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When the State Trembled by Reinhold Kramer Essay (Book Review)

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Updated: Nov 22nd, 2019


Kramer & Mitchell’s when the state trembled focuses on issues that resulted from the Winnipeg strike that took place in 1919. Though there were other strikes in the history of Canada, the Winnipeg General strike of 1919 was very influential as it formed the basis for many of the reforms that took part in Canada over the years.

Most of the businessmen had been able to make huge profits through contracts that they had been awarded throughout the period of the First World War but the wages that they paid to laborers were low, there were no labor rights for the employees and the working conditions for the workers were very poor (Kramer & Mitchell 20).

Some individuals volunteered to try and advocate for labor rights of the workers through strikes in the month of March 1919. When most of the soldiers returned home, they found that their jobs had been taken by immigrants that had entered the country between 1896 and 1912. There was a lot of tension because the cost of living had gone up as a result of the inflation due to the war (Kramer & Mitchell 22).

Individuals in both government and private offices threatened to strike until the wages and salaries of individuals were raised so that they could be able to cope with life. The citizen’s committee foresaw loss of property and lives which would have disrupted the lives and businesses of many individuals and they organized to meet with the ministers of labour and justice and told them that a revolution was being organized which after discussions led to the arrest of the leaders of the labor unions (Kramer & Mitchell 33).


The book by Kramer and Mitchell talks of the strike that occurred in Canada after the First World War. Kramer and Mitchell were successful in showing that it is a small number of individuals; one thousand to be precise that led to the end of what might have been an endless number of strikes in Canada. These individuals named themselves the Citizens’ Committee and were composed of mainly wealthy individuals who were business men and women in Winnipeg (Kramer & Mitchell 68).

Most books or articles that have been written about took place in Winnipeg after the first World usually talks about the strike but the two authors focused on the story that has not be told about the individuals that helped save the country from revolt that might have led to the loss of many lives and property. The revolt that might have occurred would have slowed down the growth of the economy which would have taken a lot of time to rebuild (Kramer & Mitchell 100).

The presence of the immigrants led to the fear that the Bolshevik that had migrated into Canada would contribute to a revolution. The Bolshevik had successfully led a revolution in Russia in 1917 (Kramer & Mitchell 41). Kramer and Mitchell’s book gives a national and international outlook of the activities that went on in Canada and the reasons behind those activities.

I think that the book fits into the course coverage because it gives learners a look and understanding into the history of Canada.

I feel that it would be impractical to learn about Canada today and not know why the different political, social and economic aspects originated from. Kramer and Mitchell successfully give an interesting account of events that led to the current to the current liberal and successful Canadian system of ruling.

The course coverage also enables an individual to delve into organization skills. After reading Kramer and Mitchell’s when the state trembled, to recall what was in the book so as to write it down, one has to think proactively and ensure that thoughts are organized into a logical manner which is one of the aspects examined in this course.

I am better equipped to understand Canadian business and labour history after reading Kramer and Mitchell’s when the state trembled.

I was able to learn of the major developments that led to the current economic production and to understand to relate the availability of capital to hired labor and the terms and conditions biding the hired/ employed labour. Reading “When the State trembled” also helped me understand the how and why the strike ended.

The book made me think about potential outcomes that might come up if the same case was to happen today as it happened after the First World War in Winnipeg. Questions arise on whether which individuals in the society would form the Citizen’s committee and the necessity of formation of a Citizens committee.

I also believe that reviewing of the book has also helped me to improve my review skills. At first I thought that the course would involve the memorizing of dates and events but it turned out to be an interesting read into the history of Canada labour industry dynamics and business which have no doubt shaped the current labour and business industries in the country and maybe even helped other countries learn from Canada.

The general strike in 1919 led to the introduction of labour laws and the eventual improvement of working conditions of employees in many work places. The solidarity that was shown by individuals after their downed their tools and joined in the strike was admirable.

Canadians wanted change but they did not want any bloodshed so they conducted themselves in a peaceful manner by having a general strike throughout a wide geographical area that led to the people in government giving them an audience. Kramer and Mitchell’s thesis was well brought in the book (Kramer & Mitchell 95).

Thesis statement

The main issue being addressed in the book is the intervention of the citizen’s committee so that they could stop what they felt could have resulted in the government being overthrown because it was not taking any action even with the general strike in 1919 (Kramer & Mitchell 24).

Kramer and Mitchell’s thesis is well thought out and stated which gives the authors an authority into the message that they are trying to put across.

The main message of the book is that the Citizens’ Committee was successful in putting an end to the general strike. The authors portray the general strike as one that would have led to downfall of the government and might have led to the imposition of martial law in Winnipeg and probably in the whole of Canada (Kramer & Mitchell 74).

Kramer and Mitchell present clear and consistent support for their arguments. They were lucky enough to benefit from the communication that took place between the then acting Minister of Justice, Arthur Mighen and the prominent Canadian lawyer A.J. Andrews. This information gives the reader a clear insight into the need for action that the citizen’s committee felt towards the general strike and the looming unlawfulness that might have taken place (Kramer & Mitchell 69).

If the government had been overthrown, it would have taken too much time for the country to get back on its feet; economically, socially and even politically. Kramer and Mitchell also show the kind of strong influence that the one thousand members of the Citizen’s committee had on the society. Kramer and Mitchell also effectively trace the origins of the Citizen’s committee. It is observed that the Citizen’s committee that existed in Winnipeg were also part of the Citizens’ Alliance and Citizens’ Committee composed of a hundred members.

The Citizens’ Committee also had influence from American cities such as Minneapolis and San Diego. There seemed to be a relationship between members of the Citizens’ alliance and those members that were against vigilante groups formed by members of labor unions that were in support of the strike. Kramer and Mitchell were effective in showing that citizens who participated in the General strike had no intention of getting into any form of war (Kramer & Mitchell 74).

But I think that they failed to show that the Citizens of Alliance and A.J Andrews knew what they were doing when they led to the action of the government to stop the general strike by arresting individuals who were the leaders of the labour unions, the denial of bail for these individuals, invasion of homes in search of individuals responsible for the unlawfulness, cases of vigilantes taking law into their own hands and manipulation of the individuals in power in the government and the manipulation of the government itself (Kramer & Mitchell 113).

Kramer and Mitchell are seen as favouring the Citizens’ Committee and their actions being portrayed as patriotic. The authors fail to put emphasis on the events of Bloody Saturday whereby people went out in to the street to demonstrate after the rest of eight of the labour union leaders. The demonstration resulted in the injury of many people and the death of a number of people. A number of people were also deported due to their participation in the demonstration (Kramer & Mitchell 233).

The military were called in to observe the city and ensure that peace was observed and maintained. The perspective of saving the nation from destruction of property and loss of lives is the major focus of the authors, leaving the loss of lives through the demonstration, and the arrest of the leaders of the labour unions look like acceptable collateral damage. Kramer and Mitchell should have been unbiased in the presentation of both sides of the story; the Citizens’ alliance and the laborers that were involved in the general strike (Kramer & Mitchell 118).

However, even if the two authors were biased in favor of the Citizens’ Alliance, they presented sufficient evidence which makes it easy to understand why they are biased towards the Citizens’ alliance and lawyer A.J. Andrews for manipulating the government to achieve their interests. Even though the Citizens’ alliance was fighting against capitalism, it did not make the fight of the ordinary citizen less worthy.

The ordinary citizen was fighting of higher pay, better working conditions and establishment of labor laws which is reasonable and they should be have been given audience instead of being met with violence or being fired from their jobs. Kramer and Mitchell have presented the events before and after the general strike in an interesting manner. The book is presented in a logical manner that has been well thought out (Kramer & Mitchell 200).

The reader is pleasantly surprised because one expects a boring book but instead finds Canadian history presented in an intriguing manner that leaves suspense to find out what happened next and why. However, it is not clear why the general strike was focused on Winnipeg.

It is also not clear why all soldiers seem to have come back to Winnipeg after they returned from the First World War. There were many other cities in Canada and they all must have industries too where people could have gone to look for work especially after they must have seen that the situation was only get worse in Winnipeg.

The authors should have clarified whether there was any connection whether there was a link between the Canadian soldiers that lost their limbs and had first been in Britain before being returned to their home country after the war.

An important issue that seems to have been neglected is the issue of Jews. Kramer and Mitchell have been criticized for saying that the Jews were “more aggravating” (Kramer & Mitchell 224). This is observed as being anti-Semitic which is unexpected in this day and age.

Kramer and Mitchell are successful in presentation of their facts because they provide original documents of the occurrences following the General strike. The story has a funny twist when the reader begins to wonder how a group of people the Citizens alliance were able to manipulate the government into doing what they wanted.

Were it not for the provision of the original documents as proof, the reader might be tempted to think that the book is a fiction novel. The book has perfect grammar and no mistakes in spelling. This can be linked to the University of Toronto press which is thorough in its proofreading and editing which has earned them a great reputation for publishing high quality books though some critics argue that they limit the number of authors that they take in which then limits the number of people that read their books.

I hope that they can address that issue because Kramer and Mitchell’s book is a fascinating book that would interest individuals who might not even have a history but might just be looking to increase their knowledge. The text of the book has 323 pages and 100 pages that are filled with endnotes. This gives the impression that book is meant for academicians. The font of the book is too small which might be discouraging to read. There are about 180,000 words which excludes the notes at the end.


The paper addresses the theme that was presented by Kramer and Mitchell. Kramer and Mitchell’s main focus was the actions of the Citizens’ alliance and their lawyer A.J. Andrews. These individuals were able to manipulate the actions of the minister of labour and the minister of justice to view the actions of the labour movements as those that would lead to destabilization of the government and possibly lead to a revolution similar to the one that had taken place in Russia led by the Bolshevik in 1917.

It was feared that these individuals who were part of the immigrants that had come into Canada and settled in Winnipeg before the end of the world war would lead to a revolt.

The Citizens’ alliance who were the wealthy and elite individuals of Winnipeg were able to convince the government that the general strike was a form of revolution that might have led to the imposition of martial law into the city. If the government was destabilized, it would have too long for it to recover. The citizens had gone on a general strike to try and fight for better rights in terms of labor laws in their pay and working conditions.

The result is that some of the labour union leaders were jailed while others were deported to the United States of America and others to Europe. A number of individuals were also injured and others killed from a demonstration that resulted from the apprehension of the labour union leaders. The book shows both the positive and negative effects that might result from a general strike. I would recommend the book to both history and non-history majors.

Works Cited

Kramer, Reinhold & Mitchell, Tom. When the State Trembled: How A.J. Andrews and the Citizens’ Committee Broke the Winnipeg General Strike. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2010. Print.

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