Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Canadian Party of Labour

Bad Marx for “New Left”

First Published: Canadian Worker, Vol 1, No. 6, October, 1969
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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MIA Note: The following article was written by a CPL supporter in the Toronto Student Movement against the New Left Manifesto published by the New Left Caucus in TSM.


The substance of this Critique is reflected in the title. What we intend to establish is that the authors of the New Left Manifesto do not understand Marxism and thus are unable to locate a revolutionary practice for students. As a result of a radical failure to comprehend Marxism, key concepts are either totally misconstrued or deprived of any real content. Even when some of these concepts are apparently grasped at the level of exposition, they are deprived of their revolutionary content at the point of application. Parallel with this failure to grasp Marxism as a Science of Social Formations is an abysmal ignorance of the history of the International Communist Movement since the 1890’s, coupled with a failure to come to grips with the theory and practice of Leninism.

The class position of students

The most striking aspect of the discussion on the class position of students is that after three pages of discussion the class position of students is never specified. Various formulations are considered then rejected – never subjected to rigorous analysis. In their desperation to avoid having to recognize the necessity for students to come over to the side of the working class, the Manifesto goes to the lengths of denying the transitory nature of the student situation.

Students are not a class. They are in fact a multi-class phenomenon which by the time of university are extremely exclusive in terms of class origins. The expansion in University education has not in any real sense expanded the University beyond the admission of the petty bourgeoisie proper and a large section of a stratum which Marxists have traditionally classified as the technical intelligensia. The ’new working class’ which the New Left seems to indicate is a recent phenomenon, was in fact, a central element in Marxist analysis as far back as the 1890’s. Indeed this question was at the center of Lenin and Kautsky’s defence of Marxism vis a vis the revisionism of Bernstein. It was Bernstein who claimed that the increase in professional and office workers engendered by capitalism meant that the petty bourgeoisie was increasing. Both Lenin and Kautsky denied that this newly emerging stratum was a petty bourgeoisie and indicated that this stratum would be drawn towards the proletariat during the course of the development of capitalism. The central problem with this stratum was not their objective position but rather their failure – at the level of consciousness – to come over to the proletariat. Of course this ’false’ consciousness was the product of very real conditions. These conditions are being eroded and this is the key in explaining the recent upsurge in white-collar militancy. Lenin’s review of Kautsky’s assault on Bernstein has not lost its relevance:

If Bernstein had merely wanted to say, that in place of the declining petty producers, a new middle estate, the intelligentsia, is appearing, he would be perfectly correct, says Kautsky, pointing out that he himself noted the importance of this phenomenon several years before. In all spheres of peoples’ labour, capitalism increases the number of office and professional workers with particular rapidity and makes a growing demand for intellectuals. The latter occupy a special position among the other classes, attaching themselves partly to the bourgeoisie by their connections, their outlooks, etc., and partly to the wage workers as capitalism increasingly deprives the intellectual of his independent position, converts him into a hired worker and threatens to lower his living standard.

The recent student explosions find their class explanation in the fact that in terms of class origins and class future students are increasingly drawn from and going to the technical intelligentsia, who, as Lenin pointed out, are increasingly drawn to the proletariat as Capitalism develops. However it is neither their class future nor their class past which must be the important determination of the politics of students. Rather the principle determination is their student present, during which, as students, their oppression is directly linked to the class domination of the bourgeoisie. This oppression is ideological, cultural and to some measure material. Since students are not a class but rather a transitional social group who move into the technical intelligentsia, it is absolutely essential that they come to see their problems as solvable only through the victory of the proletariat – politically, economically and ideologically. This involves a very real and substantial subjective modification which can only transpire if as students they struggle over class issues in the University, and construct a worker-student alliance outside the university. This approach does not ignore the specific oppression of students but rather separates the wheat from the chaff and locates the oppression in its most meaningful terrain.

University and the economy

The second question posed is what is the relation between the education and the economic substructure of society. For Marx it is clear that in as much as capitalism is a system of private accumulation through commodity production for realization in the market, education is part of the superstructure and not the economic substructure. No amount of artful juggling with definitions – student as commodity – can overcome the fact that the New Left Manifesto has abolished the distinction between infrastructure and superstructure, and invented a new mode of production. The fact that capitalism engenders a need for a more highly trained work force and thus more education does nothing to modify the basic distinctions which Marx utilized in his anatomy of capitalism. All this establishes is that there is a much closer and direct link between University education and capitalism – that education is more crucial to the function of capitalism – as is air, water and the army. Education was and is being continually expanded in all capitalist countries without modifying the mode of production elaborated in Capital. Marxism enables us to establish relationships; not abolish distinctions.

Form and content

The third problem raised is the relation between form and content in the student struggle. Much heat has been generated over seemingly nuanced difference and it is probably worthwhile to probe beneath the surface in an attempt to reconstruct some really basic differences. The Manifesto states that within Marxism there is an indissoluble link between form and content which is undoubtably correct. It is also stated that it is necessary to struggle against both form and content which is also perfectly correct. The Manifesto then goes on to polemicize against CPL on the grounds that we ignored the relation. This is possible because CPL took it for granted that the struggle against bourgeois ideology implied collective organization against authoritarianism. However, what is at issue here is far more than an unstated implication but rather an attempted Marxist defense of `student power’ when it is precisely a Marxist recognition of the relation between form and content which is a permanent injunction against any attempt to democratize the existing University structures. A funny thing about Marxism is that it has a way of coming back to haunt those who use it for a reformist purpose. This conversion of revolutionary Marxism to parliamentarianism, of proletarian democracy to bourgeois democracy, has nothing in common with Marxism. The given forms – committees, Senates, Boards of Governors – are bourgeois forms and the addition of a few students does nothing to alter bourgeois character. Please tell us how students on hiring and firing committes involves students in a social relation which undercuts bourgeois ideology. What the student movement needs is not old bourgeois forms plus students but entirely new forms. The parallel between this permanent strategy and the most abject reformist one of industrial democracy are so striking that it is stupifying that people who reject industrial democracy as a strategy can espouse a parallel line for the university. Perry Anderson’s critique of industrial democracy has striking relevance here:

Industrial democracy as narrowly conceived tends towards the conversion of work into a pure immanent process cut off from any meaningful goal which would insert it into the social praxis. Thus isolated it would tend to become and elaborate entrancec mime, a gratuitous gesticulation...

Let us be clear about this: the only kind of society which would enable the University to insert itself in a way which would render intellectual work useful is a socialist society. Thus the question of a meaningful democratization, which doesn’t involve students in a schizophrenic situation – separation of producers and product – is already a question of a socialist revolution and thus a question of state power. This of course places a worker-student alliance as an immediate priority for a student movement which hopes to change the university. It is striking that the New Left Manifesto authors fail to see that the one new form of student power is the occupation. The occupation represents both an effective source of student power and a rupture with bourgeois social relations. Another form of student power should be the student movement itself which should represent a permanent contestation of the purposes and functioning of the University. The task ahead is clearly not to become co-administrations of the bourgeois university but rather a permanent source of ’student power’ geared to tasks larger than that of student issues and taking really new forms geared to the strength and combativity of the movement.


The second section which purports to deal with the question of cultural oppression turns out to be the familiar Laurel Limpus sermon on the relationship between base and superstructure and the character of dialectical materialism. However since this time the explanation is written rather than spoken, it is now possible to see that Miss Limpus and her co-authors do not even remotely understand the concepts employed. Specifically the authors misconstrue the components of the base and superstructure, and reduce dialectical materialism to a few nebulous abstractions that render it totally inoperative in elucidating the foundations of a social formation.

Base and superstructure

On the question of the base and superstructure, it is apparent that for our authors the base is simply economics and the superstructure is social relations. Thus :

While an understanding of the logically prior nature of the economic base is absolutely necessary to render the social order meaningful, this does not somehow mean that the economic base exists in isolation from those social relationships through which it manifests itself.

This reductionist definition of economic base has nothing in common with authentic Marxism. For Marx and Lenin the economic base was not just economics but “economic” plus a social relationship – the determinate social relationship – the class relationship.

For Marx, the economic base was the forces of production together with the relations of production – classes and not economics per se as the Manifesto proclaims. It is no wonder that these people have recurrent nightmares about the incursion of vulgar economist heresies – their nightmares are the implacable logic of their own vulgar Marxism.

The basic social relationship through which men live out their economic contradictions is the class relationship and our authors are correct to say that it cannot be separated from the economic base – because it is part of the economic base. The authors do not differ with CPL over the question of organizing around social relationships, rather they only organize around secondary social relationships while CPL organizes around the basic, determinate social relationship – that of class.

Dialectical Materialism

On the question of what constitutes dialectical materialism or Marx’s dialectical method it is clear that the explanatory paragraph does nothing to render dialectical materialists intelligible. The formulation “As developed by Marx and Engels, dialectical materialism as a tool of analysis considers the social and historical structure as a constantly evolving totality” is perfectly true but hardly does convey the essence of Marx’s dialectical method. Under this definition we could include Hegel, Plato, Toynbee, Sengler etc. If the authors wanted to summarize Marx s dialectical method, why not let Marx do it for them? Why? Because there is no relation between their “Marxism” and scientific socialism, and quotations would prove to be embarrassing. Marx provides an excellent summary in an Afterword to Capital and the contrast between the precision of his formulation and the meandering abstractionism of the authors is readily apparent.

“The one thing which is of moment to Marx, is to find the law of phenomena with those investigations he is concerned...Marx treats the social movement as a process of natural history. The scientific value of such an inquiry lies in the disclosing of the special laws that regulate the origin, existence, development, death of a given social organizm...” Whilst this writer pictures what he takes to be actually my (Marx’s) method...what else is he picturing but the dialectical method?

This is precisely what Capital is all about and the Manifesto’s formulation of dialectical materialism reduces Marx to the role of an economic historian plus a wholist who has no ability to differentiate and weigh determinate levels of a society. Scientific sociology becomes subjective sociology and all is well because our authors can stop those vulgar Marxists from talking to demoralized students.

Alliances for the student movement

The third section deals with the question of political allies in the struggle against capitalism. Women’s Liberation in Toronto gets 42 lines, the working class 11. Political work with Women’s Liberation becomes an immediate priority which is essential to the growth of the revolutionary student movement while it is announced that a worker-student alliance can only be built after the student movement has been constructed. Now this kind of contradictory reasoning is not without a direct political purpose. That is to consolidate a political alliance between “leading” members of the New Left and “leading” members of Women’s Liberation. The distorted analytical and political priorities which are engendered by this type of pure power politics – bourgeois politics – are reflected in the section on allies and in the rejection of the worker-student alliance. Anyone who makes a formal announcement about the key role of the working class in the revolution and then proceeds on as if everything remains the same is simply looking for left cover.

We maintain that the construction of a worker-student alliance is an absolute necessity for a student movement at every moment of its existence. Two key reasons are (1) only the construction of a worker-student alliance permits a student movement to overcome the isolation which renders it easily accessible to police repression. Up to now student movements have been able to lead militant struggles against the administration but because of their isolation they have no real protection from the bourgeois state apparatus and thus the final moment – occupation – becomes the first step towards demoralization. The strength of Columbia was its links outside the university and no one should forget this. Real ties with the working class lends infinite strength to a student movement.

(2) At another level the worker-student alliance is necessary for both traditional and newly emerging intellectual. The strategic problem for the revolutionary movement in its relation to these strata is to win them to the realization that only socialism and the dictatorship of the proletariat can end their oppression. Thus without in any way ignoring the specificity of their particular situation, it is clear that an ideological and political modification is a precondition to their successful functioning within a revolutionary movement. This modification cannot be willed away but can only take place in the work of a revolutionary party or in a student movement which is energetically elaborating real ties with the working class via a multi-level worker-student alliance.

Revolutionary organization

The only formulation utilized in this section is extra-parliamentary opposition. We fail to see this formulation as lending any real conceptual strength to an analysis of the problems of revolution. In a word this formulation lacks content. All mature socialist theory stressed the need for a revolutionary party. Does the phrase “extra-parliamentary” opposition indicate a return to guild socialism or syndicalism ? If not, what organization is needed for a revolutionary situation to become a revolution? This lack of precision on the level of revolutionary organization enables the Manifesto to utilize the familiar NDP demagogy about “from below”, “with the people”, “custodians of virtue”, etc. Anyone who has been active in Toronto Student Movement this summer will realize that the use of these concepts in an attempt to come to grips with the problem of revolution has been thoroughly and effectively criticized. (But then, perhaps, the TSM educationals were too “cerebral” for the authors of the New Left Manifesto). All these phrases borrowed from a thousand and one bourgeois critics of communism do not form a critique of Lenin’s theory of revolutionary organization but only a bourgeois distortion of it. We have no intention of dignifying this demagogy with a sustained reply. Anyone who wants to read correctives of this distortion of communism – and its inability to solve the complex relations of part, class and people – is referred to Lenin’s writings (especially ,State and Revolution, and pp. 339-41 and 353-58 of Left-Wing Communism).


The attempt to render Lenin more profound continues in the absence-of-an-analysis tradition in which the Manifesto stumbles along. The citing of a 53-year difference can hardly be said to constitute a serious rejection of an organized vanguard party. Does 53 years negate the need for a party and the elaboration of centers of dual power? Does a political autocracy negate the functions of leadership in the economic, political and ideological planes that a party must fulfill? Lenin organized a Third International and anyone remotely familiar with the history of the communist movement would be aware of his insistence on the international significance of the Bolshevik Revolution. No mere reference to the historical dimension of Marxism can be allowed to obscure the class nature of the coming revolution and thus the structural similarity between the October Revolution and the coming revolutions in the West. It is stupifying that the authors of the New Left Manifesto continue to applaud all the rhetoric of the New Left after the Days in May (France) exposed the partiality of the preoccupations of the New Left. The Days of May illustrated the necessity for a dynamic and disciplined vanguard party if the revolutionary situation is to culminate in the seizure of political power. (Perhaps the New Left would have joined the CP to block the revolution because there weren’t enough “Communes” or Women’s Liberation groups in existence?)


The fifth section deals with the question of a revolutionary strategy for Canada and how this strategy effects student struggles. It should be noted at the outset that there is a change in terminology employed in this section as opposed to the first section. The first section used the formulation “North American capitalist society” because the developments which seemed to strengthen the arguments of that section are incomparably more developed in the United States than Canada. Here, however, since we are “attacking” imperialism, Ontario becomes a branch plant and the terminology used is colony and imperialism. Nevertheless we will pick up the analysis as presented any only request that in the future these chameleons at least attempt to reach some internal logical coherence even if this serves to upset a precarious and synthetic political unity. One can only imagine the discussions involved it writing this document. “You give me student power – I’ll give you a materialist analysis. You give me cultural oppression – I’ll give you nationalism” .etc.

However even within the analysis presented in this section, the ambiguities, confusions and contradictions are manifest. Seeking to separate themselves from the more openly bourgeois nationalists, the authors of the New Left Manifesto proclaim that we are involved in socialist revolution. They then ignore the class nature of a socialist revolution and proceed as if all good Canadians will participate in a socialist revolution because this revolution is a “national revolution”. In point of fact, two components of the Canadian nation – bourgeoisie and petty-bourgeoisie – will be effaced or changed in a socialist revolution. We agree that we are involved in a socialist revolution. However, it is absolutely essential for this revolution that the proletariat decisively reject nationalism for proletarian internationalism. Therefore let us construct a Marxist analysis which really enables us to solve the question of the class nature of the Canadian revolution.

We would do well to examine an extended quotation from the “Program of the Sixth Communist International” which deals with the differential character of the revolutionary process throughout the world. We do so in order to establish the concepts which will enable us to ascertain the character of the Canadian revolution in a scientific manner:

The varied conditions and roads of the transition to the proletarian dictatorship in different countries may be reduced schematically to the following three types: in highly developed capitalist countries (the United States, Germany, England, etc.) with powerful productive forces, a high degree of centralization of production, relatively insignificant small scale enterprise, and an old and well-established bourgeois-democratic political regime, the prinicpal political demand of the program is the direct transition to the proletarian dictatorship...

Countries at a medium level of capitalist development (Spain, Portugal, Poland, Hungary, the Balkans, etc.) where semi-feudal relationships largely survive in agriculture, although the material prerequisites for the construction of socialism are present in some degree, the bourgeois-democratic revolution not having been completed....

Colonial and semi-colonial countries (China, India,etc.) and independent countries (Argentina, Brazil, etc.): in some of these countries industry is only rudimentary, in others it is fairly well developed, but for the most part insufficient to provide a basis for independent socialist construction: both in the economy as in the political superstructure, medieval feudal relationships prevail, or the Asiatic mode of production.

This succinct application of basic Marxist concepts – forces and relations of production – is a mode of scientific analysis which has immediate relevance for our situation where the level of Marxism seems to be closer to that of a mortality play than a science of society. First, let us note that the political strategy ofthe revolutionary party is determined by the economic substructure of society – level of productive forces and relations of production.

The development of the productive forces (socialization of labour, centralization of production) engenders a particular class structure and thus a particular revolutionary strategy. The principal difference between the first and,the second and third, strategies is precisely a difference in the development of the productive forces. In the second and third type, the productive forces are basically limited by the absence of the socialization of the forces of production in agriculture and industry. This means that that feudal relations of production prevail in agriculture which in turn means a political superstructure of various types. It should be pointed out that even in countries with many features of the second type a proletarian led revolution is the order of the day (as Russia in 1917).

For our situation in Canada it is clear that the scientific application of Marxist concepts completely obliterates the position of the romantic nationalists. Canada has developed productive forces – a high degree of centralization of production (monopoly capitalist structure), limited small scale enterprises (agriculture a small percentage of GNP) and a well established bourgeois-democratic political regime.

There are no feudal or semi-feudal relations of production as are present in the second and third types, and thus no room for a bourgeois-democratic revolution. There is no peasantry in Canada. The principal political demand in a society with thus structural conditions can only be the dictatorship of the proletariat.

There is no room in the student struggle for a fight that serves to protect the super-structural warriors of the Canadian bourgeoisie. The only criterion which socialists can bring to bear in evaluating intellectuals is whether or not they struggle with the working class for socialism, the dictatorship of the proletariat. The authors propose a struggle against bourgeois ideology and social relations in an earlier section, and now they fight to protect the jobs of the propagators of bourgeois ideology – as long as they are Canadain. How many professors are real friends of the Canadian working-class: they can be counted on the fingers of one hand. This section and indeed the whole of the analysis only goes to prove that the latter half of Lenin’s analysis of the intelligentsia retains its validity:

The transitory, unstable, contradictory position of that stratum of society now under discussion is reflected in the particularly wide-spread diffusion in its midst of hybrid, eclectic views, a farrago of contrasting principles and ideas, an urge to rise verbally to the higher spheres and to conceal the conflicts between the historical groups of the population with phrases.


The purpose of this critique was not only to demonstrate that the New Left is outside Marxism but that an understanding of basic Marxist concepts have an immediate relevance. This is as true for student movements as for revolutionary parties. Almost all the errors, evasions, demagogy and contradictions in the New Left Caucus Manifesto find their subjective source in an inability to understand or apply Marxism. Moreover this failure has dramatic meaning for those students to whom the New Left provides political leadership. Ahead are the familiar stances of action-freaking and isolation coupled with the symmetrical errors of reformism and liberalism. The fate of Canadian Union of Students is instructive. From little reds burning down the little red schoolhouse, the same collection of New Left Radicals have become, at best, left bureaucrats, writing their little yellow programs. Andy Wernick sings a different tune, depending on where he is – but its clear that the result will be the same.

Clearly the alternative is the strategy beginning to be elaborated by the Canadian Party of Labour – the strategy of working class politics, of patient hard basebuilding, of the construction of a worker-student alliance. For it is only this strategy that will enable us to achieve socialism and the dictatorship of the proletariat.