Afterword Rude Awakenings
Bryan D. Palmer
I was not well brought up. At least not to become what I have been presented as in the pages of this book: a historian, a writer, a dissident, a Marxist. Little in my background suggested that I would follow a course marked by these orientations, although the past—its artifacts as well as its aura—intrigued me at a young age.1
My old friend Greg Kealey alludes to this background in his sense that we shared a break from family in our journey toward becoming historians of the Canadian working class. He is no doubt right. I am sure that both Greg and I also experienced comparable bewilderment as academic colleagues assumed that, like not a few of them, we were somehow to the manor of academic life born.
This was impressed upon me as I took up my first tenure-stream appointment in the Department of History at Simon Fraser University (SFU) in the early 1980s. Like most departments, SFU was at times a battleground of conflicting colleagues, at no time more so than in the midst of 1983’s Solidarity uprising, when some of us walked off the job in an illegal protest while others drove their cars up Burnaby Mountain to teach classes and sit defiantly in their offices.2 Nonetheless, during my brief years at Simon Fraser, I found the department a stimulating hub of intellectual rigour and vibrant sociability. It was a place where collegiality worked and I made lasting friendships, encountering a challenging core of exceptional students, both graduate and undergraduate.
My introduction to the scene was nevertheless amusingly disconcerting. At an early semester social event, a new colleague, Michael Fellman, hoisted a glass and asked, “So what did your dad teach?” Michael’s father was a distinguished American academic, a scholar of civil rights and devotee of defending them. I did not know this at the time, however, and was taken aback by the assumption that I must have been reared in the shadows of university libraries. I responded that my father offered his classes in poolrooms and at racetracks, his most impressive lectures delivered from a barstool: most of what he passed on to me in various ways I spent my life trying to shed—not, I suspect, always successfully. Later, teaching at Queen’s University, I was bewildered to hear that graduate student gossip was making the rounds identifying me as the son of a judge. Someone had partially overheard a conversation in which I referred to my father’s lumpen petty bourgeois existence and mentioned his occasionally serving at small-town Ontario fairs as an Ontario Trotting Association judge. This translated into a designation of him being a distinguished jurist. Oral history is all in the hearing. All of this, and much more that could be recounted, is simply to make an elementary point. Some of us who entered Canadian academic life in the 1970s found the preciousness of our new environment a bit of an adjustment.
This was complicated by the turmoil of the 1960s, which served as the socio-cultural and political turnstile through which some of my generation passed as we made our way into university teaching appointments. There were those among us fortunate enough to ride the wave of higher education’s expansion and political dissidence that was so much a part of the 1960s into Canadian academic jobs in the tightening times of the 1970s. For a particular grouping—including contributors to this volume, such as Greg, Leo, Alvin, and Nick—outsider status was readily apparent, at least at the start of careers. Women’s historians, pursuing feminist understandings of Canada, experienced their parallel entrée into Canadian academic life with much more difficulty.3 People of colour would fare far worse. For some, especially white males like myself, time would soon wash away a good deal of this marginality, with outsiders becoming insiders.4
In my case, a distinct upbringing, a specific personality, a willingness to embrace and extend controversy, and a politics of refusal may all have contributed to me being perceived in some quarters as the bête noire of the Young Turks who, in the late 1970s, were offering up different and challenging approaches to the Canadian past. My writing was certainly oppositional and pitted me against almost all comers. Which is to say that I made a good deal of my own bed and can hardly understate the extent to which I bore considerable responsibility for the mattress sometimes being uncomfortable, as Alvin’s Finkel’s forthright essay in this volume suggests.
I was also more easily targeted than others. With my Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Western Ontario interrupted by a year-long sojourn in New York’s New Left and an uncharacteristically abbreviated stint as an undergraduate student, comprising two academic years and summer/evening courses, I simply had no Canadian academic credentials that needed to be acknowledged. Indeed, it often seemed that I was neither this nor that: a Canadian with no national bona fides, trained in the United States and without letters of reference from those who counted in my homeland. Publishing did not seem to make much of a difference. When I applied for jobs in pre-Confederation Canadian history, I was told I was not a prime candidate because I had just co-authored an article on twentieth-century strikes in the immediate pre–World War I years. In tossing my hat in the ring for advertised positions teaching post-Confederation Canada, I found that my having published a piece on Kingston mechanics and the rise of the penitentiary in the 1830s left me typecast as a pre-Confederationist. Catch-22!5
I came to this writing on Canadian workers largely because of my radicalization. It began in high school, protesting the kinds of antediluvian rules, regulations, and regimens that monitored dress and movements. Soon I was in contact with the Maoist-inflected, Albanian-leaning Canadian Party of Labour, taking part in anti-imperialist and anti-racist actions, and walking picket lines in support of striking workers in my hometown of London, Ontario. My undergraduate course selections at the University of Western Ontario were determined by the political sensibilities of 1968, in which anti-Vietnam War protests, African American uprisings in Detroit and elsewhere, and the nature of Revolution loomed large. I opted for studying Asia, Russia’s 1917 and mobilizations of dissent associated with it, and United States history, with particular attention to race and class. I took occasional refuge in the Sociology Department. Courses on social stratification taught by a wry, cigar-smoking Korean War veteran, whose circle of influence included Detroit’s C L. R. James confrères, most prominently Marty Glaberman, introduced me to Jim Rinehart, later to become a close friend and source of longstanding support.6 All of these chosen, elective courses, however, came after my first year as an undergraduate, when I necessarily enrolled in introductory lectures. After that initial year of tedium, and with the world still reeling from reverberations of May 1968, I was definitely ready to depart London. A lifelong friend and co-conspirator in the politics of high school student power, Tom Reid, and I decided to strike out for New York City. Our plan, to the extent that two nineteen-year-olds were capable of hatching one, was to experience what we could of the New Left.
Time in New York suspended my “higher education” with what I consider a more transformative pedagogical experience. I worked in a used bookstore run by two old radicals, fellow travellers of the American Communist Party, who indulged my requests for days away from packing and slogging dusty volumes to attend demonstrations. I spent my hours off the modestly paid job—I lived on the $68 weekly wage—in study groups and political meetings, writing leaflets for the demonstrations that defined much of my life. I frequented informal “classes” at Alternate U, where the topics addressed included the Russian Revolution and whether or not American slavery was capitalist, a subject that, almost half a century later, has recently found its way into academic fashion.7 I found out what was interesting in the offerings at the New School for Social Research and sat in on courses taught by Robert Heilbroner (who soon gave me the heave-ho when he discovered I was gate-crashing his party) and, if I remember correctly, Sigmund Diamond, who was more tolerant of a free rider. I read widely, rubbing shoulders and butting heads with all manner of Marxists, anarchists, and dissidents, including feminists of varied stripes and militant advocates of gay liberation. Among ourselves we argued robustly, even, at times, rudely; I retained a taste for this kind of rugged give-and-take even as it became increasingly unfashionable in the academic milieu I would later inhabit. My immediate circle, in this 1970–71 sojourn in the epicentre of American leftism, was the New York University (NYU) chapter of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). Fractured by factionalism, NYU SDS was something of a motley crew, where Progressive Labor Party–aligned Worker Student Alliance advocates, Maoists looking to a future with Bob Avakian, and a cornucopia of New Leftists, reared on a diverse body of dissident thought from Salvador Dali to Herbert Marcuse, jostled for recognition.
Upon my return to Canada, and settling back into completing a BA at Western, I became part of a collective writing the history of London, Ontario labour, sponsored by the federal Liberal government’s Local Initiatives Project/Opportunities for Youth programs in the summer of 1973. It was in this context that I first read E. P. Thompson’s The Making of the English Working Class (1963). The book’s impassioned prose, irreverent disdain for academic convention, and politically charged insistence on the active agency of the subaltern ignited enthusiasms for intellectual recovery that have structured much of what I have done over the better part of half a century.
In one of my American history classes at Western, I produced a substantial research paper on the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). My first serious archival foray involved researching the Wobblies in Wayne State University’s impressive collection. This led to a Notes and Documents contribution in the journal Labor History. The late Dan Leab graciously inducted me into the world of scholarly publishing.8 Interest in the Wobblies, as well as a number of personal factors, propelled me toward the State University of New York (SUNY) at Binghamton. I hitchhiked to the campus in the late summer of 1973, eager to work with one of the major historians of American labour and author of an influential study of the IWW, Melvyn Dubofsky.9 Things do occasionally come full circle. If my academic career began, in part, with an interest in the Industrial Workers of the World, one of my retirement projects has been curating an exhibition of IWW printing blocks and other ephemera associated with the Wobblies.10
After two years of course work at Binghamton, I returned to Canada, hunkering down in Toronto’s Kensington Market district, convinced that Canadian working-class history could be written afresh. I settled on Hamilton, Ontario’s skilled workers in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as a dissertation topic largely, as I recall, because it seemed the archetypal industrial-capitalist Canadian city, a place where the transition from the manufactory to the factory came into bold relief. It was only after returning to Ontario from my time in upstate New York that I met Greg Kealey and Russell Hann, as well as other committed researchers such as Wayne Roberts. This would be my collaborative circle, with whom I would work in the immediate years after 1975, contributing to a 1976 collection of essays that, in some ways, and alongside the founding of Labour/Le Travailleur, announced that the study of class in Canada was poised to take new directions.11 Articulations of this would be published dissertations on Hamilton and Toronto, appearing in 1979 and 1980, as well as a co-authored study of the Knights of Labor, which Cambridge University Press put out in 1982, and articles in a variety of journals.12
How did all of this happen? When did I become a Marxist, and why did my Marxism take the direction it did? And what explains how this led to future scholarly work and writing? What developments conditioned my intellectual trajectory? When, why, and how did I plan certain writings? What were the origins of specific texts?
Like with my attraction to labour history, Marxism was not something I learned in undergraduate classes or even honed in student-based politics. I largely missed the upheaval of campus protest. It wasn’t for lack of interest. Not quite old enough to be attending university classes in 1968, the time I spent as an undergraduate was so brief and disjointed that there was little possibility for the kind of continuity that could sustain student activism. I participated in what Western had on offer as left-wing politics, although neither the university nor London as a city were hotbeds of demonstrations, sit-ins, or mass mobilizations. When there, in 1969–70 and again in 1972–73, I was at my share of meetings, participating in campaigns and frequenting marches organized by the Anti-Imperialist Front. I thumbed my way to Toronto when I saw things were happening, participating in a University of Toronto occupation on one occasion. After my return from New York, when lefty students at Western were involved in anti-war or pro-labour activities, I was involved.
Yet this hardly constituted a decisive internship in the politics of New Left student activism, and material realities further complicated and limited things. I worked my way through school as a waiter at the Iroquois Casino, a downtown London landmark that contained a supper club, a lounge, and an upstairs go-go bar. Frequented by the Forest City’s largely closeted gay community as well as a mixed crowd of hustlers and hedonists, the Iroquois was as much my habitat as any classroom. I spent less time in anything passing for a student union and more time among the Greek waiters, maternal waitresses, and flamboyant hostesses with whom I worked. I knew most of the student radicals at Western, but I cannot say they constituted more of my circle of acquaintance than the hard-drinking siding salesmen—real life variants of the protagonists in the 1987 film Tin Men—and surprisingly mild-mannered and reflective con men and tough guys who constituted the late afternoon/early evening clientele that I served. Looking back, I cannot say that I regret this. There is, however, no denying that my undergraduate life was quite different than that of young left-wing academics in the making, who were a few years my senior and had stretches of undergraduate agitation under their belts at the point that I was leaving high school. No matter, this was a prolonged moment alive with ideas, movements, and political currents. If one did not need a weatherman to know which way the wind blew, neither was it necessary to spend time at the university to discover the turbulent gale of swirling oppositions.
If I exited high school drawn to Mao-Tse-Tung thought, I departed New York City part of something politically different. It was there that I shed my residual Maoism, which remained influential for many in this period.13 I found I could only stomach so much stultifying regurgitation of “contradiction—primary and secondary” and the ritualized “criticism/self-criticism” sessions that were de rigueur among forerunners of the Revolutionary Communist Party. A study session in Brooklyn, where the reading was Mao’s “On Contradiction,” brought my attraction to this variant of Marxism crashing down. Walking out of the get-together, I realized that this kind of Marxism was not for me. My pulling back from Maoist burble conditioned a deeper rethinking of what had gone off the rails with the Stalinist degeneration of the revolutionary left. On the political rebound, it was perhaps understandable that I toyed for a time with more anarchistic-inflected currents, which included a distant appreciation of the direct action, militant confrontationism of the Weather Underground and a softer politics that probed the depths of subjectivism in experimental affinity groups. I could nevertheless not shake the understanding that class was a pivotal component of any politics of revolutionary possibility, and was drawn to mobilizations that seemed to align socialism and syndicalism. There were plenty on offer in the early 1970s, and I was originally attracted, like many New Leftists searching out working-class radicalism in this period, to currents like Lotta Continua in Italy and Big Flame in the United Kingdom, politics that were reflected to some extent in the New Tendency in Canada.14
In what remained of the C L. R. James–influenced Facing Reality collective, there was a contingent of Detroit-based working-class intellectuals rich in experience and attractive in their sensibilities, which heralded a politics of workplace militancy and resolute anti-racism, encompassing a familiarity with and involvement in the development of the non-Stalinist revolutionary left. These included Marty Glaberman and Seymour Faber. Jim Rinehart introduced me to this duo, who would prove strong supporters of my labour history scholarship in the years to come, where our paths crossed at biannual conferences on “Blue-Collar Workers and Their Communities.” But there were other impressive figures as well, including the largely unheralded historian of the slave narratives and working-class self-activity, George Rawick.15 Attending a reunion of these forces around 1973 solidified the regard I had and continued to have for this political current, whose imaginative engagement with class struggles was often breathtaking. But on the level of political activity, I was disappointed in my hopes that they could chart a way forward, which, of course, may not have been their intention. I was convinced from spending time among them that nothing organizationally would ever come of these well-meaning, committed, and conceptually creative advocates of spontaneity and counter-planning on the shop floor. As brilliant as they may have been, they were metaphorically incapable of getting us to dinner, admittedly a problem widespread on the left of the time. Incapable of countenancing social democratic retreats and the mastication of revolutionary resolve, so evident in Canada’s New Democratic Party, disillusioned with all manner of Stalinisms, including Maoism, and increasingly unimpressed with a fetishization of workplace spontaneity, for me, a return to Leninism via Trotskyism seemed my only option. Trotskyism provided much that I had come to see as central to a politics of the left: appreciation of the primacy of class struggle; explanation of how revolution could be betrayed by bureaucratic deformation and programmatic abandonment of internationalism; and an insistence on the materialist and historical backgrounding of the politics of anti-capitalist opposition.
As I made my way to graduate school at SUNY–Binghamton, all of this was something that I took with me. I nevertheless refrained, for the most part, from proclaiming myself a Marxist, being of the view that to do so was no cavalier matter. I could not pinpoint when I first self-identified in this manner, but certainly by the early 1980s, as I grew close to the politics of revolutionary Trotskyism, I was more comfortable in my Marxist skin, thickening as it necessarily was. It was not always easy reconciling this hardening politics with my involvement in certain campaigns, such as the anti-nuclear arms movement, where my particular kind of Marxism fit awkwardly with the political needs of a mobilization crisscrossed with contradictory currents: Christian pacifists; anti-Stalinist anarchist unilateralists; and Moscow-aligned proponents of the World Peace Council.16 All of this developed, moreover, as I was caught on the academic treadmill of precarious, limited-term appointments, moving from two-year stints at Queen’s University (1977–79) to McGill (1979–81), and finally landing a tenure-stream appointment at Simon Fraser (SFU) (1981–84).
I arrived at the Burnaby university in the early 1980s, when the provincial economy was caught in the vice grip of an economic malaise that registered in soaring inflation, declining production, and sinking state resource revenues. Stagflation fueled the agendas of the New Right, with the Social Credit Party coming to power under the leadership of Bill Bennett, proclaiming it would end the recessionary downturn with an all-encompassing attack on labour entitlements and social services. This, in turn, spurred the creation of a powerful extra-parliamentary opposition, the Solidarity Coalition, which soon eclipsed the New Democratic Party, characteristically MIA. At the time of British Columbia’s Solidarity uprising of 1983, if I needed a lesson to confirm my Leninist and Trotskyist inclinations, it was drubbed into my political head by the sorry denouement of this momentous class struggle. An intense and escalating mobilization of opposition marched and protested, rallied and met in diverse constituency-based groups, published a weekly newspaper, and blanketed the province with leaflets. Job actions were scheduled; teachers struck at the public schools and the universities. A vast coalition of trade unionists, women, ethnic and racial minorities, Indigenous peoples, the disabled, welfare recipients, radical lawyers, and all manner of progressives battled a reactionary state and its attempt to realign the policies of provincial governance with a sweeping legislative package of restraint. The Socreds promised austerity on steroids; Solidarity countered with a people’s resistance. Like tens of thousands of others, I was deeply involved. My days and nights were spent attending mass demonstrations and smaller organizational meetings; serving as a New Westminster alternate delegate to the Solidarity Coalition; walking picket lines while on strike at SFU; and writing articles for the movement’s newspaper, Solidarity Times, as well as other left-wing publications like Canadian Dimension, Labour Focus, and Speaking Out. This went on for months, with protests and workplace actions building momentum. Timetabled by the labour bureaucracy, which had no intention of following through on mass action, a general strike was promised, then ultimately derailed. Solidarity was brought to its knees on the eve of a provincial walkout, declared finis by Jack Munro on the patio of the provincial premier, with whom he had conducted a historic tête-à-tête. Boss of the International Woodworkers of America, Munro was a caricature of the trade union leader as labour fakir, his patented bravado a blustering put-down of the politics of the left and those who championed uncompromising resistance. As an all-consuming class battle, Solidarity rivalled anything I had experienced up to that point; I would not see the likes of it again for the next forty years, although the resistance to Mike Harris’s “Common Sense Revolution” in Ontario’s 1990s was certainly an important popular uprising, comparable in some respects. I would write about Solidarity in a book put out by a Vancouver-based publisher, New Star, as well as in articles that would appear in a variety of places, including the Verso-released, Mike Davis and Michael Sprinker–edited, The Year Left: An American Socialist Yearbook, in 1988.17
Solidarity is indicative of how much of my writing was prodded into being by the moment. There is no virtue in this and, indeed, there may be some vice. But my account of Solidarity, like many other books, grew out of the immediacy of a specific time and set of events, in this case a mobilization of dissent with which I was involved. E. P. Thompson: Objections and Oppositions was written out of great sadness at the death of an admired friend, originating as an obituary for Labour/Le Travail that simply seemed to pile up in page upon page as I wrote through night after night. These books happened, as it were, with me overtaken by occurrences out of my control, about which I felt a need to write.
This was certainly also the case with Capitalism Comes to the Backcountry: The Goodyear Invasion of Napanee, a study of the tire plant built a few kilometres from my home in Newburgh, Ontario in the late 1980s. A corporate decision to relocate to a small town in eastern Ontario, however indicative this was of trends in capitalist restructuring, was not something I ever imagined writing a book about. When neighbours in the small village where I lived interviewed for work at the new, just-in-time facility, they grew outraged by the liberties taken in the questions asked by Goodyear managers. They pressed me, as someone they knew to be a writer and person supportive of workers and unions, to put something on paper about what was going on in our backyard. I felt compelled to respond.
A very different book emerged out of a quite unrelated shift in the academic interpretive climate; its origins also lay in my sense that something happening around me warranted attention. Descent into Discourse: The Reification of Language and the Writing of Social History was my attempt to intervene in a global intellectual development—the rise of “post” thinking and the influence of the linguistic turn on historiography—but it was also the kind of book that could be written out of my particular circumstances of the time. For a variety of reasons, envisioning a new research project was difficult and travel to archives was not really possible. Reading widely in critical theory and its impact on the writing of history was something I could manage in the late 1980s.
Other books were born of teaching. Cultures of Darkness: Night Travels in the Histories of Transgression [From Medieval to Modern], for instance, was the product of being pressed by a department chair (most unfairly, I thought at the time!) to teach a course that reached beyond the working-class history lectures and graduate seminars I had been offering for more than a decade. I could never have written such a book, moreover, were I not the book review editor of Labour/Le Travail, with an expansive and eclectic appreciation of what the journal should be covering in its review section. The review copies that crossed my desk allowed me to read widely and sample subjects well outside my field of established expertise. I borrowed the idea—if not the content—of writing histories of the night from a Trent colleague, Keith Walden, who was teaching a seminar on this topic, focusing largely on Canadian subjects. I wanted to be more audacious, and by narrowing consideration of the night to marginality and transgression I expanded the chronological and geographic scope considerably. Lectures developed for the course became chapters of the book, a template I also followed when teaching in Canadian Studies at Trent, where seminars on working-class history were not really wanted, being too narrow in their disciplinary orientation and, in any case, already on offer in the History Department. This was how Canada’s 1960s: The Ironies of Identity in a Rebellious Era came into being.18
In the case of my ongoing biographical treatment of the founder of American Trotskyism, James P. Cannon, this project certainly related to my political development and appreciation of the historic significance of the Left Opposition. When I finally got the ball rolling on this immense project in the mid-1990s, I envisioned it quite broadly as an undertaking that would, while focusing on Cannon, provide an overall treatment of the history of Trotskyism in the United States, this being a subject of less than benign neglect on the part of historians researching the revolutionary left. Now conceived as a trilogy, the Cannon books have been supplemented by a three-volume documentary history of American Trotskyism, in which the main architect has been Paul Le Blanc. In addition, a book-length account of the Left Opposition–led Minneapolis teamsters’ strikes of 1934 spun off from the Cannon research. I wanted its appearance to intersect the more working-class elements of the Occupy uprising, but a series of delayed decisions by presses postponed its appearance and the agitation at which it was directed sputtered and died out. At least, however, the book appeared in time to be part of the eightieth anniversary of the Minneapolis strikes. I spent an engaging week in the city talking to groups, delivering a lecture at the public library, sharing a Teamsters’ Union picnic stage with former Democratic Senator Al Franken, and meeting the committed contingent of working-class activists who keep the memory of the 1934 strikes alive. If the study of James P. Cannon developed in a planned way, it has certainly taken on a life of its own, expanding well beyond my original, more limited, conception.19
Even this protracted program of writing on Cannon was interrupted by the pressing need, after the 2007–2008 financial crisis, to address workers and economic downturns. My co-authored Toronto’s Poor: A Rebellious History was certainly not a book that existed on anything approximating a wish-list radar screen. Had two pressure points not converged, the book would not have come to fruition. Gaétan Héroux, an anti-poverty activist whom I met through John Clarke and my support of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, had amassed an impressive amount of research on the poor in Toronto, but was having difficulty putting it together in a form appealing to publishers. He asked me if I would be interested in working on a book with him. At first I begged off, knowing that while Gaétan had the beginnings of a well-documented study, it required new research, reorganization, the building of bridges among disparate sections, some with stronger evidence than others, and an integration with a broad historiography. The task just seemed too daunting. At the same time as Gaétan and I were discussing all of this, Leon Fink, Joe McCartin, and Joan Sangster urged me to produce a paper on workers and economic crises for a conference they were organizing in Washington, DC. I proposed to Gaétan that we experiment with something less than a book, co-authoring a paper for the conference that would focus on Toronto’s poor in the 1830–1930 years. We would see how that modest proposal worked out and then decide if a book would be doable. The collaboration flourished and publications I had never really envisioned took form, the product of circumstances coming together as much as any long-thought-out, conscious design.20
Perhaps this is how all books are written. Few of us envision our productions quite as clearly as some suggest we should. If much of what I have published has happened “unbidden and unplanned,”21 I am content with how all of this has turned out. Projects that I proposed, justified, and researched diligently sometimes, for one reason or another, did not get completed in the form that I imagined would do them justice. But they usually fed into other writing. A study of Upper Canada in the 1830s, for instance, stalled in an overwhelming mound of difficult to assimilate original research, sidelined too many times by other projects that events seemed to force upon me. Yet this material found its way into some of the more original early chapters of two editions of Working-Class Experience (in 1983 and 1992), structured how I conceived the historiography of pre-Confederation Canada, and was eventually boiled down to a suggestive essay.22
In the end, the poststructuralist penchant to do away with the author may have something to it. Intentions, as conscious authorial direction, are probably subordinate to meanings, which are never—for better or for worse—the sole preserve of the writer. Foucault is probably right that our published words are less what we want them to be and more of an ensemble of conflicted understandings, filtered through a maze of the personal and the political, situated along a spectrum of contexts. Books are received and interpreted quite differently by readers aligned with us and those arrayed against us, being disposed to see in our sentences interpretations of worth or proclamations to dispute, “as both battle and weapon, strategy and shock, struggle and trophy or wound, conjuncture and vestige, strange meeting and repeatable scene.”23 This is partly how I understand my own writing and its reception. Where Foucault and I differ is that I have been more forthright about intellectual exchange. It can extend meaning just as it is able to expose distortion and disingenuousness, not always absent among academics. I have always chosen, and choose again, to answer critics back, asserting the presence of the author as engaged political being, rather than either merely the object of discourse or, in an inflated sense, the claimant of ultimate authority.
This has all meant that some of my writing, though by no means all, has taken the form of polemic. To the extent that I am a polemicist, I at times embrace a literary form, in Perry Anderson’s words, “whose history has yet to be written.” If Anderson offers this assessment from his perch within English arguments, how foreign is polemic in comparable Canadian academic settings? It is not only that polemic’s rules are poorly understood, but that its raison d’être is incomprehensible to both a professoriate generally situated along a spectrum of respectable politics, prideful of its many conversations of nuanced (and postured) civility, and to a younger contingent of progressive scholars, who tend to travel in circles of the like-minded. Polemic rattles all manner of cages. Its purpose is to disrupt. As a “discourse of conflict,” the effectiveness of polemic “depends on a delicate balance between the requirements of truth and the enticements of anger, the duty to argue and the zest to inflame. Its rhetoric allows, even reinforces, a certain figurative license.”24 It is one thing to refuse to listen to an intellectual opponent, quite another to hear them out and respond with vigour. An intensity of feeling is not bad manners, even less a heated repudiation of reason. On the contrary, it has the potential to be a genuine, necessary, and productive provocation, a rejoinder, in the best sense of the word, to positions demanding retaliation.25 Polemics, of course, are seldom appreciated by those on the receiving end. As Alvin Finkel notes, those like me who have at times embraced this genre have often been regarded as “rude.”
The problem in contemporary Canadian historical writing, however, is hardly that it has too much rudeness and rancor, but that there is so little debate and intellectual controversy. I will gladly defend instances of criticism that some find particularly sharp in the interests of reviving illuminating disputation. Clarifying the politics of difference, breaking the logjam of sociability networks and relative sameness that has routinely (and especially now) prevailed in Canadian historiographic circles, advances scholarship at the same time that it makes it more interesting. Creative analytic tensions within fields like business, labour, and social history—commonplace in my youth—have faded from view; spirited argument is, as a consequence, quite rare, to the point that some have referred to “debatophobia.”26 “Art is living,” concludes Perry Anderson, “only if it provokes dispute,” and history is as much, or more, art as it is science.27
Marx’s favourite quotation, attributed to René Descartes, was “De omnibus dubitandum,” or, more colloquially, “Question everything.”28 This does not mean that all queries end in rejection of views arising from interrogation, only that posing them will sometimes confirm positions. In other cases, they lead to rejections of specific stands; or, finally, and yet again, they culminate in recognition of complications and complexities. Challenges made are, moreover, not always either right, or even appropriate, but the costs of not raising them are far greater than the many debilitating prices paid for diplomatically avoiding debate. Differences that arise only among those who are on clearly opposed sides of the political fence are of course necessary. But they by no means exhaust the course of exchange. Just as the crucial definition of the defence of freedom of speech is standing up for the rights of those with whom one is in fundamental disagreement, the true test of intellectual debate may well lie in arguments waged with those who share much, but also depart from one another in significant ways. In my case, I have certainly stood up against the most reactionary critics of social history, as well as the architects of neoconservative state policies. This is rather like a bodily function, necessary for life, but hardly sufficient for charting new ways forward for the left. It is because of this that I have not been shy about breaking from the “popular front” of progressives. This entails recognizing, on the one hand, our common ground, but, on the other, drawing lines of distinct separation—methodologically and conceptually as well as politically—through the broad axioms that animate those committed to exploring the proliferating “limited identities” and “peculiarities” of the Canadians. Few working-class historians of my generation, for instance, have been as resolute as I in calling out the conservatism of the labour bureaucracy, earning me the enmity of a number of trade union leaders and their hired staff. None of this is pleasant, but questioning everything does not mean truncating the process of interrogation at the point that it becomes uncomfortable. Doing dissidence in this way leads one into controversies, as it repeatedly has for me over a history of nearly fifty years in Canadian academic life.29
My early scholarship on Canadian working-class history was generously received, often feted with awards and recognitions in prize committee deliberations. Yet there were also regular and routinized drubbings, as Alvin Finkel details in his chapter. With no connection to the University of Toronto (and no one engaged in understanding the Canadian historical profession should underestimate the significance of the U of T Department of History in the period reaching from the post–World War II period into the 1970s), I may have been a convenient scapegoat for figures like Kenneth McNaught. At the time, McNaught was more likely to wield the public lash hardest against those who were not associated with his own program, touched as he was with a certain paternalist regard for proper academic bloodlines. Arguably the doyen of moderate social democratic thought in Canadian historical circles of the late 1950s and early 1960s, McNaught was a pioneering patrician defender of civil rights in the mould of J. S. Woodsworth, whose early life he chronicled in loving detail. He was revered in some circles, and well known in the United States among radical historians, sitting on the editorial board of Labor History, teaching seminars in both Canadian and American history, and authoring an impressive analytic foray into socialism and progressivism that showcased his interpretive range.30 Supervising a number of prominent historians of Canadian labour, including David J. Bercuson, he was, especially given his growing disenchantment with student radicalism over the course of the late 1960s, disdainful of both the personnel and politics of New Left scholarship in the 1970s.31
McNaught regarded my writing of the late 1970s as the “most overt amongst the celebrants of ‘the rich and vibrant culture of the artisan,’” and took exception to what he described as my “turgid neo-Marxist theoretical framework.” But he spent little time actually engaging with the writing itself. Citing my book A Culture in Conflict and my essays that, like it, addressed the experience of the skilled worker, McNaught also referenced a lengthy article on charivaris and whitecapping in nineteenth-century North America. This piece can hardly be considered to have been overly concerned with artisans, and about it McNaught said nothing. It nonetheless figured in a startling conclusion to a jaunty essay on writing on labour and the left in the 1970s, commissioned by the Canadian Historical Review. McNaught implored historians to address the smart trade union leadership of the immediate post–World War II era, a contingent that secured Canadian workers so much, and whose purpose was “not to defend an Archie Bunker-charivari culture but, rather, to liberate those who had been entrapped by the economic-cultural constraints imposed by political capitalists.”32
This non sequitur endnote actually explained a great deal. Social democratic leaderships, not rough cultures of opposition, were the legitimate stuff of labour history, and never the twain could meet. Research about anything predating a respectable quest to break out of the undue restraints limiting workers, foisted on them by a specific component of capitalism rather than the continually crisis-ridden general regime of acquisitive individualism itself, was ridiculed, reduced to a sitcom caricature of the working class as reactionary buffoonery. McNaught’s implicit message was profoundly ahistorical. It sidestepped the actual point of my discussion of rough music. Rituals of this kind were an indication of how the plebeian masses, over the course of a century of confrontation with the disciplines and moral regulation of an emerging capitalism, often resorted to defiant, rowdy refusals that stepped outside of attempts to subject unruly subjects to law and other forms of compulsion.
Ironically, as much as McNaught would be at pains to deny this, in the longue durée of class formation, there may have been connections between nineteenth-century forms of rough music and the willingness of a rebellious and rising mass production trade unionism to test the limits of law and its capacity to contain working-class struggle.33 The contexts of these expressions of resistance and refusal were of course markedly different, as were the ends they envisioned. There was no causal connection of overt class opposition that might connect shivarees, strikes against wage cuts, and socialist aspirations, but what such disparate deeds and dedications revealed about tensions inherent in class society could well be illuminating, perhaps providing the basis for a productive discussion. And the means employed to secure collective bargaining rights and other entitlements in the World War II era were never as genteel and law-abiding as McNaught’s oppositional contrasts suggest. All of this, however, was something that a scholar of his political sensibilities could never acknowledge. It was not surprising to see McNaught’s student and ally, Bercuson, typecast a book Kealey and I published in 1982, Dreaming of What Might Be, in ways many readers found incomprehensible: “pretentious, problematic, and tedious . . . a Sunday sermon . . . dry, boring, and devoid of any feeling for the workers.”34
Those of us committed to a particular kind of intellectual work battled back, some more vociferously than others. Upon reflection, nothing is more apparent, however, than the good fortune of the cohort of which I was a part, in spite of the difficulty many had in securing academic employment. Kealey and I were among a small group blessed with benevolence, lucky to secure jobs when many of our allies did not, although my ride in the academic marketplace was a bit bumpier than Greg’s. I eventually settled into tenure-stream appointments at, first, SFU, then Queen’s, ultimately winning the professorial lottery with a Canada Research Chair appointment in Canadian Studies at Trent. Material security’s foundational importance aside, employment was not, for any of us, what registered as decisive in our beginnings as historians in the making. Rather, to have experienced historical research and writing in the cauldron of 1968’s aftermath was exhilarating.35 Every trip to the archives, each essay written against the grain or lecture delivered with contrarian purpose allowed us to stand the ground of defiant dissent. All of the initiatives taken as part of a collective stamped what we were doing as not only cooperative but creative, an enterprise of excavation that ploughed against received wisdoms and promised discoveries aplenty.
This was not, of course, a revolutionary moment of transformation, like that alluded to in Wordsworth’s Prelude. Nonetheless, the famous 1790s poetics of expansive possibility still resonate with my recollections of being a part of charting exciting new analytic territory.
O, pleasant exercise of hope and joy!
For mighty were the auxiliars which then stood
Upon our side, us who were strong in love!
Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,
But to be young was very heaven!
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
When Reason seemed the most to assert her rights,
When most intent of making of herself
A prime Enchantress—to assist the work
Which then was going forward in her name!36
It was not so much, as was often argued by pedestrian political critics, that we were a solidly similar cohort that travelled in packs, dressed in uniforms (our ostensibly patented leather jackets), and sported the same longish and loutish hair—this superficial similarity being equated with the seamless analytics of foreign-inflected radical thought.37 As so many chapters in this collection make abundantly clear, especially the thoughtful commentary on my politics provided by Leo Panitch and Sam Gindin, there was never a consensus among the overlapping groups of critical historians, sociologists, and political scientists who came of age in the 1970s and of which I was a part. If we did not know, and could not agree about, what we were for, it was comfort enough to know what we were adamantly against. For the historians among us, this oppositional platform certainly earned us the enmity of a part of the profession.38
Yet it must be granted, as well, that there were those who treated us fairly, even as they looked on our historical practice quite critically. Authoritative figures at the very pinnacle of the Canadian Historical Association, such as Ramsay Cook, Carl Berger, and even to some extent Desmond Morton, viewed the new writing on class appearing in the 1970s and 1980s with considerable skepticism. Nonetheless, they gave those of us associated with this nouvelle vogue at least something of our due, and, particularly in the case of Cook, were capable of looking beyond their criticism to be strong advocates, as was a slightly younger figure, himself a pioneer of new ways of looking at Canadian history, Michael S. Cross.39
Many historians, by no means believers in the analytic direction of the new writing on Canadian workers and their past, nevertheless utilized this research and its approach in their teaching. Thus, when Terry Crowley published an edited text on historical methods, he noted that Marxism “has been a minority current in Canada, felt for the most part in the area of working-class history.” He excerpted a statement from the introduction to A Culture in Conflict, noting that it tackled “the question of class from a Marxist perspective, but . . . also examines the relationship between Marxist theory and history.”40 When Mel Watkins and H. M. Grant published a collection of writings addressing the contours of Canadian economic history, they selected an abridged portion of the introduction to Dreaming of What Might Be as part of the discussion of the late nineteenth-century transition to industrial capitalism.41 Just as my own unlikely emergence as a Canadian Marxist historian was a process of uneven and combined development, so, too, was the response to the writing that was so central to this complicated process. If there were those who went on the attack, there were many others, however mixed their judgments, far more positive in their assessment, and this included a pioneering contingent of feminist historians who worked closely with and within Labour/Le Travail over the course of the 1980s.42
A collection such as this, so gratifying in its warmth and diverse expressions of regard, necessarily prompts reflection. Some of this is invariably self-critical, if only because the questioning and challenging accounts of friends, former students, and supportive and sympathetic colleagues are inevitably muted. It is of course gratifying to learn that there are younger colleagues, like Chad Pearson, who have appreciated my tone, which has, at times, truly tended toward the rude. I can, paraphrasing Frank Sinatra, acknowledge that my way has had its pitfalls. “Regrets, I’ve (truly) had a few,” certainly, but on balance it is not so much that they are “too few to mention” as that dwelling on them necessarily produces imbalances that I neither want to encourage or regard as helpful.
Any author whose published work has faced critical scrutiny will concede that, in hindsight, they might well have produced a different book. Historians are especially subject to this kind of reconsideration, given that new research and new reading necessarily leads to rethinking. In terms of my publications, this is most emphatically the case. I cannot imagine writing a book like A Culture in Conflict the same way were I to tackle the subject it addressed, again, today. It is not even possible to conceive of the topic as it once presented itself, the intellectual goal posts of the perceived playing fields of scholarship having moved so much over the course of many years. Most influential, perhaps, has been feminist scholarship, and its approach to gender and sexuality, as I suggested in a new preface to the second edition of Working-Class Experience.43 Graduate students with whom I worked in the 1980s and early 1990s at Queen’s University were charting innovative research projects in just these fields. All of them were encouraged to be critical, including of my own views and publications, and a number of them were not shy in exercising this freedom of expression. They affected profoundly how I looked at the past, even if I did not always agree entirely with the ways in which history was being looked at anew. If my early writings on Canadian labour addressed class in ways innocent of later concerns with gender, subsequent studies, most especially Cultures of Darkness, spent far more time addressing subjects such as women and sexuality, commenting on reproduction as much as production and addressing representation alongside materiality.
Books are products, not only of authors, but of times, and publications need to be considered and reconsidered in this light. With respect to my own writing, I am concerned very little about whether everything I put on to the page was “right,” whatever the calculation. Far more interesting to me are other questions. They include grappling with method and the use or abuse of evidence; locating the historiographic context in which a text was written, evaluating what the meaning of that writing was at the time of its publication, and then exploring how relevant this proved to be over time, as a field changed, new work enlivening it; and, finally, interrogating the theoretical framework within which research and writing develops. Drawing up a tabulation of what was not done and how this is a detriment to the analysis can of course be significant, although absolutism is always to be guarded against. Such a negative balance sheet only really takes on meaning if it is related to the kinds of larger concerns I have just noted. It is this bigger picture of questioning in particular ways that will prove most stimulating and allow for a possible assessment of what the positive contributions of any text might or might not be. To do this, of course, means that judgment must at least pay attention to the nuances of positions slotted into categories of evaluation, something not always apparent in historiographic commentary.
To conduct something of an auto-critique, for instance, in the case of A Culture in Conflict, the list of what I might do over is long. But it would also be tempered by specific kinds of recognitions. If I invested too much in an analysis of the cultural realm, this was because spheres of the everyday had received next-to-no consideration in the thin body of research into Canadian working-class life up to the 1970s. To take a specific manifestation of this cultural dimension, the associational life of the fraternal order, it is apparent that many regarded the presentation of this milieu in A Culture in Conflict as overly skewed toward the “class interests” of workers.44 Yet, such a rewriting of workers back into this mutual benefit society milieu was absolutely necessary if the presence of class and the tensions associated with it in the late nineteenth century were to be appreciated. Moreover, there was in this early study acknowledgement that working-class involvement in friendly societies was two-sided, contributing to the kinds of mutuality and collectivism that might feed into resistance in certain circumstances, at the same time as fraternal society life might, through cross-class alignments and ideological attractions, reinforce accommodation to the status quo. I would later expand on this, addressing gender, ethnicity, race, and other markers of difference receiving too little attention in my earlier publications.45 As a concrete expression of how my interactions with students shifted my thinking, I was pushed to important clarifying re-considerations of fraternalism (at the same time as I hope I pushed him) through engagement with Darryl Newbury’s 1992 MA thesis. It explored male associational culture and working-class identity in ways that accented the meaning of lodges as gendered brotherhoods, protective of familialist values.46 Even these kinds of reflections tend to funnel understandings in ways that suggest a kind of “timeless” transcendence, in which an accumulation of criticism takes us “beyond” texts that were building blocks in a process of interpretive development.
When historians venture on to the highly contested terrain where theory, recoveries of long suppressed histories of the dispossessed, and interrogations of evidence that is both socially constructed and capable of illuminating opaque aspects of the past lie, intellectual work can get particularly combative. Consider, for instance, a book that critics love to hold out as an example of me at my derisive worst, Descent into Discourse. It is marked, as Chad Pearson makes abundantly clear, with an at times strong language of repudiation. But, equally important to recognize is what Ted McCoy stresses in his warm and insightful outline of specific stages of my scholarship: the book does not repudiate either the importance of language or the capacity of some writing associated with discourse-animated critical theory to make a contribution to knowledge.47 Close readings of Descent into Discourse would recognize this, although such scrutinizing engagements are not, sadly, the norm in our times. In my judgment, it was necessary to stake out ground against what constituted a theoretical repudiation of materialist orientations to the past, a trend that was definitely and defiantly channeling historians of the 1980s and 1990s in analytic directions I found not only wayward, but counterproductive. Many others were also of this view and warmed to the book in the face of its hostile reception in quarters where, it must be said, the attitude to discourse was wantonly parti pris.48 My critique had nothing to do with denying language’s importance, but made a strong case for situating determination at the interface of material and non-material aspects of historical causation. If the linguistic turn exhibited less proselytizing zeal and ultimatist insistence on discourse’s determinative authority, I would not likely have bent my pen against it. Or, equally important, if the driving force of the new critical theory did not rail so incessantly against metanarratives (largely scapegoating Marxism and class analysis), I might not have felt the need to defend an interpretive politics of totality central to the social histories of the 1970s.49
To the extent that the excesses of “critical theory’s” embrace by historians have been tempered of late, the critique I levelled has proven prescient, however much this would be denied in many quarters. And differentiating myself from much of the extreme postures of poststructuralism/postmodernism writ large did not inhibit me from drawing on specific productive aspects of critical theory, especially the early writing of Foucault.50 I pushed to address marginality throughout history in ways that, as Ted McCoy and Nick Rogers note in their discussions of Cultures of Darkness, brought sophisticated commentary on both the discourses and material determinations of dispossession together, aligning Marx and all manner of contemporary thinkers.51
In this sense, Descent into Discourse and Cultures of Darkness were not conflicted texts, but a pairing, and one that would, as a number of commentators in this volume appreciate, insist that Marxism and class analysis were not restrictive and reductive ways of looking at the world, but, rather, possible means of widening analytic and political vision. One reflection of this was my co-authored Toronto’s Poor, in which the treatment of class, so often studied as waged work, is expanded to address those excluded from the formal labour market. All of this writing explores discourse, and not discourse in the making of exploitation and oppression, inequality, and subordination. As such, my books and articles have worked to attend not only to the resilience and resistance of the dispossessed, however varied and differentiated their experiences, but to power’s prerogatives.
Writings like A Culture in Conflict, Toronto Workers Respond to Industrial Capitalism, and Dreaming of What Might Be were expected to rock interpretive boats. So, too, were the two editions of Working-Class Experience, especially the second edition. Figures like McNaught, Bercuson, and Granatstein espoused predictable animosities, fueled by the conjoined premises of an anti-theoretical empiricism and ideological hostility whenever Marxism reared its challenging head, either as a conceptualization of the past or as a politics of anti-capitalist objection and opposition in the present. These conventional critics were uninterested in Descent into Discourse, however, and if they ever read the text there is little in their published work to indicate a familiarity with it.
Not quite so with other critics, whose rejection of the book’s ideas and arguments still managed to exhibit little actual engagement with what Descent into Discourse said. Even before this opposition ossified, the transparently anti-left dismissals of the 1970s and early 1980s mainstream would blur into related commonplace criticisms in the 1990s, emanating from eminently progressive quarters. A commitment to the recovery of varied forms of resistance and a willingness to defend a particular kind of historical materialism singled me out for dismissal and scorn from a small, but influential group, a particular set of overlapping contingents of gender and labour historians. These critics shared friendships forged in Toronto-based study groups and graduate schools. Attractions to Marxism and its commitment to revolutionary possibility were waning in the 1990s as these overlapping contingents converged.52 They were by no means representative of the entirety of the Canadian historical profession, however, let alone those academics and left-wing readers in other disciplines or outside of the academy. The gender side of this pairing, often associated with the publication of a groundbreaking collection of essays, Gender Conflicts: New Essays in Women’s History,53 exhibited an increasingly warm embrace of poststructuralist theory, referencing Michel Foucault, Joan Scott, and even Friedrich Nietzsche. For the labour component, which was less likely to overtly shed a materialist epistemology, there were nevertheless signs that original attractions to class struggle and resistance were being replaced in some quarters with an increased focus on resilience. This was expressed in a growing unease with attributing much significance to Marxist appreciations of class consciousness, the addressing of which would come to be challenged, often in insouciant ways.
An opening shot, albeit one lobbed cavalierly, appeared in the introduction to Gender Conflicts. The authors of this manifesto-like statement chose to structure their arguments in favour of a new approach to women and gender by targeting, not mainstream Canadian historiography, about which they said virtually nothing, but those working-class historians, of whom I was the only worthy cited, who merely juxtaposed “descriptions of structures of domination with examples of resistance.” This ostensibly celebrated the working class as a heroic, “morally pure” subject.54 An odd echo of this could be heard in Craig Heron’s dismissive review of the second edition of Working-Class Experience, discussed by Alvin Finkel earlier in this volume. Heron thought my book imposed “the search for simon-pure class-consciousness as the central organizing framework of a working-class history.”55 As I explained, class (and self-identification within it and recognition of the differences among classes) exists even when class consciousness in the Marxist sense (entailing an understanding of the necessity of struggling against capitalist exploitation and the special oppressions it spawns) is absent, as it most decidedly had been for much of the history I was addressing. “A study of class consciousness in Canada for the most part would be an exploration of silences and absences,” I wrote, adding that, “For many Canadian historians this relegates class to a category of marginal significance: other factors matter, but class does not. I see things differently.” A class structure of inequality and difference gave rise to mobilizations and struggles and expressions of cultural difference. This conditioned understandings of class place that could, in certain circumstances, help construct pathways to the realization of a more robust class consciousness, in the Marxist sense.56
Yet this was by no means all that I was interested in or wrote about in Working-Class Experience. Gender factored into how I rethought working-class history in the late 1980s and 1990s, when graduate students working with me, such as Karen Dubinsky and Annalee Lepp, were engaged in important doctoral research on violence and patriarchal authority within working-class families.57 When I integrated this into my account, balancing it with appreciation of the family as a site of mutuality, resilience, and survival, Heron was not impressed, castigating my discussion of the presence of gendered power within labouring households as “an almost sordid preoccupation with conflict and oppression.” Suggesting that my previous work had somehow been unique in its avoidance of important, now-recognized topics, Heron declared, “Palmer has had to admit that no one can any longer write social history that ignores gender.”58 Yet, Heron failed to acknowledge that his writings of the late 1980s, admittedly not unlike mine and those of most other male labour historians, contained little on either women or gender.59
Some dissertations completed at York University got in on the act. A standard trope, evident in the published books of Lynne Marks, Revivals and Roller Rinks: Religion, Leisure, and Identity in Late-Nineteenth-Century Small-Town Ontario and Robert F. Kristofferson, Craft Capitalism: Craftworkers and Early Industrialization in Hamilton, Ontario, 1840–1872, was to interpretively distance study from the early writing of Palmer and Kealey. Misrepresentation was the order of the day. Marks insisted that friendly societies were depicted in A Culture in Conflict as containing “primarily working-class membership” and that bodies like the Orange Lodge were represented in Palmer’s and Kealey’s writings as “bastions of working-class culture.” Nothing of the kind was ever said.60 Kristofferson’s mangling of quotations was particularly egregious.61 The reviewer of his book in the American Historical Review noted that Kristofferson’s novel exercise in textual reconstitution “caricatures what Palmer actually says” and that a “sophisticated argument is substantially misrepresented.”62 Not unlike the Gender Conflicts authors, but extending the critique to include Kealey, Kristofferson proclaimed our publications were nothing more than products of a “politically-motivated research agenda” that threatened to “degenerate into a search for the country’s first class-conscious worker.” Kristofferson concluded: “craft workers might not have carried around with them an inherent propensity towards socialist action.”63 Who knew that this was what A Culture in Conflict, Toronto Workers Respond to Industrial Capitalism, or Dreaming of What Might Be were about? Not their authors. It was difficult to conjure up a search for socialist class consciousness out of my discussion of Hamilton’s Isaac Buchanan–influenced producer ideology or Greg Kealey’s detailed exploration of working-class politics in Toronto, let alone our account of the Knights of Labor’s uncertain groping toward a program of labour reform. The approach was to explore the complexity of class formation in the complicated spheres of working-class thought and political engagement.64
I was reminded of E. P. Thompson’s comment on the silence of the Fabian historians in the face of hostile put-downs. J. L. Hammond and Barbara Hammond, whose pioneering accounts of British labour were subjected to endless reproach by a gaggle of reactionary defenders of capitalism’s uplifting Industrial Revolution capacities, took what they no doubt considered a “high road,” abstaining from replying to their critics. They “turned too often towards their critics a genteel cheek of silence,” wrote Thompson, “and, after that, they were dead. For more than twenty years the ideological school of history has been able to knock ‘the sentimentalists’ with impunity—a certain scowl, a suggestion of anti-sentimental rigour, has served to cover any lacunae in scholarship.”65
How many turns? How many cheeks? When I replied to some of this criticism, focusing perhaps unduly on Lynne Marks’s Revivals and Roller Rinks, and raising questions about how some gender historians were using evidence and some others were proclaiming a too easy assimilation of historical materialism and poststructuralist theory, these interventions led to an onslaught of rebuke, private as well as public.66 Alvin Finkel details the more cloistered initiative of Franca Iacovetta, Lynne Marks, and four other historians and labour studies social scientists to discipline me, as editor of Labour/Le Travail, for having published critical historiographic commentaries in other journals. Marks offered a lengthy rejoinder to my essay that addressed her writing, sidestepping most issues, deflecting them with the insistence that my engagement with her problematic use of evidence and misrepresentation of historiography could be written off as little more than my supposed antipathy to the study of religion.67
Mariana Valverde, the most theoretically inclined member of the Gender Conflicts collective, managed to get in the last word. Describing me as “the self-styled son” of E. P. Thompson, Valverde claimed that my career was based on “invective” and “vitriolic attacks.” I was responsible for the sad situation in which younger historians were of the impression that “to be theoretical was to be anti-labour history and anti-Marxist.”68 Almost a decade later, Valverde was still beating this drum of personalized attack. When her The Age of Light, Soap, and Water: Moral Reform in English Canada, 1885–1925 was reprinted in 2008, Valverde complained that historians had not sufficiently appreciated her study. She declared, without a shred of evidence, that “the eyeglasses that Palmer’s polemics provided for his fellow left-wing historians (none of whom, to my knowledge, had read Derrida or Foucault to the extent that Palmer had) were firmly on people’s noses as they read my book.” She again linked me with Thompson, insisting, astoundingly (and, again, with nothing to back up such a wild assertion), that our writing identified class consciousness “with the crusade against theory. If you took theory seriously, you were a traitor to the working class.”69 As scapegoating and unfounded assertion, this was pretty wild.70
Much was at stake in all of this, including how history is written, its relationship to theory, and how argument can and should be waged.71 No doubt many contemporary historians, concerned with weightier matters, regard this as little more than a distended tempest in a scholastic teapot. Perhaps. Yet it served as prelude to a sorry example, commented on more generally by John McIlroy and Alan Campbell in their chapter in this volume, of how debate and intellectual exchange is too often stifled in today’s scholarly journals. One of my articles that elicited strong response from the Toronto-based gender and labour circles was “Historiographic Hassles.” It was published by Histoire sociale/Social History along with Valverde’s “Some Remarks on the Rise and Fall of Discourse Analysis,” with the editors’ stated, and laudatory, intention of fomenting controversy within the field of social history. But when disagreement indeed erupted, the response of the Histoire sociale/Social History editors was not to remain true to their original purpose and encourage debate and discussion, but to shut it down, doing so in a remarkably personalized and partisan manner. First, they allowed Lynne Marks extensive space to respond to my commentary, which was as it should be. Second, they refused me, the author they had published with the explicit intention of creating debate and discussion, the right of a short rejoinder to Marks, which was most emphatically not what should have been done. Third, and finally, when I submitted a response to Valverde’s essay, they promptly rejected it for publication, a startling decision differentiating the treatment they accorded Marks and what was meted out to me.
Scholarship, in this unequal exchange, was not so much furthered as small-group allegiances solidified, criticism of a particular kind furloughed, and the possibility of clarification, perhaps even reconciliation, thwarted. Defended with platitudes about what advances knowledge and what does not, what constitutes acceptable discourses of disagreement and what does not, this kind of shutting down of intellectual exchange is unacceptable. By all means let there be boundaries established within which debate flourishes in productive ways, applicable to all involved, but editorial gatekeeping that prejudges what (and who) counts in the clash of reasonable interpretive wills should have no place in scholarly publishing.
I tried to do things differently when editing Labour/Le Travail. This was a part of my longstanding friendships and working relations with Greg Kealey and Alvin Finkel, but I believe that almost everyone involved with this collection of essays has contributed to Labour/Le Travail in one way or another. Over the course of fifteen years as book review editor, almost twenty years as editor/co-editor, and roughly forty-five years as contributor and board member, I did my best to open the journal’s pages to critical thinking, and to encourage and defend the importance of scholarly debate and the public airing of interpretive difference.72
As Kirk Niergarth’s generous account of my stint as Labour/Le Travail editor suggests, the journal under my direction followed policies that continued a longstanding proclivity to expand subject areas and actively promote discussion and debate. We discouraged the use of the book review section as a venue of exchange, precisely because we expected reviews to be critical and authors to find cause for complaint with how their scholarly work was addressed. Our considered view was that cluttering up the book review section with endless responses and rejoinders was less productive than having debates, if they truly were significant, take place elsewhere. So, we did our best to encourage irate authors to set the record straight regarding critical reviewers in ways other than inevitably truncated replies to short monograph assessments. Once this policy was in place, and adhered to consistently, we received surprisingly few requests on the part of disgruntled authors that they have space to “correct” or respond to contentious reviews. Aside from this conscious policy decision, which might seem to sideline conflicting analyses, we allowed authors a wider latitude than was commonplace in academic publishing in terms of length, and controversy exchanges were encouraged. Criticisms of my own writing were commonplace in articles published in Labour/Le Travail under my editorship, the odd one coming, legitimately, from graduate students I was supervising. If I occasionally requested that particular characterizations of my publications take on a more nuanced stand, reflective of what I actually wrote, I endorsed the publication of a great many articles with which I disagreed, even some in which misrepresentations of my writing appeared.
Kirk’s benevolent comment on my editorship rightly distinguishes an individual scholar’s role as editor and author, and for his purposes understandable reciprocities converge in both these spheres. There is something to this congealment, of course, because editors are informed parties in the process of manuscript evaluation, but there is also, in the end, a distinct separation. An author has to be true to their particular self, to the principles, interpretations, and intellectual–political stands they embrace, based on rigorous research. This is why an author writes, or it is at least what I believe should animate researchers taking their findings into print. Up to a point, this coincides with what an editor does. Ultimately, however, the responsibility of a scholarly journal’s director is not to themselves as a thinking and critical subject, but to a set of pluralistic ground rules pushing authors to improve their submissions on their own terms. As Kirk points out, editors can of course serve authors well, mediating peer review assessments, which can often be at odds with one another and that are, on occasion, unfair. Editorial expertise can provide helpful guidance as to what to accent in the revision process, and also prod authors to refine their scholarship and expand ways of situating their writing historiographically and theoretically. An editor’s role is not to reproduce themselves, however, nor to protect their friends, but to nurture the best in what authors submit. No editor can completely separate themselves from fashionable trends, personal likes and dislikes, and other subjective considerations, but as much as these can be put to the sidelines, the better will be the editorial process. Inevitably this means that an editor, unlike an author, contributes as an individual up to the point, ill-defined and somewhat vague, that it is then necessary to step back into a fair-minded suppression of the self. This is how I tried to function as editor of Labour/Le Travail, listening to peer reviewers at the same time as I was guided by specific principles. Authors were pressed to marshal evidence well, expand their theoretical and historiographic horizons, and make their analysis as strong as it could be. This may all seem self-evident, a statement of the obvious. Yet throughout my academic career, I can attest to article submissions to journals where such axioms of editorial practice were anything but evident. Editing Labour/Le Travail was something I am proud to have done well, diligently, and, I believe, without rudeness.
There is perhaps too little rudeness in the chapters in this volume, however thankful I may be that I have been largely spared the rod of criticism that I myself have wielded so often. The tributes that appear in this collection I value greatly, appreciative of their substance and spirit of positive engagement with areas of my research, writing, and politics. Differences abound, of course, as they should, and they prompt me to offer some thoughts and occasional counters.
Nick Rogers, for instance, provides an insightful and stimulating commentary on Thompson’s The Making of the English Working Class. It left me rethinking much of what I read in that formidable book, published so long ago. The power of Thompson’s voice was augmented by the book’s unique structure and tone, defiant of conventional academic modes of presentation.73 Thompson was more concerned with how the book would be read by a group of autodidact militants in Yorkshire than within a graduate seminar at Oxford, the text being researched as its author taught Workers’ Education Association classes. It utilized specific sources, often gathered through meticulous mining of local and regional experience (not unrelated to Thompson’s adult education teaching), to generalize, doing so against the grain of orthodoxies, be they conservative, Fabian, or reductionist Marxist. History, for Thompson, was always argument. If, in the abstraction of his claims, Thompson overstated certain positions or failed to account for this or that particularity, as Nick’s piece often suggests (sometimes undoubtedly correctly), a part of this can be explained by how and why Thompson was writing in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
The Making’s academic assimilation, indeed its elevation to a canonical text, was something of an accident of history, its publication in 1963 coinciding with a subsequent explosion of youth radicalization and political mobilization that catapulted the text and its sensibilities into the limelight of interpretive notoriety. This forced its author to adjust to the norms of scholarly cautions, as he stated in a 1976 interview:
I’ve become a bit more inhibited since [the publication of The Making of the English Working Class], simply because, although the book has been received very generously in some academic quarters, it has been subjected to very sharp attacks, especially in Britain. In order to meet these I have had to sharpen my own scholarly equipment. When you suddenly realize that you are being watched by this largely conservative profession you have to be very sure that your statements are as accurate, as precise, as well documented as possible. That can be a slight inhibition.74
Implicit in this reflection are three important dimensions of the making of The Making of the English Working Class. First, the author had little of the largesse and research infrastructure of a university appointment at his disposal. Second, his purpose in writing the book was as much political as academic, although these were never entirely distinct or counterposed orientations. And third, the period in which this book was written was an intellectual moment and political era far different than our current times. Recognizing all of this is not to exempt The Making from the kinds of scholarly criticisms Nick is raising. Rather, it is to recognize the study contextually. Doing this, I believe, might recast how the book should be read today with respect to subsequent academic findings, alerting us to complexities relating to how authors in different situations present events and evidence.
One part of what The Making of the English Working Class was conceived to be doing was offering Thompson’s Workers’ Education Association students the weapon of educated understandings about how workers confronted the rising industrial capitalism of earlier times so that they could combat the conventional wisdoms of the 1950s. None of this is unrelated to Nick’s critique of Thompson. In addressing Thompson’s reading of specific kinds of evidence, for instance, Nick implies that critics have a point when they allude to how he privileges the Sadler Committee of 1832, but dismisses the 1833 Factory Commission. What is actually written in the relevant pages of The Making seems to me more analytically subtle than this oppositional characterization, but that is perhaps not the main point. Thompson was attentive to historiographic complications that do not factor into Nick’s commentary, but that relate to why Thompson addressed a working-class audience inundated with historical propaganda in particular ways. For in discussions of evidence and its use, Thompson’s explication in The Making of the English Working Class routinely balances what can be gleaned from documents with how they have been drawn upon in the reactionary politics of interpretation dominant in academic circles in the 1950s. This was often associated with the authors involved in the influential collection of essays edited by Frederick Hayek, Capitalism and the Historians. An ideological consensus associated with this “optimistic” interpretive school frames how Thompson discusses much, including the Sadler Committee and the Factory Commission. Capitalism’s cutting of a destructive swath through early nineteenth-century plebeian life had been obfuscated with an at times frolicsome set of 1950s claims and aggressive assaults on previous “pessimistic” scholarship associated with the Hammonds, Webbs, and other Fabian-inclined writers. This historiographic punching back situates how Thompson assesses particular kinds of 1830s inquiries and panels, as well as the documentation they generated. It is never, then, simply a question of why one set of sources is correct and another body of material suspect.75 Thompson wrote perceptively about this, whether he was addressing the discontents of class in the early nineteenth century or the nature of the New Left Review over the course of the 1960s.76
Politically, while I had great respect and considerable affection for Edward Thompson, I did have differences with him. Nick cites my Leninism, something Edward never tired of teasing me about (Dorothy Thompson, also always gracious and generous as far as I was concerned, was harder edged in her criticisms of my politics). My relationship to Leninism and Trotskyism is alluded to by a number of contributors to this volume. This is fair enough, but Leninism actually intrudes lightly on much of my historical writing, the subjects I have tackled often being situated in pre-Leninist times. Appreciations of Leninism factor most decisively in my relatively recent publications on United States Communist Party historiography and the emergence of American Trotskyism, understandably so.
In their contribution to this collection, John McIlroy and Alan Campbell, with whom I have had a productive dialogue and personal friendship for the better part of two decades, chart important distinctions between Bolshevism and Stalinism. They lay out yet another critically important commentary on why the degeneration of the Russian Revolution over the course of the 1920s remains a central interpretive issue confronting those who address the history of Communist parties. Discerning readers will appreciate, however, that McIlroy and Campbell are more inclined to see in both Bolshevism and Leninism “the cocoon in which Stalinism incubated” than I would concede. The metaphor itself seems to me inadequate, if only because Stalinism could not help but come about within Bolshevism/Leninism, but it ended up being an unambiguous repudiation of these origins, rather than part of an evolution. I am far more positive about Lenin’s contribution and the first years of the International, and rather dubious about failing to draw lines of political distinction more sharply against the admittedly highly significant work of Cold War historians, such as Theodore Draper, than are McIlroy and Campbell.77
Thus, McIlroy and Campbell, like Draper and other anti-Communist historians from whom they are quite distinct but with whom they share some interpretive ground, tend to see the program of Bolshevization (not to be confused or equated with the more general political designation of Bolshevism) promoted by the Communist International in the mid-1920s as a suppression of democracy. Like Jacob Zumoff, I have a slightly different approach. We acknowledge Bolshevization’s dual nature. Under the pressure of Zinoviev’s bureaucratic impulses and incipient Stalinization, Bolshevization was too often imposed mechanically with the heavy hand of Moscow’s ultimate authority. Yet it was also the case, especially within the foreign-language federations of the American Workers’ Party and throughout the unusually hardened and debilitating factionalism of the United States Communist movement, that those accepting Bolshevization struggled to address problems demanding redress if the revolutionary left was indeed to build a viable and coherent opposition to capitalism in the United States.78
I appreciate what McIlroy and Campbell have accomplished in their always rigorous and unrivalled contributions to Communist historiography. Yet to address the metaphor on which they conclude their contribution to this volume is to stake out an important differentiation between how they approach the Communist past and my own perspective. It is of course undeniable that a hippopotamus is not a giraffe, and that it does not take a zoologist to recognize this. Yet, if scientists agree there are but two species of hippos, there is an ongoing discussion/debate about how many giraffe subspecies exist. McIlroy, Campbell, and I stand against so many historians of Communism in our like-minded insistence that Stalinism matters, and this continues to be a fundamental issue that remains critical to fight out with those who are in denial about this basic political matter. How this relates to the brief but pivotal history of revolutionary internationalism that drew militants to the cause of Lenin, Trotsky, and Bolshevism in the era of the Soviet Revolution and its consolidation remains a central historical concern for all who see the need to change the world. Nevertheless, there is no uniform, uncomplicated agreement on issues of this kind. Where Bolshevism ends and Stalinism begins, as well as how this relates to our understandings of specific policy initiatives like the Bolshevization campaign formally proclaimed within the Comintern in 1924–25, is interpretively contested terrain. As in so many areas of historical inquiry, forthright discussion and elaborations of difference are essential to clarifying much, and no historians have done more to bring the issues into sharp relief than McIlroy and Campbell.79
When drawing on history to address events like British Columbia’s Solidarity, it is difficult not to conclude that without the disciplined leadership of a workers’ party, class struggles in our time will inevitably spiral downward in compromise, even capitulation. Our current moment is surely replete with evidence that neither liberalism nor conservatism has answers for the dilemmas posed acutely by capitalism and its recurrent crises. The politics of austerity and a now decades-long reign of neoliberalism have left working-class standards of living and the safeguards and entitlements of trade unionism and the welfare state of advanced capitalism in tatters. With the revolutionary left in disarray and even a conservatively-led and bureaucratically-ordered labour movement plummeting to the point that its effectiveness as a political force is at its lowest ebb in living memory, perhaps in even a century, the working class as an agent of social transformation is, for many, a non-entity. Yet if workers are not centrally involved in rewriting the script of the social relations of production and everyday life, change of any meaningful kind is simply not going to happen.
This necessity of advancing class politics in an age of declining expectations and the retreat of organized oppositions of the left was central to my longstanding relationship with Leo Panitch. His tragic death in December 2020, a consequence of complications arising from COVID-19, saddened all of the contributors to this collection.80 In their canvassing of my research, writing, and politics, Leo and his close friend and collaborator Sam Gindin offer an assessment of how I have struggled to address this imperative. They, too, raise the spectre of my Leninism. In the absence of breakthroughs that are successful in confronting capitalism and bringing its armies of accumulation and structures of governance to their knees, I continue to think that Lenin and the Bolshevik tradition constitute a reservoir of class struggle politics that the left forfeits at considerable cost. When I have proof that a new kind of politics is gaining both adherents and achievements, advancing principled politics, I will be more than happy to revise my belief in the need for a rebirth of the Fourth International. This left politics will have to provide convincing evidence that Leninism has been surpassed in its insights into how revolutionary breakthroughs are to be achieved, highlighting and elaborating another body of strategic and tactical thought that promises radicalizing successes. This is a tall order indeed. Whatever the ostensible breakthroughs of our time, I remain agnostic about the prospects. Social democratic reform of an exploitative regime of accumulation and its rampant excesses has run into a variety of brick walls. Episodic uprisings of guerrilla activists or the politics of identitarian particularity, however momentarily inspiring or pragmatically attractive, have proven inadequate. Mobilizations associated with a range of social movements, including environmental demands to halt climate change or campaigns like those of Black Lives Matter, Idle No More, or Indigenous demands for land reclamation are indeed enthralling. But their capacity to transform politics in our time has not yet been confirmed. Political challenges associated with Bernie Sanders in the United States or Jeremy Corbyn in the United Kingdom, uprisings such as Occupy or the Arab Spring, and anti-capitalist opposition to austerity from Greece to Brazil have not yet translated into a new politics of a sustained and successful kind. Until such episodic instances of resistance reconstitute the tactical and strategic imperatives of anti-capitalist politics, I will continue to stand older, more traditional, ground, albeit with my ears cocked and eyes open to fresh alternatives.
As Sean Carleton and Julia Smith note in their concluding chapter to this book, I value defending old positions and accomplishments in the struggle to bring new possibilities into being. I do not think this necessarily shackles us to the limitations of the past. Rather, engaging with history offers us ways of understanding predicaments that are rarely sui generis, even as circumstances change. In invoking Leninism, moreover, I am not (nor are many sympathizers associated positively with this tradition of revolutionary politics) suggesting that we exist within the structures of political economy that prevailed at the time of the Russian Revolution. Nor am I advocating a mechanical implementation of the strategic imperatives growing out of 1917, grafting them mindlessly on to the entirely different actualities of a century later. That said, Lenin’s fundamental contribution, in which tactical flexibility could best be realized through a disciplined, combative party of revolutionary resolve and programmatic clarity, seems to me as alive in terms of our needs as ever. My embrace of Trotskyism, and how this has played out in the scholarship of my later years, is a reflection of this belief.
Leo and Sam, for all of their generosity toward me personally (which is certainly apparent in their chapter, but has extended well beyond the pages appearing in this volume, and included many kindnesses on Leo’s part before his death), look to Trotskyism and see largely “infamous factionalism.” This fixation on the fissiparous Left Oppositionist, I am afraid, leads Leo and Sam astray. When I note that the Minneapolis Communist Party members who would later constitute the leadership of the teamster rebellion of 1934 did not know what was at stake in the “animosity to Trotsky and his critique of the Communist International” in 1928–29, Leo and Sam focus on this statement. They suggest “this may have been a blessing,” implying that liberation from the “obsessive debates” associated with Trotskyism allowed the Minneapolis revolutionaries to wage a successful class struggle. For militants, ignorance was, if not a kind of bliss, an odd freedom that could then lead to momentous advances for workers.81
My view could not be more different. Revolutionary Minneapolis teamsters addressed their lack of knowledge about Trotskyist politics: they called on the Communist Party to allow a debate around what was at stake, and they educated themselves quickly. It was as Trotskyists that they then led organized labour out of the wilderness of the open-shop town. The Drivers’ Union they headed waged three strikes in less than eight months, conflicts marked by an impressive degree of organization, foresight, and negotiating savvy. Victories in these strikes, moreover, owed much to the material support and political acumen of non-union Trotskyist comrades. These conscious revolutionaries rallied to the cause of the Teamsters. They came from near and far to edit the daily strike newspaper; organize the unemployed to support the struggles of those working on the trucks, in the markets, and throughout the coal yards and other venues of the transportation sector; provide the leadership of a powerful and defiant Women’s Auxiliary; offer up an adroit menu of tactical innovations; and chart an adept and protracted course. The marginal and cash-starved nascent Trotskyist movement in the United States tithed its entire membership to support the struggle of Minneapolis workers. As I argue in Revolutionary Teamsters: The Minneapolis Truckers’ Strikes of 1934 (2013), becoming Trotskyists and joining what was the nucleus of a class struggle party was central to the success that a dedicated core of revolutionaries achieved in advancing the politics of both trade unionism and revolutionary socialism in Minneapolis during the 1930s. As one non-Trotskyist member of the Strikers’ Committee of one hundred stated unequivocally about the working-class upheaval that galvanized Minneapolis workers and reconfigured class relations in the city, “The rank and file was really the power of the whole movement but they still needed that leadership to lead them. I don’t care how good the army is, without a general they’re no good. These people moved in gradually from the Socialist Workers Party to help and I say without them there wouldn’t have been no victory.”82
To raise the kinds of questions/criticisms that I have posed above is not meant to be rude. I owe the friends, colleagues, and past students who have given me the gift and labours of their commentary my thanks for treating me seriously, fairly, and exceedingly kindly. Some, if not all, have undoubtedly curbed their legitimate fault-finding in the interest of munificence. My commentaries about the issues raised—involving historical method, analytic stands of importance, and a politics that is both interpretive and applicable to our current struggles—are reflective of the back-and-forth of argument that has always characterized my relationships inside and outside of academic life, be they with close collaborators or those from whom I am separated by considerable disagreement.
It is to the former students involved in this production that I owe my greatest debt and my ultimate thanks for this wonderful volume, which means so much to me precisely because it is a tribute coming from those whose views I value greatly. The former graduate students I have worked with over forty years of academic life have been many—I supervised roughly seventy MA and PhD students to completion at Queen’s and Trent University—and they constitute, as a collectivity, an amazing contingent of challenging and imaginatively creative individuals.
Sean Purdy was one of a large and stimulating cohort of MA/PhD students working with me at Queen’s University in the 1980s and 1990s. Those were heady days, when working-class history seemed to be at the cutting edge of a new and politically charged Canadian historiography. I was fortunate to be a part of, and indeed chair for five years, a graduate program that saw so many gifted and energetic students help to redefine the nature of scholarship as it evolved in a new century.83 It is appropriate that Sean is present in this volume, representing a distinct cluster of graduate students, for among them he has perhaps come to symbolize both the internationalism and the rigorous tenacity of left-wing research and writing that I regard as central to my own intellectual and political being. As Sean worked on his dissertation about Regent Park, he found his way to a politics of lifelong oppositional dissidence.84 I am especially proud that he has contributed a chapter situated at the crossroads of my intellectual and political life, addressing a class struggle mobilization in recent Brazil, where Sean has become an authoritative commentator on the tumultuous politics of his adopted country. I admire the extent to which he has integrated into the Brazilian milieu, teaching in the History Department at the University of São Paulo and routinely called upon as a public intellectual to offer comment on political developments in the United States. I also owe him much, and I am thankful to Sean for inviting me to and hosting me in Brazil over the years. It is in good part because of this that I have been introduced to the vitality of the revolutionary left in what is one of the most politically charged societies of Latin America. Students like Sean made working at Queen’s an exceptional experience.
At Trent, the times were different, but the excellence of students interested in labour and social justice was similar. Three of these students, Sean Carleton, Ted McCoy, and Julia Smith, came to Trent’s interdisciplinary Frost Centre to work with Joan Sangster and me.85 Historians at heart, Sean, Ted, and Julia gambled on working through their degrees in a Canadian and Indigenous Studies program where many of their teaching assignments and interactions with professors and fellow graduate students demanded they don interpretive hats whose brims extended well beyond their disciplinary comfort zones. They did much to make the Centre a stimulating environment in which the working class and the dispossessed in general were central to dialogues both provocative and productive.
These former students shepherded this book into being. The flock they assembled and managed so that this text could be published was anything but an easy grouping to orchestrate, I am sure. The contributions of Sean, Ted, and Julia to this collection are not only complimentary, but bring to the fore central themes, outlining where I have been as a scholar, how I have viewed historical analysis, and where the fields I have been involved in might go in the future. It is fitting that their reflections in some ways define and frame this book, setting a stage on which other contributors offer commentaries and closing the volume with a vigorous statement on the need to revitalize working-class history. Sean, Ted, and Julia, with whom I worked particularly closely in the last years of my teaching career, were the kinds of students that all instructors value. I cherish what they gave me with their intelligence, dynamism, and commitment. It has been my good fortune to be associated with them, and with so many other students who have gone on to do such fantastic work and accomplish so much. There is in this development of generations the continuity of a scholarly and political constituency with which I am grateful to have been associated and among whom I will continue to work. Bliss may be their dawn, to be alive in the creations of new awakenings. If not rude, they will always be, I am sure, revelatory.
I would like to thank Dimitry Anastakis, Russell Jacoby, and Joan Sangster for reading and commenting on this afterword. They bear no responsibility for its content. The editors of this volume—Sean Carleton, Ted McCoy, and Julia Smith—have worked tirelessly with me, offering many suggestions. I thank them for their considerations, which have been many.
- 1. On attractions to things historical, see Gareth Stedman Jones, “History and Theory: An English Story,” Historein: A Review of the Past and Other Stories 3 (2001): 103–24.
- 2. For my discussion of Solidarity, see Bryan D. Palmer, Solidarity: The Rise and Fall of an Opposition in British Columbia (Vancouver: New Star Books, 1987).
- 3. Note, among other commentaries, Joan Sangster, “Feminists in Academe: From Outsiders to Insiders?” in Academic Callings: The University We Have Had, Now Have, and Could Have, ed. Janice Newson and Claire Polster (Toronto: Canadian Scholars’ Press, 2010), 178–86.
- 4. For a recent discussion of the outsider status of United States labour historians in the 1960s and 1970s, see Gabriel Winant, “Hurrah for the Time Man!” Dissent 66 (Summer 2019): 130–39.
- 5. Some of this personal history, here and in what follows, is outlined in Bryan D. Palmer, “Becoming a Left Oppositionist,” Canadian Dimension 39, no. 5 (September/October 2005): 56–63. The articles in question: Craig Heron and Bryan D. Palmer, “Through the Prism of the Strike: Industrial Conflict in Southern Ontario, 1901–14,” Canadian Historical Review 58, no. 4 (December 1977): 423–58; Bryan D. Palmer, “Kingston Mechanics and the Rise of the Penitentiary, 1833–1836,” Histoire sociale/Social History 13, no. 25 (May 1980): 7–32.
- 6. See James Rinehart, The Tyranny of Work (Don Mills, ON: Longman Canada, 1975); Martin Glaberman, Wartime Strikes: The Struggle Against the No-Strike Pledge in the UAW During World War II (Detroit: Bewick Editions, 1980); Martin Glaberman, Be His Payment High or Low: The American Working Class of the Sixties (Detroit and Somerville: Bewick Editions and New England Free Press, 1975); Martin Glaberman, The Working Class and Social Change: Four Essays on the Working Class (Toronto: New Hogtown Press, 1975); Martin Glaberman and Seymour Faber, Working for Wages: The Roots of Insurgency (New York: General Hall, 1998); Martin Glaberman, ed., Marxism for Our Times: C L. R. James on Organization (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1999); C L. R. James et al., State Capitalism and World Revolution (Oakland: PM Press, 2013).
- 7. See Bryan D. Palmer, “‘Mind Forg’d Manacles’ and Recent Pathways to ‘New’ Labor Histories,” International Review of Social History 62, no. 2 (August 2017): 279–303.
- 8. Bryan D. Palmer, “‘Big Bill’ Haywood’s Defection to Russia and the IWW: Two Letters,” Labor History 17, no. 2 (Spring 1976): 271–78. My first publication was accepted after the Labor History contribution but would appear before it: Bryan D. Palmer, “Class, Conception and Conflict: The Thrust for Efficiency, Managerial Views of Labor and The Working Class Rebellion, 1903–22,” Review of Radical Political Economics 7, no. 2 (July 1975): 31–49.
- 9. Melvyn Dubofsky’s major work at the time was We Shall Be All: A History of the Industrial Workers of the World (Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1969), although I was drawn to the critique of William Preston, “Shall This Be All? US Historians versus William D. Haywood et al,” Labor History 12, no. 3 (Summer 1971): 435–53. See also Bryan D. Palmer and Melvyn Dubofsky, “A City Kid’s View of Working-Class History: An Interview with Melvyn Dubofsky,” Labor: Studies in Working-Class History of the Americas 7, no. 2 (Summer 2010): 53–81.
- 10. The exhibition was staged at Hamilton’s Workers Arts and Heritage Centre in 2020, interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. See Workers Arts and Heritage Centre, “One Big Union: The Revolutionary Graphics of the IWW,” 2 September 2020 to 31 October 2020, https://wahc-museum.ca/event/one-big-union-the-revolutionary-graphics-of-the-iww/.
- 11. Bryan D. Palmer, “‘Give Us the Road and We Will Run It’: The Social and Cultural Matrix of an Emerging Labour Movement,” in Essays in Canadian Working Class History, ed. Gregory S. Kealey and Peter Warrian (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1976), 106–24.
- 12. Bryan D. Palmer, A Culture in Conflict: Skilled Workers and Industrial Capitalism in Hamilton, Ontario, 1860–1914 (Montréal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1979); Gregory S. Kealey, Toronto Workers Respond to Industrial Capitalism, 1867–1892 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1980); Gregory S. Kealey and Bryan D. Palmer, Dreaming of What Might Be: The Knights of Labor in Ontario, 1880–1900 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982). Among my contributions to scholarly journals in this period would be, Palmer, “Most Uncommon Common Men: Craft and Culture in Historical Perspective,” Labour/Le Travailleur 1 (1976): 5–31; Heron and Palmer, “Through the Prism of the Strike”; Palmer, “Discordant Music: Charivaris and Whitecapping in 19th-Century North America,” Labour/Le Travailleur 3 (1978): 5–62; Palmer, “Kingston Mechanics.”
- 13. See Max Elbaum, Revolution in the Air: Sixties Radicals Turn to Lenin, Mao and Che (London: Verso, 2002).
- 14. My last graduate student to complete a thesis under my supervision studied the New Tendency. See Sean Antaya, “Struggling for a New Left: The New Tendency, Autonomist Marxism, and Rank-and-File Organizing in Windsor, Ontario During the 1970s” (master’s thesis, Trent University, 2018). This political current receives surprisingly little attention in those rare recent studies that carry the history of the broad New Left of the 1960s into related developments in the next decade. My recollection is that the politics associated with the New Tendency, Lotta Continua, and Big Flame were more influential in central Canada in the early to mid 1970s than is evident in a reading of Ian Milligan, Rebel Youth: 1960s Labour Unrest, Young Workers, and New Leftists in English Canada (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2014), and Peter Graham and Ian McKay, Radical Ambition: The New Left in Toronto (Toronto: Between the Lines, 2019).
- 15. George Rawick, “Working-Class Self-Activity,” Radical America 3, no. 2 (March–April 1969): 23–31; George Rawick, From Sundown to Sunup: The Making of the Black Community (New York: Praeger, 1973); Don Fitz and David Roediger, Within the Shell of the Old: Essays on Workers’ Self Organization (A Salute to George Rawick) (Chicago: Charles H. Kerr, 1990); Alex Lichtenstein, “George Rawick’s From Sundown to Sunup and the Dialectic of Marxian Slave Studies,” Reviews in American History 24, no. 4 (December 1996): 712–25.
- 16. For a time, I was a corresponding editor of Canadian Dimension, and my writing for the magazine often focused on the anti-nuclear arms movement. See Bryan D. Palmer, “Rearming the Peace Movement,” Canadian Dimension 16 (July/August 1982): 3–6; “Marching Once a Year is Not Enough,” Canadian Dimension 17 (September 1983): 30–32; “The Tragic Return of 007,” Canadian Dimension 17 (December 1983): 16–17. See also Bryan D. Palmer, “The Empire Strikes Back: Historical Reflections on the Arms Race,” Studies in Political Economy 12, no. 1 (Fall 1983): 103–19. I founded Academics for Nuclear Disarmament, a body that, befitting my organizational incompetence, functioned almost entirely as a “paper” entity. Some stationery no doubt survives somewhere.
- 17. Palmer, Solidarity; Bryan D. Palmer, “British Columbia’s Solidarity: Reformism and the Fight Against the Right,” in Reshaping the US Left: Popular Struggles in the 1980s, vol. 3, The Year Left, ed. Mike Davis and Michael Sprinker (London: Verso, 1988), 229–54. Jack Munro presents himself in the way that I have described him. See the first chapter of his autobiography, tellingly, defiantly, and proudly titled, “Derailing the Solidarity Express,” in Union Jack: Labour Leader Jack Munro, Jack Munro and Jane O’Hara (Vancouver: Douglas and McIntyre, 1988), 1–17.
- 18. Bryan D. Palmer, Canada’s 1960s: The Ironies of Identity in a Rebellious Era (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2009).
- 19. Two of the three Cannon volumes are completed, one published in 2007, the other in press, to appear in 2021. See Bryan D. Palmer, James P. Cannon and the Origins of the American Revolutionary Left, 1890–1928 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2007); Bryan D. Palmer, James P. Cannon and the Emergence of Trotskyism in the United States, 1929–1939 (Leiden: Brill, forthcoming 2021). Bryan D. Palmer, Revolutionary Teamsters: The Minneapolis Truckers’ Strikes of 1934 (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2014) grew out of the Cannon project, as did the multi-volume documentary history of Trotskyism in the United States, on which I worked with Paul Le Blanc and others: Paul Le Blanc, Bryan D. Palmer, Thomas Bias, and Andrew Pollack, eds., US Trotskyism, 1928–1965, Part I: Emergence – Left Opposition in the United States (Leiden: Brill, 2018); Paul Le Blanc, Bryan D. Palmer, and Thomas Bias, eds., US Trotskyism, 1928–1965, Part II: Endurance – The Coming American Revolution (Leiden: Brill, 2019); Paul Le Blanc and Bryan D. Palmer, eds., US Trotskyism, 1928–1965, Part III: Resurgence – Uneven and Combined Development (Leiden: Brill, 2018). For the eightieth anniversary of the 1934 Minneapolis strikes, see Bryan D. Palmer, “Dining Out in Dinkytown: Remembering the Minneapolis Truckers’ Strikes of 1934,” in May Day: Workers’ Struggles, International Solidarity, Political Aspirations (Toronto: Socialist Project, 2016), 51–65.
- 20. See Bryan D. Palmer and Gaétan Héroux, “‘Cracking the Stone’: The Long History of Capitalist Crisis and Toronto’s Dispossessed,” Labour/Le Travail 69 (Spring 2012): 9–62; Gaétan Héroux and Bryan D. Palmer, “Marching Under Flags Black and Red: Toronto’s Dispossessed in the Age of Industry,” in Workers in Hard Times: A Long View of Economic Crises, ed. Leon Fink, Joseph A. McCartin, and Joan Sangster (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2014), 19–44; Bryan D. Palmer and Gaétan Héroux, Toronto’s Poor: A Rebellious History (Toronto: Between the Lines, 2016).
- 21. E. P. Thompson, Alien Homage: Edward Thompson and Rabindranath Tagore (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1993), vii.
- 22. Bryan D. Palmer, “Upper Canada,” in Canadian History: A Reader’s Guide, vol. 1, Beginnings to Confederation, ed. M. Brook Taylor (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1994), 184–236; Bryan D. Palmer, “Popular Radicalism and the Theatrics of Rebellion: The Hybrid Discourse of Dissent in Upper Canada,” in Transatlantic Subjects: Ideas, Institutions, and Social Experience in Post-Revolutionary British North America, ed. Nancy Christie (Montréal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2008), 403–39.
- 23. Michel Foucault, “Preface to the 1972 edition,” History of Madness (London: Routledge, 2006), xxxviii. Foucault’s positions can be interpreted as urging authors to back away from engaging with criticism: “We should not try to justify the old book, nor reinsert it into the present; the series of events to which it belongs, and which are its true law, are far from being over” (xxxviii). That said, Foucault was known to respond to critics. See his “Reply to Derrida,” Appendix 3, History of Madness, 575–90.
- 24. Perry Anderson, “In Memoriam: Edward Thompson,” in Spectrum: From Right to Left in the World of Ideas (London: Verso, 2007), 178–79.
- 25. Edward Thompson, “The Long Revolution (Part I),” New Left Review 1, no. 9 (May–June 1961): 25.
- 26. I believe the term was coined by Alvin Finkel, but see Joan Sangster, Through Feminist Eyes: Essays on Canadian Women’s History (Edmonton: Athabasca University Press, 2011), 30–35.
- 27. Anderson, “The Vanquished Left: Eric Hobsbawm,” in Spectrum, 320.
- 28. Karl Marx, “Confession,” in Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Collected Works, vol. 42, Marx and Engels: 1864–68 (New York: International Publishers, 1987), 567–68.
- 29. Among many writings of mine of this kind, see Bryan D. Palmer, “Modernizing History,” Bulletin of the Committee on Canadian Labour History 2 (Autumn 1976): 16–25; Bryan D. Palmer, “Listening to History Rather Than Historians: Reflections on Working Class History,” Studies in Political Economy 20, no. 1 (1986): 47–84; Bryan Palmer, “Canadian Controversies,” History Today 44, no. 11 (November 1994): 44–49; Bryan D. Palmer, “Of Silences and Trenches: A Dissident View of Granatstein’s Meaning,” Canadian Historical Review 80, no. 4 (December 1999): 676–86; Bryan D. Palmer, “Historiographic Hassles: Class and Gender, Evidence and Interpretation,” Histoire sociale/Social History 33 (May 2000): 105–44; Bryan D. Palmer, “Radical Reasoning,” The Underhill Review: A Forum of History, Ideas, and Culture 3 (Fall 2009): 1–32, https://www3.carleton.ca/underhillreview/09/fall/reviews/palmer.htm; Bryan D. Palmer, “The Ghost of Jack Munro,” Review of On the Line: A History of the British Columbia Labour Movement, by Rod Mickleburgh, The Ormsby Review 348, 22 August 2018, https://bcbooklook.com/2018/08/22/bc-labour-movement-history/; Bryan D. Palmer, “How Can We Write Better Histories of Communism?” Labour/Le Travail 83 (Spring 2019): 199–232.
- 30. See Kenneth McNaught, A Prophet in Politics: A Biography of J. S. Woodsworth (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1959), and Kenneth McNaught, “Socialism and Progressivism: Was Failure Inevitable?” in Dissent: Explorations in the History of American Radicalism, ed. Alfred F. Young (DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 1968), 251–71.
- 31. Note Kenneth McNaught, Conscience and History: A Memoir (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1999), 190–91, and for McNaught’s flippant view of 1970s writing on Canadian labour and the left, “E. P. Thompson vs Harold Logan: Writing about Labour and the Left in the 1970s,” Canadian Historical Review 63, no. 2 (June 1981): 141–68. Further commentary on McNaught’s place in these early controversies is in Palmer, “Historiographic Hassles,” 107–17; Bryan D. Palmer, “Historical Materialism and the Writing of Canadian History: A Dialectical View,” in Interventions and Appreciations, vol. 2, Marxism and Historical Practice (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2015), 48–64.
- 32. McNaught, “E. P. Thompson vs Harold Logan,” 150, 168. I am also singled out for dismissal in Kenneth McNaught, “Socialism and the Canadian Political Tradition,” in On F. R. Scott: Essays on His Contributions to Law, Literature, and Politics, ed. Sandra Djwa and R. St J. Macdonald (Montréal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1983), 89–90.
- 33. For a statement that gestures lightly toward this possibility see Bryan D. Palmer, “What’s Law Got to Do with It? Historical Considerations on Class Struggle, Boundaries of Constraint, and Capitalist Authority,” Osgoode Hall Law Journal 41, no. 2 (2003): 465–90.
- 34. David J. Bercuson, Review of “Dreaming of What Might Be: The Knights of Labor in Ontario, 1880–1900, by Gregory S. Kealey and Bryan D. Palmer,” Business History Review 57, no. 4 (Winter 1983): 589–91.
- 35. Note my comments in Bryan D. Palmer, “Canada’s ‘1968’ and Historical Sensibilities,” American Historical Review 123 (June 2018): 773–78. I have offered a wider view of the 1960s in Palmer, Canada’s 1960s.
- 36. William Wordsworth, The Prelude; or Growth of a Poet’s Mind: An Autobiographical Poem (London: Edward Moxon, 1850), 299–300.
- 37. See, for instance, H. V. Nelles, “Creighton’s Seminar,” Canadian Forum 60, no. 702 (September 1980): 6. Barely six months later, Nelles offered a more generous assessment of Canadian social history in “Rewriting History,” Saturday Night (February 1981): 11–16.
- 38. Among two writings that can be cited, David J. Bercuson, “Through the Looking Glass of Culture: An Essay on the New Labour History and Working-Class Culture in Recent Canadian Historical Writing,” Labour/Le Travailleur 7 (Spring 1981): 95–112; and the especially truculent, J. L. Granatstein, Who Killed Canadian History? (Toronto: HarperCollins, 1998), a telling forerunner of which was J. L. Granatstein, “No Hostages Taken in War Between Historians,” Toronto Star, Saturday Magazine (24 June 1989).
- 39. Ramsay Cook, “The Making of Canadian Working Class History,” Historical Reflections/Réflexions Historiques 10, no. 1 (Spring 1983): 115–25; Carl Berger, The Writing of Canadian History: Aspects of English-Canadian Historical Writing Since 1900 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1986), 307; Desmond Morton, “Some Millennial Reflections on the State of Labour History,” Labour/Le Travail 46 (Fall 2000): 11–36; Michael S. Cross, “Canadian History,” in Literary History of Canada: Canadian Literature in English, vol. 3, ed. Carl F. Klinck (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1976), 63–83; Michael S. Cross, “Social History,” Canadian Encyclopedia, https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/social-history.
- 40. Terry Crowley, ed., Clio’s Craft: A Primer of Historical Methods (Toronto: Copp Clark Pitman, 1988), 225–52.
- 41. M. H. Watkins and H. M. Grant, Canadian Economic History: Classic and Contemporary Approaches (Ottawa: Carleton University Press, 1993), 141–65.
- 42. For a discussion of feminist historians and Labour/Le Travail in this period, see Joan Sangster, “Feminism and the Making of Canadian Working-Class History: Exploring the Past, Present, and Future,” Labour/Le Travail 46 (Fall 2000): 127–66.
- 43. Bryan D. Palmer, Working-Class Experience: Rethinking the History of Canadian Labour, 1800–1991, 2nd ed. (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1992), 11–28.
- 44. Bercuson’s critique, “Through the Looking Glass of Culture,” 100, is noteworthy, for while he raises many objections to what I say, unlike some critics I will address below, he does not suggest that I am blind to the cross-class nature of fraternalism.
- 45. On fraternalism, for instance, see my discussions in A Culture in Conflict, 39–43; Bryan D. Palmer, Working-Class Experience: The Rise and Reconstitution of Canadian Labour, 1800–1980, 1st ed. (Toronto: Butterworth, 1983), 78–81; Working-Class Experience (1992), 95–98; Bryan D. Palmer, “Mutuality and the Masking and Making of Difference: Mutual Benefit Societies in Canada, 1850–1950,” in Social Security Mutualism: The Comparative History of Mutual Benefit Societies, ed. Marcel van der Linden (Bern: Peter Lang, 1996), 111–46.
- 46. Darryl Jean-Guy Newberry, “‘No Atheist, Eunuch, or Woman’: Male Associational Culture and Working-Class Identity in Industrializing Ontario, 1840–1880” (master’s thesis, Queen’s University, 1992).
- 47. Success in striking a complementary melding of discourse-oriented critical theory and historical materialism is best achieved in the forging of conceptualization through encounters with layers of disparate kinds of evidence, and is most productively applied to specific topics, of which the history of sexuality, marginality, and regulation are but some of the most obvious. Consider, for instance, Steven Maynard, “Through a Hole in the Lavatory Wall: Homosexual Subcultures, Police Surveillance, and the Dialectics of Discovery, Toronto, 1890–1930,” Journal of the History of Sexuality 5, no. 2 (October 1994): 207–42; Steven Maynard, “‘Horrible Temptations’: Sex, Men, and Working-Class Male Youth in Urban Ontario, 1890–1930,” Canadian Historical Review 78, no. 2 (June 1997): 191–235; Joan Sangster, Regulating Girls and Women: Sexuality, Family, and the Law in Ontario, 1920–1960 (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 2001); Joan Sangster, “‘Pardon Tales’ from Magistrate’s Court: Women, Crime, and the Court in Peterborough County, 1920–50,” Canadian Historical Review 74, no. 2 (June 1993): 160–97; Todd McCallum, Hobohemia and the Crucifixion Machine: Rival Images of a New World in 1930s Vancouver (Edmonton: Athabasca University Press, 2015).
- 48. The English social historian Patrick Joyce wrote off historical-materialist critiques of the linguistic turn with patronizing disdain. “The least said of these positions the better,” huffed Joyce; see “The End of Social History?” Histoire sociale/Social History 20, no. 1 (January 1995): 78. But he then opted not for silence, but for censure: “Palmer’s denunciation of myself, but especially Stedman Jones, has all the usual, and hateful, vocabulary of ‘betrayal’ and ‘treachery’ typical of the old New Left at its worst.” There was nothing hateful in my engagement with the work of historians such as Joyce and Stedman Jones, and, in placing ‘betrayal’ and ‘treachery’ within inverted quotes, Joyce was actually flagging that they had never appeared in anything I wrote. Stedman Jones, of course, was a major figure in the New Left that Joyce denounced. See Patrick Joyce, Democratic Subjects: The Self and the Social in Nineteenth-Century England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 10.
- 49. See, for instance, Eric J. Hobsbawm, “From Social History to the History of Society,” Daedalus 100 (Winter 1971): 20–45; E. P. Thompson, “Responses to Reality,” New Society 26, no. 574 (4 October 1973): 33–35.
- 50. I was always drawn to the earliest Foucault (1961–63), in which I found stimulating, useful examples of how critique of conventional sensibilities and empirical investigations could culminate in advances both theoretical and historiographic. Foucault’s later trajectory I found less appealing. This did not feature centrally in Descent into Discourse because the purpose of that text was a polemical intervention into how particular kinds of theory were being used in historical writing, but it was nonetheless gestured to briefly (see page 25). With the publication of Foucault’s History of Madness (2006) in English, the impressive nature of the early Foucault, animated by rich empirical explorations and critique-driven study, was especially evident. Insightful comment on the later Foucault can be found in Daniel Zamora and Michael C. Behrent, eds., Foucault and Neoliberalism (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2016).
- 51. I found it fascinating that some historians who abhorred Descent into Discourse expressed surprise that they would actually enjoy and appreciate Cultures of Darkness. Consider, for instance, Jeffrey N. Wasserstrom, who felt compelled, in a review of Cultures of Darkness, to refer to Descent into Discourse as an “ill-tempered tirade,” confessing that, “I had half expected to hate this [subsequent] book”; see Wasserstrom’s “Seeing in the Dark,” History Workshop Journal 55 (Spring 2003): 226–30. Geoff Eley, in a laudatory review of Cultures of Darkness, referenced Descent into Discourse as sallying forth with “bracing theoretical verve and some polemical excesses,” with which he obviously disagreed. But he found Cultures of Darkness an exciting and exemplary text. See Geoff Eley, Review of “Bryan D. Palmer, Cultures of Darkness: Night Travels in the Histories of Transgression,” Left History 8, no. 1 (2002): 106–12.
- 52. For an argument related to this claim, see Bryan D. Palmer, “Critical Theory, Historical Materialism, and the Ostensible End of Marxism: The Poverty of Theory Revisited,” International Review of Social History 38 (August 1993): 133–62.
- 53. Franca Iacovetta and Mariana Valverde, eds., Gender Conflicts: New Essays in Women’s History (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1992).
- 54. Karen Dubinsky et al., “Introduction,” in Iacovetta and Valverde, Gender Conflicts, xvii–xviii. See also Lynne Marks, “Heroes and Hallelujahs – Labour History and the Social History of Religion in Canada: A Response to Bryan Palmer,” Histoire sociale/Social History 34, no. 67 (May 2001): 169–86. “Moral purity” was not a term I ever used and the subjects I studied, such as those in “Discordant Music,” fit this bill awkwardly at best. In Dreaming of What Might Be, there is a chapter on the underside of the Knights of Labor that is actually about what might be regarded as immorality (see pages 173–203).
- 55. Craig Heron, “Towards Synthesis in Canadian Working-Class History: Reflections on Bryan Palmer’s Rethinking,” Left History 1, no. 1 (1993): 109–21, quotation at 113.
- 56. Palmer, Working-Class Experience (1992), 23, 27–28.
- 57. Ibid., 24. The dissertation work referenced would later be published as Karen Dubinsky, Improper Advances: Rape and Heterosexual Conflict in Ontario, 1880–1930 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993); and Annalee Lepp, Dis/membering the Family: Marital Breakdown, Domestic Conflict, and Family Violence in Ontario, 1830–1930 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2006).
- 58. Heron, “Towards Synthesis in Canadian Working Class History,” 117.
- 59. Note Craig Heron, Working in Steel: The Early Years in Canada (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1988), where it was noted that the focus was on steelworkers, “who were not women” (10), and Heron, The Canadian Labour Movement: A Short History (Toronto: James Lorimer, 1989), which has less on women, I would suggest, than either edition of Working-Class Experience, in which the bulk of the chapters, contrary to Heron’s assertions, contain sections relating to women. Among the labour histories of this period, the writing of Wayne Roberts was something of an exception in the treatment accorded women and gender. See Alice Klein and Wayne Roberts, “‘Besieged Innocence’: The ‘Problem’ and Problems of Working Women in Toronto, 1896–1914,” in Working Women: Ontario, 1850–1930, ed. Janice Acton, Penny Goldsmith, and Bonnie Shepard (Toronto: Women’s Press, 1974), 211–60; Wayne Roberts, Honest Womanhood: Feminism, Femininity, and Class Consciousness Among Toronto Working Women, 1893 to 1914 (Toronto: New Hogtown Press, 1976). None of the early writing on Canadian workers assessed masculine gender identity with much sophistication, although Heron would later advance this area analytically in Lunch-Bucket Lives: Remaking the Workers’ City (Toronto: Between the Lines, 2015). This subject was simply not highly visible on the radar screen of Canadian historians in the early to mid 1980s. See Steven Maynard, “Rough Work and Rugged Men: The Social Construction of Masculinity in Working-Class History,” Labour/Le Travail 23 (Spring 1989): 159–69.
- 60. Contrast Lynne Marks, Revivals and Roller Rinks: Religion, Leisure, and Identity in Late-Nineteenth-Century Small-Town Ontario (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1996), 108–9, 115; and Palmer, A Culture in Conflict, 39–46. Note as well, Palmer, “Give Us the Road,” 111, where fraternalism is discussed in terms of the failure of records to reveal a “a homogenous working-class base,” with the overrepresentation of merchants, salesmen, and clerks evident in some lodges. Many other examples of this kind of thing could be cited. See Palmer, “Historiographic Hassles,” 128–41.
- 61. Robert B. Kristofferson, Craft Capitalism: Craftworkers and Early Industrialization in Hamilton, Ontario, 1840–1872 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2007).
- 62. Douglas McCalla, Review of “Craft Capitalism: Craftworkers and Early Industrialization in Hamilton, Ontario, 1840–1872, by Robert B. Kristofferson,” American Historical Review 113, no. 5 (December 2008): 1513–14.
- 63. Kristofferson, Craft Capitalism, 127, 213.
- 64. See also Robert B. Kristofferson, “A Culture in Continuity: Master-Man Mutualism in Hamilton, Ontario During Early Industrialization,” Histoire sociale/Social History 39, no. 78 (November 2006): esp. 427–28. Note, in contrast, Palmer, A Culture in Conflict, 97–122; Kealey, Toronto Workers, 124–71, 216–73; and Kealey and Palmer, Dreaming of What Might Be, 396.
- 65. E. P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1976), 934.
- 66. Palmer, “Historiographic Hassles,” 105–44; Bryan D. Palmer in “On the Case: Explorations in Social History: A Roundtable Discussion,” Canadian Historical Review 81, no. 2 (June 2000): 281–87.
- 67. Marks, “Heroes and Hallelujahs.” I have not accorded religion sufficient attention in my research, just as Marks has not spent a lot of time addressing class conflict in her writing. Different scholars inevitably place an accent on different areas of study. That said, nothing in my commentary on Marks in “Historiographic Hassles” suggested opposition to the study of religion. Rather, my criticisms focused on issues of evidence and its use and whether or not particular interpretations and arguments were convincing.
- 68. Mariana Valverde, “Some Remarks on the Rise and Fall of Discourse Analysis,” Histoire sociale/Social History 33, no. 65 (May 2000): 64–66.
- 69. Mariana Valverde, The Age of Light, Soap, and Water: Moral Reform in English Canada, 1885–1925, 2nd ed. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2008), 9.
- 70. Valverde might better have heeded her own Nietzschean-inspired admonition. Those engaged in historical inquiry, she suggested, should be “skeptical of Antichrists as well as of more conventional prophets: we might remember that just because there is no absolute truth, does not mean there aren’t any lies” (Valverde, “Some Remarks,” 76.) Note the pertinent comments in Pierre Bourdieu’s, Homo Academicus (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1988), 3, warning of “anecdotal denunciation,” “fueled by resentment” and directed at “constructed individuals” rather than “empirical individuals.”
- 71. Valverde’s presentation of how discourse theory was evolving, distinguishing itself from its origins where poststructuralism, postmodernism, and the linguistic turn congealed and fractured, was helpful, providing a kind of conceptual cartography of the trajectory of a developing governmentality paradigm. Yet this was premised on the unhelpful tendency to see theory only within this framework. Thompson’s “The Poverty of Theory; or an Orrery of Errors,” in E. P. Thompson, The Poverty of Theory and Other Essays (London: Merlin Press, 1978) is presented as an unadulterated attack on all theory, rather than a critical engagement with one body of analytic work that is itself a theoretical statement. It is as though Marx’s The Poverty of Philosophy: Answer to the Philosophy of Poverty by M. Proudhon (1847) was a repudiation of the entire philosophical tradition. Historical materialism is considered as merely politics, and thus not theoretical. Historians, necessarily working in an empirical idiom, are considered prisoners of empiricism, as if C. Wright Mills’s The Sociological Imagination (London: Oxford University Press, 1959) had never been written. For an insightful discussion of the dialectical engagement of conceptualization, theoretical abstraction, and empirical historical research, in which the weighing of evidence and its complex meanings takes place, see McCallum, Hobohemia and the Crucifixion Machine.
- 72. This approach was not always reciprocated by other scholars with whom I at times disagreed. One reflection of this was that, as book review editor, I approached Joan Scott to review Descent into Discourse. She declined, noting that she did not have the time it would take to adequately address everything I had wrong and that she did not want to come off as defensive and vengeful. Fair enough. Four years later, Scott delivered the Third Annual Freedeman Memorial Lecture in the History Department at SUNY–Binghamton, an event honouring a former professor and good friend of mine, Charles Freedeman. The first two lectures had been delivered by Bonnie Smith and myself, and I contributed materially to the fund establishing the Memorial Lecture. Scott, late in the arrangements for the lecture, made it a condition of her delivering the talk that I not be invited.
- 73. I address the significance of the non-academic way in which The Making of the English Working Class was structured in Bryan D. Palmer, “Paradox and Polemic; Argument and Awkwardness: Reflections on E. P. Thompson,” Contemporary British History 28, no. 4 (December 2014): 382–403.
- 74. Henry Abelove, Betsy Blackmar, Peter Dimock, and Jonathan Schneer, eds., Visions of History (New York: Pantheon Books, 1983), 7.
- 75. See Friedrich Hayek, ed., Capitalism and the Historians (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1954); Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class, 370–73. How evidence and types of evidence are used relates to Thompson’s sensitive and critical reading of the different kinds of comments offered by nineteenth-century spies, a point central to Greg Kealey’s discussion of The Making in this volume.
- 76. Nick offers comment on the New Left Review, addressing the oft-written-about clash of Thompson and Perry Anderson, distancing himself from the view that the latter took the Review in a particular direction. The issue demands a fuller commentary and, in particular, consideration of Thompson’s position as outlined in E. P. Thompson, “Where Are We Now?” in E. P. Thompson and the Making of the New Left, ed. Cal Winslow (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2014), 215–48; the discussion in Wade Matthews, The New Left, National Identity, and the Break-up of Britain (Leiden: Brill, 2013), 59–104, 197–246; and the reflections of Anderson in “In Memoriam: Edward Thompson,” 177–87, among many relevant sources.
- 77. See, for instance, Bryan D. Palmer, “What Was Great about Theodore Draper and What Was Not,” American Communist History 8, no. 1 (June 2009): 15–21.
- 78. Palmer, James P. Cannon and the Origins of the American Revolutionary Left, esp. 5–6, 222–37, 244–55; Jacob A. Zumoff, The Communist International and US Communism, 1919–1929 (Leiden: Brill, 2014), 153–90.
- 79. I adhere to the view that Bolshevization and its implementation can indeed be chronologically located in the 1924–25 years, however much there were indications of its centralizing impulses as early as 1922. This has long been the conventional view among historians of the Communist International. See, for instance, Helmut Gruber, ed., Soviet Russia Masters the Comintern: International Communism in the Era of Stalin’s Ascendancy (Garden City, NY: Anchor Books, 1974), xiii–xvi; John Riddell, ed., Toward the United Front: Proceedings of the Fourth Congress of the Communist International, 1922 (Leiden: Brill, 2012), 53–54. For my views on Communist historiography and some of the issues touched on above, see Bryan D. Palmer, “Rethinking the Historiography of United States Communism,” American Communist History 2, no. 2 (December 2003): 139–73; Palmer, “How Can We Write Better Histories of Communism?” 199–32; Palmer, James P. Cannon and the Origins of the American Revolutionary Left, esp. 252–54.
- 80. For my tribute to Leo, see Bryan D. Palmer, “Socialist Savant: Leo Panitch (1945–2020),” Canadian Dimension, 18 January 2021, https://canadiandimension.com/articles/view/socialist-savant-leo-panitch-1945-2020.
- 81. Panitch and Gindin quote me on the Minneapolis Teamster militants and their 1920s lack of knowledge concerning the Communist International’s opposition to Trotskyism, citing Bryan D. Palmer, “James Patrick Cannon: Revolutionary Continuity and Class-Struggle Politics in the United States, 1890–1974,” in Marxism and Historical Practice, vol. 2, 286, but they also reference, in other contexts, Palmer, Revolutionary Teamsters.
- 82. Moe Hork, quoted in Philip A. Korth, The Minneapolis Teamsters Strike of 1934 (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1995), 184. Hork designates the Minneapolis Trotskyists as members of the Socialist Workers Party, formed later in the decade, but he is clearly transposing this later party name on to the forerunners of this organization, who would have been members of the Communist League of America in 1934.
- 83. I discuss some of the work of these graduate students briefly in Palmer, “Historical Materialism and the Writing of Canadian History,” in Marxism and Historical Practice, vol. 2, 84–85.
- 84. For one accessible statement on Sean Purdy’s Regent Park research, see Sean Purdy, “‘Ripped Off’ by the System: Housing Policy, Poverty, and Territorial Stigmatization in Regent Park Housing Project, 1951–1991,” Labour/Le Travail 52 (Fall 2003): 45–108.
- 85. I have said nothing about Joan Sangster in this afterword, only because she has not been involved in the production of this volume. This is thus not the place to express my gratitude. Yet I cannot imagine what the last decades would have been like without her. If we do not agree on everything, including some of the issues raised by this book—such as my Leninism—our views of scholarship and the principles that should govern intellectual work have never diverged. I like to think that in our time together, mutual support and daily interaction have pushed our different but related research and writing forward in stimulating ways.