Notes on 47th Text for Reading Field: Finkel

Canadian History, Week 8

Posted to You Tube by lheather1, 6 June 2009.

Alvin Finkel. The Social Credit Phenomenon in Alberta. Toronto: University of Toronto
Press, 1989.

Alvin Finkel describes the careers of William Aberhart, Ernest Manning, Harry Strom, and Werner Schmidt, and the impact of Social Credit on Alberta politics (with a mention of Jim Keegstra), up to 1982. The Aberhart era, from the 1930s to his death in 1943, is defended as something more reasoned than a mass mania for funny money (the social dividend), while the succeeding Manning era to 1968 comes in for the most censure. Strom is presented as too lack-luster to counter Peter Lougheed’s Conservative champions of “openness and fresh ideas.” Schmidt is largely dismissed as haplessly put in charge of a spent phenomenon already in the process of final dissolution. Finkel’s assessment of academic arguments over the populist nature of Social Credit supports his argument that the movements’ original leanings were so decidedly towards the left that explanation for the shift to conservatism has not been adequately provided by existing historiography. He is thus most interested in detailing the relatively rapid transition of the original populist movement: first formed at one end of the Canadian political spectrum in the 1930s by a mix of people affected by the Depression – members of the working class, the unemployed, small business owners and farmers – who were seeking reform; then crystallized to a religiously informed, formalized, and quasi-autocratic while near-plutocratic, party ensconced at the other.

The description of Aberhart’s rise to prominence is relatively brief. Finkel supplies an interesting analysis of Aberhart’s divergence from the Social Credit ideas formulated by C.H. Douglas. According to Finkel, the former clearly did not understand the latter’s theory, but the more interesting point is that in his misunderstandings Aberhart erred to the ideological left, “despite being steeped in fundamentalist religion.” He avowed he was an enemy of “the fifty big shots,” but, in Finkel’s opinion, Aberhart was a master dissembler whose policy positions were schizophrenic. He was able to emphasize the redistribution of wealth without addressing issues of ownership and control of the means of production. He relied on Communist support in 1937 to implement social credit but was steadfastly opposed to further involvement. He touted the idea of grass roots direction initially, but steadily limited the effectiveness of ‘study groups’ and instituted an authoritarian regime. In Finkel’s view, Aberhart’s behavior uncovered a “bitterly class-divided” polity, in that a goodly proportion of the ‘have-nots’ who elected his party apparently changed their minds after his first term in office.

Finkel discerns the impetus for Social Credit’s ideological metamorphosis:

1) in Douglas’ [one would think ill-advised and, given subsequent world events, ill-timed] inclusion of Jewish people and socialists within his economic conspiracy theories;

2) in Ernest Manning’s rhetorical switch away from blaming bankers towards denigrating social programs as inefficacious – including those introduced by the federal government after 1945.

Posted to You Tube by lheather1, 9 June 2009.

In Finkel’s estimation, the Social Credit party drastically de-evolved from “a radical broad-based monetary reform party … to a cadre of right-wing paranoids” who were decidedly racist. Thus the Manning era was only mildly social reformist and definitely anti-socialist. Manning himself moved to a position which made him, in Finkel’s view, the fifty-first big shot; a position from which Manning hankered after a Canadian right wing built on ‘social conservatism’ – a philosophy which joined “traditional conservatism to scientific management with a bit of old-fashioned regional dissension tossed in.”

Finkel attributes the longevity of Social Credit in Alberta partially to the failure of other groups (such as the United Farmers of Alberta, the Non-Partisan League, and the CCF), to provide an viable alternative, but principally to wartime and post-war prosperity — especially to the advent in 1947 of oil money — that allowed the party to achieve some social service and educational reforms. Increased levels of comfort, the perception that prosperity would be lasting. and hence the appearance of being governed well. seems to have led to political apathy — in that Albertans felt no need to question the failure of promises either of participatory democracy, or of monetary reform, to be realized.

Posted to You Tube by lheather1, 3 July 2009.


About hallnjean

PhD in Canadian History
This entry was posted in Book Notes, Canadian History, Week 8 and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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