In Service of the Lowly Nazarene Carpenter: The English Canadian Labour Press and the Case for Radical Christianity, 1926-1939

By Aivalis, Christo | Labour/Le Travail, Spring 2014 | Go to article overview

In Service of the Lowly Nazarene Carpenter: The English Canadian Labour Press and the Case for Radical Christianity, 1926-1939


Aivalis, Christo, Labour/Le Travail


THIS ARTICLE EXAMINES some of Depression-era Canada's most influential labour newspapers with the intent to show that their writers were deeply inspired by radical Christianity. While connected in many ways to earlier strands of working-class and leftist Christianity as typified by the social gospel, radical Christianity differs in the extent to which the roots of social dysfunction were acknowledged as being linked to the capitalist order, and the solution being in its destruction. In this way, one can find deep intellectual connections between the Canadian labour press and the members of the Fellowship of a Christian Social Order (FCSO). Thus, this article not only examines labour intellectuals in a Gramscian light, but seeks to challenge the claim among many historians that links between labour and Christianity collapsed before the Depression. Indeed, labour intellectuals sought to confront the prevailing hegemony of a capitalistic Christianity, not only by challenging the links the institutional churches held with the economic elite but also through developing understanding of how capitalism played an intrinsic role in the creation of sin and suffering.

CET ARTICLE EXAMINE certains des journaux les pius influents du travail pendant la periode de la Depression au Canada avec l'intention de montrer que leurs auteurs ont ete profondement inspires par le christianisme radical. Lorsqu'il est connecte h de nombreux egards a brins anterieures de la classe ouvriere et le christianisme de gauche comme caracterise par l'evangile social, le christianisme radical differe dans la mesure oh les racines de la dysfonction sociale ont ete reconnues comme etant liees a l'ordre capitaliste, et la solution etant dans sa destruction. De cette facon, on peut trouver des connexions intellectuelles profondes entre la presse du travail du Canada et les membres de la communaute d'un ordre social-chretien. Ainsi, cet article examine non seulement les intellectuels du travail dans une lumiere de Gramsci, mais vise a contester la demande parmi beaucoup d'historiens que les liens entre le travail et le christianisme se sont effondres avant la crise. En effet, les intellectuels du travail ont cherche a affronter l'hegemonie en vigueur d'un christianisme capitaliste, non seulement en remettant en cause les liens que les eglises institutionnelles ont noue avec l'elite economique, mais aussi par le developpement de la comprehension de la facon dont le capitalisme a joue un role intrinseque dans la creation du peche et de la souffrance.

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A theology which teaches that God is Mammon's silent partner would necessarily be suspect in an age of folk upheaval.... Property needs not God to protect it. It is the people who need a divine protector. Jesus announced "Good News"[:] namely, that Heaven is passionately on the side of the people against the despotic tendencies of property; and under that leadership a messianic passion for men is announcing itself. The trouble is the working people at large have not yet come to behold The Carpenter. (1)

SO RAN ONE ARGUMENT OF THE FAR LEFT about the social gospel: one that argued for the end of the "despotic tendencies of property" in the name of "a messianic passion for men." As Richard Allen brilliantly demonstrated in his 1971 study, The Social Passion, within Canadian Protestantism there was a burning critique of capitalist social relations--one that figures such as J.S. Woodsworth and A.E. Smith employed to envisage the complete destruction of a capitalist civilization, to be replaced by a cooperative commonwealth. (2)

Yet the source of our opening quotation should give pause. It appeared in a 1930 issue of the Trades and Labor Congress Journal, the voice of Canadian craft unionism, often deemed a bastion of the conservative labour movement. And this was by no means an isolated instance of a Christian critique of the social order. Looking at four mainstream labour newspapers--The Canadian Unionist, Trades and Labor Congress Journal, Canadian Railway Employees' Monthly, and Labor World/Monde Ouvrier--in this article I argue that radical Christian thought was pervasive throughout many of the widely circulated Canadian labour papers in the 1920s and 1930s. …

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