The Twilight Years - Kingsley and Electoral Activism and censorship

The Federated Labor Party (FLP) was founded in the spring of 1918, and saw Eugene Kingsley's first return to political leadership since withdrawing from the Socialist Party of Canada's (SPC) executive in 1911. FLP was formed of splinters from the Socialist left in British Columbia in the crucible of the First World War and intended to forge a party platform marrying both progressive labour and revolutionary socialist politics. The SPC was perceived to have failed in its mission of political revolution, and was quickly being eclipsed in popularity by the mass industrial protests and general strikes of industrial unionist organizations. In order to wield real political influence in this emergent environment of discontent, the FLP was formed to direct the flow of industrial rage towards political participation.

Federated Labor Party meeting in Victoria, 1918. Kingsley helped found the new political organization after his falling out with the Socialist Party Federated Labor Party meeting in Victoria, 1918. Kingsley helped found the new political organization after his falling out with the Socialist Party
Along with holding the office of Vice-President of the FLP, Kingsley also ran as a candidate for public office under the party banner. From the beginning of his political career in San Francisco, E.T. Kingsley practiced his ideology by standing for election as a Congressman in 1896 and 1898. Kingsley achieved his greatest electoral success in British Columbia, capturing 18% of the vote in a 1907 provincial by-election against Liberal party candidate (and future premier) William Bowser in Vancouver City. While Kingsley never achieved the success of his fellow Socialists at the ballot box (four of whom were elected to the provincial legislature between the SPC's founding in 1903 and the outbreak of war), he continued to run for office - with or without endorsement - until 1926 when he was approaching the age of 70.

Censorship and state repression of radical socialism during the wartime years of WWI and the emergence of Bolshevism in Russia created both new challenges and an opportunity for activists like Kingsley. The Western Clarion was banned by the Secretary of State of Canada in September of 1918, as both the Provincial and Federal governments took the opportunity to suppress sedition and dissent. While the Clarion was quickly replaced by the Red Flag to evade the censorship regulations, Eugene Kingsley took the opportunity in January of 1919 to start his own newspaper, the Labor Star.
Unfortunately, the Labor Star was not a lasting success. Plagued by what seemed to be circulation and sales problems, the newspaper ended its run shortly in March of 1919 and was Kingsley's last major publishing endeavour. The Star sought to guide an increasingly radical working class and returning soldiers towards a political end, and viewed the labor industrial action of the Vancouver and Seattle General Strikes with a large degree of skepticism. Instead, his newspaper focused on 'big picture' Socialism and world event, eager to interpret the recent Russian Revolution as an orderly and democratic affair - not unlike the political revolution he preached. But in the increasingly revolutionary climate of Western Canada, which would explode into the Winnipeg General Strike and country-wide sympathy strikes later that spring, such messages of restraint and political participation were not of the moment, and Kingsley's suspicion about organizations such as the One Big Union were largely ignored.

In February 1919, the Vancouver Sun carried reports of a 'peace conference' between city representatives, labor, socialists, and soldiers, which speaks to this shift. Intending to diffuse the "powder keg" tensions faced by the city and province as industrial action and mass protests mounted, the political elite assured Socialists that they had a place in the political life of the community so long as they kept to the ballot box and stopped inspiring sedition. But the parameters of social dissent has reached the point where the old politics of the SPC were no longer relevant to the dissent of the era. It would be many years before a distinctly political socialism would return to popularity, though Kingsley would not be alive to see it.

Next: Kingsley's Legacy
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