Canadian Marxists
and the Search for a Third Way

By Peter Campbell,
McGill-Queen’s University Press,
Montreal & Kingston, pp.303, 1999.

Reviewed in Socialist Standard,
June 2000,
London, England

Book Review

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.