Sunday, May 24, 2009

Worth remembering, not celebrating

Celebrating the general strike of 1919, playwright Danny Schur told the Free Press: "we tend to forget -- there's no institutional memory."

Indeed. But what exactly would Schur and other revisionists have us remember? Paper boys beaten by grown men for selling newspapers outside the sanction of the strike committee? Babies in the North End coming close to starvation because "the means of production" of milk were under the control of the Strike's "Food Committee"? Mayor Gray being beat up in plain view of indifferent policemen? A police officer shot in a gunfight at Higgins and Main? Probably not. Somehow, I doubt that any of the 5,000 people in lawn chairs on Main Street yesterday were "dazzled" by scenes portraying these events.

I missed the opportunity to ask my great-grandmother, who was 16 and living in Winnipeg at the time, about the strike. But it might have been that, like many people who lived through it, she would not have liked to talk about that experience. There is the local newspapers that continued to publish through the time. Winnipeg Telegram strike editions, or the Committee of One Thousand-published Winnipeg Citizen

And if hoary old newspapers are not your thing, read Ian Angus' article in the latest issue of this country's pre-eminent socialist magazine, Canadian Dimension.

"[R]ecently, the history of the Winnipeg General Strike has been rewritten by social democrats who describe the strike as just an attempt to win collective bargaining. The strikers were misunderstood heroes and the government response was reactionary and repressive, but only because it didn’t understand.

"But glory be! Despite those unfortunate misunderstandings, the strike led to the creation of the CCF, which led to the NDP, the ultimate party of discussion, compromise and mutual respect. Unfortunately for the social democratic interpretation, most of the leaders of the 1919 strike wave were not social democrats they were revolutionary socialists. And the experience did not lead them to the CCF it led them to build a new revolutionary party, the Communist Party of Canada."

Let us remember the strike for what it was: a failed attempt to overthrow British law and capitalism in Canada. A socialist revolution similar to the one that was destroying Russia at the time. But maybe it was not a complete failure: for six weeks, the city was in the grip of violence, fear, lawlessness, and hunger. Sounds like manifest socialism to me.


Blogger My Left Nut said...

Good call. I've never really paid much attention to the strike. It's Marx's revolutionary socialism straight out of the Communist Manifesto.

10:52 PM  

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