Red Diaper Baby: A Boyhood in the Age of McCarthyism


184 pages
Contains Photos
ISBN 1-55365-073-5
DDC 335.43'092






Reviewed by Terry A. Crowley

Terry A. Crowley is a professor of history at the University of Guelph,
and the former editor of the journal, Ontario History. He is the author
of Agnes Macphail and the Politics of Equality and Canadian History to
1967, and the co-author of The College o


Writing engaging memoirs of childhood and adolescence is difficult to
carry off. The best ones convey the inner tensions of young souls, often
in conflict with their parents, as they struggle to establish their full

York University political science professor James Laxer did not grow up
with anguished emotional needs, but he did later gain fleeting fame as
the leader of the Waffle Movement within the New Democratic Party.
Nonetheless, Laxer knows that an autobiography of adolescence needs to
serve some larger purpose. He might have made multiculturalism his
principal theme. His parents were British and European, Christian and
Jew, with one grandfather an Orthodox rabbi and the other a Methodist
minister. He spent most of his childhood and teenage years in the
Bathurst and Christie area of Toronto.

But instead of building on this theme, he focuses on revealing the
communism and atheism of his parents and their associates. His father
was an organizer for the Communist Party of Canada at a time when the
Communists were of only minor interest to a larger public. Laxer is
insightful in viewing his parents as people who left a religious faith
to adopt a secular faith, but he was too young at the time to be able to
say anything important in retrospect about the left-wingers, his
parents, and their colleagues. The theme never generates sufficient
tension to make a reader want to move forward. Therefore, as a memoir,
Red Diaper Baby largely fails.


Laxer, James., “Red Diaper Baby: A Boyhood in the Age of McCarthyism,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 28, 2024,