The People’s History of Cape Breton, a project completed in 1971, is itself a window into the history and the people of Cape Breton as the historical events it had reported were intended to be. It was an initiative facilitated by the federal Liberal government of the day under a scheme known as ‘Opportunities for Youth’. The political bent of the authors is unmistakable and utterly without apologies. The spirit of the authors is identical to the spirit of Cape Breton characters such as J.B. McLachlan, Dan Livingstone, and Dan Willy Morrison. As radical and pure of political spirit as these men may have been, it was the spirit of the mass of workers that held explosive revolutionary potential.
The People’s History of Cape Breton is laid out here for you to read. It may be read as a historical document, a sociological analysis, or as an historical drama. It is each of these things in spades.
It may strike you odd that such events had taken place in Canada within living memory. This is the stuff of other continents where the hegemony of the British Empire or American capitalism has not had much effect.
It is worth considering the nature of the collective spirit when reflecting on these events in Cape Breton. It is the nature of capitalism to bring out individualism. Most are held at the edge of an abyss where it is possible, if we slow down, to go over; over into a world of hunger and deprivation of our own basic needs and the basic needs of our children and loved ones. The coal and steel industrialists in Cape Breton pushed the workers over that edge and brought forth, as a result, a spirit that lies beneath the surface in all societies and all individuals. That is the spirit of collective struggle and mutual cooperation. It is that spirit, more than anything else that threatens the status quo. Those that harvest from the labour of others understand this reality better than anyone else.
On the island of Cape Breton this revolutionary spirit was awakened and burned with tremendous heat in the 1920s. Evidence that it continues to smoulder may be found in the spirit of these authors who have not identified themselves in the pages of this document. Evidence that this spirit still lives may be found in the people of Cape Breton and when you look it may be found in all individuals and all cultures the world over.
The People’s History of Cape Breton is laid out here before you as it was written in 1971. The book held some cartoons and quotes in the margins that are omitted, some of which are reproduced here.