Documents of Quebec History / Documents de l'histoire du Québec
La Loi du cadenas
The Padlock Law
So What is Communism?
[This text was written in 1937 by Rabbi Maurice Eisendrath. For the precise citation, see the end of the document]
We are gratified indeed to find popular resentment rolling up in the various provinces of our Dominion against the recently enacted "Padlock Law" in Quebec. On every hand, from the ranks of conservatives, liberals and radicals, protests are being voiced against the most menacing drift toward Radicism which has yet arisen upon North American soil. It is not merely the 'reds', nor even those parlour pinks, nor even those who have the faintest sympathy with Bolshevist doctrines who are asserting that this kind of legislation constitutes an ominous threat to the very foundation of our democracy. When so reliable and reasonable a commentator on political trends as Gratton O'Leary feels constrained to state before the Empire Club of Toronto that nowhere outside of Hitlerite Germany would such an act be written upon the statute books, it is small wonder that the people inhabiting the Provinces outside of Quebec, as well as those more liberal forces within Quebec itself, should be aroused almost to fever pitch by this arbitrary assumption of power.
This act, virtually 'sprung' on the legislature of Quebec with scarcely any warning whatsoever, in somewhat the same fashion that the whole Nazi rule was foisted upon Germany after the Reichstag fire, makes it "illegal for any person who possesses or occupies a house within the province to use it or allow any person to make use of it to propagate Communism or Bolshevism by any means whatsoever". Of course no attempt of any sort is made to define just what is meant by Communism or Bolshevism. It is all left delightfully vague, thus giving the Attorney General of the Province carte blanche to proceed against and to suppress practically every manner of opinion which just happens to differ from the viewpoint of the majority. If Communism and Bolshevism were qualified as to mean the advocacy of revolution or the belief in the Marxian interpretation of history, at least one might have some intimation as to whether one were breaking the law or not. But to provide that anyone is liable to prosecution who permits his residence or his hall to be used for the discussion of that which the arbitrary power of the police might choose to designate as "Communistic" cannot but in time lead to vigilante practices reminiscent of the days of the Inquisition. As Professor E. A. Forsey has pointed out, "Even private homes might be used as ground for turning people on to the street. The section dealing with literature could easily be used to prevent the sale and distribution of the Bible. (Did not the early Christians have all things in common?)"
Now we trust that none will be so benighted as to deduce from this spirited opposition to this grave violation of the spirit of the Magna Charta and the Rights of Man is indicative of our own personal predilections for Communism. We have expressed ourselves and placed our point of view on this subject in the record, as it were, where it can be read, by all who care to ascertain it, in our various printed pamphlets entitled: Communism—Its Challenge to Religion; Must we Have Revolution? What's Wrong with Violence? etc. Upon our own recognition of the incompatibility of the spiritual values of Judaism and the economic determinism and willingness to utilize non-religious, non-spiritual means to attain the revolutionist's ends, we need not expatiate just now. But surely, we need not pause to elaborate upon our own objections to Communism in order to justify our sense of gravest alarm over this introduction into our fair Canadian soil of so obvious a Fascist principle and practice as this bit of legislation promises to become. Or would it be interpreted as "Communistic" even to ask what is meant by "Communistic"? We have slight doubt that in time such would he the actual effect of the Quebec Padlock Law.
We do hope that saner counsel will speedily prevail and that the act will soon be declared unconstitutional. We trust that before many days pass the excellent sentiments recently voiced by the Honourable Mr. Lapointe. Minister of Justice at Ottawa will influence the legislators in our sister Province. How sound were his views with regard to the only method by which all subversive elements within our land might he allayed. Not by such suppressive measures as these which will only aggravate the situation and convince many that there is little chance to build a juster and more democratic commonwealth when inalienable human rights are thus viciously violated. But rather by seeking as swiftly as possible to alleviate the plight of the despairing. the downtrodden and the poor; by establishing justice within our gates.
We were gratified likewise to note that the Minister of Justice pointed out that Communism is not the only potential foe of Democracy within this Canada of ours. He was most explicit in his excoriation of those forces of fascism which similarly seek to destroy our love of freedom. It would he well if those of us who, whether as Jews or as liberals, have been working in the field of minority relationships would convey to the Minister of Justice at our very earliest opportunity a complete dossier of the extent to which fascism is quite truly endeavoring to transplant to the soil of this land the hateful tyrannies of not a few countries across the seas. This is a task which the Canadian Jewish Congress should lose no time in undertaking. Already in the Central Division we have intimated to the proper authorities the vast flood of poisonous propaganda which is inundating this Province. But it is even more important that this be done on a Dominion scale and that steps be taken to combat this menacing force. Not by arbitrary padlock laws to be sure ! But by the removal of those conditions which provide the happy breeding ground for agitators both of the right and of the left.
Still more gratifying, even than the pronouncement by the Minister of Justice, was the latest statement of His Holiness the Pope. We must confess that for a number of years now we have been deeply disappointed in his failure to include the Fascist dictators in his denunciation of those factors which are destroying our hard won liberties and paving the way for the perversion and profanation of all that our prophets and teachers ever meant by the noble word Religion. We saw in Fascism and Naziism as formidable a foe of the Church and the Synagogue, in the truest meanings of these terms, as in Communism and we were disturbed by the failure of the Pope to include these powers in his denunciations of those who are the enemies of God. We have frequently expressed this disappointment both in speech and in print. having referred to this unhappy discrepancy in one of our most recent addresses. Now that at long last His Holiness has turned his well warranted wrath against Fascism as well, we are quite prepared to retract our former criticism which, although fully justified then, has been now most agreeably outdated.
It is our hope, however, that all his priests and prelates will give heed to his leadership and that those especially who have heretofore beheld but one possible enemy to our Canadian democracy in the guise of Communism will now see that the hideous form of Fascism is likewise looming up before us all. We trust that their former colour blindness by which they were able to see only "Red" will be cured by His Holiness' most recent and most challenging encyclical so that they may be able to behold "Brown" and "Black" as well.
With His Holiness' added word of warning which, like the message of Mr. Lapointe, urges social justice rather than suppression as the surest guarantee of democracy with such estimable leadership, we pray that it will not be long before our sister Province will recognize the error of its ways and restore the due processes of law in place of the padlock. Unless this is done, we have grave concern for the future developments in the Province of Quebec. It is out of such dangerous procedures as this that Bolshevism did come to Russia, that revolution has come to Spain. and that tragedy and terror may come to this blessed land. Let the liberal, democracy loving people of Canada be rallied swiftly to the sacred cause of Liberty !
Source: Rabbi Maurice N. EISENDRATH, "So What Is Communism?", in Canadian Jewish Review, Vol. XIX, No 26, April 9, 1937, p. 8.
© 2005 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College