Thirty Years – 1922-1952
The Story of the Communist Movement in Canada
“I think that the Bolsheviks remind us of the
hero or Greek mythology, Antænus. They, like
Antænus, are strong because they maintain
connection with their mother, the masses, who gave
birth to them, suckled them and reared them.
And as long as they maintain connection with
their mother, with the people, they have every
chance of remaining invincible.”
In “Mastering Bolshevism”
KARL MARX SAID that his theory “is a scandal and abomination to bourgeoisdom and its doctrinaire professors.” The Canadian party of Marxism-Leninism for thirty years has abominated the capitalist system which is ravishing our country and selling it as a commodity to U.S. imperialism.
That is its rightful claim to the respect of hundreds of thousands of Canadians, soon to be numbered in millions.
When you read this book, ask yourself the question: “If it were not for the Communists, whence would have come the challenge to economic crisis, fascism, war, unemployment and cultural oppression?” To ask is to answer. Only the Party of Communists has consistently fought these abominations of the profit system.
Others may have criticized this or that feature of capitalism. Only the Communists have drawn the logical and consistent conclusions from that criticism – that the working people of Canada must organize to fight the effects of capitalism upon their lives, and that political struggle to achieve a socialist transformation is the only way to remove the cause of these curses. That record is proof of the teaching of Lenin that only a party of a new type, a Party of Communists, can give leadership to the spontaneous struggle of the people for a better life.
Tim Buck's book conveys the terribly important lesson that it is not enough to criticize capitalism; one must organize the masses to change Canada. He shows that opinions and ideas must lead, not to frustration and cynicism, but to action.
There is no mystery about this method, no dark and murky plot ting. Whoever runs may read. Karl Marx a century ago pointed out the scientific method when he said that Communist philosophy frightens the capitalists “because it includes in its comprehension an affirmative recognition of the existing state of things, at the same time also the recognition of the negation of that state, of its inevitable breaking up; because it regards every historically developed social form as in fluid movement, and therefore takes into account its transient nature no less than its momentary existence; because it is in its essence critical and revolutionary.”
This thought may not at first be easy for a worker to grasp, but the struggle to grasp it is part of the education of those who would educate and lead the masses. Tim Buck, better than any Canadian worker, has grasped and put into practice this discovery of genius.
Here is the history of the first generation of Canadian Communists and their efforts to apply this revolutionary concept to our country. It is a history full of drama and struggle. If the bearers of this scientific theory of social change make errors, as they must, it is part of the Marxist method to be obligated to recognize these errors through criticism and self-criticism, in order to correct them as quickly as possible and so to enrich experience and bring understanding closer to reality.
It is a book of struggle. As Beethoven said of his music, politics is its theme – not the shabby dishonesties of capitalist politicians but the struggle to raise the political consciousness of the Canadian workers as they learn by experience the laws of the development of our country.
It is a book of hope for the future. No other party holds out hope for Canada. All the counsels of others lead to despair. There are no greater optimists than the Communists.
Tim Buck's new book enriches a growing library of history of our labor movement. It should be read with A. E. Smith's All My Life, Tom McEwen's He Wrote For Us, and Tim Buck's older book, Canada: The Communist Viewpoint. Soon will be published for the first time a People's History of Canada. This scholarship and culture are heralds of the growing maturity of the Canadian working class.
I am confident that when the next chapters of this living history are written, first in action, then in ink, Canada will have started to build socialism. No Canadian will have inspired and led this magnificent march to Communism more than Tim Buck.
THE MODERN working-class movement developed In Canada, as in other capitalist countries, as a direct result of the development of capitalist industry. The first trade union to challenge an employer was that of a group of Toronto printers demanding shorter hours, higher wages and better working conditions, in 1824. They met in an apple orchard at about the spot now known as the Allan Gardens. Since then, trade unionism has developed wherever workers are employed for wages. Its growth and activities have reflected the growth and growing monopolization of Canadian industry.
It was not until the 1870's that the working-class movement undertook large-scale political action. Then, partly under the pressure of similar movements in Britain and the United States, “nine-hour-day leagues” sprang up in industrial centres from the city of Quebec westward to London, Ontario. Through their nine-hour-day movement, workers developed the struggle for legal acknowledgment of the status and rights of the trade union movement. The Trades Union Act of 1873 mirrored the fact that the working class was becoming a factor in the political life of Canada.
With the development of capitalist industry there emerged in Canada, as in the United States, the Populist movement, Knights of Labor, continent-wide craft unions and their federation (the A.F.L,). Expansion of capitalist industry in the 1890's brought a rapid growth of socialist parties.
Canadian workers learned about the class struggle in the course of their own efforts to organize for self-protection. In the 1870's the capitalist class sought to suppress the nine-hour-day movement by arrests of workers' spokesmen and outlawing by court edicts of any actions calculated to cause workers to refrain from work, or to organize the employees of any establishment with a view to collective action against their employer. Adoption of the Trades Union Act did not stop capitalist attempts to suppress the working-class movement; on the contrary, as the working-class movement grew stronger, so capitalist attempts to suppress it became more unscrupulous. An example of the lengths to which the employers went was provided in the report of the “Royal Commission on Industrial Disputes in the Province of British Columbia” in 1903. The report was written by the late Prime Minister W. L. Mackenzie King, then an employee of the Department of Labor. It describes the means by which railway companies planted their agents in the trade union movement, bribed union officials, provoked violence to provide an excuse for the open use of state power. It shows how, by bribery, intimidation, the planting of company agents and provocation, employers undermined and often disrupted the workers' organizations. Jim MacLachlan, the fighting leader of the miners of Nova Scotia, used to illustrate the employers' methods with numerous examples of which the following is typical.
Shortly after the great strike in 1909, two men were killed in a miners' meeting. Those two, along with several others, had been loaded with rum and sent to the meeting with instructions to break it up. In their efforts at disruption they got into a clash with the secretary of the local. A fist fight developed, the secretary pulled a gun and shot the two men dead. He was arrested and charged with murder, but quickly released. Evidence which ultimately came out revealed that the two miners whom he had shot were in the pay of the coal company, had been supplied with rum by coal company officials before being sent to the union meeting, and that the secretary who shot them was an outside operator sent in by a detective agency engaged by the coal company. He didn't know that the two disrupters were company men and they evidently didn't know that he was “one of them.” It was one case in which capitalist mistrust of its own undercover operatives led to exposure of the whole corrupt system.
It was in such conditions that the Canadian Marxist movement first developed nation-wide organization. There were Canadian circles of the First International and the continuity of Marxism in our country was illustrated by the fact that among the workers who were associated with the beginnings of the Communist Party of Canada were two who had been members of the First International. It would be erroneous, however, to suggest that the development of Marxism proceeded in a continuous upward line. It crystallized in national organization slowly, due to the colonial isolation of the different provinces and the local character of industry. During the 1890's, however, with the upsurge of industry and the opening up of the West, working-class recognition of Marxism developed rapidly. The Socialist Leagues established in Ontario during the 90's spread through the West to Vancouver Island. With the clarification of political ideas and growing understanding of the need for a fundamental change in the social relations of production, the Socialist Leagues were supplanted by the Socialist Party of Canada. Founded as the Socialist Party of British Columbia, the S.P.C. became a Dominion-wide party in 1904 and achieved organization in five provinces with locals on both Atlantic and Pacific coasts. Canadian locals of the Socialist Labor Party spread into Canada from the United States and numerous local independent labor parties sprang up. Canadian contacts with the labor and socialist movements of other countries were important factors in the spread of socialist activity during that period, in addition to the rapid industrialization of the country.
That same period witnessed the rise of the syndicalist tendency which became such an important influence in the trade union movement of Canada during the first twenty-five years of this century. North American syndicalism combined the influence of the then revolutionary syndicalists in Europe with revolt against the rank conservatism of the leaders of the socalled international unions, particularly the American Federation of Labor, and with elements of petty-bourgeois radicalism inherited from the Knights of Labor which had flourished in the 80's. North American syndicalism attained its full development in the “Industrial Workers of the World.” At the height of its strength, from 1911 to 1921, the I.W.W. had organizations in several cities in Canada and a large number of cities in the U.S. With very few exceptions its organizations in cities were very small–propagandist groups rather than unions. Its mass influence was mainly among migratory workers employed in construction, logging, agriculture, etc., who were largely isolated from the weak craft union movement.
The leftist sectarianism of the North American syndicalists and their opportunistic reliance upon spontaneity illustrated the conflict between growing class consciousness and the persisting domination of bourgeois ideas throughout a generation. Due to specific circumstances of economic development, the workers of Canada and the U.S. were very definitely a class by themselves, bound in servitude to monopoly-capital by their complete dependence upon wages, for a long time before any broad strata of them recognized the distinct class interests, needs and historical responsibilities, the struggle for which makes the proletariat a class for itself. The syndicalists advocatcd economic action exclusively, repudiating the idea of political action. Their “theoreticians” spoke grandiloquently about “revolution by the tactic of folded arms.” One result was that social-democratic opportunists of the worst sort enjoyed an almost complete monopoly of labor political support wherever syndicalism had strength. Another was the self-isolation of militants from the majority of organized workers. Correctly condemning the policies of the leaders of the craft unions, they quite wrongly attributed responsibility for those anti-working-class policies to the craft union form. Instead of fighting within the craft unions for progressive policies, for the idea of industrial unionism, for organization of the workers in the great mass-production industries, for the election of leaderships that would express and lead struggles for the class interests and aspirations of the membership, they denounced the craft unions as such, describing them as “job trusts.” They called upon militant workers to leave the craft unions, to join their “revolutionary industrial organizations.” Their “ideal” unions, with imposing names and small membership, were rarely strong enough to go out and organize workers in the great mass-production industries; most of their energies were expended in fostering secession from the A.F.L. The extreme example of that short-sighted and reckless practice was, in Canada, the One Big Union. The O.B.U. was established by a mass breakaway from the A.F.L. unions in 1919. As long as it existed as a general union, it was dependent upon anti-A.F.L. secessionist sentiment. Cultivation of that sentiment was its main activity.
The syndicalists fought some militant strikes in the United States and Canada; indeed, the Western Federation of Miners was led by syndicalists and expressed syndicalist ideology throughout the most glorious period of its history. More important than the spectacular big strikes, however, were the almost innumerable “job actions” in which individuals or small groups of militant syndicalists led their fellow-workers in wresting gains from the bosses. But the aggressive sectarianism of the I.W.W. and the O.B.U. and other such organizations, their self-isolation from the masses of the workers, their demagogic, counter-revolutionary hostility to the Soviet Union made them, objectively, an anti-working-class force.
During the first fifteen years of the present century the socialist movement in Canada went through an inner development very similar to the development in the socialist parties of Europe during that same period. The striving for political maturity impelled thinking militant members of the movement to fight against opportunist efforts to supplant the struggle for socialism by activity directed solely to social reforms. In the course of the struggle against opportunism they advanced beyond the dogmatic, mechanistic interpretation of Marxism which characterized the Socialist Party of Canada.
The world imperialist war of 1914-1918 signalized the beginning of the breakdown of capitalism and the transition to socialist society. The epoch of the transition to socialism was ushered in with a crash by the great Russian Revolution. The cheers of the workers storming the Winter Palace in far-away Petrograd were echoed in the hearts of hundreds of thousands of Canadian workers. The proclamation by the All-Russian Congress of Workers', Soldiers' and Peasants' Deputies that it was taking over state power was hailed by Canadian workers as an augury of their own historic class role. Broad masses of workers were stirred to their depths. With the end of the imperialist war, the inspirational effect of the Russian Revolution combined with all the pent-up contradictions of class interests in Canada to advance the working-class movement by a stage.
The Socialist Party of Canada was literally overwhelmed by those historic changes. It was true to the teachings of Marx as its leaders understood them but they were enslaved by a narrow, deterministic concept that was essentially anti-Marxist–denying the dynamic revolutionary essence of Marxism. Their propaganda denied the subjective role of the working class in social change. Their attitude toward the trade union movement was disdainful. They sneered at wage struggles as part of the “commodity struggle” of capitalism. They had a supercilious attitude toward parliament and the provincial legislatures also, but many leading members of the S.P.C. were trade union officials and contested parliamentary elections. A few of them got elected. Let it be added that most of them utilized their election campaigns to popularize Marxism as they understood it. For example, Charlie O'Brien, elected to the Alberta legislature in 1909 by the miners of the Crow's Nest Pass, proclaimed himself a revolutionary socialist in every campaign speech and, wrongly, emphasized almost solely his opinion that the workers could achieve nothing by electing him or anybody else.
The contradictions between their verbal contempt for the daily struggles of the workers and their desire for trade union office and seats in elected assemblies was never resolved by the leaders of the S.P.C.; indeed, they never showed recognition of the need to resolve it, Their mechanical, deterministic conception of the science of Marxism is illustrated by the following key sentence in their manifesto greeting the great Russian Revolution.
“If they have sinned against the Holy Ghost by revolting before the evolutionary alarm clock called them, we freely forgive them, and humbly hope that those who await the appointed hour will bear themselves as valiantly.”(1)
Continuing that attitude, a member of the executive of the S.P.C. who became editor of its official organ assured its diminishing membership in 1922: “While we don't seem to be making much progress we are in tune with the infinite.”
A year later one of the outstanding “theoreticians” of the S.P.C. wrote that: “From the prophetic teaching of capitalism's collapse we have passed back to a period void and empty of any revolutionary outlook.” Those statements characterized the attitude of the “leaders” of the Socialist Party of Canada during the years immediately following the First World War and the Russian Revolution. It was not surprising that they ended their pretence at Marxism disgracefully, echoing the capitalist lie that fascism is evoked by “Communist force and violence.”
Against the dogmatic passivity and anti-working-class snobbery of the Socialist Party, there developed a revolt that was expressed in two distinct tendencies. One, which developed within locals of the S.P.C. itself, was typified by the establishment of the Socialist Party of North America. The S.P.N.A. emphasized the importance of merging Marxist theory with the daily struggles of the working class. It required every member of the party to be a member of the union in his or her place of work and to submit to examination by his fellow-S.N.P.A. members of his understanding of the three fundamentals of Marxism-dialectical materialism, surplus value, the class struggle.
The other tendency brought into being the Social Democratic Party of Canada. The S.D.P. was founded in Winnipeg by uniting the local S.D.P. and the Social Democratic Federation of Ontario. The S.D.P. was numerically stronger than the S.P.C.
While the S.D.P. was founded, in the main, upon the European traditions, its role in Canada was markedly different from the role of social democracy in Europe. Workers who had come here from continental Europe made a great contribution to the development of the labor movement in Canada through the building of the S.D.P. They constituted the majority of its membership, its main working force in campaigns and in extending its organization. They won respect for socialist organization by the energy and devotion displayed in their campaigns. An outstanding example is to be seen in the 10,000 votes secured for Comrade Lindala, a Finnish working man who was the social democratic candidate for the Board of Control in the city of Toronto in 1912. The S.D.P. made opportunist mistakes, some of its leaders were very much under the influence of European social democracy, but its membership included the most militant sections of the Canadian working class, giving courageous and energetic support to labor in every struggle.
The first public action looking to the foundation of a Communist Party of Canada originated in the S.D.P. when Comrade Niznevitch, secretary of the Toronto organization, sent out a circular in January, 1919, inviting attendance at a conference to consider the need for a new revolutionary party. Contrary to the social democratic parties in Europe, the weight of opinion within the S.D.P. of Canada was so strongly in favor of the left that after the founding of the Communist Party of Canada there was no national social democratic party in Canada again until the C.C.F. was organized in 1933.
Thus, when the First World War broke out Marxism was already a national force in Canada. The support of class-conscious workers was competed for by organizations representing three main trends, typified by the Socialist Party of Canada the Social Democratic Party of Canada and the Socialist Party of North America. The numerous local independent labor parties, the Canadian locals of the Socialist Labor Party, each corresponded politically with one or another of these three currents of socialist activity.
During 1918 there was a rapid growth of trade union organization and of working-class political activity. The majority of Canadian workers sympathized with the workers and peasants who had taken over what had been the empire of the tsars, “the prison-house of nations.” They recognized the imperialist attempts to overthrow the Soviet government by military intervention as an attack upon the working class as a whole. The Western Labor Conference held in Calgary in March, 1919, sent messages of solidarity to Lenin, to the Soviet government and to the Red Army. It telegraphed the Canadian government demanding the withdrawal of Canadian forces and an end to imperialist intervention in Soviet Russia. In May, 1919, the great Winnipeg Strike started, first as a strike of the metal trades workers, extending rapidly to a general sympathetic strike of all the workers in the city. The Winnipeg General Strike was a strike of craft unions, but it was trade union action at a very high level. The Strike Committee became in a large measure responsible for the whole community. Bread was baked, milk was delivered to hospitals, the city power plants and waterworks were operated–for a while even the municipal police did duty–solely by the decision of the Strike Committee. In spite of the fact that the organizers of the strike were not prepared for the responsibilities that they were called upon to meet, elements of workers' power developed. Public order was complete until the capitalists resorted to violence with their so-called “Committee of One Thousand.” When the capitalists and their dupes resorted to violence, they could not have succeeded alone. To break that strike, Canadian capitalism through its coalition Tory-Liberal government resorted to state violence in defiance Of its own laws. When the minister of labor, Gideon Robertson, vice-president of an international union, telegraphed the prime minister that there were no legal grounds upon which the strike leaders could be arrested, Arthur Meighen replied, III effect: arrest them anyway, I will write a law afterwards to legalize your action. The leaders of the strike were taken from their beds in nocturnal police raids, spirited out of Winnipeg and held incommunicado until the strike was broken. Meighen “legalized” the outrage by an order-in-council which, later, was elaborated to become the infamous Section 98 of the Criminal Code.
Working-class pride in the solidarity of the workers of Winnipeg could not blind Canadian Marxists to the fact that the ideas represented by Its leaders were wrong. As more and more of Lenin's writings were translated, it became obvious to most of us that the line of policy fought for by the S.P.N.A. was more in accord with the teachings of Lenin than were either the dogmatic assertion of orthodoxy which screened the sectarian passivity of the Socialist Party of Canada or the syndicalist confusion and political sterility of the I.W.W. and the O.B.U. Simultaneously, the left-wing activists of the Social Democratic Party recognized through Lenin's teachings the necessity for unification of all revolutionary workers in one party. By the summer of 1920 we secured our first copies of the Theses and Statutes from Washington. The U.S. government had them translated and printed in a handy pamphlet, as part of its anti-Soviet campaign.
There was already a widespread recognition of the necessity for the unification of the Left in a party of a new type, the Communist Party. It was out of that working-class unity of purpose–not out of the fantastic schemes conjured up in the distorted imaginations of the Colonel Drews, the Maurice Duplessis', and the servile hacks of the capitalist press, that the Communist Party of Canada was born.
(1)Manifesto of the Socialist Party of Canada, 5th Edition, p. 2.