The Socialist Party of Canada (SPC) is the name of two different but related parties that have existed in Canadian history. The current Socialist Party is an electorally inactive and unregistered federal political party in Canada. The first Socialist Party of Canada existed from 1904 to 1925; the second has existed since June 1931 when it was relaunched by some members of the first party, but has not run a candidate at the federal level since 1961.
First Socialist Party of Canada: 1904 - 1925
The founding of the Socialist Party of Canada began at the Socialist Party of British Columbia 4th annual convention on December 30 and 31, 1904. Delegates at the convention were urged to consider organizing the nucleus of a federal party, noting the acceptance of the platform with Socialist Parties and organizations in other provinces. Socialist organizations quickly approved the party formation, and the new party executive met for the first time on February 19, 1905.
The party had a revolutionary Marxist orientation: it saw attempts to reform capitalism as counterproductive to the goal of overturning the capitalist system entirely and replacing it with a socialist model. The SPC was strongest in British Columbia, and won seats in the province's legislature.
In 1907, a moderate faction of the SPC split off to form the Social Democratic Party of British Columbia (SDPBC). In 1911, the SDPBC became the Social Democratic Party of Canada (SDPC). The SPC and the SDPC were bitter rivals for several years.
In Winnipeg, the Manitoba branch of the SPC was initially a rival to the city's reformist labour groups. The SPC may have been responsible for defeating of centrist labour candidate Fred Dixon in the election of 1910. The resulting backlash from trade union groups weakened the SPC in Winnipeg for a number of years.
As a result of the Russian Revolution and the Winnipeg General Strike, a number of the SPC's supporters became attracted to Bolshevism and the ideas of Lenin and Trotsky. Those who rejected Leninism moved towards an evolutionary or gradualist socialist position. In 1920, a split occurred when many of the party's members left to join the Federated Labour Party of Canada, which was formed by the British Columbia Federation of Labour. Other SPC members joined Labour and Independent Labour parties that were being formed throughout the country. (See Labour Party.)
From 1903 to 1912, a number of SPC members were elected as Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) in British Columbia. The apex of the party was in the 1912 election when it fielded 17 candidates, winning two seats in the legislature, and 11% of the popular vote. The pressures of having such a large caucus (up from two the previous election) caused fissures in the party, and it was wiped out in the next election. It never won another seat in BC.
The party was a marginal political force in Manitoba until 1920, when George Armstrong was elected to the Legislative Assembly of Manitoba for Winnipeg on a "united labour" list. Armstrong was defeated in 1922, due in part to opposition from communist politicians in the city.
In 1921, most of the Marxist members left the SPC to join the Workers Party, which was the legal wing of the new Communist Party of Canada. In 1925, the Socialist Party formally disbanded. Many of its remaining members joined the Independent Labour Party.
Provincial and territorial wings
At the founding of the first Socialist Party of Canada, it had over sixty local affiliates including provincial and territorial wings. Some provincial wings had more success than the federal party, such as the Socialist Party of Alberta's election of an MLA to the Legislative Assembly of Alberta. Other provincial sections never ran candidates. Some of these wings and organizations were founded prior to the federal party.
- Socialist Party of Alberta (formed while still part of the Northwest Territories)
- Socialist Party of British Columbia
- Socialist Party of Manitoba
- Socialist Party of Ontario
- Socialist Party of Yukon
- Socialist Party of Quebec
Second Socialist Party (1931 - present)
A new Socialist Party of Canada was founded in June 1931 in Winnipeg, Manitoba by several former party members. While it claimed continuity with the original party, this claim was disputed by various members of the original party. The new party adopted the policies of the Socialist Party of Great Britain which rejected Leninism, social democracy and trade unionism in favour of a belief in "revolutionary Marxism and democratic revolution."
The Socialist Party did not make great headway, as the fractured groups of the left coalesced to form the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation. While the Socialist Party of Canada (British Columbia) (which was founded in 1932 by Ernest Winch independently of the SP of C founded in Winnipeg) joined and eventually merged with the CCF to form the BC CCF, the Winnipeg-based SP of C remained outside of the CCF (and its successor, the New Democratic Party), rejecting its evolutionary socialist approach as being "reformist". The SPC remained independent of the broader socialist movement, and spread its message by holding town hall meetings, open air rallies, and distributing literature at farmers markets and street corners. It viewed itself as the party for the underdog.
In October 1933, the party launched the New Western Socialist Journal, a periodical, to help bring publicity to the party. The first two issues criticized the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation and the Communist Party of Canada for allegedly compromising with capitalism. The SPC never found a reason to change its attitude towards the two parties.
During World War II, the SPC campaigned against the war, stating that working class blood should not be shed. During the war, while the Communist Party was outlawed, the SPC continued to hold anti-war demonstrations and rallies. The party was investigated by the Government of Canada, but was never taken as a serious threat.
The Socialist Party continued to publish socialist manifesto leaflets through the years. When funds permitted, it ran candidates in elections. In the late 1970s, the head office was moved from Winnipeg to Victoria, British Columbia. The membership of the Socialist Party continued to decline, and the party admits that it never managed to live up to the "success and glamour" of the old party. The party has not wavered from the original policies that it adopted seventy years ago.
The Socialist Party promotes the ideal of utopian socialism. It seeks to achieve this by distributing socialist material around the world. The party believes it must spread the word to the world, and that socialism must be implemented everywhere at the same time in order to work.
The bulk of current party members are in British Columbia and Ontario. It publishes a journal, Imagine, and distributes the literature of the Socialist Party of Great Britain.
The Socialist Party of Canada is a member of the World Socialist Movement along with its "companion parties", the Socialist Party of Great Britain, the World Socialist Party (Ireland), World Socialist Party of Australia, World Socialist Party (New Zealand), and World Socialist Party of the United States.
Election results by year
|1904 federal election||3||1,794||0.18%|
|1908 federal election||5||6,071||0.52%|
|1911 federal election||6||4,574||0.35%|
|1921 federal election||1||3,094||0.10%|
|1925 federal election||1||1,888||0.06%|
|1926 federal election||1||672||0.02%|
|1935 federal election||1||251||0.01%|
|1958 federal election||2||1,113||0.02%|
By-election May 29, 1961
|Don Poirier||Esquimalt—Saanich||131||0.47%||5 of 5|
- The Library of Parliament does not differentiate the results of both parties.
- This section could be expanded