The City and the Reds: Leftism, the Civic Politics of Order, and a Contested Modernity in Montreal, 1929-1947

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Elie, Christine
Modernity , Great Depression , Communists , Leftism , Resistance , Repression , Montreal , Quebec
From 1929 to 1947 the city of Montreal was renegotiating the boundaries of belonging. This dissertation examines the relationship between the left and the city during this period of crisis. Attempts to impose order on the chaos of the period – from deportation to an all-out war on leftism – serve as valuable fault-lines in notions of citizenship and exclusion. Reinterpreting Montreal’s history in this period through Zygmunt Bauman’s conception of cultural modernity, this study challenges notions of Montreal’s left as lacklustre. It also probes the contours of municipal and clerical definitions of ‘Montrealer.’ Complicating existing scholarship on Montreal’s left as compliant, this dissertation broadens the definition of leftism and recasts leftists as resistant to state and clerical repression – not as passive victims of Montreal’s Grande Noirceur but as active participants in modern planning for the future of the city. Modernity is the common thread that weaves this dissertation together. This study opens with the Catholic Church – exemplified here by the École sociale populaire – as it attempts to redefine belonging in opposition to the radical left. It turns to the City of Montreal’s attempts to purge ambivalence through mass deportation campaigns that treated the unemployed and the foreign-born as outsiders to modern Montreal. It then examines a series of vigorous left moments as case studies of repression and resistance: Albert Saint-Martin’s Université ouvirère, the sedition trials of the 1930s, the Canadian Youth Congress, the Padlock Act, the War Measures Act, and Henri Gagnon’s Ligue des vétérans sans-logis. In so doing, this study argues that Montreal’s leftists, though cast as enemies by the state, contested their status as ‘outsiders’ by engaging with modernity on their own terms. While there were crushing defeats, there were also significant victories. In these diffuse, linguistically diverse communities, we find Montreal’s left developing an alternative vision of the city. Moments of convergence between Montreal’s French-Canadian students and the Anglophone-dominated CPC bear witness to the power of the left to challenge state-sanctioned repression. These leftists saw themselves as part of a larger global movement for change, peace, and a better tomorrow – one which concentrated on challenging narrow notions of belonging in Montreal.
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