it was funny we were going to hold a meeting at the park on Eglinton and St. Clair, Eglinton and Avenue Road or some one of the small parks up there. We went there and there was nobody there and of course Allen Gardens was kind of a unmanageable, so we went to the park at Christie Pits. There was a fundamentalists revival meeting going on and they just moved out so we just moved in, the people were still there so we just set up our own P.A. system and started talking about nuclear weapons. This was in ’57 or ’58, no a little later than that — ’58 or ’59. There was Howard Adelman who eventually went to build that student housing, the high rise, Rochdale and in fact I was involved in that originally. We discussed it, people stood around and listened to us and we had the consequences of a nuclear fallout.

So I think we organized the first Hiroshima Day parade held in Toronto. They had a fallout shelter at College and University, so I organized picketing, a 24 hour picket around that parade. We were picketing that and there were not that many people, mostly student activists. And then there was a whole group of people, I think they were involved in the World Peace Council, who heard about it on the radio, we had problems with the police, they tried to break it up, they were intimidating us, etc. They came out as some kind of support and actually they brought a few banjos along and they were singing folk songs and we held a 24 hour vigil around that fallout shelter on Hiroshima day.

I think they probably knew that I was the organizer there and the next item they had, an event in East Germany which was a celebration for the 25th anniversary for I think the Christian Democratic Party. The East Germans actually had other political parties. And I think because of my sort of leftist activities, and this time I was a member of Parliament, and I don’t imagine that there were too many members of Parliament or any elected officials who were prepared to go out to East Germany at that time and they invited me. I asked Stephen Lewis about it, about what he’d think about me going out there and Steven was just in the process of taking over the leadership of the NDP, and he said “I think you should, we can’t continue with this cold war mentality, etc.” I was personally rather reluctant but I went to Germany and I had a tour of various places and I was driven around in a car with an interpreter and 2 or 3 other people, including a member of Parliament. One of the people of note, he was not part of the party, I met him later on, but Erhart Gothing, [?] he was the leader of the party and we discussed the future possibilities. Afterwards I got an invitation from the World Peace Council to visit the Soviet Union with a group of about 25 people. We had some amenie’s(?) from Quebec and some trade union people as well as…

M.S. – Now when was that?

M.M. – That was about in ’69, ’70 or ’71, somewhere in that period of time. We went to the Soviet Union, we had a reasonable tour. At that time we went to Tyshan(?) summer camp and with these other parliamentarians as well as union leaders as well as University hacks. The university hacks were the communist party hacks because they were. And from there I received an invitation…

M.S. – These were all a group from all over the place?

M.M. – All over Canada, these were Canadians.

M.S. – Is this the first group that you know of, when they were getting started, or had they been doing this all along?

M.M.- No, they have been doing it but up to then what was going on was they were basically, and the Russians were the ones who indicated to them that we were tired of seeing these people over again. And what they were bringing over up to this point was party apparatus in Canada. Because some of these people who were with us were there 5 or six times and they were repeating the same lines.

What the Russians were starting to realize that this was a bad investment. Their outreach program wasn’t working too well, so they invited, you know start spreading, preaching to the converted. Then afterwards I got invited to this international liaison forum, and then I started, was given an opportunity to invite people from Canada to other conferences.

M.S. – They wanted you because you were not one of their hacks?

M.M. – That is a very good speculation in the sense that they wanted people, they actually wanted to broaden out. I think the Russians were really concerned about that, (A) they were spending hard currency and bringing these people over here and paying their way. On the other hand it wasn’t a very representative crowd up to that point, now they were getting more representatives, they were getting people from politics, trade union movements, etc. Mind you, the trade unions at that time, and still are, have their own delegations, exchange delegations, particularly from Britain but they did have them from the U.A.W. at that time, from Canada as well as some of the electrical workers were sent over.

M.S. – You really had kind of a free hand at that point even though they didn’t give you any inspection as to what kind of ideology you had, you were never particularly close to the party.

M.M. – No, as a matter of fact they knew quite clearly, it was fairly clear in their minds as to where I stood and I’m pretty sure that some of the conversations we had in the rooms and discussions it was fairly clear. But, they were, I think added on their part we want to get our message out, we want to tell you what we’re all about. On the west they were saying, you’re being misled and so on. But, I would say it was very much a two way thing. We had a lot of input into what was going on we had a lot of discussions, and particularly with the Soviets you don’t have a lot of discussions in the hotel rooms or the formal conferences that were held or the formal receptions, where we sat at long tables and had the local officials in Novgorad or even Moscow for that matter. A lot of discussions were on the streets and we tried to be sociable, we would go out to the discos and Metropol Hotel and argue like hell.

I’ll give you an example, we argued about the fact that when we’d be parading they were not parading in the Soviet Union. I had quite an argument with them, I said, well why the hell don’t you have parades, and one of the guys said it wasn’t in the Russian tradition. I said, what the hell, what was the Revolution all about? They didn’t parade in the Revolution — it’s not in the Russian tradition? But about 7 or 8 months later I start getting these large posters from the Soviet Union saying here we are and they were actually having parades. I remember being in Kiev…

M.S. – Do you think they were actually paying attention to what you said?

M.M. – Of course, I wasn’t the only one who was saying that because there were other people who were saying very much the same thing. But the point is their people were starting to parade.

M.S. – Can you tell me who might have heard you say that, do you remember the conversation? It would be nice for me to go and say, did you really pay any attention to Makarchuk?

M.M. – This would be difficult because I don’t remember the names. These are people with their Peace Council. I know the mayor of Kiev, in fact he was…. The point is something like the fact that the bastards tied up the traffic for a whole day in Kiev which is similar to the stuff we would get in Toronto, you know if you tied up University Avenue with a parade. He was complaining to us, this was on a visit we went to Kiev, and again this was sort of a minor thing. I think that they would consider all these interrelated, these exchanges that it was a two way message. We were not the ogres their authorities made us or made their people think we were and they found out we were very nice normal, loving, caring people with certain ideologies.

M.S. – This was in the ’70’s

M.M. – Yes in the ’70’s. The other thing is that you’d have these walks in the evenings with these people you know in the street. In Vienna with the Soviet people or in Moscow, but a lot of it in Vienna in the conferences, and you’d have these discussions with them and they were expressing their dreams. They took us back and said about Gorbachev, this is the guy who is going to be in charge. They were telling us, me and other people that this is the man who is going to be in charge.

M.S. – Oh really, when did you hear that?

M.M. – This was in Vienna, This was long before Gorbachev was…

M.S. – They pointed to him?

M.M. – Yes they pointed to him because the news out of Russia about their leadership was basically whether they were alive or dead, that was the only thing that was really coming out of the Kremlin. Everybody in the world was looking at what was going to happen. Of course we, myself was naturally interested and we would question them and this was what they were saying. The thing was that they actually expressed dreams about society, which I found a bit skeptical but you know they were talking about everything from malls and shopping areas and parks and residential complexes the things that we have in the west, the things we take for granted. But these people were actually talking about these things, this is the way we are going to build our society, these are the things we want and they sort of had this cadre of people that seemed to know, well you understand this, they travelled in those circles. Everything from Openacha(?) who was the editor of Pravda was a member of the presidium etc. , to others they talked to each other.

So obviously it was there and of course you have to sense from talking a lot to the interpreters, in my case for instance I can speak Russian I would be wandering back late at night or something and you run into people in the street, at Red Square or the taxi driver and you start talking Russian and see what their attitudes were and of course you sense there was a lot of dissent towards their own government, particularly the officials they thought that they only looked after themselves, a bunch of geriatric cases whose only concern was looking after each other.

M.S. – Why would they feel so free about telling you this? People I talked to were afraid even to talk to their fathers and mothers, they weren’t even sure they wanted to express this to.

M. – I think that they understood pretty well. I didn’t mince words, I was fairly blunt, they understood where I stood. I was critical of the Afghanistan situation, particularly as an example. I was critical of that in public at the meeting of the liaison forum in Vienna. And this is when Havenachuk(?) was the editor, his father used to be a very sociable character and he stopped talking to me for about 2 years after that. One of the funny things about it is we had a meeting in Stockholm and the local people were showing me reports of the meeting afterwards and had a press conference to which I was not invited, this is between the Peace Council, etc. And there was a big statement that one of the members was criticizing the Russian invasion of Afghanistan in Stockholm. Well at that time it was an issue that was past, but they were using that fact to try to demonstrate the fact that they were impartial, that the World Peace Council tried to take a, not a one-sided stand, which is not incorrect. They were, later on when I was at the international liaison forum, tried to change it. In fact we had some kind of an agreement in Vienna that we were going to expand it, put an office in Vienna, change the financing, change the directorate, get rid of some of what I call the dead wood, including Romesh Chandra. Then I went to Moscow, a while after that conference, I guess 6 months after, I was at another conference. We got the Soviet Peace Committee together and we had dinner, and I said part of the problem with your Peace Council is that you have too many Stalinists on board. And I think what I didn’t realize was that I was talking to exactly the same guys because I haven’t had any correspondence and they seem to have disappeared since that particular time.

M.S. – Who are some of the people? Can you remember the names?

M. – No, but some of the people that you met…

M.S. – There were World Peace Council people that you met?

M. – These were the Soviet Peace Committee people that I talked to.

M.S. – To me this is such an interpenetration between them. And I don’t know who was what. It was almost as if, if they belonged to one, they belonged to the other.

M. – Very much so. And I think, and although Romish was certainly a man who set his own pace and he set his own agenda, by and large in extent his agenda would be identical to the agenda of the Soviets at that time. And I know at one of higher left the liaison forum meetings in Austria, where we decided there was a group of Canadians, I think it was Steven Lee, who at that time was Pauline Jewitt’s executive assistant.

M.S. – He was here today, by the way.

M. – Was he! I didn’t realize that.

M.S. – For maybe 2 hours.

M. – And then disappeared. What happened is that we decided to put out a separate communiqué. And Dave Barrett’s son was working at Kreisky’s office, we used the equipment in his office to put out the commmuniqué. The Russians just went into a panic.

M.S. – You put it out as the Canadian delegation?

M. – Yes as the Canadian delegation communiqué. You see, it had never happened. Ordinarily at the end of these conferences they try to get a certain consensus, and in order to sustain the consensus they would put out a rather innocuous document that really didn’t mean anything. Well ours wasn’t really that poignant but it was a little more poignant. But they were worried as hell to see that we would put out a document and we actually attracted the attention of the media. This was another thing I used to argue with them — their handling of the media, and this is, shall we say, another aspect of the whole operation. They were really worried to see that there was another group and the fact that there were other people watching them and other people interested. On the one hand they were pleased that it was happening, that the Austrian government was sort of at least aware that we had contacts in there. But on the other hand, that an independent, going on a tangent of whatever their prescribed policy was at that particular time.

M.S. – Do you remember what contradicted their position on in that particular Canadian communiqué?

M. – I think at that time we, Brezhnev or somebody made some contacts or started to make something to eliminate some of the aspects of the cold war, but what we did say was the fact that Afghanistan was really involved specifically and there was some American involvement at that time in Nicaragua or El Salvador, I don’t remember the days we commented on that. But we also did comment on the fact that its not a one sided event and that there are problems on both sides, no one’s walking around with clean hands these days whether it’s the Americans or the Russians. I think that was the aspect they were very sensitive about, to some extent I really don’t know why but the reality was the reality.

Another example was when the Korean Airline was shot down. We had a very serious meeting with the liason committee in private. We made some suggestions as to what the hell we think they should do. One of the things we suggested, that the Soviets should either try and call a world conference or get involved in IKAO seriously ensure that a similar incident would not happen again. There were some follow ups from that, but they were very defensive about that and they explained and it appeared to me that it seemed to be the military was really very much on their own, in other words there wasn’t any control. The military did what it had to do to defend the country and they stressed the fact, it’s our borders and we’re the guardians of the border etc. And they acted with their instructions within the laws of the Soviet Union. We sort of said, ensure that this sort of thing doesn’t happen again, put into place measures or means that this will not happen again, that you know what is going on. They were pointing out to us about the American reconnaissance aircraft, making it a point to come almost in range and meet it and when the fighters were almost exhausted of fuel they would send in another and keep this kind of war of nerves going on with each other.

That was really a part of the cold war situation and they pointed out also when the American incursion into Iran, when they tried to rescue their hostages that that was a very close situation that the hotline which was supposed to be used, the Americans didn’t use the hotline. The Russians were aware that there was an incursion going on into Iran and they weren’t sure whether this was a full scale invasion and they certainly didn’t want the invasion. That in a sense was responsible for Afghanistan because the Russians were looking in terms, the more land there is between them and us, that’s part of their military strategy, the safer we feel. But, in the Iran situation, this came from some rather top people, Generals and so on at these conferences and discussions, that they said that they were on the verge of putting their forces on alert or rather they were put on alert, I think. They were going to send aircraft up to investigate or repel because there was no context no interchange and that I think highlighted to us that some of these escapades that the countries were involved in, you know can explode into a nuclear confrontation very quickly because the guy that gets his weapons up into the air first wins, and that’s the situation.

M.S. – So how many of these expeditions did you lead?

M. – I can’t really, I don’t have the figures, but I would say 7, 8, or 9 various expeditions.

M.S. – Over a period of about that many years, were you going about once a year?

M. – Yes the expeditions would be about once a year, but I would personally be over there prepared for other meetings or we’d have meetings in Helsinki or Stockholm or Vienna or some place. Generally between the trips we used to have the odd meeting in Cyprus, once in Paris, Lisbon. So we would travel, or else we’d have a meeting with one group and then another group, a meeting with pretty much the same people. Basle was another place, and we would move on to another place.

M.S. – Were the other people on your preparatory committee, were they also as, well you’re very competent as I get it, was that true of most of the other people on the preparatory committee or were they hacks?

M. – No I think actually they were hacks. There is no doubt about that. But at the same time when you have the rector of the Catholic University of Vienna, you had some British labour MP’s, you had diverse, Irving Skolberg as an example, who’s a state congressman from Connecticut, an American, and you had other Americans, you had I forget the name of the fellow but he owns I think Radio Pacific in the United States, has a series of radio stations. He’s a negro, one of the wealthiest negroes in the United States and a strong backer of Jesse Jackson. Well Jesse Jackson as an example, appeared at one of the meetings. So there was a combination of people, but I think by and large it was an effort. I think these people, on the one hand they had a mind of their own, it wasn’t the fact that I was there talking to a Russian, or arguing with him, or agreeing with him in some aspects that this is going to change my ideology that we seemed at that time travelling on a cloud that you won’t be contaminated if you talk to them. You’d have Canadians and for the first time in their lives they would be talking to a live Russian. The first time they had an opportunity to sit down with a Russian apparatchik or somebody in some position of power and have an argument or discussion with them, and we had that kind of thing. So I think there was on our side a fairly genuine feeling that (A) we were sort of seeing the other side but at the same time we were going the other way. I don’t think that and British labour MP’s, as an example, they didn’t pull any punches, who were on the committee, I don’t think that Stolberg pulled any punches or Pierre Godfroy, who is the Gaullist MP, that he pulled any punches. They tried to understand and some saw it in terms of the cold war and everything else, but at the same time, and they were aware of the McCarthyism that was associated or that you got that you were associated with this group or dealt with them. But I think that there was also a strong feeling that you were getting something across to the other side and I think we did because be certainly, we didn’t say just how nice, or isn’t that lovely, yes we agree. We had in fact we in some of the meetings right in the Soviet Peace Committee when we were sitting around the table we said we do not agree with your ideology, but that is no reason why we should go out and destroy each other. That was made in very specific terms that we do have to live on this bloody planet.

M.S. – What are some of the disputes you recall? Either informally or right on the records. Can you remember some particular times when the dust flew?

M. – Well the dust flew on Afghanistan, very seriously, the dust flew on the Korean Airline plane, the dust flew on the organization of the Peace Council and on the management on Romesh Chandra and his people.

M.S. – They were very forthright about you were saying that he was deadwood?

M. – Oh very much so, you had difficulties being civil to the person, it was nice and you were nice, he realized it and I think everybody else realized that he was not really an effective leader, he may have been charismatic, but he would make the same speech at every meeting and he would say same things and you could always say this is paragraph 4, page 3 or something like that.

M.S. – You were laughing on the plane how he was bringing all kinds of Indians over.

M. – Yes, the Russians were complaining to me about this is the Hindu travel system whatever they called it, something to that effect. All he thinks we are here for is to provide transportation, and it’s not only that they want to come to Moscow or Vienna, they want us to provide transportation for them to London, accommodations in London, they want to go to Paris they they want transportation back, etc. They were upset, but the effectiveness, there were people who, and this was where the liaison formed, was an offshoot of the World Peace Council because we, at that time the World Peace Council, even then or earlier nobody really paid much attention, but when the Liaison Forum we managed to get other people involved, quite a few other people, from the European defense, Nuclear league, CND and etc. that were in there. So we even had the Irish in there, the French, the Australians were involved, we had a lot of senators, members of parliament from Australia.

M.S. – On the liaison?

M. – On the liaison committee. There was a serious effort but I think eventually we saw that because of the deadwood on top, or rather that rigid leadership, that it wasn’t going to go anywhere and that’s when we made an effort in Vienna, one of the last meetings that I’ve attended there, to break it up put it in a different pudding and make it an effective organization that would specifically have a lot more coordination and contact with the European Peace movements. Because the World Peace Conference was really a persona non grata with the various European Peace movements. People like Herbert Lamming who was president of the World Federalists was involved in that and he also saw the same thing.

M.S. – Did they agree to that?

M. – No this is like an unfinished story. After we made these proposals in Vienna, that we were going to break away, become independent financially, elect officers, that decisions would have to be made with some collective input into the decisions. In other words, not Romesh decides or somebody decides and Romesh announces it. We started talking about, we got too many Stalinists in this organization and everything starts to fall apart.

M.S. – So that was late?

M. – That was just about 3 or 4 years ago.

M.S. – Does the thing still exist? The liaison committee?

M. – Actually I don’t think so, the people still exist, but I don’t think there has been any kind of a formal meeting or formal get together since one of those, the last meeting in Vienna when we did make this thing. And then there was a meeting afterwards in Moscow, not with the International Liaison Forum, but one of the people were on the forum were invited to a rather international gathering with a lot of Americans, I was surprised, we really had a good cross section of various peace movements from the United States, like friends of the Earth from Idaho or something like that. They were really diverse with Religious, Environmentalists, this was a meeting and the Intercontinental Hotel in Moscow, or the International Trade Centre as they called it. And that’s where we began to have the discussion about too many Stalinists.

M.S. – This was with whom? Formally you’re not obviously sitting across the table with Chandra.

M. – No Chandra wasn’t there. These were people in the Soviet Peace Committee. I know Slava was there but I wish I had kept the names of the people.

M.S. – Slava was, you thought, on your side?

M. – Slava was quite open with me. He also was quite concerned about these things and in fact there were times when he hinted that there were times that Chandra’s time in existence was coming to an end and actually it did come to an end.

M.S. – Chandra’s no longer with you?

M. – No he’s out and somebody else got elected in Greece because the infighting is, well what’s left of the World Peace Council you see there’s very little left and I think in this point in time the finances have been cut off and it needs hard currency to operate and the Soviet central committee or whomever it is is not giving them any money, or very limited.

M.S. – I can buy that story because Tair Tairov, either before or even shortly after he left the council, wrote a letter to Primakov, Yakovlev or somebody. 20 page document telling of what he thought the flaws of the World Peace Council were. He said he later saw it and knows that Gorbachev read it. Gorbachev wrote on it to somebody, “you read this and get back to me, read this carefully.” And he said that that’s when they cut the money off, cause he told them what a crummy outfit it was. He thinks that may be the reason.

M. – More than likely, it sounds completely valid, it just became, well I don’t know it became effective somewhere sometimes and you have to give it a certain credit that it did get these other, even though the Peace Council was sort of an umbrella organization, but these other groups did have some good meetings, great discussions etc., so you have to give them credit for that. But, again what was happening, as soon as these groups like the ILF were starting to broaden out and they were starting to lose control, they got nervous about the whole thing and they started to pull it together, and they would be issuing statements very much on their own but very much on behalf of the International Liaison Forum and we made it quite clear and I was one of the vice presidents, that if you’re going to make a statement I was going to see it before my name is attached to the statement.

The Russian Quest for Peace and Democracy, by Metta Spencer, published by Lexington Books