George Woodcock and the Doukhobors: Peasant radicalism, anarchism, and the Canadian state

2017-06-16T10:51:09Z (GMT) by Matthew Adams Luke Kelly
For the British-Canadian writer and intellectual George Woodcock, the Doukhobors – a persecuted radical Christian sect, many members of which emigrated from Russia to Canada at the turn of the twentieth century – were a continual source of fascination. A cause célèbre for a host of nineteen-century thinkers, including Leo Tolstoy and Peter Kropotkin, the Doukhobors were frequently portrayed as the exemplars of the viewer’s particular ideological beliefs. The present article examines Woodcock’s shifting interpretation of the Doukhobors, mapped onto the development of an intellectual career that saw him emerge as a leading anarchist thinker, and his broader transition from a British writer to a Canadian public intellectual. Where once he saw the Doukhobors representing anarchism in action, as his politics matured his view of the sect became more complex. Rather than living anarchists, he came to see the Doukhobors’ experience as a powerful reminder of the forces of assimilation at work in modern democracies that threatened the liberties of dissenters. Reflecting Woodcock’s revised anarchist politics, the Doukhobors’ story now became a key component of an intellectual vision that cast a probing light on Canadian history and Canadian cultural politics.