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Frank Watson’s Antiwar Speech,
September 1939

Canada declared war in September 1939, and the first casualty was free speech.

The day after war was declared, Frank Watson, a supporter of the Socialist Workers League who had recently moved from Britain to Canada, gave an antiwar speech at an SWL street meeting, at the corner of Bloor and Brunswick in Toronto. He was arrested on the spot, and so became the first person charged under the new Defence of Canada Regulations. He was convicted and sentenced to a year in jail.

Ian Angus recently found this account of Watson’s speech in the Ross Dowson papers, which are now available to researchers at Archives Canada in Ottawa.

To our knowledge, this article has never been published before. The original, a typed, double-spaced, two-page article, bears no byline, headline, or date. The subheads were in the original. Possibly it was intended for the SWL newspaper, Socialist Action, which was  published illegally on an intermittent basis during the war, but it does not appear in any of the issues that have survived.

For more on this subject, see The Left in Canada in World War II.

Watson began his speech by declaring the unalterable opposition of the Fourth Internationalists to Hitlerism, not only in Germany but in every country including Canada. For this reason they opposed the war, as a war between rival dictatorships "fighting each other for a re-division of the spoils stolen from the masses of the world".


The British Empire, he continued, is no democracy but a ragbag of territories stolen from other peoples during the last 200 years. What democratic rights the workers of England and the Dominions have wrested for themselves have still been at the expense of dictatorship over the 500 million colored peoples of the Empire. We are being asked to fight for a "democracy" which forces women to work at nine cents a day in the coal mines of India, which compels the negro workers of South Africa to live in a pestilential ghetto and to carry as many as eleven "passes" in order to move about, a democracy which confiscates the land of Kenya farmers and forces them into wage labour at starvation rates.

We are asked to ally ourselves with another "democracy" – The French Empire – with a similar record, which shoots down strikers at home and abroad, and drowns in blood the native movements for colonial freedom. With such "allies" Canadian workers are asked to fight for the rescue of the "democracy" of a gang of reactionary Polish landlords, oppressors of Ukrainians and persecutors of Jews.


Already, Watson continued, we have been deprived of the only democratic right we should wish to defend. In Great Britain, the Privy Council – an appointed, not an elected body – has been given powers equal to Hitler’s, and has used them to end civil liberties, to rule by decree, and to break up trade unionism by diluting the industrial plants with thousands of non-unionist workers. In India, the viceroy, appointee of the Privy Council, also rules by decree and vetoes the legislation of a Parliament supposed to represent 360 million people.


Here in Canada the same things are happening. "Workers, when they tell us to fight for democracy in Europe, reply by fighting for it here. Fight to prevent your trade unions going the way of the British unions, fight to defend and extend your living standard. Let the bourgeois give us democracy if they want us to fight for it.

"When the Canadian millionaires felt that their wealth was safe, they turned the unemployed single workers on the streets to starve, without a cent of relief. Now that they feel their wealth is in danger, they can afford $1.30 a day, and 85 cents living allowance to these same unemployed to fight for Canada. For whose Canada? Not ours, we own nothing. The unemployed are being paid only to become the cannon-fodder of imperialism. Workers, let us first own Canada before we fight for it."


We cannot trust our own dictators to end the brutality and bestiality of the fascist dictatorships. Nor can we trust the Stalin regime of Russia. By his alliance with Hitler, Stalin has demoralized and betrayed the World working-class. The workers everywhere must rely on their own efforts, their own democratically built organs of struggle, to end Hitlerism and bring working-class freedom. The struggle against fascism is today, as yesterday, the struggle against capitalism, against imperialist war, and for socialism.

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