A tribute to Mitch Podolak: 1948 – 2019

Sept. 2019 Mitch Podolak (Randy MacNeil)

Mitch Podalak with his banjo. (Photo: Randy MacNeil)

By BOB LYONS

This is my best friend, Mitch Podolak. He and I have been comrades in the Trotskyist movement for more than 50 years, in Mitch’s case since 1961.

Mitch will be remembered for his enduring contributions to the Canadian folk music scene. He was the founder and artistic director of some of the most successful folk music festivals in North America, perhaps the world, starting with the Winnipeg Folk Music Festival in 1974.

His model of festival management, based on his understanding of Leninism, has become an accepted methodology globally. It boiled down to this: treat the performers like royalty, feed and house them well, and they will produce their best music. Treat the festival volunteers like family, feed them like performers and involve them in decision-making on how to make the festival better, and they will return year after year, and see the festival as theirs.

Mitch developed his philosophy of festivals by believing in the vision of his friend Pete Seeger, that music is a physical force that can form bonds between people, and create a shared culture of solidarity that is instinctively understood by those participating; both performers and audience are the participants.

As a proud and unrepentant banjo picker, as well as revolutionary socialist, Mitch was a consummate strategist and brilliant organizer whose influence reached millions, which, as Lenin points out, is where revolutionary politics start.

Mitch died on Aug. 25, at age 71. Today’s journals are filled with tributes to his accomplishments. But Mitch didn’t believe in the Great Man theory of history. He knew all accomplishments are the results of the combined labour of the many. He was proud of the work he had done, but he was prouder still of the work of Ava Kobrinsky, his partner of 48 years, and his family—Leonard, Zeke and Max, all devoted to the cause of better music, in a better world.

A militant from start to finish, Mitch was a member or supporter of Socialist Action/Ligue pour l’Action Socialiste up to the time of his death.

Comrade Mitch Podolak, presente! Hasta la victoria siempre! So long, it’s been great to know ya!