First Published: In Struggle! No. 284, April 6, 1982
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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1. This response comes rather late considering the publication date of your supplement. I meant to respond earlier but the situation is kind of difficult in the Maritimes and I also took my vacation in this period. This response is not very systematic. Its more in a point by point form.
2. In certain respects I don’t think your comments on the International are adequate. The trend that has defined itself as ML is going down the tubes. This movement that used to point its finger at the Trotskyistes is also splitting up. So much for the ML “iron discipline”. How come this movement that we have said we are a part of has always been so marginal to the political life of their respective countries? That’s also a feature we have had in common with parts of the Trot trend. My point here is not that our demise is due to Trotskyism – that way of explaining reality is precisely the bag we have got to get out of.
3. Everything was so exciting years ago. New ML groups, organizations and parties were developing. (I’m thinking here of the advanced capitalist countries). We were the new guy on the block. Those who weren’t too pleased with the old C.P.’s came over to the new trend. There was a real dynamic. It makes me think back to the period of ’75, ’76, ’77 for us. The stagnation of the advanced capitalist countries was only just beginning and its effects on the masses was not as hard as it is becoming now. A movement characterized by the defense of the principles (on almost exclusively ideological grounds) dropped by others is going to run out of steam sooner or later depending on the conditions in which they work. What was the class basis of this ML trend (and I would ask the same question of the other trends that held up either Lenin or Trotsky or Stalin etc.)? There was a certain amount of “extremism” in the defense of the “principles”.
4. If I understand your supplement correctly you are telling me that the crisis is due to the abandonment of principles and a caving in to the pressure of right opportunism. This being reflected most clearly in certain political positions advocated in the newspaper – since many of these positions bring into question the ML view of the State, social democracy, the relation between reforms and revolution, etc. While I share some of your criticisms of what has been in the newspaper, I certainly don’t share your general view.
5. I agree with you that our congress made some important evaluations of the rise of reaction, sharpening crisis, war preparations. Imperialism is reactionary no doubt about it. But will the struggle for democracy and reforms obscure this or bring it out in even sharper view?
6. The debate at the C.C. and in the organization over the PLO did change our previous line – a line which in my opinion was based on the view in the program that says “only the proletariat can lead the revolution on the path towards socialism”.
7. Because of the experience of our organization in my region with the questions of sectarianism (later for dogmatism) I’m particularity interested in what your have to say about it. You point to the source of our sectarianism as the “purity of our isolation”; that it is or was only a problem in relation to our refusal to unite with reformists in the struggle for immediate demands. You almost reduce it to a matter of diplomacy which we were not too good at. While this is true, it doesn’t explain the heart of the problem. I’ve never felt very comfortable with the explanation that is given by militants from your region about this – such a strong insistence that “we’re good guys too now”. Your experience shows you that others suffer from this “political flaw”. Rather than taking the finger-pointing approach (which strikes me as part of the tone of what you say) why not instead try to understand why this sectarianism is in fact a common feature of the left in our country?
8. In so far as the sectarianism of IN STRUGGLE! is concerned, I think that it is a bit more complicated than the way you pose it. We should recognize that the congress said that we were the only ML’s around. The task to unite ML’s around a program was completed. Others were either counter-revolutionary or hopeless opportunists. Our mission was to rid the worker and popular movements of all the contaminating shit that was holding hack the development of the subjective factor. In my opinion, this decision of the congress ratified a process which had already started years before in English Canada when the polemics first started around the question of Economism. While IN STRUGGLE! did not suffer from as gross a form of sectarianism, it certainly was not exempt from it either. The CCL(ML) set a perimeter around itself. IN STRUGGLE! set it around those who proclaimed an ideological affinity to certain principles (MLism). In both cases, those outside the ML perimeter were opposed to MLism, therefore anti-communist. Since communists were the only ones who were the true defenders of the working class, these types were opposed to the true interests of the working class. This maybe a bit of a caricature but it is not far from the mark. While I am not opposed to the effort to unite those that considered themselves ML what I think is wrong is the analysis that was made of who is or isn’t in the revolutionary camp. Even within the camp that defined itself as ML the level of sectarianism was quite high. For example I don’t think that the proposal of one of the Vancouver groups to form some kind of Liason Committee was so hopelessly opportunist.
9. In 1977 all the regions of IN STRUGGLE! were supposed to have made an analysis of the objective and subjective conditions in their region. It would probably be useful to review this – especially our attitude towards the revolutionary camp and who composed it. It’s in this whole area where I think that it would be more profitable to took for the sources of sectarianism. So I don’t agree with you that the task of uniting the revolutionaries around a program is complete. However our present program agrees with you. It says nothing about the revolutionary movement in this country except to say that it is us or else fakers, con artists etc. This is an important thesis considering the stage we are at in the developing a serious revolutionary alternative. So when you say later that there is no need to abandon revolutionary politics in our quest to unite the revolutionary forces, you are placing a straight jacket on the process. And I say this not because I endorse the “minimum platform” approach but rather because our program approach has brought us to the end of the line in relation to this question. It strikes me that you have resigned yourselves to the present level of unity of the revolutionary forces. You’re saying that what we have to do is to hang onto our basic principles and wait till the day when the class struggle will not be so primitive and then there will be a new surge.
10. The question of idealism is for sure an important one. I agree with you that boosting reality leads to setting exaggerated objectives. We had problems with this in our region. You point to quotas for the newspaper and recruitment that were too high. The consequence of or solution to the problem is to lower our quotas because, as you say later, the real basis for this is supposedly that the level of the class struggle is still primitive. To me this ducks the question of the political orientation we have taken up to try to reach these quotas – which brings us back to the theses or hypotheses, or whatever they are called these days.
11. In the life of an organization and its relation to the masses of the people, certain mistakes it makes can be much more costly than others. I think that errors or this sort are usually those attached to the assessment made of the situation in your own country (and region). I am thinking here of the development of the political influence of our organization.
12. Here we run into real difficulties. This has certainly been the case in our region. Its hard for me to say that this is the case for your region as I don’t know it very well. So I will try to illustrate my point from some of the things mentioned in the supplement. You claim that you recognize that the organization has suffered from a distorted view of reality – that is, we thought that the revolution was around the corner. The masses want revolution and so we get rid of those promoting visions other than the violent overthrow of the bourgeoisie, set up it. We have a program that reflects this perspective (while also incorporating certain principles or views that are correct taken by themselves).
13. It is recognized, including by yourselves that we have been weak in exposing and struggling positively against national oppression in Quebec. But we have to ask why. I think that it is because we are afraid that it will just promote narrow nationalism; that it will work against the development of multinational unity. Our “principled” position may have been correct in the abstract but it hasn’t gotten us very far in Quebec.
14. The method outlined in Article 8 I think reflects as well the above “boosted” view of the revolutionary process. Besides the exclusive role of the party in protracted struggle for the proletarian party, the whole article strikes me as rather clinical (which we should wonder about given that it is supposed to give us the perspective for our intervention in the immediate struggles).
15. If the revolution was on the agenda I would look at the first demand in Article 8 favourably i.e. (complete independence of popular organizations from the bourgeois state – ed. note). But it isn’t. We are functioning in a non-revolutionary situation and if one popped up in the next five years or so (the 80’s according to some) the revolutionary movement would be in no position to take advantage of it – precisely because it hasn’t accumulated the forces to do it. And it won’t so long as we maintain this no “truck or trade”, this splendid isolation from the institutions of this society which are a part of the state apparatus – an apparatus which is more than the police and army.
16. I think that it is correct to point to some of the things that you point to and say they demonstrate that Canada is an imperialist country (although I wasn’t aware there was a challenge to this) and that socialism is still the immediate goal. Even if we spent all of our work on the question of electoral activity (in and around that) for the next number of years that wouldn’t mean that we no longer see socialism as “the immediate goal”.
17. I don’t quite understand your criticism of our work on the constitution question. Is it that the word “guaranteed” was used and so therefore that socialism is proof that we’re now saying (or at least the newspaper leadership) that socialism is no longer necessary, that capitalism is capable of granting this and that Canadian imperialism is not really so reactionary after all I also have some criticisms of our constitution work but l think that if you take all the agit/prop materials that were done I don’t think that one can say it was basically reformist. If anything I think we were somewhat able to show just how reactionary Canadian imperialism is when it comes to the democratic rights of the Canadian people.
18. How about our soft stands on social democracy? Let me start by saying that I didn’t agree with the Regina comrades one bit. Part of my views on this is in an article that was sent to our press about the provincial elections in Nova Scotia. Another was in a letter (that wasn’t printed) criticising the Regina view – but not from the view that there are fundamental differences between NDP and the Grits and Tories. I really didn’t find arguments like there is still alcholimn and rape taking place in NDP Sask very convincing as a basic critique of social democracy and the basis from which we would determine what stand to take in the election. That is not serious revolutionary politics at all. If our starting point is that “they are all the same” (which is true from the point of view of abstract principle) our tactic will always be (like it has been!) Spoil Your Ballot. This way of looking at things has to go if we really do want to become some kind of political reference point for the people and not some sect.
19. I think the majority of our membership would like to see changes to our program. In your supplement you point to a number of things that are “far from minimal” and are in fact distinctive: that the Soviets are social imperialists, that we support Quebec’s right to self determination but are opposed to the independence of Quebec as a means towards socialism, that Canada is imperialist, that socialism is the immediate goal, that the working class as a whole is the main and leading class, that state power must be seized by means of revolutionary violence.
20. A lot can be said (and will have to be gone into) about these points. But these points can also be found in the programs or platforms of others who define themselves as ML. They are having some of the same problems we have. So I wonder whether or not this is due to the absence or not of certain written principles in a program. It seems to me that the problem lies much more in the vision we have had of how revolution will occur (given that we have only other underdeveloped countries to look at) in our country; how the character of an advanced capitalist country shapes the form and content of the revolutionary struggle (by content I mean as well the demands of the masses of people); the kind of society we want for ourselves and our children. Saying that we have to overthrow violently the bourgeois State, establish the dictatorship of the proletariat, strengthen the camp of the revolution and weaken that of the bourgeoise etc. etc. doesn’t solve the problem. If our strategy is simply a single line that joins up a list of principles then it is worthless.
J. Maritimes secretary