Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Building a majority consensus for the congress: A proposal

by Building a Majority Consensus

First Published: In Struggle! No. 284, April 6, 1982
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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We know of several collectives set up to prepare the congress since the January national conference. Several are writing resolutions for the congress, but we know of none that is preparing an over-all resolution that would be a good starting point for political discussion among what seemed to us as being the majority at the conference, that is, those who felt that the programme no longer constituted our basis of unity. A group of people, including some from the Political Bureau majority, recently met to discuss writing such a resolution, hoping thereby to start a process that would get this majority involved.

We were stuck. How could we invoke as many people as possible among those who don’t think the programme is our basis of unity any longer in writing resolutions, and yet get them written fast enough to permit people to react to them before the congress? We finally decided to solve the problem by sending a draft of a resolution to everyone, have a month of consultations, meetings, discussions. etc.. and then write the final draft resolutions, integrating the deletions, additions, and amendments suggested by people we met during the consultations.

The drafts which follow don’t make all the important criticisms or cite all the key lessons from our practice. Nor do they detail all the things that need to be spelled out about future perspectives. We need the participation of people from all sectors and regions to do that.

Draft resolution no. 1: Criticism of the programme

I. Why we are in crisis?

(This is an abbreviated text. The full length one describes the origins of the political crisis – international developments, lessons of our practice in Canada, problems with the Organization’s internal life – and situates it in the crisis of the world revolutionary left. It then challenges the view of some comrades who think that those who are facing up to the fact that the left has questions about fundamental parts of its line to which no one yet has answers are abandoning a revolutionary perspective).

We do not agree with this. There are still many things which used to unite us as revolutionaries and still do: imperialism is a reactionary world system that leads to crisis and war; capitalism and imperialism must be overthrown by revolutionary struggle; this will eventually involve relying on the violence of the masses to destroy the repressive power of the capitalist State; our immediate goal is socialism; socialism is a long period of transition to communism where working men and women control things democratically in line with their interests and in opposition to the interests of capitalist exploiters; the struggle will still require the building of political parties and organizations.

Further, IN STRUGGLE! has developed some important understandings which should not be cast aside: Canada is an imperialist country; the whole capitalist class is our enemy; the unity of the multinational working class is critical; the rights of all oppressed nations to self-determination etc. must be upheld; the USSR is an imperialist country where exploitation and oppression exist; proletarian revolution is a world process and internationalism in theory and practice is important.

II. What’s wrong with our programme?

1. Women’s oppression and liberation

1. The programme is wrong on women’s oppression. It fails to recognize that there is any material basis for women’s specific oppression and the sexual division of labour other than the super-exploitation of women’s wage labour at the place of work. (See Article by Jean Tepperman in P.U. #26). This is the basis for seeing feminism as “divisive”, for saying the women’s struggle is subordinate to the “class struggle”, and for opposing an autonomous movement outside our ranks and feminist structures within it.

In particular, the programme ignores the family and the role women play in the reproduction of human beings, of social relations (education of children, etc.) and of ’workers’ labour power (housework, feeding and caring for husband, etc. so he is “ready to work” another day for Capital). Hence there is no mention of women’s right to control their own sexuality and reproductive functions. No mention of oppression in “private life” (rape, sexual roles, etc.). No mention that men have privileges and that the ideology of male chauvinism which defends those privileges is the main barrier to the unity of working-class men and women.

2. Many women have pointed out the programme’s narrowly “economic” way of looking at women’s oppression is repeated in terms of other forms of oppression too. Thus there is no mention of the social structures (beyond the private ownership of the means of production) which must be transformed or overthrown to eliminate the material basis of:
– the racial and international division of labour;
– the oppression of gays, lesbians, and bisexuals;
– the inequalities in power and privileges enjoyed by mental and manual workers;
– the various forms of repression and oppression faced by young people.

The programme has a narrow “economist” conception of a class line. What kind of class line is it that subordinates or liquidates the struggle against critical parts of the oppression of the most oppressed and exploited parts of the working class?

2. Analysis of the world situation

If we compare our programme’s analysis of the world situation with what is really going on internationally, we can see that there are some real problems in the programme:

1. The, programme says that one of the main contradictions in the world today is between capitalist and socialist countries (article 2, pg. l9) but who can say where the socialist countries are?

2. The programme explains the setbacks in efforts to build socialism as being due to the failure on the part of the ruling communist parties to maintain a sufficiently “firm application of Marxism-Leninism” (Article 2, p. 19). This is an idealist explanation. There is no mention of the problems due to economic backwardness, nor reference to the fact that the working class was in most cases a minority class. There is no analysis of the various social contradictions characterizing “socialist” countries, even before the “revisionists” took over. There is an especially notable silence on the lack of democracy exercised by the working people themselves in those societies.

3. In listing the “four main contradictions (which) govern the contemporary world”, the programme simply ignores some of the most important contradictions which are giving rise to major political battles (Article 2, p. 19). One example is the struggle of women. Another is the national struggles within the imperialist and revisionist countries. Another is issues related to the survival of humanity itself: ecological questions, the threat of nuclear destruction.

4. The programme states that imperialism has been in “general crisis” and on the verge of final collapse since the Russian revolution (Article 1, p. 16). It claims that the victory of the different proletarian revolutions is an immediate possibility in all different kinds of countries everywhere (Article 2, p. 18). Such idealism is a block to a serious analysis of the real stakes of the struggle in different countries with different social systems and concrete conditions.

3. Analysis of Canada

1 The programme describes Canada as being basically indistinguishable from any other capitalist country, even much poorer countries and those run by military dictatorships. It is wrongly claimed that the majority of Canadian workers “face poverty...and starvation wages”, meaning below the level of subsistence (Aricle 3, p. 21). There is economic deprivation in Canada and it is getting worse for many in the economic crisis. But Canada is not Honduras or even Mexico. Indeed, doesn’t living in a rich imperialist country mean we have particular internationalist duties? Don’t those duties include promoting internationalist reforms like the transfer of wealth from rich to poor countries to alleviate poverty, starvation, plague, illiteracy, etc. before and after our revolution?

2. The programme talks about “the growth of the size, cohesion and revolt of the proletariat” in Canada and the world (Article 2, p. 17). But in fact the Canadian working class is not monolithic. It is composed of strata with widely varying material and social situations (men vs. women, unionized vs. non-unionized, mental vs. manual workers, etc.)

3. Instead of an accurate history of the Canadian working class, the programme presents us with a thoroughly idealist one (mostly by talking exclusively about the history of the Communist Party) – all to justify the assertion that the monolithic proletariat (read the party) has “led” all important struggles, including supposedly those for women’s rights, etc. (Article 4, p. 22).

4. The programme correctly sees the essential nature of the capitalist state as a dictatorship of the capitalist class over the others. The problem is it stops there as if the state were just the repressive apparatus and nothing more. Since Czarist Russia, the state has expanded to become a major economic and social agent. Seeing all agencies of the state as simple extensions of the repressive apparatus blocks from view all the struggles that are going on in different parts of the state apparatus and the victories that can be won, e.g. winning abortion committees in hospitals, user control in public daycare, student rights and progressive, non-religious curriculum in schools.

The programme implies that democracy in Canada is mainly a snare and a bourgeois trick rather than mainly the product of real concessions by the bourgeoisie due to working class and popular struggles. It concedes the validity of fighting for democratic “rights of the oppressed” (Article 3. p. 22 and Article 4, p. 23) but not that winning them (parliament, women’s right to vote, unemployment insurance, etc.) represents historical progress.

Was the setting up of state community health clinics in Quebec just a manoeuvre to undermine the popular clinics, as we claimed, or was it mainly a concession due to the popular clinic movement?

In the 1930s, was unemployment insurance just a manoeuvre to undermine the communist-led unemployment committees or was it mainly a concession due to the unemployed movement?

4. Conception of socialism

1. Our programme presents a view of socialism based on the model developed in isolated, economically backward countries, where economic tasks (rapid industrialization) were the main tasks. The only social relation the programme specifically mentions changing under socialism is private ownership of the means of production (replacing it with state ownership). The programme in fact claims that this single act abolishes antagonistic classes (Article 5, p. 25).

The changing of all other social relations (men-women, mental-manual, etc., let alone party-class) is left to later, to the advent of communism (Article 5, p. 25).

Canada is already industrialized. What oppressive social relations will the socialism we talk about in our programme abolish?

2. The programme talks about workers’ control except that a single party will be supreme in controlling everything, including the process of workers’ control. Strengthening the hegemony of the party is seen as the way to strengthen workers’ democracy. Poland highlighted the contradiction in our programme: it supports autonomy for mass organizations from the capitalist state, but not from the socialist state-party; it says proletarian democracy is better than bourgeois democracy because a single party will control parliament, the courts, the media, the school, etc.

How can we rally workers to a programme that promises less political democracy and less autonomy than exists under capitalism?

Is there a socialism which is not a democratic socialism?

5. Building up forces for revolution

The strategy for socialism in our programme is: first, to build the single vanguard party; in stage two, the party takes over all the mass struggles and organizations (particularly the working class ones) under its leadership; in stage three, the party leads the armed seizure of power and controls the new socialist state alone (Article 7, p. 30). Does this strategy work to help move us closer to revolution? In practice we have come up against fundamental problems:

1. Canada is in a crisis and the danger of war is increasing. But Canada is in a non-revolutionary period. Workers are not rallying to the communist movement.

How should communists define the kinds of political battles that we must get involved in and develop that go beyond the spontaneous struggle without pretending that socialist revolution is immediately on the agenda? There are many examples of this: fighting national oppression, stopping the bourgeoisie from putting the whole burden of the crisis on workers backs, winning women’s demands, combating the factors for war, countering the rise of the right...

Our programme has nothing to say here – only that we should support spontaneous struggles and “demonstrate the need for revolution through them”(Article 8, p. 31). Our solution to all these problems – absolute equality in all things, and if the bourgeoisie doesn’t grant it, wait for revolution.

2. How do we change the relationship of forces in favour of the working class? How do we unite the working class to wage struggles to progressively weaken the bourgeoisie and its state? We need to find a way to make partial reform struggles an integral part of the revolutionary process. When reform struggles start to challenge capitalist power, there will be repression. When repression threatens reformists try to reduce the demands to make them acceptable to the bourgeoisie. Revolutionaries must develop ways of continuing the struggle to strengthen the working class’s position. The programme has no answers here.

This raises other questions: If the revolutionary process involves the masses consciously waging struggles to improve the relationship of class forces, is it valid to continue seeing revolution as essentially the work of a conscious minority? Should we not see revolution as the work of an increasingly conscious, united and organized majority?

6. Our structures

The programme says that “the party is at all times and in all respects the headquarters of the revolution, its supreme and sole leadership”, (Article 7, p. 30). If you want to have a vanguard minority exercise leadership in all mass organizations you have to have monolithic unity and top-down decision making to be effective. Many comrades want to change our monolithic structures. To do so we must challenge ’the political conceptions in the programme that underly and require them.

7. Conclusion

If the majority of comrades at the congress agree with most of the criticisms and questions raised above (perhaps for different reasons) then the programme must be rejected. What we are putting into question are fundamental conceptions, not secondary points. To pretend otherwise is to stand in the way of defining what can unite us to carry on with revolutionary work in as organized a way as possible in a difficult period.

Draft resolution no. 2: Our political and organizational perspectives

1. What unites us after we have rejected the programme

We still share a certain understanding of the crisis we are going through and the causes of the fragmentation of the Marxist-Leninist movement.

We still share agreement on points we maintain from the old programme (enumerated in resolution number one).

We still share criticisms of fundamental conceptions in our programme and of some of the basic theses of the Marxist-Leninist movement.

Finally, we can share agreement on political and organizational perspectives. These perspectives will be worked out collectively if we decide we want to carry on the struggle together in an organized way. It is to this last point that we now turn our attention.

Should IN STRUGGLE! continue to exist as an organization or should it be dissolved?

This is the first issue to be resolved. As far as we know, there are currently three positions on this: 1. dissolve the organization; 2. continue with an organization of the same basic type but with changes; 3. change IN STRUGGLE! to make it into a vehicle for working to unite the revolutionary socialist forces in Canada.

These three positions are political stances that could and should be defended between now and the congress and at the congress itself. That is the only way to make clear what the implications are of each option. It is the only way to get to the point where we can make a clearcut decision at the congress. Perhaps there are other options but, if so, we are unaware of them.

We believe that the kind of organization that IN STRUGGLE! has been until now should cease to exist. In practice that has already happened. The organization we came out of the 3rd congress with is no more. And that is not a bad thing. It would be a mistake to try to revive it from the ashes and even the best-intentioned efforts would likely fail.

We believe that the outright dissolution of IN STRUGGLE! is not justified at the present time either. We are for the third option.

We think that IN STRUGGLE! has concrete things to contribute to the socialist movement. We are thinking of the comrades who have been in and around IN STRUGGLE! over the years, of its material resources and entities, of certain lessons drawn from its practice and of the fact that it is a pan-Canadian organization. We must do what we can do to ensure that these plusses are put to the service of the movement as a whole. Keeping the links that have developed between Quebec and English Canada is particularly important.

If we should at any point reach the conclusion that is not possible or not important to keep these links then it would be time to talk about dissolving. That is not the case right now.

The place and role of IN STRUGGLE! given the situation in Canada today

Our role in the next period is to work collectively as an organized tendency in the revolutionary socialist movement in Canada. Our goal is to contribute to the development of the foundations of this movement from a Marxist perspective.

We reject any pretension of being a vanguard which seeks to lead everything and control everything. We hope that in the not too distant future we will be able to unite with the other revolutionary socialist forces in Canada and Quebec.

We do not feel that we must try to remain at all costs as a separate organized tendency. The guiding line for us in this will be what contributes to the success of the movement as a whole, not what enhances the prestige of our own organization.

This general perspective on things means that we have certain tasks to accomplish, which are detailed in the next point.

4. Our political for the next period

We have two main sets of tasks before us: a) research, debate, and discussion in the socialist movement. b) concrete involvement in the struggles of working people in Canada and around the world.

In both cases, we ought to try to unite with other revolutionary democratic socialist trends and currents. In terms of theory and debate, that means more “dialogue” than polemic. On a political level, it means more co-operation than competition.

a) Debates in the socialist movement should deal with points like:
– where we are at in the struggle for socialism (its history, failures, successes, errors, etc.).
– the development of the anti-imperialist struggle in the world and what implications it has for the struggle for socialism.
– women’s liberation struggle, the feminist current (theoretical, political and organizational aspects).
– what is happening in the workers movement in other countries and the different ways in which it is organized (the Eurocommunist phenomenon, the electoral victories of the socialist parties, etc.).
– the Quebec national question and other national struggles in Canada.
– the need for unity of the left in the political struggle and the forms that this struggle and unity should take (e.g. electoral struggles, elections in union and community organizations, common tactics, etc.)

b) Our tasks on the political front

The sum-up of the work of IN STRUGGLE! must certainly be continued. We should use the lessons we draw from that sum-up to further develop and define our political perspectives.

There is no use trying to list off all the fronts of struggle on which revolutionary socialist women and men can and should operate. The congress should take a stand that the organization get involved in popular struggles first and foremost to help win them. it should also stint to persuade as many people as possible to share our general political objectives.

At the present time the congress should indicate that it feels the following struggles are of increasing importance:

– the struggle against the rise of the Right which is having an impact on all spheres of social life: the right to abortion, the teaching of religion in Quebec schools, racism, propaganda about country, family and private property, etc.

– the fight against unemployment, cutbacks, plant shutdowns, rising prices, mounting interest rates which are dramatically reducing the living standards of workers, young people, housewives and senior citizens.

– the struggle against imperialist war.

– the fight against the deterioration or the environment.

– the revolutionary struggle shaking Latin America which U.S. imperialism is doing everything in its power to crush.

– the resistance struggle of the workers in the Soviet bloc and of the people who are resisting Soviet aggression.

– the women’s liberation struggle.

As you can see, this is not an exhaustive list. It leaves aside some important issues. Some of them should be opened up for debate and already are. We should make an effort to clarify them. We are thinking of issues like:

– The Quebec national question.

– The tactics and forms of struggle to adopt in the union movement given the contradictions which exist among workers e.g. unionized vs. non-unionized, women vs. men, public sector vs. private sector.

– the attitude to adopt towards the creation of a Quebec socialist party.

5. Our organizational perspectives

We must set aside the kind of structure and methods of functioning that IN STRUGGLE! had.

– because the way we were organized made only a limited amount of democracy possible;

– because it restricted the degree and quality of the participation of women and workers in making political decisions and in carrying out leadership functions;

– because the structures and methods of functioning we had were bureaucratic;

– because it restricted and stifled political initiative on the part of the base units and individuals;

– because it forced everyone to have a uniform practice and to maintain the same level of involvement as everyone else, this excluded a lot of people from active political life;

– because the rules of secrecy and clandestine methods isolated the organisation from the masses.

For all these reasons we should create an organization which is more flexible and decentralized.

Men and women comrades in various sectors of activity can function as base units and plug into the organization that way. Individuals can also join and work with us as individuals. It is the organization’s job to help members to organize themselves, to draw the lessons of their work and to let the results of their work be known publicly.

The type and level of involvement of these groupings and individuals should not be set in accordance with abstract criteria (the model of a super militant). It will differ for different people and depending on the different possibilities open to them for concrete involvement.

Roughly, the criteria for membership should be: agreement with the organization’s political objectives, payment of a minimal dues, and participation in various ways in our collective activities.

Our publications will necessarily have to be reduced in number and frequency: a regular newspaper or mimeographed newsletter and publishing of the results of our research and sum-ups of our work in a magazine or in some other way.

The organization would not directly lead all aspects of the work that comrades do. There should be plenty of room for initiative as the base unit level and in the various sectors of activity. The organization will provide frameworks for debate and collective decisions. In this way people will be able to get together to draw lessons from their practice and develop general orientations for the work.

We must take steps to encourage the involvement of women and workers in the political leadership and theoretical research work, To do that we have to change the conception we have of what political work is. This new approach will involve starting from our concrete political practice. Theoretical work should be closely linked to this practice in order to restrict the excessive power which intellectuals have had up to now in our organization.

For this kind of organization to work, we should set up a collective leadership body with more minimal responsibilities and a different way of functioning. The body’s activities and membership should be known and accessible to everyone in the organization. The method of functioning should also be sufficiently widely known that comrades would be able to join in doing its work.

The main task of the collective leadership should be to ensure that the tasks decided upon by the congress are carried out, that members are aided in summing up and discussing their work, and that there is organized participation of the whole organisation in the debates in the socialist movement.

There will be regional and local collective leadership bodies. The way in which these bodies are organized and inaction should be decided by comrades in the respective regions and base units.

This kind of leadership body should be elected to reflect the different groupings in the organization in terms of considerations like women’s participation, workers’ representation, regional and national differences, etc.

The congress should also recognize the right for caucuses to exist. It should take a stand on the existence of certain special structures that in our opinion may be necessary given the current situation:

– the existence of an autonomous women’s structure

– autonomy for the Quebec region in dealing with the Quebec national question and an understanding that if and when our stand on basic issues related to the national question is to be changed, it will be up to the Quebec comrades to make the final decision.

– more autonomy in general for all regions to experiment and develop the work in the next period.

The collective leadership could be mandated by the congress to develop common actions together with other socialist forces around specific issues like struggles against the war, the rise of the right, cutbacks, etc. The collective leadership could also mobilize the members from different sectors and regions to get involved together around such struggles (while being careful not to fall back into exhausting political campaigns like some we had in the past).

This kind of undertaking and form of organisation can only work properly if there are more regular congresses (at least once a year). It might well turn out that the 4th congress won’t have the time or be in a position to resolve all these issues. In that case, we should plan on having another congress in less than a year to complete the work.

The writing collective which did this draft was: Normand B, John C, Nina K, Robert R, Michele B, Ian B and Jacques St-O. Other people were involved at different stages of the discussion leading up to the writing of the draft.

March 26, 1982