Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

I.S.! “socialist alternative” conference

Serious differences over future basis of unity

First Published: In Struggle! No. 280, February 10, 1982
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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The Saturday sessions were devoted to debating “On what basis of unity should we continue the struggle to build a socialist alternative in Canada?”. A major focus: the programme adopted by IN STRUGGLE! at its 3rd congress in 1979. There were 15 or more workshops on Saturday afternoon, all dealing with IN STRUGGLE’S basis of unity. On Sunday afternoon there were four workshops on the women’s question, four on the current situation and our tasks, three on the party and organizational issues and one on the Quebec national question.

Several points of major disagreement

Many people talked about what they had learned from their practice in the workshops. Some felt that the major problems they had had intervening in the daycare movement, among women and around the national question illustrated that IN STRUGGLE’s sectarianism was rooted in fact in our politically incorrect programme. The programme communicated a false view of what Canadian society was like and what the conditions of working people was. Others countered with examples from their practice in unions on the national question and in the fight for the right to abortion which they argued showed the correctness of the analysis underlying the programme.

The different evaluations of our practice are undoubtedly related to how the situation is developing in various regions and areas where we intervene. In some places, like Halifax, IN STRUGGLE! has practically ceased to exist as an organization. In other cities, IN STRUGGLE! intervenes in one sector only (within feminist organizations for example)– members and supporters are left without a common policy guideline for their work in other sectors. The very different evaluations of our practice by different individuals are tied into the different contexts people are operating in.

The different evaluations of what our practice reveals about our political programme and line also indicate differences about what our tasks are at present. What is the relative importance of the demand for user control of day care in Quebec right now? Some people felt that our past line in opposition to user control showed how cut off we were from people’s aspirations. Others, while not feeling we necessarily had to oppose user control, said it was more important to fight for day care accessible to all at this juncture than to concentrate on preserving user control over the tiny number of day care centres that exist now.

This difference of opinion echoes disagreements that came out in the debate over the nature of the State. Is the State the instrument of the dictatorship of a single class over another? Or does the State have a dual nature in a country like Canada, i.e. is the State simultaneously the instrument of domination of a single class and the place where opposing class interests are mediated? The supposed dual nature of the State was challenged in several workshops: the fact that there are contradictions within the bourgeoisie (reflected in the various parts of the State apparatus) ought not to be confused with the fact that the Canadian State as a whole remains an instrument of repression of the people.

Others defended the dual nature thesis by comparing the level of democracy in Canada with that in Eastern Europe. If parliamentary elections are not a real democratic gain won by working people in Canada, why is it that “free elections” was one of the main demands raised at last fall’s Solidarity convention in Poland?


The debates on the State also interconnect with the arguments over the strategy for revolution in present conditions. IN STRUGGLE!’s line was criticized for leading members to pay lip-service to supporting reforms while really thinking that bringing consciousness from outside the immediate struggle was what was important. Many people who said this felt that present conditions required that IN STRUGGLE! throw itself fully into the fight for reforms.

However, not everyone was ready to go so far as to back fighting for reforms and democratic rights with the idea that this would mean a progressive series of gains in political power building up to a major confrontation with the bourgeoisie. Some people pointed out that the so-called danger of creating illusions about reforms was not a real one: such a worry was a byproduct of the attempt to play a vanguard role rather than to get involved in the dynamic of working peoples struggles.

This view of reforms and democracy was much criticized in some workshops. Four comrades from Quebec produced a position paper entitled “Staying revolutionary in a non-revolutionary situation” which strongly criticized it. Such a view treats democracy as an abstraction which is above social classes; it contradicted what the political reality was at the present time; it was connected to a wrong view of the State which presumed that the State could be dismantled piece by piece up to the “big day”. in short, the position paper argued that the need to support reforms did not justify developing a strategy based on this; such a strategy was very unlikely to remain a revolutionary one for long.