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James T. Farrell

A New Threat of Literary Censorship

(6 January 1947)

From Labor Action, Vol. 11 No. 1, 6 January 1947, p. 6.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The following excerpts from James T. Farrell’s article, Canada Bans Another Book, is reprinted with the permission of the author, it appeared originally in the i>Canadian Forum for November, 1946. The banning of Farrell’s book by the Canadian government calls attention to the long-standing practice of that country in banning books, periodicals and papers not to the liking of its censors, especially those representing the socialist and labor point of view. Only a short time ago the Canadian government banned Labor Action and The New International. Such censorship is a device of reactionary government. To permit it to go by without protest is to guarantee its continuance. The fight against the Canadian version of censorship is as important as the fight against censorship in this country, or anywhere else. We call upon our readers to write letters to the Canadian government of MacKenzie King protesting the banning of Farrell’s book, demanding at the same, time right of the free circulation of all books, periodicals and newspapers.


MY novel, Bernard Clare, has been prohibited entry into Canada for the past four months. This act of censorship was authorized last May. A Memorandum, dated May 31, was sent by the Canadian Customs Division of the Department of National Revenue to the Vanguard Press, of New York City, publishers of my novel. This Memorandum contained the bare information that Bernard Clare would not be permitted entry into the Dominion of Canada. The justification of this action was cited as ”Section 13 and Item 1201, Schedule ‘C’ of the Customs Tariff.” This document was signed by Mr. D. Sim, Deputy Minister of National Revenue, Customs and Excises.

When I learned of this action, I addressed an Open Letter of protest to Prime Minister Mackenzie King, stigmatizing it as unjust, and asking that the ban be removed, and that public responsibility for this banning be fixed. In my open letter to Mr. King, I also stated: “I regard it as my duty to protest this banning, to call it to the attention of the writers and the readers of both the United States and the Dominion of Canada, and to call upon them to give me public support in my effort to have this ban rescinded.”

I have tried to the best of my ability to do this, and I have received an encouraging public support from representative figures in the United States. In addition, students, private citizens, ex-soldiers and others from the United States and other countries have sent protests to Mr. King. Some of these letters have asked that the ban be removed; others have requested that this case be re-opened. These letters have been formally acknowledged, but for the rest, ignored. Likewise, I received a cold formal acknowledgment of my open letter. No other communication has been addressed to me. Neither Mr. King, nor Mr. Sim, has taken the trouble to send me any specific information concerning the precise reasons for this act of censorship. Time Magazine of June 24, 1946, however, quoted Mr. Sim as having stated: “I discovered at least two chapters, which I consider indecent. There was nothing else I could do about it but slap on the ban ... We’re not on a witch hunt. The fewer such decisions we have to make the better we like it.” [1] I call attention here to the fact that Mr. Sim states that he considered these two unspecified chapters “obscene.”


It is clear that high Canadian officials refuse to take this situation seriously. Such ah interpretation is warranted by the manner in which they have consistently ignored protests calling for a removal of the ban on Bernard Clare. And my statement is further confirmed by an item on the case, published in The Montreal Gazette for August 23 under the heading of Bernard Clare Still Banned. [2] This report declared that officials of the customs department indicated that the formal acknowledgment sent to me, in response to my open letter, “didn’t mean very much.” This formal letter told me that my protest had been brought to the attention of Revenue Minister McCann. Although this is a small detail, it is revealing of the attitude of Canadian officials. One can only state baldly that their attitude concerning protests here is merely cynical. If the Prime Minister or one of his assistants writes an American author concerning an act of censorship, it doesn’t “mean much.” On the basis of this, I ask if Canadians may think I am unfair, if I say it doesn’t mean much the next time I read in the press of the United States a statement by a Canadian official which affirms the principle of freedom of speech. Also, this same news story indicated that Mr. Sim had told the press that “the ruling still stands and further than that I don’t care to comment on the affair.”


The banning of Bernard Clare and other books by Mr. Sim and his subordinates has very practical implications for Canadians. Culture is now and has long been international. At the same time, cultural development in different countries has been uneven. The uneven character of the development of culture in Canada and the British Dominions as a whole, as contrasted with cultural development in England and the United States, is a commonly known fact. It is referred to or implied in many articles dealing with these questions. Readers of this magazine can recall such references in articles on the state of Canadian literature. There are, at the same time, signs of cultural ferment in the various dominions. However, other tendencies in the world are such as to constitute a possible threat to the native tendencies which may develop out of this new and growing ferment in such dominions as Canada, New Zealand and Australia. The cultural industries of both England and the United States are far richer and more powerful than those of Canada, and of the other dominions. American and English culture plays a dominant role in the dominions.

This fact has a singular importance at the present time, an importance which is integrally related with the fact that culture is now international. For in the English-speaking world in particular, and in many other countries as well, the process of the Americanization of world culture has been accelerated. Canadians are familiar with the fact that in the United States culture has been highly commercialized, and that there now exist huge American cultural monopolies and near monopolies. This is seen most clearly in the case of motion pictures and radio. It is also evinced in the mass circulation magazines. Now, the American publishing business has expanded, and it has reached the stage of combinations. With this, there is expanding in the United States a vast, a grandiose, and a wholly counterfeit popular culture. And it is this counterfeit that is involved in this developing Americanization of world culture. Shoddy motion pictures and shoddy novels which reflect a best seller culture are not usually banned by Canadian and other customs officials. In consequence, it is these works which form too often the concepts that Canadians (and others) hold of life in the United States. And more serious works are banned. They are banned by Mr. Davis Sim. He says they are obscene, but he won’t say any more about it. But what are the potential consequences of actions like this one? Such actions help to accelerate the process of the Americanization of culture. The customs officials, prime ministers and others who, thus, approve policies such as that pursued in the case of my own novel, are doing their little bit to help further the spread of this counterfeit and Hollywoodized culture. By doing this, they are helping to clamp down the lid on cultural and literary ferment in their own countries. They are, thus, helping to preserve the unevenness of cultural development in the dominions. They are helping to preserve the parochialism which the best elements in the dominions want to slough off once and for all.

(To be concluded next week)



1. If Mr. Sim does not like these cases, the remedy is simple. All that he needs to do is to stop censoring books this way. and to instruct his subordinates to do likewise.

2. In this report, The Montreal Gazette mistakenly printed my name as John Farrell, and also declared: “Ever since the book Bernard Clare which uses many four-letter words no longer considered polite in English ...” If this newspaper means the four-letter words usually referred to in this context, it is factually wrong. Bernard Clare does not contain “many” four-letter words of this kind. Either this esteemed Canadian newspaper was ignorant and careless, or else the conception of polite four-letter words is different in Canada than it is in other countries. While I am not familiar with local usage of four-letter words in Montreal. I can hardly believe that words such as “many,” “moon,” “they,” “them” and the like are impolite in this city. However, it is four-letter words of this type which are used in many instances in my novel.>

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