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Canadian Bolsheviks:
A Review by William Rodney

This  review of Canadian Bolsheviks and of the CPCs official history, was published in The Globe and Mail, May 1, 1982. William Rodney was a professor of History at Royal Roads in Victoria BC, and  the author of Soldiers Of The International: A History Of The Communist Party Of Canada, 1919-1929.

Canadian Communists
Canadian Communists as a homegrown product of the workers or as a border guard of the Soviet Union

Canada’s Party of Socialism: A History of The Communist Party of Canada 1921-1976, Edited By Gerry Van Houten. Progress Books, 319 pages, $29.95 (cloth), $14:95 (paper)

Canadian Bolsheviks: The Early Years of the Communist Party In Canada. by Ian Angus. Pathfinder Press, 404 pages, $33 (cloth), $9.95 (paper)

Review By William Rodney

Canada’s Party Of Socialism is the Communist Party of Canada’s latest and most sophisticated attempt to tell its story. Written under the supervision of a history commission which included the present general secretary and five prominent old-guard members, the work is intended to "unmask falsifiers of working-class history," and to counter revisionists who "desire socialism without working-class power, without the sure guidelines of Marxism-Leninism."

Its mandate established, the book argues that the CPC is a truly home-grown product which emerged from trade union development and working-class awareness created by socialist organizations prior to the First World War. In hewing to its thesis, however, the book invariably runs afoul of its links with the Soviet Union and "the historical significance of existing socialism in the Soviet Union." Thus, in a nod to historical scholarship, the role of the Communist International (Comintern) in the party’s formation is acknowledged but minimized; there is no mention of Comintern representatives Kallervo Manner and Andre Marty who came to Canada in the thirties to arbitrate disputes between the CPC’s leadership and its auxiliaries. Similarly, the expulsions of party chairman Maurice Spector and general secretary Jack Macdonald at the end of the twenties are treated superficially, confirming that the heresies of Leon Trotsky and Jay Lovestone are still sensitive ideological subjects.

Predictably, Tim Buck’s emergence in 1930 as party leader and the architect of the CPC’s subsequent transformation is considered a victory for socialism. Again, despite the book’s attempts to put a Canadian face on policies followed by the CPC during and since the thirties ("bolshevization," "class against class," its stand during the Spanish Civil War, the endorsement of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact and its postwar positions on imperialism, NATO and the United States), the book confirms yet again the party’s unquestioning accordance to Kremlin. requirements. Stalin, too, is rehabilitated in’ compliance with current Soviet practice. As a result, in approach and style the book roads like a compendium of resolutions discussed and approved at party conventions.

To its credit, the book touches upon controversial issues to a greater extent than previous party-sponsored publications. The Igor Gouzenko revelations of Soviet espionage, the dispatch in 1967 of a party commission to the Soviet Union to investigate charges of Russification of the Ukraine, and the Soviet suppression of Hungary and Czechoslovakia are briefly discussed and pronounced upon to the CPC’s consistent advantage. Again, individuals who broke with the party are noted minimally and only as necessity requires. Others, such as Rev. James G. Endicott, who gave the party much comfort and service for so long through his efforts in the World Peace Council, are not listed.

The book contains many photographs of party members and groups, most of them not previously published. Significantly, there is no bibliography. Instead, the book rests its case on references drawn overwhelmingly from’ the party archives and approved secondary sources which are listed at the end of each chapter. Sadly, despite its claims, an accurate account of the CPC’s history and its place in Canadian society still remains to be written.

Canadian Bolsheviks

Like its party counterpart, Canadian Bolsheviks is also based on a thesis. Ian Angus, a professed Marxist, is convinced that the CPC was transformed at the end of its first decade from a genuinely revolutionary party into "a border guard of the Soviet Union." Until the leadership change triggered by Spector and Macdonald’s expulsions, the Canadian party, in his estimation, was an indigenous body truly dedicated to the cause of proletarian revolution. Although it accepted Comintern’s guidance, says Angus, the CPC took orders from no one. He maintains that after 1930, the CPC’s program and policies were determined "by the narrowly perceived diplomatic concerns of Soviet bureaucracy," not by Canadian working-class interests.

In the first of three major sections, Angus traces the emergence of the Communist Party, noting the influence of the socialists active in Canada before and during the First World War and the impact of the Russian Revolution on the Canadian labor movement. It was the latter which, although little understood, provided the stimulus for a fundamental realignment of the left. Consequently, the first Communist Party which emerged immediately after the war stressed revolutionary theory instead of integrating itself into Canadian labor organizations. Arrests during 1919 drove the party underground and forced ultimate incorporation into the new party which was fused together under Comintern direction in 1921. With the formation of overt and covert wings, the CPC, notably through its public counterpart, the Worker’s Party of Canada (WPC), propelled itself into the mainstream of the Canadian labor movement,

The decay and decline of that achievement is the subject of the second part of the book. Angus concludes that the leadership provided by the WPC/CPC began [to degenerate? words missing in original] as a result of dramatic changes in Comintern following Lenin’s death. .What had been an international forum for discussion instead became a commend structure manned by Russian bureaucrats. Dissent was forbidden. Trotsky’s views became anathema and Stalin’s policies began the disintegration which affected Comintern and ultimately shattered the CPC.

The fragmentation of the CPC forms the third part of Angus’s book. He chronicles Spector’s expulsion, Macdonald’s defeat through the maneuverings of Buck and Stewart Smith, and the nature and extent of Comintern’s intervention in the Canadian party’s affairs. The section is characterized by a recapitulation of Buck’s version of the same events, and concludes with chapters that cover the new leader’s rise to power within the CPC as well as the changes that were imposed on the party.

In terms of scholarship and analysis, there is no comparison between Canada’s Party Of Socialism and Angus’s account of the CPC’s first decade. Angus draws on an impressive range of sources and reproduces major documents, including statements by Macdonald and Spector, at least one of which has not been published before in its entirety. But the book is not without blemishes. The analysis of the first attempt to form a Canadian Communist Party is based more on surmises than evidence. Angus is prone to regard Macdonald and Spector in the most favorable light, and to look back on their party in terms of what might have been instead of what was.

Nevertheless, Canada’s Bolsheviks is a book that cannot be overlooked by anyone interested in Canadian labor history and the part played in its development by Canadian Communists. It is a story too little known, and Angus, to his credit, has done much to rectify that imbalance.

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