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Revolutionary to the end: John Arthur Bell, 1955-2024

March 30, 2024
With heavy hearts we share the news that John Bell, a life-long revolutionary and tireless contributor to Socialist Worker, passed away on March 28th, weeks away from his 69th birthday.
For decades, John's regular column "Left Jab" combined razor-sharp analysis with humour, providing ammunition – and sometimes comic relief – to activists taking on capitalism's many disasters.
John was born and raised in London, Ontario. As he wrote, "I was born into what was billed as a “middle class” family, in what is still considered a thoroughly “middle class” city, smack in the middle of the 1950s. My father was a high school teacher and my mother, a registered nurse, stayed at home to raise four annoying children… if ever there should have been a poster-child for capitalism triumphant it should have been me.” Instead, his trajectory led him to an unwavering commitment to the politics of international socialism.
His love of reading and learning was nourished early on by an aunt who was a children's librarian. At university, he encountered the writings of Karl Marx, which he read with enthusiasm. As he quipped, "Marx led to Lenin. Yes, Marxism is a gateway philosophy."
It was there that he encountered the International Socialists, and the idea that the societies in what was then the Soviet Union, or China, were not socialist but "state-capitalist", and that workers in those societies were just as exploited and oppressed as those in the West.
The rebellion of shipyard workers in Poland in 1980-81 against the Stalinist regime was decisive in pushing John to become an organized socialist. As he said, "either you backed the workers or you backed the generals and their tanks trying to smash the strike. Shamefully, most of the left backed the tanks, characterizing rebellious Polish workers as agents of the CIA or the Vatican… History poses a test for ideas and for organization. The only socialist organization in Canada that passed the test of Solidarnosc was the International Socialists. I joined convinced that it was an organization that walked its talk."
Over the next decades, John devoted himself wholly to revolutionary politics. His interests and talents were wide-ranging, and sometimes mind-boggling. He had an encyclopedic knowledge of film and music, and was a passionate nature-lover and birder.
John was immensely talented, and could undoubtedly have opted for a comfortable life in academia. Instead, he was for many years a full-time revolutionary, living on the meagre earnings this entailed.
In 2018, after several years of a debilitating respiratory illness, he received a double-lung transplant. His new lungs were literally a new lease on life, and his comrades reaped the benefits of his prodigious output of writing, analysing everything from the rise of Trump and the far-right in the US, to disastrous Covid policies, to Doug Ford's privatization of Service Ontario and healthcare, the return of measles and what this says about capitalism's death-cult.
His very accessible and enjoyable writings on popular culture, racism in sports, history and much more, drew a loyal readership to Left Jab.
In 1999, John undertook to perform Howard Zinn's solo play Marx in Soho. His masterful performance led one audience member, well-known Indian communist Mythily Sivaraman, to say that at the end, when John walked offstage, she felt it was like finding the real Marx, losing him again and wanting him to come back! Such was John's ability to bring Marx's ideas to life.
In November 2023, John had a fall and broke his hip, which led to his hospitalisation. Over the past years, John had warned of the deadly consequences of Covid policies which left immunocompromised people at risk in hospital settings. He contracted Covid in hospital, which led to a cascade of worsening health.
In the days before he died, despite his failing health, John devoted his remaining energy to writing an articleon resistance to the brutal practices of Canadian mining corporations. As one of his comrades put it, he died with his boots on. Despite all of the health challenges he faced for so long, John was in active revolutionary duty throughout and right to the end.
He will be missed more than words can say by his comrades, family and countless friends. But the struggle he enthusiastically supported against this death-dealing capitalist system will carry on, nourished by his legacy.
We extend our heartfelt condolences to Pam Johnson and to John's family.
Rest in power, John Bell.

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