F.R. Scott: Discussing Oxford Study Group on Christianity and Industrial Problems

    In thinking back to the principal influences that shaped my thought and steered it in the direction it would eventually take most firmly, I must speak about an experience I had in my first year at Oxford. My brother Elton had been there already a year before me, using the Rhodes Scholarship which he had postponed on account of World War I. He was reading Theology, and had found some friends of similar viewpoints, one of whom, John Darlington, became a close friend of mine. Elton was also a member of the Student Christian Movement in Oxford, and I used to attend its meetings from time to time.

     In the autumn of 1920 and the spring of 1921 we had a SCM study group in Magdalen College which took as its principal base of discussion a book, a Report rather, that had recently been published by the Committee of the Anglican Archbishops of England, called Christiantiy and Industrial Problems. This was the fifth report of that Committee. Members of the Committee included people like Albert Mansbridge, R.H. Tawney, and George Landsbury. It must be remembered that at this time I was a devout member of the Anglican Church, and went to communion, or as my father would call it “mass”,  just about every Sunday. The new ideas I was about to receive, very socialist in implication though not so much in their verbal statement, thus fitted naturally and easily into the training I had received at home in Canada.

     I shall proceed by way of dictating some passages from the Report which struck me at the time and also today, and then make some comment, if necessary, upon them. For convenience, I shall refer to the paragraph number of each quotation rather than to the page number of the Report.

     Paragraph 11 lays down the fundamental principle that any attempt to draw a sharp distinction between the life of the individual and the organized arrangements of our society is wrong. Christian ethics is binding upon social relations as well as upon individual conduct. Later in the Report it is pointed out how from the writings of Adam Smith, Ricardo and other economists it was thought that the economic relations of mankind were inescapably governed by iron laws which man could not hope to alter. This view is strongly attacked throughout the Report and it is pointed out that Christianity must alter the aim of industry by making the satisfaction of men’s material needs conform to the moral principles of Christian faith.

Divorced from spiritual standards, industry is only too likely to degenerate into a struggle to escape poverty or to obtain riches, in which some of the finer qualities of human nature, kindliness, and the love of beauty, and the temper of disinterested service may be crushed by a single overmastering motive. (Paragraph 13)

Industry has a social function and it must be carried on in such a way as to make it unmistakably the main practical activity of a Christian community.

When Christian ethics and economic practice are at variance, the latter must be adapted to the former, not the former to the latter. (Paragraph 15) To treat human beings as instruments of production is morally wrong. (Paragraph 18)

    In Paragraph 20 it is pointed out that the New Testament insists upon the duty of service, upon the importance of what may be called the non-competitive temper. I have added to this in the margin of the Report, “Isn’t competition immoral? How can a man be a Christian while trying to ruin his rival in trade by underselling him?” The ethical spirit of the New Testament is cooperative rather than competitive. The members of a Christian community should aim at giving rather than getting, and should seek the service of others rather than the personal profit for themselves. A man is bound to judge his economic activities not by the profits he makes but by the contribution which those activities make to the well-being of others.

It is wrong to take advantage of the necessities of the public or of private individuals to drive a hard and profitable bargain; it is wrong to adulterate goods or to charge exorbitant prices for them; that an industry which can only be carried on by methods which degrade human beings ought not to be carried on at all; that property is not held by absolute right on an individual teams but is relative to the good of society as a commonweal; that if an institution is socially harmful no vested interest is a valid plea.

Beside this citation I have written in the margin the single word “share holders”. It was from this idea that I later derived my short satirical poem called “Treasure in Heaven”. That was written after reading in the Montreal Gazette, at the time when the Montreal Light, Heat and Power Company was in the process of being taken over from private hands into public ownership, that there were important ecclesiastical shareholders in the private organization and therefore it would be quite wrong to suggest that it was in any way not conducting its affairs in a Christian manner.

     The Report has an Appended Note, Paragraph 29, which raises certain objections to the application to industry of Christian principles. Each objection is disposed of. The third objection declares that if there is any social teaching in the New Testament it had better be made as a moral appeal to the individual and not applied to the organized social life of a modern nation. To seek so to apply it is inevitably to degrade it. The authors of the Report admit there is some merit in this objection because the church may be tempted to preach a gospel agreeable to the multitude. Whereas it is as wrong to flatter Caesar when Caesar is a democracy as when he is a king or an aristocracy. “No self-respecting teacher will stop to consider whether what he says will be popular”. It is pointed out that those who urge that Christianity has a social gospel are not actuated by any desire that it should say what is agreeable. They desire it to say what is right. It is no more “unbiased” to support a status quo than it is to work for a revolution.

     The Report devotes many pages to the development of thinking about industry and so problems in the Western world, from medieval times down through the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution to the present day. It points out that the industrialists after Adam Smith’s work, took from his writing one principal idea, namely that laissez-faire was the obvious and simple system of natural liberty; that under perfect freedom, wages and prices, trade and industry would all “find their natural level. This was almost the only lesson the ruling class learned from Adam Smith” (Paragraph 51). His equally uncompromising denunciation of the Corn Laws and other protective duties, of combination laws against workmen, and settlement acts restricting the freedom of labour, were all conveniently ignored.

    In Paragraph 54 I find:

How could men who were really religious, men sincerely patriotic and personally benevolent, how could men even of common sense defend as a quite natural state of things such facts as children of six kept at work in factories from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m., girls under eight crawling through coal seam eighteen inches high, boys of four sent up flues seven inches square, in ‘a country renowned for its humanity’?

I learned a good deal in this Study Group about the early conditions of village labourers and farm labourers in England as a result of the Industrial Revolution in its less-controlled early stages. Later I read this material again in my History course in the works of J.L. and Barbara Hammond. The bibliography given in the Report contains many socialist writings from people like the Webbs, G.D.H. Cole, Ruskin and even Marx.

     In Paragraph 67 I find this profound idea:

Its [the industrial system’s] faults are not the accidental or occasional maladjustments of a social order the general spirit and tendency of which can be accepted as satisfactory by Christians. They are the expressions of certain deficiencies deeply rooted in the nature of that order itself. . . . To remove them it is necessary to be prepared for such changes as will remove the deeper causes of which they are the result.

And in the next paragraph I read: “It is necessary to make such changes in the normal organization of society as may prevent them from arising.” This was the idea in my short poem “Charity” which goes like this:


A code of laws
lies written
on this beggar’s hand.

My small coin
his harsh sentence.

Charity can lengthen the harsh sentence by making people think they have cured an evil when all they have done is to prolong it.

     The next portion of the report attacks the idea of the working man being considered a “hand”. This means he is treated as a hired servant whose duty ends with implicit obedience, not a citizen of industry whose virtue is in initiative and intelligence.

It is still too often the case that the livelihood of a group of workers may be abolished without compensation by the introduction of a new process or a machine.

The worker’s pride in his craft is often destroyed by its subdivision into simple and monotonous processes, and his human interest in his work destroyed by his absence of responsibility for its permanent results.

    The whole subdivision of the Report is devoted to a discussion of the co-existence of poverty and riches. I quote from Paragraph 84.

The question today is not simply why nature is niggardly or why individuals fall into distress. It is why large numbers of men and women, who have not fallen into exceptional distress, derive a meagre and precarious livelihood from industries which appear to yield another and smaller number considerable affluence. The evil of poverty, in short, is not that many have too little for a life worthy of man. It is that many have too little, while others have too much. It is, of course, precisely because the social problem is not simply one of increasing productive power, but of distributing in accordance with principles of right the wealth which is produced, that its solution makes an urgent appeal to the Christian conscience.

The mal-distribution of wealth, so evident in Canada, became a principal concern of the CCF Party and the work of the LSR. Its origins in my thinking date from my study of the Report, which gives many details of the distribution of wealth in England between classes of citizens.

     The last part of the Report goes into very practical suggestions of things that should and could be done to make the industrial order more Christian. For instance, in Paragraph 199 there is a plea for the establishment of a living wage and adequate leisure.

By a living wage we mean not merely a wage which is sufficient for physical existence but a wage adequate to maintain the worker, his wife and family in health and honour, and to enable him to dispense with the subsidiary earnings of his children up to the age of 16 years.

It is suggested that such a wage should be the first charge on every industry. The work of the Trade Boards, which have helped to raise the income of the poorest and least organized workers, is commended. Industrial Councils should be set up to organize particular industries. The workers in factories, on the docks and in offices, should all have access to land; they should be able to get a small plot upon which they can spend their spare time and work when they would otherwise be out of employment. State expenditures should be increased in slack periods, and where possible, postponed in times of full employment. Adequate assistance to the unemployed is indispensable. Young people should be prevented from entering “blind alley” occupations. Associations of workers and of employees are to be encouraged; on the side of the workers, it represents a demand, growing in volume and intensity, for the gradual displacement through some form of representative and responsible government of the industrial autocracy which, if it played an indispensable part in the earlier stages of industrial development, is believed to be neither necessary nor desirable in a democratic and educated community. What is needed is some change of status in the worker, so that instead of being a “hand”,  he becomes a citizen of industry.

    The Report ends with a summary of its conclusions. It is sufficient to say that they covered effectively the whole basic programme of the social and welfare side of what we later put into the Regina Manifesto. What is only embryonic in this Report by comparison with its later importance is the whole subject of planning. It was, as I remember it, the introduction of Russia’s first Five-Year Plan which made that topic one of general concern to political parties throughout the world.

     These basic principles and ideas I had firmly given me in my first year at Oxford. Other Oxford activities as well as my own History studies, confirmed and strengthened them. The study group on Christianity and Industrial Problems was followed by another, more specifically socialist, based on R.H. Tawney’s “The Affluent Society”. We met with Tawney in the college rooms my brother and I shared. Coming back to Canada in 1923 I was for a time out of touch with anything so directly related to the economic system, but as the 1920s came to an end and the period of economic depression of the thirties began, I was at once brought back to a consideration of precisely these matters. I saw in J.S. Woodsworth a man wholly imbued with the spirit of this Anglican Report, a spirit which he, of course, had obtained through his Methodist training and has expounded in his preaching. He was thus in my mind a natural leader in Canada for the reforming and socialist work of the CCF Party, as he was first of all the obvious honorary president of the League for Social Reconstruction.

     In thus picking out Woodsworth as the person to lead the new political movement in the 1930’s I do not wish to imply that my own father had not instilled into me as a boy and young man many attitudes which were, if not so fully evolved, quite in keeping with the work of the Anglican Bishops and with the spirit of J.S. Woodsworth. Father had dropped his parish work to go to the Winnipeg General Strike in 1919, not so much to take sides in the issue as to be with “his boys” as he called them, all the men in the Winnipeg Regiments both ordinary tommies and officers whom he had known during the war. If he was asked, as he was asked, to leave Winnipeg by the Military authorities, it can only have been because his spirit encouraged the strikers more than the authorities wished. Similarly in 1923 during the coal strike in Cape Breton he left the parish to go to visit the strikers and the scene of action. He came out of that very much in favour of great changes in the conditions of labour and critical of BESCO as the coal company was then called. I remember him once denouncing from St. Matthew’s Church pulpit the fact that the CPR was only paying 15 cents an hour to the workers who were building the new central tower of the Chateau Frontenac. Father did not give me an organized set of ideas about the economic system, but he gave me an attitude of concern for human beings and human welfare, and particularly he taught us all that pursuit of one’s own interest was not important in life, rather we should seek some activities which would be beneficial to society and to our fellowmen. It was this attitude which perhaps made me rather snobbishly scornful of people who entered “trade” for their career—an attitude fortified by the experience of Oxford where almost everyone I knew was either going into a profession, into scientific research, or into the Civil Service of England or of India or elsewhere.

     Later my feeling that commerce and business was a somewhat inferior way of spending one’s life fitted in to the attack on capitalism and the ownership and management of the economic life of the country by our privileged owners and capitalists. It seemed so obvious to me that the essential work of providing food, clothing and lodging for everybody, was only in order that he might be able to do other things and to enjoy a life of inspired leisure. Therefore, activities concerned more directly with the arts and with the development of man’s spiritual nature seemed superior in quality and status to the mere carrying on of unavoidable affairs. I imagine that traces of this attitude came out in my conversations, mostly in jocular form; I can remember once at a party in Rochester, New York, where Mason Wade was teaching at the university, the discussion got round to socialism and I jocularly remarked that I appreciated seeing in so many houses in London, England, the sign “Tradesman’s Entrance” pointing to steps leading to the basement. Some American was heard to remark, “If your Canadian Socialists are like this, what are your Conservatives like?

     I now want to tell two stories that have stuck in my memory as having some significance.

     The first takes us back to the 1930’s in Montreal, when Arthur Eustace Morgan was principal of McGill. He had succeeded Sir Arthur Currie, and a greater difference between two principals could scarcely be imagined. It is to the eternal credit of Morgan that after he had looked at the vast Baumgarten mansion on McTavish Street which had been Currie’s residence, he flatly refused to live in it, being a modest man with a wife and no children. This is what led the governors of McGill to give the big house to the faculty as the present Faculty Club. Morgan then took a small house on Simpson Street. He was wholly an academic in his interests and relationships; he knew no big important industrialists in Canada, and I think preferred the company of his own kind.

     At that time there was an annual series of lectures given in the Church of the Messiah on Sherbrooke Street, under the title, “The People’s Forum”. A group of visiting lecturers, including poets, would be invited to talk and a certain amount of intellectual activity was thus made available to the general public. Among the visitors in that year was Carl Sandburg, then engaged in writing his great biography of Lincoln. Morgan invited him to spend an evening at his house, and I was among others asked to join the party. We had a good discussion about poetry and politics, and as he came to leave Sandburg turned to me, shook my hand, and said, “There’s something about you that reminds me of Abe Lincoln”.

     My second story takes us back to 1943, shortly after David Lewis and I had published Make This Your Canada, our story of the founding and development of the CCF Party and programme. I had been asked by Murray Ballantyne in Montreal, a fairly recent convert to Catholicism and consequently much interested in Catholic social doctrine, to a lunch at a certain Mrs. Colville’s house on Pine Avenue. To the lunch Ballantyne had also invited M.J. Caldwell and Monseigneur Charbonneau, the then Archbishop of Montreal. This was about the time when the CCF Party was becoming very much more popular in Canada, to such a point that in a Gallup Poll of September 1943 it was shown to command a wider public support than any other party, including the Liberal Party. The Catholic bishops of Canada, all 55 of them, had met to assess the situation and had issued a statement which did not include any condemnation of the CCF Party; this was taken to be an answer to and virtual disapproval of the previous Catholic statement about the CCF, issued by Archbishop Gauthiar in 1933 (in 1932?) which had warned Catholics to beware of the CCF because of its materialism, its belief in class welfare, and its attack on private property. I think that Murray Ballantyne who was a personal friend of mine, and I’m sure sympathetic to new social doctrines that were gradually coming to the fore inside the Catholic church, wanted the most progressive of the Catholic bishops in Canada to meet two leaders of the CCF Party. We had a talk at lunch, the details of which I do not remember, but once again it was on saying goodbye to the principal guest that he made a remark I shall never forget. “Mr. Scott”,  he said, “I have read the book that you and Mr. Lewis wrote. I would not change a word of it.

     This was a very remarkable statement. But it must be remembered that the Archbishop grew up in and came from Saskatchewan to Montreal. He was not born and bred in the hothouse of the Quebec Catholicism of that day. He was the same Archbishop who showed so much sympathy for the strikers in the great Asbestos Strike of 1949-1951, even to the point of collecting money after mass on one Sunday for their aid even though the strike had been denounced by Duplessis as illegal, that there occurred that fight between him and the premier of Quebec which led to an appeal to Rome by Duplessis for the removal of the Archbishop, and the latter’s sudden disappearance from Montreal. Later he was found as a chaplain to a small Catholic hospital in Victoria, B.C. This story has been told in the play, “Charbonneau and Le Chef”,  which was written by an anglophone member of the Basilien Order and became both a radio play and later a stage play running to packed houses in Quebec.

    Several things came out of this whole affair. The first was an experience I did not believe would have been possible in Canada, namely the sudden vanishing of the most important ecclesiastical personage in Quebec after the Cardinal. Charbonneau, as I said, simply vanished, and nobody could find out where he was. I remember a meeting of mixed English-French people, all asking what had happened. Nobody knew. It was rumoured he had been removed from his job because he was a bad administrator, and his health was failing. But the industrious Therese Casgrain was determined to get the answer, and she eventually, through her various contacts in every level of Quebec society, discovered he was in Victoria. She called him long distance, added how he was, and was told his health was extremely good. The whole only came out later. The political power of Duplessis was enough, working through the Vatican, to secure the Archbishop’s dismissal, and being an obedient member of the church, he agreed to go without complaint, much, I fancy, as some of the top communist leaders during Stalin’s purges agreed to confess to crimes they had never committed for the benefit of the party.

    Another fact that came out of that incident was the writing of the book La grève de lamiante. This brings in other aspects of my life. I had been a great personal friend of Alan Plaunt, a man who had been a contemporary of Graham Spry at Oxford, and who on his return worked with Graham for the founding of the Canada Radio League and the eventual creation of CBC. Plaunt was also, like Spry, a strong supporter of the CCF. He had agreed with me that when his grandfather died, the considerable fortune he would inherit, and which he didn’t personally need, would be devoted to the foundation of a society that would carry on publication and lectures and educational work on behalf of the CCF ideas though not as part of the CCF Party. Unfortunately, before his grandfather died, he himself was stricken with cancer and did not live to put his plan into effect. I have all the story of this idea on which we jointly worked in my papers. He left a posthumous child, who inherited the fortune, to come to her on her 21st birthday. Meanwhile, her mother, who had also known of our idea, felt that she would do some thing of the kind that Alan had thought about, at least in a small way, and consequently offered me whatever reasonable sum I thought would be necessary to get some activity going of a type that we had imagined would be the function of our proposed organization. Discussing this with some friends, I decided that we would produce a book on the Asbestos Strike. It had greatly agitated the province, and activated some keen young journalists, writers, and sociologists who hitherto had not paid much attention to the labour struggle.

     Out of this came the founding of a committee known as Recherches Sociales which could receive the grants from Alan Plaunt’s widow, and could authorize expenditures. We thus evolved the notion of the book and set to work to plan it. I got Pierre Trudeau to agree to act as editor-in-chief, and we collected a number of people able to contribute something of their personal knowledge to the situation. Among the contributors, Trudeau’s magnificent analysis of the institutions and ideas dominant in Quebec will stand out as the most remarkable; other principal contributors were Jean Gérin-Lajoie, who became a prominent leader in the Labour Movement, Fernard Dumond, Gerard Dion, Charles Lussier (now a director of Canada Council), Gérard Pelletier, Maurice Sauvé, and Réginald Bousvert (a one-time secretary of the CCF Party in Quebec). The book has been translated into English, and I think was a formative influence in what was rapidly developing into “La Revolution Tranquille” in Quebec. Most of the editorial meetings planning the book were held in my house at 451 Clarke Avenue, Westmount.

     A last idea came from the Charbonneau affair. Musing upon it at the lookout on Mount Royal one day, and seeing the great city spread out before me with the St. Lawrence river flowing past draining the Great Lakes and the whole centre of the continent, I thought of the lines:

Onward the mighty waters flow,
But where, oh where, is Charbonneau?

These lines were intended to be a refrain to come at the end of a number of verses about the political life in Montreal, but I never wrote the other part of the poem. The lines remain as an epigraph to my book “The Eye of the Needle”.

     While I have it in my mind I want to add the curious further note about one of my poems. It was I think in 1926, shortly after I had joined the editorial board of the McGill Fortnightly Review, that I wrote a poem called “New Paths”. It has the same idea in it as my published poem “New Names”,  though the first poem has never been published. It contains lines such as these:


Child of the North
Yearn no more after old playthings,
Temples and towers and gates
Memory-haunted thoroughfares and rich palaces
And all the burdensome inheritance, the binding legacies,
Of the Old World and the East

Here is a new soil and a sharp sun.

Now I wrote that about 1926 and just the other day, that is to say fifty years later, I came across a poem I had not read previously by the famous Bishop Berkeley written in 1726. Its title is “Verses on the Prospect of Planting Arts and Learning in America”. The first lines are:

The Muse, disgusted at an age and clime
Barren of every glorious seam,
In distant lands now waits a better time
Producing subjects worthy fame:

In happy climes, the seat of innocence,
Where nature guides and virtue rules,
Where man shall not impose for truth and sense
The pedantry of courts and schools;

There shall be sung another golden age,
The rise of empire and of arts,
The good and great inspiring epic rage,
The wmest heads and noblest hearts.
Not such as Europe breeds in her decay
. . . . . . . . .

In other words, Berkeley was thinking that in America a new kind of art and empire might be developed. His last verse begins with the well-known expression, “Westward the course of empire takes its way.” Without knowing this prophecy of his, I in my innocence was feeling that we could start afresh in Canada. I was newly arrived from Oxford, and deeply impressed by the northland, its great lakes and rivers, its old mountains, and its sense of something waiting to be made. I forgot that we had already imported from Europe our language, our laws, our religion, and most of the factors that make up a social community. “Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, / But to be young was very heaven!” Ah, wildemess!

     I want to go back to a discussion of ideas I lived with and expanded while I was at Oxford, relating to the industrial and social order. I have talked already about the Report of the Anglican Bishops and the effect it had upon my thinking. It can be seen how easily I moved into that realm of economic analysis without any need to change drastically the ideas I brought with me to the Study Group. The next book which we tackled after the Bishop’s Report, was one that had even more effect on me and left a more lasting influence, namely The Acquisitive Society by R.H. Tawney. Tawney was one of the most formative socialist thinkers in England and one who left his mark both through his activities and his writings. He was the founder of the Worker’s Educational Association, commonly known as the WEA, (a branch of which was at McGill when I first became a teacher there and had me give lectures to working-class groups until the Governors of McGill decided it was an unnecessary expenditure.) The other work by which he is well known is Religion and the Rise of Capitalism. He was a member of the Bishop’s Committee on the Industrial Order. In The Acquisitive Society he brought together in systematic form the Christian socialist ideas that he had gathered over a number of years, and it was a book that lent itself admirably to group discussion. We also had the opportunity of inviting Tawney to talk with us, and my diary contains an entry on [date omitted] when we met with Tawney in our college rooms and asked him a prepared set of questions.

     I do not wish to attempt, by citation or lengthy quotation, to give a resume of this book. I remember it much more vividly than I do our discussions on the Bishop’s Report because it has the style of a single writer who himself has absorbed all the historical and social material he needs to sustain his argument, and who has arrived at a philosophical statement of the necessary changes in society to rid it of the acquisitive evils he describes. Fundamentally, Tawney was seeking “the organization of society on the basis of functions, instead of on that of rights.” From this Tawney argues the necessity of getting rid of the capitalist, meaning getting rid of his power over the processes of industry derived solely from the control of the capital and ownership of the capital, and not through the function he is supposed to be performing.