First Published: The Worker, Vol 10, No 21, September 28, 1978
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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Leaders of the Progressive Labour Party of the U.S.A. like to speak of themselves as revolutionary, but so far they’ve only overthrown Lenin. We hope our readers have been following our polemic with the PLP and benefit from the struggle. We need this fight over theory in order to develop revolutionary cadre who can see their way through the many twists and turns of the class war and bring the masses to socialist revolutions. “Without a revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement,” wrote Lenin.
PL at first claimed to be Leninist in rejecting the thesis that revolutionaries must defend Quebec’s right to self-determination. When CPL countered with material to the contrary from Lenin and Stalin, PLP retreated to the line that Lenin and Stalin were of mixed mind on the national question and needed to be improved upon. CPL was using lawyer-like arguments, they complained.
Now the PLP has taken up a new and very lawyer-like position. They’re claiming we violated a contract. “You’ve changed your line” they moan, waving a document under our nose. What is this document, here-to-fore unmentioned in the debate and now so crucial and damning? Lo and behold it turns out to be a twelve point thesis signed (sic) by our represntatives together with those of the PLP and some Marxists from Mexico. We’re surprised to see them. They were to be the basis of unity for our first talks and a guide for further meetings. Their author is no longer with the PLP and we’ve heard no more of the delegates from Mexico, except that they were “no good”. We concurred with the PLP leadership’s notion to forget the effort. We were not particularly rigorous about the document in question because we were willing to go to considerable lengths to develop ties with revolutionaries from other countries. It was adequate, but not the be-all-and-end-all that the PL lawyer-editorialist is making it out to be.
But let’s get to his “case”. Two years ago, he blusters, CPL’s leaders could agree to this 12 point program which does not mention the right to self-determination and then turn around a few months after and write an editorial “which declared that ’self-determination is the key to English-French unity’. This position represented a sharp reversal.” Wrong on both counts. The desperate arguments of an anti-Leninist trying to shift his gound.
Like all those bourgeois commentators who are contemptuous of Marxist terminology the Challenge writer drops the words “Right to” before “Self-determination” so as to confuse the reader. As for the “sharp reversal” that’s almost comical. We printed the 12 points in the March 18, 1977 issue of The Worker. In that same issue of our paper we had an editorial which called for the “recognition of the right to separation” for Quebec. CPL has been writing about Quebec’s right to self-determination practically since the beginning of our Party. The term became more prominent with the election of a separatist government and Trudeau’s threat to use force against Quebec. We applied our Marxist-Leninist principles to the unfolding events so that our Party could do its utmost to guarantee working-class unity and remain on a revolutionary course. A less feverish and domineering approach from PLP’s leaders might have made the matter more comprehensible to all.
When we explained our views on the importance of defending Quebec’s right to self-determination in a phone conversation with the chairman of PLP we got some worldly advice: “I agree with you”, he said, “but try not to use the term.” And, further, “Sprinkle the word socialism in there.” Ah, principle. “Sprinkle”. It isn’t exactly the same as “Fight for . . ”.
Meanwhile CPL has taken up the fight against nationalism in Canada, to win workers in English Canada to resist Trudeau’s threats against Quebec by denying the government’s right to hold that nation by force. And in Quebec we have fought for class unity with English Canadian workers. We have attacked the bourgois nationalist Levesque in both The Worker and L’Ouvrier, but with the bulk of the attack being directed at Trudeau as the front for the Canadian working class. That’s in keeping with Stalin’s point that about two-thirds of the Communist propaganda should be devoted to attacks on the leaders of the oppressor nation and a third to the bosses of the oppressed nation.
In every major union, struggles have been waged often under CPL leadership for the recognition of Quebec’s right to secede. The right wing and the racists have consistently hid behind the slogan English and French unite. That has made it very clear to us only recognition of Quebec’s right to secede will bring real unity to the working class.
Quebec workers are not going to accept a “unity” which is imposed and means continued discrimination. Our unity must be voluntary and non-coercive. Hence, the right to secede. “Lenin sometimes depicted the thesis on national self-determination in the guise of the simple formula: ’disunion for union’. Think of it – disunion for union. It even sounds like a paradox. And yet, this ’contradictory’ formula reflects that living truth of Marx’s dialectics which enables the Bolsheviks to capture the most impregnable fortresses in the sphere of the national question.” Stalin, Deviations on the National Question.
The point of distinguishing between oppressor and oppressed nations and demanding the right of the oppressed to secede is to overcome the very nationalism from which PLP is suffering. When CPL points out economic discrimination against French workers we hear the warble of the philistine from PL: “How about the lower paid English speaking workers?” We were pointing out that it is oppression of the French that divides the workers and ruins conditions, that English Canadian workers must take the lead in fighting the racism suffered by the French. PLP, with its snide question, would have us believe that under capitalism, exploitation is all the same difference. Similarly a previous issue of Challenge echoed Trudeau in expressing concern for the “different tongued bosses” of Quebec. The logic PL is following is that of Trudeau, like themselves a great nation chauvinist. That, to borrow a phrase is not a “despicable charge”, but a despicable fact.
The Canadian Party of Labour is fighting for a proletarian dictatorship by revolutionary means. When we say fight racism, we are not building capitalism. When we demand the six hour day we are not building capitalism. And when we say Quebec has the right to vote on secession we are not building capitalism. They are all part of a socialist program to be fought for now and even under socialism. We do not hide our views. Which brings us to PL’s more notorious quality. Except in one or two instances that resulted from years of CPL prodding, the cadre of PLP are in the habit of posing as CAR members and carrying manifestly reformist lines. Yet Challenge clucks its tongue at the thought that CPL finds “Revolution and Reform” of little value. We agreed with the spirit of the document, because we believe Communist politics and goals must be stressed in our daily work. We printed Revolution and Reform in The Worker, butwe were sufficiently uncertain about its contents to reprint Stalin on Reformism and Revolutionism in the same issue. When in doubt, we told our cadre, take it from Stalin. Perhaps Challenge could criticize the Stalin piece if they think it’s in error and that would clear the matter up.
By rejecting the right of oppressed nations to secede and by declaring that proposition “nationalist” the PLP is abandoning Leninism and providing a red front for great nation chauvinism. They are headed for the swamp where their forebears, the anarchists, have been for, lo, these many years. To paraphrase Lenin, they can go into the swamp if they want, but they can’t take us with them.