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Seven Oaks Reviews Canadian Bolsheviks

The article below is reprinted, with permission from the November 9, 2004 issue of Seven Oaks Magazine, a Vancouver-based publication that focuses on "politics, culture and resistance."


ESSAYS & REVIEWS
Canadian Bolsheviks: the importance
of Canadian popular history

by Dale McCartney

Canadian Bolsheviks: The Early years of the Communist Party of Canada, published 2004 by The Socialist History Project, in association with Trafford Publishing.

The field of popular history abounds with bad books. For every Zinnís Peopleís History of the United States there are a hundred Pierre Berton celebrations of white people on Canadaís frontiers. When it comes to Canadian history especially, quality books are few and far between. The more narrow the category, the more rare the quality book. For the left in Canada, there are only a handful of quality histories widely available and written in an engaging style. Thankfully, this month the reissue of Canadian Bolsheviks, by Ian Angus, makes the list one title longer.

Angusís book was originally published in 1981, and has been out of print for several years. This month, however, the book is being reissued, making Angusís path-breaking study widely available once again. The book is an exploration of the earliest years of the Communist Party of Canada, written for both an academic and a popular audience. Angus writes of the partyís roots in the Canadian Socialist tradition, and chronicles its formation as well as its first decade. Throughout he debunks myths and assesses victories and defeats for the party, illuminating a period in the history of the Canadian left that has received little treatment. When the book was first published, it filled an enormous gap in Canadian historiography, discussing a period and a group of people who had received far less attention than their place in Canadian history deserved. As Angus is quick to point out, as well, the other works on the early party had been written by leaders of the party many years after the events. Angus carefully analyzes their memories, and finds many of them lacking. Tim Buck, the leader of the party throughout the Stalinist period and the primary source (before the publication of Canadian Bolsheviks) for its history, comes under particularly intense scrutiny. Angus illustrates how carefully constructed much of Buckís history of the period was, and in the process demonstrates that his role has been considerably overestimated in the period before 1924.

On Wednesday, November 17, Seven Oaks is co-hosting an evening with Angus, launching the new release of the book and discussing the role of the Communist Party of Canada in its early years. Angusís book fits well with our broader cultural mission. His approach to history, both in his interest in the history of resistance and in his accessible style, are traits we here at Seven Oaks hope to emulate in our own writing. We feel strongly that works like Canadian Bolsheviks contribute to a cultural discussion both within traditional wings of the left, as well as outside of those groups, that is absolutely necessary in this country. An increasingly corporate media, coupled with a school system that largely ignores working class history, means that books like Angusís and a vibrant discussion about them is more important today than ever. For that reason, we hope that our readers will join us next Wednesday night, at the Little Mountain Learning Centre in Vancouver (3957 Main Street, or Main and 24th Avenue) at 7:30pm. The event is not only an excellent chance to meet and talk with Angus, as well as other leaders in the study of working class history, but it is also an opportunity for a community discussion of the issues this history raises. We hope to see you there.

For more information on Canadian Bolsheviks or its author, Ian Angus, visit www.socialisthistory.ca

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