Collection RC0908 - Interviews with former members of the Communist Party of Canada

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Interviews with former members of the Communist Party of Canada

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  • Sound recording

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  • 1984-1987 (Creation)
    Borchiver, Ruth Ann

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Physical description

40 audio cassette tapes (approx. 42.5 hrs.)

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Name of creator


Biographical history

Ruth Ann Borchiver was a social worker and psychologist. Her father, David Biderman, joined the Communist Party of Canada in 1921. She grew up speaking Yiddish and attended leftist shules. As a teenager, she briefly taught Yiddish at the Morris Winchevsky Shule in Toronto before pursuing a career in social work. She was head of Jewish Child and Family Services until the late 1950s. In 1991, she completed a Doctor of Education in applied psychology at the University of Toronto. Her dissertation, based on interviews with former members of the Communist movement in Canada, was titled: “A Social-Psychological Analysis of Millennial Thought in the Communist Party of Canada: 1921-1957.

Custodial history

Scope and content

Collection consists of recordings made by Ruth Ann Borchiver in which she interviewed former members of the Canadian Communist movement, living in Toronto, for her doctoral thesis in applied psychology at the University of Toronto. The first interviews were conducted in 1984 and 1985 and the second interviews were mostly conducted in 1986 and 1987.
Borchiver asked participants about the events that led to their adoption of Communism; their reaction to perceived inconsistencies in Communist politics; their response to Khrushchev’s 1956 “Secret Speech” and other revelations about Stalinist rule; and their responses to significant events in Soviet history, including the Moscow trials of the 1930s, the Soviet non-aggression pact with Germany (commonly known as the Hitler-Stalin Pact), and Soviet interference in Yugoslavia.

Borchiver’s analysis centred on three themes: the conditions which led to the participants’ “conversion” to Communism, the conditions which led to the disconfirmation of their beliefs, and the conditions of proselytizing behaviour following their disconfirmation. The result is a description of ideological change from a millenarian outlook for achieving change through revolution to a tempered belief in incremental social change. Her methodology is socio-historical biography, using semi-structured interviews.

The first interview questions followed, but were not limited to, the following topics: early experiences of socialist ideation, feelings of achievement in the movement, reactions to revelations of the mid-1950s including Nikita Khrushchev’s Secret Speech (1956), and their current beliefs regarding socialist ideas. The second interview focused on the following topics: Trotskyism, the Moscow Trials, Social Democracy, the German-Soviet Pact, and Soviet interference in Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia.

The study was conducted on twelve people who were active in the Canadian communist movement prior to 1960, commonly referred to as the “Old Left.” Respondents included three women and nine men, who ranged in age from 65 to 83 years old and joined the Communist Party of Canada between 1923 and 1935. One participant was expelled from the Party in 1949, nine defected in 1957, and two left in 1960. Six participants were in the full-time employ of the Party for most of their careers, and six were leading Party activists. Six were European immigrants and six were born in Canada of immigrant parents. The thirteenth interviewee, who is not included in the final dissertation, was interviewed in hospital but not recorded.

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Immediate source of acquisition

The tapes were recorded by Ruth Ann Borchiver in Toronto. The recordings were research for Borchiver’s PhD thesis, “A Social-Psychological Analysis of Millennial Thought in the Communist Party of Canada: 1921-1957,” submitted for her doctoral degree in Education from the University of Toronto, January 1991. The recordings were given to Ester Reiter, who transferred them to Ian McKay.

Ian McKay donated the recordings to McMaster University Library in 2019. McKay is the Director of the Wilson Institute for Canadian History at McMaster University and author of several books about leftist politics in Canada, including Rebels, Reds, Radicals: Rethinking Canada’s Left History (Toronto: Between the Lines, 2005).

Ester Reiter is the author of A Future Without Hate or Need: The Promise of the Jewish Left in Canada (Toronto: Between the Lines, 2016). The book uses oral history testimonies found in Borchiver’s recordings.


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All of the audio cassettes have been digitized. Access will be provided to the digital copies.

Restrictions on access

Items 05 and 27 contain confidential third-party personal information recorded by person(s) unrelated to the creator’s research project. Access to the physical copies of these two tapes is restricted; researchers may only have access to the tapes in a digital format in which the confidential recordings have been removed.

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Associated materials

Borchiver, R. (1991). A social-psychological analysis of millennial thought in the communist party of Canada: 1921-1957. Available from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses A&I. Retrieved from

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No further accruals are expected.

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C. Long, 2021.

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