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Mac Paps | Saskatchewan | Communist Party | CCC

William Charles (Bill) Beeching

Bill BeechingWilliam Charles (Bill) Beeching, was a lifelong Communist. Beeching was born in Qu’Appelle Saskatchewan on June 22, 1913 and died in Regina January 9th. 1990. Bill Beeching joined the Communist Party of Canada (CPC) as a young man in the 1930’s and in 1978 after his expulsion from the CPC on trumped up charges, founded the Committee of Canadian Communists (CCC) now called Canadians for Peace and Socialism (CPS).

Bill Beeching’s life typifies the experience of hundreds of thousands of Canadian workers, farmers and intellectuals, who in the struggle for economic survival and social justice, begin to question the validity and permanence of the capitalist system and through experience come to accept the need for its replacement by socialism.
Beeching belongs to that trend in working class politics that seeks a reliable guide to action and discovers it in the science of Marxism-Leninism as embodied in and practised by an organized Communist Party.
The Historical Background
Bill Beeching was a teenager at the time of the Great Depression precipitated by the stock market crash of October 29, 1929. The crash closed manufacturing plants and workplaces all over the country. Mass unemployment affected all cities and all regions of the country. Workers were on the streets in large numbers with no work, no unemployment insurance, and no cash relief and in most cases heavily in debt. Workers were unable to pay for their mortgages and rent. Foreclosures occurred in large numbers and many families found themselves homeless.
Out west the farmers had experienced several years of drought, hail and killing frosts. When the depression hit, farmers were further devastated by the loss of markets for their products at home and in Europe. Most farmers were heavily mortgaged to the banks and farm foreclosures occurred everywhere.
Governments Abandoned the People
Governments at all levels abandoned the people hit by the Depression. Provincial and municipal governments faced bankruptcy as small business, workers and farmers were unable to pay taxes. The federal government refused to aid local governments to fund relief payments and it wasn’t too long before municipal governments ran out of money to pay teachers and other civil servants. Rural smallholders unable to pay their taxes paid off their obligations by unpaid statutory labour.
The Communist Party in the Great Depression
The youth of the 1930’s were destined for ten years of joblessness and trekked up and down the country in search of work. They were called the Lost Generation. Political parties on the left demanded governments act to help people hit by the crisis. The Communist Party, organised in 1922 had by 1930 established a record of building unions and formulating class struggle policies and fighting for a Socialist Canada. It defended the first worker’s Socialist State the Soviet Union. Most of the leaders of the CPC had come from the ranks of the workers and poor farmers. Tim Buck the party’s leader was a trade unionist and a machinist. As the Communists demonstrated in action their dedication to the workers and farmers they also attracted to their ranks many of Canada’s leading intellectuals and artists.
The Communists formulated a program of demands to protect the unemployed workers. They called upon the federal government to enact legislation to defer mortgages and ban evictions of the unemployed. They called for cash relief. Up to this time relief vouchers were given but not cash, forcing workers to take substandard goods instead of buying what they needed.
The Workers Unity League
The Communists organized both the unemployed and the employed workers. The Workers Unity League (WUL), a Communist organization led organizing drives and strikes for trade union recognition, decent wages and working conditions.
In Saskatchewan the WUL supported the miner’s in Estevan in their September 1931strike for union recognition. The RCMP put down the strike, killing three miners and wounding fifty. Communist leaders such as Sam Scarlett, Annie Buller and Joe Forkin were thrown in jail. Later the Communists were a major factor in mass organizing drives to organize unions in basic steel, auto, electrical, mine and mill, lumber and sawmill, garment worker and fur and leather industries.
The Farmers Unity League
The Communists stood up for small farmers calling for feed and seed and demanding that the first $500 of farm income should be free from any attempts at seizure by the banks. The slogan of the Communist led Farmers Unity League was “Don’t be Froze Out, Don’t Be Hailed Out, Don’t Be Forced Out – FIGHT!”
Iron Heel Bennett and Section 98 of the Criminal Code
The response of the Conservative Government of Prime Minister R.B. (Iron Heel) Bennett was to accuse the Communists of Sedition, and to ban their party under Section 98A of the Criminal Code, the same legislation that was used to put down the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919. In 1931 eight of the Communist Party’s leaders, Mathew Popowich, John Boychuk, Tom Hill, Tom McEwan , Michael Gilmore (a seventeen year old member of the Young Communist League (YCL) and not a member of the CPC who was later released), Sam Carr, Tom Cacic and Tim Buck. were arrested, charged and convicted and sentenced to long terms in Kingston Penitentiary.
The conviction of the accused resulted in a nation-wide movement for their release. The movement was organized and led by Reverend A.E. Smith a Methodist Minister. The campaign was widely supported by Canadians from all political and religious and class points of view, considering the jailing of the Communists as an attack on the democratic rights of all.
During a riot in Kingston Penitentiary where Buck and McEwan were incarcerated, there was an attempt on Tim Buck’s life. When Buck was brought to court and asked about the riot he answered “I was shot at.” The hue and cry was so great at the attempt on Buck’s life that the courts in 1935 were forced to review the case and the accused were quietly released. The Communist Party resumed its political activities on behalf of the unemployed.
The Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF)
At the same time as the Communists were organising among the unemployed and fighting for legality the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) emerged as a social democratic farm protest movement in Saskatchewan. At its founding meeting it declared it was for socialism but was opposed to the Marxist-Leninist philosophy of the Communists. The CCF believed in reforming some of the worst aspects of the capitalist system but leaving its fundamental economic structure intact. The CCF concentrated with some success on electoral activity and began to elect members to local, provincial and later the House of Commons. The CCF was the forerunner of today’s New Democratic Party (NDP).
The On To Ottawa Trek
The Federal and Provincial Governments of the Liberals and Conservatives ignored the demands of the Communist Party and the CCF and permitted banks to continue to foreclose on workers and farmers. Their answer to the plight of the unemployed youth was to herd them into $5.00 a month forced labour camps. So deplorable were the conditions in the camps that the young workers organized strikes and finally marched out of the camps and began to trek to Ottawa to demand jobs and government assistance. Unemployed youth streamed from east and west and began to make their way on boxcars to Ottawa to press their demands on the federal government.
The Regina Dominion Day Riot
The leader of the On to Ottawa Trek was a Communist, Arthur H. “Slim” Evans of Vancouver. The government rebuffed a delegation of workers sent to Ottawa led by Evans and enacted legislation under Section 98 of the Criminal Code to empower the RCMP to put down the workers by police violence. The RCMP attacked the trekkers at Market Square in Regina on Dominion Day July 1st. 1935. Several trekkers and one policeman were killed. The trek leaders were jailed but shortly thereafter were released and the camps closed.
Soviet Union Unaffected by the Great Depression
While the capitalist world was in the grip of mass unemployment and class warfare, the Soviet Union, by 1929 a mere 12 years into the building of socialism was unaffected by the Great Depression gripping the entire capitalist world. The Soviet Government, after a bitter struggle to defeat US and British interventionist forces attempting to restore the old hated Czarist regime, had embarked on an ambitious plan to electrify the country, modernize agriculture and construct new industries. The Soviet Union provided work for all and implemented universal free education and health care. The homeless were being housed. Collective and state farming methods rapidly made the country self-sufficient in food and agricultural products. The Soviet system became an object of intense interest by all those who sought a way out of the crisis created by the Great Depression.
New Deal Reforms
Capitalists feared that workers would take the road of revolution as they had done in Russia and attempt to establish a Soviet style government of socialism. In the United States similar fears gripped the corporate interests and some, backing Democratic Party President Franklin Delano Roosevelt agreed to the enactment of New Deal Legislation that poured federal funds into public works. In Canada the Liberals made similar gestures and the Liberal Mackenzie King Government replaced the R.B. (Iron Heel) Bennet Conservatives.
The Rise of Fascism in Europe
In Europe, the corporate interests promoted Hitler Fascism to counter the rise of the Soviet Union and the spread of socialist ideas among the masses. The Communists warned that fascism, merged with militarism, would lead to war and called upon all democratic forces to unite to defeat the fascists. The Communists mobilized democratic forces to elect anti-fascist united front governments. In Spain a left-wing united front Republic was elected. The fascists under the leadership of Generalisimo Francisco Franco, a royalist puppet, fomented a civil war backed by Hitler and Mussolini to overthrow the Spanish Republic.
Canadians Volunteer to Support the Spanish Republic
The western powers led by Britain and the USA refused to aid the Spanish Republic in its struggle with fascism. The only country to provide real aid to Spain was the Soviet Union. The international Communist movement called for solidarity with the people of Spain.
The Communist Party of Canada appealed to Canadian youth to go to the aid of the Spanish Republic. Fourteen hundred and forty volunteers responded. Bill Beeching was one, and served throughout the conflict first in the US serving as a scout with the 15th International Brigade, Lincoln-Washington Battalion and later in the ranks of the Mackenzie Papineau Battalion. from 1937 to the end of the civil war in 1939.
Bill Beeching – Communist Party Leader
After returning from Spain in 1937 Beeching resumed his political work as a representative of the Communist youth in the Regina Branch of the Canadian Youth Congress. The CYC represented the youth wings of all of the political parties and mainstream churches of that time and campaigned for a program of youth employment.
The Second World War
Such was the hard school of revolutionary political struggle that Bill Beeching and so many other Communists of his generation went through as they approached the outbreak of World War Two.
With the outbreak of the Second World War the Federal Government, instead of recognizing the struggle of the Communists against fascism in Spain, interned their leaders, including Bill Beeching in internment camps in Petawa Ontario and the Kananaskis in Alberta. After a public outcry, the Communists were released in 1942 and all those who were eligible joined the Canadian Armed Forces and fought in the Great War to defeat Hitler Fascism.
Beeching Becomes Leader of Saskatchewan Communists
After receiving his discharge from the Canadian Armed Forces, Beeching resumed his leadership role in Communist Party in Saskatchewan. After a brief period as organizer, Beeching was elected Provincial Leader a post he held until 1969.
In 1947 Bill Beeching met Elsa “Elsie” Gehl, a Communist and mother of two children. They married and until his death in 1990, it was always “Elsie and Bill” the quintessential “partners in the struggle”. (See Eslie Beeching, A Life In the Struggle).
Beeching regularly travelled to all corners of the Province on organizing trips meeting with workers and farmers, speaking at public meetings, distributing literature, and recruiting members and supporters. He was a familiar figure at National Farmer’s Union and Saskatchewan Federation of Labour Conventions and engaged in many lively debates with academics at the University of Regina. Beeching wrote constantly and published many tracts and pamphlets and newsletters for rank and file trade union and farm union activists. Beeching was CPC candidate in many federal and provincial election campaigns.
Beeching was elected to the Central Committee of the CPC. On behalf of the national party, Beeching authored and presented briefs to government on transportation and agricultural policy and wrote many articles for the Party’s newspaper and theoretical journals. Beeching was on CPC Party delegations to China and Romania and the Soviet Union where he had the opportunity to study first hand the socialist system.
Beeching Moves to the Party Centre
At the 1969 National Convention of the Communist Party Bill Beeching was elected to the Central Executive Committee of the Communist Party and moved to Toronto to become editor of the party’s newspaper the Canadian Tribune.
During the War Measures Act Crisis of October 1970, sharp differences broke out in the leadership of the Communist Party, and Beeching along with other members of the central leadership resigned their posts in protest over trumped up charges of defying the Party’s united front policy.
Bill Beeching and Tim Buck
Beeching returned to Saskatchewan and was re-elected in 1971 to the post of Provincial Leader. During this time Beeching was asked by Tim Buck, National Chair of the Communist Party of Canada to edit his memoirs and ensure its publication. Beeching agreed. Buck entrusted Beeching with his papers and extensive CBC interview tapes that formed the main material for the memoir. Buck was concerned that Bill Kashtan, Communist Party leader would intervene and attempt to prevent the publication of Buck’s reminiscence and his interpretation of Party history. Predictably, the leadership of the Communist Party intervened and demanded that Beeching cease his work on the Buck biography and turn over all of his work to the Party leadership. Beeching refused. Beeching continued his work on Buck’s memoirs and in 1977 the work was published by NC Press Limited of Toronto under the title, “Yours in the Struggle, Reminiscences of Tim Buck”. For defying the Kashtan leadership’s edict Beeching was expelled in 1978 for life and with no right to appeal a clear violation of the Party Constitution.
The expulsion did not affect Beeching’s standing among left-progressive workers and farmers in Saskatchewan nor with the majority of CPC members in Saskatchewan. Without exception, they dismissed the actions taken against him as vindictive and harmful. Long after his expulsion from the Communist Party Bill Beeching was considered by the media to be the defacto spokesperson for Communist policy in Saskatchewan. He remained Bill Beeching, Communist.
The Committee of Canadian Communists (CCC)
Following his expulsion, Beeching and a majority of the membership of the Saskatchewan Party, who were also ousted for supporting Beeching, formed the Committee of Canadian Communists (CCC). At the founding meeting in Regina, Beeching said that no one requires permission to fight for socialism and that “we have nowhere to go but back into the struggle.” Beeching was elected first National Chair of the CCC and continued in that post until his death in January 1990.
Canadian Volunteers – Spain 1936-39
During the time he was National Chair of the Committee of Canadian Communists, Beeching was approached by the Veterans of the MacKenzie-Papineau Battalion and asked to write and edit the official memoir of the Battalion. Although ill, Beeching agreed and travelled widely interviewing veterans, documenting their accounts and reading everything he could find on the Spanish Civil War. Academics at the University of Regina recognizing the importance of the project, provided encouragement and support to the project and the book “Canadian Volunteers Spain 1936 – 1939 was published by Canadian Plains Research Centre University of Regina in 1989. It was to be his final contribution to the struggle.
Beeching’s name along with all of the 1440 members of the MacKenzie-Papineau Battalion is inscribed on the monument unveiled in Ottawa by Governor General Adriane Clarkson.