The Little Band: The Clashes between the Communists and the Political and Legal Establishment in Canada, 1928-1932

Description

247 pages
Contains Index
$21.95
ISBN 0-88879-071-6

Publisher

Year

1982

Contributor

Reviewed by Greg Turko

Greg Turko is a policy analyst at the Ontario Ministry of Colleges and
Universities.

Review

Lita-Rose Betcherman has chosen to tell the history of the Communist Party in Canada during the period 1928-1932 using day-to-day incidents. The result is a highly readable, well documented, work that tells us as much about official paranoia and suspicion of dissent in any period as it does about Communists during these years.

The Canadian Communist Party enjoyed a perceived influence far beyond its real influence. This, however, did not reassure nervous, often xenophobic, authorities. As a result, officials in many areas of the country began a campaign to purge Canada of Communist undesirables.

It is within this context that Betcherman traces the confrontations between the Communists and the “political and legal establishment.” The study tends to focus on the invasion of civil rights and the suspension of the rule of law. Not surprisingly, the right to free speech was the first to suffer. Meetings were frequently disrupted by police. As an added precaution, hall owners were intimidated into refusing to rent their facilities to Communists. As the impact of the Depression grew, the scope of official action widened to include applying vagrancy laws to the unemployed and deportation without trial.

The Communists, for their part, Betcherman maintains, often sought persecution and illegal treatment believing that this would hasten the inevitable revolution. The Party also drew criticism for its generally uncritical and idealised view of the Soviet Union. This, of course, made charges of sedition and treason much more plausible in both the judicial and the public view.

The legal-civil rights approach taken by Betcherman does, however, have its limitations. By largely avoiding a discussion of Marxist ideology (in particular violent class warfare), an important source of motivation (for the Communists) and fear (for the authorities and the population in general) is discounted. The Communist threat, rightly or wrongly, was seen as much one of words as of actions. In the same vein, not dealing with Marxist internationalism allows Betcherman to state that the Canadian Party was directed from Moscow without pursuing this observation further. In the post-World War I era, any external subversion would have been viewed as serious by any nation and would have been dealt with accordingly. Ideology was the element which made Communism more than “just another protest” and Communists more than just local irritants.

Betcherman, despite these shortcomings, has provided an excellent portrait of a contentious period in Canadian history of interest to students in a wide variety of fields.

Citation

Betcherman, Lita-Rose, “The Little Band: The Clashes between the Communists and the Political and Legal Establishment in Canada, 1928-1932,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 13, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/38737.