First Published: Literature & Ideology No 11, 1972.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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The question of “literature for an independent Canada” has become an urgent one as the movement against U.S. imperialism is emerging as the main trend in Canada and as more and more people have started mounting militant denunciations of the U.S. imperialist control of Canadian culture. With the growth and expansion of the struggle for independence, it is natural that Canadians should hold in contempt the neo-colonial literature of national subjugation and bring into being a literature for an independent Canada which expresses the anti-imperialist sentiment of the people and inspires them in their national liberation struggle. This political struggle on the cultural front indicates that the people’s struggle has reached a higher level and that the seeds of the new literature in the womb of the old society have been planted.
That a literature for an independent Canada should be born in the late 1960s and early 1970s is not accidental; it has developed in response to the immediate needs of the people for a literature that serves them by opposing imperialist, colonial and comprador trends in Canadian culture. The material ground for this literature was prepared by the Canadian working class and other anti-U.S. imperialist elements under the leadership of the Communist Party of Canada (Marxist-Leninist). The Communist Party of Canada (Marxist-Leninist) presented a basic analysis of Canadian class struggle in the second chapter of its Political Report, published in Mass Line on April 5, 1970:
Canada is a capitalist country under the complete domination of U.S. imperialism and its lackeys, the Canadian compradors. The Canadian compradors have completely submitted to the interests of the U.S. imperialists, and run the economics, politics, and culture of their country for the sole purpose of serving their masters. The Government of Canada under Trudeau, as well as his predecessors, has been, and is, the government of national betrayal. In this respect Canada can be called a neo-colony of the U.S. imperialists. Through the Canadian compradors, the Quebec people and nation is being exploited by the imperialist powers, especially by the English Canadian colonialists and their masters, the U.S. imperialists. Canada is a dominion of England only in name. For all intents and purposes, Canada is a country subjugated by the U.S. imperialists, and any forward march in Canada means the elimination of the national oppression and the building of material conditions for proletarian revolution.
This report clearly and militantly defined the political tasks of the revolutionary movement–an anti-U.S. imperialist united front–and provided a guideline to the cultural and ideological propaganda for an independent Canada. It drew the line between national independence and national subjugation and called upon Canadians to destroy whatever was sacred to U.S. imperialism in culture and to uphold the long tradition of people’s resistance to imperialist plunder and exploitation.
The first signs of a literature for an independent Canada began to appear as the Party’s work spread among the masses. On January 27, 1971, the People’s Canada Daily News, the first national daily newspaper of the Canadian working class and people, published a revolutionary short story entitled “The American Hero is Dead!” The story was first read, appropriate for the occasion, at the founding meeting of the Canadian Workers’ Movement on January 11th, 1971, in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. The publication of this story signified the triumphant spirit of the workers and other oppressed people’s desire to create a literature which served their political needs and not those of the U.S. imperialists and Canadian compradors. The story reflected the revolutionary zeal of the Canadian people and put forward a heroic image of the anti-imperialist workers:
When George located David and whispered quietly that “Johnny had died last night,” David shouted in unison with thousands of workers carrying red flags: “LONG LIVE THE AMERICAN WORKING CLASS!” George, without any hesitation and forgetting that he was supposed to feel sad at the death of Johnny, joined in to shout all the more loudly: “LONG LIVE THE AMERICAN WORKING CLASS!” The red flags fluttered majestically in the air and the workers kept up their steady march. George was impressed. To express his resolute support for the revolutionary struggle of the American working class against the most criminal and fascist imperialists of all times, the U.S. imperialists, he rushed towards David, clenched his fist firmly and raised it right into the sky and shouted with great satisfaction: “LONG LIVE THE AMERICAN WORKING CLASS!”
These opening lines of the story depict the determination of the working class.
David, a Communist worker, and George, his friend and a newcomer to the Party, are the two characters who work for the overthrow of imperialism. Their dialectical opposite in outlook and aspirations is Johnny, the American hero who is dead. The American hero stands for imperialist values and decadent and parasitic attitudes; George thinks about the old America dying away and the new coming into being:
“Johnny’s America died with him. David’s America is flourishing. And I was the bystander, the applauder, the one who always watched the world go by.” He told himself several times: “I was the applauder–the wise guy who never ran into trouble. I applauded my father when he made headway in his business deal, I applauded my mother when she got a job after sending us all to school I applauded the football games, birthdays, people, buildings, plays–good or bad I applauded them. I applauded America, good or bad. I had always nice things to say. Outwardly I was happy. I had to be!!! Inside something was calling me to rise up. Wake up! Parents, Statue of Liberty, and America were killing me! I was troubled. I was in a turmoil. I lost my ability to be an applauder. I wanted to participate, to work, to share the trials and tribulations of my people. Johnny spent all his time making it–trying to be happy. Yes ! This is all he wanted! A “happy” man in this “peaceful” and “happy” world. Several times I heard him yelling: “I want to be happy! I want to be loved! Why can’t all these wars, these noises, this rat-race disappear and we’ll create a love-in?” This was Johnny my friend and close class ally who just wanted to be a fun-loving imperialist, a “nice guy” who died and took a part of America with him–the dead America. David never waivered from his path: “We will definitely overthrow this evil rule!” Today, his words make sense. YES WE WILL OVERTHROW THIS EVIL RULE! With David I gained a part of America, the new and alive America. This is the class struggle in my country. I know it well now. There are two Americas. The Dead America of Johnny and of the American imperialists, the America of monsters and parasites, and the Living America of David.”
This characterization of David and Johnny focuses on class struggle and illuminates individual experience in terms of the movement for change. It combines realistic analysis with romantic heroism. It takes pride in the struggles of the world’s people against U.S. imperialism.
Revolutionary stories portray characters and events from the perspective of change. They distinguish imperialist and comprador values from those of anti-imperialist and independent Canadians. Whether somebody is a comprador or an anti-imperialist is a question of primary political significance at the time when a Canadian people’s united front against U.S. imperialism is being built. In a “Preliminary Study of Chairman Mao’s Article ’In Memory of Norman Bethune’” written by Lall (published by the People’s Canada Daily News Release, November 19, 1971) appears a sketch of a comprador Canadian:
The comprador man is a narrow nationalist and he practices sham patriotism. His nationalism and his patriotism go no further than his selfish interests and as long as he is able to satiate his desire for wealth by selling out, he is fine. . . . He is a hedonist, self-centred and irresponsible. And he considers work as unnatural and as the giving up of pleasure time. He lords it over the people and lives off their blood and sweat. ... At every turn he crawls, his tongue lolling out and slurps, “What is in it for me?”
The literature of national subjugation publicizes comprador ideology to persuade people to link their present and future with the further entrenchment of U.S. imperialism in the country.
As the article points out, a model of a man of independent Canada can be found in Norman Bethune:
Comrade Norman Bethune was of the generation of new men who sacrificed themselves and shed their blood to build the new world. . . . Narrow nationalism and sham patriotism are at once against the spirit of internationalism. Comrade Norman Bethune was full of this spirit.
It was the spirit of internationalism and the spirit of absolute selflessness which Norman Bethune followed in his life. It is this spirit of his the Canadian compradors and revisionists are mortally afraid of; they know that this spirit will be victorious and replace the comprador ideology.
The comprador ideology of national subjugation says that Canada is a culturally backward country, that Canadians have been conquering the wilderness instead of creating a culture, and that Canada should learn from the United States, England and France in order to have a cultural identity of her own. This sham nationalism invites greater penetration by U.S. imperialists and British colonialists. It also encourages the circulation of American cultural magazines, with the result that Canada has almost no magazines of any standing. Canadians also buy books published generally in the United States and England. The content of these U. S.-controlled instruments of cultural propaganda favours the neo-colonial status of the country and spreads treacherous lies that Canada cannot survive as an independent nation, that it is in Canada’s interest to take advantage of the advanced technology and financial resources of its southern neighbour, and that Canada should learn from American decadent and parasitic mass media. The repudiation and denunciation of this type of comprador outlook is essential for the creation of an anti-imperialist literature and art.
Many agents of imperialism are unhappy about the state of affairs in Canada and use nationalism by speaking for or against it to confuse people about the anti-imperialist united front. These agents give one of the two slogans: All nationalism is good and serves Canada’s interest; all nationalism is bad and has a harmful effect on the revolutionary movement. The first slogan is shouted by the Canadian compradors who have sought to justify their nationalism by appointing various government commissions like the Royal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters and Sciences, the Royal Commission on Publications, the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism, and the 1971 Herb Gray Commission on “Domestic Control of the National Economic Environment: The Problems of Foreign Ownership and Control.” While all these commissions were busily compiling their reports for the edification of the federal governments of national betrayal, U.S. imperialists were taking over more and more sectors of Canadian economy and culture. One section of these sham nationalists has been pushing the line of teaching more Canadian literature in universities, giving time to Canadian writers in the mass media, cutting down the recruitment of Americans in Canada, and restricting the circulation of American publications and film programmes in Canada. This sham nationalism has puzzled some people and makes them wonder: What do compradors gain by appealing to the nationalist sentiment? Could it be that they are not sham but genuine patriots who want to throw out Americans but don’t quite know how to do it? This confusion about the motives of sham nationalists can be removed by asking ourselves: How will Canada be free, even if all these cultural objectives are achieved by these patriots? Can Canadians change their cultural institutions like the universities, publishing houses, and newspapers and magazines without eliminating the U.S. imperialist domination of Canadian economics and politics? A culture serves the country’s economics and politics and can be changed only when Canadians win their struggle for national liberation against U. S. imperialism. Even the Herb Gray Report conceded that “there is no way of leaving the ’economic’ area to others, so that we can get on with the political, social and cultural concerns in our own way. There is no such compartmentalization in the real world. When culture is understood in this broad sense, there can be little doubt that economic activity, as organized in the modern corporation, has a profound impact on culture, especially on the nature of the social, political and economic system, and the technology employed” (“A Citizen’s Guide to the Herb Gray Report,” The Canadian Forum, December 1971). About the influence of foreign investments on Canadian culture, the Report says:
The cultural impact of foreign investment is magnified in part because of the sectoral distribution of this investment. There is high foreign control in industries which have considerable cultural impact such as book publishing, and in industries which are responsible for the dissemination of culture, such as film and book distribution. Foreign control and U.S. control in particular, is high in those industries in which taste formation, product innovation and differentiation are crucial, such as automobiles, pharmaceuticals, and electrical products.
Unless the neo-colonial control of Canada by the United States is destroyed, Canadians cannot enjoy their own culture.
The social fascists give the slogan that all nationalism is reactionary. Their political role is to shout cliches against imperialism in the abstract and to sabotage the formation of a united front to defeat U.S. imperialism and its lackeys in Canada. A serious debate is going on all over Canada on the question of national liberation struggle. Some people say, “What does it matter if someone says that all nationalism is reactionary, so long as he opposes imperialism and organizes the people to bring about an independent Canada?” It is also implied in this remark that a national literature for an independent Canada is irrelevant to national liberation struggle. The opponents of all nationalism are the social fascist friends of U.S. imperialism. For those who denounce “all nationalism” will never defend and uphold proletarian internationalism, because no genuine proletarian can be an internationalist without being a nationalist. Norman Bethune represented the highest spirit of both nationalism and internationalism. Similarly, in cultural affairs there is no such thing as an internationalist culture which stands above or against a national culture. To detach one from the other is to follow the fascist line of “Canada first” or the social fascist line of “All nationalism is reactionary”. By condemning nationalism and its political forms as reactionary, the social fascists undermine and oppose the national liberation struggle not only in Canada and Quebec but all over the world. Whose interest does it serve to liquidate national liberation struggles? Only that of U.S. imperialism. While the fascist chieftain of U.S. imperialism, President Nixon, is fighting the National Liberation army in Vietnam, his social fascist lackeys in North America are calling the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam a traitorous and sell-out organization. This exposes clearly the class role of social fascists who do not want to unite anybody but wish to disperse the forces of anti-imperialism under the pretext that if you write a nationalist poem or short story you will not get their support. A genuinely nationalist literature for an independent Canada is national in spirit, anti-imperialist in outlook, and internationalist in its solidarity with the working and oppressed people of the world.
What should be the political and artistic criteria for a literature of national liberation struggle for an independent Canada? The political criterion determines the class content and analysis presented by a literary work. This can be achieved not by some theoretical understanding of the position of anti-U.S. imperialist front in Canada but by a concrete analysis of Canadian society from the point of view of the principal contradiction. Various dogmatists, for example, advocate that the bourgeoisie is a reactionary class and hence the Canadian Independence Committee and other bourgeois organisations are “sell-out” groups. Should literature for an independent Canada always condemn these bourgeois groups? The experience of the international proletariat has shown that various bourgeois organisations do participate in anti-imperialist revolutions and do so in an earnest fashion, but when it suits them and for that period of time only. As Comrade Bains points out in a speech published in the PCDN of September 24, 1971, “In order to expose the sellout elements and unite with the sincere elements we must always hold high the banner of the NATIONAL UNITED FRONT of all those who have the deep urge to fight our common enemy.” He goes on:
We do not advocate the incorporation of all groups under one umbrella, nor do we advocate that the anti-imperialist groups should fight and attack each other. On the questions of policy we advocate struggle and only through sharp political and ideological struggles on the questions of tactics and strategy can we find common grounds on which to fight. But, on the other hand, we must unite in opposition to the common enemy.
Without being guided by this political line in their class analysis, characterization, plot, and narrative, and without focusing on the principal contradiction in Canadian society, it is likely that writers will make mistakes and succumb to the bourgeois line in their writing.
Another element of the political criterion is that writers do not submit to the bourgeois fallacies of “truthful writing” or empirically accurate descriptions, but highlight points of conflict and struggle between two antagonistic forces of the principal contradiction. Bourgeois nationalists in Canada are fond of praising this or that novelist for the accuracy of his detail, his particular depiction of a Canadian time and place. Writers of this type win the Governor General’s Awards and warm praise for their ability to convey the Canadian essence and experience. With such grand abstractions bourgeois realists seek to obscure the class struggle and class experience of Canadian life. Using Marx’s political criterion, writers for an independent Canada celebrate neither the bourgeois glorification of the individual essence nor the fascist elaboration of national essence. They insist with Marx that “the human essence is no abstraction inherent in each single individual. In its reality it is the ensemble of the social relations.” And in class society the social relations are precisely class relations.
From the political we can derive the artistic or aesthetic criteria for literature for an independent Canada. The bourgeois world outlook takes these forms in pro-imperialist Canadian writing: Subjectivism, egocentricity, obscurantist language, distortion and mutilation of experience, and the cultivation of verbal and mythical patterns for the sake of interpreting and perverting history in the interests of U.S. imperialism. All these political and artistic defects must be consciously struggled against, so that the qualities of objective detail, forthrightness of style, illuminating individual experience as revolutionary class experience, and proletarian heroism can be acquired. The questions of style are related to the world outlook of each class.