By Peter Campbell,
and the Search for a Third Way
McGill-Queen’s University Press,
Montreal & Kingston, pp.303, 1999.
Reviewed in Socialist Standard,
Peter Campbell discusses, and focuses on, the lives of four individuals—Ernest Winch,
William Pritchard, Arthur Mould and Robert Russell, all of whom originally came from
Britain and from religious backgrounds. The title and the phrase, “a Third Way”, is
something of a misnomer, as the author himself admits, writing:
“The description requires explanation, because these socialists might more
accurately be called Marxists of the first way. Their guiding philosophy is to be
found in the provisional rules of the International Workingmen’s Association,
founded in London, England, September 1864 . . .”
Campbell’s definition of a Marxist, and on occasion a socialist, is somewhat more wide
than ours, although less so than that of many writers and commentators. His introduction
is as important, and revealing, as his four pen-portraits.
The author uses the phrase “third way” in order to differentiate his subjects – and the
organisations to which they belonged – from mass social democratic parties, such as the
German Social Democratic Party, and later the so-called Communist parties. In that
sense, he feels that they were Marxists of a “third way”, opposing the idea of leadership,
and advocating mass understanding as the only way to working-class emancipation.
Education was, and is, everything. “Challenging the wages system meant educating the
workers, and education became the key concern of Marxists of the third way”, says
Campbell. “The overthrow of capitalism and the eradication of the wages system were
the responsibility of the workers themselves”, although in practice, education was seen as
a predominately male realm, as few women in such parties as the Socialist Party of
Canada became public speakers or lecturers.
Nevertheless, Campbell shows that the early “third way” socialists, and particularly
members of the SPC, were largely free of sexist and racist prejudices. Indeed, their close
ties to the Jewish community became very important during the general strike, in
Winnipeg, in 1919. Interestingly, although socialists like Bill Pritchard came from
predominately religious backgrounds, they put the scientific method to the fore, with
much emphasis on evolution.
Except for Arthur Mould (of whom more later), they were not pacifists. They considered
violence a possible, if not unavoidable, outcome of revolutionary change; but they argued
that the more that the workers understood, the more educated they became in socialist
ideas, the less likelihood there would be of violence. Bill Pritchard saw “revolutionary
violence” as a sign of weakness in the working class. Says Campbell: “The assumption
was that significant numbers of capitalists would see the futility of resisting a well-educated, well-organised working-class majority and go over to the winning side.”
Inevitably, not all “third way” socialists remained consistent in their views or beliefs. A
few joined the Communist Party; others embraced the reformism of the Social Democrat
and Labour parties. And a few, like Bill Pritchard, embraced reformist politics for a few
years, only to return to revolutionary socialism, and membership of the Socialist Party of
Canada or the World Socialist Party of the United States, later.
Between 1910 and 1940, Ernest Winch was successively a leading member of the Social
Democratic Party, secretary of the International Longshoremen’s Association in British
Columbia, president of the Vancouver Trades and Labour Council, for a time a member
of the Socialist Party of Canada, an organiser of the Independent Labour Party, secretary
and organiser of the “bogus” SPC in the early 1930s and, lastly, a Co-operative
Commonwealth Federation (CCF) member of the British Columbia provincial legislature
for almost twenty-five years. Yet he considered himself, and was considered by many
others, to be a Marxist and defender of “third way” Marxism.
Winch was renowned for his fiery, revolutionary phraseology, defending Marxism and
“scientific socialism”; yet in practice his politics led to reform, not revolution. And
during the late 1920s and through much of the 1930s Winch co-operated with the
Canadian Communist Party. Of him, Campbell says: “While Winch’s rhetoric continued
to be revolutionary, many of his thoughts were confused and contradictory.”
Bill Pritchard, however, was far more consistent except for a period during the 1930s. On
21 May 1911, he arrived in Vancouver, from England. Two days later he applied for
membership of the Socialist Party of Canada, and was admitted a week later. He became
an avid reader of socialist and scientific literature. From December of that year, he wrote
regularly for the Western Clarion, the paper of the SPC, and was its editor from 1914 to
1917. Despite his religious background, Pritchard became a materialist and atheist
“believing religion was irrational”. Although not mentioned by Campbell, Pritchard was
largely responsible for the SPC reprinting the SPGB pamphlet Socialism and Religion.
He accepted, and propounded, the materialist conception of history, the class struggle, the
labour theory of value, and the necessity for workers, in a majority and without leaders,
to abolish the wages system. As Campbell notes, there was no shortcut to
emancipation—“nothing less than class conscious effort and class conscious knowledge”.
But he was no mere theorist. He travelled over vast areas of Canada, and British
Columbia in particular, speaking at SPC meetings, often under horrendous conditions.
And for many years, he was actively involved in various trade and industrial unions.
This, almost inevitably, led to his arrest and imprisonment following the Winnipeg
general strike of 1919. His two-day speech at the trial in January 1920 is part of Canadian
working-class history. During his imprisonment, Pritchard was visited by Adolph Kohn, a
member of the SPGB, who brought him three volumes of Marx’s Capital, which he was
able to pass through the bars to him! During this period, Bill Pritchard, unlike some of his
comrades, was very critical of the Communist Party and its undemocratic tactics.
However, in 1932, Pritchard joined the recently-formed Co-operative Commonwealth
Federation, and became heavily involved in its activities. In 1938, he left Canada for
California. And some time later “he returned to Marxism of the third way by joining the
World Socialist Party of the United States (WSPUS) a sister party of the Socialist Party
of Canada”. He continued to propound revolutionary socialism until his death in 1981.
Arthur Mould is, at least to his reviewer, a far less interesting figure; and whether he
could be described as a Marxist "of the third way" is highly problematical. He was never
a member of the pre-1919 Socialist Party of Canada; indeed, he began as a Methodist
Church lay preacher in England. He was not as well read in Marx’s writings as Pritchard
or even Winch. Although he was a forthright critic of organised religions, he was not
opposed to religion as such. Although opposed to war, at least until the Second World
War, Mould was more a pacifist and admirer of Leo Tolstoy than an opponent in the
Marxist tradition of the SPC. In fact, he was particularly upset when Moses Baritz, a
member of the SPGB who was speaking on behalf of the SPC, defended the use violence
in a lecture on the French Revolution in 1916. At about this time, Mould became active
in the Independent Labour Party, in London, Ontario. Although remaining a committed
Christian, during the 1920s he became increasingly sympathetic towards the Communist
Party and joined it in 1943. And in 1961, still a member of the CCP, though a critical
one, Arthur Mould died.
Robert Boyd Russell was an active member of the US Socialist Party, a key figure in the
Winnipeg general strike, a leading organiser of the Railway Machinists during the First
World War, a ceaseless advocate of industrial unions, in which he emphasised the
necessity of waging the class war from a position of strength, and an active member of
the One Big Union which had been formed in the aftermath of the Winnipeg strike in
1919. He, like Pritchard, was imprisoned. In 1922 he dropped out of the Socialist Party,
but continued as general secretary of the OBU and, later, editor of the OBU Bulletin
following the resignation of Charles Lestor, until the OBU became part of the Canadian
Labour Congress (CLC) in 1956. He died in 1964.
Although this reviewer has some strong reservations about some of the views expressed
by Peter Campbell, this is an important book, detailing as it does, much information on
the Canadian labour and socialist movement. It is well worth reading.