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Graham White

Secular Socialists: The CCF/NDP In Ontario, A Biography, by J. T. Morley, Kingston and Montreal, McGill-Queens University Press, 1984, 265 p.

If the CCF-NDP enjoyed the same advantage over the Liberals and Conservatives in votes that it does in academic attention, it would be a very successful party indeed. This is the third book exclusively devoted to the CCF-NDP in Ontario – which is three more than have been published on the province's Grits and Tories. By comparison with its two predecessors, written by Gerry Caplan and by Leo Zakuta, Morley's book not only carries the story forward historically but offers greater breadth of enquiry.

Prospective buyers should be aware that the publisher has been delinquent in making clear that the book covers only the CCF-NDP's development until 1972. A scant 8 page after-word brings the story into the 1980s. The point is not to dispute the author's choice of an endpoint for his study, but to suggest that 'truth in advertising' requires a book labelled a party biography and published in 1984 to carry some indication (in its title or back-page blurb) that the analysis ends in 1972.

Morley organizes his work around the analogy between the physical and psychological growth of human beings and of political parties. Thus his biography of the CCF-NDP stresses its behaviour at stages of growth, its coming to terms with the world about it, its identity crises, degrees of maturity and the like. The extended metaphor of party as person does bring life to the analysis and also suggests some questions worth pursuing, but on occasion seems forced and pointless. Moreover, the explication of a party in terms of birth, growth, identity crises and maturity into a "consistent and integrated personality" cannot help but encourage the reader to wonder when the party may be expected to enter its dotage and eventually pass on to the great election campaign in the sky.

The book opens with a rather unsatisfying chapter which rushes a general discussion of the concept of political culture to a potted political history of Ontario to an analysis of Ontario's political culture as 'liberal-colonial' with a 'union class subculture'. Non-academic readers will probably find large segments of this chapter hard to follow and of uncertain relevance to the balance of the book. Academics will be familiar with the introductory material, and disappointed that Morley's somewhat unconventional view of Ontario society as less 'red tory' or 'progressive conservative' than liberal colonial is simply stated rather than demonstrated.

Morley is on more solid ground in his treatment of the party's structure and ideology in a section entitled 'The Maturing Party: Acquiring Stability' and in his discussion of party discipline, party democracy, the role of the party caucus and the nature of the party's leadership in a section styled "The Mature Party: Adapting to Change."

Aside from a thorough, if somewhat familiar, review of the CCFs triumphs and disasters in the 1930s, 40s and 50s and the formation and progress of the NDP in the 1960s, the most noteworthy aspect of the first section lies in Morley's attack on what he calls the' myth of rightward drift'. By analysing the party's principal ideological statements, and its stances on the issues of the day, he finds the CCF-NDP to have been highly consistent in its fundamental social and economic policy from the 1930s to the 1970s, He suggests that its varying positions on such symbolic issues as prohibition, NATO and abortion are responsible for the widespread view that the party has substantially moderated its ideology over the years. Morley's arguments are convincing, though they fail to deal adequately with the significant shift of mainstream Ontario political discourse towards the positions espoused by the CCF-NDP. The partys fundamental tenets of belief may have remained constant, but were, by the 1970s far less radical in comparison with those of the Conservative and Liberals than had been the case during the Depression and the immediate post war era. Still, issues of ideological substance were easily confused with questions of style and approach, and as Morley explains, in the latter sphere, the party clearly became 'secularized', leaving behind its initial sectarianism.

Morley is particularly good in dealing with the informal, internal processes so crucial to any party. He examines the links and the tensions – between the party caucus and the party apparatus, finding by times one ascendent over the other until the late 1960s when the caucus came to dominate the party. The treatment of party democracy focuses on identifying and describing the small groups of party chieftains who, in effect, ran the party. This party oligarchy remained over the years, remarkably constant in terms of both the longevity of key officials and its social composition: overwhelmingly middleclass professionals. Leadership campaigns are singled out as especially important episodes for the expression of party democracy, and are insightfully analysed for the factional divisions underlying the candidacies of various party notables. Finally, the chapter on party discipline is primarily given over to the trauma of the party's expulsion of the Waffle in 1972.

The book is well written and largely jargon-free; save the first two chapters. The narrative and the analysis move along quickly. It is a tribute to Morley's style that at the end of each chapter, the reader finds himself wishing for more detail rather than less.

Morley's personal involvement in the processes he describes and his knowledge of the key participants has served him well in putting together a lively, analytical chronicle of the Ontario CCF-NDP to 1972.


Graham White, Erindale College, University of Toronto

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Vol 8 no 1

Last Updated: 2018-07-31