Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Union work leds to serious questions about programme

by the former coordinator of trade union agitation in Quebec

First Published: In Struggle! No. 283, March 21, 1982
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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IN STRUGGLE!’s attitude to working in the unions, relating to immediate struggles and dealing with the rest of the left has changed radically since I joined in 1975. At the last Montreal region CNTU congress for example many of our members actively backed the Gerald Larose slate against a rival slate in which the WCP had significant influence. Yet in 1975 we hesitated to support Larose although at that time his opposition was a right-wing slate.

Another example: in 1975, IN STRUGGLE! called upon many of its people to leave the union work they had been doing (and the posts they had held) in some cases for several years. Today, many comrades have accepted important responsibilities in the union movement. In 1975, when we intervened in our unions we did not concern ourselves much (and often not at all) with the main issues being debated within the unions themselves. Union meetings were seen above all as places to put forward our stands on the PQ, the wage controls and international issues.

I have become persuaded over the past few months that we must, in order to prepare for the 4th Congress, work to understand the political reasons behind those changes in position. Personally I feel increasingly that our past errors are not the result of poorly applying the programme but of the programme itself.

Good old days: when demarcation was our trademark

In l975, we often repeated that the subjective conditions were lagging behind the objective conditions for revolution. That did not mean we actually thought the revolution was going to come by the late 70s. Rather we were convinced that the masses wanted to make revolution but that they were being duped by a series of sell-out leaders who kept them under the sway of bourgeois ideology. Hence, we felt that building a revolutionary party mainly involved denouncing all the reformists and false Marxists. That approach is unmistakable in the pamphlet on social democracy which was inserted as a supplement in issue 25 in 1974. It persists in the 1978 booklet No revolutionary party without a revolutionary programme. The preface to that booklet explains the appearance on the scene of several different groups that say they base themselves on socialism and Marxism as “typical of the efforts of the bourgeoisie to maintain its hegemony over the union and workers movement in general.”

It is no accident then that for a number of years the primary objective of our interventions in struggles was to denounce the other political forces working there. This was directly related to the way we saw building the party. Today we don’t see things that way any more. Why? Surely not because we have consciously rejected the way we have seen building the party up to now. I believe that our practical experience forced us to change.

Good old days: when immediate struggles were but an excuse for agitation

The first thing which changed was the way we looked at the immediate struggles. 1n 1975, we were involved to the hilt in the fight against Economism. We stated that immediate struggles must be supported but added that it was not the role of communists to get actively involved in them. In the party-building stage, the priority was widespread political agitation, in practice mainly distributing the newspaper. When we showed up on picket lines it was to demonstrate to workers the limits of the struggles they were waging. We were there to prove to them that what they won on one front or in one battle be taken away in another. The real struggle therefore was the political struggle.

It didn’t take long for workers to start telling us that we were “long on talk and short on action”. They doubted our ability to defend their long-term interests because we were unable to be at their side in the immediate struggles. We were unable still counterposing immediate struggles to the struggle for socialism.

The criticisms hit home. We got highly involved in the fight against the wage control law, support for the postal worker and Quebec Common Front struggles and no on. Our new understanding: the ’ task of communists was twofold, to get involved in struggles and to carry out agitation and propaganda.

But in fact we never managed to link the immediate struggles with the struggle for socialism. The two aspects of our work developed separately: each cell had its specialists in union work and its specialists in widespread political agitation. Those were the days of peaceful coexistence.

Not-so-good-days: practice contradicts our political line

As our union work was going through changes I was progressively coming to see the seizure of power by the workers in a different way. I saw that working men and women were wresting certain poweis from the bourgeoisie in their day to day struggles. Workers were accumulating forces and pushing the bourgeoisie further and further back until there was no more room to back up in: in their plants, in their community groups and in their children’s schools.

Don’t misunderstand what I’m saying here. I don’t think the bourgeoisie is going to give up its power one plant at a time. History shows that the capitalist State will intervene to repress the workers and progressive movement if it becomes too threatening. I am not contesting the necessity of destroying the State ’apparatus. Rather I am questioning the role we assign to the Party and to other worker and popular organizations in that struggle. I no longer agree with the way that article 7 of our programme explains this process a) build the Party by winning workers to communist ideas; b) work to ensure that the Party takes over the leadership of the mass organizations; c) help the Party to lead the armed struggle against the State. I do not believe that everything should go through the party as our programme says. If we want real worker control under socialism the organizations of the working class and people must have an active role to play in the taking of power. This is not to say that revolutionary political parties are useless. It simply means that we must conceive of their role differently.

I say parties plural because experience has also taught me that the working class is not a monolithic bloc. The development of capitalism in Canada has not just meant greater poverty, unemployment and starvation wages for all. Capitalism has had quite different effects for some sectors of the workers movement. This has produced contradictions we did not expect to encounter. The labour aristocracy is quantitatively more important than I used to think. It gives its support to parties which are not revolutionary. The other workers are divided between those who are unionized and those who are not, public sector and private sector service workers, men and women, people who do intellectual work and those who do manual work, etc.

The existence of different sets of material conditions have political consequences: the different strata of the workers movement take different stands on major political issues. Different conditions also generate different political organizations. The trend to many different parties is amplified by the fact that important sectors of the petty bourgeoisie also have an interest in revolution even though they have contradictions with the working class. All this leads me to no longer believe in the idea of a single party put forward in our present programme.

Former coordinator of trade union agitation in Quebec