Rebel Life: The Life and Times of Robert Gosden, Revolutionary, Mystic, Labour Spy


238 pages
Contains Photos, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-921586-69-8
DDC 331.88'092






Reviewed by W.J.C. Cherwinski

W.J.C. Cherwinski is a professor of history at Memorial University of
Newfoundland and the co-author of Lectures in Canadian Labour and
Working-Class History.


Described in the cover blurb as “equal parts biography, detective
story and labour history,” Rebel Life is a book that attempts to be
too many things to too many people.

The principal focus is on the career of Robert Gosden. A doctrinaire
and committed advocate of worker control before World War I, Gosden
abandoned his principles after the war and used his rebel credentials to
infiltrate and sell out workers to the RCMP. Perhaps because Gosden’s
career did not warrant an entire volume, the author fills out the book
with lengthy sidebars in which he attempts to contextualize the period
by explaining related matters to the uninitiated. At the end of the
book, Leier, a labor activist, Simon Fraser professor, and establishment
critic, explains how he came to study Gosden’s life. This personal
account is followed by an extensive bibliography of B.C. labor history.

Much as Leier tries to rationalize Gosden’s treachery, Rebel Life
simply reinforces two truths well known to any organization: first,
almost everyone has a price; second, the most vociferous advocates can
inflict the greatest damage. Such is Gosden’s legacy.


Leier, Mark., “Rebel Life: The Life and Times of Robert Gosden, Revolutionary, Mystic, Labour Spy,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed February 25, 2024,