Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

Red Travellers: Jeanne Corbin and Her Comrades

Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

Red Travellers: Jeanne Corbin and Her Comrades

Article excerpt

Andrée Lévesque, Red Travellers: Jeanne Corbin and her Comrades, trans. Yvonne M. Klein (Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2006), xiv + 233pp. Cased. £21.99. ISBN 0-7735-3125-4.

This fascinating and highly readable book gives genuine insight into the lives of women Communist militants in interwar Canada. Born in France in 1906, Jeanne Corbin emigrated to Alberta with her parents five years later. Settler life provided harsh challenges, but mixing with a network of French emigrants, her family survived. Indeed, Jeanne progressed to secondary school, and taking a grade twelve diploma, found work as a teacher in 1926.

Four years earlier, however, a chance meeting had set the course for her life. Jeanne joined the Young Communist League. In 1929 the party leadership called her to Toronto, to work for the Canadian Labour Defence League, a mass organisation supporting workers prosecuted for labour activities. The remainder of her short life - Jeanne died of tuberculosis in 1944 - was devoted full-time to the Communist Party and its associated movements.

Lévesque provides a detailed and generally sympathetic account of Jeanne's subsequent career. The life of 1930s Communist militants included organising the unemployed, leading strikes and supporting strikers, publishing newspapers and writing for the party press. Jeanne travelled though much of western Canada building party organisation. From 1937 she was employed by a workers' cooperative.

Jeanne Corbin was not, in the grand sweep of history - or even in the annals of Canadian Communism - a major figure. Lévesque's achievement is to show the contribution of such mid-ranking people, and how inspirational they could be: through Corbin one sees something of what enabled Communists to shape the twentieth century. …

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