David Lewis (born Losz), CC, (June 23, or October 1909 -May 23, 1981) was a Russian-born Canadian labour lawyer and social democratic politician. He was national secretary of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) from 1936 to 1950, and was one of the key architects of the New Democratic Party (NDP) in 1961. He was the NDP's national leader from 1971 to 1975.
His politics were heavily influenced by the Jewish Labour Bund and because of that, he was always an advocate of parliamentary democracy. He was an avowed anti-communist. He prevented the communist movement from being much of a force during his years at Oxford University. In Canada, he played a major role in the removal of communist influence from within the Labour Movement.
In the CCF, he was the disciplinarian that had to deal with all the party's internal organizational problems. He helped draft the Winnipeg Declaration, which modernized the CCF's economic policies to include an acceptance of capitalism, though under the eye of government regulators. As the United Steelworkers of America's legal counsel in Canada, he helped them take over the Mine, Mill union. His involvement with the USW also meant he had a central role in uniting the labour movement with the creation of the Canadian Labour Congress in 1956.
The Lewis family has been active in socialist politics since the turn of the twentieth century in Russia. His eldest son, Stephen Lewis, continued the tradition and became the leader of the Ontario NDP in 1970. When David became the NDP's national leader, in 1971, they became one of the few father and son teams to simultaneously head political parties in Canada. In retirement, he was named to the Order of Canada for his political service. After a lengthy battle with cancer, he died in Ottawa in 1981.
At its beginning, the Bund realized that its project could only be successful if it were local in focus. A notion that is seen in one of its maxims, “a real revolutionary movement must have it roots... in its own environment.” Another important maxim that would influence Moishe, David, and his son Stephen was: “It is better to go along with the masses in a not totally correct direction than to separate oneself from them and remain a purist.” This philosophy of compromise, has been part of both the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) and New Democratic Party's (NDP) practices, and came into play between their “ideological missionaries and the power pragmatists when internal debates raged about policy or action."
As Cameron Smith puts it in his book Unfinished Journey:
The legacy of the Bund is their sense of social justice, the identification with workers, the focus on organization, the commitment to equality and democratic procedures, fierce anti-communism, secular humanism, multi-culturalism, the sense of international community, the anger with exploitation – in these things the genes of the Bund live on.
When the Russian Civil War and the Polish-Soviet War were at their fiercest, in the summer of 1920, Poland invaded, and the Red Russian Bolshevik army counter-attacked. The Bolsheviks were on Svisloch's border in July 1920. Moishe Losz openly opposed the Bolsheviks and would later be jailed by them for his opposition. He barely escaped with his life. When the Polish army recaptured Svisloch on August 25, 1920, they executed five Jewish citizens as “spies.” This was a false charge and was more of a tactic to keep the locals scared and not to participate in counter insurgency. Seeing that he wasn't safe under either regime, and the prospects for the future of his family were bleak, he left for Canada in May 1921, to work in his brother-in law's clothing factory in Montreal. By August, he saved up enough money to send for his family, including David, Charlie, and Doris.
David Lewis was a secular Jew – just like his father Moishe. However, his maternal grandfather, Usher Lazarovitch, was religious and in the brief period between May and August before David emigrated, gave his grandson the only real religious training he would ever receive. Even though he wasn't yet thirteen, the age when Jewish boys have their Bar Mitzvah and complete their religious instruction, his grandfather proceeded to teach him how to wear the phylacteries. Other than attending morning services with his grandfather during this period, Lewis would not actively take part in a religious service again until his granddaughter Ilna's Bat Mitzvah in the late 1970s. In practice the Lewis clan was atheist which includes David, his wife Sophie, and their children Janet, Stephen, and Michael.
He entered Baron Byng High School in September 1924. He soon became friends with A.M. (Abe) Klein, who was to become one of Canada's leading poets. He also met Irving Layton another giant of Canadian literature. Lewis played political mentor to Layton.
Baron Byng High School was predominately Jewish in population because, at the time, it was in the heart of Montreal's non-affluent Jewish community. It was ghetto-like because Jews from outside the school district were not allowed to go to other high schools, like Montreal High.
Besides making friends with some of Canada's future literary stars, he met the woman that would eventually become his wife: Sophie Carson. Klein introduced them, as he was their mutual friend. She came from a second generation Jewish-Canadian family, that maintained a religious home. Her father did not approve of David due to him being a recent immigrant to Canada, with what originally looked like no prospects.
David spent five years at McGill University in Montreal: four in arts, and one in Law. He helped found the Montreal branch of the Young People's Socialist League (YPSL). While at McGill he lectured at this anti-communist socialist club, and was its nominal leader.
In his third year, Lewis founded The McGilliad campus magazine. Many of his anti-communist views were printed in it during 1930-31. Even though he was an anti-communist, he published in the December 1930 issue his approval of the Russian Revolution and called for a greater understanding of the Soviet Union. Throughout his career, he would attack communism, but would always have a sympathy for the grand experiment of 1917. While at McGill, he met and worked with prominent Canadian socialists like F.R. Scott, Eugene Forsey, J. King Gordon, and Frank Underhill. He would later work with all of them in the CCF party in the 1940s and 1950s.
Lewis rejected the views of followers of the Bolshevik revolution as Lenin called those who insisted on full democratic procedures "liquidationists," meaning that they had fallen prey to reformism and bourgeois tendencies. Stalin referred to Lewis' type of social democratic Marxism as "social fascists. It is not surprising that Lewis had an undying antagonism towards communists.
Fabian socialism influenced Lewis mainly because of its reach was so expert, its approach so humane, and its focus on issues so practical and immediate. Fabianism mainly influenced him in terms of policies that could be implemented and in procedures that underlined democratic practices, not in his determination to lay siege to the power structure. The British Labour Party, with its parliamentary approach to attaining power, and its organizational prowess, was similar to the Bund's approach. As Lewis biographer Cameron Smith points out: "So what he ended up with was a modified Bundist interpretation of Marxism. Call it, if you will, Parliamentary Marxism. It was a Marxian analysis of economics and a parliamentary approach to politics. And if David were forced to choose, he would have chosen Parliamentary over Marxism."
the most powerful socialist debater in the place. I don't think with any rival.... He had a very powerful influence indeed amongst students, partly because he had so much more experience than the rest of us but partly because he had brilliant debating powers. I mean one of the best I've ever heard. If you talk of tough political debates, well, he was absolutely unbeatable.... I knew him [at Oxford] when I was a Liberal [and] he played a part in converting me to socialism.
The Oxford newspaper Isis noted Lewis' leadership ability at this early stage in his career in their February 7, 1934 issue: "The energy of these University Socialists is almost unbelievable. If the Socialist movement as a whole is anything like as active as they are, then a socialist victory at the next election is inevitable.
In February 1934, British fascist William Joyce, (Lord Haw Haw), visited Oxford. Lewis and future Ontario CCF leader Ted Jolliffe , organized a noisy protest against the fascist, by simply planting Labour Club members, in the dance hall that Joyce was speaking in, and causing a commotion as groups of two and three, left making much noise on the creaking wooden floors. The speech was foiled. Afterwards, the Blackshirt contingent had a street battle in Oxford with members of the Labour Club and the townsfolk.
Lewis prevented the communists from really making inroads at Oxford. He increased membership by three quarters by the time he left. Ted Jolliffe stated "there was a difference between his speeches at the Union and his speeches at the Labour Club. His speeches at th Union had more humour in them; the atmosphere was entirely different. But his speeches at the Labour Club were deadly serious.... His influence at the Labour Club, more than anyone else's, I think, explains the failure of the Communists to make headway there. Here were so many naive people around who could have been taken in.
The debate that brought Lewis to some level of early prominence was the debate on February 9, 1933. The debate topic was so controversial, that it was news around the English Empire and beyond. The resolution was, "That this House will under no circumstances fight for its King or Country." Lewis again spoke for the "Aye" side. They won overwhelmingly and this caused an uproar throughout the Empire's newspapers. The Times of London entered the fray by poo-pooing those that took the Union and their motion seriously.
Lewis became a member of the Union's Library Committee on March 9, 1933. He would eventually progress to the treasurer's position in March 1934. After two attempts, he became the president of the Union by winning a close election in late November 1934. He was president during the Hilary Term, from the beginning of January until the end of April 1935. The Isis commented that "... David Lewis... will be, beyond question, the least Oxonian person ever to the lead the Society. In appearance, background, and intellectual outlook he is a grim antithesis to all the suave, slightly delicate young men who for generations have sat on the Union rostrum....
J.S. Woodsworth personally wrote a handwritten note on June 19, 1935 asking Lewis to come back to Canada and work for the CCF. In 1935 David Lewis became the National Secretary. As Lewis biographer Cameron Smith put it:
Into this political whirlwind stepped David. A centralist in a nation that was decentralizing. A socialist in a country that voted solidly capitalist. A campaigner for a party with no money, facing two parties each of which was big, powerful, and affluent. A professional, in a party of amateurs who mostly thought of themselves as a movement, not a party. An anti-Communist at a time when Canadian Communists were about to enter their heyday. A publicist seeking a unified voice for a party riven with dissent. An organizer whose leader, J.S. Woodsworth, really didn't believe in organization, thinking that the CCF should remain a loosely knit, co-operative association and believed this so implicitly that when it came time to appoint Lewis full-time to the job of national secretary [in 1938] he resisted, fearing the CCF would lose its spontaneity.
That Lewis not only survived, but prevailed is a testament to his skill and perseverance.
Most of the founders of the CCF – J.S. Woodsworth, T.C. Douglas, M.J. Coldwell, Stanley Knowles, etc., were informed by the Social Gospel of the Christian Protestant-movement. David Lewis' Marxist based socialism, balanced by the Bund's fundamentally democratic principles, felt an affinity to the Social Gospel. Both the Bund and the Social Gospel were focused on the here and now, not some reward in the afterlife. They both called on people to change their environment for the better – by themselves – and not hope that one day, God might do it for them. Social Justice, the brotherhood of man, the morality of striving to become a good person, were all in common to both projects.
In August 1938, David Lewis quit the Ottawa law firm of Smart and Biggar to work full-time as CCF National Secretary. His starting salary was $1200 per year.
A key concession that Lewis won at the November 1944 convention was "that even large business could have a place in the party – if they behave. The key concern was monopoly capitalism, and how to prevent it. Specifically, Lewis was able to pass the following resolution "The socialization of large-scale enterprise, however, does not mean taking over every private business. Where private business shows no signs of becoming a monopoly, operates efficiently under decent working conditions, and does not operate to the detriment of the Canadian people, it will be given every opportunity to function, to provide a fair rate of return and to make its contribution to the nation's wealth. This allowed for a mixed-economy, that still left most jobs in the private sphere.
If anything, Lewis was keenly aware that the struggle was to not remain "ideologically pure," and that the party had to watch what it said. As the old Bundists knew "it was better to go along with the masses in a not totally correct direction than to separate oneself from them and remain "purist". The problem was that the CCF was as much a "movement" as it was a "political party." Members frequently undermined the party. Lewis criticized the British Columbia CCF for recent comments published in their paper: "... what we say and do must be measured by the effect which it will have on our purpose of mobilizing people for action. If what we say and do will blunt or harm our purpose...then we are saying and doing a false thing even if, in the abstract, it is true... When, in heaven's name are we going to learn that working-class politics and the struggle for power are not a Sunday-school class where purity of godliness and the infallibility of the Bible must be held up without fear of consequences.
David Lewis was the party's "heavy" and as such was the bearer of bad news. This apparently did not help his popularity. But considering he witnessed first-hand the Left self-destruct in 1930s Europe, he was quick to end self-immolating tactics or policies. He would tolerate party members criticizing the party, but when it evolved into self mutilation, he cut it down with a pitiless, decisively cut-throat urgency, before it could harm the CCF. This was most apparent when Lewis attacked and discredited Frank Underhill and his handling of Woodsworth House. It didn't matter that Underhill was one of Lewis' mentors, when Woodsworth House was stricken with financial difficulties in the late 1940s, Lewis was quick to blame and then discharged Underhill and the rest of the Woodsworth executive of their responsibilities. It was an unfortunate event that cost the CCF in the academic and intelligentsia world. To sum up Lewis' reign, discipline and solidarity were paramount. There had to be limits to discussion and tolerance of dissenting views.
On election day, Lewis would experience something he wasn't accustomed to in his career to date: defeat and humiliation. It was a bitterly fought campaign, the likes of which could be traced back to Svilotch and the battles between the Red and White armies in the Russian Civil War. Rose won and became the first, and only (as of 2007), Communist to sit in the House of Commons as a Member of Parliament. Lewis placed fourth. The sizable Jewish vote mostly went to Rose. The leftist "common front" punished Lewis, by supporting Rose who was seen to be of the community because Lewis was, at the time, living in Ottawa. It took Lewis many years to recover from this campaign, and in 1945, the reverberation of this campaign coloured Lewis' decision on where to run.
|- |Fred Rose ||align=right|5,789||align=right|30.42 |- |Paul Masse ||align=right|5,639||align=right|29.63 |- |Lazarus Phillips ||align=right|4,180||align=right|21.97 |- |David Lewis ||align=right|3,313||align=right|17.41 |- |Moses Miller||align=right|109||align=right|0.57 |}
The Canadian federal and the Ontario elections of 1945 were possibly the most crucial to Canada in the 20th century. Like in England, it was the time of the beginning of the Welfare State, and depending on which party got in, would literally set the course of political thought, for good or ill, to the end of the century and beyond. 1945 would turn out to be a disaster for the CCF, both nationally and in Ontario. The CCF would never fully recover from the 1945 electoral defeats, and would, in 1961, be forced to dissolve and become the New Democratic Party. As NDP strategist and historian Gerald Caplan put it: "June 4, and June 11, 1945, proved to be black days in CCF annuals: socialism was effectively removed from the Canadian political agenda."
The anti-socialist crusade by the Ontario Conservative Party, mostly credited to the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) special investigative branch's agent D-208 (Captain William J. Osborne-Dempster), and the Conservative propagandists Gladstone Murray and Montague A. Sanderson, were quite effective considering how high in the polls the CCF were in late 1943 and early 1944.
The other side of this 'perfect storm' for destroying the CCF's support was the unofficial coalition between the Liberal Party of Canada and the communist Labour-Progressive Party. It guaranteed a split in the left-of-centre vote, with devastating effectiveness for both allies.
Lewis ran in Hamilton West instead of a safe open Winnipeg riding that voted for the CCF since its inception and had a substantial Jewish population. Why he did this is not known and is open to debate. Historians and activists disagree on the exact reason, but the shock of the Cartier election probably made Lewis gun-shy to run in another knock-down battle with another Jewish Communist candidate. Lewis was soundly defeated, along with his party in the June 11 election. In the 1949 federal election, Lewis ran again in the Hamilton area, this time in the riding of Wentworth. Like every other federal election that he contested in the 1940s, he lost, coming a relatively distant third.
The Communists, more or less, declared open warfare on the CCF in 1944, with spokesman John Weir stating in the LPP's Canadian Tribune newspaper that "a resounding defeat of the CCF at the polls must be [their] main objective.
The Canadian Congress of Labour (CCL) supported the CCF, but the Trades and Labour Congress (TLC) refused to officially endorse them. This lack of unity between the two main Canadian umbrella labour organizations, to give their endorsement, hurt the CCF. This disunity was part of the Liberal–Communist alliance plan and was manifested in the TLC's governing body: president Percey Berough was a Liberal, and the vice-president Pat Sullivan was a Communist. They made sure that the CCF did not get the support it needed to fight the 1945 elections.
David Lewis knew something had to be done. So he and Charles Millard, of the Canadian Congress of Labour, decided to root the communists out of organized labour's decision-making bodies. Their first target was the Sudbury, Ontario CCF riding association and its affiliated Mine, Mill Local 598. The only problem was that Local 598 was not under Communist control: out of 11,000 dues-paying members, very few were communists (fewer than 100). Over the next twenty years, a fierce battle was waged to take over Local 598 by Millard's United Steel Workers of America. Steel won.
The attacks on the Sudbury CCF were even more costly, at least in terms of voter support. Sudbury's Bob Carlin was one of the few CCF Members of Provincial Parliament (MPPs) to survive the Drew government's landslide victory in the 1945 Ontario election. He was part of Jolliffe's team that made the CCF's breakthrough in the 1943 Ontario provincial election. But first and foremost, he was a union man. He was a long-time labour organizer, going back to 1916 and the predecessor union to Mine, Mill: the Western Federation of Miners. Carlin was loyal to his union, Local 598, and he spent ten years building it up. That's where he would get into trouble with the CCF establishment in both Toronto and Ottawa.
Charles Millard, Ted Jolliffe, and David Lewis did not directly accuse Carlin of being a communist. Instead, they attacked him for not dealing with the perceived problem of communists in the Sudbury Mine Mill local. Local 598 was built by both Communists and CCFers, with the CCFers firmly in control of the executive. Carlin's first loyalty was to the men and women who helped build Local 598, regardless of their political affiliation. This is what got him in trouble with Lewis and Jolliffe. So Lewis and Jolliffe made the case to expel him from the Ontario CCF caucus at a special meeting of the CCF executive and the legislative caucus in Toronto on April 13, 1948. In essence, Carlin became a causality of Steel's plans to raid Mine, Mill. The CCF lost the seat in the 1948 Ontario election, placing forth to the Conservatives and Carlin, as an independent, finished a heartbreakingly close second. It wasn't until the CCF became the New Democratic Party (NDP) and the Mine Mill/Steelworkers war was over in 1967, that another social democrat — Elie Martel in Sudbury East — was elected to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario from the city.
Lewis and Millard's crusade to limit and end communist influence in trade unions and politics received an unexpected boost from the Soviet Union. Notably, in the denunciation of Stalinism by Nikita Khrushchev, in February 1956. In his "Secret Speech", On the Personality Cult and its Consequences, delivered to a closed session of the 20th Party Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Khrushchev denounced Stalin for his cult of personality, and his regime for "violation of Leninist norms of legality". When the excesses of Stalin's regime were exposed, it caused a split in the communist movement in Canada. This permanently depleted it into a shadow of itself. By the end of 1956, the LPP's influence in the trade union movement and politics was spent.
He bought his first house in the Bathurst Street – St. Clair Avenue West area of Toronto during this period. His father Moishe died in 1951 in Montreal. After his death, David's mother Rose moved into the 95 Burnside Drive Lewis home. This is the home where his son Stephen Lewis would spend his teenage years, and the other three children would grow up.
In the mid-1970s, David Lewis reflected on this incident and he realized that he did not handle the leadership transition well:
In July 1961, the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) became the New Democratic Party (NDP). They elected Tommy Douglas as their leader by a convincing 1391 to 380 victory over Hazen Argue. Six months later, Argue quit the party and crossed the floor to join the Liberal Party.
Diefenbaker's government had to call an election sometime in 1962, so there was enough time to start planning Lewis' campaign. He had two campaign managers: his son Stephen Lewis, and Gerry Caplan. One of their main strategies was to gain votes in the riding's affluent Jewish enclave in the Village of Forest Hill. Lewis, however was not active in Toronto's Jewish community. He was perceived as an outsider because he didn't partake in community events or belong to a synagogue. It was also known that his Bundist politics meant that he did not support the creation of the state of Israel, which did not sit well with the mostly Zionist community. It took extra effort on Stephen and Caplan's part to convince them to vote for David, both as a Jewish voice, and then as someone that would not harm their businesses. Their work paid-off. On June 18, 1962 David Lewis won York South, and finally became an MP.
|- |New Democratic Party |David Lewis |align="right"|19,101||align="right"|40.42 |Liberal |Marvin Gelber |align="right"|15,423 ||align="right"|32.64 |Progressive Conservative |William G. Beech |align="right"|12,552||align="right"|26.56 |Social Credit | Reinald Nochakoff |align="right"| 179 ||align="right"|0.38 |}
Lewis didn't get a chance to serve for long, as the minority government of John Diefenbaker finally was defeated in the April 8, 1963 general election. In the anti-Social Credit Party backlash, a party that was perceived to be anti-Semitic, Lewis' new-found support in Forest Hill evaporated and returned to the Liberals to guarantee that the Socreds were contained. This would only be a temporary set-back for him though.
|- |Liberal |Marvin Gelber |align="right"| 21,042 ||align="right"| 43.76 |New Democratic Party |David Lewis |align="right"| 17,396 ||align="right"| 36.18 |Progressive Conservative |William G. Beech |align="right"|9,648||align="right"|20.06 |}
With Diefenbaker in opposition, and unlikely to resurrect the coalition in Quebec that gave him his majority in 1958, and the perceived anti-Jewish Social Credit were a diminished force, Lewis was able to regain the confidence of the voters in Forest Hill. He won the 1965 general election and would do so through two more elections, becoming the House Leader when Tommy Douglas was defeated in the 1968 general election.
|- |New Democratic Party |David Lewis |align="right"|21,693||align="right"| 46.94 |Liberal |Marvin Gelber |align="right"| 18,098 ||align="right"| 39.16 |Progressive Conservative |Maxwell Rotstein |align="right"| 6,427 ||align="right"| 13.91 |}
In 1971, David ran to succeed Tommy Douglas as National Leader, who was stepping down after ten years at the helm. He won the April 24, 1971 leadership convention in a surprisingly close, contested race, that required four ballots before David could claim victory. Part of the reason for the close race was James Laxer, one of the new generation of NDP activists known as The Waffle. Lewis' perceived heavy-handed tactics in dealing with the Waffle at previous conventions had made him enough enemies to make the leadership race 'interesting'. As well, Lewis was involved in most of the internal conflicts within the CCF/NDP during the previous 36 years, so many members that felt his wrath as party disciplinarian during this period, plotted their revenge against him.
He led the NDP through the 1972 federal election in which he uttered his best known quotation calling Canadian corporations "corporate welfare bums". That election campaign returned a Liberal minority government and elected the greatest number of NDP MPs until the 1988 "Free Trade" general election, and left the NDP holding the balance of power until 1974. The NDP propped up the Liberal government of Pierre Trudeau in exchange for the implementation of NDP proposals such as the creation of Petro-Canada as a crown corporation. Lewis really wanted to topple the government in a vote of no-confidence as early as possible, because he saw no strategic advantage to propping up the Trudeau government: Trudeau would get the credit if the program was well received and the NDP would be vilified if it were unpopular. In hindsight, Lewis' no-win evaluation of the situation was correct: the party would not be rewarded for its efforts by the electorate.
In the 1974 election, the NDP were reduced to 16 seats and, Lewis lost his seat in Parliament, leading him to resign as party leader in 1975. It was revealed immediately after the election that he had been battling leukemia for about two years. It is reported that Lewis had kept everyone, including his family, unaware of his condition.
|- |New Democratic Party |David Lewis |align="right"|14,225||align="right"|46.87 |Liberal |Lucio Appolloni |align="right"|9,551||align="right"|31.47 |Progressive Conservative |John Oostrom |align="right"| 6,401||align="right"|21.09 |Unknown |Keith Corkhill |align="right"|172||align="right"|0.05 |}
|- |Liberal |Ursula Appolloni |align="right"| 12,485||align="right"|43.10 |New Democratic Party |David Lewis |align="right"|10,622||align="right"|36.67 |Progressive Conservative |Paul J. Schrieder |align="right"| 5,557||align="right"|19.18 |Independent |Richard Sanders |align="right"| 103||align="right"|0.04 |Marxist-Leninist | Keith Corkhill |align="right"|102||align="right"|0.04 |Independent |Robert Douglas Sproule |align="right"|97||align="right"|0.03 |}
David Lewis completed his memoirs, The Good Fight: Political Memoirs 1909–1958 in 1981. He died shortly thereafter on May 23, 1981. He is the father of Stephen Lewis, a former Ontario New Democratic Party leader and in the early and mid 2000s was the United Nations Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa. His other son, Michael Lewis, was a former Ontario New Democratic Party Secretary, and a leading organizer in the NDP. He is also the father of Janet Solberg, former president of the Ontario New Democratic Party in the 1980s. His other twin daughter is Nina Libeskind, the wife and business partner of architect Daniel Libeskind. Broadcaster Avram (Avi) Lewis is his grandson. Avi's parents are Stephen Lewis and Michele Landsberg.
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