Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Progressive Workers Movement

For An Independent and Socialist Canada: A Marxist-Leninist View

Chapter 2: Canada: A History of Foreign Domination

A. Pre-Confederation Canada
Early Canada

France, a feudal country, was the first European power to occupy and begin the colonization of what is now Canada. Conquest is hardly a proper description of the operation, since North American tribal society was no match for the more advanced feudal invaders, and since the native population neither fully understood what was in store for them nor was united enough to deal with the threat.

The type of society formed by the French in Quebec reflected the social development of the mother country. The powers in the colony were the feudal Church, the representatives of the French royalty, and the local seigneurs – the feudal land-owning class. But the French royalists and feudalists were not to be left long in peace to enjoy their new acquisitions. Before the end of the 18th century, the British, with a society more advanced than that of feudal France, arrived on the scene with the objective of conquest. This conquest finally occurred in 1763.

The British not only conquered, they brought with them a whole new set of class relations based on a social system of capitalist exploitation. The bourgeois revolution arrived in Canada on the point of British bayonets. But the consolidation of the conquered territory was no easy matter. The native Indians had begun to unite their forces and resist the invasion of the foreigners; abandoned to their fate by France, the habitants in Canada still resisted attempts to rob them of their particular French identity; and the revolt of the thirteen colonies began the spread of republican ideas. With the coming revolution in these latter colonies in mind, the British in 1774 struck a deal with the feudal Church and seigneurs in Quebec: their traditional rights would be respected and maintained by British arms in exchange for their loyalty to the British Empire Only the habitants, those who actually tilled the land in Quebec, were left out of the bargain. During the American Revolution, this bargain paid off as the Church and the seigneurs used their authority to combat the ideas of revolution amongst the French Canadians. This was not the last time that the Church in Quebec would wield its immense moral and political authority to protect the foreign rulers of the French Canadian people.

1837 Rebellion

But not even the Church could prevent the rise of a revolutionary movement amongst the French in Quebec – although when the revolt came the Church did help to defeat it. The oppressive feudal conditions in Quebec, reinforced and worsened by the British conquest, were what led to the development of the revolt. Of the land in Quebec, over two million acres were in the hands of the Catholic Church, and six million were the property of the seigneurs. On these lands, the owners enjoyed all sorts of feudal privileges, from fishing, hunting, and mineral rights, to forced labour from the habitants – those who actually worked the land. At the same time, English capitalists were acquiring some of the best lands in Quebec. Wrote Lord Durham in 1839: “By degrees, large portions of land were occupied by them; nor did they confine themselves to the unsettled and distant country of the townships, The wealthy capitalist invested his money in the purchase of seigniorial properties; and it is estimated, that at the present moment fully half of the more valuable seigneuries are actually owned by English proprietors.”[6]

As Upper Canada (Ontario) had, so Lower Canada (Quebec) had an elected Legislative Assembly. But this Assembly was devoid of any real powers: the real rulers of the colony were a group of English merchants derisively known as the “Chateau Clique,” and the British Governor. Thus, in Quebec, the struggle against feudalism, for bourgeois democracy, was intimately connected with the struggle for national self-determination for the French Canadians. The class question was not to be separated from the national question since the ruling class was a foreign ruling class, although it had allies amongst the most reactionary sections of the indigenous population. One statement of the Quebec revolutionaries declared:

“That from this day forward, the people of Lower Canada are absolved from all allegiance to Great Britain, and that the political connection between that power and Lower Canada is now dissolved
“That a republican form of government is best suited to Lower Canada, which is this day declared a republic
”That under the free government of Lower Canada all persons shall enjoy the same rights: the Indians shall no longer be under any civil disqualification, but shall enjoy the same rights as any other citizens of Lower Canada
“That all union between church and state is hereby declared to be dissolved, and every person shall be at liberty freely to exercise such religion or belief as shall be dictated to him by his conscience
“That the feudal or seigniorial tenure of land is hereby abolished as completely as if such tenure had never existed in Canada.”[7]

Taking part in the revolutionary movement were middle class elements who were repressed and restricted by foreign rule and its alliance with feudal elements from realizing their bourgeois democratic aims, and farmers who were directly oppressed by the feudal conditions. In the years preceding 1837, many thousands of people had been involved in militant though peaceful struggles for democracy and self-determination. However, the Patriotes, the democratic revolutionaries of Quebec, were not ready for the military struggle that broke out in 1837. They had not adequately prepared the ground for revolution amongst all sections of the Quebec population, they had not properly organized themselves for war; and when the crunch came, certain elements amongst their middle class allies found it more convenient to remain passive than to join in the rebellion.

A revolt had also taken place in Upper Canada, where there was also a great deal of resentment against arbitrary British rule and the privileges of the great merchant-monopolists of the Family Compact, a group closely associated with British capital. As in Lower Canada, it was these people who owned much of the land and conspired with the British to exploit both the people and the resources of the country to their own benefit. In the words of Bishop Strachan, one of the most reactionary spokesmen of the Family Compact:

“Now I wish to lay it down as a principle never to be departed from, that it is in the interest of the Canada Co. (one of the great land owning monopolies) to support the Colonial authorities and never to take a side against them.”[8]

As in Lower Canada, the Ontario rebels were too weak and unorganized to carry their revolt to a successful conclusion. Led by the same middle class elements whose interest it was to see an independent and democratic Canada which could use its own resources in order to develop a sovereign industrialized capitalist state, the revolt also had the support of numbers of farmers and workers. The workers and working farmers had not yet developed an independent class consciousness and an awareness of the need to have independent political objectives. They did entertain and advance certain limited economic demands, but looked for these demands to be satisfied when the democratic bourgeois group came to power. They fought heroically and sacrificed most, both in life and property, for the success of the cause, but could not rise above the disastrous leadership of the middle class and themselves take control of the rebellion. And, as in Lower Canada, the right-wing elements of the bourgeois-democratic side found it easier to accommodate themselves to continuing British rule than to pose an open challenge to it.

The two established and influential churches, Catholic and Anglican, supported imperialist rule and the most reactionary political circles in the Canadas. In Upper and Lower Canada, bishops and prelates condemned rebel reformers and Patriotes from their pulpits. The upper strata of the privileged sections of society were solidly united against the rebel forces. By 1838, the defeat of the rebels was complete and reaction firmly fixed in the seats of power.

The defeat of the 1837 Rebellion in the two Canadas signaled the defeat of the bourgeois-democratic national revolt in Canadian history. What the defeat meant was that Canada’s advance towards democracy and industrial capitalism would take place not independently as in the United States, but within the confines of imperialist domination. Whatever advances were to be made were henceforth to be made not through independent development, but through compromises and deals with British imperialism. Of the classes that had taken part in national-democratic political activity before 1837, the upper sections made their deal with imperialism rather than take a stand for independence. It was this union of the upper sections of the Anglo-Canadian bourgeois class with the merchant-monopolists of the Family Compact that formed the basis of a real comprador class, a bourgeois ruling class which acts not independently, but in the service of the foreign imperialist. In the case of Canada, this Anglo-Canadian comprador class would also benefit from its joint oppression of Quebec along with the imperialists.

However, the defeat of the 1837 rebellion and the capitulation of the Canadian bourgeoisie by no means allowed Britain to feel perfectly safe about its North American colonies. The republic to the south, so recently broken away from England’s rule, was already demonstrating its insatiable appetite for territorial expansion that would one day culminate in its becoming the most powerful and most hated imperialist power in the history of the world. It was only other, more compelling, interests that kept the United States from taking full advantage of the rebellion of 1837. But the new republic stood to the south as a constant menace to the security of British rule in her remaining North American colonies.

Quebec was in retreat, but by no means permanently defeated. There were all too obvious signs that the sentiment for national independence had not been diminished as a result of military defeat. On the contrary, the intensified repression that followed in the wake of defeat served only to strengthen national solidarity in French Canada.

The grievances of the artisans and the farmers were left unsolved and tended to become aggravated. Merchants and the middle class had seen their aspirations to become an independent class of exploiters in their own right fade away to a bad dream. And later events in the West would soon prove that the native population, who had been robbed of their lands, were by no means ready to capitulate to the robber barons. Obviously England had to institute emergency measures to shore up the defences of the battered remains of British North America. Lord Durham, an able politician with a reputation in England as a reform liberal, was dispatched to Canada with assistants of his choosing, bearing a commission to investigate the causes of the 1837 Rebellion, and to make recommendations on a policy designed to prevent a recurrence.

Before Durham had concluded his investigation, the Whig government which had commissioned him was driven out of office, but Durham returned and presented his report to the Tory regime now in power. Although the British Tories were not at all favourable to a “reform liberal,” and would give the commission no credit, it was, nevertheless, the Durham report, with some added Tory modifications that laid the foundations for the proposed solution to problems in the Canadas and questions of security for British ascendancy in North America.


The myth that a generous and freedom-loving imperial power granted Canada self-government out of its own free will is constantly repeated by bourgeois historians and journalists. In fact, all we need to do is look at when the British first seriously considered the granting of “responsible government” to see what really impelled them to act with such generosity. It was Durham in his report on the causes of the Rebellion of 1837 who first recognized that Britain would not be able to hold on to its colonies unless she granted some concessions towards self-government. At the same time, Durham proposed the unifying of the two Canadas as a way of ensuring the Anglicization of the French-Canadians and the ascendancy of the British element.

In 1841, the Act of Union was promulgated, unifying Upper and Lower Canada, granting it a single Legislative Assembly, and a single capital city. Responsible government, however, would have to await the development of an English-speaking majority in the new province. (Durham himself had pointed out that “responsible government” could not be established until an English majority could be obtained.) And yet, even in this powerless Legislative Assembly, it was ensured that the French would be in a minority, despite their superior numbers in terms of population. Through gerrymandering tens of thousands of French Canadians were deprived of their vote, and Canada West (Ontario) was granted an equal number of seats despite its much smaller population. Furthermore, among the Canada East seats were the districts controlled by the English minority in Quebec. The language of the Assembly was to be exclusively English, and the capital of the united Canadas was to be in Kingston.

“Responsible government,” that is, the freedom of the indigenous ruling class to make its own decisions regarding the internal affairs of the colony, was not granted until 1848, when for the first time, the British governor refrained from interfering in the election and allowed the victorious reformers to form a government. But even this governor, Lord Elgin, made clear within what terms such “responsible government” was to be understood. The Canadian ministers, he said, would “in return... carry out my views for the maintenance of the connection with Great Britain.”[9] Earl Grey, the British colonial secretary stated it this way:

“This country has no interest whatever in exercising any greater influence in the internal affairs of the colonies than is indispensable either for the purpose of preventing any one colony from adopting measures injurious to another, or to the Empire at large.”[10] In other words, internal developments in the colony would take place within a framework set by Britain, and would not be allowed to occur if they threatened to do injury to Britain’s control of her Empire. It is with this in mind that we must approach the granting of Canadian “independence”, the Confederation of Britain’s North American colonies in 1867.

There are only two ways in which a colony may gain independence (nominal or otherwise) from the imperialist power controlling her. One is the path of open struggle against imperialist domination such as we are witnessing in Vietnam, Angola, and elsewhere. This means a violent military struggle waged in order to coerce the imperialist into accepting the colony’s right to independence. It was precisely by this method that the Thirteen Colonies had achieved their freedom from British domination, and it was this method that had failed to achieve Canadian independence in 1837. The other way is the peaceful way, the path of parliamentary and political action, of “dialogue” with the imperialist, of agreements, deals, and concessions, or, at the extreme, of nonviolent protests against foreign rule. Such was the way that India, for example, gained her independence. Most of the so-called new “emerging” countries of Africa have also arrived at independence along this path.

We have seen in the twentieth century what it means for a country to gain “independence” by the latter method. We have seen that the many African and Asian countries granted “independence” as a result of peaceful pressures upon the colonial power have in fact remained just as closely tied to the imperialist, just as harshly dominated and exploited, just as completely controlled as before. We have seen this happen in India very clearly – it is no accident that Gandhi and his methods of waging anti-imperialist struggle are so highly praised by imperialists everywhere. Nor should this come as a surprise to those people on the left who consider themselves Marxists; does history not teach us very plainly that no ruling class anywhere at any time has ever abdicated power peacefully and voluntarily, that ruling classes (and particularly imperialist ruling classes) have always resisted any threat to their power in the most determined and brutal fashion?

The history of the twentieth century shows us that unless the imperialist is absolutely forced to relinquish control, he will not do so, and that even after freedom is gained, it will soon be lost unless the country’s economic and political independence is jealously and militantly guarded. Events in Algeria since the war of independence show that not even a successful military struggle guarantees a nation’s permanent independence and removes forever the danger of falling into the status of a neo-colony.

It could be argued that sometimes the imperialist power may be in such a position as to have to concede independence to a colony even without a military struggle on the part of that colony. Did Britain at first not oppose and persecute Gandhi’s movement, did she not agree to Indian independence only after she had lost the strength to combat the forces led by Gandhi? Could it not have been true in Canada’s case as well that Britain simply had no choice but to agree to Confederation and Canadian independence? Now it is true that if the imperialist were omnipotent and in absolute control of all the circumstances, he would no doubt like to exercise direct and complete rule over his possessions in order to be able to exploit them with complete efficiency and without having to observe the international niceties of showing “respect” for the exploited country’s “independence”. But this is no longer possible in most places. And, given the desire of the exploited peoples for freedom and national independence, it is certainly in the interest of the imperialist to grant the illusion of independence, to grant local autonomy to an indigenous ruling class which is firmly tied to the economic apron strings of the imperialist, and to allow this native ruling class to administer the neo-colony on his behalf in exchange for certain favours and a few crumbs from the master’s table. Such a scheme in no way threatens the real power nor the profits of the imperialist; it merely removes him from center stage and places him behind the scenes from where he manipulates his puppets, the native ruling classes, who now act out the farce of “national independence” in order to obscure the reality of continued foreign control. This is precisely what happened in India where no doubt the pacifist leadership of Gandhi would have been superseded by more militant anti-imperialist struggles had not the British agreed to “independence”. But that the removal of the British colonial administration had not ended, but merely disguised India’s colonial status was obvious. What then happened in Canada, where no such mass independence movement such as Gandhi led immediately preceded Confederation and independence?

What pressures, if any, forced Britain to relinquish control of her North American colonies?

Again, let us review the historical possibilities. One is that Confederation was forced upon an unwilling mother-country and that through Confederation Canada gained real independence, or at least that through Confederation the door to real independence was opened to her. The other is that Confederation did not mean independence at all, merely the continued but disguised control by Britain of her now-united colonies.

We have seen that in both Upper Canada (Canada West after the 1841 Act of Union) and in Quebec there had been popular sentiment in favour of independence, culminating in an abortive rebellion in 1837. It is not to be assumed that this sentiment disappeared after the defeat, and particularly in Quebec it had great potential strength as the French Canadians were forced to endure the attempts of British colonialism to rob them of their culture and national identity. But we have also seen that this movement for independence had been beheaded on the one hand by the defeat of the rebellion, and on the other by the capitulation of the right-wing of the movement representing the upper sections of a would-be Canadian nationalist bourgeoisie to the colonial power. When independence was granted, it was this capitulationist-reformist bourgeoisie, content for thirty years to work well within the framework set by the needs of British imperialism that formed one part of the ruling-class into whose hands the rule of Canada was entrusted by Britain. The other section of the new autonomous ruling class in “independent” Canada was the former Family Compact, the great merchant-monopolist and land-owning class that had always been intimately tied to British financial interests. At first this group had been so frightened and upset by the mere suggestion of Canadian independence that when Lord Elgin in 1849 granted certain wishes of the Reform-dominated Legislative Assembly, he was attacked by a mob of Montreal Tories, who later sacked and burned the Legislature. Rather than see the rise of responsible government which implied concessions to the reformist bourgeoisie and their French Canadian allies, in the autumn of 1849 over a thousand English-speaking politicians and merchants in Montreal signed a manifesto calling for the annexation of Canada to the United States! This was no more than a political ploy on their part, a form of pressure against the new liberal policy of Britain in Canada, but it showed how deeply this group was committed to the idea of Canadian independence. If our old master mistreats us, let us beg another one to take us over! It was the union of these old Family Compact elements with the reformist bourgeoisie that cleared the way for Confederation.

The original suggestion leading to the Act of Union between Upper and Lower Canada came from Lord Durham in his report on the causes of the 1837 Rebellion. The idea that there should be a general federation of all the British North American provinces was first raised in a serious way by the comprador bourgeoisie of Montreal, the English-speaking railway and business interests with close financial connections to Britain. It was A. T. Gait, a Canadian officer of the British-controlled Grand Trunk Railway who made the adoption of such a policy a condition of his entry as finance minister into the Conservative government of 1858. The idea of continental union was next raised by Edward Watkin, British president of the Grand Trunk in 1861 on his visit to Canada. Watkin, besides being president of the Grand Trunk, was also a leading officer of the International Financial Society, a British corporation which owned a major share of the Grand Trunk and the Hudson’s Bay Company. As he saw it, the federation of the British provinces would greatly enhance the economic potential of both of the giant monopolies under his control.

The role played by British railway interests in the achievement of Confederation was so conspicuous and so active that only a completely naive or a completely dishonest interpretation of the facts can obscure who were the real beneficiaries of Canadian “independence”. The Grand Trunk official, A. T. Gait, was to become one of the Fathers of Confederation; the French Canadian “Father”, G. E. Cartier also happened to be a solicitor for the Grand Trunk; the Canadian delegates to the Charlottetown Conference of 1864 which laid the basis for Confederation traveled as the guests of the Grand Trunk; and the crucial alliance between the Montreal business interests represented by John A. Macdonald and the reformist-bourgeoisie of Toronto represented by George Brown had been negotiated by James Ferrier of the Grand Trunk Railway Company. This alliance, traditionally hailed in Canadian history books as the great unselfish act of statesmanship that paved the way to Canadian independence, was in fact nothing more than the agreement of these two sections of the Canadian bourgeoisie to participate jointly in the exploitation of Quebec and the West as the junior partners of British imperialism.

Thus, when Confederation came, it came as a deal amongst three principal partners: the capitulationist-reformist bourgeoisie of Toronto, the comprador-bourgeoisie of Montreal, and the giant British monopolies that dominated much of the economic life of Canada, The French Canadians, as we have seen, were represented not by the radical reformers of the Parti rouge, but by a French Canadian servant of a British corporation. All three partners were interested in Western expansion, in harnessing the economic potential of the West to their yoke before the increasingly imperialistic United States could grab all of the North West between Oregon and Alaska. The Civil War in the U.S. clearly showed that the industrialized northern states would allow little to stand in the way of their expansionistic policies and the cry of “Manifest Destiny” was being increasingly heard from below the border. Too, the union of the British North American colonies would allow for the more efficient exploitation of the entire area, an exploitation unhindered by regional differences and localized tariffs. The granting of internal autonomy to Quebec under the terms of the B.N.A. Act would help to mask the economic exploitation of that province, just as the granting of internal autonomy to Canada as a whole would help to mask the continued British domination of the entire country.

Who were the senior partners in the Confederation deal? We have already indicated the leading role played by the British railway monopolists and their Canadian agents. We are also all familiar with the phenomenal gifts these monopolies, notably the C.P.R., were yet to receive from various governments of “independent” Canada. Another British monopoly, the Hudson’s Bay Company, received 300,000 pounds in cash, 45,000 acres around its posts, and the right to claim blocks of land up to one-twentieth of the fertile areas of the West which now became part of Confederated Canada. We have seen that the developments in Canada which led up to Confederation were allowed to occur only within the strict limits set by the Colonial Office in London, We have quoted one British colonial secretary to the effect that Britain would not allow any one colony to adopt ”measures injurious to another, or to the Empire at large.”

We have seen that even the reformist part of the English-Canadian bourgeoisie was content to operate within such colonial boundaries after 1837. Are we to believe that Confederation really meant independence from British domination? Is it not clear that Canada, in fact, became one of the world’s very first neo-colonies, a country governed by a native ruling class on behalf of the dominant imperialist power?

There was no independent Canadian national-bourgeoisie, or at least none that played a role in the framing of Confederation. The Canadian actors in the Confederation drama were all representatives of a Canadian bourgeoisie that was content to play the role of a comprador-bourgeoisie, to serve the imperialist in administering and selling the country to him, and to receive the rewards for such service by being the junior partners in exploiting the West, the Maritimes, and particularly, Quebec.

Confederation of Quebec, Ontario and the Maritimes (with the exception of Newfoundland) was soon followed by the acquisition of the West and British Columbia. In 1858 Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton, the Secretary of State for the Colonies had spoken thus of British Columbia:

“We have been laying the foundations of a new and mighty colony... I speak of the colony it was my duty to advise my sovereign to found... I mean British Columbia. That colony with its neighbour Vancouver Island... gives England her only colony on the Pacific Ocean. But that possession is the key to the Pacific.”[11]

Either we are foolish enough to believe that Britain thirteen years later would voluntarily and willingly surrender the “key to the Pacific,” or we recognize that in ceding British Columbia to Canada, Britain was in fact doing what was necessary to keep this province under her own control, and preventing the further erosion of British territory in North America to the United States. (We need hardly mention the enormous benefits the entering into Confederation of B.C. would later confer upon the British-controlled CPR.)

B. Post-Confederation Canada
Role of Classes
Comprador Bourgeoisie

We have dealt with Confederation and the events leading up to it in such great detail in order to show that Canada did not achieve any real independence in 1867, that political power (and only insofar as internal matters were concerned) was not given up by Britain but merely transferred from the hands of the colonial administration into the hands of the politicians of a comprador bourgeoisie, and that the real, the economic control of Canada by Britain was in no way threatened by Confederation. (In fact, the Canadian experiment was so successful that Britain soon withdrew her administrators and armies from the other self-governing colonies as well, at an annual saving of over 4,000,000 pounds.)

Those, therefore, who argue that Canada is in fact an independent capitalist-imperialist nation must show in historical terms when such independence was attained. If not in 1867, then when did an independent national bourgeoisie seize control of the country from the comprador bourgeoisie and their imperialist masters?

The answer is, never. We have not exchanged a comprador bourgeoisie for an independent national bourgeoisie as our ruling class – our comprador ruling class has merely exchanged foreign masters. Canada’s history since 1867 shows this, and the particular relation of class forces in Canada since Confederation has served to facilitate this foreign control throughout our history. The fact is that at the time of Confederation, the comprador bourgeoisie was the only class that had the capacity to rule.

Farmers and Workers

The farmers, the largest social group at that time, were not a stable class which could act politically in its own right. It is true that some farmers, in a period of rural crisis and agrarian revolt were able to combine their forces and win a temporary parliamentary majority in several areas of the country, but they could never offer a lasting and viable political alternative to the power of the existing ruling class. This was so of the United Farmers of Alberta whose brief period of rule ended in scandal and general chaos to make way for Social Credit. It was also shown in Ontario in 1919 when the United Farmers of Ontario rode a tide of rural grievances to a majority in the Legislature and returned to power with Progressive support in 1921, but finally disintegrated in 1924 when most of their grievances had been disposed of and nothing remained to bind the farmers together. These experiences, in spite of passing victories at a time when the rural vote was relatively very powerful, only provide proof of the farmers’ inability to act independently as a class. Farmers and the middle class can only find expression in following the political leadership of a stable social class. Their relationship to the means and mode of production is such as to cause them to be attracted to bourgeois ideology and politics. But they are also exploited by the ruling class and are daily driven to ruin – this makes them, particularly the working farmers, potential though unstable allies of the working class at times of crisis.

The working class does constitute a social force able to act independently as a class in its own right, but at the time of Confederation, this class was too small and too inexperienced politically to be able to challenge the rule of the comprador bourgeoisie. Some important aspects of working class history since Confederation will be discussed later in this paper.

National Bourgeoisie

There has certainly existed in Canada elements of a national bourgeoisie, a bourgeoisie which dreams of becoming the capitalist ruling class of Canada to the exclusion of foreign imperialists. In the early years of Confederation, a large part of this class was kept relatively inert politically. Its dominant Anglo-Canadian section could satisfy itself at least in part by being able to obtain a minor share in the exploitation of Quebec. There were also the Empire preferential tariffs which protected the Canadian market from foreign competition except from other Empire countries, and extended to Canada a special preference for the entry of Canadian products into other parts of the British Empire. But this class was never able to offer any sort of economic or political challenge to the rule of imperialist capital in Canada.

A more important consideration than the special concessions granted them has prevented the national bourgeoisie from even attempting to take independent action designed to free Canada from foreign domination. The overthrow of the comprador class and the defeat of imperialism, a necessary prelude to establishing their rule over an independent Canada, could only be accomplished through an act of revolution for which it would be necessary to mobilize all the popular forces in Canada, and in particular the working class. And this is a step from which the nationalist bourgeoisie, a class of exploiters, have naturally recoiled from in horror. They much prefer their inferior position under imperialism to the dangers of a popular revolutionary movement.

The entire political struggle, what there was, centered on parliamentary contests in which the dominant class made all the rules and dealt itself the winning hand. Some people think that the feeble protestations of a Walter Gordon or an Eric Kierans represent attempts on the part of this nationalist bourgeoisie to seize control of the economy from the U.S. corporations. Now, whether or not a Gordon or a Kierans is personally in favour of a greater degree of independence is irrelevant – the reason that they attain prominent positions from time to time has nothing to do with actual attempts at seizing greater independence. Their warnings and half-hearted demands represent nothing more than the effort of the Canadian ruling class to squeeze a bit more of the profits made by the Americans into their own pockets. These are the laughable endeavours of the servant to blackmail his master into paying him a larger wage.

Role of Political Parties and Organisations
Liberal, Conservative, and Social Credit

Parliamentary democracy needed political parties in order to function, and the ruling class provided the required two that could go through the motion of political contest and its aftermath; government and opposition. The two original political parties, Conservative and Liberal, both represented to an equal degree the dominant comprador class throughout most of their history. But while this is essentially the case, it is not quite true to say that both were exactly the same, and that the division was just a false front to fool a gullible electorate. In the particular political and economic situation in Canada, these two parties represented one class, but different comprador factions that adhered to widely different loyalties. The fortunes of the parties fluctuated and changed for the better or worse precisely with the changing fortunes of the imperialist power to which each was loyal.

Since Confederation arrived on the scene sponsored by the Imperial Government, it is no surprise that in Canada the representatives of that section of the comprador bourgeoisie most closely allied to British interests should form the first government. The Conservative Party, led by John A. Macdonald (to be knighted by the Queen for his services to British imperialism) held governmental power in Canada for most of the first two decades following Confederation. Only a scandal of major proportions caused their temporary loss of power in 1873. The Conservatives were the political spokesmen of those eastern business and railway interests who were most intimately tied to British capital. The close personal connection of Macdonald himself to the railway interests led to his downfall during the Pacific Scandal, but it was precisely this connection that helped to keep him in power the rest of the time. The British controlled CPR, for example, supported him generously in his election campaigns. To the Canadian electorate, he represented himself as the staunch defender of imperial ties. “The question,” he told electors in his last campaign,

“which you will shortly be called upon to determine resolves itself into this; Shall we endanger our possession of the great heritage bequeathed to us by our fathers, and submit ourselves to direct taxation for the privilege of having our tariff fixed at Washington, with the prospect of ultimately becoming a portion of the American Union?... As for myself, my course is clear. A British subject I was born – a British subject I will die.”[12]

All those elements in the comprador class and the nationalist bourgeoisie which favoured Confederation and close union with England – the majority at the time – flocked to the Tory banners. Ever since the Tory Party has been the pro-British party in Canadian politics, to such extent that even today, with England’s former glory rapidly fading, one can still find in the political life of Canada fanatical Empire loyalists like Diefenbaker and his personal following within the Conservative Party. However, for the most part the Tories have changed with the changing times and under the leadership of the Dalton Camps and the Stanfields now turn to serve another foreign master with equal fervour.

The Liberal Party was always the political representative of that section of the comprador class which was partial to the rising star of U.S. imperialism, even to the point of political as well as economic unity. In the 1880’s and 1890’s the continentalism of the Liberals was seen by many people as sheer annexationism – that is, the annexation of Canada to the U.S. As we have seen, in the 1891 elections, John A. Macdonald was able to use the pro-American stance of the Liberals in order to whip up sentiment for the pro-imperial policies of his own government. While the Liberals were campaigning for unrestricted trade reciprocity with the United States, Macdonald won the election by reaffirming Canada’s ties with England and the British Empire. The time had not yet come for the U.S. to displace Britain as the main exploiter of the Canadian economy.

When, therefore, in 1896, the Liberals under Laurier managed to defeat the Conservatives and proceeded to, wield power for the next fifteen years, their success did not represent any change in Canada’s status as a British neo-colony. What it did represent was on the one hand the weariness of the Canadian electorate with three decades of virtually uninterrupted Conservative rule, and on the other a complete, though temporary, abandonment by the Liberals of their pro-American position. What happened to the Liberals after their accession to power in 1896 was precisely what was to happen to the Conservatives under Diefenbaker sixty years later, but in reverse. Having waved the flag of U.S. imperialism, they were forced to switch horses in mid-stream and come to terms with the reality of British control. This is clear even from the accounts of bourgeois historians:

“The fiscal re-education of the Liberals was now complete. With the most accomplished dexterity, they abandoned their old policy and paid that of their rivals the supreme compliment of adoption. Most people naturally expected that Laurier would make Sir Richard Cartwright his new Minister of Finance. But Sir Richard was one of the old Reformers, an unrepentant low-tariff man, a warm friend of closer trade relations with the United States. His reward for his long services to the Liberal party in the days of its adversity was the relatively unimportant portfolio of Minister of Trade and Commerce: and it was W.S. Fielding, the veteran Liberal Prime Minister of Nova Scotia, whom the shrewd and realistic Laurier appointed as his Minister of Finance. The tariff which Fielding proposed in his first budget speech of 1897 may have slightly decreased the general level of Canadian protection; but it made no vital change in the Canadian fiscal system and its two major innovations actually increased the anti-American character of the tariff. The offer of reciprocity with the United States, which for years had been inserted in all Canadian tariffs, now was pointedly omitted, while at the same time there was included a clause which offered a reduction of duties of one-eighth to countries prepared to reciprocate. This reduction without any quid pro quo, was immediately granted to Great Britain. In the next year, 1898, a special British preference, one-quarter lower than the general tariff, was created. Thus, in less than a decade, the Liberals had shifted from unrestricted reciprocity with the United States to imperial preference for Great Britain. Fewer than ten years before they had been dubiously regarded as probable annexationists: now they were made the blushing recipients of a poetical tribute from the Empire’s unofficial poet laureate. Rudyard Kipling.”[13]

We have quoted at such great length in order to point out the central fact in Canadian history, the fact of foreign imperialist control. This has been the determining factor in our politics and in our economics. This has been the fact that our politicians, even if disinclined to do so, have always had to adapt themselves to if they were to retain power. As we have seen, Laurier and the Liberals had for years advocated closer economic ties with the U. S. and yet the price of power was the complete reversal of their policies. Besides the pro-British policies already described, the Laurier government continued to subsidize the British-controlled railway monopolies and in 1899 equipped a Canadian force to assist the British in their imperialist war in South Africa. “When Britain is at war,” declared Laurier, ”Canada is at war. There is no distinction.” No wonder that Laurier, too, was knighted by the grateful imperial government! When the Liberals next raised the slogan of reciprocity with the United States in 1911, they were swept from office by Borden’s Conservatives.

From the 1890’s until the end of the second decade of the twentieth century, Britain was the dominant imperialist power in Canada, as in much of the rest of the world. At the end of the first World War, Britain controlled an empire of over five-hundred million people, with territories in India, Southeast Asia, Africa, and, of course, North America. But victory in that war really marked the high point in British expansion—after that the British position was one of constant decline. It was the United States that now established itself as the strongest industrial and financial power among the capitalist nations, a creditor to all the others. And Canada was the first British dependency to fall prey to the dollar. In 1921, for the first time, the United States surpassed Britain as the principal purchaser of Canadian products; in 1926, American direct investment in Canada exceeded British investment in total volume. Around this time, during the mid-twenties, when the two imperial masters fairly balanced each other in their influence in Canadian affairs, certain segments of the bourgeoisie and their political representatives allowed themselves the luxury of a few gestures of independence, thereby achieving nothing more than the permanent confusion of some left-wing intellectuals who believe that Canada actually gained its independence in the post-World War I demise of the British Empire.

In 1921, the Liberals under Mackenzie King began their long reign in Ottawa, a reign that has lasted through to the present under King. St. Laurent, Pearson, and Trudeau, and which has been interrupted only rarely by Conservative governments under R. B. Bennett and John Diefenbaker. No matter who their leadership, the Liberals have proved themselves most adept at selling Canada to the United States, as adept as the Conservatives had been at serving the British.

Diefenbaker’s example illustrates very clearly the realities of Canadian politics. To many people he was able to appear as a crusader, a defender of Canada against foreign domination – so much so, that the Liberal press was forever attacking him for his “anti-Americanism”. In 1958 he received the overwhelming support of the Canadian electorate for his position, only to find what Laurier had found after his accession to office: the foreign master was not to be trifled with by any petty Canadian politician. And Diefenbaker, of course, was no anti-imperialist, the tragicomic failure of his years in power lay precisely in the fact that he owed his allegiance to an imperial power no longer able to accept his services. The sun of British imperialism had long ago been eclipsed in Canada.

With only one dominant imperialist power on the scene, there is no longer any important matter that separates the Liberals and the post-Diefenbaker Conservatives. The Tory opposition, for want of an issue, is reduced to justifying their parliamentary existence by fighting over procedural technicalities and making irrelevant criticisms of policies to which they themselves cannot offer any alternatives.

With the two comprador factions united as never before and there no longer being a situation in which two fairly balanced imperialist powers are contending for control, factional contradictions and hostilities within the comprador class are at a minimum. This gives the remaining vestiges of a nationalist bourgeoisie no room to maneuver to improve, or even hold, their economic position. Each day sees more and more of the Canadian economy fall under American control, and even the feeble voice of a Walter Gordon is quickly muffled when it dares to suggest that Canadians (that is, the Canadian bourgeoisie) should control more of their own country.

The nationalist bourgeoisie, the petty-bourgeoisie, and the farmers are in the process of losing confidence in both the Liberal and Tory political machines after years of betrayal. They are now looking for other “safe” political parties to represent their interests. In the West, due to political traditions peculiar to the West and also to the bankruptcy of the regional Liberal and Conservative parties, the Social Credit Party was able to win parliamentary victories in two provinces. But Social Credit is made up of the most extreme reactionary sections of the Conservative machine, and under the cover of skillful demagoguery and the constant playing on the bogey of “Marxist socialism” they have turned British Columbia and Alberta into virtual colonies of the United States in every respect. The recent boast of a B.C. cabinet minister that we are the U.S. ’ “fiftieth state” was wrong mainly in that the United States already has fifty states.

New Democratic Party

Under such conditions, only one bourgeois party remains to hold out some hope, however illusionary, to those concerned about the American domination of Canada: the New Democratic Party. The roots of the NDP stem from the great militant general strike that tied up the city of Winnipeg in 1919. Emerging from that strike was a small group of middle class reformers with petty-bourgeois socialist ideas. Led by J.S. Woodsworth, a minister and one of the leaders of the Winnipeg General Strike, a number of these reformers who had been elected to Parliament joined together as a “ginger group.” With no set program but with definite social-democratic ideas, they were non-revolutionaries but with a fair degree of militancy, wholly committed to the reform of the capitalist system.

Under the impact of the crisis of the thirties, the influence of this group spread and thought was given to the organisation of a formal political movement. Many old local and provincial groups, together with some new smaller political groups and a few trade unions finally came together in Regina in 1933 and founded the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (CCF). The Federation was committed to social-democratic ideals, even to the point of affiliating with the Second International, but reflected also the general militant spirit of the years of crisis. It was influenced, to some extent, by a few adherents who had long held socialist opinions, and the Regina Manifesto advocated the abolition of capitalism (by the ballot box). Notwithstanding this, throughout the years of crises and war, the CCF remained firmly under the control of confirmed social democrats, people whose political vision could not break out of the confines of capitalism. When things within the party at times threatened to get out of hand, widespread expulsions of radicals were carried out. Thus did the social democrats, during a trying period, make their contribution to keep the world safe for “free enterprise!’.

After the conclusion of the Second World War, the bureaucracy in the Canadian branches of the United States unions (the so-called “Internationals”) decided that they had need of some special political representation. In 1961, a pact was concluded between these officials and the professional politicians of the CCF which resulted in the formation of the New Democratic Party. The new party was even further to the right of the old CCF in order to satisfy the U.S.-dependent bureaucrats who were arranging to finance the party through funds raised by the unions. In the process, and in the few years immediately after, more militants were excluded and the important positions in the party became the exclusive preserve of middle class elements, union bureaucrats, and some workers from the upper echelons of skilled labour.

The political climate of the last few years has been conducive to the rise to dominant position in the party of upper middle class, and even lower bourgeois elements. This development at the moment is confined mostly to the provincial level of political activity, but is bound to have a decisive influence on the federal apparatus by the time the next convention falls due.

In its all-out effort to cater to bourgeois sentiment, the NDP has eliminated all mention of even middle class socialism and put all its bets on “free enterprise”. The chief spokesmen of the NDP, particularly amongst the young “new breed” in the provinces, are being quite explicit in their explanations of NDP policies. “Socialist” measures will not extend beyond government entry into areas of production, service, and communications where free enterprise cannot, or will not, enter. “Free enterprise” is to remain the leading force in the Canadian economy under any potential NDP government. As Ed Schreyer, the leader of the recently elected Manitoba NDP government states, the NDP goal is to “assure people of investment means that we don’t have anything silly, impractical or imprudent in mind; that we are out to be co-operative with private enterprise.” And as for the question of foreign control, Schreyer explained that he proposes to fight American domination of the Manitoba economy by encouraging more investment from Europe and Japan! (Not that this has stopped him from seeking out more American investment, and a multi-million dollar loan was floated in New York.)

It is clear that the NDP program will change absolutely nothing. It will certainly not put an end to the American control of the Canadian economy, and although the imperialists and their Canadian comprador allies would prefer to have their old reliable servants of the Liberal and Conservative parties in power, they could easily live with an NDP government if they had to. The monopolists are not clamouring to take over sewers, water distribution, postal service, road construction, or any of the other public service sectors long ago “socialized” by hard-nosed Tories, and they will even welcome government entry into electrical power, communications, and railways so long as this provides them with cheap power and transportation facilities paid out of the public purse. And beyond such reforms, plus a few social welfare measures, the NDP is not willing to go.

This is not to say that the NDP does not have its contradictions. In its rank and file are to be found many sincere people who are genuinely concerned about the domination of Canada by the U.S. and by the anti-independence, anti-socialist policies of the NDP leadership. Recently a manifesto, known as the Watkins Manifesto, was issued within the NDP recognizing the need for an independent and socialist Canada, and calling upon the NDP to adopt a program with that goal. The fact that the NDP leadership even agreed to debate the manifesto at the recent convention shows how deep pro-independence, pro-socialist sentiments run amongst the rank and file – but the results of that debate showed precisely where the leadership stands on the questions raised by the manifesto. Tommy Douglas, the NDP national leader, announced he would resign if the manifesto was adopted. The party’s federal council published a counter-document, declaring that “anti-Americanism is as barren and negative a concept as is anti-French or anti-English or anti any other country or people,” thus equating the anti-imperialism of the oppressed with the racism fostered by the oppressor. Edward Broadbent, chairman of the Convention Resolutions Committee and a member of Parliament, said that the Watkins document presented a “needlessly negative” image of America. And finally, of course, the convention adopted the council’s document which merely reiterated the innocuous promises of “expansion of public investment and public ownership, government planning, a just tax system, ” and so on; in other words, stuff that even rabid Social Crediters would have a difficult time disagreeing with. As for the future fate of those left-wingers who wish to work within the NDP for socialism and independence, David Lewis, the party deputy-leader warned: “If they attempt to build a machine, that’s a different story. If they try to push the party around, the party is not going to be pushed around.” (The Progressive Workers’ position on the Watkins Manifesto was published in the October edition of our B.C. Newsletter, and is reprinted as an Appendix to this paper.)

Among the most active opponents of the Watkins Manifesto at the NDP convention were the representatives of the U.S.-controlled “international” unions. One such representative, Dennis McDermott, Canadian director of the United Auto Workers, attacked the manifesto as “blatant anti-Americanism.” Pierre Trudeau could not have said it better himself – nor could Pierre Trudeau perform his job as chief Canadian puppet of the United States nearly so well without the aid of the labour-bureaucrats of the “Canadian” trade union “movement”, the same ones who were granted an automatic ten per cent of the seats on the NDP federal council at the recent convention. But if the Americanization of the Canadian labour movement at present finds its most blatant political expression in the NDP, it was achieved by no small assist from the “revolutionary” policies of our nearly defunct Communist Party of Canada.

Communist Party and the Working Class Movement

The Communist Party of Canada was founded in 1921 and grew out of the same radical conditions as the social democratic CCF. Although the Russian Revolution was the chief inspiration of the CP. and in spite of its early militancy and in spite of its rhetoric, the Communist Party was never really a revolutionary party, it never seriously offered any truly revolutionary perspective.

During the years of crisis in the thirties, the CP played an important role in giving militant leadership to the workers in the struggle against the worst effects of capitalism and in the fight to create an effective labour movement. Those were the years when the Party enjoyed its greatest influence and prestige among the Canadian people, and reached its highest peak of membership. At the same time, the very policies the party was pursuing ensured its ultimate failure as well as the serious setbacks the Canadian labour movement was to suffer under the CP’s leadership. For the fact that at present over seventy per cent of organized labour in Canada is to be found in the AFL-CIO-dominated “Internationals”, organisations controlled by the labour lieutenants of American imperialism, is due in large measure to the leadership of the Communist Party of Canada.

Contrary to opinions held by many workers today, and particularly by young workers, our unions were not a gift graciously bestowed upon us by U.S. workers concerned for our welfare. In fact, Canada and the United States both owe the beginnings of trade unionism to the same source – immigrant workers from the British Isles who had trade union experience at home, especially in the years following the industrial revolution. U.S. unions came to Canada not to organize but to absorb organisations already in existence.

No exact history is known of our earliest labour organisations, but we do know that there were labour organisations in Nova Scotia at least as early as 1816. In that year, the Nova Scotia Assembly passed an act prohibiting combinations of workmen, making reference to numbers of workingmen who “by unlawful meetings and combinations endeavored to regulate the rates of wages.”

It was not until the 1860’s, long after a number of unions had been organized in Canada, that the first approach was made by U.S. unions for the formation of “Internationals”. The Moulders’ Union was the first to accept Canadian locals. There were unions of moulders in Toronto, Hamilton, Brantford, London, and Quebec. Delegates from the first four of these five cities attended the convention in Cincinnati in 1861 and the name of the organisation was changed to the Iron Moulders’ Union of America in 1863.

The National Typographical Union in the U.S. conducted a ten year campaign, starting in 1854, to have Canadian printers join their organisation. In 1860, an, appeal for “International” unions was addressed to Canadian printers in the following terms:

“It will, if we succeed in bringing these unions under our jurisdiction, strengthen both our numbers and our finances; it will do away with the difficulties that now exist in regard to the exchange of cards... and it will be the means of strengthening the bonds of fellowship and good feeling that should exist between ourselves and our sister countries.”[14]

Making similar appeals, various American unions entered Canada so that by the end of the 1860’s, “international” unionism was well on the way to becoming the dominant form of labour organisation in Canada.

Organisation of labour along craft (as opposed to industrial) lines was finally consolidated at the convention of the American Federation of Labor in 1886 which elected as its president Samuel Gompers, the very epitome of bureaucratic, class-collaborationist labour leadership. American unions rapidly displaced the independent Canadian labour organizations and became dominant amongst Canadian workers’ groups.

Organisation on “international” lines appeared quite a natural development in those early years and the distortions and bad influence of later years could not be easily foreseen. Canada was not yet economically dominated by United States investors; Britain was still the dominant imperialist power in North America, and labour in the 19th century had no way of knowing the dire consequences that would result from an economy dominated by the U.S. and a labour movement dominated and dictated to by the class-collaborationist labour lieutenants of the American corporations. But it did not take long for Canadian workers to discover that control of their labour movement by the American bureaucrats was not too beneficial for the advancement of their cause.

In 1902, all purely Canadian unions were expelled from the Trades and Labour Congress, the precursor of the present day Canadian Labour Congress which now became the “national” organisation of the American unions in Canada. In response, there were a number of attempts to organize an independent Canadian trade union movement. The Canadian Federation of Labour, comprised of many of the Canadian unions, stated in 1908:

“Canadian workers cannot fail to be impressed with the imperative necessity of protection both in their relationship to capital... and in the autocratic domination of trade-unionism and its policy exercised by the present system of Internationalism.
“By forming the Canadian Federation of Labour we hereby declare that we fully realize the necessity of the Canadian workers organizing into Canadian national unions...
“We declare it to be in the best interests of Canadian labour to organize along national lines and thus foster the spirit of our Canadian nationality.” [15]

Although the CFL did not achieve its goal of an independent Canadian labour movement, and the majority of Canadian workers remained under the domination of the American labour allies of the big corporations, by no means was the struggle for a vigorous and sovereign labour movement abandoned in Canada. In March of 1919, the Western Labour Conference attended by 239 delegates, chiefly from B. C., Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba, was convened in Calgary.

Before the conference ended the delegates had evolved plans for an entirely new organisation, with principles and policies completely opposed to those of the American and eastern-dominated Trades and Labour Congress.

Resolution No. 3 recommended that all bodies represented sever their affiliation with the “internationals” and co-operate in the formation of an industrial organisation of all workers – the One Big Union.

In spite of united opposition from employers, government and labour bureaucrats, the OBU met with sympathetic response from large numbers of workers. Despite some setbacks, the OBU convention of January 1920 reported a membership of 50,000 and there were encouraging signs of growth in Ontario and among the coal miners and steel workers of Nova Scotia. But what the ruling class and their labour lieutenants could not achieve for themselves was about to be done for them by the left – the smashing of the OBU.

The founding convention of the Workers’ Party of Canada, forerunner of the Communist Party, was held in Guelph, Ontario, in 1922. The issue that immediately caused a split amongst the delegates was the question of craft versus industrial unions. The program formally adopted by the majority of delegates read as follows:

“Not only the policy pursued by some groups in the past of seeking to revolutionize the labour movement by splitting away to form new ideal unions be completely abandoned; not only must dual unionism be vigorously combated; but positively all tendencies to consolidate the trade unions by amalgamating the related crafts on the basis of one union for each industry must be fostered within the existing trades.”[16]

This directive constituted an order for the dissolution of the OBU, abandonment of the industrial unions and a return to the crafts in the hope that they could some day be converted into industrial unions with a radical outlook. On this point the delegates split and when the pro-OBU forces refused to accept the decision, the majority declared virtual war on the industrial organisation. Their policy was known as “boring from within” and the Party’s ideologues were fond of quoting Lenin’s “Left Wing” Communism in support of their position.

Here we had a classical example of the mechanical application of a policy which was right for one place, to an entirely different set of conditions. The German trade unionists at whom Lenin had directed his criticism were in a German movement, composed of German workmen and led by German bureaucrats. Similarly, the advocates of “boring from within” in the U.S. were concerned with a labour movement that was completely American. But the Canadian labour movement, unlike any other labour movement in the world, was under the domination of a foreign trade union bureaucracy, allied to the imperialists who were already replacing the British in their control of the Canadian economy. If it were merely a question of craft versus industrial unions, this policy might have made sense. But the convention majority saw no contradiction between their call for Canadian independence and their insistence that Canadian workers submit themselves to a foreign bureaucracy that was in the service of the giant companies then bidding for control of the Canadian economy. They apparently saw no connection between the A. F. of L. bureaucracy and the U.S. imperialists.

The policy of “boring from within” not only put the party squarely on the side of the A. F. of L. bureaucrats it also put them in active opposition to any form of independent Canadian trade unionism, advocates of which were (and still are) condemned as “splitters, leftists, reactionaries, provocative elements,” etc. By the mid-1920’s, fully one-third of all Canadian unionists were in wholly Canadian unions and large numbers of workers in the “internationals” favoured radical changes in structure: it is reasonable to assume that an absolute majority of union members in Canada could have been mobilized around a national union centre and an independent labour movement. In 1927 the inevitable happened; a new trade union center, the all-Canadian Congress of Labour, was organized and the question of Canadian vs. American unions for Canadian workers was brought to the fore. But the party’s response to this development was simply to reiterate the need for “unity” and “Canadian autonomy.” Mind you, the party realized that even “autonomy” was not easy to achieve – Tim Buck warned in a 1925 pamphlet that “autonomy is not going to be won in a day.” This was an uncommonly shrewd prediction, for now, forty-five years later, autonomy is still no closer than it was in 1925 –if anything, the grip of the American labour “leaders” on the Canadian union movement is even stronger.

In spite of all their expressions of loyalty to the “internationals”, Communists in Canada were drummed out of the trade unions wherever they were discovered. Now they were exactly in the same position they claimed their “boring from within” policy would avoid – outside the unions and out of contact with the members of the organized labour movement. This situation, plus the fact that the A. F. of L. bureaucrats were doing absolutely nothing about organizing the unorganized in the face of the sharp attacks on the living standards of the workers, prompted the leadership to take some independent action. They decided to organize the unorganized while all the time declaiming their continued desire to belong to the respectable “international” unions.

Necessity, it is said, is the mother of invention, and necessity was certainly nipping at the heels of the party leadership in this bleak period. Pressed to make some move that would lead them out of isolation and put them in firm contact with the working masses, the party leaders agreed to the formation of an independent and militant labour center affiliated with the Red International of Labour Unions – the Workers Unity League (WUL). But from the very first, the leadership insisted that this was but a temporary measure and that the basic policy of the party on trade unions was still to “work from within” to transform the American-dominated craft unions into “autonomous” industrial unions.

The WUL had a short but spectacular existence. Established in 1929, just as the stock market went into the tailspin that heralded the beginning of the great economic crisis of the ’30’s that forced more than a million Canadian workers into unemployment, it lasted for approximately seven years – until the birth of the CIO when it too became an offering on the altar of unity in the “international” unions.

For all its shortness of existence, the WUL was one of the most important developments in the history of Canadian labour. It was virtually alone in leading labour battles in the dark days of the Depression. It survived, grew and served the interests of the working class in spite of the concerted opposition of employers, the state and the A. F. of L. bureaucrats. Many of its members and leaders were beaten up and jailed – but still it grew and expanded. Most of the strikes that occurred from 1929 to 1936 were led by the WUL, and all of them were tough battles against the boss and the state. Victories were won, despite the fact that the employers did not hesitate to call out the RCMP and sometimes even regiments of tanks and machine guns against the workers, resulting in strikers being killed and wounded.

By 1935, the Canadian unions of the WUL, the all-Canadian Congress of Labour, and the Canadian and Catholic Confederation of Labour in Quebec accounted for more than half the union membership in Canada. In addition, a great many, perhaps as many as fifty per cent of the members in the U.S.-dominated craft unions were ready to rally to a Canadian center, if one with some hope of survival were to appear. Upwards of 80 per cent of the organized workers could thus have been drawn into a united Canadian trade union movement – but the party was still carrying its cross of “unity in the international crafts,” and would give no lead in the formation of an independent Canadian movement. In fact, when the CIO was organized and began its spectacular drive in the mass production industries, the WUL was disbanded and Canadian workers were once more led back into the “internationals”.

In the beginning, the section of the A. F. of L. bureaucracy that broke away to found the CIO needed the Communists to help consolidate the hundreds of thousands of workers who had poured into the unions. But the unions that had anti-Communist clauses in their constitutions kept them intact, and the C.P. made no real protest, in the interests of “unity”. Those who did not have such clauses would get them later. In the “cold war” period that followed World War II, these clauses were used to get rid of militants, many of them men and women who had made great personal sacrifices to help build the labour movement. Once again, the left was on the outside, barred from holding office and often barred from membership. Once again the policy that was to guard against isolation led only to isolation. But the party leadership had learned nothing from its errors and pressed on with its bankrupt policy of “unity” within the “internationals”.

If today certain leaders of the Communist Party are to be found amongst the bureaucracy of the U.S.-dominated unions, it is only because of their policy of “boring from within” – and only the “within” remains. They have given up even the pretence of struggle, they struggle only to lead more Canadians into the “internationals” and to get themselves good positions and pensions at the same time. The entire party leadership of Mine-Mill has been taken to the well-padded bosom of the United Steelworkers of America, for example, which has some of the finest anti-Communist clauses to be found anywhere. When the Canadian Communist leaders took their oath of office as their reward for having led this Canadian union into the fold, they swore to uphold and apply these clauses. A great victory!

These so-called “victories” are being won by applying the old tactic; “If you can’t beat them, join them!” And these bureaucrats masquerading as Communists are doing exactly that – joining the labour lieutenants of American imperialism.

C. Summary

We should now summarize our discussion of the key factors in Canada’s political development. Naturally we have had to leave much unsaid, and we could touch upon even the most important points only in the briefest fashion. But we did wish to make the following points absolutely clear:

1. Canada has always been a colony. After 1867 she gradually attained the status of a seemingly independent state, but in fact she continued to be dominated by foreign imperialism, first British and then American.
2. We do not have and never did have an independent national bourgeoisie as our ruling class. The dominant Canadian bourgeoisie has always been the comprador bourgeoisie, a bourgeoisie closely tied to and in the service of foreign interests.
3. Our two leading political parties, the Conservatives and the Liberals, have from the beginning represented differing sections of the comprador bourgeoisie – differing only as to which imperialist power they owed their allegiance to. When in power, however, they have always served the dominant imperialist power, regardless of their preferences.
4. None of the existing political parties in Canada can – or even wants to – offer any real challenge to the foreign monopolist domination of our economy (even though many of the rank and file, particularly in the NDP, may want to do so.)
5. We do not have an independent Canadian trade union movement. Seventy per cent of our organized workers find themselves in the so-called “internationals”, American Trade unions controlled by the A.F. of L.-C.I O. allies of the Democratic Party. For this situation, the policies of the old Communist Party of Canada are largely responsible.

What have been the results of these historical and political factors on the present situation in Canada? This is the topic of the next section in our discussion of the national question.


[6] Quoted by Stanley B. Ryerson, Unequal Union, Progress Books, 1968, p. 30

[7] Ibid, pps.77-78.

[8] Ibid, p. 90.

[9] Ibid, p. 162.

[10] Ibid., p. 166.

[11] Quoted by Patricia M. Johnson, Canada’s Pacific Province, McClelland and Stewart, 1966, p. 34.

[12] Quoted by Donald Creighton, Dominion of the North, Revised Edition, Macmillan, Toronto, p. 375.

[13] Ibid., pps. 388-89.

[14] Quoted by Margaret Mackintosh, Dept. of Labour, An Outline of Trade Union History in Great Britain, the United States and Canada, published by District 8, Sudbury Mine Mill, 1943, p. 9.

[15] A. Innis (ed.) Labour in Canadian-American Relations, Ryerson Press, Toronto, pps. 28-29.

[16] Quoted by A. Logan, History of Trade Union Organization in Canada, p. 409.