Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Milton Acorn and the Canadian Liberation Movement

By Alan Filewod
Works&Days 39/40
Spring/Fall 2002

If we Canadians, following the programme advocated by many, but most clearly by the Canadian Liberation Movement, seized the foreign-owned industries in our territory -- and if the principal foreign owner, the American Empire, launched military operations against us; What are the odds? Would we win? (Acorn 91) […] A people armed with a modern Marxist-Leninist ideology is invincible in a defensive war. (Acorn 102)

This militant assertion of Canadian revolutionary valor may be fairly typical of the rhetoric  of the New Left in Canada as it decomposed into sectarianism at the close of the 1960s, but it is remarkable because it is the thesis of an essay included in one of the best-selling volumes of poetry in Canadian publishing history. Milton Acorn’s 1972 collection, More Poems for People, sold some 10,000 copies in a country where the (statistically) average poetry volume sells less than 500.

More Poems for People marked the high point of Maoist sentiment in the field of radical culture in Canada, not just because Milton Acorn was one of the most highly regarded Canadian poets, but because his relative celebrity legitimized the Canadian Liberation Movement, which existed primarily in the form of its publishing house, New Canada Press (also known as NC Press).

As a member of the CLM, Acorn was the vindication of its strategy of popularizing the highly romanticized Maoism of a movement that after its collapse in 1976 was described by one critic, in language characteristic of the sectarian wars of the extreme left, as “a national chauvinist, socialfascist, absolutely degenerate organization”.

A consideration of Acorn’s role in the CLM leads to a useful comparison of the performative and textual strategies deployed by contesting groups that vied to mobilize support for Maoist-inflected Marxism-Leninism.

Read more HERE


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