STINGEL, Janine. Social Discredit: Anti-Semitism, Social Credit and the Jewish Response. Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2000. 280p. Resenha de: SEIXAS, Peter. Canadian Social Studies, v.37, n.2, 2003.
There is a tendency for Canadians today to understand anti-Semitism as simply one more form of ethnic discrimination and prejudice that might take its place next to anti-black, anti-aboriginal or anti-Asian expressions and actions. While these forms of prejudice have much in common, each also has its own particular content rooted both in distinctive mythologies and in the differing histories of their victims and perpetrators in Canada and beyond. Anti-Semitism in Canada in the 1930s and 1940s involved an image of Jews as international conspirators, secretly plotting world domination through an inchoate combination of international banking, communism and Zionism. In the mythology, based on the forged but widely circulated Protocols of the Elders of Zion, Jews thus posed a threat to national sovereignty, property, peace and prosperity.
In the 1930s, Social Credit doctrine made its way from its originator, Liverpool’s Major C. H. Douglas, to the Canadian West. As Janine Stingel demonstrates, Social Credit was wholly dependent on an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory (p. 13). Anti-Semitism was not a coincidental adjunct to this right-wing populist movement, but resided at the core of a paranoid vision of bankers and money-lenders swindling honest Canadians out of the wages of their toil. Depression-era Alberta was fertile ground for such a message, particularly when it came through the medium of a popular radio-preacher turned politician, Bible Bill Aberhart. Alberta thus became home to the only North American jurisdiction with a government that officially endorsed anti-Semitism.
Stingel’s Social Discredit is constructed as a parallel history of two organizations: the Social Credit Party in Alberta (and beyond) and the Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC). The reorganization of the CJC in 1934, in response to heightened levels of nationally organized anti-Semitism, roughly corresponded to the origins of Social Credit in Canada (in 1935). The inclusion of the CJC enables the author to tell not just a story of Jews as victims, but to also give them voice as actors in response to discrimination.
That voice, as Stingel tells it however, was neither strong nor effective. The CJC leaders’ first impulse was to proceed with a positive campaign, in the belief that moral suasion and education were the key tools (pp. 33-34). Thus, rather than seeking legal measures to bar public expressions of hate, the CJC published reports on the status of Canadian Jews, demonstrating that they were not all financiers. By the end of the war, with a new kind of knowledge about the potential impact of anti-Semitism, the CJC stepped up its campaign, shifting to a broad-based appeal against all race hatred (p. 87). Yet, it remained focused on the attitudes of non-Jews and, according to Stingel, this assumption would greatly impede its public relations work regarding Social Credit’s anti-Semitism (p.87).
In the immediate post-War years, anti-Semitic expressions from Social Credit actually increased. Stingel chronicles several meetings between Social Credit and the CJC leaders which resulted in private expressions of sympathy (some of my best friends) followed by public statements that further raised the threat of international conspiracy. Even when leaders were demonstrating their commitment to disavow anti-Semitism, they ended up reinforcing it.
‘Max,’ Social Credit leader Solon Low said to CJC agent Max Moscovich in 1946, ‘you’ve known me most of my life-I am definitely not anti-Semitic’ (p. 105). Low promised to ensure that anti-Semitic statements would be eliminated from the Social Credit paper. A few weeks later he gave a national radio address on CBC:
Do you know that the same group of international gangsters who are today scheming for world revolution are the same people who promoted the world war? Do you know that these same men promoted and financed the Russian revolution? Are you aware that these arch-criminals were responsible for the economic chaos and suffering of the hungry thirties, for financing Hitler to power, for promoting World War Two with its tragic carnage? Do you know that there is a close tie-up between international communism, international finance and international political Zionism? (p. 105).
While Low did not mention Jews by name, anti-Semitic mythology was entirely intact. In the face of what was either Social Credit’s deliberate duplicity or uncomprehending blindness, as Stingel tells it, the CJC continually failed to mobilize effectively.
By 1947, when the Congress finally started to move towards legal and electoral action, there were other more potent challenges to Social Credit’s anti-Semitism. Little did [the CJC] know that Social Credit’s anti-Semitic foundations were already beginning to crumble (p.121). There was intensive pressure from the regional and national press for the Social Credit leadership to disavow anti-Semitism publicly and to bar its most virulent proponents, like Norman Jaques, from its press. Party leader and Premier Ernest Manning went far enough in his purge of anti-Semitism, that splinter groups accused him of selling out to the Zionists in a bitter factional war.
Stingel concludes that it was Social Credit, not Congress, that ultimately solved the Social Credit problem (p. 161). The CJC’s campaigns were problematicat bestgrossly ineffective at worst (p. 163). Yet the appeal of and public tolerance for anti-Semitism decreased in the late 1940s. By early 1949 Congress could safely relax its vigil on Social Credit (p. 175).
Social Discredit is traditional organizational history in that it is based heavily in the archives of the two organizations, on the public press and on the organizations’ own media. We spend a lot of time reading about who said what to whom at which meeting. Finally, having followed the leaders of the two organizations through a decade and a half, with Social Credit continuing to spout conspiracy theories and the Canadian Jewish Congress continuing to be ineffective, Stingel does not really offer an explanationat this levelof why the change in Social Credit came between 1947 and 1949. Apparently the answer does not reside in the speeches and press releases. However, if the causes of change lie elsewhere, in the larger story of the shaping of a vigorous anti-Soviet Cold War ideology and on the renewal of Western prosperity (p.189), the reader cannot help but feel a bit disappointed at having followed the organization men from meeting to meeting in such detail for two hundred pages.
Peter Seixas – University of British Columbia. Vancouver, British Columbia.