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State control and social resistance : the case of the Department of National Defence Relief Camp Scheme in B.C. Gorman, Louise Gwenyth


This thesis constitutes a sociological analysis of the establishment and operation of the Department of National Defence Relief Camp Scheme in British Columbia. During the Great Depression of the 1930s, unemployment reached unsurpassed levels, when the dependent Canadian economy could not export its primary resources. Faced with a fiscal crisis, the Canadian state was unable to support the dramatically increased number of destitute. The position of B.C. was particularly serious due to its economic dependence upon the export of raw resources. Thousands of single unemployed men who had been employed in resource industries, and for whom no adequate relief provisions were available, congregated on the west coast and became increasingly militant in their demands for 'work and wages'. The radicalization of this group was perceived as a threat that was beyond the capacity of usual state social control mechanisms. As a result, the Canadian state was obliged to undertake exceptional, repressive measures to contain these unemployed. This was accomplished through the Department of National Defence Relief Camp Scheme. Despite this extended state action, the dissident unemployed were not adequately suppressed, and the B.C. camps were characterized by a high level of militancy. The violent Regina Riot of July 1, 1935 served to break the momentum of the radical, single unemployed relief camp inmates. In 1936 the DND relief camp scheme was dismantled, and the single unemployed were dispersed. The DND relief camp scheme is examined in light of theories of the capitalist state and its role in society. It is concluded that the fiscal crisis of the 1930s rendered the Canadian state unable to mediate between the demands of the unemployed and the requirements of capital. The ensuing social crisis necessitated exceptional state coercion -- the Department of National Defence Relief Camp Scheme.

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