James P. Cannon

The Canadian Communist Trials

(December 1931)

Written: December 1931.
First Published: The Militant, Vol. IV No. 36, 19 December 1931, p. 4.
Source: Microfilm collection and original bound volumes for The Militant provided by the Holt Labor Library, San Francisco, California. Additional bound volumes from Earl Gilman’s collection, San Francisco, California.
Transcription\HTML Markup: D. Walters.
Proofread: Einde O’Callaghan (February 2013).
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The helpless impotence of the party leaders on all questions which arise out of the class struggle and demand a quick answer is again illustrated in the most striking manner by their clamlike silence on the Canadian Communist trial. The conviction and sentence to five-year prison terms of the leading staff of the Canadian party is surely an event of extraordinary importance. Our party cannot be unaffected by such an alarming development across the border. Moreover, it owes a duty to the party and the party leaders who have been proscribed by the Canadian government.

We have had a fairly rich experience of the same kind. Our party went through a test of fire in the Palmer raids; it lived as an illegal organization for three years; and after that, by a combination of legal and illegal methods of organization and a determined will to break out of the underground straitjacket, it reconquered the right to a legal existence as a party. All these questions are rising up before the Canadian party at the present moment. How does the leadership of the American party evaluate the trial, and what advice does it offer to the Canadian comrades in their difficult position? The Daily Worker answers these crucial questions with a studied neglect. It has nothing to say.

In a previous issue of The Militant, Comrade Spector has given a report and a political evaluation of the trial. With his comments we are in full agreement. His criticism of the showing made by the defendants was a loyal criticism that did not in any way impair the fundamental solidarity of the Opposition with the party in its hour of persecution. And it was absolutely necessary. The Canadian party will pay dearly for the attempts to dilute the revolutionary essence of its doctrines before the court. That is not the way to fight for the legality of the party as a communist party.

It is the way, rather, to discredit its leadership, to poison the ranks with an evasive legalistic retreat from principle, and to rob the party of the power to stand up under the blows of the class enemy. When the leaders of the proletariat are on trial they must not forget for a moment that they are speaking to the whole country. Then of all times they must say what they really stand for. You cannot fool the masses into communism. You will only discredit your own movement if you try.

In our opinion, Comrade Spector sounded the right note when he said the problem at the moment consists in going to every working-class organization in the country with the slogan of a common fight for the repeal of Section 98 of the Criminal Code, the section under which the prosecution was conducted. The Canadian party should under no circumstances accept the condemnation to illegality and retreat into a restricted underground existence without a further struggle.

The proscription of the Canadian party is not grounded in the present political situation and relation of class forces in the country. Social conditions for a regime of white terror, such as prevails in a number of European countries, are not matured in Canada. It is not the strength of the Canadian party which the conservative government fears, but rather its weakness – brought upon it by the cruel blows it has suffered in recent years from the Stalinist regime – that emboldens the government to experiment with a red scare. The action against the Canadian party bears a close resemblance to the assaults we experienced in the Palmer days, and has much of the same content. The Canadian party should profit by the errors, and also by the victories, which attended our struggle under somewhat similar conditions.

The party should wage a determined fight for legality. But it cannot fight successfully alone. It must make its fight the fight of the working class, in the first place of the more advanced and class-conscious workers’ organizations. In order to do this it must throw overboard all the bizarre theories which have been foisted upon it in recent years, weakening and undermining it, isolating it from the labor movement, and rendering it helpless before the government attack.

What the Canadian party needs most of all is a realistic appraisal of the situation and a deliberate tactic of the united front. It needs to approach the workers of other organizations, not as “social fascists” but as brothers in a common cause. All workers’ organizations have an interest in the questions of legal political rights. The party must become the champion of such rights for all. If the party approaches them in the right way and with the right policy, it can gain their support. There is every reason for confidence that a united struggle in the present situation will be victorious. The Opposition will do all it can to help the party to find this path.

Last updated on: 22.2.2013