Hey, wait a minute (I hear you say). One moment you’re talk-ing about the People’s Co-op Book-store, and the next minute you’re going on about the Com-mu-nist Par-ty of Cana-da. Where did that come from? Time for anoth-er brief side trip to address the ques-tion of whether the People’s Co-op Book-store is, or ever was, a “Com-mu-nist Par-ty book-store”.
It is a ques-tion whose answer depends on the con-tin-gent cir-cum-stances. In an atmos-phere of Cold War red-bait-ing for instance, call-ing the People’s Co-op Book-store “Com-mu-nist” could itself be an act of red-bait-ing, because “every-one knew” that the store was a co-oper-a-tive, that the elect-ed board mem-bers were all ordi-nary co-oper-a-tive mem-bers elect-ed by the annu-al gen-er-al meet-ing, and that you too could join the co-op and run for a posi-tion on the board by buy-ing a sin-gle share for $1. You cer-tain-ly didn’t have to be a Com-mu-nist (the pres-ence on the board of the odd per-son like me was proof enough of that). The charge that the store was some sort of “Com-mu-nist front” was just reac-tionary garbage.
An old chest-nut of an anec-dote was reg-u-lar-ly pro-duced in sup-port of this line. A colour-ful and con-ser-v-a-tive judge of his day, a pil-lar of the estab-lish-ment named Ange-lo Bran-ca, was known to fre-quent the store. Why, if a crusty old bird like Ange-lo Bran-ca — and nobody would accuse him of being soft on Com-mu-nism — was a reg-u-lar cus-tomer, how true could those per-ni-cious rumours be?
At oth-er times, how-ev-er, the People’s Co-op was defend-ed as a beach-head of Lenin-ist thought with-in the city. A gen-er-a-tion ago, the bookstore’s task was seen by many of its sup-port-ers as stak-ing out a posi-tion: the People’s Co-op man-date, and inven-to-ry, was to set it and the Lenin-ist beliefs it priv-i-leged apart from the oth-er “false” anti-sys-temic move-ments as expressed in rival book-stores, which might be Spar-ta-cus Books, Van-guard Books, the Enver Hox-ha Book-store, Lit-tle Sister’s, or the Van-cou-ver Women’s Book-store. For a peri-od in the 1960s and extend-ing into the 1980s, the People’s Co-op Book-store could be fair-ly described as being in the depths of the sec-tar-i-an phase of its exis-tence.
But the “Com-mu-nist Par-ty book-store” posi-tion, whether inhab-it-ed by Par-ty stal-warts or anti-Com-mu-nists, simul-ta-ne-ous-ly over-states the CP’s role in the store and under-states the part played by oth-ers: social democ-rats, social gospel Chris-tians, co-op move-ment mavens, trade union-ists unaf-fil-i-at-ed with any polit-i-cal par-ty, ordi-nary mem-bers of the work-ing class or low-er mid-dle class pro-fes-sions, Judge Bran-ca. Nev-er-the-less, there can be no doubt about the fact that the exis-tence today, or in 1986, of the People’s Co-op Book-store is owed to the com-mit-ment, gen-eros-i-ty, and hard work of par-ty mem-bers.
But by the 1990s, the store’s role with-in the city, and the larg-er com-mu-ni-ty, was chang-ing. A com-bi-na-tion of polit-i-cal dynam-ics (the “fall of the Wall” in 1989 being a sym-bol-i-cal-ly pow-er-ful moment in this process) and capitalism’s shift from dom-i-nance by pro-duc-ers and man-u-fac-tur-ers (mines; fac-to-ries), to dom-i-nance by the finan-cial sec-tor, was trans-form-ing the book-selling land-scape through-out the west-ern world. By the ear-ly 1990s, it was becom-ing appar-ent that if the People’s Co-op Book-store was going to sur-vive into the twen-ty-first cen-tu-ry, it was going to have to recon-nect with its deep-er roots in the broad-er left-pro-gres-sive com-mu-ni-ty.
This was nev-er going to be easy. And in the mean-time, a cat-a-stro-phe occured, one that would keep the store from grap-pling with these issues for anoth-er gen-er-a-tion or so. The cat-a-stro-phe came in the form of a wind-fall; or, rather, a series of wind-falls, begin-ning with Expo 86.
Con-tin-ue read-ing My Careen as a Book-seller (5) :: Wall Street Books
Start from the begin-ning: My Careen as a Book-sellers (1) :: Before It All Began