Wednesday March 28, 1973
Space and time necessarily dictate that every year, some books will go unreviewed. For some, this is a well-deserved fate. For others, it is an unfortunate but unavoidable exigency.
Herewith, a brief resume of at least some of this year's books that should not go unmentioned.
Irving Abella’s Nationalism Communism, and Canadian Labour, U of T Press, $4.50, just released, is an indispensable study of the politics of Canadian unionism from 1935 to 1956. Abella traces the two themes which he says dominated the interaction of the Canadian Congress of Labour and the CIO in Canada: "the internal threat from the Communists and the external threat from the Americans".
Much of the book deals with these struggles being fought out among the leadership of the unions. Abella justifies this by saying that the themes he deals with were "irrelevant" to rank and file unionists. "Only at times when his own well-being is at stake - during strikes and collective bargaining negotiations - does he take more than a passing interest in the activities of his union."
It is unclear whether Abella thinks this is necessarily true, or whether he thinks it was the case because of the structure (or other conditions) of the unions he describes. Indeed, on the evidence available, it is questionable whether his point is true at all. Some of the facts that he gives of rank-and-file political activity certainly seem to point to other conclusions.
The study makes it clear that the CIO did not come to Canada to
unionize the backward Canadians. Rather, Canadian workers themselves
were responsible for most organizing activity, and had to drag a
across the border.
Abella shows that Canadian Communists did much of organizing work for the Canadian union movement, thus debunking the myth that Communists specialized in taking over unions created by someone else.
The purge of the Communists was largely due to the fanatically anti-communist pro-CCF forces in the CCL, he shows.
The blame for the domination of Canadian unionism by the U.S-dominated "internationals however can be laid at the doorsteps of both the Communists and the CCFers. The Communists adhered to a rigid "internationalism" that amounted to suicide on their part, given the hawkish anti-red nature of the American labour bureaucrats to whom they were subjecting Canadian unions. The CCFers, meanwhile, found valuable allies in these hacks in their rivalry with the CP and cultivated ties with them, no matter how unequal,
An important book.
A must, even at the price ($7.50) is FORUM: Canadian Life and Letters 1920-1970: Selections from The Canadian Forum, edited by J.L. Granatstein and Peter Stevens (U. of T. Press).
For fifty years the Forum has been just that: a forum for Canadian literary and political expression. Founded in 1920 by some students and faculty at the University of Toronto it struggled through its early years with a low circulation and frequently a deficit. In 1935, it was taken over by the League for Social Reconstruction, the "brains trust" of the CCF. A circulation of 1,000 to 2,000 in the 1930's was doubled by the war years. During this period, it was the sounding board for a good deal of the social criticism of the academics who shaped much of the ideology of Canadian social democracy. When the LSR was disbanded in the early 1940's an editorial board took control.
Perhaps the most consistently enjoyable part of the Forum has always been its poetry. It has encouraged unknown young writers, and has published many of Canada's major poets. Earle Birney, A.M. Klein, Irving Layton, James Reaney, Milton Acorn, Dorothy Livesay, and Alden Nowlan, and many others, can be found in its back issues.
The selection is also fascinating as a mirror of at least one current of development in Canadian political thought. Frank Scott moves from social critic to liberal constitutionalist in its pages. Frank Underhill, seen by some in the 1930's as "the dean of a sinister communist conspiracy among the nation's professors", published much of his work in the Forum. His opinion of Mackenzie King (always a major object of attention in the Forum) moved, over the years, from considering him a manipulator in a phony two-party system which provided a "screen behind which the controlling interests pull the strings to manipulate the Punch and Judy who engage in mock combat," a man who "towered up like a mountain in the House of Commons because of the flatness of the landscape opposite him,", to seeing him as "the representative Canadian, the typical Canadian, the essential Canadian. the ideal Canadian, the Canadian as he exists in the mind of God."
Economic nationalism, too, is a consistently popular topic in the Forum.
One of the more fascinating contributions on this issue comes from the pen of Mel Watkins in 1964. Reviewing a book by Harry Johnson, the continentalist economist now commuting between Chicago and the London School of Economics, but formerly a Canadian - presently considered the arch-enemy of Canadian economic nationalists - Watkins blasts "misguided economic nationalism." He says "Professor Johnson takes Canadian nationalism too seriously. It is, after all, only economic. Though deplorable, it is a relatively harmless variety compared to much of what we see in the world today... more empirical work is necessary on the nature and causes of Canadian economic nationalism in the hope that we can exercise this devil from our midst".
A local group, The Labour Education Protect, 92 Bedford Road, Toronto 5, is distributing a pamphlet entitled. For Canadian Workers: Lessons From Italy. The booklet deals with organizing experiences of Italian workers, especially at the mammoth FIAT works, in trying to bring about workers' control.
Their militancy reflects a determination to bypass both the bureaucratized Communist Party and the tame, bought-off union hierarchies. Mass struggle for radical goals has been a feature of Italian politics since 1969.
A preface ties the new tactics and organizational forms from Italy to the Canadian scene where the docile international unions, the senile vanguard parties, and the liberals-in-the NDP have proven inadequate against attacks on workers' living standards and the widespread use of strike-breaking companies. When new strategies and forms of organization are obviously necessary, contributions such as this pamphlet are valuable. The emergence of non-sectarian groups such as the Labour Education Project and Windsor's Community Resource Contra are hopeful signs as well.
Another contribution comes from an interesting current of political activity: radical Christianity (a most welcome antidote to the mind-fucking mystifications of that current plague, the Jesus Freaks.)
A 56-page booklet, Chile versus the Corporations: A Call for Canadian Support, comes from two progressive Toronto groups that still maintain religious ties, The Latin American Working Group (Box 6300, Station A. Toronto l, and the Development Education Centre (200 Bedford Road, Toronto). It sketches corporate (including Canadian) involvement in Chile, the attempts of the Allende government to reverse this domination and the massive repression against Chile instituted by the capitalist countries.
Useful both as a brief guide to the Chilean situation, and for the philosophy it adheres to: "The position of Christ was in no way ambiguous: his was an option for the poor and against anyone or any system that stood in the way of man's liberation. The present international economic system is a situation of sin, and as such it must be rejected.
I.F Stone's third collection of articles, Polemics and Prophecies, 1967-1970, has come out in paperback. (Vintage, $3.25). Like the first two volumes, The Haunted Fifties and especially In a Time of Torment, it is a superb collection of masterful journalism. With an uncanny sense of news Stone ferrets out facts, many of them in little-known reports of the U.S. government itself, that damn the holders of power. While his analysis is not always perfect (whose is?), his pieces on the two-party system ("When Two Equals One"), The Vietnam War ("The Monster with Little Brain and No Heart"), Richard Nixon ("The Evil of Banality"), militarism, social measures ("Billions for Missiles and Pennies for Poverty"), disarmament ("A Century of Futility"), the Mideast, and other topics, are invaluable. I can't think of a better regular interpreter of the current scene than Stone. When it comes to powerful radical journalism, Stone has a lot to teach to, say, The Varsity.
Also of current interest is Ernest Mandel's Decline of the Dollar. A Marxist View of the Monetary Crisis. (Monad Book, Pathfinder Press, N.Y. $1.95). Useful for a-deeper understanding of what you read about in the business pages of The Globe and Mail.
Another major marxist writer, Paul Sweezy has published a collection of essays, (Modem Capitalism and Other Essays, Modem Reader, Monthly Review Press, $215). Sweezy writing in the pages of Monthly Review, a magazine out of New York which he edits, has long been contributing insightful (and sometimes controversial) interpretations of the state of modern capitalism.
From the excellent Pelican Latin American Library, there are three more volumes: Servants of God or Masters of Men; The Story of a Capuchin Mission in Amazonia ($2.50); by Victor Daniel Bonilla; Brazil: The People and the Power, ($1.65) by Miguel Arraes, and Cambao The Yoke: The Hidden Face of Brazil, ($1.50) by Francisco Juliao.
Bonilla traces the history of a Columbian Indian tribe facing a Catholic missionary community, but sees much larger implications in the subject matter: "the everlasting story of the West against the Indian." "That civilization i.e., the West), having exploited the Indian for centuries, and having taken a large part of his culture away from him without replacing it with anything at all of value, is still pursuing its work of pillage and destruction. And it always does it in the name of what it holds as its most sacred principles: democracy, progress, acculturization of 'primitives', Christian charity, and the expansion of the reign of God in Indo-America.
The Arraes book is a study of the economy and recent political developments of Brazil. A lengthy chapter on the Brazilian economy is interesting as an example of the impact of imperialism on a 'Third World' nation.
Francisco Juliao is an exiled member of the Peasant League in northeastern Brazil, writing a personalized account of the league's struggles against the intolerable oppression that Brazilian peasants suffer.
Attacks from the right on Pierre Trudeau's Quebec policy are hard to come by nowadays, or so I had thought. But The Honourable Joseph 1. Thorson has effectively squelched that theory.
In Wanted: A Single Canada (McClelland & Stewart, $6.95), Thorson, President of the Single Canada League, natters in rather poor English, about the evils of bi-culturalism and bilingualism. "How can there be national unity in Canada," he bristles "as long as the Quebec leaders insist that the integrity of the French-Canadian nation must be maintained and that French Canadians must remain French?
He advocates a Canada based on a partnership between individuals - a perfect way for ensuring the hegemony of the dominant culture and the disappearance of cultural minorities. His blindness to the nature of nations is further evident in the fact that he argues - solely from constitutional and legal grounds - that Quebec has no 'right' to self-determination or separation. This, of course, is hardly the point. The constitutions of a colonizer rarely contain provisions for the right of the colonized to secede.
Attempting to capitalize on Buckminster Fuller's fame is Buckminister Fuller to Children of Earth (Doubleday & Company Inc, $4.35).
It's a slim little paperback full of arty pictures of trees ("Nature is so beautiful... How she is working is so beautiful."-the entire text of one page) and children ("A child plays with balls that are round like the earth and touches whole things"). On the facing page of each picture there are short quotes from Fuller, intended, no doubt, to appear as pregnant profundities, but coming across more often as trivial banalities.
Some of the pictures are nice but the phony self-seriousness of the format detracts from them. Not worth the price.
Looking at children from another perspective is the truth & other stories, by Terrence Heath, Anansi $2.50). It consists of short passages of very tight descriptive prose, each outlining a different incident, many of them childhood (especially boyhood) experiences from prairie life.
Many of them are violent or ugly, painful to read about in a way that descriptions of adult violence never quite match. The starkness of the writing style, with its predominance of verbs and nouns and its absence of softening adjectives or subordinate clauses, adds to the gut reaction it evokes. It captures the matter-of-fact unfeelingness of boys, the cruelty that comes more from curiosity for the results rather than from a conscious desire to do harm.
Also captured are the ugliness of adult experiences, as well as some situations than are quite funny, or simply the taking in of new facts from the external world.
I cant decide whether I like this book or not, but it did hold my attention.
A book on a timely topic is James Paupst's The Pill: A True Perspective (Clarks Irwin, $1.75). It's a concise guide to the problems associated with the pill: mood changes, weight gain, infertility, headaches, etc, It contains a lot of facts but it is questionable whether the book really provides a "perspective". Certainly it can't and doesn't provide all the information about the pill that simply doesn't exist because insufficient research has been done on it. To provide that information, women taking the pill today are acting as unwitting guinea pigs.
Jim Christy’s The New Refugees: American Voices in Canada (Peter Martin Associates, $7.95) is a collection of short essays by Americans exiled in Canada. Predictably, it is quite uneven in quality. The best pieces are those describing experiences in America itself: the Army, the family scene back home. The contribution by Mark Trent is especially good. The worst are generally those giving impressions of Canada - these combine gee-whiz travelogue with naive political assessments. That sort of stuff may have anthropological interest, but not much else to recommend it. Also disappointing are most of the interviews. These seem to be unedited, an approach popular among lazy journalists, but really indefensible.
Still, it’s an interesting book to read through. I’s not rich in literary gems, but there is the odd prize to stumble across. And that makes the book a worthwhile experience - though maybe not worth $7.95 to get.
Catering to the peace-and-love, back-to-the farm generation is Communes in America: The Place Just Right, by Elinor Lander Horwitz (Lippincott, $5.25).
It’s a simplistic, superficial history of utopian experiment in the U.S. It looks a lot like a children's book: big print, facts without analysis, platitudinous conclusions. It might appeal to some of today’s hippie love freaks, however: it's got a bright, posterized cover, peace symbol and all. And it's washable.