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On the passing of Michael Lucas, immigrant organizer and friend of Soviet people

By Greg Butterfield |
May 9, 2020
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Michael Lucas
Michael Lucas

Michael Lucas, editor of Northstar Compass and leader of the International Council for Friendship and Solidarity with the Soviet People, died in Toronto on May 4. He was 94.

Lucas was a fixture of the Canadian left for decades, especially among communities of progressive immigrants from Eastern Europe and Russia. He was longtime head of the Society of Carpatho-Russian Canadians. A musician, Lucas was deeply committed to preserving and sharing the culture and traditions of his people. Throughout his long life, he was a staunch supporter of socialism and the anti-fascist traditions of the Soviet Union.

“He worked tirelessly for international worker rights across the world, in support of trade unions and civil rights in North America and beyond,” according to his family’s commemorative statement.

Outside Canada, many of us first got to know Lucas through his work producing Northstar Compass. This print journal provided news and translations from the communist movement in the former Soviet Union following the capitalist counter-revolution of the early 1990s, as well as reports of solidarity actions in other parts of the world. At a time before the wide availability of the Internet, smart phones and translation apps, this material would otherwise have been unavailable to most activists.

In the difficult years after the USSR’s destruction, Northstar Compass played a crucial role connecting socialists and communists worldwide with the re-emerging working-class movement in the post-Soviet states. After Lucas launched the Canadian Friends of the Soviet People in 1991, branches sprang up in the U.S. and many other countries, helping to bring together socialists of different views who had weathered the storm with their revolutionary commitment intact.

The national chapters of the Friends of the Soviet People sponsored commemorative events for socialist holidays like International Working Women’s Day and the anniversary of the Russian Revolution, helping to preserve those working-class traditions until they could be revived by new generations of activists.

Northstar Compass was one of the few English-language sources for truthful information on the repression under the Boris Yeltsin regime. It published reports on the role of U.S. and Canadian imperialism in the October 1993 shelling of the Congress of Soviets and subsequent massacre of leftists in Moscow which the corporate media refused to print.

The final print edition of Northstar Compass appeared in 2017.

Lucas’ passing has already been taken notice of in several countries, including Russia, Nepal and the U.S. - an indication of the lasting significance and respect for his dedicated work. As his longtime collaborator on the International Council, George Gruenthal, wrote, Lucas “not only wrote most of the material [for Northstar Compass], but also did the layout, stuffing the envelopes and mailing of the journal. He kept up this work until he was in his 90s, with help from his wife Helen and other comrades from Toronto and around the world.”

Bill Dores, New York-based organizer of the Campaign for Solidarity with Labor in Russia in the 1990s, knew Lucas. He said: “Michael was Carpatho-Russian [a nationality from the region that is today part of eastern Slovakia and southwestern Ukraine] and grew up under Hungarian occupation. The Hungarian fascist regime didn’t allow them to speak their language. If soldiers heard children speaking the language, they would beat them.

“His father went to Canada to work in the nickel mines, hoping to bring his family over as soon as he made some money. But he got involved in union organizing and was jailed. It was several years before his family could join him in 1938.”

Dores explained, “As head of the Canadian-Soviet Friendship Society, the Society of Carpatho-Russian Canadians, and later International Council for Friendship and Solidarity with the Soviet People, he was frequently threatened and sometimes attacked physically by right-wing Eastern European emigres. He also struggled to keep the Carpatho-Russian Society Hall out of the hands of greedy real estate interests, who also threatened him.

“He was banned from the United States after he took part in a railroad construction project in Yugoslavia after World War II, kind of like the Venceremos Brigade that does volunteer work in Cuba,” said Dores. “But he was able to get in a couple of times during the ‘90s.”

Lucas is survived by his partner and fellow organizer Helen Lucas, his children Michael Jr. and Mary Ann, and comrades around the world who share his lifelong commitment to the socialist future.

Greg Butterfield is an editor of “Struggle – La Lucha”

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