Thirty Years – 1922-1952
The Story of the Communist Movement in Canada
ON SEPTEMBER 1, 1939, Hitler invaded Poland. What had appeared until then to be separate acts of aggression by the fascist states were transformed into an open all-out war for world imperialist supremacy.
The cynical and terrible gamble upon which Chamberlain had staked the imperialist interests of Britain had led to a fiasco, as Stalin publicly had warned him it would. On Sunday, September 3rd, the CBC broadcast the news that the British government had declared war. In the course of the same day, Prime Minister King announced over the radio that Canada would stand "shoulder to shoulder" with the mother country.
The leadership of the Communist Party had to estimate the real meaning which lay behind the deceitful governmental pronouncements. It had to decide what was the real character of the war and its aims and what should be the attitude of the class-conscious workers toward it. The answers to those questions were provided by the concrete facts of the situation. As Lenin pointed out concerning the first world imperialist war:
"From the point of view of Marxism, that is, of modern scientific socialism, the fundamental question for socialists in discussing how this war should be appraised, and what our attitude towards it should be, is the objects of the war and the classes which prepared and directed it. We Marxists are not among those who are opposed to all wars. There are wars and wars. We must examine the historical conditions which give rise to each particular war, the class which conducted it and for what objects. Unless we do this, all our arguments about war will be reduced to futility, to a wordy and barren controversy."(1)
The imperialists made elaborate attempts to maintain a pretence that they were at war with Hitler because they were opposed to aggression. Their pretence was made possible and even plausible to the majority of people by the cunning rapidity with which the British and French, governments had destroyed collective security and negotiated the Munich Pact in the guise of a search for peace. The truth was that the Munich Pact was the imperialists' official repudiation of their previous solemn treaty pledges. In relationship to the aim of collective security under the aegis of the League of Nations, it was the same sort of imperialist double-dealing as is the North Atlantic Treaty Organization today.
Confused temporarily by the superficial appearance of British action against Nazi aggression, the leadership of the party made a false estimate. Against an imagined danger of a "super-Munich," it called for simultaneous support of the war and a political struggle to compel the Chamberlain government to wage a genuine anti-fascist war.(2) The party's call for a 'fight on two fronts" was scarcely published, however, before the facts of the situation showed it to be wrong. It was an imperialist war, between imperialist powers, for imperialist aims on both sides. Millions of "little people" were waging just struggles in defence of their homes against aggression but they did not and could not determine the aims of the war - certainly not the aims of the British and Canadian imperialists.
True, there was confusion among the imperialists. Some of them failed to recognize the fact that the Hitler-Mussolmi-Mikado alliance was out to wrest imperialist supremacy in Europe and Asia front the older imperialist powers. Failing to recognize that, many of them, typified in Canada by Col. George Drew, urged cooperation with Nazi Germany to "rid the world of Russian Communism." The persistence of the basic imperialist aim of cooperation with Hitler for the destruction of the socialist state was the reason for the "phoney war" in Europe. Essential war materials of which the Allies were desperately short were still being shipped to Japan as late as the fall of 1941.
The record shows that not only Col. Drew, but the Chain berlain government and Chamberlain's supporters all over the world, fatuously nursed their dream of a rapprochment betwee I n the British government and Hitler, for joint action against the Soviet Union, right until Dunkirk. Sir Neville Henderson, British ambassador to Germany at the outbreak of the war, described in his book "The Mission that Failed," how lie made a direct personal appeal to Hitler at midnight, August 31st, to recognize that all Gerrriany's ambitions could be fulfilled in cooperation with the British government. Henderson's book shows definitely that lie did not understand that German imperialism was after the resources of the British Empire, not the blessing of the Chamberlain government. In spite of the evident determination of Hitler to defeat and supplant British imperialism, Lord Lloyd, a member of Chamberlain's cabinet, published a book(3) shortly after the outbreak of the war which was no more and no less than a frantic last-minute semi-official appeal to the Nazis for Anglo-German cooperation in the exploitation of Europe. Lord Lloyd's thesis was that there was "no frontier in eastern Europe which need be a cause for conflict between Britain and Germany" if Hitler would but cooperate with the British government. The book was published with a laudatory introduction by the British foreign minister at the very time when Hitler was "taking over" every country in Europe to which the Chamberlain government had "guaranteed" protection.
The extent to which the Chamberlain government and its friends in Canada were blinded by their dream of Nazi-British cooperation against the socialist state, was provided by the actions of that government in connection with the Soviet-Finnish war.
Finland, so strategically placed for an attack upon the Soviet Union, was under the control of avowed supporters of the German Nazi regime. Their relationships with Germany were described by Sumner Wells, former secretary of state of the United States, in the following words:
"It is notorious that both before and after that first war between the Soviet Union and Finland . . . many political leaders in Finland were enmeshed in Hitler's net. Officials like President Ryti and Finance Minister Tanner often functioned as if they were hypnotized by Hitler and Ribbentrop."(4)
The Chamberlain government was well aware of the political affinities and relationships of Mannerheim, Ryti, Tanner and Co. Yet, despite the desperate position of the British troops in France, that government was preparing during February, 1940, to take tens of thousands of troops and masses of its already inadequate arms, ammunition and transport out of the line there for use in Finland - objectively on behalf of Hitler. In addition to the mass of evidence which revealed that intention at the time, there has since been published conclusive evidence that arrangements had already been made for a joint British-French force to be moved to the Finnish front across Sweden.
The New York Herald Tribune of September 7, 1947, reported:
"The Swedish foreign ministry published documents Thursday purporting to show that if the Russian-Finnish 'winter war' of 1939-40 had continued two more days, France and England would have sent a force of 50,000 men to aid Finland in fighting the Soviet Union. "The papers said Raoul Nordling, Swedish consul-general at Paris, brought to King Gustave a special message on March 2nd, 1940, from Edouard Daladier, then premier of France, stating that the force would be sent to Finland across northern Norway as part of a plan for a general attack on Russia, to be launched March 15."
That was on the eve of Hitler's all-out drive into France. German preparations for that drive were known. But, instead of preparing to stop it, the Chamberlain and Daladier governments were occupied with a last-minute effort to bring about British-French-Nazi unity against the Soviet Union.
It was clear that the British government and its Canadian partners were not engaging in a people's war. Their aim was to correct Hitler's "mistake" and restore capitalist unity against the socialist state.
Recognizing the concrete facts of the situation, the leadership of the party quickly corrected its first erroneous position of "a fight on two fronts" and called upon the Canadian people to: "Keep Canada Out of the War!"
More than forty workers were arrested and imprisoned in different parts of Canada for distributing the party's manifesto against war. The Toronto Daily Clarion was suppressed, its business manager, Douglas Stewart, was imprisoned for two years because that paper had printed the manifesto of the Communist International on the war. Clarté, the only militant French language paper in Canada, was also banned. Frank Towers, an ex-serviceman in Oshawa, Ontario, was sentenced to three months' imprisonment for having sold the Clarion before it was banned. In town after town the distribution of handbills was forbidden and trade union organizational campaigns were stopped by the police. Electrical workers in Brockville, Ontario, were informed by the department of labor that their strike for higher wages and a union agreement was illegal because the company was also producing war materials. Scores of similar examples could be quoted. The reiorn of terror was on.
On January 11, 1940, new sections were added to the Defence of Canada Regulations, making, it legal for the authorities to detain a person in custody without trial. The regulations provided also that a person who had committed no offence whatsoever could be arrested and detained in anticipation of an offence about to be committed.
By suppression of its press, prohibition of its propaganda and, later, outlawry of its organizations and internment of those of its spokesmen that the R.C.M.P. was able to capture, the government strove to stamp out the influence of the party in the ranks of the working class. It failed, as events were to show. Despite repression and the systematic cultivation of chauvinism and war fever, the party continued to lead large sections of the workers.
The effectiveness of the party's work was reduced, however, by the re-emergenece of erroneous theories concerning the status of Canada, the role of the Canadian bourgeoisie and the extent to which they were responsible for Canada's involvement in the war. Those erroneous theories diverted the attention of the leadership away from the actual tasks that the party should have taken up. They turned the party's membership towards delusions of bourgeois cooperation with the working class in a struggle to complete "the uncompleted bourgeois-democratic revolution." They caused underestimation of the economic struggles of the workers in imperialist war conditions, underestimation of the role of the trade union movement and, therefore, a weakening of efforts to organize the unorganized.
In its attitude towards the imperialist war, however, and the criminal aims of the imperialists, the party never wavered. From the national leadership to the newest member, the party was united firmly in unflinching and uncompromising opposition to the imperialist war. Headed by the party, class-conscious workers waged a heroic struggle. Mrs. Dorise Nielsen, MP, who had been elected in the federal elections of March, 1940, typified their aims while giving voice to their demands. Utilizing the advantages which accrued to a member of parliament, Dorise Nielsen travelled up and down the length and breadth of Canada addressing huge meetings in support of the demand for peace by negotiation and the right of Canadians to advocate it. Her inspired slogan "Democracy Must Live!" became the expression of all that was best in the working-class movement and its fight to take Canada out of the war.
(1) Lenin: The War and the Working Class, 1917.
(2) The Daily Clarion, Sept. 8, 1939.
(3) The British Case by Lord Lloyd, with an introduction by Lord Halifax, His Majesty's Minister for Foreign Affairs.
(4) Quoted in National Affairs Monthly, April, 1944, p. 16