First Published: The Forge Vol 7, No 41, December 1982
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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Close to 300 members of the Workers Communist Party gathered on December 4-5 for a crucial Quebec District conference.
Crowded into a gymnasium in a Montreal suburb, the delegates from all corners of the district (see box) spent the weekend in intense, and often stormy, debates and discussion.
At stake at the conference was the future of the party. With about 80 per cent of the WCP’s membership based in Quebec, the decisions taken at the meeting would have a great impact on whether or not the WCP continued – and if so, on what basis.
For the past three months, the party has been gripped by a profound crisis which went to core of its fundamental beliefs. Members and working people were making strong criticisms of many aspects of the WCP’s line and practice.
As some articles in The Forge during this period have mentioned, the WCP’s ideological line – its view of Marxism and socialism – was put into question. There was harsh criticism of what became known as the “three chauvinisms” – towards women, Quebecois and proletarians. There was also very deep questioning about the type of revolutionary party needed today.
There was a generalized lack of confidence in the leadership, which became increasingly discredited in the eyes of rank-and-file members. The party structures were paralyzed, and the leadership was widely seen as reponsible for this and for the erroneous conceptions promoted by the party.
As a result of the crisis, about one-third of the party’s members in Quebec – most of them women and working class members – had left in the recent period before the conference. They left for various reasons – political disagreements, personal disgust, discouragement and a conviction that it was impossible to change things in the party. Some felt they had to search elsewhere for a revolutionary alternative. Some women questioned whether it was possible to work in a mixed party with men.
In some sectors, like the student milieu, and in some regions like Thetford or Sept-Iles, the party no longer has a formal existence.
Given this situation, the district conference became the only place where some key issues could be and had to be settled, or at least discussed.
The conference opened on Saturday afternoon with the adoption of procedures and an agenda. Delegates then settled some burning financial matters. Much of the evening session was taken up with reports from members about the situation of the party in their regions.
Sunday morning began with a vote to rehabilitate two members who had been expelled from the party. The conference then broke up into small workshops where resolutions were discussed and prepared for the plenary session in the afternoon.
Throughout the conference, delegates touched on various aspects of the WCP’s line and work, with working class members often making the hardest-hitting and most moving speeches.
Delegates noted that the WCP’s situation was part of a wider crisis facing socialism and the left in general, and that answers to the many questions raised could not be found within the WCP alone, but along with other progressives and working people in general.
Speakers lashed out at the party’s erroneous position on the women’s movement; others gave examples of how women were often denied their rights and were oppressed within the organization.
Criticisms were made of the WCP’s line on the Quebec national question and its contemptuous attitude towards the national movement. Anger was expressed at the chauvinist way in which Quebecois were treated within the ranks of the party.
Almost all members agreed that the WCP had been extremely sectarian towards other forces on the left.
And perhaps the widest consensus among delegates centered on criticisms of the party’s anti-democratic functioning. People felt that the party was run in a very centralized, bureaucratic fashion, based on what were criticized as Stalinist conceptions.
“Knowledge is power,” some delegates said and too much of it was concentrated in the hands of a leading elite. It was felt that elitist conceptions of leadership blocked the questioning of the party’s line, and then stifled debate once it began. Delegates noted that no real mechanisms existed in the party to challenge or investigate top leadership decisions.
As for solutions to the WCP’s impasse all shades of opinions were expressed.
Many delegates, based on their criticisms of the party’s line, work and functioning, said the party should dissolve itself; they explained that they would be leaving the party after the conference.
Other delegates, while sharing many of the same criticisms, felt that the WCP could and should be radically transformed.
Still others wanted to dissolve the old WCP as such immediately, but keep members together in some sort of revolutionary organization.
On the following pages, we present the resolutions and some of the debates at the conference.
By the end of the two-day meeting, a majority of delegates agreed on a new, minimal basis of unity to guide the party through what is seen as a transitory period. One item of this basis of unity is full autonomy for the district of Quebec, including the right to form a separate party, and the acceptance of the principle of a separate newspaper for Quebec.
The conference also voted to suspend the Quebec District leaders of the party and elected a new, temporary leadership. In addition to representatives to be elected from various regions and sections of the party in Quebec, this temporary leadership includes a coordinating group elected at the conference. Most of them are working class members, about half are women.
At the close of the conference, delegates gave the coordinating group a standing ovation. People realized that the questions raised at the conference were profound and far-reaching; many issues could not be discussed fully in so short a time. But there did emerge an enthusiasm to try to meet the challenge posed.
The results of the conference will be discussed now by members of the party in special meetings being held across the district. The next stage, sometime early in the new year, will be the holding of a party congress, where delegates from Quebec and the rest of Canada will meet to decide on the WCP’s future.
* * *
There were close to 200 official delegates at the district conference, with about 65 observers also in attendance.
Fifty-five per cent of the delegates were women. There were separate microphones on the convention floor for women and men speakers. About 49 per cent of the delegates were working class.
Around 100 delegates were from Montreal and the immediate vicinity, with the rest coming from cities and towns as far away as Sept-Iles and Rouyn.
There were also three observers from British Columbia, two from Ontario and one from the Maritimes.