By the late 1950s and 1960s, Bertrand Russell was internationally regarded as a man of great wisdom and determined action, and also as someone who was willing to challenge the establishment. His reputation in Canada was no different and would have appealed to someone like Canadian writer Farley Mowat (1921-2014), who was also known to buck tradition.
In this 1960 letter, Mowat is seeking Russell’s advice on the issue of Canadian independence in an American-dominated world. Identifying himself as a “maverick,” Mowat laments the “very nearly moribund” state of the Committees for Canadian Independence, which he had co-founded earlier in 1960. He now wants to rejuvenate the organization to “prevent our total absorption by the United States” by coordinating a Canadian “revivified independence movement.” He says that he knows “nothing of the intricacies and complexities of establishing an organization such as this one ought to be” and assumes that Russell does—at the time, Russell was the president of the activist Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, and a few years earlier had issued The Russell-Einstein Manifesto and had been involved with the establishment of the Pugwash Conference. While Mowat tells Russell “you most assuredly are also not an ‘organization’ man,” he assumes Russell has organizational skills and asks him “how this movement should be organized; how its efforts should be directed, and how best to ensure that it will be effective?”
In his reply (a copy of which is in the Russell archives), Russell states: “I do not see … that I am in any [way] competent to give you advice on the question of organization, which is a matter in which I am not at all skilled.” He does, however, “wish to see your independence” since, as a member of NATO, Canada, like Britain, is “willy-nilly controlled by American policy.”
This is the only letter from Mowat in the Russell archives. The Farley Mowat archive is also held by McMaster University Library. It does not contain any letters from Russell.
Sources: Letter from Bertrand Russell to Farley Mowat (copy), 26 November 1960 (Bertrand Russell Archives, Box 1.50, Folder Canada F-9).
Committees For Canadian Independence
Telephone Bolton 402w4 Palgrave, Ontario
Sept. 16 1960
Dear Lord Russell:
Some months ago I was instrumental in the genesis of the organization whose rather bellicose names appears at the head of this letter. Since I am well known as a writer in Canada, and as a maverick, there was a considerable amount of publicity during the initial days. However I had to climb out of the arena during the summer months (having lost my heart to a small schooner in Newfoundland waters) and on my return to Toronto I found the organization was very nearly moribund. Nevertheless I also found that the general attitude of Canadians as a group (unfortunately we cannot call ourselves a nation) was far more favourably disposed toward a last-ditch attempt to prevent our total absorption by the United States than it had been at any time in the past.
I therefore decided that, before departing from this land for good, I should make one final attempt to rouse, and harden, Canadian opinion against the inevitable consequences of allowing ourselves to become a U.S. satellite. I have therefore approached a number of prominent Canadians, including two or three retired generals; Mr. Walter Gordon, who is perhaps our most prominent economist; eminent politicians of all three major parties; and a number of other men who have displayed signs of restivness [sic] under the increasing domination of our American neighbours. I have suggested to them that individual complaints expressed in newspapers or in speeches, may not now be fully adequate, and that if we are to save ourselves, we must be prepared to take unified action. The reception so far, has been encouraging.
I have, however, some serious problems to surmount if a revivified Independence movement is to have any chance of real viability. I am not, and have never been, an organization man and I know nothing of the intricacies and complexities of establishing an organization such as this one ought to be. You, on the other hand, while you most assuredly are also not an ‘organization’ man, have been involved in work of this sort for many years, and I must assume that you are by now something of an expert. Would you, therefore, consider offering me some practical advice as to how this movement should be organized; how its efforts should be directed, and how best to ensure that it will be effective?
The prime difficulties which the original organization faced, and with which it could not cope, were lack of money to-gether with a total inability to persuade the acknowledged leaders of Canadian opinion, that they should support it. To offset these serious obstacles, we did succeed in rousing
a rather remarkable (considering the natural lethargy and caution of Canadians) degree of active interest amongst rational, and worried, individuals across the country. But having done this much, we proved unable to provide direction and leadership, and I am afraid that we seriously disappointed many people who, for once, had reason to believe that there was some chance what Canada, and Canadians, might find the opportunity to play a new role in world affairs.
I am afraid that this is not a very satisfactory letter since I am, in fact, groping rather blindly in a most unfamiliar forest. However if you believe that our objectives, as they are rather bluntly stated in the enclosed material, are worthwhile, and can find the time to write to me, I would be most grateful indeed.
No doubt my English publishers, Michael Joseph, would be able to provide you with some background concerning my personal history, and they might even vouch for my bona fides.
I do not know whether or not you have seen Minifie’s book. He is a senior CBC correspondent in Washington and an old friend of mine. In case you have not seen it, I am sending you a copy under separate cover.
 Committees for Canadian Independence was founded over a period of a few weeks in May-June, 1960, in Palgrave, Ontario. Its objective was to “free Canada from foreign political, economic, and military domination.”
 Walter Gordon chaired Canada’s Royal Commission on Canada’s Economic Prospects (1956-57) and raised concerns about foreign ownership in the Canadian economy. He would serve as Minister of Finance in Lester Pearson’s Liberal government in the early 1960s.
 Mowat was likely thinking of Russell’s role at this time as president of the militant Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. Later in 1960, Russell would resign the presidency to be a co-founder of the Committee of 100.
 The enclosed material includes background information on the founding of the Committees for Canadian Independence, as well a statement of its objectives.
 Michael Joseph Ltd., which was acquired by Penguin in 1985.
 “Minifie’s book” is Peacemaker or Powder Monkey: Canada’s Role in a Revolutionary World (McClelland & Stewart, 1960) by James M. Minifie (1900-1974), a highly regarded Canadian journalist who served as CBC’s Washington correspondent for many years following the Second World War. The book is mentioned in the enclosures included with the letter; the copy sent by Mowat is in the Russell Library at McMaster (Russ Lib 2500).
Bertrand Russell Archives, Box 1.50, F.9 Mowat, Farley. Used with permission of Claire Mowat. Copy provided for personal and research use only. For any other use, permission of the copyright holder is required.