First Published: Alive No 54, October 9, 1976
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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Two former members of the CLM (“Canadian Liberation Movement”) have written to Alive regarding the death of that organization at its own hand. There are a number of points in these letters on which we do not agree with the letter writers but none of these have to do with the negative aspects of CLM as an organization. Of course we are not in a direct position to verify the horrifying facts presented in these letters. However, the main characterisations of CLM are clearly true as has been indicated at one time or another in Alive since 1973. The ex-CLMers who have written, and others, were clearly too close to the forest to see the trees. We invite others to use Alive as a chopping block against the Perlyite social-fascists who have carried on such filthy activities against the Canadian people. Also, we point out that people who have experience with other hegemonistic, social-fascist organizations will find all sorts of familiar references in these letters.
Finally in introducing these letters, we state that we believe that once the initial heat and anger have passed, it will be more possible for those involved to put politics in command and get away from the detail-in-command trend in these letters. This is an essential point for the anti-imperialist forces to grasp. Grasping class struggle as the key link and putting political line in command – while definitely paying attention to the details (the specific reflections of the political line) – all of these things will serve the anti-imperialist revolution well.
Read these two letters knowing that where there is one Perly there will be others and where there is one social-fascist organization (socialist in words, fascist in deeds) there will be others. And, read these letters knowing that Perly is but a small social-fascist worm, a reflection of the larger swamp where the real monsters and demons roam.
* * *
This is written in response to the questions you posed about the Canadian Liberation Movement after my letter in Alive 50.
The CLM is no more. It died with a whimper about a month ago. The office has been closed and all the assets liquidated. New Canada, the CLM organ has stopped publishing. Therefore the questions you asked about CLM do not apply. However as the CLM fell apart rather abruptly I am using this letter to let you know of CLM’s breakup (which hadn’t happened when I last wrote) and to very briefly give you some of the details about the breakup.
The left, or rather the leftie groups, in Canada have been falling apart for some time (e.g. the Waffle 2 years ago, the International Socialists) and hopefully we can start learning some lessons about what is causing these breakups. In CLM’s case the cause was gross sectarianism. CLM was considered by its leaders to be the only real left group in Canada and all the others misguided at best or most likely active agents of imperialism. All unions except Canadian unions were rotten, and even the Canadian unions had their problems.
This line of sectarianism was carried out among CLM members as well. The permanent chairman of CLM, Gary Perly was the leader of this line. He believed that ultimately he was the only person who counted. Other CLM members were treated like dirt. The only defense the rest of us can give for putting up with this shit is that we were in the main politically naive when we joined CLM. We were attracted by the goals of Canadian independence from U.S. control and for socialism, and by the programme of Canadian unions and Canadian cultural quotas. We honestly believed that we were “remoulding” ourselves into selfless proletarian leaders instead of into a group of mindless stooges.
The history of CLM (as the truth hits the fan) exposes a series of fronts. The CLM ran several front groups, most successful of which were the 85% Quota Campaign for Canadian Professors, and the National Committee for Independent Canadian Unions. People were recruited from these groups into CLM. Those who refused to leave the front groups for CLM were labelled lazy, uncommitted, petit-bourgeois, etc.
However, the front groups didn’t end there. It turns out that CLM itself was one big front group for a verrry did small, secret group of self-proclaimed Communists, with Perly at their head, who really called all the shots in running CLM. This little group was called the Marxist-Leninist (sic) Caucus. Perly, his wife Caroline, and another husband and wife team, the Haivens, ran this tight little ship with their own uniquely distorted brand of pseudo-Marxism. These people were both the central committee of the M/L clique and the National Officers of CLM, and thus were able to maintain their control of both groups. I was in CLM one year before I ever heard mention of the caucus. It was so undercover that I, and probably most others, thought that it had dissolved most of the time. Membership was extremely small (probably well under 10) and could only be gained by satisfying the whims of Gary Perly.
Some ex-CLMers now consider CLM to have been a totally reactionary social-fascist outfit. Others like myself believe that much of the practice was social-fascist, but that the goals and the programs were and are correct to a large degree.
A fellow ex-CLMer analyses CLM as a victim of “Perlyism”, that is the main problem was the kowtowing to a highly individualistic style of corrupt and misplaced leadership like Nasserism or Peronism. Bourgeois nationalism with a socialist veil. Perly was so farout he could have been Canada’s Idi Amin.
Since CLM’s demise I have been studying some of the history of the Canadian left, in particular Avakumovic’s history of the Canadian Communist Party. It is amazing to me how the Canadian left refuses to learn from history. CLM’s sectarian errors are solidly founded in Canadian Some examples: Constantly vilifying other leftist groups as the “main enemy” of the Canadian people, the running of front groups, and continually doing flip-flops with political lines and attitudes towards other groups especially changes caused by the mindless acceptance of the “correct political lines” as decreed from afar.
There are many papers written by ex-CLM members about CLM’s problems and the roots of its destruction, and at least one ex-member is working on a history. I will be glad to contact these people for Alive if you are interested.
The little sect called CLM is dead. However most ex-CLMers are not discouraged as we can see that the real liberation struggle of the Canadian people is stronger than ever as demonstrated by the battle against wage controls, the struggle of Native People, the growth of the left media etc.
Finally, a criticism of Alive. Your attack on Milton Acorn (Degenerates Are Not Heroes!) follows closely in the CLM tradition of sectarianism. It was so overdone and inaccurate that my initial reaction was to laugh for 10 minutes. I phoned several friends and read it to them and they also collapsed into laughter. However after some reflection I realised that I was not reading the National Lampoon but a left paper with a serious following.
If you are going to continue your super-puritanical pose, why not expose the real degenerates in Canadian history, like Norman Bethune who always graces Alive’s front page and who escorted prostitutes and god knows what. Is your policy that once you are dead all your sins are forgiven?
I lived with Milton for over half a year last year, and he is one of the soberest, quietest, most serious, yea I say celibate man I have ever known.
He had a drinking problem once and defeated it. He suffers wounds from WWII and receives a full pension for this. He writes brilliant progressive poetry. Your attitude of unforgivingness leads me to ask – isn’t someone who conquers a personal problem to be congratulated, not shot at with cheap slanders? Does this mean that Alive will never consider that reactionaries can change into progressives, that we are all permanently labelled by our original sins?
I hope you accept this criticism in the comradely spirit I wrote it in. I think Alive owes Milton Acorn an apology and I do see a trend towards super-puritanism in Alive. Enclosed is a cheque for the next 12 issues of Alive as a mark of my confidence that Alive will both continue and improve.
Yours for Independence and Socialism, Chris Faiers
In your June ’76 issue, in reply to a letter by CLM member Chris Faiers, you asked about what was going on in the Canadian Liberation Movement (CLM) since the former National Chairman, Gary Perly, was expelled by the CLM Congress in February. Well, as a CLM member I’m in a position to tell you – CLM no longer exists. It hasn’t been formally dissolved but it has broken up and its assets have been disposed of: some sold to pay off debts, others given to members, etc. New Canada has ceased publication. A new Congress (scheduled for the middle of May) which was supposed to deal with ideological and political contradictions in CLM failed to take place as no preparation for it was made. For all practical purposes, CLM is dead.
I feel that some explanation of what CLM was is in order. I don’t claim to speak for all or the majority of CLM members since I have no way of knowing what proportion of the membership agrees or disagrees with me. I, however, can confidently state that the majority of the membership is to one degree or another disgusted with CLM as it was under Gary Perly’s leadership, if that wasn’t the case, CLM would still be around today. Ideological dissention made the continuance of the organisation, in any form, impossible.
The way I see it, CLM was essentially a counter-revolutionary organisation with an ideological and political line characterized by opportunism (both right and “left”) and national chauvinism, with a tendency towards fascism. This is not to say that everything about CLM was rotten, but the reactionary aspect was definitely primary.
First of all, CLM started with an incorrect analysis of Canada, claiming it was totally controlled by U.S. imperialism, denying that there was any significant difference between a colony and a neo-colony, often maintaining that Canada was a colony (read the little “Join CLM” ads in New Canada). This analysis led naturally to the conclusion that the primary contradiction in Canada is between the Canadian bourgeoise was left out of the picture altogether, as it was held by the CLM that the dominant (comprador) section of that class is subservient to U.S. Imperialism, with no intreasts in contradiction with its, and for all practical purposes part of the U.S. imperialist bourgeoise. The minority (national bourgeoise) section on the hand was praised as being “objectively a revolutionary class.”
Class struggle, apart from its particular manifestation in anti-imperialist struggle, hardly entered CLM’s view of Canada, though (as part of reality) CLM had to deal with it in practice.
CLM’s conception of socialism was defined simply as “anti-capitalism”, instead of as the dictatorship of the proletariat. In practice, anything from Waffle-type social-democracy through Titoism to anarcho-syndicalism, as well as the dictatorship of the proletariat, were admissible as “socialism”
This was the essence of CLM’s right-opportunist ideological line, which was reflected in CLM’s political line and practice. CLM put forward the theory of a two-stage revolution for Canada (1. New Democracy; 2. socialism), disregarding the fact that Canada is an industrialized capitalist country. Canadian unions for Canadian workers and the 85% Canadian faculty quota for universities were held to be the two main objectives of this stage of the struggle, though the reason for this was never clearly explained. In fact, support for or opposition to these two objectives was used as the main way of determining whether a person or organisation was progressive or reactionary – in CLM’s eyes.
The liberation of the Canadian trade union movement from the control of the reactionary AFL-CIO unions is certainly a correct and progressive objective, though in itself not enough to revolutionize the trade unions. It, however, is certainly not the main objective of this stage of the struggle! Regarding the Quota: sure, Canada should have Canadian universities. The 85% Quota would help achieve this. But again, this alone is insufficient. Merely having 85% of the professors Canadian citizens won’t mean the universities will be controlled by the Canadian people, as CLM simplistically boasted. I’m sure that, for example, most of Harvard’s professors are U.S. citizens, but anyone who says that Harvard is controlled by the American people is either a liar or crazy. The Quota is hardly a burning issue in Canada and promoting it as such is diversionary.
For appearances’ sake, it was occasionally stated that, in the long run, a Marxist-Leninist party was necessary. Nothing, however, was ever said about how or on what basis one should be built, or about what role (if any) CLM could have in the process. Any actual proposals, within or outside CLM, regarding building a M-L organisation were dismissed as “ultra-left”, “premature”, “utopian”, and “diversionary”.
To be sure, CLM never at any time claimed to be a M-L organization. That far it was honest (it claimed to be a mass movement, which was baloney. The “mass movement” never had over 100 members.) However, it set itself up as the judge as to who was or was not a Marxist-Leninist! CLM members were encouraged to view Gary Perly as Canada’s M-L guru par excellence.
There was a so-called “Marxist-Leninist Caucus” in CLM that was M-L only in name. Membership criteria were: accept its programme (it had none); have short hair (if male); pay dues; and agree to abide by its discipline. This latter point was extremely important. In practice, it meant agreeing to submit totally to the dictates of the Caucus’ four-member “Central Committee”, whose members, incidentally, also were the majority of the members of the CLM National Office. This “Central Committee” was headed by Gary Perly.
CLM’s political line was also characterized by “left” opportunism. CLM frequently neglected to do a concrete analysis of concrete conditions in its political and organisational work. Such work always started with the assumption that “we can win if we want to badly enough”, a phrase very frequently used in CLM. This was a totally idealist and subjectivist outlook, a sort of “triumph of the will” philosophy also characteristic of fascism. It was “left” opportunist as it confused grandiose dreams with reality. CLM (with never over 100 members) frequently claimed to “lead the struggle for independence and socialism in Canada”, and even at times (e.g. in 197l) to lead “every anti-imperialist struggle in Canada”.
If a particular “campaign” failed to achieve the expected success, it was rarely even considered that, possibly, conditions were not ripe for such a campaign, or that the political line of it was wrong and the people didn’t support it. No, a scapegoat had to be found e.g. Comrade X was guilty of “sabotage”, or the Y Club members were “afraid to win” or were guilty of “small-group mentality” or “colonial mentality” etc.
This “left” opportunism was primarily evident in CLM’s “drives”: the fund-raising drives, recruitment drives etc. though it was also found in our other work (notably the “Yankee Home Campaign”).
Another characteristic of CLM’s political line was national chauvinism (under the guise of anti-imperialism), which was consolidated at the 1974 Congress (which adopted, in principle, a draft of the “Yankee Go Home policy statement”. The slogan had been first proposed at the 1973 Congress but the strong objections of a minority of delegates resulted in it being tabled for discussion among the membership). The “Yankee Go Home” campaign was openly directed against all Americans in Canada, and only grudgingly admitted that there were some progressive Americans in the U.S. Occasional phrases about CLM seeing the American people as allies “in the long run” sink to insignificance when compared with the massive amount of verbiage to the contrary.
CLM also had a chauvinist line towards immigrants and simply recommended that they take out Canadian citizenship and learn to speak English or French. Not a word about supporting their particular struggles. Under pressure of necessity, CLM twice had articles in Italian (and once in Portuguese) in New Canada, and occasionally had leaflets in these or other languages (regularly when it was organising the CWU). The statement to the effect that CLM would organise language sections for members whose first language wasn’t English was only a paper declaration, with the sole short-lived attempt at a Toronto CLM Italian Club being the only exception.
As far as the positive aspects went, the mains ones were (1) CLM consistently upheld proletarian internationalism with respect to Third World and particularly China. CLM’s publishing house was the largest distributor of books from the People’s Republic of China and the sole distributor of those from Tanzania. New Canada often had articles supporting liberation struggles in the Third World. Soviet social-imperialism was criticized, but not in depth or often enough. (NC Press also published a number of excellent books on Canadian history and art.)
(2) CLM always maintained an internationalist attitude towards Quebec, upholding Quebec’s right to self-determination even to the extent of refusing, on principle, to organise in Quebec.
(3) CLM fought for Canadian unions for Canadian workers, and against industrial poisoning. Though CLM’s work in these areas was permeated with a economist, reformist line, it earned CLM what degree of respect and support had among the people.
Democratic centralism never existed in the CLM. Decisions of any importance (and occasionally even trivial ones) were made behind the backs of the CLM membership by the “M-L” Caucus, whose members were bound by Caucus discipline to vote en bloc. Therefore, all CLM Congresses, except for the February 1976 one (by which time the Caucus had disbanded) merely rubber-stamped decisions already made by the Caucus, whose members (other than two “spokesmen”) never identified themselves as such even to other CLM members. Its members were secret “for reasons of security”.
Democratic centralism didn’t even exist in the Caucus, it was broken down into “cells” which got orders from above. For a period of almost one year, the Caucus never met at all and for that time span, all the decisions of the Caucus (and all the major ones of CLM) were made by its “Central Committee” – 4 people!
The Congresses themselves were a farce. Questions of ideology or political line were never discussed at the least at the 1973 and 1974 Congresses, at which I was a delegate), except insofar as the political line of those who disagreed with Gary Perly was attacked.
Congresses were week-long affairs with marathon sessions from 9 A.M. to 10 P.M. with 2 hour breaks for lunch and supper. They were held off in the back woods of Northern Ontario.
With the exception of a few general reports dealing with the political situation in the world and in Canada, most of the discussion centred around various specific tasks: e.g. had the Guelph club really tried consistently to sell its monthly quota of New Canada? Surely the U. of T. club could raise double the amount of money on the fund drive that it said it could if only the club executive would “think positive”, not be liberal, and get the club members off their lazy asses to raise the money that the Canadian people were just dying to give to CLM.... etc. Get the picture?
Another function of Congresses, and the “Organising Schools” which usually followed them,was to suppress any opposition to the Perlyite line The unreal pressure-cooker atmosphere of them facilitated this.
One of the more disgusting examples of this was the 1974 “Organising School”, held at a farmhouse near Carnarvon, Ontario. National Chauvinism and social-fascism were the main themes. The chairman of the Victoria (B.C.) club, who was originally from the U.S. but who had taken out Canadian citizenship, was the main target.
On the basis of some obscure dispute between her and Perly over a planned demonstration regarding U.S. tourists and B.C. ferries. Gary Perly decided to make her an example of her as an “arrogant yankee.” She was denounced as an “arrogant Yankee.” She was denounced as a “CIA agent”, a “saboteur,” “scab” etc. At one point members at the “Organising School” pounded on the tables shouting “Yankee go home!” She was beaten and her hair was cut short to humiliate her. Only the intervention of a few members prevented her from being lynched by one member who had gone berserk with hatred!
Myself and one other comrade who didn’t like what was happening were denounced as “cowards” and “Yank-suckers”. I was goaded by Perly into starting a fist fight with the Victoria club chairman “to prove that I wanted to fight imperialism”, while she tried to put a paper hat with the words “Yankee-lover” on my head (on Perly’s suggestion). Neither I nor she wanted to do this but we were motivated by fear. This is the most shameful and degrading experience I have ever had in my life and I feel deeply ashamed for not having had the guts to be a part of this exercise in fascism and stand up to Perly.
One member (who wasn’t at the “Organising School”) upon hearing about what happened, remarked that the whole affair smacked of a“Nazi beerhall putsch”. From the above it’s clear that his remark was, if anything, an understatement.
I don’t want this to sound like a personal sob story – a good many members, on other occasions, suffered worse mistreatment, particulary dissident caucus members, one of whom was forced to live in a closet for over a month, allow hot tea to be poured on her, and turn over a sizable portion of her income to Gary Perly to “prove her dedication” to the cause.
The reasons why the Perlyite gang could get away for so long with what it did were:
(1) The vast majority of CLM members had no political experience before they joined CLM and very little, if any, knowledge of Marxism-Leninism, but a great deal of admiration for China and socialism and a desire to fight for independence and socialism. They were thus, unable to distinguish between genuine and phony Marxism. This ignorance and dedication was exploited by social-fascist charlatans like the Perlyites: Gary Perly, Caroline Perly, Judy Haiven, and Larry Haiven. Members thought that the fascistic goings-on in CLM were a sort of “training” people had to undergo so that they could purge themselves of “petty-bourgeois liberalism” and become real revolutionaries. Social-fascism was promoted as “socialism”, bourgeois despotism as “democratic centralism”, etc. This type of thing is hardly unique in history: Hitler conned millions of Germans into supporting the Nazis with demagogy. Perly just did it on a smaller scale. The experience of CLM shows what the consequences of political ignorance can be. Decent people with progressive motives can be misled into supporting the most reactionary organisations.
(2) The “M-L” Caucus. This is where most of the internal fascism was practiced and the sordid schemes cooked up, hidden from the majority of the membership. The fact that the Caucus itself was broken down into cells diminished the likelihood of a few members knowing the whole picture.
The shit finally hit the fan in October 1975 when the Caucus members revolted against Perlyite fascism and published a document in the CLM internal newsletter entitled “Let Us Unite and Go Forward”. Though it did not repudiate CLM’s opportunist ideological and political line it did expose and denounce Gary Perly and his social-fascist line and sectarianism in CLM’s external relations.
Two factors brought about this revolt: (1) the demoralization of the membership over the fiasco of the “Yankee Go Home Campaign”, which isolated CLM from the people more than anything it had ever done before, and resulted in a number of arrests, as well as the resignation of several, members; and demoralization over the collapse of the 1975 fund drive. (2) The resignation and flight from Toronto of two of CLM’s longest-standing militants, Barry and Gail Lord, fed up with abuse by the Perlyite clique. The clique managed to keep the lid on for two months until, finally, the Caucus members broke discipline and revolted.
The CLM internal newsletter mushroomed in size and went weekly (from monthly) with articles on CLM history detailing the role of the Perlyite clique. Also, contradictions in CLM over ideological and political line, long suppressed by the Perlyites, were discussed and analyzed. CLM gradually divided into two camps, one in favour of building a Marxist-Leninist organisation, the other in favour of is broader, anti-imperialist organisation, with a great many members undecided. All, however, were united in common opposition to Perlyite fascism.
Though the Perlyites tried to divert attention from themselves and their line towards the project of drawing up a CLM constitution, they were gradually defeated.
The January 1976 National Executive meeting removed Gary Perly from the position of National Chairman, withdrew official recognition of the “M-L” Caucus, and set the date for a Congress in February. The Caucus decided to disband in mid-February. At the February Congress in Toronto, Gary Perly was expelled (on February 28) and for the first time, the question of a Marxist-Leninist organisation as opposed to a strictly nationalist organisation was discussed at a CLM Congress (on February 29). The old Perlyite-controlled National Office was abolished and a representative National Committee with little authority other than to see that the newsletter came out and to organise a new Congress later – replaced it. This was the de facto liquidation of CLM as an organisation.
I feel that a final Congress should be called to formally dissolve the CLM and repudiate its counter-revolutionary line. This is the principled thing to do, and would serve the people.
In struggle, Peter Flosznik