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New International, September 1938


E. Robertson

Canada and World Politics

From New International, Vol.4 No.9, September 1938, pp.261-264.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


THE AMERICAN PRESS has maintained a picture of Canada as a vague snowy area to the north, sparsely populated by French-Canadian loggers, half-breed trappers, backward farmers, mounties, the Dionne quintuplets, and a few English colonials who, because of an unaccountable allegiance to King George, have not yet emigrated to the United States. So dependent are the Canadians on their neighbor’s periodicals that they have come to share some of these illusions about themselves. The economic facts are somewhat different, though by no means less curious or unusual.

In the first place Canada is no longer an agricultural country, strictly speaking. Although she still leads the world in wheat exports, her agricultural production in 1936 was but 26% of the net production value; only one million people were engaged that year in farming, as compared with two and a half million wage- and salary-workers. Almost unnoticed by its self-occupied big brother, Canada has undergone a parallel industrial transformation. In 1871 all but 12% of Canada’s population was rural; today 55% is urban.

It is true that most of the Dominion’s enormous surface is still wilderness, or thinly settled under semi-frontier conditions, and that the total population of 11 million is fantastically tiny in comparison with America’s 130 million in a slightly smaller area. But it is also a fact that five cities scattered along a 3000-mile line alone contain 2½ of those 11 millions. In Canada features of combined development are everywhere. Side by side with a continued primary exploitation of mines, timber, fisheries, and land, there exists an expanding series of highly developed and rationalized industrial centres and a corresponding migration from the soil. In the years between 1923 and 1930 (which include even the beginning of the depression and the virtual freeze-up of immigration) the industrial proletariat multiplied at the rate of 20,000 a year, and half of this increase was taken up by plants employing more than 500 workers.

Land of Monopolies

Another popular misconception, and here one which the Canadian capitalists do not attempt to dispel, is that, compared with the United States, Canada is less ridden with trusts, combines, and corporations. Actually, and again in line with the laws of combined development, the reverse is true. There is no other country in the world where finance capitalism is so centralized. The land of the maple is also the land of monopoly.

Banking is much more openly and legally concentrated in Canada than in the US. No local or even provincial concerns are permitted; the field is staked out by ten national companies whose total combined assets were listed in 1936 as 3¼ billions. Of this highly respectable sum, 81% is cornered by the four leading firms, (Montreal, Royal, Commerce, and Nova Scotia). The natural capitalist process of interlocking directorates within these combines has been both consecrated and stimulated by the creation of a “national” Bank of Canada, that is by a pooling of representative directors from the existing banks.

In sharp contrast to the US, Canada has not experienced a single bank failure throughout the depression. This does not indicate a superior healthiness in Canadian capitalism but simply that the banking system is so enmeshed with it that the two must stand or fall together. The Big Four among the banks hog, among other things, 75% of all trust-company and 50% of all insurance-company holdings. The extent of their immediate tie-up with mines and manufacture cannot be accurately estimated, but a study of the names on directors’ boards alone would suggest that the banks own about 75% of Canadian industry.

These industrial octopi are in turn individually husky and yet amazingly entangled. Virtually all chemical, rubber, and munition products are the sinecure of one company, Canadian Chemical Industries Limited. Corresponding monopolies are vested in the Bell Telephone, The Steel Co. of Canada, and Canada Packers Ltd. Canadian syndicates of Ford and General Motors have grabbed auto production, while Shell and Imperial (i.e., Standard) Oil divide the gasoline sales.

Most ubiquitous of all is the Canadian Pacific Railway Co.; larger of the two transcontinental railroads, it is owner also of fleets of transpacific, transatlantic, coastal and great lakes steamships, and of a national chain of expensive and rococo hotels. Clinging tight to the colossal boodle which it secured in the early railway speculation days, the CPR continues to exploit a string of coal and metal mines throughout the Dominion, giant farms, timber and smelting outfits, and myriads of other concerns. It boasts quite truthfully of being the largest travel corporation in the world. Its only Canadian railroad rival is the government-owned Canadian National, a very sick white elephant whose absorption by the CPR is hourly expected.

The most prosperous of Canadian industries, metal-mining, has also its little nest of trusts. International Nickel not only exports 75% of the world’s supply of this basic war material but has corralled also 50% of Canadian copper, zinc, and lead. The enormously profitable and expanding gold-mining industry is not yet so unified, but it is reputed to have created a score of new Canadian millionaires, whose swag has necessarily been secured at the price of hook-ups with the Banking Big Four.

In Canada, as in America, five percent of the population squats on 90% of the wealth. America has its big Sixty Families, Canada its little Fifty.

Canadian “Imperialism”

Canadian capitalism is in fact so topheavy that its investments now spill over into other countries. Every Englishman is taught that Canada was salvaged from the commercial backwash of feudal France by the British Empire. Most Americans believe that Canada has been salvaged from the backwash of British imperialism by American investments and American culture. Both, in a sense, are right; but what both are being forced to recognize is that the mesalliance of the two imperialisms in Canada has begot there a strange hybrid state which, at the same time that it remains a colony of both, also acts at times as if it were a little “imperial” power in itself. With no battleships and no marines to back its investments, Canadian capitalists nevertheless have been able, under the shadow of Britain and the USA, to build up two billion dollars of investments abroad. Nearly half of this is sunk in the USA. The rest makes its appearance mainly in the West Indies and South America but also in Europe and Asia. Branches of Canadian banks operate in the West Indies; subsidiaries of Canadian power trusts have fingers hooked in the public utilities of Mexico City, of Barcelona, Spain, and of Rio de Janeiro (Brazilian Traction) and other South American centres.

It may be said that such Canadian investments abroad, and such pyramiding of Canadian money-bags at home, are simply a form of book-keeping for British and American capital. This is, however, only a little more than a half truth. Canadian Ford Motors, for example, which not only manufactures Canadian Ford cars and airplanes but is the controlling centre for the company’s factories throughout the British Empire, is actually organized with a majority ownership by Canadian investors. Nor is it easy to dismiss such phenomena with the explanation that Canadian investors are themselves tied to international banking. That is also a half-truth. In 1934 British investments in Canada totalled slightly less than three billion dollars, and American investments four billions; other foreign stakes are negligible; yet the total of investments in the country was in that same year eighteen billion dollars. In other words, well over 60% of the profit-making concerns are owned by capitalists living in the country.

Unalterable geography, as well as the course of history, has predetermined the triumph of America. Each year’s trade treaties reduce the preferences Canada gives Britain and increases the imports from the US. Yet the transition has been more prolonged and is economically farther from completion than the average American thinks. It was not until after the Great War that the USA was able to oust Britain as Canada’s chief trader. As for investments, even today the United Kingdom has $2.80 in the Canadian egg-basket for every $4 American. The august House of Morgan must still scramble with Rothermere for control of the pulp and paper industry, and with Mond for the preemption of nickel. Du Pont and the British ICI are battling fists in Canadian munitions; the oil monopoly remains a dispute between Deterding and Rockefeller. British finance continues to stand behind the CPR and much of the country’s banking.

Arrested Development of an Infant Prodigy

The Canadian intellectual may still prudently take flight to New York City for the benefit of his petty-bourgeois soul; but he is an extremely small cipher. A Canadian unemployed, still exposed to the whims of local relief systems, may look with some envy on the salary of WPA workers, but he reads also of WPA cuts and layoffs, and of an American unemployment total that is proportionately as high as in the country of his own capitalists. (Incidentally if he still wanted to take a chance on America there are always enough border officials to spot him and boot him back.) The employed worker sees the long-superior American wage-scale sinking to his own level and the prospects of work virtually nil. The general paralysis of capitalism prevents America from taking full advantage of Britain’s failing grasp on her oldest possession. Despite the rich natural resources still to be tapped, the unexplored and metallic mountains in the north, the areas of arable yet unoccupied soil (still estimated at one-fifth of the total cultivable land), world capitalism is unable to complete the industrialization of the Dominion. Consequently Canadian workers, though scarcely intoxicated with the smallish grapes in their own backyard, have little impulse to hop the fence into the weedy marihuana preserves which the Sixty Families have made of the magnificent United States. Canada, the infant prodigy of combined development, is now, thanks to the incurable diseases of capitalism, only an adolescent with arrested development.

The Canadian worker is, of course, being gradually made aware that his struggle is bound up with that of the world proletariat and specifically with that of the American worker but he is learning that mere affiliation with a skate-ridden American trade-union is in itself no more progressive than affiliation to a skate-ridden Canadian one – and less easy to fight against. This is a fact which, however, in no way contradicts the ultimate perspective of American-Canadian organizational solidarity in the trade-union front.

The Cross-Eyes of Canadian Politics

Political life in Canada also reflects the strange and for the moment unresolvable duality of her dependence. There is no avowed pro-American Party and no open party of British imperialism (always excepting the Communist Party). For many years the Liberal Party was roughly representative of those less established interests (particularly industrial) which were backed by Wall Street as opposed to Threadneedle. Its mass basis was the western free-trade farmer, and the anti-British French-Canadian. But restored to federal power, the Liberal machine has walked the same tightrope as the Conservatives, playing off British interests against American in order to gain a pourboire from each. Reciprocity has never been anything but a political mirage, while complete freedom from the preferential tariffs of British imperialism is a thought to frighten even the most Americanized Toronto Babbitt.

The “Socialist” CCF has in its five years of existence reflected the same national ambiguity, playing ball both with isolationism and with collective security. Because it is still a loose federation its followers are treated to the spectacle of its seven federal parliamentary representatives alternately supporting pacifism and the hypothetical wars of the League. At its latest national conference in July the pendulum, thanks to the sturdy pushing of a Stalinist fraction, has swung well over to collective security. But the new “policy” is still a typical Canadian (and social democratic) compromise. “We will support no war of British imperialism – but we feel that peace can best be guaranteed through collective security.”

The Stalinites have the one virtue of shamelessness in this respect. So long as Moscow intones that Britain is a democratic nation, the Canadian Communist Party will bear aloft the tribal tomahawk with and for Britain. If the Empire should turn up on the opposite side to Russia ... but enough of such counterrevolutionary “if’s”.

Nearest in its foreign policy to the Stalinites is the Conservative party, traditionally the manifestation in Canada of the Holy Ghost of the Bank of England. Yet even the Conservatives, though enjoying the irresponsibilities of their present job as the official federal opposition, are now infallibly cautious in their references to Empire wars and scarcely distinguishable from the Liberals in their phraseology. At their recent national shindig, at which the reactionary Manion was chosen leader to replace the doddering R.B. (“Iron-Heel”) Bennett, the Conservatives, after much squabbling, approved a foreign policy which offered nothing more than “consultation and cooperation between all the members of the British Commonwealth of Nations”. Where is the old automatic military heel-clicking for the Empire? Où soni les neiges d’antan? To muffle the tub-thumping still more, the Grand Old Party of Canada tacked on a “Ludlow Amendment”, advocating a popular plebiscite before war is declared. Thus the diplomatic mummeries between the Old Parties and the Old Land barely manage to preserve the Imperial proprieties; in the act of crooking the pregnant Commonwealth knee before Chamberlain each Canadian party-leader cocks one eye at the nationalist sentiment and the other at Roosevelt.

For it is the shadow of the latter’s State Department, much more than the annoyance of CCF pacifist resolutions, which puts velvet into the bark of the English bull-pup on this side of the water – and England knows it. Sir Anthony Eden’s Yorkshire Post editorialized with satisfaction on the spectacle early this summer of the Conservative Bennett and Liberal Premier MacKenzie King competing with each other in protestations of loyalty: “The tie of sentiment remains. The tie of blood grows weaker”. But both Eden and Chamberlain know just how inadequate sentiment is to fight Britain’s battles if the blood is not only too “weak” to wish to be shed but is connected with a heart located in Wall Street. The ink on the Yorkshire Post was scarcely dry when Premier King announced that whereas Canada was willing to increase its production of armaments for Britain (at a price), her own defense was to remain under “autonomous control”.

Canada and Martial Self-Determination

Now for Canada to declare that she will look after her own defense is for a wren to open a threatening beak to a world of buzzards. It is a luxury of utterance only possible when the wren finds herself committed to a perch on the edge of the nest of the biggest and strongest buzzard of them all. That is exactly Canada’s position.

For what will happen when Britain is once more at war? Theoretically Canada is “an independent Dominion within the British Commonwealth”. Does that mean she has the “right” to label herself neutral if the United Kingdom is not? On that question, which agitates the bosoms of bourgeois nationalists and CCF pacifists alike, both the Canadian and the British Parliaments remain portentously silent. The sister dominion of South Africa has already announced she will determine neutrality or belligerency for herself. There is nothing, of course, to stop the Canadian Parliament from passing a similar and equally vaporous decree – even Mackenzie King has said that she may. Actually, if Downing Street wishes, it can force belligerency upon Canada at the first shot of a British gun, by utilizing the power of the Governor-General-in-Council to recruit, without the consent of Parliament, an expeditionary army on Canadian soil. The Governor-General of Canada, nominally a figurehead, still exercises very real emergency powers in cooperation with his “Council” (that is, the Canadian Premier and his Cabinet). It should be remembered that the Governor-General is himself sent over hot from Britain as the symbol of George VI, King-Emperor, in Canada and that the formulations of the last Imperial Conference still laid down the dominions “a common allegiance to the crown”. It is on such considerations that foreign military alliances are made with Britain, that is with the understanding they are backed not merely by the 40 million of the British Isles but by the 400 million of the British Empire. Hence legislation of the Canadian Parliament having to do with foreign affairs is subject to veto by the Privy Council of England which has frequently exercised its “Supreme Court” function to check Ottawa (and to reduce the latter’s authority over the various and jealous provinces within the Dominion).

Even if the Dominion’s somewhat operatic legislature were permitted to make the gesture of declaring neutrality, international law – which exists in any case only in the minds of the bourgeois commentators – has no precedent to determine whether anyone would recognize the little folded hands of Canada. The deciding factor would certainly not be historical precedents, nor the ghostly League of Nations on which Canada has a nice seat all to herself, but the strategic wisdom, for the country at war with Britain, of an attack on Canada. If anti-imperialist sentiment were sufficient in Canada to force through a neutrality declaration (or if Washington’s plans desired it) the United Kingdom might find it good policy to bow, but the declaration would not be worth the fabulous hoot in hell if Britain’s opponent found that she could strike at the Empire through Canada. If Germany were the antagonist no doubt it would be to her advantage to respect Canada’s declarations so long, of course, as she could continue to sink “peaceful” Canadian shipping en route with supplies for England. That such a procedure is totally consonant with neutrality was demonstrated for three years by the United States in the last war and for the past two years along the Spanish coast by the Motherland herself. If Britain were at grips with Japan, the case might be different. Even if Japan were Britain’s sole enemy, which is highly improbable not to say impossible, the British navy would find it impossible to line the west coast of Canada whatever she might still do to blockade the Atlantic.

In all such theorizings it is obvious that the power which really barricades Canada is not herself nor Britain but the United States. Such a plain fact is of course never admitted in the diplomatic pronouncements of any one of these three countries. It is an actuality neither salving to Canada’s national pride nor reassuring to her capitalists. In the first place no one knows whether Uncle Sam will line up on the same side as Britain. Kindred “democratic” traditions and Anglo-Saxon heritages are baubles compared with fundamental imperialist rivalries. The Canadian capitalists are fully aware that nothing on earth can prevent their military absorption by the United States once that country is at war with Britain. On the other hand, even if the two powers were allies, the price of Canada’s protection might still be annexation, less rapid, less brutal, but yet, in the long run, annexation.

To such a perspective the Canadian working-class is naturally apathetic. There are of course some of the helpless unemployed who would accept any war in order to get steady pay again; and there are some middle-class Canadian limeys who are stupid enough to march off against even the United States at the drop of a general’s hat. But the majority of even the Anglo-Saxon elements in Canada are willing to be absorbed any day if such a price is necessary for military protection. And finally there is a fairly solid bloc of French-Canadians, 28% of the total population, and 85% of that of Quebec Province, which resisted conscription in the last war and threatens to set up a separate (and probably fascist) “republic” the moment Canada is involved in another.

The Canadian Plutos can therefore never be free from worry. Small frogs as they are, annexation would plunge them into a very large puddle, populated by the crocodiles of American finance-capital. On the other hand, participation in an Empire War, even supposing the USA remained benevolently neutral, may lead this time to defeat, the crack-up of the Empire, and working-class revolt at home. But, again, real neutrality would mean the loss of the enormous war profits which Britain already holds out as bait. This is a contretemps which makes still more sinuous the course of Canadian politics. On one day McKenzie King soothes the pacifists and isolationists and the three million French-Canadians by declarations of military autonomy. On the next day he negotiates with the United States for the building of a $20,000,000 military highway from the western United States 1,800 miles through Canada to Alaska. On the third day he signs agreements with the British air ministry for the development of huge bomber-plants, air-training schools, and munition-factories to supplement the British super-armament program.

The Armadillo and the Skunk

So much for Canadian “autonomy”, which is simply running with the hare and hunting with the hounds – while the Canadian worker pays now in sweat, and later in blood, for the impossible game. Seventy million dollars has already been earmarked, in 1938-39, for the defense of a country which no one will harry who is not prepared also to invade the United States. For the Canadian bosses the expenditure is, of course, highly lucrative. It is not simply a matter of business for the local armament manufacturers. MacKenzie King has publicly reminded the whole boss class that arms are always handy, if for nothing else, to put down “insurrection” at home. Finally, it is no accident that Ottawa confesses it is about to build two mine-sweepers and to erect 130 searchlights with five-foot lenses on the west coast of British Columbia, at a cost of two millions, in the midst of the present trade negotiations between Canada and the US.

To be sure the recent agreements are threefold, involving Britain, (with Australia also seeking to slide in) but it is an open secret that Britain has failed in these manoeuvres to wangle from Canada the promise of aid in war and even the opening up of Canadian immigration gates to that section of the British unemployed who are too enfeebled for war service and whom the Mother Land would like to dump into her favorite colony. (The United Kingdom has a standing offer to finance British immigration to Canada; last year Canada allowed the importation of only 1,573 Britishers; none of them was listed as unemployed.) It is the US which gains when a fortification is created on the Canadian coast. True Britain is not sorry to see them for it is not excluded that she might conceivably (but not probably) be able to use them in a war against the US. Fundamentally, behind every “protective” war outlay in Canada is Washington. The projected Alaska Highway was first noted in the press as a little innocent scheme of British Columbia’s to attract tourists; then there was gentle talk about financing part of the cost in the United States. This summer however Messrs. Farley, Ickes and Assistant-Secretary-of-War Johnson, all of Washington, made special personal trips to the area of the proposed highway; it is patent that the actual plan is the selling of a permanent military corridor through B.C. from the state of Washington to Alaska, with, as a natural corollary, military commitments of Canada to the US.

Among the other “autonomous” plans of Mr. King are the immediate construction of two destroyers, mechanization of the land force, fortifications of both coasts, and of Anticosti Island, strategically placed in the mouth of the St. Lawrence. These are the first layers of the armor plate which Yankee imperialism is forcing around Canada. America has not much need for Canada’s Lilliputian army, but she does find it necessary for the Dominion to turn itself into an armadillo, a quiet fortress outlining the real boundaries of the USA in the coming war.

As a military animal, Canada however is not being permitted to remain merely a naïve young armadillo. Britain too has need of her, in the role of a secondary beast of prey, with weapons of offense. True, eleven million disunified colonials of questionable patriotism can never bite like the lion; but they can perhaps develop the claws of a cub and certainly manufacture gases as potent as any in the skunk world of modern militarism. That is why in 1938 we find Canadians again potentially offensive bipeds; behind every offensive military preparation is Britain. With the collapse of the Swinton air-armament program in England this spring (followed by cabinet expulsions and the scrapping of the shadow-factory system of bomber-manufacture) the British Air Chiefs have been scuttling around the world in a frantic attempt to conscript the economic resources of their not-so-communal Commonwealth.

It is not a new idea. In 1917 Britain was losing in Europe and perilously short of planes, pilots, and air mechanics at home. Canadian factories and training forces, far from the scene of air-raids, were hurriedly chucked together. The present scheme is much more ambitious. A complete census of Canadian plants adaptable to war production is being made, with the help of the Canadian Manufacturers Association and the Commercial Air Transport combines. Both are of course springing with alacrity to the salute, since a quarter of a billion dollars has already been forked out from the British war hope-chest to set the wheels rolling. Factories grinding out war machines are springing up like dragon’s teeth in the industrial centres. One plant alone, in small Fort William, already shouts that it is ready to produce 1000 bombers annually. The result of all this, and of similar dickers between the UK, the USA, Australia, etc., is that Downing Street can intimidate or woo Mussolini (according to the momentary Mediterranean weather) with a guaranteed air production of 25,000 planes a year. To learn to operate the new Canadian and American baby-killers, amateur flyers in England are being enrolled in clubs and subsidized at £50 a head.

It is true that the MacKenzie King government is still dodging official British air-training schools on “autonomous” Canadian soil, but it is a patently temporary stall with the well-known cockeye aimed at the wistful isolationist temper of the country; it is a bluff which oozes away as the armament orders pour in and prosperity enwraps the Canadian Manufacturers Association. And again it must be emphasized that King stalls or moves, in the long run, only as America directs him. The skunk half of Canada’s divided military personality is not nurtured by the US – but it does not come about without her consent. It should be remembered that Canada’s air assistance in the last war did not operate until 1917 when the US had decided to enter as an ally; the first eleven American air-squads to be sent overseas were trained in just such Canadian schools. Exactly what military understanding exists between the UK and the US over the present Canadian scheme is naturally uncommunicated to the mere masses, but the editorializings of the NY Times on the subject may, with full allowance for customary idealistic verbiage, be profitably studied:

“Although the question may be raised as to the effect of a strong air force, either British or Canadian, immediately across our northern border, it would seem, in view of the long tradition of peace between the US and the Dominion, and the natural community of interest among the English-speaking people, that such a force could be regarded as a further bulwark of our defense” (July 25th, 1938; my emphasis).

In other words, let the un-United Kingdom propose; we, if necessary, will dispose.

Arsenal for the Coming Slaughter

In the meantime, the Canadian bourgeoisie rolls merrily on. It is true that the second depression which has been setting-in (as usual behind the tail of the American) affects an ever expanding majority of the people. Wage cuts continue while prices rise. Some needle-trade women workers in Montreal have been getting as low as five cents an hour. Probably one worker in every ten is unemployed. There is no federal relief system and single workless wander about the country, alternately striking and, literally, begging. Quebec trades unions and left political organizations are muzzled by the notorious Padlock Law, while Arcand’s fascists multiply monthly and drill openly. Four out of every five farmers are in debt, and the average farm income is about $500 a year. But all this does not prevent International Nickel and Chemical Industries Ltd. from supplying death-food to the world. Canada now ships Japan 97% of that busy murderer’s nickel, 90% of her copper, 75% of her aluminum; simultaneously International Nickel points with pride to a net profit for the first 6 months of the year of $16,732,251. (Last year it was even greater – $25 million.) Japanese gold is flowing in, even, according to recent Chinese claims, for advance purchase of some of the very bombers the flag-flapping Canadian Manufacturers Association is being subsidized to supply Britain. Canadian gold mines are booming; thanks to the smashing of the CIO drive by Ontario’s Premier Hepburn, they are virtually unorganized, and therefore daily more profitable for the Fifty Big Shots, their supernumeraries, and their backers in Wall Street and London.

In summary it may be said that Canada, already one of the chief producers of basic war metals, is now to be also one of the muddy fountainheads of the manufactured article, of bombs and bombers, guns, shells, tanks and gas. And her workers and farmers, however remote they feel beneath the Arctic and an ocean away from both immediate war areas, are being inevitably prepared for the job of transporting, using and succumbing to the devices of manslaughter, as well as of manufacturing them for the profit of international capitalism. Precisely where they will be called upon to use them and against whom rests, at present, secondarily with Britain and primarily with the US. The Canadian working-class will cease being puppets of both imperialisms only through a proletarian revolution whose victory, also, will depend greatly upon the revolutionary solidarity of their proletarian brothers in the states below the forty-ninth parallel.

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