"Yours for the revolution": communication and identity in the Western Clarion.
Port Arthur, Dec. 11, 1911. Dear Sir:--Will you please stop sending your paper to my house, as I don't think it is a paper any person would wish in their house; at least, I do not wish it in my house. If any more are sent I shall put the matter in my lawyer's hands. I have burnt up the others as they have arrived. I looked over one and would not let anyone else in my house see them. H. Smith, 95 Cumberland St. ("Mental")
The title of "Mental Misfortune" given to this letter and the editorial response are no less indicative of the hard line that led to Smith's reaction: "So long has the slave been in mental darkness that, like the entombed miner who, crazed by suffering, runs from his rescuers, he is enraged by the Truth, instead of welcoming it as his deliverer.--Ed" ("Mental"). The "Truth" was hammered home in issue after issue for over twenty years: wage slaves must self-educate, unite, and take control of the means of production. There was no room for ignorance, no justification for opportunistic individualism, and no excuse for political half measures. The struggle to effectively communicate the idea of revolutionary consciousness and the practice of community based on an understanding of historical materialism and socialist principles was, however, more complex than such staged exchanges seem to suggest. (1)
A longstanding emphasis on conservative authors and upmarket forms has overshadowed literature by, representative of, and written or produced for working-class people in Canada. As Cary Nelson has described with respect to modernist poetry in the American context, institutional priorities have governed historical reading practices, obscuring most of what has been written as well as what most people read, thus transforming how we understand communication in the past. (2) The historical gaps and distortions that result from omission and prioritization differ between disciplines. Histories of the "left" in Canada prior to the 1930s make excellent use of the labour press to document labour history, (3) but there is no account of how the mixed format of the labour paper was used to communicate with working-class readers. Literary scholarship on working-class literature is scant in comparison (4) and is dominated by major writers, middle-class novels, and the heyday of proletarian literature and arts beginning in the 1930s. (5) Recent literary criticism is more inclusive in terms of forms and genres, but earlier periods tend to act as brief historical surveys to frame more detailed work on later periods, or are largely ignored. In James Doyle's Progressive Heritage, for example, the first two chapters cover the pre-1920s period. The title of chapter 1, "The Progressive Heritage in Canadian Literature: Beginnings to 1900" would seem to suggest a far-reaching historical survey, but it is used to introduce the interests of literary critic and anthologist Margaret Fairley, a prominent member of the Communist Party of Canada. The eclectic inclusion of the Ontario Workman (Toronto 1872 to 1875) and Agnes Maule Machar's Roland Graeme: Knight (1892) produce a limited survey of "progressive" literature in early Canada. Chapter 2, "Antecedents and Alternatives," opens by stating that "By the early twentieth century there were several anti-capitalist and/or pro-socialist periodicals in Canada, the most literarily significant of which was probably the Western Clarion (founded 1903) of Vancouver, which was the official newspaper of the Socialist Party of Canada from 1905 to 1920" (37). There is, however, no significant follow-up with respect to either the labour press in general or the Clarion more specifically. This underestimates the extent of the labour press both before and after 1900. Further, Doyle seems to base the literary significance (whatever that might mean) of the Clarion on inclusion of the poems of Wilfred Gribble, which were supposedly "a cut above the doggerel of Phillips Thompson" (37). The emphasis on poetry is itself a distortion of the literary complexity of the Clarion and other labour papers of the period. But what is most interesting is that even in a book self-described as a survey of Canadian radical culture with particular emphasis on literary history, as related to the Communist Party of Canada at least, the official organ of the Socialist Party of Canada receives less than a page, which offers no substantial description of any aspect of the paper, as literature or otherwise.
As F. W. Watt concluded in 1960, "the apparently sudden outburst of proletarian literature in the 1930s, so often thought of as part of a temporary international aberration, takes on a new interest when we become aware of the Canadian writing that led up to it from many years before" (173). The awareness of early proletarian literature as formative and important is, then, not new. (6) But the appetite for recovery beyond the specialized interests of literary critics, and despite the groundbreaking work of labour historians, has been less than ravenous and far from expansive, perhaps in part because it requires a change in perspective in at least two ways. First, nation building in Canada leading up to World War I involved industrialization, railway expansion, geographical consolidation, and centralized governance but also the development of working-class consciousness, in part through organization, agitation, and communication aimed at social and economic change. (7) Second, in addition to the selection of poetry and novels that may pass for Canadian Literature today, the transition from colonial settlement to industrial state was furthered and challenged by a diverse body of literature. In short, a social history of Canadian writing, to use Watt's words, requires attention to the literature that was available to and meaningful for working-class Canadians. This could include all sorts of literature, working class or otherwise. The starting point here is downmarket newspapers that played a key role in the reading experiences and everyday lives of many working Canadians. The particular focus is a labour paper that was at once readily available and politically divisive, because it addressed capitalist conditions from a socialist perspective. This article, then, aims to contribute to knowledge of proletarian literature in post-Confederation Canada in three related ways: by briefly outlining the early history of the Clarion; by describing the Clarions use of articles, extracts, leaflets, pamphlets, poems, short stories, novels, and cartoons to define and popularize the platform of the Socialist Party of Canada (spc); and by investigating how such communicative practices shaped and were shaped by the maintenance of identity and group formation, especially as the spc attempted to increase the Clarions circulation and further socialist representation across Canada.
The often-used term labour press tends to obscure significant differences between papers. The Ontario Workman, for example, was typical of early labour papers in that the aim was improved labour conditions (such as shorter hours). This emphasis took various forms over the years. Faith-based papers, for example, including the Methodist Magazine (Toronto 1875 to 1888), which furthered a form of Christian socialism, and the Templar (Hamilton 1895 to 1898?), which advocated temperance in particular, were similarly concerned with issues. But in response to industrialization, political inertia (or self-interest), the declining influence of the church, and the limited effectiveness of reform politics, demands for root and branch changes to Canadian society began to emerge in Ontario as early as the 1880s. (8) Coinciding with the widespread influence of the U.S.-based
Knights of Labor, (9) especially in Ontario and Quebec, a significant shift occurred with the Palladium of Labor (Hamilton 1883 to 1886), and perhaps especially with Phillips Thompson's Labor Advocate (Toronto 1890 to 1891), both of which were sympathetic to socialism while supportive of incremental reforms. As echoed by current debates in Canada regarding the history of the left and the relation of socialists to reformers, Communists to social democrats, and so on, (10) references by labour historians and literary critics of the period to the radicalism of the labour press or to reformism in general are often misleading, or at least require contextualization. Views of social progress were often based to varying degrees on Christianity, democracy, and co-operation with respect to specific issues or general conditions, despite repeated and often vague references to socialism. Thompson was one of the most vigorous reformers during this period," driving a clear turn to more radical solutions, but he also argued for short-term measures such as the single tax and municipal ownership that might further the path to socialism--an incremental allowance at odds with the official stance of the SPC later outlined in the Clarion.
By the turn of the century, more radical versions of socialist thought and organization had taken root on the west coast, where a political economy dependent on resource extraction and harsh working conditions, for example in the forestry and mining industries, led to powerful unions with radical agendas (Johnson ii; McCormack 35-52; Bercuson 1-28). The early history of the Clarion reflects such political and social developments, as well as the geographical expansion of the labour movement, and provides a useful reference point with respect to the unresolved philosophical tensions that played such a practical role in determining the content and format of the paper. On 15 March 1898, Citizen and Country (Toronto 1898 to 1902), edited by George Wrigley, became the official organ of the Canadian Socialist League (CSL), which was Christian and gradualist, promoting the single tax, direct legislation, adult suffrage, and the public ownership of franchises. (12) In 1902, Wrigley moved Citizen and Country to Vancouver, where persistent agitation and socialist activity provided fertile ground for more radical forms of communication. In 1901, the Socialist Party of British Columbia (SPBC) emerged from the Socialist League in Vancouver. Differences within the Party led to the withdrawal of the Nanaimo members, who organized the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP), with the Nanaimo Clarion as its official publication. The electoral strength of the Nanaimo party led to a merger of the two parties based on the adoption of the program of the RSP. As such, the spbc supported the "principles and program of the international working class" (Wrigley). The publisher of the Ferguson (later Lardeau) Eagle, R. Parameter Pettipiece, moved to Vancouver and bought a share in Citizen and Country, which was renamed the Canadian Socialist on 5 July 1902. It replaced the Eagle as the official organ of the spbc, first as the Western Socialist and then merged with the Nanaimo Clarion to become the Western Clarion starting on 8 May 1903. (13)
In 1904, the spbc became the spc, which made the Clarion the official organ of a national organization with revolutionary aims. Unlike earlier labour or reform papers, the description and improvement of local conditions was not a direct or primary concern of the Clarion. (14) Conditions stimulated a socialist response, but the focus was on intellectual preparation of the working class for socialism, the definition of which was central to the pedagogical mission of the Clarion. As A. Ross McCormack notes, most socialist parties prided themselves on teaching the "pure Marxist creed," but "What made the Canadian party highly unusual in the North American movement was its impossibilism" (54). Besides publication of the platform of the spc in every issue, many articles outlined foundational principles of Marxism ("What Socialism"; McClure; Gribble, "Simple"). Even more common were articles that distinguished between the science of socialism (as consistent with human evolution) and popular variations of reform politics--especially Christian and utopian socialism but also Fabianism (Engels; Hoar), liberalism (C. S.), and even left-wing Communism, which was colourfully described as an "infantile disorder" (Lenin). Reform of any sort, in short, was "the career of all those, without doubt well-meaning individuals, who would move mountains with heartaches and turn the course of rivers with tears" (H.). The term socialism had already been around for a long time, and it was regularly used, directly or indirectly, to describe all manner of reform movements or associations in Canada, but also in Britain and America. It was therefore necessary to separate Socialism (of the impossibilist sort) from socialism as clearly as possible. The following definition was typically radical and concise: "The end sought is the abolition of capital, wage slavery and production for profit" ("Pilot"). However, it also formed part of a more detailed critique of an address by D. M. Parry, President of the National Association of Manufacturers, and related comments made in the Wall Street Journal. By addressing capital, competition, individualism, wage labour, and surplus value, the call for revolution took on theoretical and practical implications and enabled a thorough contrast between unionists, who sought the manipulation of economic power they did not control, and socialists, who sought the control of economic power first. Besides such a clear division between reformist and revolutionary approaches to social progress, editorial positioning of the Clarion with respect to Marxist doctrine, but also capitalists, capitalist organizations, and the capitalist press, left no doubt as to either foundational principles or the political opposition and, as such, the separation of the Clarion from earlier labour or reform papers. The Clarion also situated itself in other ways, for example, with definitions that combined science, history, and economics with future possibilities of social organization (Spartacus, "'Moderate'"). References to a future commonwealth were unusual, however. Gribble more typically framed socialism with respect to sociology as a science of society concerned with the means of changing the present rather than projections of utopian outcomes ("Socialism"). The important point is that articles of self-definition were part of a consistent effort to differentiate socialism from other more or less sympathetic approaches to public welfare within a capitalist system.
The humanitarian basis of the Clarion--emancipation of the working class from capitalist oppression--was at once universal and particular (Rayner; Laurence). A common goal to further the material well-being of all people made possible a sense of solidarity that would seem to cut across political and other lines, but the conditions of unity were specific: "And if Socialism is to be a universal movement in reality as it is in name, our racial and national and social prejudices must be sunk in the common cause of incessant warfare against capitalism" (Stirling). In short, the creation of a One (Socialism) demanded both the submission of others (alternative world views or priorities) and the destruction of the Other (Capitalism). Despite such a reductionist formula, or perhaps because of the many blunt oppositions and exclusions involved, the impact of assuming such a radical political position was far-reaching and complex. As expected, trade union movements, including the International Workers of the World and the American Federation of Labor, were criticized (Stonehenge; Herron; Osborne). The way forward was singular: "But can Socialists and Unionists work together? Yes, when Unionists are Socialists, not before" ("Socialism and Unionism"). And yet, as J. M. Milne notes, unions were the main source of SPC membership and support: "All five of its members elected to legislatures (three in BC, one in Alberta and one in Manitoba) were elected by trade union votes. In turn, the SPC was influenced by the unions. Its elected members furthered legislation favored by the unions" (6). The message of the Clarion was clear enough: "There can be no such thing as a 'moderate' socialist" (Spartacus, "'Moderate' "). But amidst the many calls to get down to bedrock and stop wasting time on popular moderation of no long-term benefit ("Get Down"; Lewis; Zanoni; Gribble, "How"), some socialists were doing just that. Similarly, when it came time to vote in provincial elections, the opposition to Grits and Tories was clear (Cumming), but the disapproval of political reform did not stop some SPC members, in the legislature or at public meetings, from supporting or at least discussing incremental measures to assist workers (Milne 4). As McCormack puts it, "the party's practical policy on current issues was not always consistent with its impossibilism" (64). There was, then, a paradox, or at least a strain, between the practices of some members who actively furthered political reform and the theoretical stance of the SPC as expressed in the pages of the Clarion.
With respect to the Ontario Workman, which supported the Nine Hour Movement, the Labor Advocate, which fought for municipal control of the street railway in Toronto, and especially its moderate predecessor Citizen and Country, the critique of capitalism in the Clarion was strict. It extended to even seemingly benign practices and organizations aimed at the amelioration of the effects of capitalism: the inspection of London orphanages was described as capitalist interest in "careful selection of the stock" ("Children"); the methods of the Salvation Army were condemned (Spartacus, "Poverty"); and engagement in municipal affairs was described as "the opportunist itch" ("Opportunist") or otherwise disparaged (Spartacus, "Bubble"). In short, all aspects of social life had to be understood according to the party platform, and this included people as well as issues. Immigrants and Canadian workers, those not part of the "master-class," were seen as occupying the same position, (15) which was determined by the capitalist mode of production (Green). Similarly, the conditions that oppressed women were only a concern of the Clarion so far as the discussion centred on the deleterious results of capitalism, which included corruption ("That 'Pie Girl' "), prostitution ("White Slave"), sweated female labour (Scott), and trafficking ("Demand"). The equality of women was not central to the Clarions mission in so much as capitalism was considered the cause of inequality (Alexander). As Janice Newton writes, "the party dismissed consideration of issues rooted in the relations between the sexes or in men's power to exploit women" (101). Such interpretations no doubt accounted in part for the crossover membership between unions, other social organizations, and the SPC--people who wanted to contribute to immediate change and support revolutionary possibilities, likely with the belief that one could lead to the other or, at least, that the former could not hinder the latter.
The Clarion clearly aimed to limit such practices. As one regular contributor put it, "Your only way out is to study the Socialist dope and get wise, then act together with the rest of the workers to own and control all the machinery of production, till then be as happy as you can passing resolutions" (Budden). But despite the obvious intent to provide singular support for the platform of the SPC, such a statement seems to recognize a number of interrelated factors, including the range and popularity of reform practices, the need for self-education and popular action to further socialist goals, and the understanding that in the meantime nothing much was (or seemed) possible other than minor political reforms. Regardless, in the face of various possibilities for social action, at the heart of the Clarion was the belief that revolutionary conditions and socialist practices could be manufactured. The SPC favoured neither political compromise nor violent opposition, instead relying on the production of a knowledgeable electorate, which meant that the focus of their efforts was on the radical re-education of workers with access to the ballot. How the SPC went about this is in part a story of political positioning and communicative practices, both of which were situated with respect to wider circumstances.
An understanding of education as the provision of information (often in the form of or accompanied by opinion) always dominated the pages of the Clarion. This included many descriptions of key economic concepts (Lafargue; "Value"; "Wealth"); extracts from the writings of Marx and Engels (Marx, "Chapter"; Marx and Engels, "Bourgeois"; Marx, "Marx on Cheapness"); summaries or explanations of key Marxist topics (Hazell; Simons); extracts from authors such as Oscar Wilde and Friedrich Nietzsche (Wilde; Hibernicus); and regular advertisements for socialist literature available in Canada and America. (16) Making socialist literature, or literature that could be read as sympathetic to socialism, available in the pages of the Clarion and to as many as possible both within and beyond Canadian cities was central to the project of the SPC. The literature offered or promoted may be understood as forming a cabinet of downmarket literature or a repository of socialist thought. Getting the right sources of information out to both committed and potential socialists, especially in light of the perceived dominance and distortion of mainstream publishing, was of critical importance. (17) As such, what amounts to the usual suspects of socialist literature for the period are front and centre. In relation, advertisements were a means of creating a recommended reading list of non-fiction, usually of the theoretical or historical variety, and situating the manifesto of the SPC with respect to subjects such as Darwinism, unionism, and internationalism (figure 1), or key works by Marx (such as Capital, Revolution and Counter-Revolution, Eighteenth Brumaire), Engels (such as Landmarks of Scientific Socialism, Feuerbach), and Marx and Engels (The Communist Manifesto) alongside, for example, Prosper Olivier Lissigaray's History of the Commune of 1871 (1876) and Erico Ferri's Socialism and Modern Science (1900) (figure 2). In this way, the list of works offered was also a way to shape understanding of socialism as a science with its own history and with respect to the history of social progress in Western society. It was, in other words, a way to indicate that socialism was deserving of serious study. Related means of promoting key works and creating appropriate literary connections are evidenced by advertisements for "The Library of Original Sources" (figure 3), "Great Books by Great Men" at People's Bookstore in Vancouver (figure 4), and socialist materials available at Local Vancouver No. 1 (figure 5, see over). An international canon of socialist resources available by mail or sold locally was essential to the educational program of the SPC as it connected workers, educators, unions, and associations by the act of reading and made possible (although it did not guarantee) a collective basis for unified action.
Emphasis on the selection and dissemination of non-fiction literature by a known cast of international authors was also part of an overall differentiation of the Clarion, and to a lesser degree other socialist papers advertised in the Clarion (for example, Cotton's Weekly, British Columbia Federationist, Robutchyj Narod), from the "reptile press" ("Law"). The Clarion frequently addressed censorship of the press in general terms and also with respect to particular situations (Spartacus, "Freedom"; Spartacus, "Censorship"; Morgan; "Prompt"). Thompson, for example, described the crusade against American periodical literature, including increased postage rates on American imports, as resulting in a literary diet "restricted to beaver stewed in maple leaves" ("Jingo"), that is, British, nationalist, patriotic, and capitalist. More often, as with earlier labour papers, and the Labor Advocate in particular, the Clarion attacked the capitalist press for deluding the working class and otherwise actively taking part in their oppression (F. H. F.). The relation of the Clarion to such papers was made explicit as Gribble, for example, noted that the Clarion could never be "popular" or "attractive" to the average worker because it was, in his view, more like the British Medical Journal or a book on mathematics; it was, in other words, a "serious" paper that dealt with the "science" of socialism, and "Such a paper will not (of itself) commend itself to the average worker, who wants something lighter and 'easier to read,' less serious and altogether unscientific" ("Party"). This was another means of self-definition (of SPC members and Clarion readers) by attack on the mainstream press, but it was also a pointed statement directed at working-class readers, who often preferred to read the so-called "mass of piffle" rather than (pay for) socialist writing (G. P.). Such a position did not exclude the labour press, however, and so the division was not simply between the Clarion and more popular papers. The Clarion was just as quick to point out the "slobber" handed out by "so-called labor papers and journals" (Fillmore, "Slave"), and thus to differentiate between the SPC and all other labour advocates.
As an early advertisement states, the Clarion considered itself "The only Labor Paper in Canada that advocates the abolition of the wage system and the ending of Labor's exploitation" ("Do Not Forget"). This stance clearly resulted in the restriction of communication practices. Party propaganda came in various forms, both earlier and later in the history of the Clarion. Early on, for example, the Clarion attempted to attract new readers (or engage existing readers) with sections such as "In a Lighter Vein" and "News and Views" as well as letters and editorials. But the rare excerpts of Wilde, for example, although on topic because concerned with socialism, seem an entertaining exception among the many articles and extracts emphasizing some aspect of socialism as a science, which resulted in a repetitive info-dump approach to knowledge generation. Perhaps less surprising, there was no woman's column, as for example in the earlier Labor Advocate and the concurrent Cotton's Weekly (Cowansville 1908 to 1914). The Clarion faced an interesting dilemma. Despite calls to increase circulation (Gribble, "Election"), it served a dual purpose as propaganda paper and official organ that shaped the scope and content of the paper. As one commentator put it: "If the propaganda is not revolutionary the opportunity is wasted. Nay, worse, our proposition is misrepresented. As stated before, our object is not by hook or crook to elect representatives, but to foster the growth of revolutionary sentiment. This point should never be lost sight of" ("Municipal"). Adherence to core values and the management of distinction with respect to both profit-seeking newspapers and the more moderate labour press may have seemed equally necessary, but enough people still had to want to read the paper and, preferably, buy it. Circulation and financial sustainability were clearly issues at several points, if not throughout, the Clarions history. For example, the Clarion suspended publication from the end of 1903 until June 1904 and then again in October until January 1905, due to a treasury depleted by election activity and insufficient support by the members (Milne 4). And as of June 1911, the Clarion was running a deficit and could not cut costs further ("Proposed"). The prospect of relying heavily on advertising no doubt seemed at odds in a paper aimed at the overthrow of capitalism. (18) So, the question was: Could the Clarion be popular and socialist without following the lead of either mainstream or moderate papers? Or, in other words, to what extent could the SPC bend without breaking?
The Clarion attempted to create and extend international and national links to further a clear and more positive sense of belonging. Pamphlets, for example, could be sent to Britain, and the Clarion was available at newsstands and bookstores in Vancouver, Montreal, Toronto, Calgary, and Winnipeg, and in America, including Buffalo, Rochester, and Seattle (" 'Clarion' "). The Clarion reported on the labour movement across Canada (often in the form of criticism): Thompson contributed numerous articles from an Ontario viewpoint, as did Gribble from both Ontario and the Maritimes and Spartacus from Winnipeg. Reports from abroad were not uncommon, especially on the Russian Revolution, and including a lengthy series of reports on the labour movement in London and elsewhere in Britain/9 But such efforts at cross-border dissemination and international socialist identification were unlikely to make the paper itself more attractive to common readers with access to a wide range of daily, weekly, and monthly periodicals. A change in format from a weekly paper to a monthly magazine, which would be supplemented by a party bulletin, was proposed ("Proposed"). The first such magazine followed in July 1911, but in this first issue Chechaco writes that despite the noted call from some to make the paper more entertaining, the Clarion would "confine itself solely to education" as "a paper for Socialists." The proposed separation of (popular) magazine and (party) bulletin, as such, did not happen. The sixty-four-page magazine that ran from July to September, followed by a thirty-two-page edition in October, was just a longer party paper. The experiment ended with the return of the four-page weekly paper in November 1911. However, significant challenges to the existence of the SPC would contribute to further experiments.
As described, the Clarion followed from both the moderate Citizen and Country and the revolutionary Nanaimo Clarion, and despite the rise of a centralized, national organization in 1904, the SPC never managed to contain the inherently unstable relations between practical reform and revolutionary consciousness, a schism that eventually, or repeatedly, divided the membership and threatened the existence of the organization. In 1907, Ernest Burns and his wife, Bertha Merrill Burns, created the Social Democratic Party (SDP) of Vancouver, in part because both were suspended from the SPC for arranging speaking engagements for a reform speaker (L. Kealey 80). Several years later, "In October 1910, the Manitoba Ukrainian locals gathered in Winnipeg and formed the Social Democratic Party of Canada, adopting a program heavy with reforms. In April 1911, the Ontario Finnish branches convened in Toronto, broke away from the Party, and formed the Canadian Socialist Federation. Later in the same year both parties got together, adopting the Manitoba name" (Milne 9). Cotton's Weekly became the voice of the more moderate and increasingly popular SDPC, which was open to Christianity and supported various issues, including the reduction of hours of labour, the elimination of child labour, universal adult suffrage, and temperance. (20) Similarly, although moving in a different direction, in 1910 several branches of the SPC in Toronto and southern Ontario separated to form the Socialist Party of North America, which was against any support for reforms ("Manifesto").
In July 1912, socialism in Canada seemed to be going through a period of crisis. The loss of key members and the fragmentation of the socialist movement were obvious reasons, and, as McCormack notes, "Impossibilism could not win the workers' hearts or, in the short run at any rate, fill their stomachs" (75). The important role of the Clarion with respect to the maintenance of SPC membership led to several changes. One predictable result was a call to start new locals and support the Clarion ("Shake"). More interestingly, this call coincided with several limited attempts to popularize the Clarion, broaden readership, and raise funds. For example, in 1912 a series of leaflets published in the Clarion could be ordered separately, but the cost of $1. (20) postpaid was not cheap. Moreover, they were extensions of the party platform, with expected topics such as the single tax and the working class, the cost of living, capitalism, the evolution of human society, capital and labour, wage-earner and farmer, economics and war, machinery and labour. (21) Similarly, although the sale of pamphlets began earlier (figures 6 and 7), an advertisement in 1912 makes clear that peddling packages of pamphlets for pennies was perhaps as much a financial necessity as it was a communication strategy (figure 8, see over). Regardless, like the leaflets the pamphlets were an alternative means of dissemination that offered little in the way of innovation (figure 9, see over). Given the repetitious preaching to the choir nature of such endeavours, it is not surprising that the party's most popular pamphlet of the period was the Manifesto of the Socialist Party of Canada (1911), with five editions appearing by 1920 (Milne 8).
The use of poems, short stories, and novels would seem to offer greater potential to increase readership of the Clarion and support for the SPC. The use of popular literature, including verse and prose, was common to earlier labour papers and often wide-ranging in form, content, and emphasis, but the Clarion was largely hamstrung by adherence to the party line. For example, although a closer reading would no doubt reveal subtleties within and between poems, and with respect to the poetry published over the life of the Clarion, two extracts seem sufficient to describe the overall tenor of the verse employed. John Leslie's aptly titled "A Recruiting Song" concludes: "And the shout of your battalions to your comrades over the sea/ Will tell the day has come at last when labor will be free" And B. J. Nicoll's similarly on-topic "A New Marseilleise" includes the following chorus:
Awake, awake, ye slaves! The workers shall be free! March on! march on! All hearts resolved, March on to liberty!
The blunt militaristic rhetoric, the intended use at rallies, protests, and meetings, and the twofold emphasis on international solidarity of the working class and freedom from wage slavery adequately sum up the practical uses of poetry. Short fiction was not as common, but the limited range is no less apparent. Gribble's "The Pot of Gold," for example, is an unsurprising story about a young miner who travels to Canada to make his way in the world. Without direct evidence it is hard to say how such literature was received, but neither the poetry nor the short fiction seem to offer much beyond the party line to entice new readers not already self-identified as socialists or at least as readers of related literature.
The serialization of Jack London's novel The Iron Heel from 21 June 1913 to 1 August 1914 portends a potentially more significant addition, as it was a genuinely popular novel that might have interested subscribers and regular readers and possibly attracted new readers. It was, however, the only novel published in the Clarion. Unlike the Trades Journal (Spring Hill, N.S., 1880 to 1891), for example, which repeatedly published society and sensation novels from Britain and America, it did not signal a sustained effort to popularize the paper. Perhaps most importantly, it did not represent an effort to use more moderate forms of literature to lure new readers to an otherwise radical socialist paper. The Iron Heel was widely recognized as a socialist novel and therefore could be seen by party members as a continuation of core values. Increasing circulation by varying format and content was one way to attract readers and add membership, or at least encourage sympathizers, but to do so without diverging from principles imposed severe limitations, in terms of content at least. Even London's portrayal of the violent overthrow of a capitalist oligarchy in America leading to the rise of an isolated socialist utopia in the hills of Africa could be seen as either deviation or distraction with respect to strictly pedagogical or socialist aims--and suitable or not as a warning against violent revolution, there was no guarantee that a novel first published in 1908 would significantly increase readership five years later. London's dystopian tale was sufficiently different from more conservative novels that addressed working-class conditions and social transformation from the perspective of middle-class priorities, (22) but being more radical than moderates was never the aim of the SPC.
The Clarion, although obviously interested in altering format and content to attract (or entertain) readers, seems to have been unable or unwilling to consistently or effectively do so. Along these lines, the inclusion of front-page cartoons is of interest. Although (or because) used only intermittently throughout the life of the Clarion, they seem a striking addition to an otherwise text-heavy paper clearly wary of anything that would compromise the reputation of the Clarion as a "serious" paper. Earlier and contemporary periodicals in Britain, America, and Canada made excellent use of cartoons to communicate core messages, and so it is perhaps more surprising that the Clarion did not make better use of the form. This seems especially the case given the earlier success of J. W. Bengough's Grip (Toronto 1872 to 1894). The cartoons published in the Clarion did not deviate from common topics such as the political system and capitalism (figure 10), slavery past and present (figure 11, see over), and inequality (figure 12, see over), and the range of communication was significant--educational and comedic, blunt and informative, satirical and opinionated. As such, the addition of cartoons did not require a sacrifice in terms of focus and made possible variation in communication practices that would seem likely to encourage a broader readership or at least interest committed readers. That cartoons did not become a more prominent part of the Clarion may have depended on the self-conscious avoidance of association with the mainstream press and possibly also with popular reading--the so-called "mass of piffle" If socialism was a science, requiring careful study of key terms and canonical texts, and the Clarion the only true representative of labour's cause, then the use of cartoons, or any other form of reading that might seem more escapist than educational, likely had to be limited, even when designed and employed for the same purpose as an extract from the Communist Manifesto. Perhaps underlying this lack of commitment to more accessible forms of communication, as well as the strict control of them, was mistrust in the reader generally. Literary content in the Clarion suggests that the SPC did not trust readers to draw the "right" conclusions unless spelled out in no uncertain terms or to move from the "periphery" (entertaining literature) to the core message of the paper (socialism). (23)
Cartoons no less than poetry or novels were therefore only permissible infrequently and only as didactic re-presentations of doctrine.
Letters to the Clarion from sympathetic contributors were often signed "Yours for the revolution" or "Yours in revolt" Such limited communication circuits were the bread and butter of the Clarion. They perpetuated mutually reassuring discourse that separated and solidified the core principles of the SPC from other "so-called" socialist or reform organizations. But the community in question was not homogeneous, as evidenced by the many ruptures and failures throughout the history of the SPC, which was always pulled in two directions, by the need to remain a whole able to communicate itself to others and by the fact that no such unified whole actually existed in practice. The consistency of the community depended on the communication of a world view that made definite sense of complex situations and opposed all that tended toward indefinite conclusions or social alternatives. The aim to "educate" committed socialists as well as readers like H. Smith of Cumberland, who was obviously not in favour of "overthrowing the existing state of things" (Marx, "German" 168), fueled a continuous belief in the transformative potential of print as a means to impart knowledge and influence behaviours. Beyond frequent definitions and repetitive applications of scientific socialism, tenuous experiments in popular communication became necessary as the ideological restraints of the SPC ran up against the need to remain relevant and, if possible, to increase both circulation and funding. Accordingly, the aim of the Clarion to maximize self-identification played out in a number of interesting ways. Communicating effectively meant developing the social knowledge and practices that could make possible the formation of a sociopolitical group intent on the overthrow of capitalism and the practice of socialism. (24) A clear ideological division was then required. References to wage earners as slaves, for example, drew a firm line between workers and capitalists (Debs), providing a sort of baseline rhetoric of differentiation and for action. Such references were used to unite labourers in Canada (and elsewhere) at a foundational level: "No matter what other differences we may have in our surface appearance, the blood of every slave is Red" (F. S. F.). Hand-in-hand with such universally divisive politics, the SPC relentlessly defined itself with respect to other ideas, groups, issues, situations, and events, and in turn, slotted both opponents and potential advocates (such as immigrants, farmers, women) into socialist categories of subjectivity that largely predetermined possible trajectories and outcomes. It is too easy, however, to speak of the Clarion as the unified voice of the party, when in fact that voice was constituted by a multiplicity of ideas and practices both within and beyond the party structure--voices that contributed to variety of expression in some ways (formal resources, literary genres) and homogeneity in others (thematic resources), and that allowed for a sharp and consistent voice on some matters (capitalism) and an unconvincing and inadequate voice on others (women and suffrage). In short, the SPC'S cultivation of a limited interpretive framework depended on the political use of various forms of communication. Smith's emphatic response indicates that actual reading experiences remained individual and situational. To the editors of the Clarion, it more likely suggested the seeming necessity and potential productivity of formal selection and thematic repetition to minimize the horizons of possibility made available to readers. In this way, the interpretation of modern life expressed in the Clarion shaped and was shaped by the interests of various readers and communities, resulting in the "effective" communication of a social identity that was at once revolutionary and restrictive.
University of Alberta
David Buchanan is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of English and Film Studies at the University of Alberta and an Instructor in the Centre for Humanities at Athabasca University.
A Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Postdoctoral Fellowship, the Department of English at Simon Fraser University, and Carole Gerson generously supported this research.
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(1) For more information on the concept of effective communication or on how signs have meaning by virtue of their actual uses, see McHoul vii-xxii, 3-16; in relation, see also Harris 1-30.
(2) See Nelson, Repression 3-19; Nelson, Revolutionary 1-9.
(3) For an example of how historians rely on the labour press to describe labour history prior to the 1930s, see Hann; Kealey, Toronto; Palmer, Culture; Kealey and Palmer.
(4) The term "working-class" used here is sometimes replaced in the literature by socialist, protest, proletarian, leftist, reformist, progressive, and other such descriptors. Such social and political uses differ widely. I have made no attempt to describe this history, the underlying challenges, or the related impacts of such identification and categorization.
(5) Other examples include Rimstead's description of prose by women in Canada from 1919 to the present (2000); Irvine's discussion of little magazines of the 1930s; Rifkind's introductory chapter, which describes a "Socialist-Modernist Encounter" that frames her book-length treatment of Canadian women writers and cultural workers of the 1930s; Mason's history of writing unemployment in Canada from the 1920s on.
(6) Watt's work in the 1950s and 1960s did, however, indicate a significant turn in literary studies at the time, especially as it followed on work such as Ruth McKenzie's description of the absence of early proletarian literature in Canada.
(7) The contributions to discussion of the development of working-class conscious ness are many, including the following select examples. For the period 1845-75, see Langdon; for the period up to the 1920s, see Heron 1-57, Kealey and Warrian, Palmer and Sangster 67-121; for Toronto, see Piva, Kealey, Toronto, Burr; for Hamilton, see Palmer, Culture; for Atlantic Canada, see Frank and Kealey; for Western Canada, see McCormack, Schwantes. Other relevant works are Robin; Kealey and Palmer; Palmer, Character; Palmer, Working-Class; Newton.
(8) See, for example, Kealey and Warrian; Palmer, Culture; Homel; Kealey, Toronto; Kealey and Palmer.
(9) For a detailed history of the Knights of Labor in Canada, see Kealey and Palmer.
(10) See, for example, McKay, Rebels; McKay, Reasoning; Constant and Ducharme.
(11) See, for example, The Politics of Labor, which is usually cited as Thompson's most important work, although his contributions to the Palladium of Labor, the Labor Advocate, and other periodicals are no less important.
(12) For descriptions of the csl, see Homel 31; L. Kealey 79.
(13) For a more complete description of the early history of Citizen and Country and the Clarion, see Verzuh 111-20.
(14) For examples of the treatment of poor working conditions and other forms of exploitation, see "Conditions"; "Industrial"; "Little."
(15) This is not to say that they were treated equally. See, for example, "Asia"; Curry.
(16) For example, a combined offer: the Clarion and the Daily Socialist [Chicago] for $2.25 yearly subscription (Western Clarion, 25 April 1908: 2).
(17) See, for example, Martin's "Sowing the Seed," which calls for pamphlets/leaflets written by members of the SPC and notes successful distribution to farmers via the library.
(18) The Clarion did carry advertising, however, for household goods, services, and even real estate, among other things.
(19) The series of reports by Robert E. Scott started as "London Letter" (Western Clarion, 27 February 1909: 1) and continued later as "Our London Letter" and then "From Overseas" until September 1909.
(20) For a satirical critique of the Social Democrats in Canada, see Fillmore, "Anything."
(21) The pamphlets referred to here include scar; "Modern Juggernaut"; Gribble, "Right of Power"; "Evolution"; "Capital and Labor"; Burroughs; "Wage-Earner"; Kirkpatrick; Davenport; Fulcher.
(22) See, for example, Agnes Maule Machar's Roland Graeme: Knight (1892); Robert Barr's The Mutable Many: A Novel (1896); and Albert Carman's The Preparation of Ryerson Embury (1900).
(23) A strong reliance in the 1920s on the serialization of what were basically socialist textbooks is indicative. Peter T. Leckie's "Materialist Conception of History" which was serialized in lessons from 1 October 1920 to 1 February 1922, is a good example.
(24) It is worth noting that the SPC required potential members to take an oral examination, the aim being to ensure that members were prepared to effectively communicate socialist principles.
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|Publication:||English Studies in Canada|
|Date:||Jun 1, 2015|
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