The righteous crusaders of THE NEW LEFT
They’re not the hippies who’ve withdrawn from the world. And they’re certainly not part of the Establishment, which in fact regards them as a bunch of scruffy idealists, butting in where they’re not wanted. But they may yet do something other reformers before them have never done: succeed
THE SMALL RADICAL core of young Canadians that is best described as the New Left presents an interesting front to the world. Quite a lot of the young men have beards. Not all of them, and perhaps not even as many as some people who have stereotyped ideas of young radicals would imagine, but quite a few of them. And very fine beards they are: long,
scraggly ones that look itchy and as if their owners wouldn’t want to use very excitable cigarette lighters. Nearly all of them need haircuts—at least by our terms they need haircuts —and the net result is that when they all get together they present a pretty hirsute scene. Most of the girls are
chubby. 1 have no idea why this should be so, but it is. Some of them are pretty—pretty but chubby—with firm chubby knees bumping out under their Bermuda shorts and their hair tied back in kerchiefs, or looking as if it ought to be tied back in kerchiefs. Nearly all of them, boys and girls, don't mind using a certain famous four-letter w-ord that’s banned from most mixed conversations. It’s banned from this magazine, too. But if you’ve been reading any novels lately you’ll know which word 1 mean. It sounds strange to hear them use it: youngsters in their fraternity sweat shirts or their Bermuda shorts, tossing around the ultimate weapon of the
English language. Except it’s long ago lost its destructive qualities for them. It’s just part of the way they talk.
They like to drink, too—beer—and to sing songs, and on more than one night of the Fall Institute they held at a camp near the tiny Laurentian community of St. Calixte this September they partied till dawn. Then they’d flake out (which does not mean they were drunk, incidentally) and, somewhere in the depths of their giant co-educational dormitory, sleep the sleep of the young and the just. Around midmorning they’d rise again, spoon down a bowl of mealy porridge, grab a cup of instant coffee and amble out into the autumn sun-
light, or, on the grim days, down into the bare, grey basement of the camp’s main building.
Then the talk would begin. Talk was what they were there for at St. Calixte. Talk filled their days. It would start sleepily at the breakfast table and grow to full life at the plenary sessions outdoors or in the basement, pausing only when a diesel truck would go laboring noisily up the nearby hill. Later, it would break temporarily into smaller conversations around the coffee pot or on the beach of the camp’s vest-pocket lake. The listeners would lie in the sun, beards jutting skyward like a thicket of dwarf tamaracks, or sit with chubby elbows on chubby knees. On and on the talk would go, the fragments coming together again over soup and ad-lib sandwiches (Spam, bananas, lettuce and mayonnaise), rising, falling, never stopping, counterpoint to the evening guitars, overflowing into the tavern in St. Calixte, then finding its way back to the camp under the stars, or bubbling on inside, with the rain driving against the clapboard walls: boy talking to girl and
girl to boy; six beards together or eight chubby knees; hands gesturing, heads nodding in affirmation, and the talk rippling on and on, on and on, on and on and . . .
The vocabulary of the New Left is "a curious mixture. On the one hand the strategic dirty word and its strategic dirty companions. And the vague, groping shorthand of the hip: “hangup,” “send-up,” “wow-up,” “putdown,” “put-on,” and (above all) “where it’s at.” On the other hand, jargon that at first listening sounds like the glossary of an MA thesis in sociology: “elitism,” “mobility,”
“structuring,” “social strategy,” “programmatic,” and (above all) such phrases as “the dispossessed and alienated of our society.”
They speak softly, these young radicals, softly and hesitantly, thinking as they go. In their delivery, they resemble army instructors: first they say what they’re going to say, then they say it, and then they say what they've said. “I’m not sure,” they will begin, “I’m not sure I’m plugged into . . . uh . . . Heather’s analysis there . . . uh . . . but I . . . but something has
occurred to me and I wonder . . . uh . . . it just crossed my mind that maybe our hang-up here is . . . uh . . . because we haven’t defined our strategy in a way that our society can . . . well, I’ll just say this and see if anyone agrees with me . .
The Fall Institute at St. Calixte in September was probably the largest single gathering yet of the New Left in Canada. The organization that set it up is SUPA—the Student Union For Peace Action. SUPA is the heart of the New Left. It is a kind of Son of the Combined University Campaign For Nuclear Disarmament, but the ideas its members are interested in go far beyond simple disarmament, or, for that matter, far beyond simple anything.
SUPA’S TOTAL MEMBERSHIP is somewhere around four hundred and fifty. Because it appeals to the kind of young person who doesn’t care much for joining organizations, though, it probably represents about double that number of young Canadians. Although the word “student” appears in
its title, and most of its activity is centred around university campuses, it is not only an undergraduate movement. Of the hundred and fifty or so people who attended the Fall Institute at St. Calixte, perhaps half were going back to college as full-time students. The remainder consisted mostly of recent graduates and people taking one or two courses but devoting most of their time to SUPA. This winter some forty young Canadians will work more or less full time for SUPA: organizing, writing, or just working among slum-dwellers in a few big cities or the minority groups of the Canadian west.
In sum, the people represented by SUPA are, or seem to me to be, the most interesting and just perhaps the most important group of young people in Canada today. Scraggly, chubby, prolix, yes. But they’re what’s happening. They’re the radical catalyst of a new generation of Canadians, a generation that’s unlike any other that’s gone before.
The talk, the prolixity, are only a part of where the young radicals are at. Talk is no less cheap in the New
Left than in, for instance, the world of business. And one of the most striking characteristics of the new young radicals is their willingness to translate thoughts into deeds. They are thinkers and arguers—boy, are they thinkers and arguers, as anyone who was at St. Calixte can testify— but they are doers, too: activists. The long, soul-searching symposia at St. Calixte were only the culmination of a long hot summer of action and involvement — action in Halifax, and in Kingston, Ontario, in Saskatchewan and in the Kootenays of British Columbia, perhaps the most remarkable investment of the time, interest and energies of university students in the peacetime history of Canada. But because their new, interesting accomplishments are so closely linked to their new — or at least newly interpreted — and interesting ideas, it's worth taking a closer look at what the talk was about before setting out to examine precisely what they did about it.
Radicalism and discontent among university students, of course, are almost as old as universities, and in many countries radicals and revolutionaries on the campus now constitute vital, even crucial, political forces. In Canada, though, their impact has been slight. Radical Canadian students haven't attracted much attention since William Lyon Mackenzie King led a four-day strike over free speech at the University of Toronto in 1896. (Even King wasn't that radical. After helping to organize the strike, he was among the first students to go back to class—a change of heart that so angered some of his contemporaries that five years later a group of Toronto graduates walked out of a banquet in Aylmer, Quebec, that King, as Deputy Minister of Labor, was to address.)
Even in the 1930s, that age of social and political upheaval, radicalism in Canada was centred around prairie homesteads and downtown union halls, rather than around campuses. The universities, as often as not, were centres of conservatism.
THE RADICALS of the New Left, the young men and women who were represented at St. Calixte this September, differ from their predecessors not only in the degree of their protest but in its kind. They are a new breed. Their immediate roots go back to the radicals of my own generation at college, a decade or so ago: the young people who came to be known as beatniks, cool, withdrawn and negativistic. That generation’s radicals expressed their rejection of the standards of the day by escaping from them. The young people of the New Left are withdrawn, too. Withdrawal and rejection are what the beards and the dirty words symbolize. But, in contrast to the beatniks, they have re-committed themselves from outside the traditional bounds of society. For the standards they can’t accept — standards, as they see them, of materialism and conformity / continued on page 39
continued from pape 19
— they are substituting new' standards of their own. Many of these standards are. by the radicals’ own admission, still vaguely defined. But the essential thing to them and, I’d suggest, to us is that, instead of hiding from what they don’t like about the w'orld of the 1960s, they’ve pledged themselves to change it.
To that extent, the New Left has its roots in traditional radicalism—in, for instance, the Communism and socialism of the 1930s. But there are basic differences between the new' and the old. One is that the New' Left hew's to no party line. It isn’t Communist and it isn’t socialist, but it isn’t anticommunist or anti-socialist either. The New Left is too busy to w'orry about isms. “The Communists, they’re empty, man, empty,” a young American radical was quoted in a recent edition of The Nation as saying. “They’ve got the same stale ideas, the same bureaucracy. When he gets mixed up with us, a Commie dies and a person develops.”
The New Left rejects, in short, not only what our political system has created, but the system itself. Political parties, these young radicals believe, just aren’t the kind of machinery to express people's desires or answer their real needs. What’s needed is a new' kind of machinery, a new kind of system. What they are after is, in one of their most beloved catch-phrases, "participatory democracy.” Somehow' a way must be found to get the power back into the people’s hands, the power to direct their own destinies, to set their own standards, to determine for themselves such questions as whether they will go to war. “We don’t want to disturb the present system,” a twenty-year-old Montreal student wrote in a paper for St. Calixte (italics his), “but to transform it.” And the key to that transformation, as the New Left sees it. is direct action.
The two clearest examples of direct action in modern America are the civil-rights movement in the United States and the ban-the-bomb demonstrations in the U. S. and Canada. In Canada, because of Canada’s clever avoidance of a large Negro population, the New Left has devoted itself mainly to disarmament and peace. At least that’s what its most noticeable ramifications have been: sit-ins, marches, rallies against the bomb.
But to the New Left the causes of, for instance, peace and civil rights can’t be separated. What binds the two concepts together — and also brings in other concepts—is the basic idea of freedom. “Peace to us means more than just a warless world,” a Toronto girl said at the St. Calixte institute. “It means a w'orld from which the causes of w'ar have been removed.” It means, the young radicals keep insisting, a world where people are free to take action on their own behalf, where the power has heen returned to the people, a world run. as they say, by a “participatory democracy.”
One other characteristic differenti-
ates the New Left from earlier radical movements. The New Left is probably the first movement of genuine radicalism yet to come along without being certain it has all the answers. The young people who are working with SUPA, as a case in point, are not out working to convince anyone of the virtues of any particular dogma
or doctrine. Instead, they're seeking ways to help people to express their own ideas, to work for their own freedom.
“We're not even sure we’re right,” one young radical said to me in a discussion of what had happened at St. Calixte. “Lots of us have doubts. But maybe that’s exactly why all the
radical movements of the 1930s went wrong. When they found out they couldn't save the world they just felt defeated. Well none of us are sure we can save the world. I suppose we don't even think we can. But we know we have to try. And we re trying to find new ways to work for it.” continued on pape 40
FOK TWELVE DAYS in May this year, ten university students—five from Saskatchewan and five from Toronto —met in Saskatoon to talk about how they’d be spending their summer. The ten were to be the field workers in the Student Neestow Partnership Project, “neestow” being a Cree word for brother-in-law. For most of the next four months they'd be living with Indian and Métis families around Saskatchewan, and during that first session in Saskatoon they were learn-
ing—most of them for the first time —about some of the conditions they’d be facing.
Money for the Neestow project came from several sources. The students raised some of it themselves. The undergraduate council of the University of Toronto donated some more, and so did one or two private foundations. There wasn’t much altogether, slightly more than three thousand dollars. The field workers spent it, after their brief orientation
session in Saskatoon, in fanning out through the province and just moving in with the Indians and Métis. They were there as much to learn as to teach—to find out how much the people, given a little guidance, might be willing to do for themselves. While all the students’ summers were different, the experiences of Pat Uhl, a pert, unchubby twenty-one-year-old from Cincinnati, Ohio, who’s been studying at Toronto, may cast some light on what all the young radicals
were up to. Their method of setting out to change the world—and it’s nothing less than that they want to do —is a subtle one, but it’s a simple one, too.
Before they even started the orientation course, the Neestow organizers had written to Indian bands throughout Saskatchewan, explaining what they wanted to do and asking for invitations and contacts. Pat Uhl’s home base was in Prince Albert, where at first she lived with a relatively well-to-do family outside the Indian section of town. “I’d had some experience working in a Negro ghetto in Cincinnati,” she says, “and frankly I wasn't anxious to get right into the heart of things right off. As a result, half the summer passed before I met some of the more infamous Indian residents. But I did learn at first hand of the subtle and clever discriminatory practices of employers, real-estate agents, teachers, doctors, dentists and so on. Also, I was able to meet most of the young Indian families in town.”
As her contacts spread, Pat began to spend more and more time out on the reserves that surround Prince Albert. Town became “little more than a mailing address,” and she set up housekeeping with a Treaty Indian girl of her own age. “The real difference out on the reserves,” she wrote later, “was that I could work with the people. I washed clothes all day with mothers and hayed in the fields with fathers and their sons. I milked cows, baked bannock and weeded gardens, made butter, helped lay the cement foundation of a house, chopped wood and helped to do beadwork for Indian costumes. Word got around quickly that I was a different kind of white lady—most people had never seen a white woman scrub or work in a field before. Every time I’d get introduced, people would ask me if it was true that I’d been haying or milking cows. One thing I’m sure about from what happened between the students and the Indians during, the Neestow project: our mosquito bites, our tans, our blisters, our old clothes, our tents—they're proof enough of our commitment.”
Like most of the Neestow students, Pat Uhl has some strong ideas about what the agents of the Indian Affairs Branch of the federal Department of Citizenship and Immigration accomplish on the reserves. Those ideas aren’t complimentary. The agents, in the radical students’ opinion, undermine their charges’ dignity and selfrespect — simply by reminding them that they are charges. The agents aren’t conscious villains, in the students’ eyes, but their very presence on the reserve, the very welfare cheques they hand out, serve to underline the Indians’ dependence.
Most of the complaints the students brought back with them to St. Calixte are minor. The worst crime one young Neestow student could recall when I challenged him was an agent demanding that two Indian men who were building a house come and ask him for wood every day, instead of just giving it all to them at once. But to the students, who have lived among the Indians, the grievances seem real, real and emasculating. At one of the late parties at St. Calixte, a young
Neestow student who’d spent the summer at Buffalo Narrows had a little more beer to drink than a young student ought to have. One of the girls, something of a mother figure of the students’ New Left although she's only twenty-five, began urging him to go to bed. “Come on, man,” she said. “Beddy-bye time.”
“Stop talking like an Indian agent,” said the Neestow veteran.
I asked Pat Uhl how she could be convinced that callow students, out in the field for one short summer, could conceivably know more about what ought to be done for Indians than the trained, experienced servants of the Indian Affairs Branch. A young man standing nearby answered for her. "Have you ever heard of an Indian agent sleeping on the floor of a cabin that was jumping with fleas?” he said.
Neestow was only one of the projects of what the New Left calls community organization that went on across Canada this summer. A strikingly handsome, bearded Negro from Truro. NS. named Rocky Jones quit his job in Upper Canada and began to work among his own people in Halifax. He later wrote to SUPA:
“My head is so full of ideas that I feel 1 could create a Utopia.” A group of Ontario students spent the summer knocking on doors and talking to the tenants and landlords of one of the poorer sections of Kingston. With their guidance, a group of residents helped to cut the peril to children of a dangerous truck route, and they helped to show tenants that landlords can sometimes be fought. Still another group of eastern students picked up two drop-off cars in Toronto, drove
them to Regina, then bought a used panel truck and a used car for the total price of three hundred and ten dollars to make their way to the Doukhobor communities of the Kootenays. There they managed, among other achievements, to help young Doukhobors organize a three-hour vigil for peace on Hiroshima Day.
SMALL VICTORIES, certainly. It would be as easy for a sympathetic reporter to overemphasize both the accom-
plishments and the potential of this thin band of scraggly and chubby young Canadians as it would for an »//»sympathetic one — a breed they’ve met their fair share of—to minimize them. For all their long busy summer of work in the slums and in the country, after all, very little has been done. No single Indian has a stronger roof or a fuller belly; no slum tenant in Kingston has yet been relieved of the pressures of slum life — and quite a few haven't even yet been con-
vinced those pressures are so terrible.
Viewed from at least one angle, the activities of the young radicals appear little short of ludicrous: some beardy knocking on a tenement door in Kingston to inquire if you have any problems today, madam, or a slip of a girl from Cincinnati out there baking bannock with the Saulteaux. Their internal politics (which in the interest of your sanity and mine 1 have deliberately skimmed over in this brief report) are sometimes as complex as
those of the Politburo. I sat through one meeting at St. Calixte during which they agonized for an hour and a half over the question of how, since they were all dedicated to the proposition that organization per se was wrong, they were going to maintain their national organization, and at which one man said, “Are we so ashamed of having to have a finance committee that we’re going to disguise it as a project?”
Yet to this jaded reporter, having
watched the New Left grow in number and conviction over the past few years, the young radicals seem something else. The most important thing about them, surely, is simply that they exist: they’re there. They’re young, bright, educated and, for all their interminable talk, filled with energy and a sense of mission. Whatever it is about their generation that they represent, it seems to me, it's something that earlier generations haven't had. And I, for one, like it. ★