Greet Canadian Bolsheviks
The article below is reprinted, with permission, from the December 3,
2004 issue of
Socialist Voice, a "forum for discussion of the
principles of Marxism as applied to workers' struggles today."
Vancouver, Toronto Meetings Celebrate
New Edition of 'Canadian
By Roger Annis
"In the years immediately following
World War I, something unprecedented happened in the socialist left in
Canada. The multiple quarrelling groups that had comprised the left
until then shook themselves up and transformed themselves. The result
was a new party that encompassed at least 80% of the members of its
predecessor organizations. The Communist Party of Canada quickly became
the largest and most influential group on the left everywhere in Canada,
far outpacing all existing organizations and dominating militant labour
politics in Canada in the 1920s."
With those words, Ian Angus opened his
presentations to two large and successful meetings, in Vancouver and
Toronto, celebrating publication of a new edition of his book, Canadian
Bolsheviks: The Early Years of the Communist party of
Since it was published in 1981,
Canadian Bolsheviks has been widely accepted as the definitive history
of the first decade of the Communist Party of Canada. Unusually, for a
book written from a revolutionary Marxist perspective, it is highly
regarded by academic historians of the Canadian labour movement and often
cited as a key source.
And it has educated countless Canadian
radicals about the rich history of revolutionary socialism in this
country. Although it has been out of print for several years, used copies
continue to be read and re-read by activists seeking to connect with the
revolutionary socialist tradition in Canada.
This year the Socialist History Project (www.socialisthistory.ca)
republished Canadian Bolsheviks. The initial response the new
edition has been even more positive than the first time around.
That was clearly shown by the success of
book celebrations held in Vancouver and Toronto in November. It’s hard to
recall any socialist meetings in recent years that have been supported by
such a broad range of sponsors, or that featured such open and fraternal
discussion among groups and individuals representing many divergent
opinions on the left.
Forty-eight copies of the book were sold
at the two meetings—an impressive tally.
The 70 people who attended the Vancouver
meeting on November 17 ranged from long-time socialist veterans to an
impressive number of young people whose first political experiences were
in the anti-Iraq-war movement. It was sponsored by International
Socialists, LeftTurn.ca, New Socialist Group, Rebuilding the Left,
Seven Oaks Magazine, and Socialist Voice.
The chair, well-known author and activist
Cynthia Flood, pointed out that the impact of the Russian Revolution on
the Canadian left is not well-known to the new generation of radical
youth, but the lessons of that tumultuous time are still relevant today.
"We need some understanding of ‘then’, so we can face ‘now’," she said.
"That is why the reappearance of Ian Angus’ book is so welcome. It has
come out of an expressed wish and desire on the part of many to have the
book available again."
In addition to Ian Angus, speakers
included Dale McCartney, an editor of Seven Oaks magazine, Joey Hartman,
vice-president of the Pacific Northwest Labor History Association, and
Mark Leier, director of the Centre for Labour Studies at Simon Fraser
Many meetings that are attended by people
from a wide range of Marxist groups end in sterile debates on obscure (to
most people) points of history and theory. That wasn’t true of the
Canadian Bolsheviks celebration in Vancouver. A friendly and lively
discussion ended the formal meeting on a positive note, and it continued
informally for more than an hour in a café down the street.
While in Vancouver, Angus was interviewed
by The Republic, a local alternative newspaper, and on the Redeye
show on Co-Op radio. He also spoke to a History Department seminar at
Simon Fraser University, arranged by Mark Leier.
More than 60 people attended the Toronto
meeting on November 25, sponsored by International Socialists, Marxist
Institute, New Socialist Group, Socialist Action, Socialist Alternative,
Socialist Project, and Socialist Voice. The sponsors and other
Marxist groups participated in a literature sale offering a wide variety
of socialist books, pamphlets, and periodicals.
The meeting was chaired by Socialist
Voice editor John Riddell, and was addressed by Carolyn Egan of the
International Socialists and Sam Gindin of Socialist Project. Egan, who is
president of the Toronto Area Council of the United Steelworkers,
described how the first edition of Canadian Bolsheviks shaped her own
political thinking in the 1980s. Gindin, a long-time Canadian Auto Workers
leader who now holds the Packer Chair of Social Justice at York
University, described it as important contribution to rebuilding the left
Noted labour historian Bryan Palmer was
unable to attend, but he sent a statement that was read by John Riddell.
Palmer described Canadian Bolsheviks as "a book that in its
researches and in its politics charted new approaches to the communist
path, approaches that were meant to revitalize the revolutionary Left.
When I put it down I knew that I had been educated in the best senses of
And Palmer expressed the hope that its
republication will "galvanize serious scrutiny of the original years of
North American communism, when a revolutionary Left made impressive
inroads into the wider workers' movement, establishing a presence in the
trade unions and entering the fray of class politics at many levels."
Roots of Revolutionary Socialism
At both meetings, Ian Angus’s
presentations focused on the roots of revolutionary socialism in Canada,
explaining how Canada’s existing Marxist organizations were excited and
transformed by the Russian Revolution in 1917: "When the Bolsheviks took
power in November 1917, suddenly theory became reality – instead of just
talking about a workers’ government that would end capitalism, the Russian
revolutionaries were actually building it."
The example of the Russian Bolsheviks, and
their own experiences in the great Canadian labour upsurge of 1919, led
Canadian Marxists to launch a "party of a new type" that sought to fuse
the program of Marxism with the living struggles of workers across Canada,
and to participate actively in the worldwide struggle for socialism.
Angus also highlighted some of the
achievements of the Communist Party during the 1920s. It helped lead major
strikes, fought for the rights of women and immigrant workers, and
defended the unity of the working class during elections by working with
other working class parties in the Canadian Labor Party.
He concluded: "Canadian Bolsheviks
is about the birth and death of a revolutionary party. The early
Communists didn’t make a revolution, but they did show that a genuine
revolutionary party can be built in Canada. Their victories—and their
mistakes and defeats—provide powerful lessons for us today."
For over 80 years, socialists worldwide
have looked to the Russian Revolution and the early Communist
International for inspiration and insight. By making Canadian
Bolsheviks generally available again, the Socialist History Project
has made an important contribution to building the revolutionary movement
in the 21st century.
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