First Published:The Forge Vol 5, No 35, October 17, 1980
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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Many trade union activists have noticed a new-found “militancy” in the pages of the Canadian Tribune, the Communist Party of Canada’s newspaper.
“Systems gear up for October 18 massive demo,” states a huge headline on the front page of the September 29 Tribune while the September 8 issue headlines. “Tung Sol, a strike for justice.”
Has this stodgy party changed its line and decided to take an active part in the struggles of Canadian workers? Not likely. The Tribune’s new militant garb turns out to be a coat of red paint meant to cover up the fact that the party is under fire from many union activists and progressive people.
The Tribune’s writers are working overtime to try to defend the party’s lap-dog attitude to the Soviet Union and its slavish support at home for heavily-criticized union leaders like Canadian Labour Congress head Dennis McDermott.
Coming soon after the CPC’s knee-jerk defence of Soviet jackboots stomping across Afghanistan, the mass strikes in supposedly socialist Poland have demanded incredible verbal gymnastics from the Tribune staff.
When the strike movement first took off in mid-August, the Tribune (August 25) ran a Polish government press release under the headline “Poland sets goals,” which slandered the strike leaders. According to the release the strikes were really only to win economic demands, while the political demands – free trade unions, an end to censorship, etc – were simply manipulations by “anarchistic and anti-socialist groups.”
This argument was soon shattered when the demand for free trade unions, independent of the government-controlled Central Council of Trade Unions, became the focus of the entire strike movement, which united hundreds of thousands of Polish workers and gained support in Canada and around the world.
When the Polish workers won important gains on the economic and political front the CPC had to change its tune. The demand for free trade unions, which CPC leader William Kashtan had denounced as “illegitimate” in the September 8 Tribune, suddenly became “consistent with Convention 87 of the International Labour Organization which Poland ratified concerning trade union freedom...” in a statement from the Polish press agency reprinted in the September 8 Tribune.
Now on the defensive, the CPC leadership and the Tribune began attempting to justify their positions and to defend the role of the Polish government in the strikes.
Tribune labour commentator William Stewart claimed his newspaper was not required to support every strike. In the case of Poland, Stewart wrote in the September 22 Tribune, “It is hardly the task of the Communist Party of Canada to make the determination as to whether the workers’ demands were or were not legitimate, nor whether the strike is deserving of support.”
Taking another tact, the Tribune’s Alfred Dewhurst claimed “The government negotiated with the strikers in good faith, did not legislate them back to work, nor arrest and jail strike leaders, which has often been the case in Canada.” (Pacific Tribune, Sept. 26)
Dewhurst must have a short memory. During the 1970 strikes hundreds of workers were murdered when the fascist Polish government sent in the troops and police. It was a similar scene in 1976. During the present strike wave the Polish government rounded up and detained hundreds of dissidents, including members of the Workers’ Defence Committee (KOR), who were only released at the request of the strikers.
If the Polish government did not move to crush this strike movement (at least to date) and was forced to make concessions, it was solely because of the tremendous strength, organization, discipline and unity of the strikers.
Finally, both Stewart and Dewhurst also try to defend the regime by alleging that only in Poland could a strike have brought about replacements in the government and the party. For example, the former head of the police, Stanislaw Kania, took over from deposed Edward Gierek as head of the Polish United Workers Party.
But these purges change nothing in the fundamental fascist nature of the Polish stale. Did the fact that Gierek himself replace Vladislaw Gomulka after the bloody 1970 strikes advance the cause of Polish workers?
Polish working people have had no say in the running of their country since capitalism was restored in Poland over 20 years ago.
On the home front militant-sounding support for workers’ struggles covers up increasing criticism of the CPC’s basic position of cozying up to McDermott and his New Democratic Party buddies.
At the May CLC convention many opposition delegates were stunned by the CPC’s salute to McDermott’s supposed “principled class struggle positions.” Even several CPC delegates privately expressed their disapproval of the Party’s support for the CLC chief.
Far from supporting “class struggle,” McDermott was at the forefront of attempts to introduce class collaboration and tripartisn, into the CLC through the back door. Most delegates knew that any militant resolutions adopted at the congress were the result of hard struggle by many opposition delegates against McDermott’s line.
The CPC is also continuing to hang on to the coattails of Broadbent and Co.’s NDP. Among other things they call on working people to vote for the NDP in the next Ontario elections. (Tribune, August 11)
This is perfectly in line with the CPC’s official 1971 program, The Road to Socialism in Canada, which states, “The Communist Party of Canada works for closest cooperation with the New Democratic Party around immediate aims and objectives.” (p.44)
The CPC program goes on to include the NDP as part of the “new political alliance” Kashtan’s party is trying to build along with other “anti-monopoly forces.” (p.46)
By getting its representatives elected to Parliament, this people’s alliance can supposedly pass a series of reforms that will “open the door” to socialism, all of which the CPC believes is possible “without civil war.” (p.47)
But history has demonstrated that there is no possiblility of peacefully getting rid of capitalism. There has never been a socialist revolution without the violent overthrow of the capitalist class because it will do everything in its power to keep from losing its privileged position.
It was a similiar peaceful road doctrine that left the Chilean people unarmed in 1973 and unprepared to face Pinochet’s fascist terror after the Chilean capitalists and the CIA refused to abide by Salvador Allende’s victory at the polls.
So the CPC’s recent militant paint job turns out to be a frantic attempt to deflect some of the serious criticism and problems it is encountering.
Serious divisions within CPC ranks came to light this summer with the well-publicized resignation of long-time CPC spokesman and Toronto school board trustee Pat Case, who cited the “international situation” as a factor in his decision.
Recent events have raised important questions for many union militants who have always considered the CPC to be part of the left but with certain weaknesses.
Can a party that attacks strikers struggling for basic democratic and union rights against a fascist regime really be considered a part of the left?
Can a party that licks McDermott’s boots while trying to stifle real opposition, as the CPC did at the last CLC convention, be a part of the left opposition in the Canadian trade union movement?