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532 LETTERS IN CANADA 1997 But, as Vance so sensitively argues, beyond myth there was an ultimate, irrefutable truth to which the only appropriate response is not analysis or cynicism but a simple and profound respect. 'At the core of the memory were the fallen. They were the fonndation upon which the entire edifice was constructed. Any attempt to forge an alternate version of the war came up against the emotional needs of hm1dreds of thousands of Canadians who had lost loved ones in those four years.' (JOHN GODFREY) Harry Gutkin and Mildred Gutkin. Profiles in Dissent: The Shaping ofRadical Thought in the Canadian West NeWest Publishers. xvi, 422. $24.95 In a country that yearns for just a little more excitement in its history, the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919 has had more prominence than it would earn in societies with a more bloodstained past. The strike was; however, almost as disastrous to its humble supporters as any other Canadian rebellion. One of its survivors once suggested to me, 'Don't talk about a revolution unless you mean it.' Enraptured by the early stages of the Bolshevik Revolution, a number of Winnipeg's eloquent labour leaders preached revolution frequently- while police agents scribbled earnestly. In fact, the General Strike itself had no more radical purpose than persuading Winnipeg ironmasters to negotiate with unions chosen by their own employees. Some of the most radical Winnipeggers, like Bob Russell, founding father of the fledgling One Big Union or OBU, feared- presciently- that their own plans might well be destroyed by it. The strike, as David Bercuson long ago explained, had more to do with industrial relations than ideology. No one explained that to the nervous bourgeoisie of south Winnipeg, to the provincial and federal govemments, or to modern devotees of J radical chic.' A flood of prewar immigration had brought scores of British workingclass radicals to the Canadian west. Despite its harsh climate and ruthless employers, Winnipeg was transformed from a prairie village to Canada's third largest city by 1914. The contrast of utopian potential and ultraconventional reality inspired single-taxers, feminists, suffragists, socialists, pacifists, theosophists, and syndicalists as well as self-made millionaires. Winnipeg's radicals were revolutionaries of the word, not the deed, articulate speakers who mastered the oratory of pulpit and soapbox. As in other western Canadian cities, they had won a small place for themselves in the legislature and in Winnipeg's city council, even if some radicals denounced 'mere parliamentarism' and a good many condemned unions as 'meliorist,' delaying the moment when the contradictions of wealth and poverty, privilege and exploitation, would explode. Bob Russell knew that such a moment had not arrived in Winnipeg in 1919. However, the strike HUMANITIES 533 and its failure frightened workers, precipitated Wirmipeg's economic decline, and highlighted the futility of the ideological radicalism Russell's friends and enemies espoused. The Gutkins' title is a little misleading: their Canadian west seems largely limited to Winnipeg, and radicalism, in their usage, generally refersĀ· to the ideas of the traditional Left and its labour allies. There is no room here for the rural and corporatist ideologies of E.A. Partridge, Henry Wise Wood, or Bill Irvine. A similar lack of precision today allows Reform leader Preston Manning to claim to speak for the whole west, a region that finds enough votes to elect Svend Robinson, Bill Blaikie, and the government of Roy Romanow. On the other hand, a biographical approach compelled the Gutkins to pursue their largely working-class subjects to the grave. Labour history is chiefly populated by charismatic figures who flare like rockets and then vanish. What happened to men and women who survived prison, perhaps even a term in the Manitoba legislature, only to live on? Some, like J.S. Woodsworth, A.A. Heaps, and John Queen, used the strike as a fotmdation for long and influential political careers. Woodsworth inspired and established the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, direct forebear of the NDP. Heaps joined him as an MP and played a major role in making Unemployment Insurance a reality. John Queen served as mayor of Winnipeg from 1935 to 1942, till business and the Communists combined to...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 532-533
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
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