The Western Socialist
Vol. 33 - No. 252
No. 4, 1966
Fifty years ago mankind was going through one of its bloody upheavals. The world was being torn to bits, each bit grabbed after by the rival gangs of the plutocracy scratching over the wreckage of a tortured continent.
It was not the plutocracy whose flesh was nibbled at and burrowed into by rats and maggots. To them went the spoils. To the workers went the noble work of daring and dying.
And "back home" where there was no war, a greater war raged. Small groups, spread thinly over the land, hostile to this latest brutal episode in the life of a brutal society, from platform, soap box and press waged war against those who were waging war against humanity and were themselves hounded by those who would brook no wars other than their own.
Fifty years ago! The oldest rebels of our day can reach back in memory to the years surrounding 1916, to the free speech fights of pre-war days, to the anti-war and anti-conscription activities later, and to a lot of things that, even though we might frown upon them today, yet bring contented moisture to the eyes.
Those were reckless days and there were reckless agents: The destruction of the Socialist hall in Winnipeg by the defenders of democracy, enraged even at the piano they threw from a second floor window; the court room scene where our comrade Sid Rose, asked if he were a conscientious objector replied "No, I'm a conscious objector, a class conscious objector," then spent the rest of the war in jail; the awakening one morning of the babbitry of a small Alberta coal town, who had prepared for the visit of an important dignitary by spreading a streamer across the main street urging that "God Save the King," to find horrified that a word on the streamer had been changed overnight to "Damn"; the shooting of anti-conscriptionist Ginger Goodwin by the dauntless ones who went out and got their man; the tearing down of the U. S. flag from the town hall of little Tanana, Alaska, and the raising of the Red Flag in its place, a tale that Charlie Lestor could have told, for he was there.
Alaska was a favored haunt in those days for rebels who were finding Western Canada too hot, and some were known even to mush deep into the northern snow, trying to keep the spark of life glowing and trying to keep the flames of rebellion alive. But Alaska also warmed up when the United States went into the war and an old comrade told of leaving Juneau one midnight in a rowboat ahead of a raging pack — just like in a TV thriller!
The Socialist Party of Canada got and gave its share of lumps. We today with a less rowdy makeup would squirm at some of the things it did and many of its members were driven by outraged orthodoxy to the woods, to the north and to the south where some reached Detroit and helped in forming the forerunner of the World Socialist Party.
But there remained always a small and hardy group who carried on the theoretical work of the Party; and its official organ "The Western Clarion," forever in dutch with the authorities, continued to reach its readers. Banned, it became "The Emancipator"; banned again, it became "The Red Flag"; there was never a time when those interested could not receive the journal "Published in the Interest of the Working Class Alone."
THEN CAME BOLSHEVISM
Then came another kind of upheaval — the Russian revolution. In March 1917 Tsarism and all its feudal trappings were swept away by emergent aspirants to Russia's capitalist future. Then in October of the same year they too were swept away by antagonists of another kind who thrilled and dismayed most of the world by speaking the language of proletarian revolution.
It was a period of dread and hope — dread that the world working class revolution was approaching and hope that this was so. It was also the period that brought the near downfall of independent working class thought and action. The initial admiration of Socialists for the bravery and determination of the Russian revolutionaries turned reluctantly to criticism then actively to hostility as the Bolsheviks, flushed with success, sought to impose wrong and harmful theories and Bolshevik dominance on the working class movement, plunging it into scores of years of bitter and dangerous feuding on the pressing need for "proletarian dictatorship" and the theories of social fascism, revolutionary reformism, the exposure of reformists by supporting them, Socialism in one country and a host of others seen now in the sobering light of long-delayed hindsight, by many who lengthily hailed their vital substance, as so much utter claptrap.
The war of 1914 to 1918 ended. Soldiers left the battlefield of France and entered the battlefields of industry, to fight their fellow workers in one arena, as they had fought them in another. The "industrial reserve army," better known as the unemployed, grew as the heroes staggered back from one horror into another. The employers, victorious abroad, sought victory at home, taking advantage of the swollen ranks of the workers to precipitate "collective bargaining" struggles and destroy the effectiveness of the unions. These clashes culminated in the giant strikes of 1919 in which the workers demonstrated a solidarity and power never before known, but a solidarity and power more than matched by that of the employers, and the unions moved into the background for nearly a score of years as an effective means of working class resistance to the encroachments of capital.
Thus did many who gave so much in one war, and who yet on occasion stand proudly on aging and infirm legs, heads uncovered, displaying their medals, proud of the glory and greatness of it all, give again in another war to the same parasite class.
The defeat of the unions and the disruptive work of the Bolsheviks brought the workers to one of those stagnant periods mentioned once by J. H. Burrough as "halting places in history." The "flaming twenties" came and went. The SPC declined, "The Western Clarion" died — a death attributed in its final pages to "the doldrums," as clear a designation as could be given. "Reformism" gained some ground, even the "Clarion" in its latter days becoming watered down by its influence, one of the few clear voices remaining in its columns being that of J. A. McDonald who still does trojan work in "The Western Socialist."
But the flames of the twenties had little to do with the muddled and militant aspirations of the workers. They danced the Black Bottom, marvelled at the wonders of radio and remained oblivious to the future that capitalism held in store.
That future? The hungry thirties, the bloody forties, the threatening fifties — and the fallout settling quietly in the sixties over all the earth.