First Published: The Forge, Vol. 7, No. 24, June 18, 1982
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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The June 14 issue of The Canadian Tribune, newspaper of the pro-Soviet Communist Party of Canada (CPC), contains a virulent attack on the Open Rank-and-file Caucus (ORFC), a broad-based group of militant trade unionists active at the recent convention of the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC).
The Tribune’s labour reporter Mike Phillips claims the ORFC was “composed of slightly more than a dozen members and sympathizers of the Maoist Workers Communist Party” and that it “flopped in its effort to split the Action Caucus and was isolated from the genuine progressive forces in the convention.”
Phillips continues, “While its positions on economic questions tended to track the line taken by the Action Caucus, the unity of the ultra-left with the right-wing elements of the CLC leadership on the international affairs and peace questions wasn’t lost on the left forces at the convention.”
Tribune columnist William Stewart also takes up this argument further in the same issue. In the April 9 issue of The Forge, I explained the differences and the debates between the ORFC and the Action Caucus.
The Tribune, however, makes no attempt to discuss the substance of the difference between the two caucuses. Nor is there a single fact to back up their allegations of “ultra-leftism” or “cold-warism.” Not surprising, since the facts, stubborn things that they are, paint a strikingly different picture.
The Tribune’s contention that the ORFC was an insignificant collection of a dozen WCPers is patently untrue. ORFC meetings were regularly attended by about 50 people. At least 25 different ORFC members, representing a wide range of unions from across the country, spoke at the mikes during the convention, and 75 people signed up for the ORFC’s mailing list, only a small number of them WCP members.
The Tribune also fails to explain why Jean-Claude Parrot, whom they refer to as a “prominent participant” of the Action Caucus, came to speak at an ORFC meeting to ask for support in his election campaign, if, as they contend, the ORFC was such an insignificant splittist force.
The fact is that the ORFC played a very influential rule at the convention. Far from “tracking the line taken by Action Caucus,” the ORFC speakers led the militant opposition to the establishment in many of the key debates.
The same cannot be said of the spokespeople of the CP, who were virtually absent from the debates on labour’s links with the New Democratic Party, the need for a general strike, women’s issues, how to fight concessions and the right to strike.
A closer look at the debate on international affairs demolishes any notion that the WCP united with the right wing on those issues.
In fact, what seems to stick mostly in the CP’s throat is the fact that WCP spokespeople, at the same time as they condemned Soviet-style imperialism, blasted American imperialism loudly and clearly, thus shattering the CP’s favourite myth that to oppose the Soviet Union in any way puts one in the camp of Reagan and Thatcher.
The Tribune didn’t tell its readers about the speeches by WCP delegates condemning Canadian and American imperialism in Guatemala, for example. They don’t mention the fact that WCP members spoke out strongly in support of Canadian autonomy in American-based international unions (yet another debate from which the CP was conspicuously absent).
They even overlooked the speech on Solidarnosc by WCP member Rick August from Saskatchewan, who began with a strong denunciation of Reaganism (to applause front CP benches) and then went on to explain that while he was completely committed to socialism, what existed in Poland today was not socialism.
William Stewart’s attempt to link the WCP to the CLC leadership’s right-wing positions on many international questions is a complete fabrication, and once again The Tribune fails to mention some salient facts, like the feature article reviewing the booklet Partners in Imperialism – exposing the strategy of the CLC and the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions in the third world – which appeared in the very issue of The Forge which was distributed at the convention.
Why does the CP stoop to such blatant misrepresentation of the facts? Is it simply a “sectarism” fight between two left-wing parties?
I don’t think so. The debate is not over abstract principles, but over down-to-earth political questions that have concrete repercussions on the labour movement.
How do we characterize the top leadership of the CLC? How do we struggle to transform the Congress into a centre of active resistance to ruling class attacks? What attitude should labour take towards the NDP? Towards workers’ struggles in Poland?
During and since the convention, the CP not only shied away from any direct criticism of the CLC leadership, but they also devoted almost complete newspaper articles to praising CLC President McDermott’s new-found militancy and “class-struggle policies.”
The CP would have us believe that apart from international affairs, McDermott and company have turned over a new leaf and have abandoned their fundamental strategy of class collaboration and electoralism.
It is certainly clear that the CLC adopted more militant policies than ever before, but what The Tribune fails to point out is that these were the fruits of hard and determined struggle by genuine opposition forces prior to and during the convention, among which the CP spokespeople cannot be numbered.
If by “ultra-leftism” The Tribune means that the WCP continues to fight for real class-struggle unionism, then we must plead guilty. If ultra-leftism refers to our criticism of the CLC policies of subordinating labour’s interests to the NPD, then again we must plead guilty. And if it also means not fostering illusions about the CLC’s new-found commitment to class struggle, then we are only too happy to plead guilty.
By The Tribune’s standards, however, progressive union readers, like Jean-Claude Parrot, Cec Taylor and many others who made sharp criticism of the CLC leadership would also have to be tarred by the same ultra-leftist brush.
The fact is that the target of the CP’s attack is far wider than the WCP. It includes an ever growing number of union militants and independent leftists – in the ORFC and elsewhere – who do not toe the CP’s line and refuse to play the timid role of her majesty the CLC’s loyal opposition, as the CP does.
As one ORFC activist observed at the convention, “The role these people play is that of a buffer between the militant workers and the CLC leadership.”
Interestingly enough, it is only in the area of international affairs that the CP spokespeople as the convention felt compelled to rise and denounce the CLC leadership. But even this “opposition” rings somewhat hollow, prompted as it is by the CP’s refusal to make any criticism of the Soviet Union whatsoever, no matter how tame.
A militant rank-and-file opposition movement, A revolutionary party that dares to criticize the U.S.S.R. or Poland in the name of socialism, both pose very serious threats indeed to the CP. How could it be otherwise for a party whose stated objective is the creation of a “centre-left alliance” at the top in the trade union movement and an “anti-monopoly coalition” of the CP and the NDP?
Both these concepts ire being rejected by growing numbers of progressives inside and outside the labour movement. That is why The Tribune feels so compelled to attack.