What’s the meaning of the Saskatchewan revolt? . . • Does it point to Socialism for all Canada?
ON THE green and surging bosom of the prairies the town was a mere speck, unknown and unobserved. A score of farmers had driven in for the meeting and the townspeople came straggling to the tumble-down community hall. Many of the men still wore their overalls, and their boots were caked with the mud of the summer rains. Some of the women carried their babies in their arms. Even the squat and formidable figure of the Hon. James Gardiner, a Cabinet Minister and a Privy Councillor, was travel-worn, and he looked like a farmer in his Sunday clothes. Lean and hard were all these people, and silent and lonely like their prairie earth. What were they thinking? What lay behind the gaunt, wrinkled faces? What would emerge from the ballot boxes in which they would pronounce their will tomorrow?
A deep portent emerged, which Canada can disregard at its peril. A portent deeper than the farmer knew, an immemorial protest in a new form, full of glittering hopes and grave danger.
When the farmers went home from their meetings all over the unknown towns of Saskatchewan that night and voted in the morning they produced three new and powerful factors in the politics oPCanada, in the life of the nation.
The first is a CCF Government, a kind of government we have never seen before in this country. The fact that a so-called socialist government is now governing anywhere in this country—a fact inconceivable a few years ago—alters the structure and balance of national politics, marks, if it did not create, a permanent change in the course of our history.
What manner of government it is, and how socialistic, we do not know yet, probably because it does not know itself. Its program for Saskatchewan is not radical and it does not begin to provide true socialism. Legislation to protect the farmer’s ownership of his land against the threat of debt; improved social services of various sorts; reductions in taxation for the small man and increases for the big; the eliminating of political patronage; refunding of government debt at lower interest rates—this is the rather pedestrian program of the new Government. But what it will actually do in office, where it will wander in search of the abundant life which it has promised everyone, no one can foresee, not even the Government.
Secondly, the storm which swept Saskatchewan on June 15 last blew into power a new prophet, heir to a long tradition of prophecy in the West. Rev. Thomas Clement Douglas, the man who undertakes the first CCF experiment in government, is not a startling nor a bizarre personality. He came from Scotland as a small boy, worked as a printer, entered the Baptist ministry, was graduated by various universities, saw the ravages of the great drought and became inflamed by the injustices of society.
But on the platform he appeared neither as a revolutionary nor a politician. He looked rather like the president of a small-town Rotary Club—a slight and dapper little man, five feet five inches in height, 140 pounds in weight, with the keen face of a terrier and a tongue which framed wisecracks too easily. His speeches had a firecracker quality to them, exploding a^ directions, but hardly shattering the foundations of Canada. With the sure instincts of the showman he mixed his social protest with funny stories of the more obvious sort and the people found him earnest but amusing.
He’s a Fighter
]Y/fRCOLD WELL picked the obscure youngster as a lieutenant and they ran together for the Saskatchewan Legislature in the Farmer-Labor Group, which was the beginning of the CCF. Both were defeated but in 1935, the following year, they
found themselves elected to the House of Commons. There Mr. Douglas became the gadfly of the little CCF group. He lacked the grasp and the charm of Mr. Coldwell, the saintliness of Mr. Woodsworth, but he could fight.
He fought as he had fought in the amateur boxing ring in Manitoba, where he held the amateur lightweight championship—fought with sudden, quick punches, rapid footwork and, above all, with courage. He did not make himself popular in Parliament but he made himself heard and, at times, he could penetrate even the rhinoceros skin of the Government. He Continued on page 41
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left in Ottawa no body of political philosophy, no deep impact on events, but he had learned the business of politics.
When he returned to Saskatchewan to lead his Party there he was a seasoned veteran, only 39 years old on the eve of the election, and he knew the nation as a whole—knew chiefly that it is still far from socialism. With moderation in his policy, vaudeville humor in his speeches, a bantam cockiness in his face, a faint trace of Scottish accent in his voice and a homespun friendliness all over him, Mr. Douglas proceeded to sweep Saskatchewan clean. By election night he was a leading national figure to be watched by the whole nation.
Thirdly the election showed that the farmer will vote CCF in good times, with his income at an all-time high, though he voted against the CCF in the depth of the depression. This is a portent to be observed by all politicians everywhere who fatuously count on prosperity to dull the edge of the socialist party.
The farmer voted CCF because the great depression was the most profound political fact of our era. It taught Canadians and all other peoples something that they did not fully know in the last Saskatchewan election—a fundamental fear of the future. It convinced them that depression could occur on a scale never imagined before, and it made them fear that it may return. The farmer voted in Saskatchewan—apart from all local issues and the great age of the existing government—for larger measures to prevent the return of depression after the war. He did not accept socialism as the only means of avoiding such a disaster, but he did listen to the CCF which told him that something drastic must be done to avoid it, and that nobody was taking the necessary precautions. He was dissatisfied, as always, with existing conditions but he was more dissatisfied with the possibility that existing conditions might return to the conditions of the thirties. And this is the greatest strength of the CCF in the whole nation. The CCF’s chief ally is the ghost of the depression.
The psychology of the CCF support in Saskatchewan could be seen in the attitude of a farmer who went into Regina, just before the election, drew money out of the bank to buy a new car (although he had a good car already) and then walked down the street to contribute $50 to the CCF campaign fund. He was looking, in fact, not for more prosperity now, for he had plenty, but for an insurance
policy against hard times later on.
However, the Saskatchewan election threw up the right wing of the CCF, the agrarian wing, with many interests directly opposed to those of the left wing in the cities of the East. The moderating effect of the prairie CCF on the policy of the national movement cannot be calculated yet, but it will be large. The out-and-out Socialists of the Party, the doctrinaires and the labor unions have a new force to reckon with, for the Saskatchewan CCF is in office, and it is the servant of the farmer, a moderate and, basically, a conservative man.
What is the meaning of the revolt in Saskatchewan? We may not understand until the end of many troubled years but a few things are clear, apart from local issues and the inevitable collapse of an aged, tired government.
Most obvious of all, the CCF sweep is one of the oldest phenomena of North American politics. It is an agrarian protest against the city. It is the struggle of the man on the land against the man in the city. It is basically the same movement that was led in the United States by Jefferson, by Jackson and by Bryan. Its impulse is the same which produced the Canadian Progressive Party of the 1920’s and Aberhartism in the 1930’s.
In an emotional sense, representing j the discontent of the farmer, the CCF , throughout the prairies has picked up and carried forward the torch lighted 1 by the Progressives. Superficially, much of its platform appears to reproduce that of the older Party, which was absorbed by the Liberals. The CCF, in fact, has captured the forces which in 1921 produced Progressivism and canalized them into an entirely new channel. For fundamentally the CCF and the old Progressive Party are poles apart—a fact which most farmers probably do not yet suspect.
The Progressive Party was built on j the theory that prosperity could come to western Canada only through the expansion of foreign markets for farm products, through reductions in tariffs and hence in the farmer’s costs.
It was Liberalism in the historical tradition of the nineteenth century and ; in the purest form yet seen in Canada. The fact that it favored a small measure i of government ownership in such fields ; as transportation did not alter its j fundamental belief in the whole economy.
Internal Prosperity First
The CCF is built on the proposition that the wise management of Canada’s affairs, under the direction of theState, can produce prosperity for all and to this process foreign trade is an appendix '
only. Internal prosperity comes first, and foreign trade will follow—the direct reversal of the Progressive approach. The CCF has taken Progressi vism and turned it upside down and, in the process, hits won an election.
The» farmer is the same man who elected the Progressives and whatever he may think about the rest of the economy he wants his own industry— the most important in Canada—to be as independent as possible of the State. He will never tolerate socialization of the land. The CCF has found that out and its Saskatchewan campaign shows that it has retreated far from its original socialistic policies, at least on the prairies. The retreat from socialism is the most notable and, perhaps, will finally prove the most important aspect of the election.
When Mr. Coldwell and Mr. Douglas joined the CCF movement, in the Farmer-Labor Group, its 1935 platform called for wholesale and drastic socialistic reforms. It proposed to encourage, though it would not compel, a system of land holding called use-lease. A farmer would lease his land from the Government and lose the lease if he ceased to use the land. Moreover, the 1933 platform was completely autarchic. Saskatchewan was io be established something like a watertight compartment in the national economy, producing nearly all it needed to live. Scrip was to be issued by the Provincial Government to pay for public works. The Government would socialize “all industries.” No industry was excepted.
But 11 years later Mr. Douglas was playing down socialism in Saskatchewan. He hardly mentioned it in his campaign. His main concern was to assure the farmer that on no account would his land be touched by the State, and to repeat over and over that the old use-lease plan had been dropped. Socialism in Saskatchewan was watered down to the palest pink.
No mandate for socialism in Canada was given by the electors of Saskatchewan since none was asked. It could be argued that in endorsing the provincial wing of the CCF the electors also accepted its national policy, which was finally outlined in this magazine by Mr. Coldwell in September of last year. But it is notable that no such argument was made by Mr. Douglas or by Mr. Coldwell in their election-night statements.
They know, and showed it in their campaign, that the farmer is a capitalist, owning the largest industry of the nation. He is discontented; he wants a larger share of the national income but he is no socialist. Moreover—and this is the central problem of the CCF as a national Party—he wants a reduction in the price of manufactured goods, and the CCF is pledged to high wages and hence to high prices in urban industry. If the CCF ever comes into national office the reconciliation of this basic conflict, this organic split in the living body of the Party, will be the core of Canadian politics, with results interesting but incalculable.
Sharp And Bitter Lesson
When all this is admitted it still remains true that Saskatchewan has taught, or should have taught, the older political Parties a sharp and bitter lesson. In brief, the lesson is that he is no longer afraid of the word “socialism.” The opponents of the CCF are now seen to have been wrong in their assumption that they could beat the CCF by proving that it is socialist. They have laboriously proved it, chiefly through Mr. Coldwell’s famous statement to Maclean’s Magazine, but all their labor is in vain. When the Saskatchewan farmers were told that the CCF was
socialistic they answered in a thundering chorus: “So what?”
This response doubtless will alter the tactics of the older Parties but it may have a much more important result. It may cause our politicians of both Right and Left to stop talking in mere labels and catchwords, to come down to cases. For some time they have been conducting a gigantic bluff. From the Right we have been told that socialism is intolerable and unthinkable, though we have always used a large measure of socialism in our economy, and even today, under an antisocialist government, are extending it into such things as air transportation. From the Left we have been told that Capitalism is the cause of all our misery though no government in Canada, even a CCF Government, would think of abolishing a wide region of Capitalism, including the industry of farming.
Saskatchewan may mean that we are approaching in Canada the political climate of Britain, where the Conservative Party is advocating many socialistic reforms and the Labor Party, abandoning its pure pre-war socialism, is saying that the major part of the economic system must remain in private hands.
Our political Parties reflect this change of mood and the sure instinct of our people in choosing practical rather than theoretical courses. The old Parties have moved to the Left. The CCF, as Saskatchewan plainly shows, is moving to the Right. But it is never in the nature of politicians to admit they are moving from their old bases at all.