First Published: On EROL, 2010
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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(A memorandum of a conversation held with Phil Taylor, first chairman of the CLM, July 7, 1984, recorded at the time, and checked with him on November 13, 2010.)
The immediate organizational origin of the CLM was “Canadians for the National Liberation Front”, a support group of Marxist-Leninists associated with the Progressive Workers’ Movement. The PWM was the Canadian affiliate of the U.S. “Progressive Labor Party” which had been formed by American communists sympathetic to the Cuban revolution who had been encouraged by Fidel Castro to split from the American Communist Party. The roots of the Canadian-based PWM, on the other hand, were slightly different, this formation emerging from the “China Friendship Group”, Marxist-Leninists supportive of Mao Zedong around the Communist Party of Canada, but critical of the latter’s “line” towards China.
The Progressive Workers’ Movement, and its “Canadians for the National Liberation Front (of South Vietnam)” (the “Vietcong”), wanted to support the NLF directly in political agitation associated with the peace movement. To this end, the PWM and its friends (under the “Canadians for the National Liberation Front” banner) held meetings and showed films on university campuses, distributed leaflets at demonstrations, and carried signs in marches, all of which was to support the NLF of South Vietnam overtly. Both the Canadian Liberation Movement, and the Canadian Party of Labour, were conceived in this setting.
The idea of the Canadian Liberation Movement was an extension of the aims of the “Canadians for the National Liberation Front” to the point of having a home-grown national liberation movement in Canada itself. This notion was discussed in Progressive Worker/Canadians for the NLF circles in the late 1960s simultaneous with the discussions that led to the founding of the Canadian Party of Labour. Key figures here were Jack Scott, later called “the most radical man in Canada”, Bill Johnson, a Marxist academic, Abe Mannheim, Joe Hensby, Don Roebuck, Norman Endicott, son of radical United Church clergyman and Sinophile, James Endicott, and Phil Taylor, an American immigrant and Marxist activist. At its initial meeting in rented quarters on College Street (just west of Spadina Avenue) in Toronto, Taylor and Roebuck fronted the new organization, but Norman Endicott was the eminence grise.
At an early stage, a Toronto Canadians for the National Liberation Front activist, Gary Hillel Perly, showed an interest in playing a leading role in the new body, challenging the chairmanship of Phil Taylor, and succeeding in attracting the attention and support of Endicott, who was offering financial support for the CLM. As Scott, Johnson, Hensby, Taylor, Roebuck and others became involved in the Canadian Party of Labour or allied and other causes, Gary Perly and his wife Caroline Walker Perly, with the backing of Norman Endicott, became the “leadership cadre” determined to realize the CLM idea.
The discussions that led to the founding of CLM involved persons representing various ideological strands, including, in addition to the Marxist-Leninists noted previously, trade unionists, Canadian nationalists, “leftists” of different sorts, such as James Laxer, the political economist, and others. The motive of the Marxist-Leninists was the strengthening of support for the National Liberation Front and criticism of the United States beyond the obviously limited life of the Vietnam War. It was thought that the upsurge of Canadian nationalism attendant upon the Centennial Year (1967) could be extended and connected with resentment against the cultural and economic dominance of Canada by the U.S., and with the liberation struggles of colonial peoples, and in this way, a liberation struggle of sorts could be initiated in Canada. The uniting bond among the discussants was thus Canadian nationalism, a less threatening component for Marxist-Leninists with a Fidelista/Maoist background than for the older generation of Marxist-Leninists perhaps.
Thus, the mix of revolutionary socialism and cultural nationalism that became the hallmark of CLM’s ideology was present in embryo in the minds of those taking part in the initial discussions about the idea. This receptivity to nationalist thinking is, of course, intrinsic to Marxism-Leninism, for in that tradition, nationalism is considered to be progressive (or, at least, potentially progressive) in colonized countries. The Communist Party of Canada had itself pursued this view in the 1940s and 1950s, and, indeed, still adhered to this line at the time of the CLM’s foundation.
For those Marxist-Leninists in and around the Progressive Workers’ Movement, this doctrine was simply a truism, Cuba and China being understood as cases in point. For those who carried on with the CLM idea, such as Endicott, for whom the model of China assumed the proportions of a dogma, the road to a sort of “nationalist-socialism” along the lines of certain Eastern European and “developing nation” policies, which characterized the thinking of some elements within the CLM in the days before its demise was perhaps paved from its beginning. A naturalistic mystique involving a “cult of the land” is evidenced by the trips by Perly, Laxer, and Reobuck to the Canadian Shield (a la Group of Seven Canadian painters) to swim, canoe, and think on the “bedrock of Canada”, for example. Perly’s family in Zionism and Endicott’s in the secularized Puritanism of his father may have been factors in the development of the cultic character that the CLM tended to assume, attracting persons of similar views, but with little grounding in Marxist-Leninist political theory (or any political theory at all).
While apparently insignificant in terms of Canadian politics of the left, the CLM represented the endpoint of a strand in Marxist-Leninist thinking on the matter of nationalism which had begun within orthodox Marxism-Leninism and ended as something else.