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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, Vancouver, 1982).

She wrote this essay while she was a student in History at the University of British Columbia in 1977. It is posted with her permission.

A History of B.C. Trotskyism
as seen through Labor Challenge and Workers Vanguard, 1945-1961

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 since 1932.

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. [1]

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 newspaper.

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.

Labour Challenge 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:

  1. For Freedom of Speech and Assembly, for a Free Press.
  2. For full democratic rights for the French Canadian minority.
  3. Against any and all forms of racial prejudice and oppression.
  4. 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:

  1. A rising scale of wages to meet the rising cost of living.
  2. Reduction of the hours of work with no reduction in pay to meet the threat of unemployment.
  3. For the nationalization of industry under workers control.
  4. For the confiscation of all war profits.
  5. Full support to the struggles of the European masses for Socialism.

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.'' [2]

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. [3]

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. [4]

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. [5] Similarly over 1,500 copies of this October issue of Labour Challenge were distributed in Vancouver in conjunction with the B.C. provincial election.[6] Labour Challenge called for a vote for the C.C.F. and criticized the L.P.P. for splitting the vote in B.C.

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.[7]

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.[8]

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 problems. [9]

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 world labor.

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.[10]

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 Lillian Whitney.[11]

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."[12]

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.[13]

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 C.C.F.

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 C.C.F.

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 Canada.

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 demand. [14]

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 breach.

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.


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.[15]

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, [16] 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."[17]

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. convention.

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.


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. [18]

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. came about:

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 movement. [19]

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.[20]

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 Forum."[21]

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 Toronto.

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. [22]

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.

Copyright © Elaine Bernard, 1977, 2006


1. James P. Cannon, Letters from Prison (New York: Merit Publishers, 1968), p. 271.

2. Editorial, "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. 95.

5. "Manager's Column." Labour Challenge, October 1945, p. 3.

6. "Manager's 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.

9. "CCF Delegate from B.C. Issues Call for Revolutionary Program." Labor Challenge, Mid-August 1946, p. 1.

10. "Former CCF Members Form Labor Challenge Group’" Labor Challenge, Mid-September 1946, p. 1.

11. Ibid.

12. "National Convention Launches The Revolutionary Workers Party." Labor Challenge, Mid-October, 1946, p. 1.

13. "Three 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. 1.

16. ''RWP Opens Vancouver Hqtrs, Dowson Addresses Coast Meeting." Labor Challenge, November 1948, p. 2.

17. "23,777 Vote for RWP Candidate." Labor Challenge, January 1949, p.1.

18. Trotskyism and the CCF." Labor Challenge, Mid-Apri1 1951, p. 3.

19. George Stanton, "Socialist Education League Organized." Workers Vanguard, December 1955, p. 1.

20. "Vancouver Socialist Forum Discusses Military Budget." Workers Vanguard, Mid-February 1959, p. 3.

21. Ibid.

22. Pierre Frank, La Quatrième Internationale; Contribution à l’histoire du mouvement trotskyste (Paris: François Maspero 1973), pp. 72-84.


C.C.F. Cooperative Commonwealth Federation

C.C.Y.M. Cooperative Commonwealth Youth Movement

C.P.C. Communist Party of Canada

F.I. Fourth International

I.W.A. International Woodworkers of America

L.P.P. Labour Progressive Party

L.S.A. League for Socialist Action

N.P. New Party

R.W.P. Revolutionary Workers Party

S.E.L. Socialist Education League

S.I.C. Socialist Information Center

U.N.O. United Nations Organization

W.I.U.C. Woodworkers Industrial Union of Canada

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