New documentary film brings story of the Communist Party of Canada to life

By Cam Scott 

The life of a Communist Party, in its everyday intensity and historical specificity, too often eludes commemoration. There are meetings, demonstrations, pickets; glowing victories and momentary defeats. So much remains unwritten in the momentum of revolutionary enthusiasm that it can be astonishing to notice just how far we’ve come.

To celebrate the centenary of the Communist Party of Canada, the Center for Socialist Education has assembled a documentary tribute to the working people who comprise the strength and resilience of the Communist movement. A Century of Struggle: One Hundred Years of the Communist Party of Canada talks to more than a dozen veterans of the Communist Party of Canada, narrating their convictions alongside the panoramic history of the Party itself – from its outlaw origins amid the ferment of the early labour movement to the urgent demands of the present day. 

Founded under illegal conditions after the direct inspiration of V.I. Lenin and the Russian Revolution, the Communist Party of Canada would grow from its first meeting into the disciplined leadership of the working class during the Great Depression and beyond – convening the Workers’ Unity League in a decade where virtually no one was willing to call for union action, and playing a central role in the On-to-Ottawa trek, in which 1500 unemployed workers left the squalid conditions of federal relief camps to confront Prime Minister R.B. Bennett with their direct demands. These stories loom large in the recollections of Canadian socialists, and this documentary film weaves them together in a momentous sequence culminating in present-day campaigns for immediate EI reform and a people’s recovery from capitalist crisis.

Internationalist from the first, the Communist Party of Canada cannot be celebrated without reference to the heroic exploits of the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion during the Spanish Civil War; the undaunted dedication of Dr. Norman Bethune to the Chinese Revolution; comrade Jim Brady’s founding of the Métis Associations of Alberta and Saskatchewan in the quest for Métis national liberation; and the demand for an independent foreign policy at the height of the Vietnam War. The Communist Party’s centrality to the peace movement in Canada and its ongoing support for the cause of Indigenous sovereignty are but two pillars of anti-imperialist struggle depicted here, as popular history and an affirmation of the Party’s work in the present.

Most importantly, this film offers a stirring account of the personal significance of the Communist movement to its participants, including footage of Tim Buck, who served as General Secretary of the Communist Party from 1929 until 1962, as well as interviews with former leader Miguel Figueroa, current leader Elizabeth Rowley and many other Party members. In addition to their work in any number of social movements and campaigns, many of the members interviewed for this film weathered the years after the destruction of the USSR, during which Marxism-Leninism was broadly perceived to have been defeated. Through these difficult times, the Communist Party of Canada faced liquidation at the hands of a social-democratic faction – but a core group of dedicated comrades fought for its survival and won. 

These are but some of the stories brought to life over the course this multi-generational saga, which arrives in our anniversary year as a gift and tribute to the dedicated comrades who have fought unwaveringly for a better world. In this sense, A Century of Struggle is more than a time capsule or recollection – in the conviction of its subjects, we can glimpse a future movement as well. 

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