First Published: Canadian Worker, Vol 2, No. 6, August, 1970
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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The Watkins-Waffle-NDP-Nationalistic “socialism” has been getting a lot of press in Canada recently, and this group has just put out a book Gordon to Watkins to You, edited by Dave Godfrey and Mel Watkins, which shows quite clearly what they mean by “socialism”. The quotations below, with page references, are from this book.
Watkins describes the Waffle position as (p. 134) “a nationalist position and a socialist position, and it makes no sense to ask which should get priority.”
These national socialists assume that we have a patriotic commitment to “Canada” and the main thing wrong with capitalism, in their eyes, is that (p. 127) “we can no longer believe that Canadian capitalists and Liberal governments are really willing to pursue the strategy of creating an independent capitalist Canada.”
The Wafflers also express some deeper criticism of capitalism (p. 139) : “What I’m saying is that welfare capitalism is no longer a sufficient goal.”
A socialist who identifies with workers would have a more fundamental criticism of capitalism. Under capitalism the workers are wage slaves, slaves of the bosses. The bosses run the factories in order to maximize profits. This means that they pay workers as little as possible, that they do not hesitate to maintain unsafe working conditions to save a buck, and that poor quality products are purposely produced in order to increase profits. History has shown that these conditions are always present under capitalism, and cannot be eliminated as long as there is boss rule of the country (i.e., the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie).
Workers know that Canadian bosses are no different from American bosses – a capitalist has to exploit his workers in order to survive as a capitalist. In Canada, Canadian bosses work together with American bosses to rule the country. In the U.S., there are very few foreign bosses. It doesn’t matter the dictatorship of the bosses functions very similarly in the two countries. It is absurd for a worker to have any patriotic commitment to boss-ruled Canada. When “Canada” becomes the name of a worker-run country, then “patriotism” will become meaningful.
Mel Watkins describes “socialism” (p. 136): “It means the redistribution of power to ordinary people and because there isn’t much power left in Canada anymore, it means getting back power the better to redistribute it.” He also says (p. 137): “It means democracy at every level of decision-making; that the students and professors should run the universities, the workers should run the factories, the residents of a neighborhood should run the neighborhood. And that’s how you tell the New Left from the Old Left.” (Note: “Old Left” is Waffle-style red-baiting).
We have all read garbage similar to Watkins“ theories before. This kind of “socialist” line has been fed to working people by all sorts of sell-outs: the British Labour Party, the CCF, the NDP, Bobby Kennedy, Pierre Elliot Trudeau. They all know that if they get us thinking about “democracy” they can keep us under capitalist domination. Watkins doesn’t understand that the capitalists run this society. He says (p. 88): “The terrible truth of our times is that the technology of the technocrats has created a world out of control”. If Watkins realized that Canada is controlled by the capitalists, then he would realize that if students and Drofessors “run” the university they will run it to serve the capitalists. Only a liar or an idiot could say that “the workers should run the factories” without mentioning the problem of getting rid of the capitalists. “It means democracy at every level of decision-making” is a meaningless phrase without dealing with the class nature of the state. How would Waffle Socialism really work if Mel Watkins became Prime Minister (as he undoubtedly does in his dreams)? The only concrete clue that Gordon to Watkins to You offers is (p. 108): “nationalization of the commanding heights of the economy”. So Prime Minister Watkins would nationalize a few industries and call it “socialism” (like the British Labour Party has done). Professor Watkins should step out of his ivory tower for a few minutes and ask a postal worker or a CNR employee how it is to work for a government-owned industry in a capitalist society. If Prime Minister Watkins nationalized a lot of industries then we would have state capitalism (or perhaps ultimately fascism), for the professor does not recognize the fact that the capitalists run Canada and that they will run any industries in Canada that are “publicly owned” in their own class interest. Watkins’ “socialism” would merely serve as a left-cover for a capitalist Canada.
One of the most important contributions that Karl Marx made to socialist ideology was his description of the relationship between the economy of a country and the nature of its government. In a capitalist state the govenment must necessarily be run by and for the capitalists. It is meaningless, as thousands of “Utopian socialists” eventually discovered, to talk about socialism without discussing the class nature of state power.
Marx, Lenin, Stalin, Mao and countless other real socialists don’t spew out the liberal nonsense favoured by Mel Watkins. They speak clearly and directly. Under capitalism there is rule of the bosses. This dictatorship must be smashed and replaced by working class rule (the dictatorship of the proletariat). Then there will be no capitalists; all industry will be administered by the government, and the government will be run by the working class.
Government planning boards will allocate resources and direct production with the goal of satisfying the needs of the people. The guiding principle of a socialist society would be “From each according to his ability, to each according to his work”. With the Canadian people organized in this way, working together to satisfy needs, there is no question that an abundant society could be built quite quickly. Then the need for manpower would diminish, the remnants of capitalist ideology could be wiped out and the society could function guided by the principle, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs”.
It is no accident that “Waffle socialism” and working-class socialism are so different – the Wafflers are representatives of the capitalists. Watkins says he was mainly influenced by the Bourgeois “Canadian” economist Harold Innis (p. 3), Marshall McLuhan (p. 6: “For a couple of years I immersed myself pretty deeply in McLuhanism, and what it really did was liberate me, sweep the cobwebs out of my mind.”), and of course, as the title of the book tells us, Walter Grodon, capitalist and former Finance Minister. Watkins says (p. 85) “radicalism for me comes out of political struggles” and he describes the “political struggles” that led to his “radicalism”: a “fight” for a political economy course union (p. 85) and his membership on the “President’s Advisory Committee on the Placement Service to deal with the question of whether Dow Chemical, with its napalm, could recruit on the campus.” (p. 61). It is clear that Watkins was never involved in any working class political struggle at all. It’s no wonder, then, that his “socialism” offers nothing whatsoever to the working class. (Incidentally, the one occasion when Watkins viewed working class struggle was during the recent strike at the New College cafeteria of the University of Toronto. Watkins refused to join with students and professors supporting the strikers because, he said, “I don’t want the press to be able to say that I support the Worker-Student Alliance.”)
Revolutionary socialists, such as the members of CPL, have an ideology based on different sources from Watkins’. Communist ideology was developed by Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, Mao and many other real socialists; communist ideology has evolved during the world-wide struggles of the working class to liberate itself from the yoke of the capitalists. Marxism-Leninism is the ideology that beat the capitalists in Russia, China, and Albania, and that offers the working class the real promise of establishing a workers’ state.
The rotten Waffle ideology leads, of course, to a rotten political programme: (p. 251): “The immediate necessity is to support policies that compel foreign-based corporations to perform in the Canadian public interest. The ultimate goal is to build an independent economy where the priorities of social development are set within Canada by Canadians.”; (p. 255) “The immediate creation of a Canada Development Corporation with full government ownership and control. It will be directed to pursue social, and not simply corporate objectives. It will also be an instrument of government planning and a means of increasing Canadian independence.”; (p. 256) “Expansion of public and co-operative ownership to promote ownership by Canadians of a larger sector of the economy and to halt and reverse the trend to foreign domination, particularly in new industry and development.”
One of Watkins’ suggestions is (p. 237) “Why don’t we instead start worrying more about the quality of Canadian entrepreneurship, which often means very specific things such as quality of business schools.” Watkins’ “democratic socialism” includes (p. 137): “building socialism by democratic means in the sense of gaining power electorally.”
One has only to look at the British Labour Party or the NDP in Manitoba to see the fate of the Wafflers. They will throw more and more of their “socialism” overboard so that the ruling class will give them more and more power. As “nationalistic socialists” these people are obviously much more committed to nationalism than to socialism.
The Canadian Party of Labour, on the other hand, really believes in socialism and the working class. CPL is not “baffled and mystified by the problem of internal divisions within Canada”, as the Wafflers are (p. 105). We realize that the basic division in a capitalist society is between the capitalist class and the working class. We realize that capitalists have never allowed themselves to be defeated electorally. We know that the working class has the power to smash the capitalist state, and we are attempting to build a revolutionary Communist party that can help to lead workers to victory in a revolution. We do not care about creating a Canada Development Corporation we are creating a revolutionary Communist party. We don’t look for friends among the ruling class; we don’t write columns for the scab Toronto Star like Watkins and his friends do. Instead we support the daily struggles of the working class by promoting solidarity between strikers, building rank-and-file caucuses in unions, publishing a newspaper that tells the working ’class side of the story, and working towards the revolutionary overthrow of the capitalist class.
When the working class in Canada begins to move towards power, creampuffs like the Wafflers will not be relevant. As his supporter, former student-fink and now scab-journalist Steve Langdon says (p. 102): “It’s hard to think of Mel Watkins as a political leader”.