The Western Socialist
Vol. 26 - No. 205
No. 1, 1959
The following is the text of a radio talk delivered by Roy Devore on the POINTS WEST program. of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. The talk was heard over a network of western Canadian radio stations on Dec. 19. It is seldom that we receive mention through a major publicity medium, and it is even more rare for such mention to be of a sympathetic nature. On both counts, this is a notable exception.
If you were to happen upon a heretofore unheard of community of white Canadians, you would, of course, be amazed. But perhaps little more so than most people are, on learning a third Canadian political party was operating on a national scale years before the Communist or C.C.F. parties had been thought of, that it exists today with a literature and a tradition, and has a platform in common with Socialist parties throughout the English speaking world.
The Socialist Party of Canada was formed in January, 1905, and, unlike the Socialist Party of Great Britain, was not made up of an organized group breaking away from a parent body on grounds of principle. In the main it grew from political groups already established in the country. Among them were the Socialist Party of British Columbia, and the Socialist parties of Manitoba and Ontario. There is evidence of even earlier cooperation between these provincial parties. Fairly recently, a pioneer Socialist in Vancouver produced two membership cards, one issued to him by the Manitoba party in 1903, another by the B.C. party in 1904.
In 1908, the "Western Clarion" became the official organ of the Socialist Party of Canada. It had been founded in 1904 by Mr. E. T. Kingsley, a radical who, though crippled, was a tireless worker and appears to have spent most of his life advocating a Socialist reconstruction of society. Virtually all contributors to the "Clarion" were party members. They criticized the efforts of reformers, maintaining that reforms did not reform, that an exploitative system of society could never be made to function in the interest of wealth producers. In addition to the Clarion, the Party published many pamphlets. Its "Manifesto" ran to five editions, and another, slightly revised and published as "The Socialist Manifesto" appeared only a few years ago.
That the Socialist Party of Canada was once a "power" in the land, is beyond doubt. It ran candidates regularly in many parts of the country, sponsoring twenty-three in one provincial campaign in B.C. While it never elected a member to the Commons, there were, in 1909 three members in the B.C. Legislature and in later years, one in Alberta, and one in Manitoba.
But reformist elements, becoming impatient, demanded a shorter cut, something here and now. The Party's executive was accused of being a "cult", and Locals lapsed or had their charters revoked. Then came World War I and a still greater loss in membership. The fourth edition of the "Manifesto," appearing in the midst of war, was definitely anti-war. Reformers now described the "old guard" as traitors. Those retaliated by declaring themselves the only true friends of the Canadian working-class, and predicted "an outbreak of peace as cataclysmic as was the outbreak of war." Then a new star arose in the East: Bolshevism, with plenteous funds. Gazers upon this star, emerged on every hand as saviours of humanity, eager to hitch every workingman's wagon to it. The Socialist Party of Canada promptly renounced these "saviours."
In a practical sense, the Party was defunct in the early 1920's. The Western Clarion, with several thousand dollars bequeathed by a deceased party member, lingered on. Its writers carried on a strenuous battle against enemies on several fronts until funds ran out in mid-summer 1925. It appeared to be the end of the line for the Socialist Party.
With revolutionary Socialism now seemingly dead in Canada, the C.C.F. utilized the name "Socialist," and adopted a number of Socialist phrases.
But the ghost of scientific radicalism refused to be laid. In June, 1931, a group of former Socialist Party members in Winnipeg, encouraged by a sprinkling of others throughout the west, again, sounded the call for "A system of society based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth by and in the interest of society as a whole."
And if those who criticized the old Party as straight-laced, expected the reorganized body to loosen up, they were disappointed. The reverse occurred. The old group had often held out its arms to anyone appearing rebellious and who called himself a Socialist, but the new one confronted each applicant with a list of thirty-three questions, five of which follow:
—What essential condition distinguishes a member of the working class from a member of the capitalist class?
—What is capital?
—Give a general description of value.
—What do you understand by the political machinery?
Such questions showed the determination of the Party not to deviate from its own economic interpretation of society. Stubborn, academic, and seeing only one direction, the common everyday issues that concerned other political groups seemed not to exist for these people. There was but one issue: continue with Capitalism, or discard it and establish Socialism, the only logical alternative. They were polar opposites: they could not exist together.
Applicants found it harder to answer the questionnaire than to clap their hands at public meetings. The Party's membership increased slowly, but steadily. Within two years the "Western Socialist" had risen from the ashes of the old Western Clarion. It is still being published, but in Boston, as an international party organ.
A second world war brought difficulties to the Party but the stubborn stalwarts dug in, and again their manifesto, more undeviating than ever, appeared while hostilities were at their height.
The post war period brought further defections from the Socialist ranks. True, the line still held, but by now it was a thin, grey one. Adherents of half a century's standing dropped out. Today, it is doubtful if new recruits greatly outnumber the retiring veterans.
But on talking with those old timers one finds them neither regretful nor disillusioned — just tired. They still have hope in the Party's mission. They might well be called Canada's super optimists. And whether victory or oblivion awaits their successors, the Socialist Party of Canada could enter the records as one of our long distance political phenomena.