First Published: In Struggle! No. 173, September 25, 1979
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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In the last two articles, we have seen to what point the Canadian Party of Labour follows a nationalist line. In one of its recent issues, it even went so far as to praise Pierre Bourgault and Michel Bourdon, two nationalists, who, according to the CPL, represent the PQ’s “left wing”. How can this behaviour be explained when in the past the CPL was known for Its staunch opposition to all national liberation struggles? In the sixties and early seventies, this viewpoint led the CPL to campaign against the Black Panthers at the very time that the Panthers were victims of an extermination campaign on the part of the FBI. It also led them to sabotage the anti-Vietnam war movement in Canada and the United States, on the pretext that the leadership of the Vietnamese people was bourgeois nationalist. And there are other examples of this sort.
The most obvious reason that we can give for this behaviour is undoubtedly its ideological dependence, until recently, on the Progressive Labour Party of the United States. Contrary to what it tries to pass off as the truth today, the CPL always considered the PLP as a genuine father-party. This led the CPL to be satisfied with distributing PLP literature rather than publishing its own theoretical journals pamphlets (with the exception of a pamphlet on the history of the labour movement).
The main document for the foundation of the CPL was based on a PLP text “Build a base in the working class”. In Canada, the CPL worked in the same organizations that the PLP worked in in the U.S.A. It defended the same positions in the Canadian branch of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and dissolved what remained of it in conjunction with its dissolution in the States. Both parties worked in the Workers’ Action Movement which was established to demand the 30 hour work week for 40 hours pay, as well as in the International Committee Against Racism (INCAR) which still exists.
But this is a superficial explanation. The real reason for the CPL’s nationalism is its incapacity to truly break with revisionism. Twelve years after having proclaimed itself the revolutionary party of the proletariat in Canada, the CPL has yet to adopt its programme! Only out-and-out contempt for revolutionary theory can explain how a party can agree to automatically endorse the positions of another party, no matter what party that is. And this is particularly so given the current situation where, in all countries, the struggle to rebuild genuine Marxist-Leninist parties demands a rigorous criticism of revisionism, which has been poisoning the communist movement for over 20 years. As early as 1902, Lenin stated that without revolutionary theory, there could be no revolutionary movement.
The same economist conception explains why the CPL has always limited its work in the working class to the role of radicalizing economic struggles. Its “programme” in the working class can be reduced to three slogans: “30 hours work for 40 hours pay” which now reads “For the 6-hour day”; the struggle against racism; the defence of Quebec’s right to self-determination.
In its current polemic with the PLP, the CPL goes so far as to confirm that the struggle for reforms becomes a revolutionary struggle when it is led by communists. The communist programme affirms the contrary, that the proletarian revolution requires the conscious participation of the masses. Communists’ tasks are thus not to secretly lead the masses to revolution through a series of struggles for reforms, as the CPL claims. The task of communists is to intervene in the working class’s immediate struggles so as to draw out the necessity for socialist revolution. The CPL has always refused this task and thus, in practice, has refused to do communist work. That is why It cannot do otherwise than to fall back into revisionism and nationalism.
On this subject, the CPL’s experience is not unique. It is even characteristic of a whole series of more or less developed organizations such as the Progressive Workers Movement which tried to break with the revisionism of the Communist Party of Canada. All of them failed and fell into nationalism and radical trade-unionism for the same reason. They rejected the necessity of taking the communist programme into the working class and its struggles.