Thirty Years – 1922-1952
The Story of the Communist Movement in Canada
IN EVERY class society the state is the machinery of the ruling class for the suppression of the exploited class. Throughout the history of organized society until now, each state has been of the character and the form best suited to the maintenance of the power of the ruling class in the prevailing social relations and conditions of production. The means by which the capitalist class maintains its rule and subordinates all the decisive activities of the nation to its interests is, in the final analysis, by use of the machinery of the state, i.e., its state power.
As Lenin emphasized when comparing the proletarian democracy of the Soviet Republics with the bourgeois democracy of the capitalist states: "The most democratic bourgeois republic was never, nor could it be anything else than a machine with which capital suppressed the toilers, an instrument of the political rule of capital, of the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. The democratic bourgeois republic promised the rule of the majority, it proclaimed the rule of the majority, but it could never put this into effect as long as the private ownership of the land and other means of production existed... In the bourgeois-democratic republic 'freedom' was really freedom for the rich."(1)
In Canada in 1931 the capitalist class headed by Mr. R. B. (Iron Heel) Bennett demonstrated the correctness of Lenin's statement. They sought to buttress their shaken system by the open use of the state machinery against the very forms of democratic action that the capitalist class itself had fought for -- for itself -- less than a century before.
To the sharpening demands and rising temper of the masses of unemployed workers, ruined small businessmen, farmers and dispossessed families, Canadian capitalists, through their federal government, replied with widespread arrests, brazen use of courts as instruments of Tory policy, deportation of scores of militant workers and outlawry of the Communist Party of Canada.
On August 11, 1931, the R.C.M.P. carried out simultaneous raids upon party offices and the homes of party leaders in various parts of the country. The home of each member of the Political Bureau of the party and of other leading comrades, for example, John Boychuk, Toronto, were raided. In addition, the R.C.M.P. seized members of the Political Bureau wherever they happened to be at seven o'clock Eastern Standard Time that evening. Tom Hill was in a restaurant in Cochrane, Ontario. Malcolm Bruce was in Calgary; Sam Carr was in Vancouver. Revealing how close their undercover work had been, the Mounties went straight to the spot where each member of the Political Bureau was at the hour set for the arrests. The one case in which they did not "get their man" emphasized the fact that their undercover work was no emergency surveillance of individuals. Tom McEwen, the comrade they missed, was called away a few minutes before seven -- just before the Mounties swooped down upon his home. The raids on homes were by local, provincial and mounted police. They established a new low level for attempts at police intimidation. Doors were broken open, clothing, bed linen, table linen, books, even the contents of kitchen cabinets, were strewn indiscriminately about the floors. Pictures were torn from their frames. They seized the libraries that working men had spent their lives collecting. Not one of those books was ever restored to its rightful owner. There being nobody home at Tim Buck's house, they unceremoniously pried the front door open, ripping the lock off. They left it that way. The door swung idly until Tim Buck was released on bail.
That wanton destruction was described afterward as a "thorough search for evidence." The statements of governmental spokesmen, such as the attorney-general of Ontario, suggested rather that it was part of a deliberate plan aimed at a wholesale intimidation of workers. It is noteworthy that not one piece of the varied assortment of materials submitted as state evidence in the trial that followed was secured in those raids on homes. Every one of the more than a hundred documents, pamphlets, newspapers, etc., supplied to the prosecutor by the R.C.M.P. was either taken from the offices, taken from the mails, or purchased.
In addition to members of the Political Bureau of the party, two other comrades were arrested. Michael Gilmore was mistaken for Tom McEwen when he went to the latter's home. Tom Cacic was arrested, apparently on general principles, because he went to the national office of the W.U.L. just as the raid got under way. All were committed for trial. Bail for eight of them was set at $20,000 each. For Mike Gilmore, a 17-year-old boy, bail was set at only $10,000 as a sign of the unflinching democracy of Canadian courts. When the crown attorney and Magistrate Brown of Toronto discovered that even the enormity of the bail was not daunting the Canadian Labor Defence League, they resorted to unscrupulous efforts to intimidate workers who offered bail. Each prospective bondsman was subjected to cross-examination in court from the assistant crown attorney. Each one who admitted that he did not personally know the accused on whose behalf he offered bail was promptly disqualified by the magistrate. Those who did declare personal acquaintance were subjected to disgusting and contemptible attempts to intimidate them into withdrawing their offer of bail. Despite all the efforts of the court, however, the $170,000 was posted and all nine were freed on bail until November 2, when the trial started in the Supreme Court of Ontario.
At the opening of the trial Michael Gilmore had to be released when it was proven incontrovertibly that he was not a member of the Communist Party of Canada but only of the Young Communist League. In drafting the indictment, the Crown had failed to mention the Y.C.L. and the judge was unable to find an excuse for making him stand trial.
The trial, the first of its kind in Canada,(2) was a class trial in every respect. Its purpose was described in the opening words of the special crown prosecutor(3) to the jury. Calling the jurymen's attention to the special character of the trial, and of the law under which it was conducted, he exhorted each member of the jury to keep in mind throughout the trial what he described as the fundamental and first responsibility of the state, "to protect itself." To any unprejudiced person who watched that trial it was evident that the prosecutor's exhortation was being obeyed even more by the presiding judge, Mr. Justice Wright, than by the members of the jury. The chief witness for the prosecution was a police spy who had been exposed to the party by a fellow-spy and publicly expelled three and a half years earlier. In an effort to build up a "cloak and dagger" atmosphere, the propaganda department of the R.C.M.P. created a whole body of myths concerning that spy and his supposed activities in the Communist Party, including the completely baseless story that he had held office in leading party committees. That propaganda was a complete fake. Leopold (alias Esselwein) had become a labor spy against his fellow-immigrants from Austria-Hungary in the menial role of reporting to the R.C.M.P. on topics of conversation among his fellow-workers. He "advanced" to the position of a regular, full-time operative within the labor movement when the R.C.M.P. expanded that odoriferous branch of its service at the end of the First World War. He gained recognition within the labor movement in Regina by good work as the secretary of "The Committee for-Medical Aid to Soviet Russia" and as the tireless secretary of the One Big Union in that city. He quit the O.B.U. when the Workers' Party was founded and played an active part in organizing the party's Regina branch, of which he became secretary. He was a member of the International Brotherhood of Painters, Decorators and Paperhangers and a delegate from his local to the Regina Trades and Labor Council. But the R.C.M.P. propaganda that he held high office in the Communist Party was pure invention. The R.C.M.P. transferred him to Toronto in the fall of 1927. From the day of his arrival in Toronto until the public announcement of his expulsion from the party, in May, 1928, he held no office whatsoever, not even in a local party unit; he was a member of the party only.
At the trial, his evidence consisted of word-of-mouth repetition of facts which were already in evidence in the court, in pamphlets and reports, copies of correspondence and newspaper articles. Esselwein did not add one word of evidence to the Crown's case. It was clear that he was produced in brand new Mountie regalia (in which he was extremely uncomfortable) as a stage "prop."
The Crown introduced a mass of documentary evidence, ranging from unsigned carbon copies of alleged personal correspondence to the constitution of the Communist Party of Canada, the Communist Manifesto of 1848 and the program of the Communist International. Among the exhibits submitted by the Crown as evidence was a copy of a speech made by Comrade Otto Kuusinen in an international conference on the fight against unemployment. But when the defence tried to introduce the emergency program against unemployment issued by the Communist Party of Canada, it was barred by the judge as "not germane." Similarly, a copy of a letter from Moscow criticizing the party's Draft Agrarian Program was introduced by the Crown without admitting that the letter was written by a Canadian, a member of the Canadian party. But when the defence tried to introduce the Draft Agrarian Program itself, it was also ruled out, with a peevish judicial repetition of "It's the means that we are trying, not all these matters that you are injecting." The prosecution went to great lengths to introduce documents purporting to reveal the history and aims of the party, but the defence was not permitted to deal with the role of the party in the great struggles of the working people and the farmers, either with respect to the fight for reunification of the trade union movement and organization of the unorganized in the early 1920's or the fight against wage cuts, unemployment, evictions and bankruptcy which characterized the situation at the time of the trial.
The class character of the trial was expressed most clearly by the manner in which the judge rev ealed his prejudice in connection with the fact that one of the accused, Tim Buck, conducted his own defence. The judge demonstratively showed his resentment. He refused to permit Tim Buck to sit at the counsel table. He refused to allow him facilities to take notes of evidence or to have reference material at hand. He compelled him to conform to all the demeaning rules imposed upon the prisoner at the bar, while refusing to grant him the most elementary facilities to practise what is supposed to be the inalienable right of any person charged in a Canadian court of law. As the last defence witness stepped down from the witness box, the judge offered Comrade Buck a perfunctory invitation to address the jury if he so desired. Pointing out that it was within a few minutes of the time for adjournment of the court, Tim Buck asked if he could commence his address to the jury at the opening of court the following morning. The judge replied brusquely that he had "no intention of delaying this case any further." He ruled that if the accused, Buck, wished to address the jury, he must do so then, in which case the court would remain in session until he concluded. He then adjourned the court for five minutes "to give Mr. Buck an opportunity to prepare his address."
The judge was determined that nothing should get into the record concerning the struggles of the working people. He heckled Buck from the opening of the latter's address to the end. He stopped Buck in the midst of his very first sentence, forbidding him to comment upon the fact that governmental publications had reported the activities of the party regularly throughout the ten years just past. When Buck protested that a certain statement had been reported in the House of Commons Debates, the judge replied testily, "No, no, that is not permitted here, Hansard is not in this trial." In the almost uninterrupted stream of heckling from the bench, only one of the interruptions was to facilitate the proceedings. In that case the judge forgot himself for a moment and interjected, "There is no need to go into that, Mr. Sommerville, the crown counsel stated that they did not suggest that the Communist Party of Canada had anything to do with the Russian government or receives orders from the Russian government." One other judicial interjection evoked comment. Comrade Buck was drawing the attention of the jury to the program of unemployment relief and the party's bill for non-contributory unemployment insurance. The judge brought his hand down on his desk irritably and shouted, "Well, never mind that, we are not complaining about that." He couldn't have explained more clearly his identity with R. B. Bennett and the R.C.M.P. in the effort to convict the eight if he had made a whole speech.
In the circumstances the outcome of the trial was a foregone conclusion, The eight based their entire case upon the thesis stated in the following quotation from Buck's address to the jury:
"We do not believe that it is logical for intelligent men and women to think that a condition where millions and millions of people are starving should be allowed to prevail while warehouses are full of food. We do not believe that thousands of farmers and their families should starve because they cannot sell the food that they have grown. We do not believe that it is logical for intelligent men to assume that these things cannot be changed. But, we do understand that mere belief that they should be changed is not enough. They will not be changed by belief alone. Those members of the working class who want it must be organized to lead the whole of our class in overcoming the resistance of the capitalists.
"The working class cannot achieve that aim any more than it can successfully develop its immediate struggles against starvation and wage cuts, without its own revolutionary party, strong and disciplined, armed with working-class science That party is the Communist Party."(4)
The verdict Of the jury was "guilty." Mr. Justice Wright smacked his lips as he sentenced the seven members of the Political Bureau of the party to five years' imprisonment for being members of an organization now declared illegal under the terms of Section 98, five years' imprisonment for being officers of that organization, and two years for having engaged in a seditious conspiracy to overthrow the capitalist state. Tom Cacic was sentenced only to the latter. (In keeping with the whole character of the trial, Cacic was not released when the Appeal Court nullified the "seditious conspiracy" count in the indictment. His two-year sentence was still considered to hold good and he went to Kingston Penitentiary with the others. The Bennett government deported Tom at the end of his sentence.)
The Attorney-General of Ontario boasted in a radio broadcast that "Communism will never raise its head in Ontario again." The party, now banned in Ontario, decided to test the validity of the attorney-general's statement. Pending the hearing of an appeal against their conviction, the eight comrades were freed on bail ($160,000) and Tim Buck was nominated for the Board, of Control in the Toronto municipal elections. To the surprise of the attorney-general and the reactionaries in general, 6,000 citizens of Toronto voted for Tim on January 1st. Small though the number appears today, it created a sensation at the time. It was more than double the highest vote ever cast for a candidate of the Communist Party in the city of Toronto up to that time. It was unquestionably a protest against the flagrant use of the courts to suppress political ideas.
The appeal was dismissed by five the Court of Appeals and the eight party leaders went to prison. Their incarceration did not reduce the effectiveness of the party's strugle, although outlawry of the party under Section 98 compelled a change in the forms of activity. The great crisis was at its most acute stage, with factories closing every day. Hundreds of thousands of workers were being unceremoniously discharged; those remaining at work suffered drastic wage cuts. There was no unemployment insurance. As noted in an earlier chapter, 12,000 eviction orders were served in the Toronto area during the year in which the party was outlawed. Retail sales declined to only sixty per cent of what they had been in 1929.
Economic chaos prevailed throughout Canada and the United States, throughout the capitalist world in fact. Unemployment, hunger and hopelessness was the lot of millions of Canadians. Small business people were going bankrupt in thousands, farmers were losing their farms. In striking contrast to the utter chaos of capitalist economy, Soviet economy continued to expand. Visitors to the Soviet Union, of whom there were a great many, were returning with glowing reports of great new undertakings, of big new cities springing up in places where there had been no settlement before, of the rapid and uninterrupted increase in the number of workers employed in industry, of the demand for engineers, chemists, doctors, scientific workers, technicians and skilled craftsmen, which continued to grow even faster than the continually expanding educational facilities could train them. The contrast became so evident and so striking that it even broke through the conspiracy of silence maintained until then by the lying capitalist press. One by one capitalist papers, which were fighting for circulation started to publish occasional reports of the continued expansion of Soviet economy and the continued rise in the standard of living of the workers and farmers throughout the Soviet Union. Up went the circulation of such papers. The workers and farmers of Canada wanted to know about the society in which there was no fear of economic crisis.
Canadian workers reacted vigorously against the putting of Hitler in power by the German capitalists after his second defeat at the polls. Canadian workers saw in the tactics of the German imperialists the pattern being developed by monopoly-capital throughout the capitalist world. In Toronto a powerful anti-Hitler parade, concluding with a great anti-fascist demonstration in Queen's Park, showed the mass anti-fascist sentiment of the working people and the fact that growing and increasingly militant democratic action was forcing the police to back down from their attempt to prohibit mass public activities of a genuinely working-class character.
Realization grew that the economic crisis was not an unavoidable natural disaster. Somewhat later, there was extending realization that, even with the economic crisis, it would have been physically quite a simple matter for the government to have taken measures to ensure food, fuel, and other elementary necessities for the people, to have protected small homeowners and farmers. The Unemployed Workers' Associations became mass movements. "Hunger Marches" to city halls, to provincial legislatures, to Ottawa, forced the provincial and federal governments to accept a share of the cost of relief.
It became evident that, while small business people were getting it in the neck, monopoly-capital was maintaining its profits by intensifying its exploitation of the workers. There developed bitter resentment against the manner in which big business was actually increasing its rate of profit by exploiting the plight of the masses of the people. The Bennett government was compelled to set up a royal commission to investigate "Cost-Spreads and Mass Buying." Evidence brought out before this commission revealed horrible conditions in important sections of Canadian industry and commerce. Girls were working fifty-four hours per week for $9.00. Married men worked a fifty-four-hour week for $15.00, in some cases for even less. The big chain store and departmental store corporations were forcing down the prices paid to small manufacturers to a point at which, despite merciless wage-cutting and exploitation of their workers, some small manufacturers went bankrupt even while their factories were operating at a high level.
The revelations, concerning the profits of big business and the manner in which finance-capitalist enterprises were exploiting the crisis sharpened the resentment of the farmers. The Farmers' Unity League developed a wide popular campaign.
Across the country, the Workers' Unity League initiated a great mass campaign in support of the unemployed workers. The bill for national unemployment insurance for which the party and the W.U.L. had collected 100,000 signatures during 1931 became the unofficial program of one million Canadians supported by hundreds of thousands of those who were still employed. In Montreal a mighty demonstration of 15,000 unemployed workers compelled the reactionary city council to change its policy. Their organization, l'Association Humanitaire, achieved a membership of 7,000.
Gideon Robertson who, as minister of labor in the Tory Union government had smashed the Winnipeg Strike in 1919, became minister of labor again in the Tory "Iron Heel" government of R. B. Bennett. When Robertson visited Winnipeg in 1932, six thousand workers under the leadership of party and Y.C.L. organizers Charlie Marriott and Norman Freed met him at the railway station with the slogan: "A Faker Comes to Town," and a powerful demonstration against both his treacherous role in Winnipeg in 1919 and the policies that hee then represented.
The local councils of unemployed workers became the rallying centres for a large section of the trade union movement as well as for unemployed workers. The councils made certain that the families of unemployed workers were fed. So effective did their fight on this issue become that local welfare departments tended increasingly to grant relief to families upon the demand of the unemployed workers' councils. The councils organized "round-the-clock" mass pickets upon request to defend workers against threatened eviction.
No conditions were attached to their assistance. Defence was organized for the homes of workers who had never been near the council as promptly as for its most active members. In struggles to defend the most elementary human rights of the working class, in actions which ranged from securing milk for babies to protecting a family from eviction and organizing hunger marches to the provincial capitals and to Ottawa, the local councils of unemployed workers brought forward a whole new generation of gifted, militant, working-class leaders whose work has continued to enrich the trade union and general labor movement. It is impossible to name all those comrades or even enough of them to be truly representative but they were typified by our comrades George Harris, Bob Haddow, Harvey Murphy, Harry Bell, Fred Collins, Tom (later Alderman) Raycraft, Mitchell Sago, Bob Kerr, the late Arthur (Slim) Evans, Malcolm MacLeod, and Hughie Anderson. There are scores of others of whom specific note is precluded by considerations of space.
While defending the elementary interests of the working class through its leadership of the unemployed workers, the W.U.L. rallied the workers who were still employed. Mass resistance was organized against wage cuts, the lengthening of hours and the merciless speed-up by which the bosses were taking wholesale advantage of the crisis. Organizational campaigns were carried through successfully in the midst of crisis and mass unemployment. With very limited forces and no central treasury, dependent entirely upon, the moral, financial and organizational support of the labor movement, the W.U.L. generated and led nation-wide resistance which stopped the wage cuts. In the process the W.U.L. organized a hundred thousand workers in industries that had never been organized before. Several of its strikes will stand for a long time as historic examples of working-class action. The great strike of the longshoremen in Montreal, led by rank-and-file workers, defied the combined forces of the bosses and the municipal and provincial governments. Stratford, where workers never previously organized maintained their mass picket line in defiance of troops and tanks.. Frazer Mills, where the strike was carried through "looking into the muzzles" of machine guns. Noranda, where militancy aroused neighboring bushworkers to drop their axes and take their places in the miners' picket line. Corbin, where striking miners and their families held out for five months against police and mine-company violence -- and called off the strike only after the company completely abandoned the mine. True, there were victims of employer viciousness and police violence -- Nick Zenchuk shot in the back by a policeman in Montreal while being evicted; three miners shot dead and thirteen wounded by volleys from the rifles of Mounties shooting up a peaceful and lawful joint meeting of striking miners in Estevan; brutal organized violence at Flin Flon, at Anyox, every place where workers struggled -- but organization went on. The long-established tradition of the A.F.L. that "workers can't be organized in hard times" was shown to be false. The number of strikes increased. In all Canada there were 86 strikes in 1931 and the number increased steadily to 189 in 1934. Of the 189 in 1934, no less than 109 were fought under the leadership of the Workers' Unity League and of those, 84 were won. The only strikes won by the workers during the crisis years were led by the W.U.L.
It was in the conditions which culminated in the events described above that the Canadian Labor Defence League carried through its campaign for the repeal of Section 98 and release of the eight Communists. Popular resentment against the policies of the Bennett government helped the C.L.D.L. campaign. Its national petition for' the repeal of Section 98 and the release of the eight Communists was signed by 483,000 Canadians. Whole municipal councils signed it, the entire membership of local unions and the entire working force in some mines and camps. Public interest in the question was extended as a result of the fact that it became interwoven with the contest between the Liberals and the Tories for parliamentary support, with Mackenzie King seizing every opportunity to condemn Section 98 and R. B. Bennett's infringements of bourgeois democracy.
Added point was given to the intermingling of interests by the aftermath of the riots in Kingston Penitentiary in October, 1932. The causes of the riots were the medieval system of repression which characterized the penal system at that time, bad food and barbarous corporal punishment, sometimes for trivial offences. The Bennet government, however, thought it saw in the riots an opportunity to justify its persecution of the Communist Party. Instead of recognizing the necessity for far reaching penal reform, the government sought to dismiss the protest actions of the inmates (none of whom sought to escape) as "trouble created by the Communists." The superintendent of penitentiaries, a recently appointed Tory friend of Bennett, wrote an utterly fantastic official explanation for the disturbances. According to him, the trouble was due solely to the fact that the Communists were so infernally clever that, even in the conditions. of repression which characterized Kingston Penitentiary at that time, they had succeeded in organizing the inmates to "overthrow the government."
In the manner character istic of reactionaries, the Bennett government sought to make political capital of the "prison riot." Tim Buck was accused of fomenting and leading it. His ankles shackled with short chains to prevent him from taking steps of more than a few inches, and each hand handcuffed to the wrist of a guard on either side of him, preceded and followed by guards carrying loaded rifles at the ready, Tim Buck was taken into Kingston to stand trial amid elaborate pretences that the government feared an armed attempt to free him. But, again, the government's scheme boomeranged. Buck's defence in court was a frank statement that he had participated with the other convicts in a protest demonstration and he described the reasons why. His address exploded the fantastic "report" of the superintendent of penitentiaries. Combined with the fact that it became known that an attempt had been made by penitentiary officers to murder Tim Buck, the trial inclined reasonable people to the opinion that some sort of investigation was necessary. The government's attempts to use the prison riots to discredit the Communists boomeranged upon the government itself. The judgment rendered by Mr. Justice LaRoche tended to discredit the government still further. The judge pointed out that Buck's own statement "that he had left his place of work along with the other convicts in the machine shop as part of the protest action that the convicts were carrying out," made it incumbent upon the court to declare Buck guilty of the crime with which he had been charged. Buck had participated in a breach of discipline in the course of which property had been damaged or destroyed. The judge intimated, however, acknowledgment that the conditions in the penitentiary clamored for reform. Without actually using the words, he indicated strongly that in his opinion the convicts had a case. He acknowledged that provocation had been used. He had personally verified evidence of the attempt to shoot Buck in his cell. The judge demonstrated that lie meant what he had said by sentencing Buck to one year, to be served concurrently. (The law under which Buck was charged provided a maximum sentence of fourteen years.)
During this same period the general secretary of the C.L.D.L., Comrade A. E. Smith, was arrested and charged with sedition, in an attempt to outlaw the C.L.D.L. The circumstances of his arrest and trial illustrated both the length to which the authorities were prepared to go in their efforts to suppress the popular movement, and the growing temper of the opposition to R. B. Bennett's "iron heel" policies. In the course of an address delivered in the Standard Theatre in Toronto, Comrade A. E. Smith had charged R. B. Bennett with the responsibility for the attempt to murder Tim Buck. He was promptly arrested and charged with sedition. The trial became a national issue. A prominent liberal lawyer, E. J. McMurray, K.C., of Winnipeg, defended Comrade Smith. Prominent representatives of the bar who had recently attended the famous Dimitroff trial in Leipzig selected one of their number to attend the Smith trial. A. E. Smith himself was a worthy Canadian counterpart of George Dimitroff in his bearing in the witness box. He did not retract a word. When Mr. McMurray demanded that Tim Buck be brought from Kingston to testify as a witness for the defence, the crown prosecutor and the court were in a frenzy. Every obstruction short of actually over-riding the letter of the law was resorted to in their effort to prevent the appearance of Tim Buck in that court. McMurray, however, would not be denied. Having held the office of attorney-general in the federal government, he was not to be stymied by their lawyers' tricks. Despite all their machinations, he gained his point and Tim Buck was brought from Kingston Penitentiary to Toronto.
Smuggled in irons from the penitentiary to the train at Kingston Junction and from the train, via the baggage room, to the Don Jail in Toronto, Buck was placed in, the debtors' room there to prevent any contact with other prisoners. Only one guard was allowed access to him. Meals were brought to the room and Buck was allowed exercise in the yard during the evening when lie could not be observed by other inmates. Everything possible was done to ensure that he should receive no word about the course of the trial during the three days that he was held there. Fortunately, one of the guards in the institution rebelled at the manner in which the authorities were trying to secure a conviction against Comrade A. E. Simth. One evening, shortly after supper, somebody outside the door whispered, "Are you in there, Tim Buck?" On being assured he said, "You'll have to be very careful, Tim, they are out to get Mr. Smith and they won't let you have your say if they can help it. I've written down the words that Smith used so you'll know what it is all about. I'm going to pass it through your ventilator. Promise you'll tear it up and put it down the can right away." With that he threw a note and a newspaper clipping wrapped around a tiny piece of coal through the small square opening over the door. On the note were written the words attributed to Smith; the newspaper clipping dealt with the controversy in court over whether Buck should be permitted to testify.
Thus warned, Buck was able to orientate himself. He decided that, in the circumstances, the important thing for him to do was to ensure that Comrade Smith's statement should be verified. He decided that no matter what should be the first question asked him, his answer should tell the jury that a deliberate attempt had been made to murder him. He spent the rest of his waiting time formulating the shortest possible answers to the various questions that might be asked first. When, eventually, he was placed in the witness box and the preliminaries had been completed, the first question put to him was: "Please tell the court what happened in the penitentiary on October 17, 1932." Instead of starting with the riot, Tim Buck quickly said, "I was shot at!" He was just in time; in fact, he had to speak loudly to make himself heard over the objections of the crown prosecutor. Buck was removed from the court and the defence did not succeed in getting him back. But the important evidence had been given and nothing the prosecution could do undid its effect. The jury brought in a verdict of "not guilty." Comrade A. E. Smith was free again to continue his leadership of the great national campaign for the release of the eight party leaders and the repeal of Section 98.
During this period and as part of the development typified by the A. E. Smith trial, the defiant warning of the eight leaders at the time of their conviction was being proved correct. In the name of the eight, Tim Buck had declared in court and at every meeting that he addressed in the municipal election campaign their complete confidence that "for every one of us being sent to prison, nine new younger and better working-class leaders will come forward." Following the Smith trial the correctness of that prophecy became evident. Membership in the Canadian Labor Defence League was increasing at the rate of more than a thousand every month. Its official organ, Labor Defence, had a circulation of 40,000 per issue. The party was outlawed, ten thousand workers had been arrested for working-class activities, scores had been convicted under Section 98 and imprisoned, hundreds had been deported to the British Isles and other countries. In spite of that, and the repeated declarations of the prime minister that "agitators and agitation will be crushed beneath an iron heel of ruthlessness," the party was growing faster than ever before in its history, as were the Workers' Unity League and the Y.C.L. When provincial elections were held in Ontario in 1934, the Tories suffered a resounding defeat and the Liberals came to power in that province for the first time in a generation. It was clear that popular resentment against the Bennett policies was being ridden by the Liberal Party.
By June, 1934, the pressure of public opinion compelled the Bennett government to make some concessions. On June 12th, two of the party leaders were released from Kingston. Instead of their release taking the edge off the campaign as the Bennett government had assumed, it raised the campaign to a still higher level. From then onward party leaders were released one by one until the last one, Tim Buck, was set free on November 24. Within a few days of his release a special meeting of the party leadership was convened to consider immediate action. Because the party was outlawed and their release had no effect upon Section 98, the conference was held underground. It was agreed unanimously that the two most immediate tasks confronting the party were to bring about the widest possible democratic unity in the fight against the conditions of the crisis and, simultaneously, to smash the ban imposed upon the party under Section 98. It was decided that Buck, who had been released on parole and forbidden to participate in any public activities, should announce the party's decision to defy Section 98 at a mass meeting to welcome his release. That plan was carried out. Before 17,000 Toronto workers, gathered at the Maple Leaf Gardens and hundreds of R.C.M.P., provincial and municipal policemen, Tim Buck announced that the party intended to defy the ban and to "make Section 98, and the government's attempt to enforce it, ridiculous from end to end of Canada." From that meeting Comrade Buck went on a national tour during which he and local party leaders everywhere called upon great working-class meetings to defy the ban and force its removal. No action was taken against any person throughout the campaign. The, Bennett government couldn't use Section 98 again; it was discredited in the eyes of the people. By June of 1936 the King government, fresh from its victory in the election of October, 1935, repealed Section 98 -- the Communist Party of Canada had regained legality.
(1) Lenin, "The Third International and Its Place in History," Selected Works Vol. 10, pp, 35-36.
(2) The trials of the Winnipeg strike leaders did not involve the rights of a long-established public political party. They were tried, nominally at least, for what they were charged with having done; not for their opinions.
(3) Gordon K. Sommerville, K.C.
(4) An Indictment of Capitalism. Tim Buck's address to the jury, published by the Canadian Labor Defence League, p. 61.