Monthly Archives: February 2016

Bartlett, Ruebsaat/Soviet Princeton

No, not that Princeton. This is a story of the little town in British Columbia’s Interior Region, which suffered from such easily identifiable woes during the Depression that the town is almost a Platonic Ideal of Depression-era class conflict.

Soviet Princeton should be purchased by any left-wing human being currently living in Vancouver, considering the sheer lack of interest/resources to tackle the greater province’s history. Left-wing history in Canada in general is fairly limited, with a few key events (the Winnipeg General Strike, the March to Ottawa, the language revolution in Quebec) highlighted, while seemingly nothing else happens in this country.

The turmoil in Princeton has a depressing regularity to anyone familiar with the patterns that follow a strike in a company town. Princeton had one major industry (a mine), as well as a handful of commercial businesses that served the needs of the miners and the ranchers who lived in the sweeping fields that surrounded Princeton.

As has always been the case, monopoly capitalism (in the form of one major employer in Princeton), recognizing just how desperate people were willing to work, lowered wages and turned a blind eye to severely dangerous conditions in the workplace. The workers went on strike, which was quickly followed by what could be termed as sympathy strikes in neighboring towns. Organization was handled by “Slim” Evans, a Communist and member of the Workers Unity League, the arm of the CPC which directly dealt with labour strife.

The middle class naturally turned to the police for strike-breaking power, and when the RCMP was deemed insufficient, they formed a Concerned Citizens Alliance, which was uniformly made up of thugs (the irony that this “Citizens Alliance” only constituted and represented a small minority of townspeople seems to have been lost).

Slim Evans was run out of town by vigilantes, and the mine was essentially shut down – it seemed like the strike conflict had managed to kill the town, but Princeton was kept alive by trade with the ranchers, who never cared one way or another about the strike.

All of these historical points are covered in Soviet Princeton, and the patterns mentioned above can be applied to many, many different cases throughout the late 1800s and the 20th Century. What makes this volume so interesting is the sheer amount of lore that would otherwise be unknown.

The fact that the Ku Klux Klan even had a presence in Canada is astonishing, let alone their role in attacking “reds” like Evans and strikebreaking in general. The specific conditions of the working class in a province which was still considered as straightforward Crown Property are also eye-opening. Everything from labour camps that resembled concentration camps, to a police force that was suspicious of anyone foreign (including and especially white people from Eastern Europe and Italy), to the grid of rail-riding which made migrant work possible, are all conditions which are brought into sharp focus by the volume.

These are all reasons why Soviet Princeton is required reading for the Canadian leftist who is curious as to what exactly was going on west of the Rockies during the worst of the Depression: the history also provides almost unclassified information which deals with the very specifics of what was occurring in Princeton, as well as providing an archetype of the mass strike in the early 20th Century.

But most important of all, at least from a historical point of view: it gives voices to the voiceless and forgotten men and women who fought, struggled, lived and died during this period. If it was not for the care and research that the authors provide, Princeton’s strike would a historical footnote, if anything at all. Come and see the hidden history of the province that time has seemingly forgotten.

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Identity Politics and Well-Intentioned Stupidity

About a year ago, there was a somewhat popular punk band of four white guys who called themselves Viet Cong. Nobody in Canada batted an eyelash – they’re a PUNK BAND and therefore an offensive band name is de rigeur. However, once they dipped south on tour and entered the unique city of Portland, they were attacked for having a racially offensive name. The band apologized, but notably put up a mini-manifesto defending their political beliefs (right before they bowed to public opinion and changed their name). But that’s the crux of the matter – this is about POLITICS, not race or racism.

There are plenty of people of varying ethnicities who have no problem with the VC. Particularly North Vietnamese of a certain generation, but leftists all over the world have zero problem with the Viet Cong. Many people who were absolutely against American “intervention” in Vietnam considered the Viet Cong a heroic body; and even today leftists around the world (and not just white boys from Alberta) acknowledge the immense sacrifices the Viet Cong endured during the war against the Americans.

Which brings us back to America. Most of the Vietnamese that fled to Canada (but mostly America), were fleeing the forces of the North and the communists in the south. These Vietnamese despised communism, supported the American-backed regime in the south, and when Saigon fell, they thought it was the end of the world. Hundreds of thousands sought sanctuary (via some truly horrifying emigration methods) in the US and settled down.

It’s been a couple of generations since the initial wave of boat people, and the Vietnamese refugees largely, happily settled in cities up and down the west coast. But that enmity towards anything pro-communist is hard-wired, even after a few generations. And when some unsuspecting white guys with an almost stereotypical offensive band name rolls into town, those bad white boys can be chastised for being “racist” (the logic being that the band is white, the offended community is Asian, so, racist. I guess.)

This naturally does not take into account that a) Vietnamese refugees in America do not speak for all Vietnamese, and that their offense is rooted in good old fashioned Cold War politics, and b) at no point did the band make racial slurs or encouraged hate crimes, either in print or in their music.

But this is where obsession with identity politics goes too far. The cult of me has been replaced by the cult of “us” (by “us”, I mean whatever hyper-specific group that you call home). It reaches ridiculous heights of self-importance, it renders inter-community work impossible, and it deems racism as being identical with ideological viewpoints. And once you veer of course somewhat from your chosen group (because you’re, you know, human), and you have any public presence, you have some explaining to do.

As a Marxist, this completely flies in the face of genuinely progressive, united action. If people can be caught up in such nonsense as this, and never form any kind of real strategies on how to progress forward, there is no hope for united fronts or anything within striking distance of solidarity against a well organized Republican machine. Marxists can be just as bad as this – I was recently on and then rapidly off the Marxist Internet Archive group, because all people did was quibble with each other – but at least there are some standard goalposts to reach. Meanwhile, liberal people in the States bicker over nothing and Trump will be president soon.

NB – If you want some delightful photographic evidence of just what the Americans did to Vietnam, check out this newly unearthed North Vietnamese war photo album. There is a horrendous shot of a “defoliated” jungle that been reduced to utter ruin by Agent Orange. The US felt the need to destroy an entire ecosystem in order to spot those pesky VC.