Jeanne Corbin (1906-1944): exemplary communist of her time

The history of the communist movement in Canada is too little known. However, his story is rich in experiences and lessons. The working class organization of the Communist Party of Canada in the 1920s and 1930s should be of interest to all contemporary revolutionaries who seek to develop the movement in the right direction. As we approach March 8 and the demonstration for International Workers’ Day in Montreal, we pay special attention to those who took part in the Canadian communist movement. The history of the latter is indeed marked by many leaders, organizers and activists such as Jeanne Corbin, Annie Buller, or even Becky Buhay. This movement also gave birth to strong organizations and important experiences such as those of the hard workers’ struggles in textiles, the first celebration of March 8 in Canada in 1925, or even groups of women whose husbands were miners who worked on Canadian territory. Let us recall that they carried out a double offensive on the picket lines and that they actively participated in the transformation of the localities into a force to support the strikers.

Jeanne Corbin: portrait of a professional revolutionary

Born in France in 1906 before emigrating to Alberta with her family, Jean Corbin is an emblematic figure of the communist movement in the country. She was won over to communism, like many others, by the strength and the justness of the October Revolution in Russia (1917). Jeanne Corbin is a perfect example of those who made up this set of revolutionaries who formed, in Canada and everywhere else, the backbone of the movement at the time: experienced, highly competent and fully dedicated to the revolutionary struggle.

It was in Edmonton that Jeanne Corbin joined the Communist Party of Canada at the age of 18. She stayed a member until her death precipitated by illness in 1944. A teacher by training, she was fired and prevented from continuing her career in 1928 after having introduced her students to socialism. She would never return because the police had her designated as a dangerous element. She participated, at the same time, in Alberta, in a local communist school offered to workers on summer vacation. She also runs the Labor News Stand bookstore in Edmonton. She organized unemployed local women in the summer of 1929. In the fall of the same year, she moved to Toronto so that she could work closely with the party’s central committee. At that time, she became secretary of the Canadian Labour Defense League (CLDL). She was arrested for the first time on October 19, 1929 while she was at the head of a demonstration in Queen Park. She was sentenced to 30 days in prison. After her release, she became responsible for the accounting and subscriptions of the party newspaper “The Worker”. She was responsible for touring the country to set up and finance the newspaper. Bilingual, Jeanne Corbin also established a new French-speaking section of the party in Saint-Boniface, Manitoba.

Jeanne Corbin mastery of the French language, coupled with her excellent organizational skills, earned her the title of chief organizer for the second district of Montreal. This task was of primary importance for the party, as it still found it extremely difficult to penetrate the French-speaking working class under the influence of the Catholic clergy. Jeanne Corbin accumulates, during the following years, a notable workers’ combat experience. Its most important activity was carried out within the Workers’ Unity League (WUL). The WUL has been on strike in many industries across the country, in the mines, but also in the fields of forestry, pulp and paper and textiles. At the time, the WUL came to have at its peak, up to 40,000 members. It coexisted then with other party initiatives such as the Communist Youth League, the Farmers Unity League, the Relief Camp Worker’s Unions and the various newspapers in circulation.

In particular, Jeanne Corbin participated in 1931 in organizing the Cowansville textile workers’ strike at the Bruck Silk Mills. Throughout her stay in Montreal, Jeanne Corbin constantly rallied new forces to the cause and organized numerous clashes in the needle trade. She became the editor of the French-language newspaper “L’Ouvrier canadien” in which she wrote several articles. In 1932, she returned to Toronto for a short time before resuming her former position as secretary of the CLDL n the Timmins area of ​​northern Ontario.

At the time, Corbin was also a member of the executive committee of the WUL district. This was the time of very hard struggles in Timmins and not far from there, in Abitibi where clashes were taking place in the mines and among forestry workers, a central economic activity in the region. At the time, logging camps were real human pigsties. In these arid and remote regions, but rich in natural resources, capital reigns like a real despot. In 1933, in Abitibi, the strike against the Canadian International Paper Company in Rouyn was strongly repressed. The workers’ fight was heroic. The rebellion of the Raoul Turpin camp, the first of this scale to occur in Quebec, gives an incredible jitters to the bourgeoisie. The strike followed a wave of other strikes in Ontario and the rest of the country. In fact, many loggers in Abitibi had previously worked in Ontario and therefore experienced powerful and sometimes victorious workers’ struggles. They brought their combat experience with them to the forests of Abitibi in Quebec, which gave strength to the movement.

The WUL therefore acted in this industry through the Lumber Worker Industrial Union. Jeanne Corbin, accompanied by Harry Rackety and Jerry Donahue, was sent there by the party. The strike began with the firm mobilization of 800 loggers (out of 2,000) who stopped working overnight. After three weeks, 13 strike leaders were imprisoned and 64 others were prohibited from working for 6 months. The event was so upsetting for the economy that it forced the Canadian government to hold a commission of inquiry in the lumber camps.

On December 11, 1933, the police arrested Jeanne Cordin for giving a speech at the Ukrainian Labor Temple: she encouraged the strikers to hold an illegal meeting to plan the continuation of the fight. Two days later, she was arrested again and accused of having orchestrated the riot of the previous day. Released on bail, she was sentenced on December 1 of the following year to 3 months in prison. Upon her release from detention, she returned to Timmins, the city where she took up residence. In 1939, his health deteriorated. In 1942, she was hospitalized in Ontario. She died 18 months later from tuberculosis.

Let’s put contemporary Corbins everywhere in the workers’ movement!

The merit of Jeanne Corbin, like the comrades of her time, lay in the obstinate gift of all that she had to offer to the revolutionary cause, without expecting anything in return, without even trying to be under the the limelight of history. It was only the disease that stopped its course marked by self-denial. Appreciated by the masses and the workers everywhere she went, Jeanne Corbin is an example of what every communist must be: identical and inseparable from her fellow, while having the broadest overview and the most precise conception of communism and its realization. This type of organizer and agitator, similar to the workers and at the same time different from them by the political clarity of their ideas, is essential for communist activity within the workers’ movement to last and progress.

Approaching the March 8, celebrated by the international proletariat for already 111 years, the prospect of establishing dozens and hundreds of “Jeanne Corbin” in the workers movement in the coming years is frankly exciting!

Long live our Canadian Communist heroes!

Long live the relentless struggle for communism!

The masses need a powerful workers’ leadership to overthrow the bourgeoisie!