First Published: The Forge Vol 7, No 41, December 1982
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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In the course of these two days of discussion, various positions were expressed concerning the party’s future. The adoption of a minimum basis of unity in no way resolved this debate, and rank-and-file party members will continue to debate the various options in the coming period.
The dissolution of the organization was put forward by many militants who, for varying reasons, had already left the party or were planning to.
A good many people pointed out that they had not renounced their revolutionary goals, even if they considered that the WCP was no longer a tool for carrying out this revolution. Nor were they leaving the party “to go and grow tomatoes,” as one delegate put it. Instead they intend to continue their involvement in workers’ and people’s struggles and in the women’s movement.
These party members have a negative appraisal of the WCP’s work, but as well, they don’t consider that the party is capable of breaking with its undemocratic practices and its sectarian, dogmatic and chauvinist habits.
Helene, speaking for a group of Quebec City members, was one of the delegates who most clearly expressed this position. She criticized the party’s dogmatic attitude toward Marxism, which was seen as “a religion that explained everything.” She explained the consequences of the different forms of chauvinism in the party, and also rejected the idea of a vanguard party.
“This conception leads directly to developing an elite, preferably of intellectuals, and male as well. The same thing goes for the mass work. We communists were supposed to have the correct orientation, the correct analysis, and so on. There was no place for the ideas of ordinary people, except on tactics...
“Maintaining the WCP,” she concluded, “would be to refuse to admit we made a mistake. It would be to maintain an organization in which we recreated the same relationship between leaders and led as in society. It would be to maintain the oppression of women, workers and Quebecois. It would be continuing to have blind faith in a theory that must be questioned, criticized and developed. Maintaining the WCP doesn’t mean maintaining the party of the working class, it means continuing our contempt for working people by letting them think that, after all, the WCP wasn’t as bad as all that.”
Other delegates said they favoured maintaining some form of organization so that the rank and file could really carry out a sum-up of the party’s work.
This was the position expressed by Jean-Paul Cadorette, one of the former leaders of the Quebec District and one of those in charge of union work. Two months before, he explained, he had been in favour of continuing the party on a minimum basis of unity. But he changed his mind because of the roadblocks being set up by party leaders and, above all, because of the large number of people who have left the party.
“What do we want,” he asked, “a party, or to make the revolution? Do we want workers in a revolutionary organization or do we want to preserve the WCP?”
He proposed that an organization be established based on collectives that would examine various questions (women, proletarians, etc.) A coordinating committee would be established to help with the sum-up, and a newsletter would be published. Members involved in unions or other organizations could also get together to share analyses.
Most of the delegates who supported the new minimum basis of unity wanted to undertake the profound rectification required to transform the party.
While overall they expressed the same criticisms of the party’s errors and its leadership, many also pointed out positive aspects of the party’s work. One of the examples most frequently cited by militants from various workplaces and regions was the party’s work in the unions.
Several people,intervened to point out how in the their regions they had made major contributions to building opposition to class collaboration in the unions and developing unity among trade unionists. This of course doesn’t imply everything was perfect, said one Common Front activist, nor does it eliminate our errors, whether on the woman question or other issues.
“I’m not going to commit hari-kiri,” said a delegate from Rouyn-Noranda who is involved in an injured workers group. “In my region we are respected not just because we are militant, but because of our orientations. For me, the party is the solution, but not at any price; I don’t want a Stalinist party. A party must reflect the work of its members, of women, of workers,”
“This is not the first time in history that a communist party has made errors,” remarked Daniele Bourassa, in charge of October magazine. “In 1927 the Chinese Communist Party saw hundreds of thousands of its members die because of errors in its line. Yet it was still able to rectify its mistakes and make great contributions to the revolutionary cause. It is our responsibility to understand our errors and transform ourselves. That is the challenge we face.”
A militant from Hull, Robert, stated that he saw political maturity in the fact that the party’s rank and file is “able to put everything in question and get rid of the leadership.”
There was also a consensus that party activists must carry out the necessary changes where they are involved, in conjunction with working men and women. They must search out people’s criticisms and ideas while at the same time maintaining a practice in struggles.
Lastly, a certain number of delegates who want to maintain a revolutionary organization based temporarily on the new basis of unity considered that it was nonetheless necessary to formally dissolve the old WCP.
This was the idea behind a resolution proposed by delegates from east-end Montreal (see p. 4), a proposal taken up by several workshops and speakers.
The main argument in favour of this option stated that we had to take account of the concrete reality of the WCP: the need to redefine a political and ideological line, the loss of many members, etc.
Others also maintained that from its very foundation, the organization was “self-proclaimed” the revolutionary party of the working class.
In the workshops, some delegates suggested that formally dissolving the old WCP would show a more consistent desire to break with the past, as well as a more modest approach to ex-members and to other Quebec workers who are also searching for a revolutionary alternative.