Category Archives: Canadian Forum

Agents Provocateurs

“If you see someone trying to incite violence, start with the assumption that that person is undercover homeland security or a cop or whatever, because this is the history of America, where those in charge have tried to ignite people, incite them to commit acts of violence. I tell them, don’t be incited. Just assume right away that person is not part of the Occupy movement if that’s what they’re calling on people to do.” — Michael Moore relates what he told demonstrators at Occupy Denver.

This is cause for concern. Thousands of people in a number of cities have endured escalating police violence and provocation without resorting to violence themselves. It would be convenient for local authorities if, seven weeks in and the peaceful movement taking hold of the public imagination, there should suddenly appear violent outbursts where there had been none before in order to justify a police crackdown.

This kind of thing is not unprecedented. Boing boing recounts proven incidents of undercover police provocation in Canada, and Wikipedia provides sources to confirm them. The CBC’s Fifth Estate reviews police violence in Toronto during the G20 summit: a billion dollars in security, and yet the “black bloc” were allowed to run amok through the financial district, of all places, for an unbelievable ninety minutes; 900 peaceful demonstrators in designated protest zones, on the other hand, were rounded up and incarcerated in the largest mass arrest in Canadian history. That billion dollars, by the way, represents about 990 million dollars more than the cost of security at an earlier London summit. We are not required to assume without question the good faith of the authorities when this kind of money is spent on “security” that only manages to harass and detain law-abiding citizens in what is otherwise an astonishing display of negligence and incompetence.

Here’s Frye in a 1949 editorial in the Canadian Forum, “Nothing to Fear But Fear”:

[T]here is no surer index of the official attitude to democracy than the behaviour of the police. In a totalitarian state it is obviously necessary to keep the police as stupid and brutal as possible. In democracies a reactionary government, if secure and at peace, generally prefers to have its police slightly confused. It likes to feel that if it says to a policeman, “Go out and get some Reds,” he will soon return dragging after him an assortment of labour leaders, clergymen, social workers, liberal intellectuals, the executive of the Housewives Protective Association, and a Jewish tailor named Marks.

The full editorial in an earlier post here.

Marc Chagall

A beautifully assembled collection of Chagall paintings, with music by Maurice Sklar

Today is Marc Chagall‘s birthday (1887-1985). Maybe one of the gentlest people ever to be a great artist, who was rewarded with an extraordinarily long life.

Frye in a single-paragraph review of The Art of Russia, in Canadian Forum, December 1946:

A very useful collection of black and white reproductions illustrating Russian painting from medieval icons on. It appears from it that after the seventeenth century, Russia become the Eastern colony of European art as America became the Western one, and Russia like America lost the ability to resist cultural invasions at the same time that she gained the ability to resist military ones. All the European fashions in painting seem to have rolled over Russia in waves, most of them dyed with a strong Germanic tinge by the time they arrived. The Revolution helped release a tremendous burst of creative energy, and the art of Lissitsky, Malevich, Chagall, and Kandinsky was the result; but, following a directive of Lenin, this energy was soon gleichgestaltet [forced into conformity] and a rather corny “socialist realism,” supposed to be directed more directly to the masses, took its place. The same development occurred in America under the WPA, where however, a more relaxed policy permitted the growth of more variety. (CW 11, 114)

Frye and the Canadian Forum


Perhaps the sweetest of Anthony Jenkins‘s caricatures of Frye

Now that the journal and the library are taking on the burden of the website’s scholarly purpose, we’ve begun to include in the daily blog a little bit of politics and current affairs, which raises the issue of Frye’s status as a public man, particularly his role as editor of the Canadian Forum.

In the May 1970 issue of the Forum marking its fiftieth anniversary, Frye contributed a piece that turns a specific occasion into an opportunity for remarkably clearsighted prophecy.  Given that the article was written forty years ago and that the Forum itself folded ten years ago, Frye’s assessment of the past in relation to his expectations for the future is extraordinary.  His outlook, not surprisingly, is a complement of the cyclical and the dialectical, history and culture, the past as the “rear-view crystal ball” of the future that gives his piece its title.  Take, for example, his estimation of the previous fifty years and his quick snapshot of what it might mean to the next fifty:

What is surprising about the last fifty years is how little of what has happened is really surprising.  It was already obvious in 1920 that Fascism and Communism were going to cause a lot of trouble, that capitalism would have to be modified and become less laissez-faire, that Canada would soon become a satellite of the United States, that our natural resources were being recklessly plundered and wasted, that separatist agitation in Quebec would continue, that colonies would want and eventually take independence, that the influence of middle-class religion would decline, that man’s capacity to injure himself would increase, not merely in wars but in the growth of cities and industries.  Nearly all these issues are discussed repeatedly in the early issues of the Forum and its predecessor the Rebel, discussed in every tone from hope to fear, and with that uneasy sense of a future looking over one’s shoulder which is so characteristic of twentieth-century prose and yet so hard to characterize.  Similarly, it is possible that nothing will be happening in 2020 except what is obvious now: the future that may be technically feasible is not the future that society can actually assimilate. (CW, 12, 408-9)

That last sentence catches like a burr.  2020 is just ten years into our future, and Frye seems to have rendered it with, well, 20/20 foresight: “the future that may be technically feasible is not the future that society can actually assimilate.”  The reasons for this are many and all are suggested by humanity’s pathologically bad habits which Frye enumerates throughout.

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Frye and Border Security


Barker Fairley by Frederick Varley, 1920

Further to Michael’s post on Peter Watts’s conviction for obstructing a border guard.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.  Exhibit A is Frye’s editorial, which appeared in the Canadian Forum 29, no. 346 (November 1949): 169–70.

Nothing to Fear But Fear

For some months now the American immigration authorities have been busily defending our otherwise undefended border. A number of labour leaders, students, and unfrocked Communists have been held up, turned back, or refused visas, and on a principle of chance well known to duck hunters, they have even managed to bag a few authentic members of the Labor Progressive Party. The recent refusal of visas to Professor Shortliffe of Queen’s and Professor Barker Fairley of Toronto, amounting in at least the latter case to permanent exclusion, has brought the matter more into the open. As practically every Canadian has friends or relatives in the States, Canadian protest has been somewhat muffled. When made, it has usually been carefully qualified by two points: first, that it is intelligible that the U.S.A. should want to exclude people with a vocation for overthrowing its government by force; and second, that as a sovereign nation it has a perfect right to exclude whom it likes.

Well, so it has, but its officials need not be so contemptuous of the national sovereignty of Canada, which, even if smaller, is quite as highly civilized, and quite as interested in democracy. It is an insult to Canada to have American authorities in charge of Canadian immigration who do not know the elementary facts of Canadian political life, and who cannot distinguish a Communist from a social democrat. Earlier in the summer a prominent CCF leader had some difficulty in getting a visa because he had been called a Communist in a Trestrail pamphlet. But no American official should be handling Canadian immigration at all unless he knows all about the trustworthiness of Trestrail pamphlets. A similar political astigmatism must have blurred the official view of Professor Shortliffe, who, though he has associated himself with the CCF, was otherwise merely a professor of French trying to proceed to an appointment in French at Washington University.

Professor Fairley wanted a visa to fulfil an invitation to lecture on Goethe at Bryn Mawr. For any normally competent official, the only question of importance would be: is there anything in this man’s record to indicate that he is going to do anything more subversive than lecture on Goethe? And the answer to that question was obviously no. Professor Fairley is a world famous Goethe scholar, and has never made a political speech in his life. But the officials, in a frenzy of misapplied subtlety, looked up all the occasions on which he had lent his name to the support of a Soviet friendship organization, and gravely decided that he was not sufficiently at war with Russia to be admitted even for a month. After all, had not Mrs. Fairley been sent home from the Peace Conference some months before? True, that action was as high handed and foolish as the exclusion of her husband. But perhaps the authorities reasoned that if they made two foolish decisions over the same family, they would save their faces by their consistency.

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