Dimitrios Roussopoulos - Life and Work

Life and Work

He founded, in 1959, the Combined Universities Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in Canada, having organised the first post-war student demonstration in the capital, Ottawa, on December 25 of that year. The CUCND grew quickly and established 22 campus chapters across the country. He remained the Federal Chairman until 1964, and was organizer of a 64-hour vigil in front of the House of Commons in Ottawa, when a 160,000-signature petition was handed to the then Prime Minister, Lester B. Pearson, which urged Canada not to acquire nuclear weapons. The successive Liberal government did acquire nuclear warheads for the Bomarc B missiles, but the Liberal government, with Pierre Trudeau as prime minister, removed all nuclear weapons from Canada. He influenced the creation of the Canadian Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament which together with the CUCND mounted the fight to prevent Canada from acquiring nuclear weapons. He founded and edited its monthly Canada-wide newspaper, Sanity.

Roussopoulos founded and edited Canada’s first peace research quarterly journal in 1961, Our Generation. Its first issue gained a circulation of 3000 and was prefaced by Bertrand Russell. The journal evolved into an international new left journal, titled Our Generation (link to back issues on the Black Rose Books web-site www.blackrosebooks.net ). By the mid-sixties the journal evolved further into a journal on the theory and practice of anarchism, ceasing publication in 1992. In its closing years, the journal had a subscription list of 2800 in over a dozen countries.

In 1962 he co-founded the International Confederation for Disarmament and Peace at the University of Oxford, which brought together for the first time all the non-aligned new nuclear disarmament movements and pacifist organisations in some 20 countries as a counterbalance to the pro-Soviet World Peace Council. The ICDP was among the first to protest and help organize opposition to the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia. Roussopoulos organised in August 1968 the first international meeting of the new left in Ljubljana, Yugoslavia with delegates from several countries, including Frank Wolff from the German SDS and Bernadine Dorne from the U.S. SDS. He was an active council member throughout the history of the ICDP which mobilized world-wide opposition against the Vietnam War. (2)

He helped transform the CUCND into the Canadian new left movement; it become the Student Union for Peace Action, which Roussopoulos co-founded as its convention in Regina in 1964. In 1965, he organised a vigil and sit-in at the U.S. consulate in Montreal, against the Vietnam War and civil rights repression in the USA during the Selma to Montgomery March. This action, combining these two issues was then transformed into the largest sit-down in Montreal’s history, when French-language students (organised by the Quebec student Union, UGEQ) and McGill University students blockaded a large block in front of the U.S. consulate on MacGregor Street (now Penfield), to all traffic for several hours. Dimitri Roussopoulos was elected onto the Youth advisory council of the Universal Exposition held as Expo 67 in Montreal. He got Coca Cola removed as sponsor of the Youth Pavilion during Expo, helped transform the pavilion exhibit to one reflecting the values of the 60s youth movement, and got Hiroshima Day, August 6, 1967, designated as youth day on the grounds of the fair with many renown artists performing during a peace festival. SUPA campaigned against the Vietnam war, and Canada’s complicity with the American side in supplying the U.S. military with Canadian manufactured weaponry. SUPA was a non-aligned movement during the Cold War and so Dimitri Roussopoulos organised protests against the U.S. export of Cruise and Pershing missiles to western Europe, often in coordination with the European Nuclear Disarmament (END) movement. In October 1984, he organised the largest protest against both the new U.S. missiles for Europe and the Soviet SS20 missiles for Eastern Europe, when over 10,000 Montrealers formed a human chain of protest from the American to the Soviet consulates in the city. In June 1982 he also organised the biggest protest caravan of 42 buses travelling from Montreal to New York City to join the 1-million person protest demonstration during the opening of the Second Special United Nations Assembly on Disarmament. U.S. Customs and the State Department prevented him at the Montreal airport from flying to New York. He remained active with SUPA until its demise in 1969. The Canadian new left was involved in a wide range of projects from ant-poverty work in Kingston to opposing the exploitation of native people in Saskatchewan to anti-war activity. (3)

In 1969 he co-edited. with the American sociologist C.George Benello, the first book on participatory democracy. The Case for Participatory Democracy was published as a paperback by Vintage Press, New York, in 1970. (4)

In 1969, he also founded the international left-wing book publishing project, Black Rose Books which published it first book in 1970. He edited and had published ‘The New Left in Canada’, the first book on the subject. This book went through three printing selling some 5000 copies, a record for this kind of book at the time. He also played an important role in the national arena of Canadian publishing, especially among a new generation of young publishers who emerged in the 1970s challenging the hegemony of U.S. and British publishers who dominated the Canadian bookstores and libraries at the time. As such, he advocated and encouraged a new generation of radical writers to propose, through well-documented texts, an alternative view of Canadian society and its problems. In his role as a council member of the Independent Publishers Association, later the Association of Canadian Publishers (ACP), whose members were publishers wholly owned by Canadians, he forcefully promoted a more activist publishing politics. Bringing insights gained from the publishing experience and history of Scandinavian publishers he promoted greater self-reliance and coalition-building with authors (hence his role in the founding of the Canadian Public Lending Rights Commission), librarians and booksellers. As such, he helped organise the first English-Canadian conference that brought all these actors together to discuss forming a common cultural front. It was his view that more had to be done to assure the highest profile of Canadian authored and published books in bookstores and libraries. Even though he was eventually elected as vice-president of the ACP, he left the associated frustrated and disturbed by the self-serving commercial values of most Canadian publishers.

Black Rose Books also published a suppressed or forgotten series of classics in the tradition of anti-authoritarian literature, challenging the political hegemony of Marxism, especially Marxism-Leninism on the one hand and social democracy on the other. Thus most of the political works of Noam Chomsky were first introduced into Canada by Black Rose Books, as were almost all of the works of Murray Bookchin. Black Rose Books, for example, published the complete works of Peter Kropotkin, with introductions by the renowned George Woodcock, including the first English-language translation of what in English is titled “Words of a Rebel”. The publishing programme also included publishing some 11 books on the legacy of Karl Polanyi (1886–1964). Since Black Rose Books was founded, almost 500 titles have been published in a variety of social sciences and humanities subject areas. All these works were based on a radical analysis of industrial societies, posing alternatives to living under present conditions. He founded the French-language semi-annual journal Noir et Rouge which published only three issues from 1968 to 1970 as the third issue was seized by the police during the October Crisis in Quebec. Having published over 500 titles, Black Rose Books, became the largest left-wing book publisher in Canada and one of the bigger such publishers in the English-speaking world.

Since the early 1970s, Dimitri Roussopoulos, has highlighted the centrality of community organisation, neighbourhoods and cities as the primary and priority terrain for social and political change. Consequently he helped found, in downtown Montreal, the Milton-Park Citizens Committee which undertook a major 11-year struggle confronting ‘urban renewal’ and in effect stopping most of the destruction of a heritage six-city-block neighbourhood and transformed the area into the largest non-profit cooperative housing project in North America with some 1200 residents federated into 22 coops and non-profit housing associations on the first land trust in Canada, preventing all land speculation. This struggle went on until the community victory and the completion of a massive renovation of the greystone buildings. The right to housing, especially social housing, was combined with work to remove or reduce auto traffic from residential streets. (6) (7) (8)

He also founded with Bruce Walker, a philosophy teacher at McGill University, Androgyny/Alternatives bookstore on Crescent St., in Montreal, the first bookshop to combine women’s and gay liberation literature with left-wing and anarchist literature. Alternatives several years later was established on its own, on St. Laurent Boulevard.

Known during the 1970s and 1980s primarily as an organizer of various urban struggles, he joined the Montreal Citizens Movement in 1975 to 1978 and helped advance a number of innovative new left concerns which became part of the MCM’s platform. These efforts were combined with a sit-down he organised with the MCM on the Jeanne Mance street on the issue of car and autobus traffic on residential streets. This sit-down blocked downtown traffic during rush hour for 3 hours during the 1978 municipal election campaign. There were no arrests. Amongst other MCM programme proposals was the decentralization of political power from City Hall to the neighbourhoods of Montreal in the form of decision-making neighbourhood councils. In 2003, the City of Montreal finally adopted decentralization as an essential part of its administrative structure whereby each of its 19 boroughs now have borough councils with their own powers, responsibilities and budgets. These councils have civic elected officials only, but are open to citizen questions and demands. One of the boroughs, the Plateau Mont-Royal, where Roussopoulos lives and works adopted avant-garde positions from opposing the military invasion of Iraq (which later was adopted as a resolution by the entire City Council and forward to the federal government)to establishing a participatory budget over three years (2004 – 2008).

In 1989, Dimitri Roussopoulos founded the first municipal green party in North America, Ecology Montreal which was very much inspired by social ecology. The decentralization of power to the neighborhoods from city hall was a key new left and social ecology demand, and this finally took place in 2002. The National Film Board of Canada made a film on Roussopoulos, called District 25. In 1995-1996 he founded the Montreal Urban Ecology Center, within a social ecology framework. MBy raising the whole range of conflicts between urban problems, urbanisation and the surrounding ecosystem the MUEC highlighted both a new range of concerns for environmentalists and those involved in community development. The MUEC also influenced the development of civic democracy. Roussopoulos also founded Place Publique a twice monthly community-based newspaper in downtown Montreal with a free door-to-door circulation of 35,000 (1992 to 2006). While he stepped back from the MUEC in 2006, it helped organize five citizen summits drawing together up to one thousand citizens and NGOs networking concerns and advancing a citizens' agenda for change. He co-founded with Serge Mongeau and Jacques Gelinas, Les Editions Eco-Societe, a major left/ecology book publisher. (9)

Since 2001 Dimitri Roussopoulos heads the Taskforce on Municipal Democracy of the City of Montreal, working with a volunteer group of citizens and bureaucrats in collaboration with the then-Mayor, Gerald Tremblay. As such he proposed and helped draft the Montreal Charter of Citizen Rights and Responsibilities, the first right-to-the-city charter in North America which was recognized by UNESCO as an important innovation in democracy. This was followed by the adoption of the first citizen’s initiative for public consultation whereby petitioning citizens can obtain public consultations on issues on a wide range of public policy issues, a first in North America. The citizens of Montreal have the option of initiating public policy discussions which must be taken into account by politicians. (10)

Active with and promoting the World Social Forum, Dimitri Roussopoulos continues to advance the need for an Extra-Parliamentary Opposition in Canada. His major interest has been seeing democracy from the bottom-up developed within the perspective of the social ecology of Murray Bookchin. In February–March 2012, he founded in Athens, the Transnational Institute of Social Ecology, a network of intellectual/activists working in various cities in Europe. (11) (12)

French-language books by and with Dimitrios Roussopoulos: L’écologie politique – Au-delà de l’environnementalisme, 1994 Au Bout de L’Impasse a Gauche – récits de vie militant et perspectives d’avenir, Baillargeon/Piotte, 2007

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