A Communist in the Council Chambers: Communist Municipal Politics, Ethnicity, and the Career of William Kolisnyk

By Epp, Stefan | Labour/Le Travail, Spring 2009 | Go to article overview

A Communist in the Council Chambers: Communist Municipal Politics, Ethnicity, and the Career of William Kolisnyk


Epp, Stefan, Labour/Le Travail


THE ELECTION OF WILLIAM KOLISNYK as alderman for Winnipeg's Ward Three in the fall of 1926 was celebrated as one of the first times that any candidate in North America running under the banner of a Communist Party was elected to public office. Although he was only an alderman for four years, a study of Kolisnyk's political life contributes to the study of communist history in several ways. His term in office was split roughly in hall by the introduction of Third Period ideology. As the Communist Party's sole elected representative at the rime, Kolisnyk's political activity demonstrates the practical implications of this dramatic policy shift. While the Third Period radically changed Kolisnyk's politics, several local issues significantly influenced his politics. Ethnicity, both within the Party and in Kolisnyk's constituency, profoundly affected his career. The paper also examines the political issues pursued by communists at the municipal level and the communist community that brought Kolisnyk to office. Therefore, this examination of William Kolisnyk's aldermanic career reveals the importance of international influences as well as the political realities of Winnipeg's communist community, both of which contributed to the political activities of one of Canada's first elected communists.

L'ELECTION DE WILLIAM KOLISNYK comme conseiller municipal pour la troisieme circonscription de Winnipeg en automne 1926 a ete celebree comme l'une des premieres occasions qu'un candidat en Amerique du Nord se presentant sous la banniere d'un parti communiste a ete elu a un poste de fonctionnaire. Bien qu'il soit conseiller pour seulement quatre ans, une etude de la vie politique de Kolisnyk contribue a l'etude de l'histoire communiste dans plusieurs facons. Son mandar a ete a peu pres divise en deux parties par l'introduction de l'ideologie de la troisieme periode. En tant que le seul representant elu du parti communiste a ce moment-la, l'activite politique de Kolisnyk demontre les implications pratiques de ce changement de politique dramatique. Bien que la troisieme periode ait change de facon radicale les politiques de Kolisnyk, plusieurs questions locales ont influence ses politiques de facon remarquable. L'appartenance ethnique dans le parti et dans la circonscription de Kolisnyk a profondement touche a sa carriere. Cet article examine egalement les questions politiques poursuivies par les communistes au niveau municipal et la communaute communiste qui a favorise l'entree en fonction de Kolisnyk. En consequence, cet examen de la carriere de William Kolisnyk en tant que conseiller municipal revele l'importance des influences internationales ainsi que les realites politiques de la communaute communiste de Winnipeg, les deux ayant contribue aux activites politiques de l'un des premiers communistes elus au Canada.

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IN NOVEMBER 1926, WINNIPEG'S annual municipal election produced an unprecedented result. For one of the first times in North America, a candidate running on the ticket of the Communist Party was elected to public office. As far away as New York, communist newspapers reported the victory of William Kolisnyk, the communist candidate for alderman in Ward Three. (1) Although his aldermanic career would last only four years, Kolisnyk's life in public office illuminates several intriguing aspects of communist history. First, since his term was split by the introduction of Third Period ideology to the Communist Party, his career demonstrates practical shifts that resulted from the change in party line. Meanwhile, Kolisnyk's career also reveals pragmatic political decision making and an attention to grassroots issues not always associated with Third Period communism. Secondly, the seemingly conflict-prone Kolisnyk highlights ethnic divisions within the Party and the role of ethnicity in the relationship between communists and other parties on the left. Finally, Kolisnyk's election (and his re-election in 1928) demonstrates the tremendous effort that communists in Winnipeg put into municipal politics. …

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