First Published: Spartacist Canada No 52, Dec 1981-1982
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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We reprint below a Trotskyist League leaflet distributed in Toronto and Vancouver at In Struggle! meetings to “debate” the question “Does Socialism Have a Future in Canada?” The TL was excluded in both cities although groups like the Revolutionary Workers League, Socialist Challenge Organization, the International Socialists and assorted others were welcomed. In Struggle! can afford “public debates” with those who share its reformist worldview. On the other hand it attempts to silence the revolutionary politics of the Trotskyist League to which it is utterly incapable of responding.
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...the crisis in In Struggle! is but a manifestation of a more general crisis that is putting into question the very existence of the Marxist-Leninist movement everywhere. – Charles Gagnon, On the Crisis in the Marxist-Leninist Movement
You said it! This year in the space of two months we saw a spectacular symptom of the collapse of the U.S. “M-L” movement when the two top dogs of American Maoism – Mike Klonsky of the slavishly Peking loyal Communist Party Marxist-Leninist and Bob Avakian of the Revolutionary Communist Party – cut and ran. Deeply discredited by China’s counter-revolutionary alliance with U.S. imperialism and demoralized facing the prospect of hard struggle in the Reagan years, American Maoism came to the end of the line.
In Canada the demoralized New Leftists of In Struggle! are exhibiting the same symptoms as Maoists south of the border. For IS!’s impressionistic and weak-willed petty-bourgeois radicals the time has come to throw in the towel. Gone are the heady days of the mid-1970s. when, as Gagnon puts it, “we were sure that the revolution was at our doorstep.” The social climate in North America has turned dramatically to the right. Reagan’s war-crazed regime in the White House threatens to plunge all of humanity into an anti-Soviet nuclear holocaust. The renewed Cold War is brought home in the rise of the Klan and Nazis.
The debate raging in In Struggle!, which brings the group’s very existence into question, reflects its response to the drying up of the organization’s prospects in the dog days of the 1980s. It’s really not very trendy to call yourself a “Marxist-Leninist” these days. One can’t help but note that IS! suffers a particular lack of political spine, caving in to a typically pale “Canadian” reflection of the anti-communism of Reagan’s America.
Lacking both a Bolshevik proletarian program and the revolutionary will to swim against the stream, IS! wants to swim in the stream of leftwing social-democratic popularity. This impulse has found its political expression in the total shedding of any “leftist” mask to its reformist politics and a corresponding recognition of the “contributions” of social democrats like the NDP’s Dan Heap whose election was heralded as defying the “right-wing tide.” And then there’s NATO warmonger Francois Mitterrand who gets honorable mention for being “much more open than Giscard to working people’s demands and the need for reform.” Now in Quebec IS! is giving the trade-union bureaucracy’s “Mouvement Socialiste” a “look-see” as a possible “alternative.”
It seems all that remains is to get rid of the tiresome old “Marxist-Leninist” baggage. IS! Secretary-General Charles Gagnon’s doing what he can on that front: “At the risk of oversimplifying, the question being posed can be reduced to: is it still relevant to wage the struggle for the proletarian party, a party which is centralized, hierarchical, dominated by intellectuals and where women and manual workers are oppressed? Is it right to fight for a vanguard party...
“Some people would go even further and question the very idea of socialist revolution. Has not the way things have gone in China, the U.S.S.R. and other countries been basis enough for querying whether there is any point battling for socialism?
Gagnon’s little treatise has very much a “god that failed” quality. But is isn’t Lenin who failed – it’s Gagnon. It’s Gagnon who built a “party dominated by intellectuals” that oppresses “women and manual workers.” IS! has nothing in common with a Leninist vanguard party. Similarly, the “Leninism” Gagnon attacks is nothing more than the gross Stalinist/New Left parody peddled as “Marxism-Leninism.”
The refrain of the other leading spokesmen in the internal debate is the same petty-bourgeois cynicism and despair. Josee Lamoureux, leader of the “women’s revolt,” takes her particular brand of feminist anti-Leninism from Sheila Rowbotham’s Beyond the Fragments. Meanwhile the editors of the newspaper yearn for the amorphous New Left. The next congress, they say in their contribution to the “Food for Thought” column, “should adopt a ,em>minimal political platform” (emphasis in original) as a basis for unity with “all comrades in the union, feminist, anti-nuclear and other movements”!
With all its current denunciations of “sectarianism” one might get the impression that IS! has been guilty of “ultraleftism” in the past. Hardly. Its politics have always been solidly reformist and characterized by ,narrow Canadian parochialism. But these days even IS! can’t duck the all-important Russian question and that’s what has sent it running for political cover.
Anti-Sovietism dominates every aspect of political life. From El Salvador to the Near East to South Africa, the U.S. government backs right-wing butchers in the name of battling allegedly Moscow-inspired “international terrorism.” Hoping to strike a blow against the Soviet Union deep in the USSR’s own sphere, Reagan and other forces of reaction are egging on Polish Solidarnosc in its bid for bloody capitalist counterrevolution.
Pro-imperialist anti-Sovietism in the service of its Peking masters was the kiss of death for groups like CPML in the U.S. In Canada the Workers Communist Party seeks to avoid the same fate by downplaying its “China connection.” IS! pulled back in the face of China’s increasingly counterrevolutionary alliance with the U.S. imperialist warmongers, albeit partially out of sour grapes over losing the Peking franchise to the WCP. Nonetheless, its refusal to recognize that the USSR is a proletarian state (although bureaucratically degenerated) has put it on the same side of the barricades as American imperialism. There are and can be no neutrals as the Cold War heats up. In Afghanistan IS! is in the camp of the CIA-backed reactionary Islamic “freedom fighters” against the Soviet Red Army. In Poland IS! echoes Ronald Reagan, his labor front men in the “AFL-CIA” and the Catholic church, cheering on Solidarity’s counterrevolution. And what about El Salvador? El Salvador has been the front line in Reagan’s anti-Soviet war drive. You can’t really take a side against the murderous U.S.-backed junta without aiding the cause of “Soviet social imperialism.”
The October 1917 revolution in Russia is the key to understanding all subsequent political events of the 20th century. Even one “In Struggle! activist in Toronto” noted where IS!’s position on the class character of the Soviet Union leads:
You should also be careful when you criticize the U.S.S.R. and Cuba as the sources of all evils. It seems to me that ’in the current context of war preparations and the sharpening of contradictions between the imperialist blocs’ you should avoid writing articles that fall into the trap of the traditional rightist anti-Sovietism that has been drilled into our heads ever since 1917. – In Struggle!, 13 October
This is a “trap” In Struggle! can’t avoid. Only the Trotskyist program of unconditional military defense of the Soviet Union and the deformed workers states, and proletarian political revolution against the Stalinist bureaucrats who undermine defense of those states, offers a revolutionary alternative to pro-imperialist anti-Sovietism. IS! studies “what happened to socialism,” studiously avoiding the Stalin/Trotsky debates and the conclusion it would have to draw from them if it were genuinely seeking to make a revolution-only Trotskyism has stood the test of history.
IS! can “peacefully co-exist” with fake-Trotskyists like the Revolutionary Workers League and the Socialist Challenge Organization. Capitulating to the pressures of anti-Sovietism, they have abandoned defense of the Soviet Union, sharing IS!’s positions on Afghanistan, El Salvador, Poland, and its social-democratic orientation on the domestic terrain. But In Struggle! can only defend itself against the revolutionary Trotskyism of the Trotskyist League by slanders and exclusionism, accusing us of “sectarianism” for our willingness to swim hard against the stream of prevailing radical/social-democratic opinion.
It is this Bolshevik hardness and programmatic clarity that will see Trotskyists leading the working class and its allies to power when groups like IS! have long been swept into the dustbin of history. The survival of the human species depends on socialist revolution. And socialist revolution depends on the existence of a vanguard party, tested and rooted in the working class, when a revolutionary situation arises. IS! members who want to fight for socialism are in the wrong organization. The international Spartacist tendency has the program that can bring the proletariat to power. Dare to win – join us!