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.
Ross Dowson at the podium of the Waterloo Socialist Educational Conference, August 20-25, 1971, attended by 274 mainly young workers and students from across Canada (see September 13 issue of Labor Challenge):
What’s all this about 50 years of revolutionary socialism—the display in the foyer—with its yellowing group-photo of a Canadian Labor Party convention in 1926 from which blow-ups have been extracted of one Maurice Spector who died three years ago after withdrawing from the Canadian revolutionary movement in the mid-Thirties. Of one Jack MacDonald who died twenty years ago, and Bill Bossovitch whom not one of us here even met personally.
What’s all this about a conference held in a barn down the road near Guelph back in 1921—a barn which we found no longer even exists thanks to expansion of this industrial community.
The average age of the persons in this hall is obviously something in the late teens or early twenties—not only are you of a totally different generation, but probably not even the parents of the majority of you were alive fifty years ago. Some of us are Québécois who have the added problem of identification, since possibly none of the participants spoke French or had anything but the most rudimentary knowledge of the dynamics of Quebec national aspirations.
What’s this got to do with this audience not only a couple of generations removed but with an audience like this that is so obviously with it—so completely clued in on all the ongoing actions of these days.
What relevancy has this event in Guelph 50 years ago to top activists in the anti-Vietnam war movement, to leaders in the campaign for student faculty control of the universities and their integration in the struggles of the communities, to participants in the tenants’ rights movement, and to fighters in the expanding movement for women’s liberation, to unionists’ work to build a new leadership from the floors of the shops... socialists fighting to win the NDP (New Democratic Party) to a class struggle program—or for that matter to those of you who have already cast your lot in with, have dedicated your lives to build the LSA-LSO (League for Socialist Action-Ligue Socialiste Ouvrière) or YS-LJS? (Young Socialists-Ligue des Jeunes Socialistes)
Besides we are not only needlessly complicating things when we attempt to relate ourselves to this event back in 1921 when the Communist Party of Canada also relates itself to the same event, and we will have to extricate ourselves from all kinds of difficulties such as Stalinism.
The Communist Party of Canada has no real credibility today in any substantial section of the new wave of radicalization of which we are part. Why, it could be well asked, should we the living, the fighting radicals of today get involved, identify ourselves, be at all concerned with this incident of some 50 years ago?
Why don’t we start from where we are—many of the new left claim that the past has little if anything to offer—and we should swing free. Or why don’t we start from some other point less contended for and possibility more closely connected in the popular mind as signifying something generally good and useful.
It seems to me that this is a matter of some importance and if there had ever been any doubt in my own mind about the correctness of us revolutionaries of today tying in with that kind of revolutionaries who assembled in a barn down the road 50 years ago—the trip up to Waterloo from Toronto would surely have clarified my mind.
We came up from Toronto a few days ago in a big hurry to attend the Saturday morning session—with a map—an Ontario highway map good enough to get us in the area but without a good navigator in the bucket seat and it soon became very obvious to us that you (can’t) get to where you want to go if you don’t know where you are—and you can’t possibly know where you are unless you know where you are coming from.
That assembly of men and women who gathered in that barn 50 years ago are our beginning even though not one of us here today was there. That is not to say there are not a whole series of events in the stormy history of the Canadian people that we firmly identify with—William Lyon Mackenzie, Louis Papineau and yes including Chief Poundmaker.
But we live in the epoch of the world socialist revolution, the epoch of the transition from capitalism to socialism, and we have set ourselves the task as revolutionaries to forge the instrument that will make that transition not only easier but possible.
That is why we can’t start from any other point, say the founding of the CCF or the NDP, which is not part of our tradition but is reformist, nor even from the organization of the International Left Opposition. And why we are not at all prepared to say we are starting from here—from Waterloo as much more inspiring these circumstances may well appear compared to that huddle down the road in a barn.
We commenced with the coming together of all the best of a previous period of Canadian radicalization, that having grasped the great significance of the first breakthrough that took place in Russia, came together in 1921 to found what was shortly to be known as the Communist Party of Canada.
That is where our idea commenced—it is from there that our ideology, which we have tested and expanded, first took root on Canadian soil. It is the good fortune of revolutionaries here in Canada that they can not only trace out their origin and the development of their ideology, but there is a direct continuity in the physical composition of the revolutionary cadre.
It was not Tim Buck of the Canadian CP of today who was the founder of the CPC—he was only one of the participants and as subsequent events showed got in there through a misunderstanding. The first general secretary was Jack MacDonald who held that post in the revolutionary days until expelled in 1929—and the chairman of that party was Maurice Spector, its leading theoretician and publicist who was expelled in 1928. There are several of us in this room tonight who knew both or one of these revolutionary socialists personally and joined the political movement that they constituted to continue the struggle that they initiated back in 1921. A considerable number of us in this room had the honor to know both Max Armstrong and Malcolm Bruce who were there and who rejoined us, one and two generations younger than they, in common cause to build the revolutionary vanguard party.
William Rodney in his valuable researched work Soldiers of the International—a history of the Communist Party from 1919 to 1929 has the work of that founding Congress end in disarray with the expulsion of Jack MacDonald in 1929. He accurately says that MacDonald’s expulsion “marked the end of a era in the history of the CP of C.” But Rodney is dead wrong when, after he relates how MacDonald joined Spector, he says that their efforts ended in failure.
We here today are the fruit of their efforts and I think any impartial observer would say that Rodney’s sentence is not only premature but dead wrong.
As most of you are aware over the years under the pressure of events both Stalin and his acolytes and his heirs have been compelled to write and re-write new and different versions of the history of the Great Russian Revolution of 1917, and the whole period of subsequent history.
Tim Buck, Stalin’s chief acolyte in Canada and toady of Stalin’s heirs, who with increasing difficulty continues his political expropriation of the Soviet masses, has been compelled by Rodney’s book to rewrite his previous histories of the CPC. Late last fall his book Lenin and Canada appeared. Of the some 91 pages of new material, 35 of its pages or more than one-third, deal with what he calls “from political inexperience, to the struggle for Leninism.” When Buck says Leninism he of course really means Stalinism—for Buck as the CPC has crashed from one rock to another disgorging leader after leader until almost he alone remains as an unregenerate Stalinist.
But when he writes of the political inexperience of the revolutionaries who came in 1921 from all the previous radical formations, he is not dealing with the genuine and vital contributions that Lenin and the Bolsheviks made to the birth of the movement. To be sure there were lots of things wrong with the men and women who came together in 1921 in the first attempt to found a revolutionary vanguard party. But there was one thing about them that marked them out from their generation—they were revolutionary socialists and they were honest.
In fact they were Trotskyists—Maurice Spector in the statement that he hurriedly submitted to the Political Committee of the CPC on November 6, 1928 denies the existence of something called Trotskyism—he was challenged to endorse the expulsion of three of his U.S. co-workers including James P. Cannon from the Workers Party of America and to agree to carry an aggressive campaign against the platform of the Opposition led by Trotsky in the CPSU (Communist Party of the Soviet Union.)
He assured the Political Committee that “I am prepared to wage an aggressive campaign for Leninism” and went on to explain that Trotskyism as distinct from Leninism is a myth designed to obscure the real issues, which are the destruction of the Leninist party with its democratic centralist structure and the Leninist doctrine—with the theory of socialism in one country, today known as peaceful coexistence in the name of which the Kremlin and Peking sell out the struggle of Bangladesh and the youth revolt in Ceylon.
Yes, they were revolutionaries and honest—and it wasn’t easy to substitute Leninism with Stalinism on them. Shortly after the death of Lenin, Stalin and his cohorts in mock honor of the founder of the Bolshevik party announced the “Lenin levy”—they opened the doors of the party to a vast influx of new members, to swamp the Bolshevik core in a morass of new and inexperienced elements subject to all the increasing pressure that arose from the increasing isolation of the impoverished workers’ state.
This policy was translated by Buck at a meeting of the Political Bureau in May of 1924 into a motion calling for a party-wide educational campaign on the dangers of both opportunist and leftist deviations. Both Spector and MacDonald spoke against this and the proposal was defeated 6 to 3.
In the spring of 1925 William Moriarty attended the plenum of the Executive Committee of the Communist International on behalf of the CPC, where Trotsky and the Left Opposition were under vicious attack—Moriarty wired the party leadership for instructions as to how he should vote on the charge that Trotskyism is anti-Leninist and harmful to the cause of socialism. MacDonald polled the Political Bureau and sent the following telegram to Moriarty and the Executive Committee of the CI:
“The executive committee ‘is not convinced’ on the basis of the evidence obtained, that the Comintern is actually menaced and confronted with a system constituting Trotskyism. Notwithstanding Trotsky’s mistakes prior to 1917 and during the course of the revolution we are not convinced that the implications of the ‘permanent revolution’ theory ‘attributed to him’ are actually entertained by Trotsky and that he contemplates revision of Leninism. We are of the opinion that the prestige of the Comintern has not been enhanced here by the bitterness of the anti-Trotsky attack. No request from leading elements or party membership for discussion in the Party press.”
Not even the censure of the Executive Committee of the CI was sufficient to cause the leadership of the young CP of C to buckle under. Buck reports that his effort to reopen the question a the next meeting of the Political Bureau was defeated by a vote of seven to two. By placing it on the Political Bureau again Buck assured that the question would be open for debate at the Fourth National Convention of the party from Jack MacDonald’s report.
MacDonald’s report which placed as Buck says “the Canadian party squarely in Trotsky’s camp,” was adopted with only seven votes in opposition. Subsequently Buck went as a delegate to the Seventh Plenum of the ECCI where the campaign to drive Trotsky out of the CPSU and quash the Bolshevik opposition in the CPSU was at its height. Buck reports how he returned to Canada with the confident feeling that now the shoe was on the other foot... “the Political Bureau and The Worker, we thought, will have to either accept or reject the line to which we (Buck and Popovitch) have committed our Party.”
To Buck’s surprise when he demanded at the end of his report that “as the elected leaders of the Communist Party of Canada, we have to decide whether we are on Lenin’s side in this struggle or if we are against him”—Maurice Spector stopped him and demanded he withdraw that statement. “It was” Spector declared “a brazen attempt to intimidate the members of the Political Bureau—a Stalinist trick which expressed only the opinion of the delegation. The work of the delegation is yet to be judged by this committee and its judgment will decide who will be permitted to speak for Lenin.”
Despite Spector the Political Bureau adopted the report. Spector announced his resignation from the Political Bureau and from office of editor of the party press and chairman of the party. The meeting refused to accept his resignations and reaffirmed him in these posts. Buck was compelled to withdraw his motion that Spector should be required to change his vote on the resolution.
Subsequent to that Spector and MacDonald were elected to represent the CPC at the Sixth World Congress of the Communist International, and Spector on the recommendation of the CPC was elected as a member of the Executive Committee of the Comintern. It was at that assembly of the CI that Spector and James P. Cannon of the American party came across Trotsky’s “Criticism of the Draft Program of the Communist International.” With this clarification in hand they decided to launch the world-wide struggle in support of Trotsky and against Stalin and his policies that transformed the Communist parties of the world from instruments for the socialist revolution in their own countries to border guards of the USSR and pawns in the diplomatic maneuvers of the Soviet bureaucracy.
What kind of men and women were they who gathered in the barn at Guelph and issued forth to build the Communist movement? They came out of the first important wave of radicalization that arose prior to the World War I, peaked in the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike, and was dissipated in the great economic boom of the 1920s.
It was neither the character of the chief contestants Spector and MacDonald versus Buck or their respective programs that decided the outcome of the struggle in the 1930s. It was the prestige and authority of the Soviet Union, the product of the October Revolution—and the ebb of the radicalization that allowed the Stalinization of the thin layer of vanguard elements that had come to the Communist Party—and on the other hand assured the isolation of MacDonald and Spector and the heroic band that began anew the struggle to build the Workers Party of Canada.
Buck won the essential cadre of the party which in the next wave of radicalization with the great crash of 1929 and the rise of the CIO carried the CP forward and won thousands to its ranks. It grew despite its most flagrant violation of the most elementary principles of class struggle politics. Its fatal flaw—its programmatic bankruptcy—has only become clear with the crisis of its masters in the Kremlin, under the rising struggle for socialist democracy, the revelation on a world scale of the counter-revolutionary character of the theory of socialism in one country or peaceful coexistence—and in this country, the rise of the New Democratic Party.
We are of the same breed as the men and women who gathered together in Guelph in 1921. They were a thin layer of the best from the various revolutionary currents of their day who assimilated the key lessons of the October Revolution, plus new youthful revolutionaries with no real experience in the class struggle but inspired by the possibilities of a socialist Canada and prepared to dedicate their lives to win it.
While they learned much from the Bolsheviks both on the plane of revolutionary organization and principled class politics, they were not quite so raw and unsophisticated as Buck makes out. I am not referring to their mighty resistance to the Stalinization of the party in the first decisive 8 to 12 years.
They learned much from the Bolsheviks both on the plane of revolutionary organization and principled revolutionary politics. They forged their ideas in struggle with the spontaneists and direct actionists of their time. They fought revolutionary syndicalists and ouvrierists. They won the best from both the IWW (International Workers of the World—the “Wobblies") and the OBU (One Big Union) . If I am not mistaken a group of new left students here in Waterloo adopted the name and what they thought was the style of the Industrial Workers of the World.
At one time the boss propaganda machine attempted to smear this inveterate band of revolutionary industrial unionists as “I Won’t Work.” In part this was an attempt to demean professional revolutionaries—full-time IWW organizers—before the eyes of the North American workers who were steeped in the protestant work ethic.
In the course of the IWW’s degeneration, as the best elements joined the CPC, some cast-offs glorified in and assumed the character of “I Won’t Workites.” It rejected any and all concepts of an all-inclusive party—a party open to every and all ideas. It rejected any and all concepts that the party was or could be a microcosm of the new socialist society, that the party has something to do with concepts of life style. It was a serious and hard working party which rejected all forms of intellectual dilettanteism and discussion circle concepts. It was a party that sought to unite the advanced sectors of the working population, to root itself in the ranks of the strategically-placed industrial working class, to win them to its political program and mobilize them in struggle to overthrow capitalism.
It governed itself on the principles of democratic centralism—it allocated time to discuss and time to act— above all its discussions were geared to the act. Following a full and ample discussion it conceived that all were committed to act along the line of the democratically arrived at decision.
In a word it was the prototype of the LSA/LSO. Of course they didn’t have all the answers—but they had more than any other party. Nor do we have all the answers—but we should have more since we come to here with another 50 years of class struggle experiences. We stand by all counts in a better position than our predecessors of 1921-1929 did.
Canada is now a highly urban society; the overwhelming majority are wage laborers; they are highly organized both on the union and political plane, and if they haven’t yet come to socialism, the great masses of the population don’t believe— they don’t believe in capitalism, and more as they become jobless and the cost of living rises, (they) won’t “believe in a Buick,” as the advertising hucksters say—something to believe in.
Today one-half of the world’s population is under 15. In the brief lifetime of the protesting youth of today we have gone through four major epochs: the atomic age, the computer age, the space age and the bio-engineering age or DNA age, according to Ritchie Calder: “Each of them is as significant as the bronze age, the iron age, the Renaissance or the industrial revolution—and all have been telescoped into the post-war years.”
Today has significantly been called the Age of the Permanent Revolution; that’s the age of the Fourth International, and in Canada the coming of age of the LSO/LSA.