Most people mistake communism for a
revolutionary political party. But it’s not.
Communism is a belief system, similar to a
religion. When the Toronto Eight were put on
trial last August, no evidence was submitted to
prove the Communist Party of Canada has ever
committed acts of violence or that we have ever
advocated the use of violence to overthrow the
government. They couldn’t find any evidence
because we aren’t violent revolutionaries. The
only thing we are guilty of is being members of a communist
organization, and that shouldn’t even be illegal.
When I was arrested Chief Draper asked me if I was born in Russia.
“No, sir’” I said. “I was born in England.” The police imagine that only
Jews, Germans and Russians could be attracted to communism
since The Communist Manifesto was written by Karl Marx, a German
Jew and because Russia went communist in 1917. I developed my
views in a very British way. Although I was born into poverty in
England, my home had a complete set of the works of Shakespeare.
Ideas were important in my family. When I was working as a
machinist’s apprentice, I listened to the speeches of Keir Hardie, a
Scottish Labour M.P. When I became a Socialist, my dad wouldn’t
speak to me. He was a Conservative who believed there was nothing
wrong with the British Empire. I decided to emigrate in 1910 and
chose Canada because the steamship fare was cheaper than it was
to Australia. I joined the machinists’ union, read Marx and joined the
Workers’ Party of Canada. In 1930 I helped form the Communist
Party of Canada and some of us tried to run as candidates in the
1930 federal election. We couldn’t. We were hauled before the police
chief and threatened. When gangs of toughs disrupted one of our
meetings in downtown Toronto, three mounted policemen and four
uniformed constables stood by smiling. The majority of Torontonians
condoned the harassment. Since the police treat ours as an illegal
organization, the public conclude we must be one.
The Toronto Eight were charged under Section 98 of the criminal
code. Back in 1919 Arthur Meighen wanted to give the police special
powers to crush the Winnipeg General Strike. Although Canada has
never had a revolution, the government figures one can happen at
any moment. I hope they’re right. We could use a revolution in this
country. Section 98 makes it illegal to be a member of any
organization that advocates a change in the political or economic
system by force or violence. Normally, the accused is presumed
innocent until proven guilty. Section 98 forces us to prove our
innocence by showing the Communist Party of Canada does not
advocate violence. It’s much harder to prove a negative. I have stated
that a workers revolution will come and when it does it will make the
Great War look like a chicken fight, but we don’t try to start
revolutions. We believe that revolutions will happen automatically
because capitalism is corrupt and unjust. When living on the dole
gets unemployed workers angry enough, there’ll be a revolution all
right, but the violence we are most likely to see will be by the police.
All through history the ruling class has fought to maintain its
privileged position. When the workers unite, it will be in self-defence.
Without producing evidence of any violent intention, the court decided
that since the Communist Party of Canada is part of the Communist
International, we must be revolutionaries taking orders from Moscow.
So here I sit in Kingston Penitentiary, a non-violent political martyr,
sentenced to five years at hard labour. Conditions in here are
barbaric. Since 1929 the prison population has been swollen by
poverty and it’s now overcrowded. It’s a misdemeanour to even have
a newspaper. We have to use toilet paper to roll our cigarettes. There
is a ban on speaking. If we make a request to the warden, we risk
being thrown in the Hole, where we get a half hour of dim light every
twenty-four, just enough to eat a meal of porridge, bread and boiled
potatoes. And there is always the Paddle, a thick strap, three feet
long, with a wooden handle. Diamond-shaped holes are cut into its
leather. When applied to the buttocks or back, the skin is sucked
through the holes. Smack! Smack! Smack! Oh, the bruising and the
bleeding! Ten blows! Fifteen! Twenty! The guards who administer the
Paddle are the most vicious and they enjoy their cruel work.
Just as I predict there will be a communist revolution in Canada, I
predicted there’d be a riot in this penitentiary and I was right. But I
didn’t start it. The prisoners didn’t even want a riot. All we wanted was
a sit-down strike to force some changes. Warden Smith locked the
men in, but a small group in the mailbag shop threw a hose out the
window, climbed down it, and burned the locks off the doors with an
acetylene torch. I warned the other prisoners not to be violent. It was
the soldiers who did all the shooting. A few days later, three shots
were fired through the window of my cell. Canada may yet stoop to
political murder and I fear I may not get out of here alive.