Reformers, Rebels and Revolutionaries: The Western Canadian Radical Movement, 1899-1919

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University of Toronto Press, Jan 1, 1991 - History - 228 pages

The opening of the twentieth century saw a fervour of radical political movements in Western Canada. Ross McCormack explores the constituencies, ideologies, and development of early reformist, syndicalist, and socialist organizations from the 1880s up to the Winnipeg General Strike in 1919. He distinguishes three types of radicals - reformers, rebels, and revolutionaries - who competed with each other to fashion a gneral western constituency.

The reformers wanted to change society for the betterment of the workers, but both their aims and methods were moderate, essentially transfering the philosophy and tactics of the British labour movement to the Canadian west. The rebels, militant industrial unionists, periodically battled the Trades and Labour Congress in order to establish unions strong enough to defet the employers and, if necessary, the state. The revolutionary Marxists were committed to the destruction of industrial capitalism and the establishment of a society controlled by the workers.

The book describes the origins of radicalism, traces the histories of the various organizations that expressed its ideals, and discusses the impact of the First World War on the labour movement.

Using previously unexplored sources, McCormack has produced the first comprehensive examination of the early history of the radical movement in western Canada, adding an important dimension to our knowledge and understanding of Canadian labour history.


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Eugene Plawiuk
I am really happy to see this back in print.
This book needs to be in your library if you are a labour activist, socialist, anarchist, labour historian, socialist historian, Canadian history buff. But you are not likely to have it nor be able to easily find it.
To say this is a key work in the transition of working class history from a history of the labour aristocracy and unions would not be an understatement. It is key to the birth of working class social history in Canada and later labour historians such as Kealey and those who created Labour/Le Traviller and would follow in this tradition.
McCormick writes social history of the working class, one of the earliest texts that speaks with the voice of workers in their struggles against capitalism and the equal struggle to build a new world within the shell of the old.
This work has been literally out of print since it was published. Like Eric Williams classic work on Slavery and Capitalism, this was a thesis to press. His work caused a sensation in the world of conservative academia in Canada, and with historians and historical societies. That he spoke with a political voice in favour of the struggles he documents led to red baiting and other attempts to dismiss his work as socialist propaganda.
When in fact it was more his sympathy for syndicalism and the IWW and OBU the later in particular which would largely influence the Calgary School right wing historian David Bercuson to use his work as a straw dog to attack dismissing the OBU and syndicalism as a failure. Again reducing history to structuralist interpretation of labour struggles against the Canadian establishment ads that of winner and losers, a cartoon version of history.
McCormick's depth and density of work is overwhelming at times but worth the slogging for the casual reader, for the historian academic or autodidact this is a treasure trove of information.
And for those of us who are still radical and believe we can change the world, this is an inspiration.


Militant industrial unionism and the first western rebellion 35
The ascendancy of the Socialist Party of Canada 53
Winnipeg 18991915
The Industrial Workers of the World
the first phase
the second phase

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About the author (1991)

A. Ross McCormack is Director, Institute for Political and Cultural Studies of the Americas, University of Winnipeg.

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