Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Canadian Party of Labour

Waffle conference debates

“Stay in” or “stick around”

First Published: Canadian Worker, Vol 4, No 6, October 1972
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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About 300 people attended the Ontario Waffle group’s conference to decide on its future, August 19 and 20 in London. The conference, organized on a delegate basis, held few surprises for those who had seen the stacking of local meetings where the delegates were elected and the railroading tactics of the Laxer-Watkins leadership to ensure that their alternative – a Movement for an Independent and Socialist Canada – be the one adopted.

It was all decided before people got there – so much so that the atmosphere was very reminiscent of the Orillia meeting where NDP leadership threw out the Waffle. The tone was set by sessions consisting of formalistic procedural debate, limitation of discussion to two alternatives, priority in speaking to delegates, time schedules set up by the leadership in such a way as to stifle debate involving the observers, anti-communist attacks on CPL by the leaders of the Waffle (true social-democrats to the end!) Laxer even resorted to tactics like attaching a motion that observers be kept out of the Sunday afternoon meeting to a motion for adjournament of the morning session, and then allowed no debate on it.

While the MISC alternative was adopted, its program and politics were neither discussed nor defined other than to say it would be a research and education organization to carry on the work of the Waffle. What did come over most clearly about MISC was that it was not to be a challenge or opposition to the NDP. Watkins has said just that to the Toronto Citizen; the Waffle candidates who resigned have told their riding associations to vote NDP; and Krista Maeots said in the meeting “we’ll all still be NDP’ers.” As was predicted in Canadian Worker and the CPL leaflet, the setting up of MISC turned out to be just another way of building social-democracy.

As far as nationalist research, it never has had (or will have) any relevance to the working-class, and therefore neither will MISC. At the conference there were almost no workers (except for the Toronto Western Hospital strikers brought there by Workers’ Action Movement). The only trade unionist who did speak up (Steelworkers steward George Gilks ) advocated making MISC a more working-class oriented organization than Waffle had been, severing ties with the NDP, and even attacking the NDP misleadership of the working-class. Interestingly, the nationalism which the Waffle leadership is rigidly committed to and says has always set them apart from other groups took on a low profile at the conference. None of the Waffle leaders (except Laxer) made it an issue of debate on the conference floor. It looked like they are beginning to realize that they can’t sell it even to their following except by covering it up with socialist rhetoric.

Another telling point that the movement was not going to be anything new, was Laxer’s and Watkins’ continued reliance on “media-politics”. They spent most of the weekend when they were not in the meetings and secret caucuses in press conference. Maybe they think that the CBC and the Toronto Star will help them fulfil their grandiose prediction of a conference of 1,000 in December to found MISC.

But that conference just won’t happen. This meeting did not end up with the nucleus of the perspective for building the kind of movement that could carry it off. On the one hand there is the Trotskyite split-off group, the Left caucus, which (like good Trots) resolved to stay and fight in the NDP). Former U of T academic Marxist and rhetorician Andy Wernick, who has re-emerged and found his niche in this Trot-run caucus, gave the most ludicrous speech of the meeting when he cited the need to fight for world revolution as a justification for staying in the NDP! With the in-fighting among various “varieties” of Trots and the lack of a concrete program for action, the Trot caucus bunch is bound to go nowhere.

On the other hand there is MISC – formed amidst extreme bitterness and disillusionment on the part of rank and file Wafflers at the conduct of the conference, the purge atmosphere, the press statements, etc. One woman told Jim Laxer after the Sunday meeting: “I’ve been with the progressive elements of the NDP for years, I’ve been with the Waffle, and I was prepared to build a new movement – but you’ve wrecked it! You’ve wrecked the Waffle and the potential of building anything out of it!”

Moreover the rank and file has been left out of the nexi stage of MISC’s “development.” A committee to prepare for the founding conference was chosen from the delegates at London and it looks like a re-run of the not so popular Laxer-Watkins backed Ontario Waffle Steering Committee. A big founding conference for this movement built by the group on the basis of research, nationalism and support for the NDP (tacit or other) is a pipe-dream.

The only hope for MISC lies with the militants who want to continue Waffle activities like supporting strikes and fighting for union democracy, rather than making it another “last chance for nationalism” research organization. If MISC adopted a fighting, pro working-class strategy – including support for hospital workers against Bill 41, a fight to shorten the work week and the like, it would be a tremendous advance toward a mass democratic workers’ movement. As it is now, it has little chance of surviving as anything but a “waiting room” for Laxer-Watkins while they plot their return to the NDP fold.