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Manitoba History No. 89
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No. 89

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Jack Houston’s Editorials in the OBU Bulletin: 21 February 1920

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The Dixon Trial

The anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln was observed in the United States last week. In a general way Canadians have been taught to revere the memory of Lincoln. The crown prosecutor could as well have carried back the beginning of the seditious intent to Abraham Lincoln as to Daniel de Leon for Lincoln in his life time was in communication with Karl Marx the author of the “Communist Manifesto”. Marx wrote Lincoln in the name of the first international, assuring him of the sympathy and support of the workers of Europe in his anti-slavery agitation. In reply Lincoln said: “The strongest bond of sympathy, outside of the family relation, should be one uniting all working people of all nations, tongues and kindreds.”

In more than one of his speeches, Lincoln formulated the principle that people, and not officials are the government.

“This country, with its institutions, belongs to the people who inhabit it. Whenever they become weary of the existing government, they can exercise their constitutional right of amending it, their constitutional right to overthrow it.”

Lincoln died by the hand of an assassin, who thought that Lincoln in fighting slavery was undermining the sacred established rights of a static society to ownership of human beings.

The trials of R. B. Russell and F. J. Dixon now concluded, the first resulting in a conviction and the last in an acquittal, reveal an attitude of mind on the part of the lawyers acting for the crown and the judges sitting on the bench, directly at variance with the principles animating the life of the American mayor and statesmen, All these lawyers and judges are, no doubt, honest and sincere and believe that they are acting in the best interests of society as a whole. Less than they are doing would be a lapse from what duty calls for.

In the Dixon trial such phrases as the following falling from the lips of Judge Gall, opens to us his mind like a book “A most calamitable strike” “It clearly shows that the matter was one of the most infamous conspiracies that I have known in my experience in Canada’; “conceived in Quebec by men whose names you have heard, later hatched in Calgary and consumed in Winnipeg. “I am sure that the literature was the most, villainous character”. “A man who approves of such things deserves to be behind the bars for not only for two years, but for twenty years, to keep him out of the way”. “It makes ones blood boil to hear that Ivens went down to that church and offered up prayer and then proceeded to stir up strife”.

Dixon, who conducted his own defense, ably even the lawyers and the judge admit, presented to jury as entirely different theory of the events which led up to the trial. The strike was called lawfully and that it was for the one and only object of obtaining collective bargaining.

The jury was called upon to decide as to which theory of strike was the correct one. They took Dixon’s theory as the real story and the crown’s and the judge’s theory as the putative theory and declared Dixon not guilty.

In these trials a change of venue was asked for by the defense. When a judge declares that event under review makes his “blood boil” or when another judge talks about “nerves on edge” the dispassionate observer will naturally conclude that the change of venue was at least desirable.

The simple truth of the matter is that in these trials there is a clash of culture. The industrial revolution came to England in the closing quarter of the century before last. It spread, it developed, it deepened until it changed the whole industrial world. We are not now producing individually, but collectively, each one doing his bit to create a social product. Our laws, our political institutions are survivals from the handicraft times.

Through use and wont or habituation, some of the workers have at last acquired the new culture which always comes when a new economic system becomes a pervasive system. The handicraft laws and political institutions contained survivals from the period of Feudal autocracy and status which are still in force.

Therefore, to those who have not been disciplined by the machine processes of production the old laws or principles (habits of thought) are still authentic and authoritative. Now wonder that a strike for collective bargaining enforced by a local stoppage of industry, becomes putatively an illegal and revolutionary organization; no wonder that each and every worker taking part in any way in such activities, putatively, becomes a criminal.

Men with this backward culture, a survival from the dead past, can never understand the new social phenomenon as it unfolds itself gradually before their eyes. In dumb, blind fear and hate they attempt to protect themselves from changes which they do not understand and which to them must appear a menace. Like Canute, of old, they stand on the sea shore trying to sweep back the waves with a broom.

For us, who understand the most vital fact in sight is that R. B. Russell, as clean, as honest a lad as ever took part in the labor movement, with understanding and imagination and good judgment, remains in prison because of the survival of this ancient culture in our midst.

Page revised: 3 August 2013

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