If you want to know where you’re going
You have to know where you’re coming from.
How the first Communists became the first Trotskyists.
The Trotskyists stand up to the Stalinization drive.
The LSA is carrying on the spirit of ‘21.
Reg Bullock: Comrades: Here are two talks given by Ross Dowson in Vancouver. They concern the history of the Party and its background, formation and history up to and including the present. The talks are separated in time with an interval of four years, and in both instances the talks were given with virtually little preparation or time for preparation, and in effect are off-the-cuff. The first talk was given in 1967 and deals with the background and history of the Party up to and including the outbreak of War (World War 2, 1939). The second talk covers the period from probably the middle war years up to and including the present. We think you will find them very enjoyable.
Ross Dowson: ...Well comrades... my talk will be based on notes ... because we have not yet ever published any extensive history of our movement, the revolutionary socialist movement of this country, and in order to deal with it tonight, the way we are going to do so will be on notes of notes.
Well comrades, Trotsky, in his second book on the Russian Revolution, alluded something to the effect, somewhere, that it was easy to carry out the revolution, the insurrection in Russia, but it was extremely difficult to build socialism in Russia... he was commenting on the medieval character of the (tsarist) ruling class; its structure of oppression. If we talked about the situation in this country we would have to say that the problem of building socialism once we`ve made the insurrection will be relatively easy, and the big task will be the task of successfully carrying out the seizure of power. So while we can say that it is necessary to build a vanguard party on the basis of the experiences of the Russian, and subsequently the world working class of other sections of the world, it is certainly true that we have to build a vanguard party in this country. An extremely strong, and very powerful and very vigilant revolutionary vanguard with a leadership that demonstrates great intransigence and ingenuity.
The task of building the vanguard party, the type of party that’s required to make the revolution in this country was started a considerable number of years ago. I think we can say that the nucleus of that party, I think we can say with complete conviction now, exists in our movement —that’s the nucleus of the revolutionary vanguard party. That might well have been a subject for discussion and question some years ago, as a matter of fact I recall a discussion with Comrade Whitney on this very question not too many years ago; because it was suggested that this was not the nucleus of the vanguard that we had gathered together in the Trotskyist movement, perhaps that was maybe ten years ago, and we had a lengthy discussion about that. I don’t recall the lines of the dispute at that time; I think at that time we had a radicalization of the CCF, and an extensive growth of the left in the CCF, and therefore we questioned that the forces we had gathered at this time, as significant as they were, were by no means the central core of the vanguard, and the vanguard was going to come through other sources, from other movements, possibly from a series of unifications and splits from re-unifications.
But I think now we can say, this period is over; the political situation in this country, the way things are developing, that the forces, the basic and essential forces for the vanguard party—this mass revolutionary party which we require to take on the bourgeoisie—that nucleus exists in our forces today. There are no other forces anywhere. There have been in the past few years other groups come on the scene—the most significant has been the Maoist current, (with support from) the core of a very powerful government, (with the prestige) of one of the great Revolutions, but we can see now that this was a passing phase, a passing development. And there are not a lot of forces there, critical forces or substitute for the Trotskyist movement.
Well, where do we begin? Where does the movement come from? I think this is of great concern, particularly to the young people who are coming to our movement. From whence do we come? What are the experiences of our movement, what is the value of our experiences, what can we learn from them? Well, it might appear, on the basis of a wide experience of the past several years, that we have come from the CCF, or from the New Democratic Party, if not the CCF. That’s the source and roots of our movement. To be sure of course for large sections of the cadre of our movement, do come from the CCF and the New Democratic Party, and when we are talking in terms of the task of building our movement, and the tradition of the Canadian working class, we most often refer to this aspect of the tradition of the movement.
But that isn’t the source of the movement, that is not the source from which our movement arises. Our movement began in December of 1921—not too long ago, but some while back. It began with the preparations for the founding of the Communist Party of Canada. That’s when the Communist Party was organized in this country. It came out of other movements. We can say of course and say if you want to go back and say our movement is part of the whole history, the traditions of the struggles of the workers of the world, we wouldn’t be able to start with Canada; we would have to talk about the impact of the workers who came to Canada and brought with them the experiences of other countries and other movements. We could talk about the Chartist movement and we could go back to the French Revolution, and the impact of the American Revolution, and we could go on and on and in a sense there is a considerable truth that all the history of the struggles of the world working class, of all times and all ages are part of the history of our movement, an essential part of the history of our movement.
But I think we can fix the date more or less accurately at 1921 for a very good reason. This is not to say that the Canadian workers before that period did not show capacity for revolutionary struggle, and had not made some considerable progress in building revolutionary vanguard forces. As a matter of fact in order to talk about the significance of that date (1921) we have to talk about the forces that came together, to make it significant. So when we talk about the foundation of the Communist Party of Canada, from whence we have come, we have to talk about two main tendencies and currents that were (forged) in the struggle on this continent. Two main currents. The most important currents were the currents represented by the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) and the One Big Union movement (OBU). These were indeed revolutionary movements. I am sure some comrades have had the occasion to study the history of these movements—there is a very fine book on the IWW, two or three very fine books on the IWW; there are a fair number of references including a few on the One Big Union movement. That was the central core of these two formations.
They were revolutionary to be sure. They attracted to their ranks the most far-seeing, the most militant, the most self-sacrificing, the most heroic elements of their generation. And they were of considerable importance, of considerable stature. They were essentially syndicalist movements—revolutionary but syndicalist. They rejected parliamentary and political action. That was the essential character of these two currents. There were also other currents in the Canadian and American socialist and radical movements. Perhaps the most important ones which we should comment on was the Socialist Party of Canada. This was a Marxist current. It was a movement which was Marxist in the full sense of the word insofar as its economic analysis was concerned. As a matter of fact you have met a few of them probably if you were around the Stanley Park Club a few years ago—what was left of them—and from some of them who continued on, you could learn certain key and fundamental lessons. The SPC was very strong on Marxist economic analysis... (this current was sidelined) with the subsequent development of the revolutionary socialist movement in this country, particularly the development of our movement and what we call “the transitional program.” You`ve heard some of them—as a matter of fact some of the Maoists are of this type; they have a lot of formulas, they concentrate on fundamental analysis of capitalism and they have a lot of basic formulas which they present periodically to the working class. But they really have no real program—to that degree they’re educational and sectarian.
These two main currents pulled together the most viable elements which developed on the basis of the experiences of Canadian workers—they came together, and the best elements fused in the founding of the Communist Party in December of 1921 in this country. We happened to have in our files back in our archives in Toronto the first issue of the first Communist paper in this country—it was called “Workers World”—that was the name of it. It was dated August 17, 1921. The main part of this paper which was made up by and large with detailed reports of the Third Congress of the Third International—it took up the double inside spread of this paper. And this emphasis on internationalism was typical of this paper and the elements that were attracted to it in these early days. In some ways—I had occasion to comment on this to another group on this—it looked like the Fair Play for Russia Committee—it didn’t have anything about the Canadian struggle in it; or very very little, it was incidental; it was about Russia—this is what the paper was about. About the great experience for the Left of the Revolution; it published all the declarations and statements of this (3rd) Congress; all of them, including all the broad, abstract issues of the worldwide socialist revolution. That was the founding face of the Communist Party of Canada—that’s what brought together these two main currents—the main forces of these two main currents. There were the revolutionaries who were syndicalist, and revolutionaries who were strong Marxists but basically couldn’t get off the plane of basic Marxist economic analysis.
This is what the Russian Revolution did for these currents. It gave them their world program. And so our movement was forged in the flames of the October Revolution. That’s where our movement comes from. That’s where the revolutionary socialist movement comes from on an international scale. Of course it comes from the experiences of the workers in their respective countries, but the real beginning of building the revolutionary vanguard party in Canada came from the assimilation of some of the basic experiences of the October Revolution, as it did everywhere else in the world. This is the beginning of it all, the October Revolution.
That’s what the October Revolution did for the workers of Canada, the revolutionary workers of Canada, who were looking for some of these important answers. It gave us a transitional program—that`s in essence what it gave them. It answered some very key and fundamental and key questions: what is the path to power? That is the big question. The Socialist Party of Canada obviously didn’t have any answer to this question. One (current) was extremely revolutionary and militant with connections and roots in the trade union movement, the other was involved in making the analysis of the nature of capitalism, but left aside the question of what is the path to power. (Both were) not able to answer the question of what kind of party was necessary. These two currents did not have the answers to these questions.
And the first issue of Workers World answered this question. In an Editorial, it went straight to the point: “Our aim is to establish soviet power in Canada.” That meant a great deal to a lot of people, those words, that simple phrase. “Our aim is to establish soviet power in Canada.” It may be a little difficult for you and I here to appreciate the impact of the Russian Revolution today, but if you recall the Winnipeg General Strike, that we were talking about the other night—(we would get an idea) of the thinking of the left among the workers. There were meetings in a big Winnipeg theatre, where forums were held every Sunday night, in 1917-18, -19 and -20, where considerable numbers of workers passed resolutions “for soviet power” and considering that this is the path that Canadian workers should take; in support of Luxembourg and Liebknecht � for the establishment of soviet power in Canada.
It was around this concept that the major forces were gathered, the forces out of the Socialist Party of Canada, the IWW and the OBU, and those organizations disappeared from the scene. They didn’t disappear immediately, but they had to stand up before the challenge of the October Revolution, and the best elements moved in the direction of organizing the Communist Party of Canada.
I’d like to make a couple of side comments which I think will be of interest to us. In the first issue of Workers World, the top educators—there were reports of a few meetings taking place in the city of Toronto and in Hamilton and a few other sectors of the country, the most prominent top educator according to that paper of the revolutionary socialist currents and a founder of the Communist Party of Canada was Max Armstrong, who today is active in our movement—not too active as he is not too well—but he is in the Trotskyist movement. He was the top educator. He came out of the Socialist Party of Canada. Then also, very prominent in the reports of what was going on, those who took up the call on major issues in this first copy of the Marxist-Leninist press in this country, were Jack MacDonald and Maurice Spector. They were the most popular leaders who were identified with this development.
On November 26th they issued a call, of that year, for the foundation of a workers’ party. That was the essence of the matter—to organize a type of party which we understand on the left (was required) to make the October Revolution. And they stated in that issue that we happen to have, what the basic principles were: (. . . ) the basic principles on which this new workers’ party will be organized. One: it was to organize a workers’ republic, in brackets “soviet power in Canada,” it would involve itself in political action, it would be involved in union struggles, it would be governed by the principles of democratic centralism; and it would decide to found an effective workers’ press. So those were the five points which they challenged all revolutionary socialists in the country to measure up to (. . . )
And around these five points... (this challenge was addressed to those)...around the currents favoring political action—important currents which existed in the IWW and the OBU, who rejected political action. And when they said of course they said they favored being involved in the union struggles; to some considerable degree you cannot work in the trade union arena without some kind of program addressed in some sensitive way to the daily struggles of the workers; in a sense they also settled accounts with the sectarian elements, the educationalist elements, in the Socialist Party of Canada. And of course there were big debates in these circles around these five points. And by December 1921 the Workers Party of Canada was founded. And that was the beginning of the tradition which we are the continuators of in this country.
It was founded by a conference with sixty delegates, quite small, sixty delegates, in the Labor Temple of Toronto. Now, on one occasion some while back, the Canadian Tribune (journal of the Stalinist CP of Canada) had a lengthy article—they were celebrating “so many years of the workers’ press,” probably 40 years of the workers’ press, if I recall correctly the date of this editorial. And they were talking about the continuity of the workers’ press, the continuity of their press, with their (Stalinist -ed.) movement. (. . . ) They attempted to make an identity of their movement with the early forces that had come together to found the Communist Party of Canada. And so we wrote an editorial reply to this myth that the CP had been promoting for some years. We went to the trouble of digging up the names of the persons on the first National Executive Committee of the Communist Party of Canada. Then we went down the list to relate what happened to them—who they are, where they are now, and what happened to them. So here is the record...
There was a chap by the name of J.B. Smith of the National Executive Committee, another by the name of Jack MacDonald, another by the name of William Moriarty, Tim Buck, an A. Brown, Max Armstrong, H. Gilbert, Ed Buhay, Malcolm Bruce, and the secretary was Jack Kavanaugh. (Dowson omits Maurice Spector -ed.) This was the founding core, the executive leadership at the founding of the Communist Party. Well, what happened to these people? What weight does the (Stalinized) Communist Party have to the claim of being the heir of this tradition? Well, Jack Kavanaugh, who was the secretary, he left Vancouver where he had been a leading activist in the Vancouver General Strike of 1919—he left a few years later for Australia, and he became the founder of the Australian Trotskyist movement. He died about two years ago. Someone was relating to me the other day that according to Malcolm Bruce, Jack Kavanaugh was accused of being a Trotskyist shortly after (. . . ) and this was very early, about 1926. He was accused of being a Trotskyist at that time. Then there was Moriarty—well, he was expelled as a “left” ...from the Communist Party of Canada—that’s a dissident of some kind—he was in the Right Opposition according to them (the Stalinists) and he died about 1936. Then Buhay—he was also expelled from the Communist Party of Canada as a Lovestonite, and then he got back later, and then subsequently died. Malcolm Bruce—well, Malcolm of course, most of you know him, he could be characterized as a political ideologist (. . . ) and (generally) a Trotskyist. It’s true now that he is involved with Progressive Worker (a Maoist tendency based on the West Coast -ed.)—Malcolm has deteriorated a little bit in the last while—our relationship hasn’t been what it was and not all what we desired it to be—but essentially he had (become) a Trotskyist in outlook, and he was an active member of our movement up until a few years ago.
Max Armstrong? Max dropped out of the movement rather early, about 1923, but after a series of experiences, he went into the CCF after a period of political inactivity, and he found his way to our movement about 1947. Jack MacDonald—he was expelled in 1930 from the Communist Party of Canada, and he had found his way into the Trotskyist movement. And Spector, of course, was the founder of the Trotskyist movement in this country, and the first Trotskyist on the North American continent. So, you can’t say that there is much in the early tradition and certainly in the personnel, the composition of the leading body of the Communist Party for the CP of Canada today that they still wish to claim as their tradition. I don’t know about the other names (the current CP is claiming as founders)—I’ve never heard of them being active in the Communist Party of Canada, J.D. Smith, A Brown, and H. Gilbert—I’ve never heard of these people before. There is only one person who the CP can claim as their own, and they certainly can, and that’s Tim Buck (comments from the audience).
I think a few words can be said about some of the problems of the early movement. Why did the movement arrive so late in the day—December 1921? Well, there were some real and concrete problems. For one thing, while the Canadian workers have had considerable class struggle experience and demonstrated great combativity, they were very weak in revolutionary theory, in revolutionary experience. (. . . ) for instance, some of the basic writings of Lenin and Trotsky were not available until well on into the ‘20s. They were not available (. . . ) and this was the great experience of the revolutionary working class movement—the October Revolution. It took some years for this experience to become familiar to the workers of Canada; before they had (an opportunity) to learn in a profound way the meaning of the October Revolution.
I have had occasion to have a few talks with some of the early leaders of the Communist Party of Canada; I had a talk with Maurice Spector when he had been in Canada a short while ago, about some of the problems of the movement, and to get a picture of what the movement was in these days, in the time at our disposal. Well it was the opinion of comrade Spector that the Communist Party of Canada, the connections that it had were somewhat better than they were in the United States of America. Why? The language federations were the real base of the movement, and remains the base of the Communist Party as we now know it—the language groupings, the Ukrainian, the Finnish and other national groupings—in the States and in Canada, they were under the party`s control—(but the Canadian) party did not have to fight these elements in order to Canadianize them, and that was one of the more important experiences of the party in America—this was one of the big struggles in the American Communist Party—to Americanize Bolshevism. Apparently the Canadian party didn’t have much trouble. ..It appears also that the history of the Canadian party was not so fraught with internal struggles, as the American party was. If you read the history of American Trotskyism in the two works of Theodore Draper, you will see that there was a great intellectual ferment in the American party and a great deal of factional struggle and combat in the American party. This didn’t develop in the Canadian party—(because) perhaps the political level in the Canadian party was lower than the American party, and the Anglo-Saxon base of the party was quite strong. And the party made considerable progress in its early days—and relatively, it was a more powerful party than the American Communist Party. Of course it came into bad days very quickly, from the point of view of reaction. As you know,Section 98 came out of the Winnipeg General Strike, the party was driven underground; but it weathered this experience and adopted a semi-legal character in the form of a Labor Defense Lague, and appeared to have had no trouble following these problems.
Maurice Spector, who was the theoretical leader of the Party, was expelled six years later, in 1928, while he was still the theoretical leader of the party. As a matter of fact he came back from the Congress that he attended with comrade Cannon (SWP-US leader) and he didn’t speak at any meeting of the membership. And it was three years before he was joined by Jack MacDonald, who was the popular leader of the party, who was the mass worker of the party. He was a pattern-maker by trade, a very popular orator—I heard him a couple of times before he died, and he reminded me very much of Comrade Cannon in his manner and authority of his working-class experiences, in a broad and popular exposition of revolutionary and theoretical ideas. He joined Spector in (the CPC-Left Opposition) 1931. But we have to record that they never got to first base in (appealing to the membership of) the Communist Party of Canada.
There was a real gap (after the break from) the Communist Party of Canada. While for a period it was a joke in this period of American Trotskyism, that Cannon was like a general without an army—Cannon, Abern, Shachtman—three generals without an army, but it appears to me from reading the history of the American movement, (�that they did manage to start from an important basis, for instance with a grouping) in Minneapolis, which subsequently played an important role in stabilizing the American Trotskyist movement... (tape inaudible—ed.) Spector and MacDonald were never able to do this (marshall forces on the left from across the country to the new Trotskyist movement, as the American movement had --ed). The leaders of the American party—Cannon, Abern and Shachtman, were bigger figures and accepted by the party� (they appeared larger) in stature than Spector and MacDonald. However, Spector was a top theoretician. There are a couple of books perhaps comrades are not aware of in the library (which contain writings by him) one of which is (an introduction to Trotsky’s) Lessons of October and there are other important writings of his in the early issues of the (SWP) journal The Fourth International. He was a theoretician of a very high order. He was the political leader of the Canadian Communist Party, there is no question about that.
So we have the two top leaders of the Canadian Communist Party, expelled from the Communist Party, and very quickly... and isolated (from the Party—deprived from contact) with a generation of Communist Party members. There was the problem of the inexperience of the cadre of the party. Then of course there was the great authority of the Russian Revolution. This authority was awesome—it was the main basis and inspiration of overcoming the difficulties piecing together the best elements of the revolutionary workers of this country. But at the same time, the authority of the October Revolution was transferred to certain leaders, by certain elements in the leadership of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, and of course thereupon transferred to certain elements of the Canadian party leaders who lined them up—namely Tim Buck. We can say that it was the defeat of the Left Opposition in Russia (that affected the) Canadian Communist Party ... which generally stood outside of this conflict ... it was settled in the great conflict inside the party of Russia—(which became a) vast betrayal of that struggle which decided the struggle in this country. (For clarification) you should read the second volume of Isaac Deutscher`s work on Trotsky—The Prophet Unarmed. Here Deutscher gives an indication of what was involved in this struggle. That settled the struggle in Canada, and Tim Buck became the transmission belt for the Stalinist bureaucracy. He went through all the Stalinist policy twists.
Spector launched the struggle on the North American continent to rebuild the party. He was actually the first Trotskyist in America. (The American historian Theodore) Draper provides some interesting evidence on this period in his second volume The History of the American Communist movement. Spector knew what was happening in the October Revolution (... he learned about the facts) while he was in Germany in the early 20s, and he corresponded with the journal Inprecor which was the journal of the Comintern (while he was) over there for a year or so (. . . ) At any rate he came to learn what was going on in Communist Parties (while he was) in the Soviet Union, and in the working class movements at large. And he came to take a position in the titanic debate around the theory of socialism in one country as early as 1926, two years before the rupture took place, and for some considerable period before 1928 when he came into contact with Cannon. He knew that Cannon was a dissident of some kind in the American party, and he told Cannon, as early as 1926, that he was a Trotskyist. Cannon has never commented on this for some time; someone going down to the SWP vacation school should ask Cannon what happened here and what was his relations with Spector, and why didn’t he move more rapidly in this situation.
At any rate, Spector was the pioneer. Perhaps Cannon didn’t grasp the significance of the struggle (between Trotsky and Stalin)—quite possible, not many did. It is quite possible he did understand the significance of the struggle and he had to take (precaution until) the implications of it (became clear)—that’s quite possible, too. At any rate, Cannon didn’t take a stand with a Trotskyist position in 1926, with Spector, but they formed some kind of working relation, some kind of collaboration. At any rate, by the time 1928 came along, they both travelled as delegates to the meeting of the Comintern Congress. They went to Moscow and they came back, and Cannon relates the episode in (his book) American Trotskyism of how Spector came across Trotsky’s document. Well it wasn’t exactly that because Spector already had some familiarity with the question, but that was the beginning in a sense because he now had in hand all the program of the Left Opposition. And they brought it back together, they brought back this document—the program of Trotskyism in 1927-1928.
And I was saying the other day, speaking the other night about Trotskyism then—this is what Trotskyism was at this time. The big issue of course was the debate around the theory of socialism in one country. (It made) Trotskyism very easily identifiable in this country... there are some people who encompass many other persons as Trotskyists, as a matter of fact I understand there are eighty-five persons in the Ontario New Democratic Party Youth who are on a list—a purge list—and I am quite sure we don’t have 85 Trotskyists in the Ontario NDY, but there are Trotskyists. (. . . ) If we looked further and picked up some people who we might not think are worthy, but all in all the NDP leadership are more or less essentially correct, they have a fair idea of what Trotskyism is—it’s the socialist current in the New Democratic Party, they’re the organizers of the socialist current in the NDP, they’re the activists around the antiwar movement and of course as we could delineate their program, they’re the Fidelistas, as the comrades on the West Coast who support the Cuban Revolution were accused of being; so they (the NDP leadership) found a rule-of-thumb to designate Trotskyism; and it is relatively easy to determine what Trotskyism is, today. Well, that was true in 1921, too. It was very clear what it was. It was Soviet Power and the Five Points. Soviet Power—for a workers’ republic in Canada, political action, involvement in union struggles, democratic centralism, and the foundation of the party press. That’s what Trotskyism was in 1921. What Bolshevism was in 1921.
In 1928, the issue involved in the struggle led by Trotsky, as it was dramatically revealed to us—by 1928, the entire cadre of the Bolshevik Party—the issues when this struggle took place were not too clear to workers in this country; even advanced workers couldn’t understand it—what the theory of “socialism in one country” was. Of course the Stalinist slander machine had done a big job on us and made a caricature of us. I remember when I first came around the socialist movement (in 1934-35 -ed.) there was a big discussion about what “socialism in one country” really was; but it was summarized very clearly in a pamphlet which we carry in the store—two pamphlets—one, “The Third International after Lenin” which was the essential part of the “Criticism of the Draft Program” that Spector brought back with him, and in the first introduction there is a very short and curt summary about what this struggle was about.
Trotsky opposed the formulation by Bukharin, sponsored by Stalin, that socialism could be built in one country. Some people saw this as an academic question—the argument was, what have you got to lose; if you prove wrong, well nothing’s lost, you know. But Trotsky, in this very short summary, countered this line. He said, if this theory is adopted—this idea that Russia can build socialism, all by itself, if it is left in peace, free from imperialist attacks—he says, regardless of the aims and objectives of those persons who support this theory—it is inevitable at this stage that the tasks of the world working class is not to make the revolution in their own country, but becomes to preserve the peace. This idea is to achieve the main task, and that is to build socialism, and therefore the Comintern that must be transformed from the revolutionary vanguard movement, the general staff of the worldwide revolution, into the border-guard of the Soviet bureaucracy.
This was the essential theoretical discussion of this generation of the Comintern. Of course they didn’t understand the truth about Trotskyism (until too late)—this is exactly what happened. The theory of socialism in one country was adopted, and the Communist Parties instead of being revolutionary socialist parties committed to developing vanguard parties and to pose the issues clearly on the need to take power—instead of taking a revolutionary orientation, they became pawns in the diplomatic maneuvers of the Soviet bureaucracy. And all you have to do is read the history of the Thirties—in France, in Spain, in China—in order to see the truth of Trotsky’s prediction. (. . . )
And the Comintern was by and large in a period of ultra-leftism, which very few of us had had any experience of. You know most of us had been around the radical movement but the bulk of us were around the Communist movement in this country and the left which was largely reformist in character. It is popular-frontist, class-collaborationist (seeking coalitions on bourgeois terms -ed.) etc.—that’s been the general experience of Canadian workers in this country—with the Communist Party—for many many decades. It wasn’t always thus, in the thirties when the big struggle was being waged by Spector and MacDonald with Buck—against Buck, and the supporters of the Kremlin. At that time the Communist Party was on a left jag—as a matter of fact I was just thinking about it a few minutes ago—it was (to later) influence Mao Tse Tung who underwent a similar experience—sectarianism is very heavy stuff—its un-reasonable, you know, once you adopt it, you know, you become insensitive to (working out a) program, and questioning. I’ve had talks with Maoists; there is no question they are revolutionaries, they are good types but they are incurable (sectarians); they’re insensitive; it is practically impossible to have an intelligent and rational discussion with them. And I think if you have had that experience with the Maoists you will get a little inkling of what the problem was in trying to have a serious political discussion with workers who were around the Communist Party under the influence of the “Third Period” (the Comintern’s) period of extreme ultra-leftism.
So now comrades, I would like to say a few words about the Left Opposition in Canada. Spector and MacDonald founded the movement of course. They attempted to remain in the Communist Party of Canada; they attempted to reform the CP of C.—that’s why they called themselves “the Left Opposition.”—as distinct from the Right Opposition. And for the whole early period of the movement in Canada they were circulators of the (US-SWP) Militant—we didn’t publish our own paper—we promoted the Militant. The Canadian party to a considerable degree was—I was going to say an “appendage”—not the most accurate word—in fact had fraternal relations, close collaborative relations, a relation of equals, as a matter of fact Spector and MacDonald were certainly the equals of the leaders of the American Trotskyists—of the Left Opposition in the United States—on all counts.
In this period, of course, as I said it was extremely difficult to carry on rational discussions, to educate cadre elements around the Communist Party of Canada. The movement began to grow for a period around the German experience. Spector was admirably quick to play a role in this process because he had been in Germany for some years and... and had seen some of the most important writings of Trotsky on the German experience, and I think most of you have seen these writings. At any rate Spector held very large meetings in Toronto—very large meetings. If you look back in the press, which we had started to publish—you will see reports of the Trotskyist movement; we had very large meetings. Spector spoke to thousands; he was a great orator—I heard him once or twice ¯ he was one of the most powerful orators I have ever heard.
But generally we didn’t get very far in this period, because there was a big problem. The working class was suffering defeat. I remember reading at one time, someone was questioning Trotsky. They asked Trotsky: how to you explain this phenomenon? Even if you are correct, you have nothing to stand on; you are cursed with the gift of understanding all, but without the power to intervene in the situation. Trotsky understood the whole course of history. If you read the life of Trotsky in the Thirties, you will see he challenged himself—to (explain) and discuss all of the problems of the world revolution—on China, on Germany, on France, on Spain, on the whole field of the world class struggle—it was Trotsky who was writing the most important documents—he was the Marxist (writer). Trotsky had this great gift of understanding all. It was incredible, his insight; but how could Trotsky explain, that with this great insight, why didn’t his movement, which he symbolized, grow? Here he has proven himself correct a thousand times, again and again, why didn’t his movement grow, and flourish—he was proven correct on this occasion, on that occasion, why didn’t the movement grow (. . . )?
(tape ends) (Speech continues into Part 2)