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Proletarian Cromwell – A Labour History Essay

May 17, 2017

Two lost poems offer insights into early Communist labour organizing

Harvey Murphy

Malcolm Bruce

Canadian labour historians have often cited politically inspired poems to portray first-hand the misery of the workplace, the poverty experienced by working families, the inequality perpetrated by the capitalist system, or to describe the agency of the working class in seeking justice against those who exercise hegemony over them. But few have been inclined to examine two long lost poems by Communist union organizer “Red” Malcolm Bruce that offer a unique insider’s view of events that helped shape Left politics in Canada. The obscure poems, found in the archives of the International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers (Mine-Mill) housed at the University of British Columbia library, are titled Wilde Harvie’s Pilgrimage and Irish Chiefs and Scotch Traducers. Written in the style of Romantic poet Lord Byron, they take readers on a peripatetic journey through the life and Communist times of Harvey Murphy, self-described as “the reddest Rose in Labour’s garden.” Stops on the voyage include many of the internal conflicts and personality clashes that occurred in the formation of the Communist Party of Canada (CPC) from its earliest days. Written in 1932 when Bruce and seven other top CPC leaders, including general secretary Tim Buck, were serving five-year sentences in Kingston Penitentiary for sedition, the poems bristle with sarcasm and apparent animosity directed at Murphy as he began to build his reputation as a Communist trade union organizer.

Proletarian Cromwell – L-LT – Summer 2017

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