BY BARRY WEISLEDER
Robbie Mahood, 75, a founding member and a leading light in Socialist Action / Ligue pour l’Action socialiste, passed away in Montreal on December 26, 2021. He lost his long battle against cancer following a completely debilitating stroke on December 24. Surrounded in his hospital room by family and loved ones, Robbie may have been conscious of the affection and adoration expressed by a number of comrades from across the continent who joined a hastily convened virtual, online gathering at his bedside just hours before his life ebbed away.
Robert (“Robbie”) Fisher Mahood was born in Saskatchewan in 1946. As a teenager, he witnessed the battle for Medicare in that province. Impacted by the youth radicalization of the 1960’s, he gradually embraced revolutionary Marxism. After studying history and politics at the University of Regina, he went into medicine and was active in the fight for abortion rights, collaborating with pro-choice activists and Dr. Henry Morgentaler in opening and operating his Winnipeg clinic. Robbie was a semi-retired family physician in Montreal, and a leading member of Ligue pour l’Action socialiste / Socialist Action to the end.
A statement issued by the Mahood family recounts how Robbie “grew up in Saskatoon. He spent some of his early childhood in the Côte des Neiges area of Montreal while his mother studied medicine at McGill, and lived in the Middle East in the early 1960’s while his father worked for the United Nations setting up teacher training for Palestinian refugee communities, but Saskatchewan was the place of his youth.
His parents were deeply involved in the struggles for universal medical care in Saskatchewan and in many other progressive social movements on the prairies. As a pink diaper baby, Robbie was always committed to fighting for progressive social change. He was a student activist in the 1960s, involved in anti-war activism as well as early community organizing efforts against racism in Saskatchewan. He became involved in direct action politics, briefly working for the National Farmers’ Union, and in factory work in Toronto. He was among other young Canadians who went to Cuba on a work exchange in the late 1960s, and famously played (and lost at) baseball with Fidel. In the late 1960s and early 1970s he became a committed revolutionary socialist for the rest of his life.”
We note that Robbie joined the Canadian section of the Fourth International in the late 1960s. When he and several others were excluded from the F.I. in 1994, at which time the local Quebec organization, and soon most of the International leadership, abandoned revolutionary party-building and class struggle politics, Robbie stood with the Leninist-Trotskyist opposition. As a founder and leader of Socialist Action, he continued as part of the Tendency for a Revolutionary International which organizes both inside and outside the F.I. today with comrades around the world.
Robbie was a member of the federal steering committee of the NDP Socialist Caucus. Thanks to his facility in French, he was able to play an important role in advancing the work of the SC and SA/LAS in Palestine solidarity, environmental justice and anti-poverty work in Quebec. His longstanding contribution to women’s health and personal autonomy, as a member of Doctors for Reproductive Choice, is inestimable. Robbie was profiled in the Canadian Medical Association Journal in 1988 (“Pro-choice physician says doctors have duty to speak out”) for his pro-choice activism, which at times involved providing services then considered illegal when he worked at the Morgentaler clinic in Winnipeg. Often, he hosted comrades and friends at his home in Montreal when they visited the city to attend major political events, such as the massive strikes and marches of the Quebec students’ movement against university tuition increases, as well as during a Canadian Labour Congress convention held there in 2017. Robbie’s selfless devotion to revolutionary engagement was strikingly evident in his participation at SA Central Committee meetings in the last weeks of his life, even following physically exhausting blood transfusions.
The family’s text goes on to say that Robbie “contemplated an academic career, completing a thesis in Political Science with an original take on the political career of Mackenzie King. After deciding an academic career was not for him, Robbie decided that studying medicine would allow him to continue his political, intellectual and activist work serving as a physician. As a physician, he was involved in various struggles in health care including studying with Dr. Henry Morgentaler and involving himself in the campaign for reproductive choice, including…as a fly-in (abortion) provider in the maritime provinces. Robbie decided that salaried group medical practice was the best model for delivery of medical services and was involved in several unique group community practices in Winnipeg (Klinic), and in Montreal (CLSC Côte des Neiges) where he spent the rest of his career.
In Montreal he remained politically active in various progressive campaigns, continued a lifelong critical involvement in the left of the NDP, and ran (provincially) as a candidate for Québec Solidaire. He was a committed activist for Palestinian rights, for immigrant rights and healthcare, and for action against climate change, which he saw as intricately related to the profit motive of capitalism.
His entire life, personal and professional, was devoted to the battle for progressive social change in key sectors of political life. He brought an inextinguishable optimism that a better world was possible, a great intellectual energy, a deep curiosity about the world and its challenges, and a determined expectation that we should all do the same.
He courageously battled cancer for the last two decades of his life, surviving bone marrow transplants and chemotherapy regimes with little complaint and tremendous determination.
Throughout these struggles he maintained his eclectic interests in folk music, film, art and history, constantly sharing his insights and observations with a broad group of friends and colleagues around the world. He remained highly informed and cognizant regarding the many struggles for equality and decency the world over and could always be counted on to offer a cogent, thoughtful and unique analysis of world events and of the way forward. On a personal level he was smart, funny and never polarizing in his many discussions over just the right cup of Mile End coffee.
He was a devoted father and provider to his four daughters, loving them and exasperating them in equal measure. He is survived by his four daughters (Marie-Laure Mahood, Juliana Mahood, Marjolaine Mahood in Montreal and Meaghan Hogg in California), their children (Margot, Dara, Babette, Suki, Dervla and Aengus), his former wife Isidé Giuliani, and by his long-time companion and comrade Anita Marin, and her son Diego. He is also mourned greatly by his only sister, Sally Mahood, her partner John Conway, and his loving nephews and niece in Saskatchewan (Liam, Aidan, Kieran and Meara Conway) and their families.”
The loss of Robbie is a terrible blow. A great personal friend to me, and to many, a brilliant leader of our party, he is gone. It is difficult to grasp the magnitude of this loss. Fortunately, we are endowed with his many articles, interviews and video recordings, several of which can be easily accessed via the Socialist Action YouTube channel and at www.socialistaction.ca . His absolute firmness of principle was attended by great tactical flexibility, openness, humility and a supreme elegance of expression. As a revolutionary doctor, Robbie was an insightful guide through the trauma of the first years of the Covid pandemic.
This is a dark moment. Try, we must, to illuminate it with fond and precious memories of Robbie – an indelible example that lives on, that inspires all who strive for a better world. ¡Robbie Mahood presente!
Reprinted from Socialist Action, Dec. 30, 2021.