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New International, October 1938


E. Robertson

Is French Canada Going Fascist?

From New International, Vol.4 No.10, October 1938, pp.304-307.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


AT A POW-WOW in Kingston, Ontario, on July 12, an assortment of self-confessed Canadian fascists announced their fusion into a “National Unity Party” and for their Big Chief picked Adrien Arcand, henchman of Premier Duplessis of Quebec. The unification ceremonies were punctuated by war-whoops so dreadful the American “liberal” press was aroused to almost a fortnight of jitters before relapsing into the usual somnolence regarding affairs Canadian. The New York Post, in a series of reportorial alarums and excursions, calculated 100,000 armed pogromists in the new party, assumed underground links between it and all the goose-stepping Bunds and assorted Shirts of the US, and solemnly pictured an imminent uprising of all North American fascism, with bombers taking off from Canadian fields, subjugating Washington, and so, at one swoop, destroying the beloved democracies of Roosevelt and MacKenzie King.

Although the press reaction was mainly an illustration of liberal hysteria adapted to the game of circulation-boosting, it is true that the stock of the heil-boys and their ideas is on the way up in Quebec. The facts can be with difficulty gleaned from the boasts of the various führers. Only a month before the Kingston potlatch even the imaginative M. Arcand claimed but 15,000 members for his own blueshirt tribe; yet this was the largest of the groups making up the new NUP This has not prevented him from announcing 80,000 adherents to the latter already. It is likely that its total active, disciplined membership is less than 6,000, the great majority confined to Quebec; but even this is a force large enough for nuisance value. The various Anglophile grouplets, such as the Victoria Young Citizens’ League and the Vancouver Canadian Guards, which for the moment toss in the same bed with the French-Canadian fire-eaters, are scarcely more than paper names tacked to Arcand’s publicity hokum, and the same may be said for the shadowy bands of his “lieutenants”, Farr of Toronto and Whittaker of Winnipeg. The truth is that Arcand concocted his NUP in desperation after his own buddies had thrown him out of the French-Canadian separatist movement, in order to re-establish his usefulness for big business. Rival demagogues are outshining him in his own language and he has led whatever dupes he could into an unstable affiliation with any little western jew-baiter who would bow to his duce-ship.

The simon-pure Quebec separatists continue on their English-hating way, coached chiefly by Canada’s aspiring Coughlin, a learned fraud branded with the name of Abbé Groulx, who professes history at the benighted Catholic University of Montreal. The Abbé has a simple formula: drive out the bloodsucking “foreigners” (i.e., Anglo-Saxons), cut loose from the pagan British Empire, and make Quebec a corporate Catholic state at last fit for “Canadians” (i.e., French-Canadians). These views are given the magic of print by L’Unité, circulation 30,000, and La Nation, circulation 15,000. Paul Bouchard, editor of the latter, is said to take down his back hair weekly with Charpentier, head of the Catholic unions (membership 45,000). Ideologically akin is the National Corporatist Movement with 33,000 supporters in 1,245 Quebec parishes, which aims at a separate fascist state administered by the Roman Church. In such a political manure-heap it is natural to find four flourishing youth organizations of the same genus. Although one of them takes its name and program from the Jeunesse Patriote across the water, most of the younglings echo their parents in a repudiation of modern France, that den of republicans, reds, atheists, and church-taxers, and in a compensatory enthusiasm for those great Catholics, Franco and Mussolini.


Arcand, Fascist Chameleon

Arcand, with his more indiscriminate admirations, embracing the rulers of Portugal, Poland, and Germany (where Catholics haven’t had everything they wanted), and his willingness to play ball with the Anglo-Saxon scum, would be a minor figure in Quebec politics if it were not that his eclecticism itself makes him at present very valuable to Duplessis. For the latter is premier of a province which contains in addition to most of Canada’s French, a clustre of her very richest Anglo-Saxon bankers and bond-clippers – and contributors to his campaign chest. Hence Arcand continues to edit Duplessis’ big official daily, L’Illustration Nouvelle, and is in turn protected and encouraged in his own little affairs. These include the publishing of an official fascist muck-sheet, Le Combat National, which, under the emblem of a flaming torch, continues to smoke out “international Jewish finance and international Jewish communism”. Periodically it befouls the mails with supplements reprinting the fake Protocols of Zion (formerly made accessible to America by Henry Ford) and similar inflammatory anti-semitisms.

When he is not editing, Arcand peddles the same line in silvery lectures to hand-picked police-guarded audiences free of Annie Oakleys, or drilling his plug-uglies in “street-fighting tactics”, or getting his lady-like profile photographed for the newspapers. Interviewed earlier in the year by David Martin, he declared with disarming simplicity that he and his boys stood for “God, family, private property, and personal initiative ... We believe the Jews are responsible for all the evils in the world today”. Once in power, of course, it will be necessary to suppress not only Jews and Reds but “all other parties”. “We” would then “declare unionism obligatory for bosses and workers, and organize the corporate state”. [1] Needless to say the “unionism” to be cultivated will be the hothouse variety evolved by Mussolini; trade unions and parliaments are to be replaced by “corporates” wherein a single employer has a vote equal to that of all his employees and the state stands ready to break any deadlock by casting a vote in favor of “God, family, private property, and personal initiative”. M. Arcand is also interested in the lucubrations of the Imperial Fascist League in England, some of whose pamphlets he circulates, and he is rumored to be in comradely touch with Herr Kuhn of the USA.

Openly the new Arcand party seems to have made little progress since its trumpeted fusion and one can expect splits any time, what with the variegated aims of the outfit and a certain lack of color and originality in the Chief. Below ground, however, Arcand is preparing for just such an emergency by strengthening his tie-up with the still powerful Conservative Party and other respectably reactionary and nationally more dangerous organizations. In the last federal election he ran the entire Quebec campaign for the Conservatives. Since then it has become an open charge that Duplessis himself is a secret adviser in Arcand’s organization, and that most of his Cabinet are members, together with French Conservatives who were once in the Dominion Cabinet and now have posts in the federal Senate. Manion, the new Conservative Party leader replacing Bennett, is himself a good French Catholic, a pal of Duplessis, and, if his speeches are any indication, perhaps also of Arcand.

Canada’s Sudetens

To understand the growth of both Arcand’s gang and the separatist French movement it is necessary to keep in mind the fantastic character of the Canadian “nation”. Isolated from a natural economic growth within the USA by a boundary line as arbitrary and illogical as Czecho-Slovakia’s, Canada has also a somewhat similar minorities problem. A scant half of the population is British in origin; 20% is made up of races and creeds from all over the globe, and another 28% are French-speaking Catholic descendants of the original colonists conquered by British muskets in 1765. From 65,000 they have multiplied to 2,800,000 in a population of 11 million – a number almost exactly proportional to the Sudeten population of Czecho-Slovakia. Eighty-one per cent are concentrated in the province of Quebec, but while the general Canadian birth rate is falling precipitately [2], the French, as befits devout Catholics, reproduce as of yore, and now overflow at such a rate that the ancient Scotch Presbyterian province of New Brunswick reports with alarm a school population 40% Catholic, most of whom are French. All that is necessary to bring Europe’s lunatic ward into America’s back-yard is for De la Rocque or some other fascist son of the Church to secure power in France, declare a Catholic corporate state, and demand autonomy for the persecuted Gauls of Canada. Lacking such a champion the French-Canadians are driven to find their own Henleins by much the same economic frustration, national straight jacketing, and ignorance. Almost as thoroughly as the Czechs, the Anglo-Saxons monopolize big business, freeze out the French shopkeepers of Montreal with chain stores, discriminate against Frenchmen in the civil service and in a hundred other fields. It is true the workers are equally sweated by their own Catholic capitalists when these get a chance, but so long as the latter remain a tiny minority, the basis for a fanatical separatist movement exists. Theoretically the French are protected from discrimination by the British North America Act under which the Dominion was created. This guarantees them proportional representation in the Dominion Parliament, national equality of language, religious freedom, and the preservation within Quebec of the old French civil law and feudal land system. The real result of all this, however, has been to perpetuate artificially the racial and religious barriers between the French and the rest of Canada, and to doom the Quebec masses to ruthless feudal exploitation by seignorial landlords and an all-powerful State Church. Made the underdog nationally, the impoverished Frenchman takes meagre solace in bullying the Englishmen within his own province. Smothered by the mountainous ignorance of Catholicism he has been so far persuaded to consider his own exploiters as benevolent protectors against the heathen Saxon.

Petrified Church-State

The power of the Church is the key to the fascist-separatist maze in Quebec today. By far the largest single landholder in the province, and perhaps in the Dominion, its wealth can be estimated only in the billions. From every inhabitant of Quebec it takes an average of $10 yearly in direct tolls, apart from rents and mortgages. Its political control is open and virulent. The Cardinal, Villenueve, enjoys not only the empty dignity of a joint throne with the Lieutenant-Governor, but also the real power of a backwoods Richelieu, as adviser and even intimidator of the Premier. The notorious Padlock Law was, for instance, personally “suggested” by him to Duplessis. Lesser church dignitaries have their seats in an antediluvian and autocratic Senate – the only provincial upper-house not yet abolished in Canada. The laws are naturally fashioned in the interests of these pious parasites. Church tithes have priority over all other debts and failure to pay them can lead to imprisonment. If a priest decides to build a new church, he may legally compel his parishioners to mortgage their homes in payment for it, and foreclose on them in the bargain. By contrast, foreclosures cannot be visited upon church property, which is also free from municipal taxation and exempt from the operations of even Quebec’s miserable Minimum Wage Law.

Petrified feudal privilege similarly allows Quebec’s masters to dodge compulsory education, and fill the boards of what state schools there are with the usual priestly incubi. English, which was to have equal standing with French, is now not to be taught till the fifth grade; since probably 75% of the young poor are dragged out to work before they have reached that pathetic cultural eminence, everything is now hunky-dory for producing a generation of French-Canadians without so much as a smelling acquaintance with the general language of America. McGill, Montreal’s non-denominational college, despite its illiberal governing board, looks like an academy in a world socialist state compared with the Catholic University of Montreal. The 1928-9 calendar of the latter institution expressly warns its students, and their papas, against seduction by the three great Errors: “le materialisme, le liberalisme, et le modernisme” (p.19).

Clerical control reaches into every phase of life. Only the Church can perform marriages; there is no such thing as divorce, and annulment is extremely difficult unless you can show that your mate was a non-Catholic, when it is quite easy. Women have no vote. Films are so bowdlerized that even the innocuous Life of Zola couldn’t get through the border. Those French classics alone are sold in open shops which have escaped the Index Expurgatoris. Cultural sterilization is completed by the systematic isolation of the faithful in religious clubs, by sexes and by social strata, from babyhood to senility.

As a direct result Quebec endures living standards as wretched as those in the Deep South or Newfoundland. The long-delayed Minimum Wage Law ignores governmental, church, and agricultural employees, and provides only that fulltime skilled labor should not be paid less than $8412 weekly. Since this represents a 25% increase over average wages heretofore, Duplessis is making no effort to enforce the law; it would be too revolutionary. Quebec’s timber resources may be endless, but Montreal’s slums are the most decrepit in a Dominion generally and chronically afflicted with housing shortage. No wonder the infant death rate is double Ontario’s, and the proportion of contagious diseases nearly triple. With a population 17% less than her western neighbor, she uses only 30% the number of autos, and her book circulation is 5% of Ontario’s. [3] The Montreal relief roll is 135,000 in a population of a million – one in seven.

Twentieth-century industrialization of the province has simply increased the economic misery of the French without breaking the hold of feudal reaction. The backwoods Quebec farmer survived for two centuries on second-rate farms by the use of medieval tools and primitive barter; he could not save to leave or to climb out of his class, but he had a certain relative self-sufficiency. Now his sons and daughters, who used scarcely to see $10 cash in a year, are drawn to the money-wages of the new pulp mills and power and manufacturing plants, only to find themselves sweated and starved as never before. The urban population, already 52% of Quebec by 1911, increased to 64% by 1931. Montreal, Canada’s largest city, has been growing faster than either Chicago or New York in their weediest days. This has swelled the reservoir of cheap industrial labor, unprotected by legislation and green to trade unionism. Many Ontario manufacturers have actually shifted their plants to Quebec to share in the pickings of an ingenuous proletariat which still goes to mass to hear the priest tell it how to vote.

The Revolt Against Catholicism

The long-term results which are now beginning to show are much less acceptable to the exploiters, both lay and clerical. When the habitant [4] becomes a proletarian he frequently has to work with English-speaking heretics, perhaps even secret “reds”; from these he learns that his living conditions are worse than anywhere else in the country and that this is partly to be explained by his extra burden of perpetual tribute to the Church. If he is to remain a meek sheep for the shearing he must be taught that the wolf is somewhere else. Separatist fascism supplies the answer, and the threatened Church the money to organize it. Antisemitism is encouraged to divide the French worker from the equally exploited but more radical Jews of Montreal. It is awkward of course that there is not a single Jewish name or face on the boards of any Canadian bank or trust or utility or transportation company; this can be partly got round by references to the ultimate control by those ubiquitous Jews, Morgan and Mond, but it is eventually necessary to provide a headier propaganda wine than this. Hence non-Semitic magnates are labelled “foreigners” who have attached the French Garden of Eden to a godless Empire. In this manner even the French-Canadians’ progressive resistance to British imperialist warfare is used to preserve vestigial Catholic feudalism and the economic suicide of Quebec separatism.

Nevertheless the grim wolf will still creep and intrude into the fold. As early as 1901 American trade-union scouts were slinking into the St. Lawrence valley. In desperation the Church created its own unions, a Federation of “Syndicats”, to coalesce the functions of a company union and a Sunday school. For constitution the federation was presented with a papal encyclical of Leo XIII, beginning, “Yes, misery and suffering are the heritage of mankind, and should men try everything in their power, they will never succeed in eliminating them.” But slave epigrams are one thing and economics another. By last year the Federation had grown to 45,000 members and its unions were actually engaging in strikes, as in the foundry and ship-repair yards of Sorel. Some of its sections risked purgatory to form joint committees with the AFL to bargain for wage-agreements with Duplessis and even, in one instance, to run a joint labor candidate at municipal polls. Worse, 3,000 Catholic needle-trade workers defied hell-fire and joined the ILGWU. When they also went on strike, Archbishop Gauthier threatened excommunication, but the picket lines endured and the strike was won. Most catastrophic of all, the CIO climbed into the seignorial paradise and with the help of the Trades and Labor Congress led 10,000 textile workers to another strike victory. Duplessis rushed through fake labor legislation specifically barring the CIO and outlawing the closed shop, but the CIO, though virtually driven underground, continues to seduce the toiling worshippers of Mary, in the mines, furniture factories, offices, press rooms, fur shops and steel plants.

The Padlock Law

A parallel reform movement swept Quebec politics but this has been quickly decapitated. After forty incredible years the rotting Taschereau Liberal regime was booted out by a new “Union Nationale” headed by none other than Duplessis and dedicated to busting the trusts, or as the French-Canadians more euphoniously say, the “trustards”. Once in power Duplessis quickly made his peace with the denizens of St. James Street (Canada’s Wall Street) and substituted the safer scapegoat of Bolshevism. “An Act Respecting Communistic Propaganda”, generally known as the Padlock Law, was shoved through an unanimous legislature; this makes it illegal for the owner or renter of a building “to use it, or to allow any person to make use of it, to propagate communism or bolshevism by any means whatever”. The definition of communism was left to the Attorney-General, a post which Duplessis took over for himself; in any case, there is no appeal allowed from the decision of the local judge. Penalty for conviction is one year’s padlocking of the building and confiscation of the literature involved and anything else the cops take a fancy to.

During the first six months of the new carte blanche there was an average of two raids a day, during which several thousand books and newspapers were destroyed. These included a copy of Tom Sawyer and some Protestant bibles which a Baptist mission had been nefariously circulating. [5] Significantly the trade unions have been the victims of 80% of the raids, and the offices and homes of the Catholic Syndicalists are not exempt. But since the masses continue to be restless, and apostates multiply daily, the authorities find it necessary to muzzle even the mildest liberals. The apartment of John MacCormac, New York Times correspondent, was combed for bolshevism, CCF professors are threatened, and even the microscopic Stalinists are not immune. In vain Tim Buck assures the peace-loving Church of his peace-loving friendship; Duplessis’ men continue to carry off the Stalin hymnals and the balileikas from the Young Pioneers. When a highly respectable Stalinist member of the Chamber of Deputies was imported from France to speak about “peace”, Duplessis arranged with the young fascists of the University of Montreal to create riots in the streets, and used the excuse to ban the meeting. Several Jewish stores were incidentally smashed in the process.

How Not to Fight Fascism

To these open provocations of reaction the CCF and Stalinites reply only with a falsetto clamor about civil liberties. Under their influence the victimized trade unions are headed off from the essential task of organizing defense squads and persuaded to substitute the telegraphing of protests to the stuffed-shirt Lapointe, Dominion Attorney-General. The latter had, for a certain period of time now elapsed, the constitutional power to nullify the Padlock Law as contrary to the BNA Act, a power which he had been nimble to use when Aberhart’s Social Credit government tried to clip the wings of the banks in Alberta. The 45 trades unions and the 63 other organizations, with a combined membership of 100,000, which sent Lapointe high-falutin resolutions about the Padlock Law, were however quite logically ignored.

A typical example of the “fight against fascism” as waged by Canada’s self-styled Lefts was provided in July when Arcand held his first Toronto meeting. The Stalinites staged a counter-rally in a hall well removed, at which 10,000 of the faithful, the curious, and the duped were treated to an hour’s slamming of Marxism by ex-Ambassador Dodd of Washington. The CCF, afraid to sully its petit-bourgeois fingers with any kind of united front, held its own gathering for 800 assorted pinks – also safely remote from the scene of battle. The fascists carried on unhampered; a few Fieldites, bravely cooperating with nobody and anxious for publicity at any price, managed to get themselves arrested by the cops detailed to preserve the democratic liberties of Monsieur Arcand.

Within the CCF the Socialist Policy Group agitates for a united defense organization and workers’ guards, but it is a voice crying in the wilderness. Instead, the CCF has floated a Canadian Civil Liberties Union which naturally gets nowhere. For all the legality of the matter, Quebec might set up a fascist government tomorrow and, provided it stayed within the Dominion, receive the blessing of the Canadian Democratic State. On the other hand, if the BNA Act is modified to curb provincial powers, Duplessis has already made it clear he will fight any changes with armed insurrection.

In Ontario, Premier Hepburn, persecutor of the CIO, tool of the mining interests, and a typical Canadian Huey Long, has formed an open bloc with Duplessis to preserve the profits of the two richest provinces from die begging hands of the impoverished west. These two men are propably much more dangerous than Arcand; they may even be the real Canadian fascists of the future. They are steadily creating a reactionary boss regime inside the crumbling shell of the old Liberal party, and plainly have ambitions in Dominion politics. At the moment these provincial demagogues are putting on a strip-tease act with the rags of bourgeois democracy. Eventually they, or other troupers of the same breed, may wriggle out of the last shred and, to the applause of the capitalist baldheads, the curtain will ring down on naked fascism.

The Proletarian Road

There is yet time, especially if Canada is not immediately involved in European war, to stop the show. Except in Quebec, fascism languishes until the workers threaten big business sufficiently. But the Augean stables won’t be cleaned out with the teaspoons of the old ladies in the Civil Liberties Union. If the CCF is ever to become a party of labor it must be prepared to meet the fascists physically blow for blow. It must give the lead to the unions and to the working class organizations of all kinds in the formation of joint defense squads with a permanent centre and trained worker-defenders. There must be no spreading of illusions that legislative tinkering will halt reaction. In short the party which will prevent fascism in Canada must be also the party capable of carrying the working-class to revolutionary

victory. Such a party must be itself working-class. The prairie farmers, a potential reservoir for fascist recruitment, must be won to the support of the workers not, as now in the CCF, by wholesale concessions to their sectionalist and anti-labor habits, but by showing them in theory and practise that only the power of labor can destroy the capitalism that bleeds all toilers alike.

The complicated Quebec problem will also be solved only by a militant workers’ party willing to concede the right of self-determination to the 2% millions with a different race, language, and traditions, but fearless also in exposing the role of Catholic religion and Catholic wealth. Such a party will need to fight the pussyfooting Stalinists and all other betrayers who cloak the economic exploitation of Quebec Catholicism with the excuse that the pious worker must not be antagonized. The fight against fascism in Quebec is today primarily a fight against the Catholic Church, against the poisonous drugs of its religious doctrines, against its legal and against its political hold on the masses. When that is broken, much of the “separatist” problem will disappear, as it has already evaporated in the minds of those French-Canadian workers who have thrown off Catholicism already and struck against bosses of all creeds. The militants in the Catholic unions must be roused to multiply their joint-committees with the other unions. From this it will be possible to proceed to trade union unification, and, granted a Marxist cadre, to independent political action and unification with the proletarian revolutionary forces in Canada and the United States. That is the only way to say a final “No” to the question, “Is French Canada Going Fascist?”



1. Nation, Feb. 26, 1938.

2. Births per 1,000: 1921, 29.4; 1935, 20.2.

3. See D. Levine, Proletarian Outlook, July 1938.

4. French-Canadian farmer.

5. See Montreal Gazette, Feb. 7, 1938.

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