Heaven on Earth: The Rise and Fall of Socialism with Ben Wattenberg (Think Tank)

In large part, Canada has America to thank for our little headache up here with socialism. This neat historical film identifies the “grass roots” of the CCF and the NDP in a well produced and interesting 5 minutes 19 seconds.

There is a marvelous web site for the film, with all kinds of resources: http://www.heavenonearthdocumentary.com/index.html

Visit and enjoy it!  But watch this, first!

TRANSCRIPT

[ Voice of ROBERT BOTHWELL, Author, Canada and the United States: ]

As the Socialist Party faded from the U.S. political scene, some of the farmers who had embraced its ideals would take their politics north, to Canada.

Today, Americans think of Canada as a lot more radical, a more socialist place. But the irony is that Canada’s first socialist politicians, Canada’s first socialist intellectuals, are Americans. And that is something that people today have forgotten. Uh — socialism, when it comes to Canada — in an effective way, is an American import.
 

[ Moderator: ]

Between 1898 and 1915, nearly a million people emigrated from America to Canada. Lured by cheap farmland, most settled in the Western Canadian Provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba: the last North American frontier.

They brought their knowledge of how to wrest a living from the soil, and a set of political convictions rooted in their experience.
 

[ Voice of Robert McMath, Author, American Populism: ]

Farmers in the Prairie Provinces of Canada and the northern Great Plains of the United States all faced similar problems in the early 20th Century. They were all growing wheat. They felt that they were being gouged by the railroads, by the bankers. They felt that the market conditions were working against them.

Rather than seeing this in terms of impersonal market forces, they personalized it and viewed bankers, railroad men, lawyers as the enemy.
 

[ Voice of ROBERT BOTHWELL, Author, Canada and the United States: ]

The way you express your protest at the turn of the Century is, “Hey, wait a minute, why don’t we nationalize these things?”

And from that, as the institutions resist, you move fairly logically and pretty quickly towards radicalism.

And they’re radicalized in Canada in the same way, by the same people, and the same organizations, as they are in the United States. But let me emphasize, these organizations start not in Canada, but in the United States.
 

[ Moderator: ]

Every major U.S. farmer’s organization would resurface in Canada in some form. By the 1920s, these organizations and their successors began to make their voices heard throughout the Prairie Provinces.
 

[ Voice of Robert McMath, Author, American Populism: ]

They were very soon able to influence electoral politics in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, simply by the power of their numbers.

But it’s really not until the Great Depression begins on the Prairies, really in the 1920s, not the 1930s, with drought, with the collapse of the wheat market, that farmers began to contemplate forming their own, independent political force.
 

[ Moderator: ]

In 1932, a new political party emerged from a conference in Saskatchewan, the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation. The CCF.
 

[ Voice of ROBERT BOTHWELL, Author, Canada and the United States: ]

The CCF is a kind of Big Bang among radical groups. Radical farmers, socialist labor unions, and radicalized socialist intellectuals, many in the universities, many also in the Protestant churches. And they get together, and they write a platform that calls for the socialization, essentially, of the means of production and the means of finance.

I mean, it’s, it is a classic socialist platform.

The party would later moderate its platform to appeal to a broader base. In 1944, the CCF swept the provincial elections in Saskatchewan, becoming the first socialist government in North America, and leaving a lasting imprint on Canadian politics.
 

[ Voice of ROBERT BOTHWELL, Author, Canada and the United States: ]

Well, CCF stayed in power in Saskatchewan until 1964. And one of its last acts was to bring in a socialized medicine scheme for the Province of Saskatchewan, which they imposed in the early 1960s and which had such tremendous appeal that it actually pushed Canadian politics in that direction later in the 1960s.

The CCF’s ideas were adopted by the governing Liberal party of Canada, amd the Liberals were the ones who finally brought in national medicare in Canada.
 

[ CONCLUSION — Voice of Ben Wattenberg: ]

Socialism found more of a following in Canada than in the United States.

In 1961, the CCF became the New Democratic Party. It is still largely socialist in its convictions, and still a force in Canadian politics.

In America, some of the ideas championed by socialists also found their way into the mainstream. Ideas like unemployment insurance, social security, and the 8-hour work day. But socialism, itself, never took root.

Be sure to join us for the second episode of Heaven on Earth: The Rise and Fall of Socialism.

For Think Tank, I’m Ben Wattenberg.

 

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