The October Revolution’s Impact on Labour and Politics in Canada

The 100th anniversary of Russia’s socialist revolution is on November 7, 2017. The profound impact of this revolution on Canada is forgotten by most people, and deliberately omitted from official histories and the education system.

The socialist revolution animated the politics of the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike and about 30 related sympathetic strikes across Canada. Western Canadian trade unionists at a well-represented meeting in March 1919 sent greetings to Lenin and accepted the dictatorship (rule) of workers as sufficient to transform capitalist to “communal wealth”.

When the Borden Conservative government ordered troops to board ships and crush Russia’s Soviet republic, some of the troops protested in Victoria.

A month after the Winnipeg General Strike, Mackenzie King promised free medicare at the Liberal convention where he was elected leader. Across Canada, women won the right to vote in federal elections (with the exceptions of indigenous women and those of Chinese, Japanese and Indian origin, who won the right to vote decades later). The revolution inspired the founding of the Communist Party of Canada in 1921.

Here is the text of the resolution submitted by Jack Kavanagh, chair of the Resolutions Committee of the Western Labor Conference in Calgary on March 13, 1919:

Be it Resolved that this Conference places itself on record as being in full accord and sympathy with the aims and purposes of the Russian Bolshevik and German Spartacan revolutions and,

Be it further Resolved; that this Conference declares its full acceptance or the principle of “Proletarian Dictatorship” as being absolute and efficient for the transformation of capitalist private property into communal wealth, and that fraternal greetings be sent to the Russian Soviet Government, the Spartacist League of Germany, and to all definite working class movements in Europe; recognizing that they have won first place in the class struggle.

Tim Buck writes: “The resolution was adopted unanimously and the thoroughly aroused delegates climaxed their demonstration of solidarity with a motion, offered spontaneously by a delegate in the body of the hall, that the conference send a cablegram directly to Lenin, expressing their warm fraternal greetings to him personally. The delegates stood up as one man and cheered, when the motion was declared “carried unanimously.””

“(The delegates) adopted a strongly-worded telegram calling upon the federal government to Withdraw the Canadian Troops From Soviet Russia…”

“The Credentials Committee reported official representatives present from almost every local union in Western Canada… The British Columbia Federation of Labor and the Alberta Federation of Labor were each represented by their executive officers as were… all the central labor councils between the Great Lakes and the Pacific Ocean. With 239 fully accredited delegates it was unquestionably the most representative gathering… of trade unionists west of the Lakes that had ever been held up to that time.”

The conference also adopted resolutions to support forming industrial unions and for a referendum on a general strike to demand free speech and remove restrictions on working class organizations.

(See Tim Buck, Canada and the Russian Revolution [1967] and Forty Years of Great Change, 1917-1957 [1959])

Buck’s books also record the text of a resolution adopted unanimously a month earlier at the Alberta Federation of Labour:

“Trade Union Support to the Russian Revolution

“WHEREAS: The war between opposed imperialist interests has ceased; the suddenness of its collapse being due to the Social Revolution which, starting in Russia, gradually found its way into Austria-Hungry and Germany. Those who where expecting at any moment to be called upon to don the khaki and face the ghastly horrors of twentieth century wholesale slaughter, owe a deep debt of gratitude to those splendid Russian revolutionists. Millions of soldiers on the battle fronts of Europe owe their lives to the glorious victory of the Russian working people. Are we prepared to repay that debt by extending to Russia the hand of fellowship in such a manner as will frustrate the nefarious designs of the organized international capitalists? Throughout the long years of this brutal blood-fest it has been unceasingly proclaimed, from Press, Pulpit, and Platform, that ‘we must crush German despotism and make the world safe for democracy.’ Millions of men heard that slogan and believed it and today are rotting beneath the battlefields of France and Flanders. Have those men been betrayed? If not, why are those who are chiefly responsible for the overthrow of the German Junker ruling class being vilified by our government-controlled Press? Why are the governments of The Allied Nations supporting counter-revolutionary armies in Russia? Why do our government’s spokesmen mouth much about Self-determination while using every means at its disposal to undermine and handicap the Soviet Administration in Russia? The working class is bewildered by these contradictions. While workers are inclined instinctively to support the social revolution which is developing so mightily, nevertheless they tend to hesitate after reading the poisonous propaganda of the Allied governments. This unceasing campaign of calumny can have but one purpose; namely, to win working -class support for the decision of the capitalist class to throttle the socialist republics of Russia and Germany. Hesitation on our part would be fatal!

“The aspirations of organized Labor as embodied in the preamble to the Alberta Federation of Labor Constitution; namely “the social ownership and control of the means of production, transportation, and distribution,” are now taking material shape under the Soviet Administration. We are challenged: either to renounce our principles, or to take such action as will save them from becoming meaningless phrases. Therefore be it

“RESOLVED, that this convention of the Alberta Federation of Labor places itself on record as being in full accord and sympathy with the aims and purposes of the Russian and German socialist revolutions, and be it further

“RESOLVED, that this convention gives the incoming executive officers full power to call a province-wide general strike should the Allied powers persist in their attempt to over-throw the Soviet administration in Russia or Germany or in any country in which a Soviet form of government is or may be established and be it further

“RESOLVED, that this resolution be forwarded to the Western Labor Conference, to be held in Calgary, for endorsation and co-operation in the carrying it into effect, and be it further

“RESOLVED, that Copies of this resolution be sent to all Central Labor bodies throughout Canada.”

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