First Published: In Struggle! No. 273, November 24, 1981
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
Copyright: This work is in the Public Domain under the Creative Commons Common Deed. You can freely copy, distribute and display this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line as your source, include the url to this work, and note any of the transcribers, editors & proofreaders above.
The editors’ position in Issue #267 and our reputation for ’dogmatism’ convinced us, that we should make a collective contribution to the current debates in our organization. We wanted to talk directly to all of you.
The plan to prepare this supplement started at a special emergency convention on October 24th. Everyone proposed that a few comrades should draft a text based on the debates at this convention, on other meetings we’ve held in the last 6 months, and on the political and practical experience of our region’s militants. On November 15th we discussed this draft at another regional meeting. Comrades were in agreement with its essentials but we didn’t have time to debate all the issues raised; so it is not an ’official’ position of the B.C. region as such.
Most of all, people thought that this text would help the whole organization resolve the difficulties we face.
To fit the space, we had to make cuts in the original text presented. But it is available (in English only unfortunately!) from our region.
The supplement is divided into 2 main parts: the text and the main points raised in the debates.
Warm greetings from the comrades or the B.C. Region.
It’s clear that the communist movement world-wide is in an ideological crisis. There is a great need to use a materialist method to understand history, the situation in the world and country, and what our action should be. The struggle for women’s liberation and all its consequences is a major feature of the ideological crisis along with the issue of social democracy.
But, if we look at many of our positions since the Quebec referendum, we have a political crisis on our hands as well. Our main conclusion is that we haven’t acted as a political reference point for some time. This has to do with the content of what we have said, especially in the newspaper.
Then, it is obvious that how we are organized (including our internal life) is in a crisis state in many places. Confusion and questioning are widespread. People have the feeling that things are going too fast. And now, there are many different answers which show that there are political differences too.
But before we look at organizational solutions, we need to put ’politics’ back into the debate. In a way this is the theme of the text.
As for the Congress, it would be idealist to re-write the entire program and constitution. Instead, we must decide on what holds us together, which changes are urgent to make, what can be lived with and for how long.
In preparing the Fourth Congress it is essential to look at the opinions adopted at our Third Congress.
One thing is striking in re-reading the Political Report. The analysis of the national and world situation remains pertinent and useable. By comparison, our current debate neglects any consideration of the ’world situation’.
But there are also important changes since the Third Congress which spotlight serious limitations in our political perspectives of 1979. With some further changes that realistically can be made at our coming Congress, we have the foundation for concrete analysis of concrete events. There is no need to retreat to the “minimal political platform” proposed by the newspaper editors.
The forces of reaction are organizing in our country today – from the pro-life, to the KKK, to the McDonald Commission... The Third Congress political report, now three years old, highlighted reaction’s rapid rise and outlined its “good prospects” in a period of deepening capitalist crisis. A significant part of our reality was perceived, as was its denouement: war.
We need to know much more about contemporary imperialism and Lenin’s sketch alone won’t do. But there is one continuing feature of imperialist crisis that is not so puzzling.
Inter-imperialist rivalry, sharpened by (recurring) capitalist crisis, climaxes in reactionary and chauvinist campaigns, in strident calls for the defense of “our” mother-father-land. Too many independent progressives, and organized social democracy, justify or tolerate this national build-up against the ’greater foreign enemy’.
One of the enduring strengths of our Third Congress was the set of connections made between economic crisis, war preparations, and nationalism in various guises.
If you ignore war preparations, as was done in the major world analysis in the recent editorial (256), it is easier to dismiss the possibilities of revolution. Particularly when revolution is considered as a national (Canadian) phenomenon. Yet war and revolution are inter-national processes and, at least historically, they have an intimacy. And the speed with which war brings social upheaval and with it the prospect of political revolution is often surprising.
Nor was the Third Congress analysis of nationalism’s many faces a repetition of cliches. One example is the way we examined the situation of native peoples in Canada. We did not rely on an “ML master”. We put our feet on the ground. That’s how we came actively to defend the right of native peoples to self-determination.
At the Third Congress we initiated our work to unify the international Marxist-Leninist movement. We sought out those forces whose practise was revolutionary, regardless of its banner. We adjusted our ideas with the reality we discovered.
Vigorous public and international debate at the CC over our assessment of the PLO resulted in a more penetrating (realistic) view, not just of the Palestinian struggle (see PU 19), but of the Iranian. Nicaraguan, Zimbabwean, El Salvadorean... This had positive consequences in our practice.
These are real accomplishments and they are not the product of an organization entranced by the “magic” of Marxism-Leninism as the newspaper editors claim.
We would be the last to deny important weaknesses. To think that more “imagination and determination” would be a significant counter to reformism (Third Congress), reflects a naivete.
We hardly understood social democracy as an actual force within the working class, with a material basis that no amount of denunciation by itself will change. We had to turn away from “general demarcation” (dogmatism) and the “purity” of our isolation (sectarianism) to begin to learn important lessons. The most important of which is how to apply our programmatic views while tactically uniting in immediate struggles with a variety of reformists.
Our work in the CLC opposition caucus, the pamphlet on Dennis McDermott, our work around the Quebec referendum in English-Canada, our support work for El Salvador and Iran are significant steps.
Conquering some of our sectarianism also led us to recognize that this grave political flaw was not ours alone. We discovered two trends among progressives: those who want communists to do practical work without talking about politics (the editors capitulate to this); and those who want communists to make political proposals in on-going struggles that they support. We want to respond to these demands.
The weaknesses of our Third Congress pinpoint some weaknesses in our Program as well.
Some parts should be deleted at the Fourth Congress like arbitrary references to “socialist countries” and our ’explanations’ of historical defeats by reference to ’someone abandoned principles’.
Other weaknesses in our Program will have to stay until there is more systematic study and debate, linked to our own and others’ practise. At the Fourth Congress these will have to be identified and prioritized.
We think that the struggle for women’s emancipation is the priority, but there are also questions concerning the exercise of proletarian rule and key immediate demands in the current conjuncture.
But what is our political unity as we face problems for which we don’t yet have good answers? It is and must remain far from minimal!
We can reaffirm in our current Program key points which were agreed to for sound reasons in 1979 and which have had demonstrated their value in the intervening years. They form the distinctive basis of unity for our organization. We oppose political dissolution!
Do we have many questions about the nature of USSR society? We do. But as Forum #4 makes clear we do know it is an internally exploitative and externally expansionist class society.
With the “minimal” program of the editors, if (and when) the USSR invaded Poland we would have no unity. We might simply publish a supplement of divergent views. Or if we had fused with other left organizations, the most predictable outcome would be a majority view ’deploring’ the ’unfortunate’ invasion as an ’error’, all the while maintaining the USSR plays a less destructive role than imperialism (US of course).
On Quebec we have been weak in exposing and struggling positively against national oppression. In the referendum (and elections generally) we put too much emphasis on “spoil” your ballot campaigns. But how does this or any other limitation add up to abandoning our programmatic rejection of ’independence and socialism’?
Major events like Trudeau’s national energy policy, Cancun, and the latest outcome of the constitutional haggling give our Program greater relevance on the question of Canadian imperialism and the immediate goal of socialism.
The working class – and we don’t mean only the industrial proletariat – remains the main and leading force who must seize State power, ultimately by resort to revolutionary violence, in order to transform our society. Where is the theoretical class analysis (see Gorz in PU 25); where are the results of social democracy (see the letter from Regina #268) that would bring us to reject our programmatic alternative to social democracy or anarchism?
Yet removing our stands on the USSR, independence and socialism, and social democracy is the only hope in trying to unite left organizations right now. Pursuing this ’objective’, the editors carelessly throw out the revolutionary baby with the idealist bath-water.
Concerning unity: we fully support the need to build unity concretely around particular campaigns and on all fronts of resistance to the bourgeois offensive. We have worked very hard in this direction in the last two years and the method outlined in Article 8 remains a very good guide.
Let’s retain and deepen our political bonds in a situation of international crisis that carries with it the dangers of war as well as the opportunities for revolution on an international scale. Let’s not ’minimize’ our unity and restrict our political discussion to localized struggles.
From the beginning, idealism marked how we looked at history, reality around us, and our possibilities. Despite advances, we have not gone far enough.
Our Third Congress broke with a view of history that saw ’heroes fighting traitors’. It took two more years to start recognizing how much general economic and political conditions shape real possibilities. It will take a while before we are neither fatalist nor voluntarist...
Regarding the present, we inherited the idealism of the New Left: revolution still was around the corner, only the subjective factors lagged behind!
We believed for a long time that only a few traitors were misleading the working class. By presenting it with other views, many would become rapid ’converts’. We have realized this is boosting reality!
Similarly, it wasn’t long ago that we called on workers to strike every time their contract expired. The results were seen at least as a partial victory... demobilization after real defeats simply was denied.
Our stated expectations around the constitutional reform – ’guaranteed rights’ – and our careless optimism regarding Polish workers – ’they will face up to Russian tanks’ – fall into the same trap.
Boosting reality leads to idealist expectations concerning our work. Until 1 1/2 years ago, we set exaggerated quotas for distribution and recruitment in our region. Breakthroughs didn’t happen.
It took a long time before we questioned our expectations themselves and our ’reading’ of reality. Instead we were convinced the stage was set for revolution... but we had not yet found the way to make workers aware. So we over-analyzed our work, concentrated on weaknesses, made excessive demands on cadre, harsh criticisms of one another...
The editors’ proposals fall back into idealism. The dominant trend of their views is: before today, we were little but cliches and dogmas; now we see the light. As we already explained, this overlooks both what was positive in our work and views around the Third Congress and improvements made since then in some areas.
The editors explain our difficulties by subjective factors: the failure of certain theses of IS! and our self-proclamation. They dismiss the real divisions among the left as artificial barriers created by excessive bases of unity.
We don’t deny IN STRUGGLE! was created with the goal of rapidly uniting revolutionary forces, first in Quebec, then in English-Canada. This was linked to our belief that only subjective factors were ’missing’ and could be developed quickly by vigorous agitation and propaganda.
This wasn’t the case. So it makes no sense to feel terrible about not having achieved this goal. It makes even less sense to keep this goal but just try to reach it by ’cheaper’ unity. From results in distribution and recruitment and unity that are limited in relation to what we expected, the editors conclude that our approach was wrong, a communist paper is not so important, we need a minimal platform, etc. For us this still is idealist, for it only draws conclusions about our work.
But these limited results should also tell us something about our society the development of class struggle in Canada is still relatively primitive. So we are in for a longer battle than we first thought. For us, this is no reason at all to abandon revolutionary politics. Joining the camp of opportunism might give us a larger entourage but how can it make the day of revolution any closer?
We have outlined what we should keep in our basis of unity. Later we will emphasize the need to put politics at the center of our internal life.
We want a country-wide organization of political activists from different milieux, united around a truly proletarian programme. Our organization should combine real involvement in daily struggles with the development and spreading of revolutionary politics. Real involvement, because it is precisely for the well-being of the majority that we want to turn this whole world upside-down and we care for the lot of people right now too.
But our distinctive feature as communists cannot be that we lead each strike and demonstration; nor that we can mobilize more people than others. Our distinctive feature is to try and be a working class political reference point.
Working people learn through their own experience. But discussing what’s going on – in the world, Canada, their milieu – and what to do also is part of their day. What should we have to say as communists?
In the past year, we have grown increasingly dissatisfied with what we did say on more than one important question.
– Our aborted campaign around the constitution was marked with reformism and idealism. Many editorials stated entrenchment in a charter would guarantee our rights. Our ’modest’ goal: “all victories of the past 113 years must find a place in the constitution”. Recently, our front page headline was a bourgeois cliche: “Trudeau unites Canada against his constitution”. Unfortunately the underlining is not even ours and the editorial did not really explain the class backing of federal and provincial proposals.
– Regarding Poland, an editorial on workers’ control (# 267) should do more than, indicate the massive character of the movement behind that demand, which reflects a just aspiration of Polish workers to control the whole society. What is key to explain is the need to take state power: Not by the repetition of a dry principle! But to explain with concrete facts the preparation of internal repression, USSR military invasion, Eastern bloc ideological preparation of their own people for this, historical explanation of 1956 in Hungary and 1968 in Czechoslovakia, Instead, an editorial on our tasks (#259) is content to state: “Polish workers are prepared to confront the army as they did in 1970 and 1976; they even will face up to the Russian tanks if they have to.” If we think we should be talking about what we mentioned above, it is not because Polish workers are not proceeding according to the books! It is because we care for them.
– A fairly recent editorial on the MacDonald Commission report (# 261) limited itself to a ’popular’ expose centering on political cover-up. It totally ignored an important recommendation that the definition of subversion be expanded explicitly to include “Marxist-Leninists”.
Add to this criticisms from Regina comrades (# 268) about our ’soft’ stands towards social-democracy. We see more than just a “slight backing away from an attitude of struggle” (April CC resolution on tasks).
There are many practical reasons for a vanguard but debate must not center around a list of features printed in this or that book. The question is: in trying to solve important problems we face, do we maintain revolutionary politics? Review of our press shows this is an immediate question.
A miniature example of being a political point of reference is the campaign around the Quebec referendum in English-Canada. Because of all the work we already had done on the absolute equality of languages and nations, when the referendum was announced, we were ready to seize the time. We had a good grasp of the question. Our militants had experience with it; we knew where progressives stood on it. We were able to recognize that the example of the Toronto committee could be generalized and we quickly came up with a basis of unity.that was appropriate... It appears clearly that our political and practical preparedness is what enabled us to play a key role in organizing progressive forces on this issue.
Whether or not we are the embryo (or part of it) of the future proletarian party is not for us to decide. But our view of the leading role of the party is not idealist either. We do not see a Big Red Day where all workers stand behind the proletarian party and smash a handful of bourgeois and reactionaries!... Many workers will defend capitalism; many trends will exist in the revolutionary camp. Most likely, political alliances for transitory periods will be necessary. However, when that time comes, the stronger the influence of the proletarian party the better the position of the working class. This is why a minimal platform today makes so little sense!
All we can do is our best so that what we think is a necessary alternative exists and gets stronger and stronger. History, more precisely the working class, will reveal the rest... in time.
The April Central Committee resolution on organization, texts on organization in Internal Bulletins, and the editor’s position aren’t really concerned with internal democracy. In fact, the April CC rejected amendments whose main purpose was to increase internal political democracy; instead, all problems were to be solved by “opening debate to the public”.
We are for public debates, but our militants need to feel confident about their own and the organization’s politics. If the majority of our time internally is not spent debating and discussing politics in a lively way, how can we expect to have these kinds of links with people outside our organization? Democratic life is about our internal ’political’ life.
And if this kind of internal political life is not collectively organized for everyone in our organization, then only a very few people will be able to act with “autonomy and initiative” as communists. Despite our best intentions, communist politics will be the private property of intellectuals who don’t hesitate to give their views on many questions, whether informed or not.
Agendas for meetings tell the story: not just the items, but also the time given for debate as compared to “presentations”. In brief, as an organization our internal political life needs a major overhaul, At least 75% of our time should be spent debating and discussing politics.
It is in this context too that inequalities among membership need to be tackled. Study that is abstract and not relevant to current issues is useless and effectively prevents working class women and men and women in general from participation; study or preparation for debates that is left up to individuals is overwhelming for most and needs to be replaced by collective methods and so on. We agree with the comments made study and theoretical work by the comrade in issue # 266 (Food for Thought) and the need to break with a bookish, intellectual approach.
More than this, as a priority, conscious efforts must be made especially by intellectuals, ’specialists’, and leadership to give more help to those that need it: helping people prepare their points of view not convincing them of yours: suggesting others they can talk to or references that would be useful; working with people to present their views verbally or in writing, not taking over; etc.
But making the necessary changes so our internal life mainly is about politics, with everyone involved, is not sufficient when it comes to democracy.
We need to change the way decisions are currently taken on major positions and policies of the organization. In brief, we need to “democratize” the application of democratic centralism so the membership is directly and explicitly involved in decision-making on these major political issues. Along with this, the newspaper must be “membership-controlled” and reflect democratically adopted majority views.
Why do we want to make a connection between democratic decision-making and membership control of the newspaper? The newspaper still is our main public “voice”; it is open to and its contents are known by every member; it unifies our collective action. The newspaper in fact is a great “equalizer”.
What kind of changes are essential? Here are some main points.
– A Congress every year to review the past year’s work and give political direction to the coming year including an examination of the role played by the newspaper;
– Membership referendums between Congresses when decisions need to be reviewed or changed that were made at the last Congress (for example, “Three Worlds Theory”). Membership referenda for decisions of this kind are our only alternative besides holding a ’special’ Congress;
– A Central Committee that meets at least two times within the year and takes stands on ’new’ questions between Congresses after collective debate in every region;
– Publication of some political positions taken by regional and cell meetings, particularly those that cover areas not yet addressed by the organization as a whole (for example, the Prairies on the question of uranium mining and the anti-nuclear movement);
– Election of an editorial board by the Congress or CC for the newspaper, PU and Forum;
– Multiple alternatives for the membership to express their views fully in a public way (for example, Liaison Bulletin, articles in PU...).
The struggle for democracy is not a ’general and abstract’ struggle. The struggle for democracy is always tied to issues, views, demands ... and to be effective this struggle needs organization. This is evident if we look at the experience of the women’s movement or the workers’ movement as a whole and within this, the trade union movement.
The current struggle for democracy in our organization is no different. The criticisms raised by women, and to a lesser extent women and men workers, are the starting point; they are just criticisms, They cannot be swept away with a few more ’consultations’ or ’negotiations’, a change in responsibilities, or a quick acknowledgement that indeed there are criticisms and problems.
Instead, we need to pay great attention to the issues, views – and yes – demands that are put on the table. To take one example. There is a women’s movement within our organization. This is a great thing. It is as significant as the growing ’women’s movement’ within the trade union movement. There also is the tentative beginnings towards a workers’ movement in our organization.
We should welcome these movements because their aim is to feminize and proletarianize the organization – in our stands, the nature and kind of links we have with the women’s movement and the workers’ movement, in our composition, in the division of labour, and in the make-up of our leadership. To be effective within our organization movements of this kind need to be organized. We must be for all caucuses and other means where people can come together to better organize their views, their approach to different issues, and to take action.
Caucuses – either of women, or women and men workers, or people who share political stands – will work best when there is a lively political life throughout the organization. Our experience in the BC region up to now is that caucuses formed before regional conventions around political stands and issues are not at all ’factional’; that the women’s caucus has been most effective when it operates more like a “fighting squad” against chauvinism and male privilege. In general, caucuses favour the participation of everyone in a larger setting and help individuals to take an independent stand.
So, we do not think that caucuses should be ’binding’ on their members either by the nature of explicit decision-making or moral pressure. This, indeed, would be monolithic.
This would not only be anti-democratic but it also presupposes that no one has anything to learn from debates in the larger collective. We think our strength rests in our collective leadership and unity. And, if we do not want to promote uneven development between movements for change and the rest of the organization or disunity on questions of great importance... then we must not go our separate but “parallel” ways. This means that views, stands, and actions must be fed into the larger collective for debate, discussion, and resolution. Otherwise, we are preparing the ground for separate organizations.
We must, apply collective affirmative action criteria to ensure, right now, increased women and worker leadership in all areas, including propaganda (as the worker comrade says in the latest Internal Bulletin).
Communists must stand for real democracy, not just in their ’mass work’, but in our internal life as well.
We think that these changes will have important practical effects. Decisions would be taken by an informed and active membership and political differences can be debated fully in a spirit of unity... if we improve our internal political life. And when changes are needed – even if it is only a minority who first recognize this – it will not be a monumental task to change direction... if we democratize decision-making, control our publications, and have the opportunity to express our minority views fully on an ongoing basis (like in a ’Food for Thought’ column).
Finally, neither the size of our country, nor numbers of people, nor financial cost, nor monopoly of information by themselves should be allowed to prevent democracy.
We did not take votes or move amendments to the text. Comrades supported the essentials and feel the text can help put our debates on a sounder footing. But it definitely doesn’t represent the ’last word’ for anyone. In fact it is an invitation for comrades to develop their thinking along with us on the perspectives outlined.
At our meeting each comrade spoke freely. All were stimulated by the discussion to develop and circulate their particular views.
The questions on which comrades engaged in a further exchange of ideas were these:
– the connection today between the economic crisis, war and revolution;
– the material basis of the working class’s present support for social democracy;
– the necessity of unity of action to be combined with internal democracy in the building of a vanguard organization.
Important points were made on several other matters: the essential need for historical research and study to be linked with contemporary events; the meaning of “feminize and proletarianize”; what is or is not polemical and its consequences for our current debates.
On the question or war: one comrade said that the text emphasizes war as the goad to revolution and therefore is a message of “gloom and doom”. In our ranks people overestimate capitalism’s ability to survive... so long as it avoids world war. But the comrade thinks that the economic crisis itself creates revolutionary conditions. For example, the debate between the US ruling class and German social-democracy centers on this question; with the social-democrats trying to resolve the crisis by a greater economic penetration of the dominated nations. Another said that whether we like it or not, war preparations were increasing rapidly and the millions demonstrating in Europe show people are conscious of this fact. A third view argued that, despite war preparations, war and revolution are not imminent. The text is not convincing on this point. But as another comrade said, recurring economic crises, inter-imperialist rivalry and war preparations are facts; and most important of all they help us break with the tendency of seeing revolution in Canada as an isolated national phenomenon. Another question was asked: to what extent do progressives oppose these war preparations or, given the rise of the right, to what extent do they ally themselves with social-democracy in ways that mean de facto support for war preparations.
On social democracy: it was pointed out that this was not just a force within the working class, but large sections of the working class are supporters of social democracy. The Third Congress poor understanding of this reality led us to be idealist in how we expected workers to take up our Program. It was good that our last regional convention made a priority of developing our concrete analysis of social-democracy’s influence. Our greater intervention in the workers’ movement helped us to be more effective in opposing their program while uniting tactically with workers and others who are supporters of the NDP. One comrade was beginning to question the leading role of the working class because they don’t even support the most oppressed and least privileged in this society. Others responded by saying that we shouldn’t reduce the working class to male trade-unionists. In fact the vast majority of women struggling against their oppression and other oppresed strata are in the “working class”.
On unity of action: several comrades said that if we call for more’ internal democracy without being clear on “centralism” we can leave the door open to a whole range of interpretations which will undermine our unity of action. One comrade suggested that it could even lead to a federative conception of organization. Another said that the emphasis has to be on internal democracy and that this will contribute to unity of action.
But a weakness in the text is that it doesn’t treat unity of action as a problem right now, which it is. Nevertheless, unity of action is different from “unity of thought”. There always will be differences – majority and minority views – and we need an organizations, measure, like centralism, to unite our action.
And many more things were said as well...