CCF: Origins of Canadian Socialism

CCF: Origins of Canadian Socialism
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Canada today is most clearly a socialist nation, but without delving back to the earlier part of the 20th Century it is not apparent why. Was the culprit imported egalitarian ideals from Europe? Perhaps the transformation of a lingering admiration of authoritarianism from the rule of the Queen? Or did this force- consisting mostly of force, come from a closer source? Surely the neighbour to the South, with it’s republican and market based institutions had no part in the matter. Surely America is blameless.

As we shall see, this simply is not so.
Between 1898 and 1915, over one million farmers came to Canada from America, moving mostly to the western provinces. Many of these farmers were enamored and associated with socialist groups in the United States. They were wheat farmers and felt slighted by the railroads and banks, feeling that the market was working against them. For roughly two decades they organized into a rabble of splintered groups comprised of farmers, socialist intellectuals, labour leaders, and union organizers. [ref]“How Socialism Came to Canada as an American Import”, excerpt from “Heaven on Earth: The Rise and Fall of Socialism”, [][/ref]. As Rahm Emmanuel said, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.”[ref]Rahm Emmaneul speech, “Never let a perfectly good crisis go to waste.”, [][/ref], and so when the great depression hit they did  just that. Using this crisis as a catalyst, these radicals organized into the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (C.C.F.) which bandied under the following anthem.

A call goes out to Canada
It comes from out the soil—
Come and join the ranks through all the land
To fight for those who toil
Come on farmer, soldier, labourer,
From the mine and factory,
And side by side we’ll swell the tide—
C.C.F. to Victory.
[ref]”Foreword”. CCYM Sings. Saskatchewan Coucil for Archives and Archivists. []. Retrieved 2010-07-17.  CCYM is the Co-operative Commonwealth Youth Movement, the image is from a larger collection of scans in jpeg format.[/ref]

J.S. Woodsworth

The 1932 organization chose J.S. Woodsworth as their President to lead the C.C.F. at the founding conference in Calgary. One year later in 1933 they outlined the C.C.F.’s platform in the Regina Manifesto which called for a “planned system of social economy for the production, distribution and exchange of all goods and services” and “social ownership, development, operation and control of utilities and natural resources.” [ref]Saskatchewan NDP website. “A Brief History of the Saskatchewan NDP “, [].[/ref]  Woodsworth’s battle cry was thus, “I am convinced that we may develop in Canada a distinctive type of Socialism. I refuse to follow slavishly the British model or the American model or the Russian model. We in Canada will solve our problems along our own lines.” [ref]“Who is J.S. Woodsworth?”,  KnowledgeRush Encyclopedia. [][/ref]

The party stayed true to this philosophy, shying away from affiliation with the Communist Party of Canada and the revolutionary tactics associated with the communists. But make no mistake, their goals were very, very, similar. In the Regina Manifesto it is stated that, “No C.C.F. Government will rest content until it has eradicated capitalism and put into operation the full programme of socialized planning which will lead to the establishment in Canada of the Cooperative Commonwealth.”. The C.C.F. makes it very clear that their goal is to collectivize all economic decision making and to eliminate private enterprise. While claiming to offer mere socialism they are in fact trying to construct total socialism, also better known as Communism. Ludwig von Mises goes a step further when he says that, “In regard to economic policy, socialism and communism are identical.” [ref] von Mises, Ludwig. “Nation, State, and Economy”, p. 178 n[/ref]

So the Communist- I mean Cooperative Commonwealth Federation enjoyed immediate success, forming its first opposition government in Saskatchewan in the 1934 election [ref]“Medicare”, Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan. [][/ref]. They continued their march to tip the scales in favour of labour, passing into law such staples as worker’s compensation, 8 hour work days, and social security. Then in 1942, there was a split in opinion over Canadian involvement with WWII. Woodsworth was a staunch pacifist, however most of the rest of the C.C.F. felt differently and followed the new direction in supporting the war.  Only two years later the C.C.F. finally took control of Saskatchewan in 1944, forming their first ruling government. “When the C.C.F. government came to power in 1944, their platform called for comprehensive health insurance. The Hospital Insurance Act came into effect on January 1, 1947, guaranteeing every citizen of the province hospital care without a fee. No other jurisdiction on the continent could boast such a sweeping reform.” [ref]ibid.[/ref]

It is at this point that the threshold had been breached! Why one might ask, is the passage of universal health care in a single province so significant? Because this was an infectious idea, such is the nature of granted rights.
Once this idea infects society then the masses will defend their acquired rights and seek to create new ones. As more and more positive rights are acquired, rights created by government decree, then these ideas become ingrained in the psyche of the people who hold them. This is explained with the utmost of clarity by the 19th century Franco-phone political philosopher, Frederic Bastiat.

Frederic Bastiat

“Then abolish this law without delay, for it is not only an evil itself, but also it is a fertile source for further evils because it invites reprisals. If such a law—which may be an isolated case— is not abolished immediately, it will spread, multiply, and develop into a system. The person who profits from this law will complain bitterly, defending his acquired rights. He will claim that the state is obligated to protect and encourage his particular industry; that this procedure enriches the state because the protected industry is thus able to spend more and to pay higher wages to the poor workingmen. Do not listen to this sophistry by vested interests. The acceptance of these arguments will build legal plunder into a whole system.” [ref]Bastiat, Frederic. “The Law”, pg. 17. Reprinted by Foundation for Economic Education, United States of America. [][/ref].

Bastiat’s point is indeed valid, and I would say authenticated by the progression of the law across the world throughout the 20th Century. By establishing a right to healthcare in one province, the C.C.F. had infected the rest of Canada with the idea that they too must have State funded health-care. After all why should Saskatchewan alone partake in the plenty?  This is precisely what happened, having established a precedent and template on the provincial level. In 1964 the Royal Commission on Health Services, chaired by Justice Emmett Hall, noticed this activity and thought this was a delightful idea, and started having hearings about a national healthcare program. Just two years later, in 1966, the Liberal Party took up the mantle and passed the Medical Care Act of 1966.  Since then the national health care system has had it’s reworkings and tweakings, culminating in the Canada Health Act of 1984. Each province runs it’s medicare, which the central government funds with certain stipulations to keep costs down.

Right, but what’s the big deal? One may say, “Eric there is a lot more to socialism that just medicare. Are you not beating a dead horse so to speak? Why have you spent 3 pages talking about this?”, to which I would retort that there is a very good reason that Vladimir Lenin once said that, “Socialized medicine is the keystone to the arch of the socialist state.”[ref]Actually a shortening of, “Would socialized medicine lead to socialization of other phases of life? Lenin thought so. He declared socialized medicine is the keystone to the arch of the socialist state.” from a 1945 AMA Pamphlet Warning. While it is unclear whether this was Cold War fear mongering or if this is a legitimate quotation, like the popular quip of questionable validity by Josesph Stalin, “The people who cast the votes don’t decide an election, the people who count the votes do.”, there is is an inescapable truth to these statements regardless of whether their attributed authors really penned them.[/ref] The passage of medicare is the single biggest gain socialism can make in any area for the following reasons.

Firstly, as I mentioned before, it is an infectious idea that all persons will desire to partake in.  As Bastiat detailed, once their positive rights are acquired, only death itself can pry these rights away.

Secondly, once in effect the classic confusion between society and government card can be played.  Bastiat explains this as well, “Socialism, like the ancient ideas from which it springs, confuses the distinction between government and society. As a result of this, every time we object to a thing being done by government, the socialists conclude that we object to its being done at all. We disapprove of state education. Then the socialists say that we are opposed to any education. We object to a state religion. Then the socialists say that we want no religion at all. We object to a state-enforced equality. Then they say that we are against equality. And so on, and so on. It is as if the socialists were to accuse us of not wanting persons to eat because we do not want the state to raise grain.” [ref]ibid., Bastiat. “The Law”, pg. 22[/ref] Now, if one questions medicare then the Liberals and NDP will shout to the heavens that one is against Canadians having healthcare at all. Because a person’s health is so personal, and the idea of someone else’s health not being taken care of is so intensely emotional, government run health care bolsters it’s position over time as irreproachable simply by virtue of being healthcare. After enough time has passed, within a generation, it is forgotten all together that people ever had health care without the State providing it. After all “The most successful tyranny is not the one that uses force to assure uniformity, but the one that removes awareness of other possibilities.” as stated by Allan Bloom[ref]Bloom, Allan. “The Closing of the American Mind”, 1987. pg. 249, [].[/ref].

Thirdly, this establishes a psychology of dependence in which the State is the mother, and the individual is the child.

Fourthly, this psychology creates fertile ground for further interventions and appropriations by the State in the name of helping the poor and needy. Bastiat was very correct in saying that one law will eventually develop into a system. We watched the whole step by step process happen in Canada with medicare.

But fifthly, it is important to recognize the psychology of dependence now allows the State to meddle in new frontiers where previously the People would never have tolerated it.

Today in Canada we see a whole machine in which money and credit are controlled by a State monopoly, where the central government reserves all power to itself, where dissidents can be frivolously charged with Hate Crimes, where healthcare is forcibly funneled through the State with private enterprise options being barred, a resident can be detained and stripped of their rights for being a suspected threat. Of course not all of these policies passed into law since 1966, but the psychology of dependence assuredly reinforces them and keeps the laws in place. The population is complacent.

Over the course of less then a century, and indeed less than a half-century the C.C.F. and it’s later incarnations effectively transformed Canadian society into a “communitarian’s paradise”. The liberty movement in Canada can learn alot from the C.C.F. and their Marxist tactics. After all, as the Leadership Institute teaches, “… political technology is philosophically neutral.” That means that tactics that win can be used by anyone, regardless of ideology. It can be easy to think of our ideological opponents as enemies to be vanquished in argument, but alot can be learned by studying the successful movements and ideologies across the spectrum. If you have read this far, then it is incumbent upon you to expand and grow the movement for liberty in Canada, and to accomplish what the C.C.F. accomplished but for the cause of freedom.

But before we do anything, before we organize foundations and take to the streets with megaphones we have to get invigorated. We need to make a declaration! I want you to run to your closest window, open it up and whatever the hour is scream “Liberty!” out the window as loud and far as your lungs will allow you.[ref] Something of a paraphrasing of the “I’m mad as hell” speech from “The Network”. [][/ref] Your revolution has begun!

The flag of the Republic of Canada

  • Ahzoh

    If you think Canada today is (or ever was) socialist, then you have utterly no clue what socialism is and should not be allowed to talk on the matter.

  • mstob

    From what I have read Canadian big business played just as much of a role, if not a larger one, than the CCF and various other socialist organizations in bringing socialism to Canada. This written about extesively in Business and Social Reform Thirties by Alvin Finkel. I recommend it to you all.

Profile photo of Eric A. Sharp

Eric Sharp is a libertarian activist, writer, artist, and student of the Austrian School. He is a regular columnist for the Humble Libertarian, The Independent Voter Network, and is a former chapter president of Young Americans for Liberty at Middle Tennessee State University where he majored in Political Science. He has hosted numerous End the Fed rallies in Nashville Tennessee in the United States, has been awarded the Ron Paul Student Scholarship to attend the Birth and Death of the Fed conference with the Mises Institute where he met and spoke with Ron Paul. Eric is dedicated to eradicating the practice of central banking from the face of the earth into the dustbin of history, that great repository of bad ideas.

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