Trotskyism in B.C., 1945-1961
Elaine Bernard is Director of the Labor and Worklife Program at
Harvard Law School, and the author of The Long Distance Feeling: A
History of the Telecommunications Workers Union, (New Star Books,
She wrote this essay while she was a student in History at the
University of British Columbia in 1977. It is posted with her
A History of B.C. Trotskyism
as seen through Labor Challenge and Workers Vanguard,
by Elaine Bernard
November 29, 1977.
In order to write a history of the Trotskyists in British Columbia
the first and most important source one should investigate is the
newspaper of the Trotskyists. It is very rare that any socialist
organization does not have an official organ; that is a paper controlled
by that organization and reflecting their views. The Trotskyists in
Canada are no exception, publishing a newspaper under a variety of names
The newspaper of the Canadian Trotskyists was published in Toronto
and sent from there to subscribers and party locals. Though a few
articles on B.C. events originated in Toronto, for the most part
articles on B.C. originated in B.C.
The fact that one paper served a cross-country organization is
important to keep in mind. It meant that only the most important and
urgent articles would appear in the newspaper. The articles were aimed
not solely to a B.C. audience which one might assume was more informed
on the issues in dispute, but to a cross-country audience.
One problem in considering the newspaper as a source for the history
of B.C. Trotskyism, is that one cannot know what the Vancouver or other
B.C. Trotskyists sent in to the newspaper to be published. It would seem
reasonable to suspect that the editorial board would on occasion change
or scrap entirely an article viewed as being important to the B.C.
Trotskyists. Ultimately one would have to go to the national office
correspondence of the Trotskyists to see if there were any such
complaints between the editors and their B.C. correspondents.
Also of course, there is a problem of space. A monthly of only eight
or twelve pages which must serve the purpose of a cross-country
newspaper could only print a small amount of material from B.C., though
one does find that politics more than geographic distribution tended to
determine the emphasis and amount of material in the newspaper.
A further point to keep in mind when using the Trotskyist press is
its frequency of publication. It began in June of 1945 as a monthly.
When one adds the time required for mailing articles, editing, and
printing, it is reasonable to suspect that the newspaper cannot carry
very current articles. The fact that the newspaper is a monthly will
determine the types of articles published. They will for the most part
be general and not too time specific.
Most important in understanding the newspaper as a source is the
Trotskyists’ own view of their paper, its centrality to their work, and
their view of its purpose.
James P. Cannon, the leader of the American Trotskyists explained in
a letter in December of 1944, the view of the U.S. Trotskyists on the
role of their newspaper, The Militant.
The dominant notes of the eight-page paper must be simplification
and agitation, i.e., concentrated hammering on a very few basic
slogans of the day. These are the indispensable characteristics of a
popular paper. But — and here is the
catch, here is the main reason we need a bigger paper
— our Militant cannot be merely a
popular paper even if every line of its contents is irreproachably
correct as far as it goes.
The Militant must strive to be a combination paper; a paper
which interests and serves the needs of the new reader who picks it
up for the first time, the reader who is beginning to think of
himself as a Trotskyist without yet thinking about the party, and
the educated party militant – all at the same time.
The Canadian Trotskyists, many of whom had first heard of Trotskyism
through the Militant, had similar views to Cannon’s on the role
of their newspaper. Their role as a vanguard was to propagandize and
agitate, and the central tool or organ for this work was the socialist
The first issue of Labour Challenge dated June 1, 1945
appeared with the banner head, "A monthly paper bringing the truth about
labour’s struggle for socialism to the working people of Canada."
In this issue there is a statement of purpose and policy which is
valuable to quote at length as it is the Trotskyists’ own explanation of
how they conceived of their paper.
is a monthly paper published for the purpose
of bringing the truth about labour’s struggles for a socialist world
to the working people of Canada. We feel that the appearance of
Labour Challenge fills a long felt need. For too long now the
workers of Canada have been without a paper interpreting national
and international events in the light of Marxism. Never before in
the history of Canadian workers have political ideas played such a
big role as they do today. Elements never before touched by them are
now moving forward to occupy the center stage. Let us briefly survey
the situation of the workers movement at home and abroad....
The advanced workers and union militants, disgusted with the
openly reactionary lickspittle policy of the Stalinist Labour
Progressive Party and critical of the opposition tactics of the
reformist top leadership of the C.C.F. and the class
collaborationist policies of the union bureaucrats, will find
Labour Challenge a weapon for the regrouping of the left wing.
Together we will educate ourselves in the principles of scientific
socialism as developed by the great leaders of the labour movement
Marx and Engels and their disciples. In our columns we will denounce
and expose the maneuvers and machinations of labour’s enemies both
open and hidden, including the renegades and traitors within the
ranks of labour itself.
Labour Challenge will in its columns fight fearlessly to
defend and extend the democratic rights bought at great cost by the
militant struggles in the past. Join us in fighting for:
- For Freedom of Speech and Assembly, for a Free Press.
- For full democratic rights for the French Canadian minority.
- Against any and all forms of racial prejudice and
- For independent political action by the Unions, independent
of the boss parties. For the affiliation of unions to the C.C.F.
with equal representation and full democratic rights.
For a C.C.F. Government in Ottawa and the Provinces and
Municipalities with the following program:
- A rising scale of wages to meet the rising cost of living.
- Reduction of the hours of work with no reduction in pay to
meet the threat of unemployment.
- For the nationalization of industry under workers control.
- For the confiscation of all war profits.
- Full support to the struggles of the European masses for
In analyzing this statement, it is clear that the Trotskyists are
looking to regroup the left. The newspaper is addressed to "left wing"
people, advanced workers who have become dissatisfied with the
leaderships of the C.C.F., L.P.P. or trade unions. They are addressing
workers involved in one or more of these three organizations. This view
of the audience of the newspaper determines the nature of the material
found in the press.
The headline story for the first issue of Labour Challenge is
on the Ontario and national elections called for June 4th and 11th
respectively. This article is headlined "For a C.C.F. Gov’t", followed
by a smaller head stating, "For Independent Labour Political Action Vote
C.C.F.'' The article explains that "Labour Challenge will give
critical support to all C.C.F. candidates and urges the workers to elect
a C.C.F. Government." It suggests that the C.C.F. represents a labour
alternative to "the two old parties, the Liberals and Progressive
Conservatives'' who ''represent the interests of the monopolists.''
The article also explains why the newspaper does not call for a vote
for the Labour Progressive Party and discusses
its role in the elections.
In this favourable situation for labour, the Labour Progressive
Party is attempting to drag the workers back into the swamp of
capitalist politics. They falsely claim that the Tories are the sole
party of reaction and the Liberals are the party of the middle
classes. Therefore, argues the L.P.P., Labour must unite with the
Liberal Party. History has proven that the middle classes follow
either the capitalists or the workers and is unable to play an
independent role. The decisive factor in winning their support for
labour is the determination of the workers themselves to accomplish
their historic mission. Compromise with the capitalist parties which
cannot solve the crisis of the system, will drive the middle class
into the camp of reaction.
Because the Labour Progressive Party today supports the
capitalist system and the boss parties it has earned the scorn and
enmity of the advanced workers. It can look forward to a thorough
and decisive defeat in the coming elections. The candidates of the
L.P.P. can in no sense be considered as workers' candidates in this
election; but rather as capitalist candidates, masquerading under
the labour banner.
This first issue of Labour Challenge, with its statement of
purpose and policy, and election program, sets out rather clearly the
nature of the Trotskyist grouping in Canada at this point in history.
They existed not as a party, but as a propaganda group. They addressed
their propaganda to the "advanced layers" in the working class whom they
viewed as being members and the periphery of the C.C.F., L.P.P. and the
trade unions. Finally, they looked to group these militants as
supporters of Labour Challenge. The newspaper was the main link
between Trotskyists across the country and the statement of their
positions and politics.
Yet, other than the explicit political statements, there are a number
of other things one can learn about the Trotskyists from their
newspaper. In the first issue, there is a column entitled "The Manager's
Column." In this column there is a statement noting that, "like all
workers' papers, Labour Challenge is not a profit-making
enterprise. It carries no paid advertisements. It is not subsidized by
the monopolists, but depends on the support of the workers." Included in
this column is an acknowledgment of support totaling $120.00 for the
publication of the newspaper. In this column there is not a break down
of where the money came from, geographically, but it is interesting to
note that the largest contribution was $20.00 with six contributions of
$10.00 and the remainder of $5.00 and less. Though money raised should
not be seen as a major index of the influence of the paper, as a general
rule one could assume that if the paper proved popular contributions
would at least continue and quite likely increase. Similarly one could
look to the distribution figures for the newspaper. Particular attention
should be paid to the Manager’s Column and any such material which does
appear in the paper.
The second issue of the paper, dated July 1945, includes a letter
from one ''E.M." from Vancouver. The letter looks to expose an election
misrepresentation by the L.P.P. The Letters column is also an area where
one can gauge somewhat the influence of the newspaper. It is interesting
to note for example, that though the newspaper is circulated in a
variety of centres across Canada a proportionally larger number of
letters are printed from B.C. than any other area. This could reflect
that more letters are sent to the paper from B.C. or it could be merely
the selection of the editors.
The August 1945 issue represents the first appearance of articles
sent to the paper from B.C. The fact that it takes three months for the
first B.C. article could reflect the delay discussed earlier in
publishing the paper as a monthly in Toronto. But another possibility is
that the newspaper did not have organized supporters in B.C. until after
its publication. This would be a valuable question to pursue through
other sources, either interview with persons involved or through
national office correspondence. The question one would seek to answer
is: is the launching of the newspaper a regrouping of the dispersed
Trotskyists or does it represent a complete break and a complete
reconstruction of a Trotskyist group?
The two articles from B.C. in the August 1945 issue are both on trade
union questions. The first is a conjunctural analysis which concludes
with posing the "need for a left wing in
the west coast unions."
The main thrust of the article is a critique
of the L.P.P. leadership in the unions of the B.C. basic
industries and their refusal to struggle for better wages and working
conditions and their support of compulsory arbitration.
The second article, which flows from the first, is an explanation of
why the B.C. Trotskyists expect the west coast will be hard hit in the
post war period. Both articles are signed by "B.C. Unionist."
The use of initials or titles such as B.C. Unionist makes the job of
a historian more difficult. To add to the confusion, the newspaper also
uses pseudonyms. This makes it very difficult to tell for certain
whether the newspaper has a number of correspondents or one extremely
active writer. But as the war ends less attention is paid to the
security of correspondents and signed articles with authors’ proper
names begin to appear.
The September 1945 issue of Labour Challenge appeared with the
end of the second world war. The massive headline on the front page of
the newspaper, in 120 point print states; "There is no Peace," followed
in smaller print by "only socialism can save mankind from atomic
destruction in another world war." When one considers that the country
had just ended six years of war, the headline must have been shocking.
It also stands in contrast to the newspapers of the other left groups
which tended to emphasize the victory over Japan.
This issue also notes the expulsion from the L.P.P. of its B.C.
leader Fergus McKean. This was a period when the communist parties in
both Canada and the United States were reconsidering their war-time
nationalism. The Trotskyists who had been critics of the "win the war"
policy of the communist parties took the offensive in reminding workers
and the rank and file of the L.P.P. of its war-time policies.
The workers of B.C. and of Canada remember the sellouts,
piecework, 7-day week, speed up, neglect to fight for conditions,
campaigns against militant workers, Murphy's Agreement in Trail
(article 9 arrests of 'saboteurs' - any worker who raised his voice
against sellouts by Blaylock and Murphy). All these things and
scores of others must be remembered. No excuses should be accepted
or allowed, because their people (the 'leaders') knew better; and
even now they refuse to trace the 'mistakes' of Browder's master,
knowing full well that Browder is only a pawn, the same as
themselves. The workers and honest rank and file members must not
forget these traitors. 
By October of 1945, the Trotskyists had experienced modest growth.
They launched a fund drive for $1000.00 by January 1946 in order to
publish a twice-monthly Labour Challenge. They listed a series of
quotas for areas, with Prince Rupert as the only B.C. listing.
Subsequent listings of the quotas, though, included Vancouver.
The Manager's Column for October also notes that the newspaper has
successfully completed its first subscription drive having received 604
subscriptions, which was 110% of the quota by the closing date of
October 1, 1945. The success of the subscription drive, the launching of
a fund drive and the proposed launching of a twice weekly can all be
viewed as reflecting a growth in the influence of the paper with
expectations by the editors of continuing growth.
The optimism of the Trotskyists must be seen in the light of the
post-war labour upsurge. This labour upsurge is reported by Stuart
Jamieson in his task force report on labour relations entitled, Times
of Trouble; Labour Unrest and Industrial Conflict in Canada 1900-66.
Industrial relations generally in the five years immediately
following World War II were superficially similar to those following
World War I. Union membership had grown rapidly during and
immediately after both wars and reached record numbers. Strikes,
likewise, reached an all-time high in frequency, size and time loss
in 1946 as in 1919. In 1947 they were even larger in number though
far smaller in workers involved and time loss than in 1946, but
still far larger in these latter respects than in most years up to
then — again a pattern similar to 1920.
Following this two-year peak there was a sharp decline in the
incidence of strikes, in all respects, for several years.
The Trotskyists looked to bring about the regroupment of left forces
in this period of unrest. The paper was the instrument which allowed
them to reach out to workers with their ideas. 1,500 copies of Labour
Challenge are distributed to workers at a rally in Toronto, held in
support of the Windsor Ford strike. 
Similarly over 1,500 copies of this October issue of Labour Challenge
were distributed in Vancouver in conjunction with the B.C. provincial
election. Labour Challenge called for
a vote for the C.C.F. and criticized the L.P.P. for splitting the vote
By November of 1945, Labour Challenge was being sold at
news-stands in Vancouver, Prince Rupert and Nanaimo, B.C. In following
with the period of growth, by January 1946 the fund drive quota is
achieved with $1,060.30 or 106% of the quota raised. Labour Challenge
is now launched as a twice monthly, and the editorial staff announces
that they are moving into a new office. The new twice-monthly Labour
Challenge changes its banner to the U.S. spelling
— Labour minus the letter "u"
— and the words "workers of the
world unite!" are added to the banner. The nature of this change and its
significance is not apparent from the source, but one might guess that
the addition of is the correction of an earlier oversight:
the classic Marx quote and the dropping of the "u" in labor
signals the abandoning of Canadian provincialism.
The paper in 1946 gives much attention to the plight of veterans and
in particular to the "bring the boys home campaign." The mid-February
1946 Labor Challenge has an article on the RCAF strike in England
with airmen demanding to be sent home.
On May 15th of 1946 the west coast lumberworkers begin a strike for
the 40 hour week, a 35¢ an hour increase and union security. Labor
Challenge gives extensive coverage to this strike, starting
immediately with its Mid-May issue. This lumber strike and their work in
the International Woodworkers of America later develops into a turning
point for the B.C. Trotskyists.
Before the lumberworkers’ strike, the B.C. C.C.F. holds its
convention at the Hotel Vancouver, at the end of April. At this
convention, the left conducts an opposition to the official resolution
in favour of the United Nations Organization. 43% of the votes cast are
against the UNO resolution. A leading figure in the Trotskyist
intervention into this convention is Lloyd Whalen, chairperson of the
trade union committee and a prominent I.W.A. militant.
By the summer of 1946 the Trotskyists begin to take steps towards
launching a party. Lloyd Whalen, as a Vancouver delegate to the Ninth
Annual convention of the C.C.F. attempts to get a resolution to the
floor at this convention calling for a revolutionary program for the
C.C.F. This attempt fails and Whalen’s resolution, along with a cover
letter explaining the failure of the resolution at the C.C.F.
convention, are published on the front page of Labor Challenge.
Whalen's resolution is the program of Labor Challenge quoted
earlier in this paper. In motivating the need for a revolutionary party
and program, Whalen states in his resolution the following:
The conditions in Canada and throughout the world call for a
revolutionary socialist party and an international program of
socialist demands that are capable of inspiring the workers and
farmers to action on the road to a socialist solution of their
The next issue of Labor Challenge,
dated September 1946, contains a front page article signed by "the
Editors" entitled, "The Revolutionary Workers Party must be Founded –
Now!" This article explains the steps needed and the attitude of the
paper towards the launching of a party.
World capitalism is rotten ripe for socialist transformation.
Only the lack of an independent revolutionary workers party based on
a correct program and with mass influence holds back the overthrow
of capitalism in a number of countries today. The building of the
vanguard party is our most pressing task. With such a party victory
is assured; without it, fascism, war and atomic destruction are
inevitable. This is the essence of the lessons of the history of
We have the program, it has already been hammered out and tested
in the fires of international class struggle. It is the program of
Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky, the program of the Fourth
International which applied to the conditions of Canada is the
program of Labor Challenge. The time has come to lift this
stainless banner from the realm of propaganda into the world of
action by founding the Canadian party of the Fourth International –
the independent revolutionary workers' party which can lead the
working people to victory.
Therefore, the editorial board of Labor Challenge in
consultation with the main supporting groups of our paper across the
country, is taking immediate steps to call a representative
conference of revolutionary socialists to found the new party as
soon as possible.
In keeping with this policy the Trotskyists in Vancouver formed a
Labor Challenge Supporters' Club. Members of this club included
Lloyd Whalen of the I.W.A., Reg W. Bullock
of the Boilermakers, and Tom J. Bradley, a former C.C.F. organizer and
trade unionist. Joining these trade unionists were Ruth Bullock, a
member of the C.C.F. Provincial Council
from North Vancouver, and Elaine McDonald, a former alternate member of
the C.C.F. provincial executive. Some further members of the North
Vancouver C.C.F. Club also resigned from the C.C.F. in order to join the
Labor Challenge Club.
This initial group was joined rather quickly by William White,
a member of the International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers
from Britannia Beach and two New Westminister C.C.F.ers, William and
In the beginning of October 1946 delegates from the Labor
Challenge clubs launched the Revolutionary Workers Party at a
convention in Toronto. Labor Challenge appeared after this
convention with the banner head, "Official Organ of the Revolutionary
Workers Party, Canadian Section, Fourth International."
On December of 1946 the newly founded R.W.P. in Vancouver wins a few
young members of the Vancouver Ginger Goodwin Labour Progressive Party
Youth Club. This receives rather prominent display in the newspaper as
the hope of the new party is to win people from the L.P.P. and the C.C.F.
into splitting from these organizations and joining the new party.
Yet one gets the feeling that the newspaper is not revealing about
the full story of the launching of the R.W.P. One wonders about the
extent to which the launching of the R.W.P. was orchestrated in advance.
For 15 months the newspaper conducted a campaign to win supporters to a
program designated as the revolutionary program in Canada. This campaign
was aimed primarily at the members and periphery of the C.C.F., L.P.P.
and trade unions. At the C.C.F. convention, Whalen puts forward a
resolution from a B.C. C.C.F. Club outlining the need for a
revolutionary workers party. When this position is not discussed in the
C.C.F., the militants in support of a revolutionary workers party begin
to set up clubs in support of Labor Challenge and split from the
From Labor Challenge one gets the distinct impression that as
the split was prepared the Trotskyists tended to think that they would
gain many more adherents than the number that actually did leave either
the C.C.F. or the L.P.P. The source does not state the number of members
who did leave the C.C.F., but does imply that the impact of this move on
the L.P.P. was not very significant.
Of course one would not expect for the most part Trotskyists to have
much influence on the L.P.P. To begin with, unlike with the C.C.F., the
Trotskyists were not members of the L.P.P. The hostility between the two
groups had long historic roots and can be seen both in the polemics
engaged in by the Trotskyists against the L.P.P. and in articles such as
one from May 1947 which notes the attack by a number of members of the
L.P.P. upon two distributors of Labor Challenge at the Vancouver
May Day parade. The Trotskyists in addressing the members of the L.P.P.
did so as opponents of the L.P.P. This relation would tend to close off
the members of the L.P.P. from the Trotskyists' arguments. But with the
C.C.F. the Trotskyists, at least until the end of 1946, had been
supporters of the C.C.F. albeit critical ones. Their criticisms of the
C.C.F., though quite extensive, were more likely to be listened to, as
criticisms of fellow C.C.F.ers rather than the criticisms of outsiders.
But the split in 1946 changed this relation between the Trotskyists and
The November 1948 Labor Challenge announces the ''routing" of
the "Stalinist'' (L.P.P.) leadership from the I.W.A. locals 1-217 and
1-357 by the Whalen-Bradley caucus in the I.W.A. Previous to this
announcement the newspaper had covered a number of criticisms of the
policies of the Pritchett-Dalskog leadership of the I.W.A. District One.
According to Labor Challenge the leadership of I.W.A. split
the union, forming a Canadian union, the Woodworkers Industrial Union of
The decision of the Pritchett-Dalskog leadership to break from
the I.W.A. was placed before a startled Executive Council meeting on
Oct. 3 as an accomplished fact. The issue, was the barring by U.S.
immigration authorities of 33 B.C. District delegates from attending
the Oregon convention, and the failure of the International
leadership to protest the ban. But this was only a smoke screen.
Despite all their protests, the Stalinists had been preparing this
union-busting move for a considerable time.
But the real reason behind the Stalinists’ desperation was that
all their crimes against the loggers were catching up on them. Their
looting of the treasury, their ballot stuffing, their bureaucratic
mismanagement of the District, their contempt for the interests of
the union ranks on the job, their wartime crimes of supporting the
speedup and piece work, and most recently their campaign to shove
down the loggers’ throats, a 13 cent settlement on a 35 cent wage
The article also gives a glimpse at the work being done by the
Trotskyists in the I.W.A.
The biggest single factor in the rallying of the workers around
the IWA was the Rank and File Caucus under the leadership of Lloyd
Whalen and Tom Bradley. These forces had been conducting a
principled and consistent fight against the Stalinists around a
completely anti-boss program for some time, and they stepped into
The I.W.A. struggle and the story of the Rank and File Caucus is
extremely important in piecing together an understanding of the
Trotskyist trade union work. The Trotskyists as we have seen, have
tended to address themselves to three areas, the C.C.F., L.P.P, and
trade unions. For the B.C. Trotskyists, their Trade union work tended to
focus on the I.W.A. But the newspaper as a source only gives us an
inkling of how they worked in the I.W.A. It would be valuable to find
out how long the Rank and File Caucus was in existence;
who besides Whalen and Bradley were in the leadership of it;
how it was organized and what sort of status it had in the union.
Sources that should be looked to in trying to find the answers to some
of these and other questions are the newspapers of the L.P.P., the
newspaper of the I.W.A., some of the union records and the city
newspapers of Vancouver. It would also be valuable to look at any R.W.P.
correspondence, leaflets, or any other material they might have written
with regards to the union.
One further point which comes out of the article on the I.W.A.
struggle is on the question of "red baiting." The Trotskyists were in a
rather difficult position for socialists. They were conducting a
struggle as left wing labour militants against the Stalinist leadership
of the union. They wanted to expose the mismanagement by the Stalinist
union leaders, but not open the door to a generalized anti-socialist
attack. They wanted to attack the L.P.P. union leadership from the left.
The newspaper takes up this issue in great detail, as it is viewed as an
extremely important question.
But at the same time as the destruction of the bureaucratic
Stalinist machine threw open new opportunities for the rise of a
leadership that expresses the fundamental interests of the loggers;
it has thrown open the door for the red baiters, boss stooges, self
seekers and degenerates of all types.
DANGERS IN SITUATION
The alarm was sounded when at the height of the fight the press
reported that the Catholic Church is organizing a trade union
caucus. This priest-ridden outfit under the leadership of T.M.
Moran, vice-president of the hated B.C. Electric, menaces the trade
union movement with a split along religious lines. The struggle has
already revealed, on the part of some officials within the IWA,
dangerous tendencies to collaborate with the boss loggers in the
fight with the WIUC.
The Stalinists are already on the run. Nothing could be more
helpful to them, nothing better could possibly be devised to give
them a new lease on life, to enable them to rally to their side once
again many valuable and wavering elements, than to permit even the
shadow of collaboration with the bosses. Red Baiting can only make
them appear as martyrs instead of criminal betrayers of the workers.
The rejection by the IWA of an operator's offer to bar WIUC
organizers from the Port McNeill area is the kind of action that
will destroy them.
This is not the first or the last time that the topic of "red
baiting" would appear in Labor Challenge. The April 1947 Labor
Challenge had a large half page article entitled "Red Baiting – Tool
of the Bosses." The Trotskyists as critics of the L.P.P. go to great
lengths to make it clear that their case against the L.P.P. is from the
left and not part of an anti-communist campaign.
With the victory in the I.W.A., the launching of the R.W.P. and the
opening of a Vancouver headquarters on Cordova Street, the first
Trotskyist headquarters in this period, outside of Toronto,
 the B.C. Trotskyists appear to be at their
peak of influence in the post war period. This peak for the Trotskyists
appears to be a cross-country occurrence. In Toronto in January of 1949
the R.W.P. candidate for Mayor of Toronto received 23,777 votes, which
was about 20% of the votes cast. As Labor Challenge stated, "On
January 1st one out of five who went to the Toronto polls to elect a
City Council cast their mayoralty vote for Ross Dowson, the candidate of
the Revolutionary Workers Party."
One interesting point is the fact that the B.C. Trotskyists did not
during this period run in the Vancouver municipal elections. In Toronto,
the R.W.P. consistently ran a candidate, in fact the same candidate for
Mayor in each election. But the municipal elections in Vancouver appear
to get no attention from the B.C. Trotskyists, and they are not even
mentioned in Labor Challenge.
For the next period, the late 1940's early 1950's Labor Challenge
prints a number of stories on the left wing inside the B.C. C.C.F.
usually giving them tactical advice such as the article that appeared in
the March 1950 Labor Challenge, which advises the left wing to
consolidate against a well-organized right at the forthcoming C.C.F.
As the Fifties continue, the attacks on the left wing of the B.C.
C.C.F. are further documented by Labor Challenge. In the
Mid-April 1951 issue in an article entitled, "Trotskyism and the C.C.F."
the Trotskyists outline a slightly different approach to the C.C.F. than
their approach at the time of the split and the launching of the R.W.P.
In this article Labor Challenge states:
The forces that first gathered around Labor Challenge were
shaped in the struggle against the Stalinization of the Communist
Party of Canada. In 1946 these forces were augmented, and not
accidentally, by the process of experiences similar in so many ways
to the Fellowship’s within the B.C. and Ontario C.C.F. and C.C.Y.M.
These leaders broke from the C.C.F. and helped raise the banner of
the independent revolutionary socialist party in this country.
THE RWP AND THE CCF
It was their conviction that the socialist revolution could be
best expedited at that juncture of events in this way through an
independent party of revolutionary socialists with an independent
organ making a direct appeal to the Canadian masses.
Labor Challenge from its very first issue has supported the
C.C.F. It continued to do so while it welcomed these additions to
its ranks and still does, regardless of the right turn registered at
the last national convention which has been continuing to affect the
course of the movement. Its true relationship to the C.C.F. would be
properly expressed by it being an affiliate of the C.C.F. such as
the old Independent Labor Party was in the days before the Coldwell
gang tore this provision out of the constitution.
There are a number of seemingly small, but significant changes
registered in this article. First, though the article in its entirety
implies that the left in the C.C.F. should join the R.W.P. it does not
come out directly and pose the R.W.P. as an alternative to these
militants. This stands in marked contrast to the position of the R.W.P.
in 1946 when it was calling upon all militants to leave the C.C.F., quit
the party outright and join the R.W.P. Second, this is the first time
that the newspaper suggests that it should be an affiliate of the C.C.F.
These shifts in policy somewhat set the stage for the nevertheless
surprise announcement in the April 1952 issue of Labor Challenge
of the dissolution of the R.W.P. This announcement in no way explains
the reason for the decision to dissolve the R.W.P., nor does it state
any policy as to the fate of Labor Challenge. So, after 102
issues, running from June 1945 until April 1952 Labor Challenge
disappears along with the public face of Trotskyism in Canada.
Again one is forced to look at other sources, internal party records
for example to try and piece together the reasons for the seemingly
sudden dissolution of the R.W.P. and discontinuance of Labor
Challenge. Yet, without looking at these other sources, Labor
Challenge does give some indications. First there is a change in the
attitude of the newspaper from the 1940’s to 1950’s. In the Forties the
newspaper addressed each issue as if the revolution was around the
corner. Looking back at the postwar labour upsurge, the growth of the
C.C.F. in the Forties, and the quick gains the Trotskyists were able to
make, their optimism seems somewhat justified. It is in this period that
they rather rapidly take their revolutionary program to the C.C.F.
national convention, and unable to gain an immediate hearing for their
ideas launch their own party, the Revolutionary Workers Party.
But the upsurge does not continue, in fact there is a downturn of
labour militancy, the break out of the Korean war, and a generalized
wave of reaction and attacks on the left in North America. R.W.P.ers no
doubt began to question whether their splitting from the C.C.F. was not
premature. Particularly in light of the fact that the main struggle
between the left wing of the C.C.F. and the leadership, appears to have
been centered in B.C., a place where the Trotskyists before the
launching of the R.W.P. had been influential. For the period from April
1952 until December 1955, there is not a public face to the Trotskyist
organization, and it is not clear in what organizational form the
Trotskyists exist. One can assume that they continued in some
organizational form, because in December 1955, a new newspaper, the
Workers Vanguard, published in Toronto, appears. The first issue of
this paper announces the formation of the Socialist Education League.
The announcement states that the league "is a product of the crisis that
confronts the C.C.F." It further goes on to state that the purpose of
the league is to "fight against the Liberal-reformist policies that the
present leadership (of the C.C.F.) are foisting upon the movement and to
fight for a socialist C.C.F." The announcement explains how the S.E.L.
Anyone familiar with the real conditions of the movement can only
conclude that for the whole next period the struggle to build a left
wing cannot proceed from entirely within the movement itself. The
S.E.L. has set itself this task.
The League, formed by some of those who have been expelled, by
some of the former members of the R.W.P., and by activists now in
the C.C.F., through its activities intends to stimulate the
development of the C.C.F. in a socialist direction. Through its
classes and forums it will provide what is so lacking in the
constituency organization. Through such activities as the Toronto
election campaign it will show workers, both members and supporters
of the C.C.F., what can be done, generating pressures against the
leadership. It will popularize the program of socialism, applying it
to the problems of the working people of this country.
It will develop the program that is necessary and around which
the left wing will rally if the C.C.F. is to be saved for socialism.
When conditions are favourable the League will seek to win
affiliation to the C.C.F. as the socialist education wing of the
One can assume from this statement that the Trotskyists probably
dissolved the R.W.P. in the 1950’s in order to enter the C.C.F. By 1955
they were once again on the road to forming an independent organization
with a public face.
Workers Vanguard appears at first as a monthly. For the first few
issues there do not appear to be any articles from B.C. Further it is
not clear whether the Trotskyists in B.C. are also part of the S.E.L.
The Trotskyists in Vancouver seem to be most involved in the Stanley
Park C.C.F. Club Forums, a left pole in the Vancouver C.C.F.
In the July 1956 Workers Vanguard there is an article covering
the speech by Malcolm Bruce, a founding member of the Workers Party of
Canada (the original communist party) on the Stalin cult. 1956 of course
marks the year of the Hungary uprising, and the communist party was
experiencing much internal strife at this time. It would be valuable to
see to what extent the Trotskyists were able to have any influence on
communists leaving the C.P.C. Also, it would be valuable to trace
Bruce's conversion to Trotskyism and see if he is an isolated case, or a
trend in that period among a layer of C.P.C. militants.
By February 1959, the Trotskyists launch their own forum series,
which is held monthly at first and called "The Vancouver Socialist
This period also begins the discussion within the C.C.F. on the "new
party." The Workers Vanguard had at least one article in each
issue on the New Party discussion; always putting forward the position
that the New Party should adopt socialist policies. There is an article,
for example, in the Mid-March 1961 issue of Workers Vanguard
noting that a number of B.C. C.C.F.ers are circulating a document urging
the NP to adopt a socialist program.
In June of 1961 Workers Vanguard announces the founding of the
League for Socialist Action. This group with a somewhat awkward name (Workers
Vanguard in fact refers to it as the L.A.S. in a headline on page
two, which one must assume to be a typographical error) was formed by
"the merging of the forces of the Socialist Information Center of
Vancouver and the S.E.L. of Toronto into a new national organization."
It would appear that the S.I.C. from Vancouver is an outgrowth from the
Vancouver Socialist Forum. The article goes on to explain that "the New
Party has no perspective without a socialist program. The winning of the
new party to such a program is the crying need of the moment. Such is
the aim, the purpose, the intention of the League for Socialist Action."
In this same issue, the majority of which is taken up by statements
about the L.S.A., a statement from the S.I.C. in Vancouver signed by
Malcolm Bruce and Ruth Bullock explains that the S.I.C. "came into being
when C.C.F. activists and trade unionists recognized the need of
providing an arena where conflicting, competing and parallel views could
meet." One interesting paragraph gives a rare hint about some of the
problems which might have existed between Trotskyists in B.C. and
Past differences, sectarian pride, or vanity – all the barriers
which have kept the socialists divided – must be broken down. Open
and honest discussions, agreement with a general perspective as a
guide to action, facilitates unity in action. We believe the program
published in the Vanguard, which is the outcome of a great many
contributions, will provide the medium for united socialist work in
the new party.
The national alliance of forces now being molded, and with which
we are pleased to align ourselves, seems to be a logical outgrowth
of our local aspirations.
With the founding of the L.S.A. the Trotskyists are once more a
united force, with a public face.
Though a number of sources other than the press of the Canadian
Trotskyists have been mentioned throughout this paper, it would be
valuable to have a general discussion about the limits of the Trotskyist
newspaper as a source. Possibly one of the most important drawbacks is
that it is the public face, and therefore does not explain the
discussions that the party has before it arrives at the positions
advertised in the newspaper. Further, it is not clear whether these are
unanimous decisions and when and where there is dissent. The source that
could answer these questions would be the internal discussion bulletins
of the party, correspondence between members and the national office and
possibly interviews with Trotskyists involved in these events.
Similarly, because it was not always possible for members to be open
about their membership, it is not always clear from the newspaper, who
is a member, and who is not. This is particularly confusing because the
newspaper will occasionally focus on an individual who may not be a
member, but who is playing an exemplary role in a struggle. A case in
point would be that of Rod Young, a one-time activist in the B.C. C.C.F.
and former C.C.F. Member of Parliament. The Workers Vanguard and
Labor Challenge both frequently cited different stands taken by
Young, and defended him against the B.C. C.C.F. leadership during his
expulsion. Was Young a Trotskyist?
As the Trotskyists tended to focus their propaganda on a particular
group, for example the L.P.P. or the I.W.A., or the C.C.F., it could be
valuable to look at the papers of these organizations and see how they
interpreted events which the Trotskyists mention in their press. It
would also be an aid in helping to gauge the influence of the
Trotskyists’ propaganda on these organizations. One might also add that
Rod Young edited a left paper entitled ''The Press" which might be
valuable to look at.
A further problem is the frequent lack of continuity in the
newspaper. Individuals and issues will appear and disappear with no
explanation as to their evolution. One very important example is that of
Lloyd Whalen and Tom Bradley. Whalen and Bradley led the Rank and File
Caucus in the I.W.A. which was viewed as a significant break through for
the Trotskyists in this important union in B.C. After the victory in
1948 there is almost no mention of Bradley or Whalen. In the
Mid-December 1958 issue of Workers Vanguard, we discover that
Whalen is still in charge of Local 217 of the I.W.A. and now also the
chairman of the Vancouver and District Labor Council but one would
assume from the following passage that he is no longer a Trotskyist.
Whalen, in years gone by, before he became a bureaucratized
conservative labor leader, played a militant oppositional role in
the union. He rose in the union as an oppositionist to the corrupt
Stalinist machine which was displaced in 1948. Since then, until the
past year, he was sharply critical of the B.C. district leadership's
collaboration with the employers. Now that he has made his peace in
that circle, he has little of his old militancy left, except for an
occasional obvious demagogic verbal lashing against his new opponent
– the rank and file.
When and how Whalen broke with the Trotskyists is not mentioned.
The Trotskyists have always considered themselves part of an
international organization, the Fourth International. The first few
years of Labor Challenge published a series of Statements from
this body, particularly May Day addresses and the like. It also carried
reports of the plenums of the International and the occasional report on
Trotskyists in other countries, particularly the United States. When one
considers that throughout most of the period that there was a Trotskyist
organization in Vancouver there was also a branch of the U.S. Socialist
Workers Party in Seattle, it might be valuable to see the extent to
which the Vancouver Trotskyists collaborate with their comrades
immediately to the south who were certainly more accessible for
discussions, than their cothinkers in Toronto.
Pierre Frank, in his book, La Quatrième Internationale;
Contribution à l’histoire du mouvement trotskyste explains that the
Third World Congress of the Fourth International held in 1951 adopted a
tactic of entry work, into the social democratic (such as the C.C.F.)
and communist parties. The discussion on entryism which followed the
adopting of this position led to a split in the international Trotskyist
movement which occurred in 1953. It’s quite significant to note that
these years correspond with the probable reentry of the Trotskyists in
Canada into the C.C.F. and the dissolving of the R.W.P. These
occurrences would point to the importance of looking at the relations
between the R.W.P. and the Fourth International. 
In spite of the weaknesses and gaps, the newspaper of the Trotskyists
provided the best and most important single source in unraveling their
history. As the public face of the party it is a continuing record of
their views on what is important, where they stand on issues and what
they are doing.
Elaine Bernard, 1977, 2006
1. James P.
Cannon, Letters from Prison (New York: Merit Publishers, 1968),
"For A C.C.F. Gov't." Labour Challenge, June 1, 1945, p. 1.
3. J. Smith, "L.P.P.
Discussion Leads to Expulsion of Chief Critic." Labour Challenge,
September 1945, p. 3.
4. Stuart M.
Jamieson, Times of Trouble: Labour Unrest and Industrial Conflict in
Canada, 1900-66 (Ottawa: Task Force on Labour Relations), 1968, p.
Column." Labour Challenge, October 1945, p. 3.
Column." Labour Challenge, November 1945, p. 3.
7. "37,000 West
Coast Lumberworkers Strike Leading Canadian Labour in Wage Struggle."
Labor Challenge, Mid-May 1946.
8. "Former CCF
Members Form Labor Challenge Group." Labor Challenge,
Mid-September 1946, p. 1.
Delegate from B.C. Issues Call for Revolutionary Program." Labor
Challenge, Mid-August 1946, p. 1.
CCF Members Form Labor Challenge Group’" Labor Challenge,
Mid-September 1946, p. 1.
Convention Launches The Revolutionary Workers Party." Labor Challenge,
Mid-October, 1946, p. 1.
B.C. LPP Members Break; Support RWP." Labor Challenge, December
1946, p. 1.
14. Paul Kane,
"IWA Routs Stalinists, Way Open to New Gains." Labor Challenge.
November 1948, p. 1.
15. Ibid, p.
Opens Vancouver Hqtrs, Dowson Addresses Coast Meeting." Labor
Challenge, November 1948, p. 2.
Vote for RWP Candidate." Labor Challenge, January 1949, p.1.
and the CCF." Labor Challenge, Mid-Apri1 1951, p. 3.
Stanton, "Socialist Education League Organized." Workers Vanguard,
December 1955, p. 1.
Socialist Forum Discusses Military Budget." Workers Vanguard,
Mid-February 1959, p. 3.
Frank, La Quatrième Internationale; Contribution à l’histoire du
mouvement trotskyste (Paris: François Maspero 1973), pp. 72-84.
Commonwealth Youth Movement
C.P.C. Communist Party of
F.I. Fourth International
Woodworkers of America
L.P.P. Labour Progressive
L.S.A. League for
N.P. New Party
U.N.O. United Nations
Industrial Union of Canada
Copyright South Branch Publishing. All