Long March Collective

The Progressive Workers’ Movement and the Red Star Collective: A Legacy Of Economism And Bourgeois Nationalism In The Marxist-Leninist Movement

First Published: Proletarian Unity Vol 1, No. 6, August 1977
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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As the world economic crisis deepens, with capitalism and imperialism falling deeper and deeper into decay, we can see the burden of the crisis being dumped increasingly on the shoulders of the working class and the masses. In Canada the wage control legislation and the activities of the Anti-Inflation Board make this reality crystal clear. And this type of activity is not limited by any means to the Canadian State. On the contrary, we can see government after government in the capitalist world enacting legislation with similar ends: to make the working class pay for the present crisis of capitalism.

Throughout the world popular resistance is rising. In Canada, we see much evidence of this. In the past year the workers at Kitimat staged an illegal strike against the crisis measures, acting in solidarity with workers in Quebec. This year saw the first country-wide general strike in Canadian history, which the labour bosses were forced to call because of the militancy of the rank and file.

But bourgeois ideology permeates the spontaneous working class movement. While workers in Kitimat, BC and Arvida, Quebec join together in common cause against Alcan Corporation, the bourgeoisie is attempting to whip up big nation chauvinism and petty bourgeois nationalism as a contradiction between the workers of the oppressed nation of Quebec, and those of English Canada. While the labour bosses are forced to call a general strike because of the militancy of the rank and file, they still scurry to contain the popular resistance with tripartism, a new and cozy deal with the bourgeois State.

What is sorely needed is for the working class in Canada to consciously take up the struggle for a socialist revolutionary communist Party. Because such a Party does not at this point exist in Canada, the struggle to build it must be the central task of all Marxist-Leninists. This Party will be built by applying the historically accumulated theory and experience of the international communist movement to the concrete realities of the class struggle in Canada. It is through this application that we will develop our line on the path of the revolution as it is tested in the class struggle. The development of theory only has meaning if it is linked to our central objective, fusing Marxism-Leninism with the workers movement and building the unity of communists, thus laying the foundations of the Party in the working class itself. When we speak of the path of the revolution we must never forget that the creation of the Party is our first goal along the road.

Presently in Canada there is a young but growing communist movement dedicated to the task of reconstituting a genuine communist Party of the working class. The upcoming regional conference on the path of the revolution marks a great step forward in the practice of the communist movement here in Vancouver. But we still have a long way to go. The movement in Vancouver, despite its increasing public presence, still lacks a consistent and systematic practice in the class and the masses. We are still organizationally divided. It is only through forming unity amongst Marxist-Leninist forces that we will be able to develop a consistent and systematic practice in the class and the masses. This conference (the May 28, 1977, Vancouver Conference on the Path of the Revolution) is an important step in the development of that unity.

The Long March Collective is a small Marxist-Leninist collective which split in July 1976 from the Vancouver Study Group as a result of a struggle over the correct method of developing political line. (The Vancouver Study Group was formed in 1972 and changed its name to Red Star Collective shortly after our split.) We must therefore take responsibility (up to a certain point) for the incorrect line and practice of the Vancouver Study Group. However since our formation almost a year ago, as a result of our practice in the movement and the class, we have deepened our understanding of how to develop political line as it relates to the major questions facing the movement.

The main contribution of the Long March Collective to the struggle over the path of the revolution will be a demarcation from the incorrect method that the Red Star Collective brings to this question as evidenced in its pamphlet, Canada: Imperialist Power or Economic Colony? We will attempt to analyze the economist and bourgeois nationalist errors in the RSC contribution, linking these errors on the one hand to the strategic line of the Progressive Worker Movement (as laid out in its pamphlet, Independence and Socialism in Canada), and on the other to economist errors of the RSC on the questions of unity and work amongst the working class. In order to more effectively carry out this task we will refer where we feel it is useful to the line and practice of the Vancouver Study Group as we knew it, thus tracing the historical continuum from the Progressive Worker Movement, through the Vancouver Study Group, to the Red Star Collective.

The RSC/VSG has strong links with the PWM. Some of the leading members of the VSG were in the PWM and others were strongly influenced by it. The VSG studied the PWM pamphlet, Independence and Socialism in Canada, several times and the line expressed in the pamphlet was approved by the majority of the group.

This pamphlet contains serious errors of economism and bourgeois nationalism. It puts forward a strategy for two-stage revolution in Canada, despite the fact that Canada is an advanced capitalist country where the proletariat is both the main and leading force in the struggle for socialism, a country where political independence and bourgeois democracy were achieved over a century ago. This bourgeois nationalist line led to serious economist errors. The pamphlet analyzes at length the necessity for a united front independence movement to struggle against American imperialism in Canada. The pamphlet does not propose that communists seek to win workers to the tasks of party building or to Marxism-Leninism, but rather that they provide leadership within the independence movement. Neither the method for building the ML Party nor the specific role of the Party within the independence movement is correctly spelled out.

These errors were clearly reflected in the practice of the Vancouver Study Group. Although the RSC has made certain advances, economism and bourgeois nationalism persist in its line and practice.

The RSC continues to see the task ot developing Marxist-Leninist theory on the one hand, and working amongst the class on the other, as separate tasks. Thus we see an analysis of the path of the revolution which ignores the question of class struggle. Rather than analyzing the relationship of the bourgeoisie to the proletariat, we get instead a factual analysis of the economic holdings of the American and Canadian bourgeoisies. This error of economism around the question of the path of the revolution is not only evident in the RSC’s present practice in the working class, but it is also at the very heart of their incorrect line on building unity in the movement.

The error of economism in line and practice is closely linked to the error of empiricism in method, both in the PWM pamphlet and RSC’s recent opus. Lists of factual economic data, although useful, are no substitute for a dialectical analysis of the relationship of class forces.

It is the view of our group that the Progressive Worker Movement made a significant contribution to the struggle against revisionism in the Canadian working class. In order for the class struggle to move forward, however, it is important for the Marxist-Leninist movement to make a thorough demarcation from the erroneous lines of the PWM. This is particularly crucial around the question of the path of the revolution where we can see bourgeois nationalist errors repeating themselves in our present-day movement.

As a contribution to this demarcation, the LMC is publishing an analysis of the PWM pamphlet, linking it to the errors we see presently being made in the movement, particularly by the RSC. An earlier version of Section II of this paper was debated in the Vancouver Study Group in the Spring of 1976. We see this critique as an important contribution to the demarcation from PWM’s erroneous lines and their effect on the movement today. Not only did Independence and Socialism in Canada constitute the essential basis of unity of the VSG for several years, but it was this pamphlet which had the widest distribution of all the PWM material and thus influenced a number of groups and individuals across the country. We want to emphasize that this is by no means the thorough demarcation from PWM which we see as necessary and we would call on the RSC to apply Marxism-Leninism and utilize their knowledge and first-hand experience to take up the question, looking at the full breadth and scope of PWM.

As a small group, we do not see it as our task to elaborate a complete position on the path of the revolution at this time. However, based on the work that we have done, it is our position that IN STRUGGLE! has the most advanced line on this question. This group, in its articles on the path of the revolution in Proletarian Unity No 3, struggles against the errors made by the Red Star Collective. IN STRUGGLE! applies the basic elements of Marxist-Leninist theory to the history of class struggle in Canada. It looks at the transition from colonialism and semi-feudalism to capitalism, examining Confederation, the creation of the State, as the “condition for existence of the Canadian bourgeoisie”. It demonstrates that the transition to imperialism was a logical consequence of the development of the economic base. The entire history is presented from the point of view of class struggle – that is, the struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie.

IN STRUGGLE! describes the question of State power as being “of decisive importance”. The alliance between the Canadian and American bourgeoisies is situated in the context of the international situation and the class struggle within Canada.

IN STRUGGLE! lays out a basic strategic line, a line which addresses the questions: what is our goal? who are our friends and who are our enemies? how do we resolve contradictions among the people? The historical study is not complete; it certainly lacks the detail of the RSC work. But the complete structure of an analysis is present. It is something that can be worked with, criticized, and as the struggle to fuse science with the class develops, it can be used as a basis to test the line in detail.


How is the struggle for socialism to be waged in Canada? The position of the PWM pamphlet is as follows: “It is the position of the Progressive Worker Movement that the development and success of a national independence movement in Canada is absolutely vital in our struggle for socialism, that no advance towards the goal of socialism can be made without such a movement developing, and that socialists must take an active and leading role in the building of this independence movement. That is our position, and it is based on our analysis of the historical developments that have brought Canada to her present state.” (Independence and Socialism in Canada, p. (43)

In this section we will deal with the argumentation which leads to the above conclusion and the erroneous nature of the conclusion itself.

Blurring The Difference Between The Nation and The State

In its pamphlet, PWM claims to be answering the "national question" in Canada. Marxist-Leninists from Quebec have pointed out that the use of the term “national question” is itself somewhat misleading. Stalin’s (and Lenin’s) work on the national question was written, not simply – or even primarily – to deal with the question of the national rights of State communities (countries), but rather addressed itself to the problem of the national rights of national groupings within States.

Stalin says: “But not every stable community constitutes a nation. Australia and Russia are also stable communities, but nobody calls them nations. What distinguishes a national community from a state community? The fact, among others, that a national community is inconceivable without a common language, while a state need not have a common language. The Czech nation in Australia and the Polish in Russia would be impossible if each did not have a common language, whereas the integrity of Russia and Australia is not affected by the fact that there are a number of different languages within their borders.” (Marxism and the National Question in Marxism and the National-Colonial Question, San Francisco, 1975, p. 18)

How does the PWM pamphlet deal with this distinction? It starts off by quoting Stalin’s classic definition: “A nation is an historically constituted, stable community of people, formed on the basis of a common language, territory, economic life, and psychological make-up manifested in a common culture.” (op. cit., p. 6)

Although the existence of a separate Quebec nation is acknowledged, the distinction between national and State communities is not analysed. The pamphlet clearly states that it is addressing the “national question” and only in the conclusion is Mao Tse-Tung’s method of analyzing contradictions introduced. Thus, for example, the opening paragraph of the introduction states: “The national question, that is, the relationship of national struggles to the class struggle, the relationship of nationalism to the struggle against imperialism and capitalism, is one of the most crucial and hotly debated questions on the left today, both in Canada and elsewhere.” (P-4).

PW’s framework predetermines the conclusions of the analysis. Blurring the distinction between the nation and the State allows PW to blur the distinction between the US imperialist bourgeoisie and the Canadian bourgeoisie. It is not difficult to show that the Canadian people, taken as a whole, and the Canadian State in particular are subject to various forms of intimidation, domination and economic exploitation by US imperialism. If the framework is “the nation”, then it is easy to conclude that the main enemy is the foreign imperialist. But if we look, not simply at “the nation”, but at what really exists, namely the Canadian State community, the theoretical framework is broadened to include the full range of possibilities. It is hence more scientific.

In discussing the State community taken as a whole, we do not talk about the “national question”. This refers, as we have said, to various national communities within the State. We speak rather of contradictions, particularly the “principal contradiction”. PW refers to the theory of contradictions (p. 43), but only after the “nation vs, imperialists” framework has been established and applied. The question of the principal contradiction, as applied to the Canadian State community, clearly allows for various theoretical possibilities besides the “US imperialism and its Canadian servants vs. the Canadian people” set forth by PW.

The “national question” method runs counter to a basic method of analyzing contradictions in the theory of Mao Tse-Tung: “As opposed to the metaphysical world outlook the world outlook of materialist dialectics holds that in order to understand the development of a thing we should study it internally and in its relations with other things; in other words, the development of things should be seen as their internal and necessary self-movement, while each thing in movement is interrelated with and intereacts on the things around it. The fundamental cause of the development of a thing is not external but internal; it lies in the contradictoriness within the thing. This internal contradiction exists in every single thing, hence its motion and development. Contradictoriness within a thing is the fundamental cause of its development, while its inter-relations and interactions with other things are secondary causes. Thus materialist dialectics effectively combats the theory of external causes, or of an external motive force, advanced by metaphysical mechanical materialism and vulgar evolutionism.” (“On Contradiction”, Selected Works, Peking 1965, Vol. 1, p. 313. Emphasis added)

The PW pamphlet fails to apply this method of analyzing contradictions. The “Canadian nation” is set in opposition to the British and American imperialists. Canadian history is described as a series of ’lessons’ to and ’capitulations’ by the Canadian bourgeoisie. The actions of the imperial power at all times were determinant in the historical process, while contradictions within Canada seem to have played no part in its history. There is no meaningful analysis, for example, of contradictions between various economic sectors of the Canadian bourgeoisie at various times, the history of capital accumulation, the development of the Quebec national question, the internal nature and contradictions between what PW calls the “capitulationist-reformist bourgeoisie”, the “comprador bourgeoisie” and the “national bourgeoisie”.

Common Culture – Not a Sufficient Basis To Define A Nation

PW also does itself a disservice by failing to examine fully the application of Stalin’s definition to Quebec and Englsh Canada. A full application of Stalin’s theory would not damage PW’s argument But PW relies solely on the “common culture“ criterion to determine that Quebec and English Canada are nations.

Quebec, it is argued, “had to develop a national culture and national identity as a matter of survival in the face of British attempts to Anglicize the French Canadians” (p. 8) “English Canada“, on the other hand, “where no such clearly recognizable ’national culture’ exists... is a nation most importantly in the fact that its people wish it to be a nation.” (ibid.)

While Quebec and English Canada each fit into Stalin’s definition of the nation, PW’s method of “proving“ this is clearly wrong. Quebec did not develop its national culture merely as a matter of survival. This argument is tautological, a form of circular reasoning: Quebec’s culture survived as a matter of survival. It seems to suggest that before the British came Quebec didn’t even have a common culture! In fact, of course, the struggle for the survival of the Quebecois culture was and is firmly rooted in material conditions, i.e., deep historic roots, stable community, common language, territory and economic life. And while the historic roots are not as deep for English Canada, the material conditions of nationhood are all present. The common culture is weak, owing to the strong impact of US imperialist culture – but it exists.

The argument that English Canada is a nation principally because “its people wish it to be a nation“, in an extremely dangerous one, which runs counter to the methods of dialectical materialism. According to the materialist method, social grouping and classes, political and economic struggles, etc., are not defined or interpreted according to how individuals, classes etc. wish them to be defined. We might wish that Canada’s system of bourgeois democracy was truly democratic; certainly the bourgeoisie considers itself to be part of a democratic system. But looked at objectively and through an application of historical materialism the Canadian State emerges clearly as a system of democracy for the bourgeoisie and dictatorship against the proletariat. Marx stated. “Just as our opinion of an individual is not based on what he thinks of himself, so we cannot judge of such a period of transformation by its own consciousness; on the contrary this consciousness must be explained rather from the contradictions of material life...” (“Contribution To A Critique of Political Economy”, Selected Works. Moscow 1935, Vol. 1. p. 356).

The main weight of Stalin’s work is the argument that common culture alone is not a sufficient basis to define the nation. “It is possible to conceive of people possessing a common ’national character’ who, nevertheless, cannot be said to constitute a single nation if they are economically disunited, inhabit different territories, speak different languages, and so forth. Such, for instance, are the Russian, Galician, American, Georgian, and Caucasian Highland Jews, who, in our opinion, do not constitute a single nation... It is only when all these characteristics are present together that we have a nation.“ (op. cit., pp. 22-23, emphasis in original).

PW’s Version of History

The 1837 rebellion is seen as the end of any hope that the Canadian bourgeoisie might have a history of its own: “The defeat of the 1837 rebellion in the two Canadas signalled 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... 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 imperialists.” (op. cit., pp. 13-14, emphasis theirs).

Confederation, we are told, was brought about “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.” (p. 16) Although the existence of an apparently indigenous “reformist” bourgeoisie is consistently acknowledged (and it is admitted that both “reformist” and “comprador” fractions sought benefit from post-Confederation western expansion), PW persists in arguing that it could never be any more than a puppet. “We have not exchanged a comprador bourgeoisie for an independent national bourgeoisie as our national ruling class; our comprador rising bourgeoisie has merely exchanged foreign masters.” (PW, p. 18)

A national bourgeoisie does exist, we are told, which “dreams of becoming the capitalist ruling class of Canada to the exclusion of foreign imperialists”. PW does not enlighten us as to the composition of this group, its economic or political base, the dynamics of the contradictions between it and the “comprador” bourgeoisie, etc. The possibility that bourgeois nationalism might be a tactic that the Canadian bourgeoisie keeps handy for use on specific occasions to advance its class interests – this is not discussed. Instead we are told that this mysterious fraction fails to act for fear of revolution, while the efforts of its ideologists are dismissed away.

So a Canadian bourgeoisie does exist; it is conceded that this class can even perceive its own interests. But in action, all it can do is dance like a puppet or tremble like a leaf. We are never to find out how and why the Canadian bourgeoisie shifted allegiance from Britain to the United States after World War I.

The role of the Canadian banking system, commercial ventures and the emergence of major Canadian controlled corporations are not explained. The imperialist ventures of these companies are ignored. The role of the Canadian State as protector and sponsor of these interests receives no examination. What did the Canadian bourgeoisie gain from the shift to dependence on US imperialism? Did it carve out a sphere of economic activity for itself under the eagle’s wing? PW does not attempt to tell us.

PW’s view of the national bourgeoisie suggests that, due to political weakness and fear of revolution, it has failed to fight for the “exclusion of foreign imperialists”, (p. 14) It seems to suggest moralistically that this class betrayed the nation. But is it not equally conceivable for a fairly large indigenous bourgeoisie to define its class interests as compatible with those of the US or British imperialist system, seeing that its class interests are best served through such an alliance rather than struggle at any given time? Contention and collusion go together in relations between bourgeois groupings – but at any given time one is dominant. In Canadian history it seems to have generally been collusion.

However, all these factors are at odds with the inexorable conclusion of the PW pamphlet: “Canada is no more than a neo-colony, a fully integrated part of the American empire”, (p. 28) In “The Present Situation”, PW documents the crushing American influence over our economy, politics, culture, and trade union movement. These facts are undeniable, and provide evidence that US imperialsm is one of the main enemies of the Canadian proletariat. But all these “facts” are no substitute for an analysis of the dynamics of the role of the Canadian bourgeoisie, “their” State, and the relationship to imperialism and the struggles of the proletariat. The pamphlet uses an empiricist method of analysis. It substitutes a list of facts for an analysis of class contradictions in Canada. Its version of history is not a history of class struggle.

Two-Stage Revolution

In the conclusion, “Program For Struggle”, the various errors of analysis reach fruition. It is argued that the “main contradiction here is the one between US imperialism and its Canadian servants on the one hand and the Canadian people on the other. This simply means that in Canada, the main oppressor is the ’continentalist’ American bourgeoisie through its servants, the Canadian comprador bourgeoisie.” (p. 43) The question of the indigenous bourgeoisie and its active role in exploiting the working class, its imperialist ventures, its attempts to play off the interests of the superpowers and other imperialist countries – all these are ignored. The objective existence of the Canadian State as an instrument of this class is not included as a factor in the strategy.

For a developed capitalist country with a highly differentiated working class, which forms the majority of the population, where there is a separate State structure, no foreign military occupation, and an existing capitalist class, it is argued that the secondary aspect of the principal contradiction is “the Canadian people”. This is a direct extension of the fallacy discussed earlier in this criticism, that the national community is substituted for the State community. As we have pointed out, Stalin’s analysis of the national question refers specifically to oppressed nations within States; this can be extended to colonies where the imperialist power exercises direct control over the State apparatus. But the PW argument that since Canada, as a nation, is oppressed by US imperialism, the main contradiction is between US imperialism and the Canadian people, does not fall into either one of these categories. If the US occupied Canada, or if the Canadian government took all its orders from Washington, under threat of force, the contradiction would be as PW describes it. But in fact the Canadian bourgeoisie is quite willing to maintain its alliance with imperialism, and quite capable of taking certain initiatives which reflect an important measure of manoeuvring ability. It is certainly quite capable of finding its own ways to attack and exploit the working class.

It is quite easy to show that US imperialism has a strong presence in Canadian economy, politics, culture etc. If Canada were occupied or directly controlled by Washington, the conditions for a national liberation struggle would clearly exist. But this is not the case. Canada is not a national community lacking an independent State structure: it is a State community with an internal class structure, military apparatus, etc. of its own. Within the State community there are two nations and national minorities. Any formulation of the principal contradiction in Canada must take account of these realities.

Basing itself on “US imperialism vs. the Canadian people”, PW goes on to argue that the central task of “socialists” is “working amongst the various sectors of the Canadian population and uniting as many Canadians as possible against their number one enemy, US imperialism”, (P. 44) An independence party “will be the organized expression on a nation-wide basis of the various tasks that will have to be carried out in working for Canadian independence.” (p. 48) It is expected that such a party might be elected to government, leading to US military retaliation of one form or another – “but until then we must direct our blows at the superstructure of politics, culture and ideology in order to achieve a position of being able to threaten the imperialists’ rule over Canada at its economic base.”

The strategy for the working class would be to seize the leadership of the independence struggle, ensuring that nationalized foreign property would be “turned over to the Canadian people” thus ensuring that “the struggle against the national exploiters (which is now being waged by the foreign exploiters in their own interest) could be waged by the Canadian people with the former assets of the imperialists plus the power of the working class which will have gained military experience in the struggle against imperialism”, (p. 49) It is only after this trip through Fantasyland that PW proclaims the necessity of a genuine communist Party as “one of the primary tasks now facing Canadian Marxist-Leninists” (p. 50).

The argument that the central task of “socialists” is the formation of a united front type independence party while the genuine communist Party is relegated to “one of the primary tasks”, is another form of the objectively revisionist “united front” political lines which were prevalent in the Canadian Marxist-Leninist movement at the time. We will deal with this problem later on. But first we will examine the theory that the independence party could hold off the “national exploiters” (with the help of the “foreign exploiters in their own interest”) throughout the struggle of “blows at the superstructure” and military confrontation with imperialism.

Stated in other words, PW’s strategy for socialism seems to be the following. The “broadly-based” independence party will do propaganda, organizing and non-military political work against US imperialism. The “comprador bourgeoisie” would not interfere, nor would US imperialism, until the party gained power through parliamentary means. The national bourgeoisie (i.e. “national exploiters”) has been too busy fighting off the Americans on its own to intervene till now. At the point when the parliamentary wing of the Independence party begins to expropriate American interests and hand them over to the “Canadian people”, the US or “right-wing Canadians” would likely take military action. Under leadership from the working class, the military forces of US imperialism would be crushed. We would be rid of US imperialism, and ready to take on the national bourgeoisie, which, presumably, has been waiting in the wings all this time – perhaps quaking at the thought of taking action amidst all this bloodshed. At this point, then, the “struggle against the national exploiters” would move to centre stage (one wonders what their mechanisms of exploitation might be, given that the Americans, we have been told, controlled just about everything). The Canadian people would crush the national bourgeoisie with the aid of the former assets of the imperialists and the power of the working class – and Canada would move on towards socialism!

As PW states earlier on, “Recognizing US domination as being the chief obstacle on the road to socialism, socialists should direct themselves towards removing this obstacle”, (p. 44) PW seems to believe that, given that Canada is a colonized nation, we can build a united front against US imperialism and the compradors, while holding off dealing with the question of the capitalist class relations within Canada until the “obstacle” of US imperialism is removed. The PWM pamphlet, in no uncertain terms, proclaims that the struggle for socialism in Canada will take place in two stages: first national independence, second socialism. This, in the Canadian context, is a bourgeois nationalist strategy.

Furthermore, to argue that the secondary pole of the contradiction is the “Canadian people” is also erroneous. As we stated earlier, Canada is a developed capitalist country, with a highly differentiated working class which comprises the majority of the population. Canada has a separate State structures which is controlled by the Canadian bourgeoisie. There is no military occupation of our country. To argue that the Canadian proletariat can unite with a “national” bourgeoisie against US imperialism is clearly absurd, especially when this struggle must aim at the destruction of the power of the Canadian bourgeoisie as well. The second pole of the contradiction must be the Canadian proletariat and its allies, not the “Canadian people” as a whole.

Theory of the Party

PW is very clear that it considers itself to be operating from a “socialist” perspective. In fact, it defines itself as providing a “Marxist-Leninist perspective”, and formulated the main question as “how is the struggle for socialism to be waged in Canada?” (p.4) It might be pointed out that PW talks about socialism, but barely mentions communism, a reflection of the parliamentary illusions discussed in the previous section, as well as the standing on its head of the united front strategy to be dealt with in this section. But PW does claim the Marxist-Leninist method as its own, so we will give it the benefit of the doubt ’ or, more precisely, seek to determine to what extent the PW pamphlet applies the basic strategic and organizational theories of Marxism-Leninism.

It has already been shown that one major attempt by PW to apply ML theory to Canadian conditions (Stalin’s theory on the national question) was misleading, incorrect and unscientific. We have also shown that PW failed to follow through on its class analysis, particularly with regard to the Canadian bourgeoisie, and liquidated the question of the Canadian State. Furthermore, its scenario for the chain of events leading to the Canadian revolution has been shown to be sheer fantasy, relying as it does on the assumed complacency and paralysis of the Canadian bourgeoisie and its State apparatus during the first stage of a two-stage process.

But let us, for the purposes of the analysis in this section, assume that PW’s conclusions about the fundamental character of Canadian society are correct. We assume, therefore, that Canada is a neo-colony, where the principal (“main”) contradiction is “between US imperialism and its Canadian servants on the one hand and the Canadian people on the other.” What are we to make of PW’s strategy in the face of this analysis?

Basically, PW calls on “socialists” to carry out a united front strategy, “working amongst the various sectors of the Canadian population and uniting as many Canadians as possible against their number one enemy, US imperialism.” (p. 44) This is the main task of socialists as defined by PW. “At this stage, the struggle for independence is the struggle for socialism.” (p. 49)

The concrete steps of this united front struggle are as follows:
(1) Breaking the ideological hold of imperialism over the Canadian people (p. 44)
(a) Exposing the Liberal, Conservative and Social Credit parties.
(b) Winning the progressive section of the NDP.
(c) Anti-imperialist work on campuses and in community groups.
(d) Building an independent Canadian union movement, specifically the Council of Canadian Unions. “It is an absolute necessity that an independent Canadian working class movement provide leaderhsip in Canada’s anti-imperialist struggle.” (p. 47) (The CCU is now called the Confederation of Canadian Unions).
(2) Building an independence party. “The party will be the organized expression on a nation-wide basis of the various tasks that will have to be> carried out in working for Canadian independence. In addition to the various organizational tasks... the independence party will be able to make use of the electoral process to publicize and agitate for the goal of national independence.” (p. 48)
(3) Independence party wins parliamentary power. It moves against US interests.
(4) US invades or engineers a right-wing coup. Military resistance by the Canadian people, led by the working class.

The main priority, the anti-imperialist united front, is clear. The strategy and tactics of the united front are the main subject of the analysis in the “Program for Struggle”. But PW, we must remember, defines itself as a Marxist-Leninist group. And so, almost as an afterthought, we are told that the formation of a communist Party is “one of” the primary tasks facing Canadian Marxist-Leninists. PW’s central task for socialists is to build the anti-imperialist united front. No other realistic or honest interpretation can be derived from such statements as “The necessity is to build the broadest possible united front in order to free the nation from foreign domination” (p. 49) But building the communist Party is relegated to a secondary importance: “one of the primary tasks”. While the party is mentioned, it is clear that forming the united front is principal.

What are the tasks of the ML Party as defined by PW? Only two concrete examples are given: (1) “to give the independence struggle socialist content” and (2) “to point out the eventual necessity of armed struggle”. The “socialist content” is a four-point program whose most salient points are that “nationalized property belongs to the Canadian people” and “the right of all nations to self-determination”, including Quebec, (p. 50)

The Marxist-Leninist Party is not only relegated to second place as an organizational objective – its political tasks are barely explained. There is no mention of the dictatorship of the proletariat. In fact, what PW does is to place the united front ahead of the Party – and in so doing, it flies in the face of the historic lessons of the international proletarian movement.

On December 27, 1935, in the midst of the anti-Japanese war and the struggle against Chiang Kai-Shek’s betrayal of China, Mao Tse-tung stated:

The special feature on the revolutionary side at present is the existence of a well-steeled Communist Party and Red Army. This is of crucial importance. Great difficulties would arise if they did not exist. Why? Because the traitors and collaborators in China are numerous and powerful and are sure to devise every possible means to wreck the united front; they will sow dissension by means of intimidation and bribery and by manoeuvring among various groupings, and will employ their armies to oppress and crush, one by one, all those weaker than themselves who want to part company with them and join us in fighting Japan. All this would hardly be avoided if the anti-Japanese government and army were to lack this vital factor, i.e., the Communist Party and the Red Army. The revolution failed in 1927 chiefly because, with the opportunist line then prevailing in the Communist Party, no effort was made to expand our own ranks (the workers’ and peasants’ movement and the armed forces led by the Communist Party), and exclusive reliance was placed on a temporary ally, the Kuomintang.” (“On Tactics Against Japanese Imperialism”, Selected Works, Vol. 1, p. 166)

Le Duan, First Secretary of the Vietnam Workers Party, presents a similar view. He states that the founding of the Workers’ (i.e. Communist) Party in February, 1930,“... marked a fundamental turning point in the history of the Vietnamese revolution. It meant the propagation of Marxism-Leninism to a colonial and semi-feudal country, the first necessary preparatory step leading to the most glorious insurrectionary period and the greatest leap forward in the evolution of the Vietnamese nation.” (The Vietnamese Revolution: Fundamental Problems, Essential Tasks, Hanoi, 1970, pp. 12-13)

Le Duan goes on to say “The interest of the revolution and that of the nation require that one should constantly enhance and consolidate the leading role of the Party within the Front, firmly maintain the Party’s independent line and organization, and oppose all tendencies to downgrade the Party’s role and dissolve in the Front.” (Ibid. p. 33)

Both Vietnam and China were countries in which the direct military presence of foreign imperialism was an established factor in the struggle. This made it much easier to build the united front than it could possibly be in Canada, where foreign military occupation is certainly not a prevailing feature. Yet in both China and Vietnam, building the Communist Party and the propagation of Marxism-Leninism were a precondition for the creation of the united front. Although PW concedes the necessity of a Marxist-Leninist Party, nowhere does it suggest that the united front is itself a product of such a Party. Yet this is the very essence of the Marxist-Leninist line on the united front strategy, proven time after time in the history of struggle! The Party is in fact the only vehicle for carrying through on the practical and theoretical tasks of the united front strategy: “Only the proletariat and the Communist Party can lead the peasantry, the urban petty bourgeoisie and bourgeoisie, the destructiveness of the unemployed masses and also (provided the Communist Party does not err in its policy), the vacillationand lack of thoroughness of the bourgeoisie – and can lead the revolution and the war on to the road to victory.” (“Problems of Strategy in China’s Revolutionary War”, op. cit. p. 192).

In failing to give primacy to the building of the new communist Party, PW leaves the door open for an attempt to build the united front in the absence of the leadership of the organized vanguard of the proletariat. In fact, PW calls for the formation of a legal, parliamentary “independence party” which would, apparently, be the principal leader and organizer of the “independence movement”. So we have not one party but two – a “genuine” communist Party for Marxist-Leninists, and an “independence” party in which “socialists must be ready to unite with non-socialists in the struggle for independence.” “socialists” are being called upon to build two parties, one a “communist” Party, and the other – presumably – a social democratic, or perhaps even an openly capitalist party. To silence those who might protest that PW is going a little too far (out in right field), a handy quote from Left Wing Communism... is drawn out of the arsenal, (p. 49)

It should be noted, however, that in the oases of both China and Vietnam (to name but two examples), Marxist-Leninists only troubled themselves to build one Party in each country. The bourgeoisies in both countries had their own parties, organized factions, etc. These were welcomed into the united front on the basis of clearly enunciated principles, which included acceptance of communist Party leadership over the liberated regions and liberation army, the preservation of Party independence and freedom of criticism (see. for example, above quote from Le Duan). PW warns us of the danger of submerging “socialist aims” in the front.(p. 49) – but since it has already advocated a fundamentally reformist route of struggle, its reminder doesn’t quite sink in.

What PW is really telling us is that the “independence struggle” (itself the first stage of the struggle for socialism) will have two major phases. The first would be the legal “institutional” phase when there would be “educational” work, community organizing, and the building of an independent union movement. This phase would culminate in the building of an “independence” party which gets itself elected to Parliament. Only after all this would the second, military – and perhaps illegal – phase begin.

Thus, for the entire first phase – which could, presumably, last a long time – socialists are to rely on bourgeois legality. The only preparation against physical repression called for is that the Marxist-Leninist Party “point out the eventual necessity of armed struggle”.

Two months after he wrote Left Wing Communism, Lenin presented his views on the fundamental tasks of the international communist movement to the second congress of the Third International. He did not equivocate on the absolute importance of illegal work under all circumstances.

In all countries, even in those that are freest, most “legal”, and most “peaceful” in the sense that the class struggle is least acute there, it is now absolutely indispensable for every Communist Party to systematically combine legal and illegal work, legal and illegal organizations. Notwithstanding their false and hypocritical declarations, the governments of even the most enlightened and freest of countries, where the bourgeois-democratic system is most “stable” are already systematically and secretly drawing up blacklists of Communists and constantly violating their own constitutions so as to give secret or semi-secret encouragement to the whiteguards and to the murder of Communists in all countries, making secret preparations for the arrest of Communists, planting agents provocateurs among the Communists, etc.... A combination of illegal and legal work is an absolute principle dictated, not only by all the features of the present period, even that of the proletarian dictatorship, but also by the necessity of proving to the bourgeoisie that there is not, nor can there be, any sphere of activity that cannot be won by the Communists; above all, it is dictated by the fact that broad strata of the proletariat and even broader strata of the non-proletarian toiling and exploited masses still exist everywhere, who continue to believe in bourgeois-democratic legality and whom we must undeceive without fail. (“Theses on the Fundamental Tasks of the Second Communist International”, Collected Works, Moscow 1966, Vol. 31, p. 195-6).

The problem does not end with the question of “security”. It is not simply that PW fails to take seriously the fact that the objective of communists is the destruction of the existing social order, and ignores the possibility that the powers-that-be are eternally on guard against real and perceived “seditious conspiracies”. For underlying PW’s putting off of the “military” question is an openness to compromise with, and failure to demarcate from, the revisionism and opportunism of trade union bureaucrats, of the social democratic parties (particularly the NDP), and of the Communist Party of Canada.

PW on the trade union movement

The entire analysis of the trade union question in the PW pamphlet is within the framework of the struggle for independence. Nowhere is there mention of the need to win the members of the trade unions to communism. Nowhere do we see a strategy for transforming the trade unions into communist organizations.

The strongest statement we can find on the politics of the trade union movement is the following: “... But the most important aspect of the AFL-CIO control (of Canadian unions) is the political control that goes with it. While a trade union organization is not itself a political party it can support political parties (like the Democratic Party in the US and the NDP in Canada). Furthermore, its activities can have important political consequences – for example a trade union centre could support, or refuse to support a political general strike at a critical point in a nation’s development. Because of this kind of political power, the CIA has been interested in trade unions for years, and the CIA’s influence in the AFL-CIO is well documented.” (p. 47)

What PW fails to point out is, first, that certain political parties do not simply receive “support” from the trade unions. In fact, of course, social democratic parties like the NDP, the British Labour Party, the German Social Democrats, etc. are the product – the political expression – of opportunism within the organized trade union movement. “In England, Canada, Australia and other capitalist countries, labour disputes are ’settled’ by the organs and institutions appointed by the local bourgeois governments, such as industrial courts, conciliation and arbitration commissions, and so on. These organs are appointed, depending on their importance, by the Minister of Labour or other government authorities. By accepting and supporting these mechanisms of the bourgeoisie, the reformist and revisionist trade union leaders wait for the bourgeoisie to settle these labour misunderstandings and conflicts.” (Filip Kota, Two Opposing Lines in the World Trade Union Movement, Tirana, 1974, p. 59-60).

This fundamental, compromising attitude towards the bourgeoisie is the principal characteristic of the Canadian trade union leadership, either taken as a whole or in its various parts – including the leadership of the Confederation of Canadian Unions (CCU) which is endorsed in the PW pamphlet. In fact, the CCU has attempted by every possible means to gain the recognition of the bourgeoisie by seeking admission to its “industrial courts, conciliation and arbitration commissions, and so on.”

PW fails to distinguish between trade union support for bourgeois parties like the Democrats and the NDP and support for Communist Parties. It fails to take up struggle against the fundamentally reformist and class collaborationist character of the entire Canadian labour bureaucracy. To raise the spectre of CIA-AFL-CIO interference in a “political general strike” is sheer demagogy, given the utter failure of PWM to uproot the origins of class collaborationism within the Canadian working class.

PW hitches its wagon to one particular trade union organization, the CCU – despite the fact that the CCU leadership, announced policies, etc., fall squarely within the framework of reformist unionism. Furthermore, this central is quite a localized, almost isolated phenomenon, based largely in western Canada, particularly B.C. It has made no significant inroads into the heartlands of Canadian industry in Ontario and Quebec. In fact, in its strategy for the trade unions (p. 47) the pamphlet fails to even take note of the Confederation of National Trade Unions (CNTU), the reformist Quebec-based central, which for some time has had several times the membership of the CCU.

This fixation on the CCU as the basis of the proletarian strategy against US imperialism is fundamentally an opportunist organizational device which makes it possible to avoid taking up the central task of building the proletarian Party by (in the first instance) demarcation from opportunism and winning advanced workers to communism. “Theory for the intellectuals, economic struggle for the workers” is the inevitable corollary of this line. For all that really counts, at least at this point in PW’s strategy, is for the workers to join the CCU and vote for the independence party. Nor can PW plead ignorance on this score, for it did claim to be a Marxist-Leninist group, and it did raise “the necessity for a Marxist-Leninist Party” – in a most underdeveloped and desultory fashion.

It should be noted that the liberation forces in South Vietnam had to contend with a corrupt CIA-controlled trade union movement in the cities right till the end; nevertheless the liberation forces managed to develop active support within the urban working class, and even to infiltrate their cadre to the highest levels of the unions. What PW seems to forget is that the essence of the battle in the trade union is to win the workers to their class objectives.

PW’s critique of the Communist Party of Canada (CP) does not dwell on the Party’s failure to take up the revolutionary class struggle. The pamphlet concentrates instead on the CP’s tactical errors of the 1930’s – in particular the dissolution of the Workers Unity League[1] in 1936. Although it is mentioned that the CP “was never really a revolutionary party”, no attempt is made to understand why. Instead, the subject of analysis is why the CP acquiesced in the takeover of Canadian unionism by the CIO. (PW, p. 22-25) We are clearly left with the impression that, had the CP built a Canadian-based class-collaborationist trade union central, it would have been enough.

No mention is made of the impact of Browderism on the CP. In fact, the revisionist proposal that communists build a non-communist party in Canada (PW’s ’Independence’ Party) echoes the liquidation of the CP in 1943 with the creation of the Labour Progressive Party, whose election platform was to the right of the CCF. At least the CP of the ’30’s and 40’s had the excuse that it was trying to deal with an international emergency in the form of the world fascist offensive!

While the CP is treated as a total write off, PW does not entirely exclude “some hope, however illusionary”, for the NDP. It speaks with general approval of the Watkins manifesto of the NDP’s “Waffle” movement (p. 63-65), suggesting that if the manifesto were adopted, the NDP could conceivably become a “genuinely anti-imperialist party over the dead bodies (figuratively speaking, at least) of the opportunists and labour fakers who now dominate the party”, (p. 64). Thus, while it is admitted that the basic problem of the CCF-NDP is that its “political vision could not break out of the confines of capitalism”, the solution proposed by PW amounts to bourgeois nationalism. In its critique of the Watkins document, PW says workers “must be the leading force in the fight for the independence of the nation so that more advanced objectives may be the more easily achieved.”(p. 63)

Unfortunately, PW does not tell us much about the political content of working class leadership although it does encourage the Waffle in its “struggle” inside the NDP.

Although PW pays lip service to the need to build a Marxist-Leninist Party, its program for that Party, as well as its critique of class collaborationisni and revisionism, liquidates the central task of party-building – winning advanced workers to communism and demarcation from opportunism.


The pamphlet was an attempt to apply Marxism-Leninism to the concrete conditions in Canada. However, the argumentation and conclusions of it do not, on the whole, represent a correct application of ML theory to the Canadian situation. It makes four major errors – revisionism and bourgeois nationalism in its strategic line and point of view on class contradictions, economism in its tactical line and empiricism in its methods of analysis. It liquidates the struggle to build the Marxist-Leninist Party, promotes two-stage revolution in a developed capitalit country, and does not call for the dictatorship of the proletariat. Its line on the trade unions liquidates the task of winning workers to communism.


The Red Star Collective of today was known for the four years preceding September 1976, as the Vancouver Study Group (VSG). For part of those four years the VSG was the only political group in Vancouver which sought to base its work on Marxism-Leninism.

However, the work of the group up till the summer of 1975 consisted exclusively in weekly living room discussions of ML classics and various topics of Canadian history. There was no conscious attempt to apply ML theory as a guide to action in the class struggle. Meanwhile, a major section of the group was engaged in “building the independent Canadian union movement” – i.e. working to advance the organizational development of the Confederation of Canadian Unions (CCU), without trying to build a revolutionary Party or win workers to Marxism-Leninism in a systematic way.

Leading members of the VSG, including some of its founding members, had been active in the PWM. Among other VSG members were ex-members of groups which had drawn inspiration from the PWM line.

When the PWM pamphlet, Independence and Socialism in Canada, was debated in the VSG in late 1974, it won nearly unanimous approval. It was agreed that support for – or at least acceptance of – the PWM pamphlet was a condition for membership in the group. The line was described as follows: “The major contradiction in Canada is between the people of Canada (the vast majority of which are of the working class) on the one hand and the US imperialists on the other... the task of socialists is to build a national movement and inject it with socialist content ... Much of this work is done on two levels, spreading working class nationalist ideas on the broad mass front and more specifically socialist ideas on the narrower more personal front.”

The concrete application of building the “working class nationalist movement” and “injecting” it with socialism was the work in the CCU, specifically its CAIMAW affiliate (Canadian Association of Industrial, Mechanical and Allied Workers). The section of the VSG active in CAIMAW stated its position to the Western Voice Collective in September 1975(A Statement on the Strategic Importance of the Canadian Union Movement and Related Subjects). The line of this statement is consistent with the PWM pamphlet and reflects a practical application of many of its economist and revisionist errors. And given the numerical importance and political leadership provided by the CAIMAW group in the VSG, it is difficult to dissociate this text from the VSG as a whole.

This “Statement” rejects the position, attributed to IN STRUGGLE!, that “the real issue is revolutionizing the workers”. It defends the revisionist tactic of having communists take elected positions on a non-communist basis. It draws a distinction between winning advanced elements to communism and politically educating the widest number of workers – with the implication that different types of propaganda are suited to the different ’levels’. It defends the CCU’s attempts to win favour with the NDP.

Thus, the parallels and similarities between the present line of the RSC and PWM pamphlet do not fall from the sky. The link between the RSC and PWM has ideological, political, practical and personal aspects. If we look at the text, Canada: Imperialist Power or Economic Colony?, from the perspective of the PWM pamphlet, it is in order to situate the present position in the context of is concrete historical development.

It should be pointed out that many Marxist-Leninists across Canada have for years been calling on the VSG-RSC to sum up the lessons of the PWM experience. Not only has the RSC failed to take up this task till now, but it even continues to claim, as it did in the opening plenary of the Second Conference in Montreal, that the PWM merely “allowed for the possible interpretation that it supported a two-stage revolution.” (Documents of the 2nd Conference of Canadian MLs on the Path of the Revolution in Canada, Montreal, 1977, p. 48). With the exception of a few offhand remarks such as this, the RSC had nothing to present in the way of a demarcation from or defence of the PWM legacy.

Explicit in the Marxist-Leninist theory of knowledge is the need to test line in the masses and through this process to refine understandings, correct errors, and move forward. It is only open and public demarcation from past errors that allows us to make advances in our understanding and practice. Thus the RSC’s failure to demarcate clearly from the PWM line is an expression of an unscientific and undialectical approach to developing political line. Marxism develops, as Mao has told us, in the struggle against what is anti-Marxist.

By failing to account for the line it defended in the past, the RSC hides behind backwardness and holds back the development of the struggle to develop the proletarian line on the path of the revolution. On the one hand, the RSC claims to have a line today which is different from that of the PWM. On the other, it defends the PWM against the charges of economism, bourgeois nationalism and revisionism. If the RSC has been able to reconcile these two positions, it should make this public.

Class Struggle: The Missing Ingredient

The RSC has made some advances over the line of the PWM. Instead of addressing the “national question”, the RSC seeks to define the “principal contradiction”. Instead of setting the “Canadian people” against “US imperialism”, the RSC now argues that the contradiction is between the proletariat on the one hand, and US imperialism and the Canadian bourgeoisie on the other.

But as with the PWM pamphlet, the RSC’s ideological framework and method of analysis are an incorrect application of Marxism. The RSC avoids the bourgeois nationalist error of analyzing Canada within the context of the “national question”. It has taken steps forward from the two-stage strategy for revolution put forward by PWM. However, the RSC fails to demarcate from the empiricist methods of Independence and Socialism in Canada. It presents us with what it itself describes as an “economic analysis”. This empiricist method is part and parcel of the error of economism. What is missing from both Independence and Socialism and Red Star’s recent interventions on the question of the path of the revolution is the essential ingredient of the fundamental contradiction of capitalism: class struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie.

The RSC claims to provide us with a basis for determining the principal contradiction in Canada, but restricts itself to the history of only one aspect of that contradiction: the bourgeoisie. The struggle between the Canadian bourgeoisie and first British, then American imperialism, is described as the motor of Canadian history. And at that, the political aspects of that history are considerably less explained than the economic.

The RSC ignores the fact that in capitalist society the motor of history is the fundamental contradiction between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie.

Despite IN STRUGGLEI’s attempt to base its work on this elementary reality, the RSC seem to be quite confident to “demarcate” from the “dogmatism” of IS! expressed in its alleged absence of a “concrete analysis”. Meanwhile, the RSC is happy to tell us what the principal contradiction is, having ignored the relationship between its two aspects!

As we suggested above, one advance made by the RSC over PWM is its recognition of a Canadian bourgeoisie which has autonomy and defends its own interests. But the RSC waffles on the character of this bourgeoisie and the significance of its existence. They admit that it controls key areas of the economy – not only banking – and functions through monopolies, but deny that money and production have merged to form finance capital. They admit that it has reached the point where it can carry out imperialist ventures, but deny that the basis for this activity is a stage of development of the Canadian bourgeois class. Instead, imperialism is reduced by the RSC to a numbers game – what percent of what sector must the bourgeoisie control before it can qualify as imperialist? The RSC admits that the Canadian bourgeoisie uses the State to defend its class interests, but lacks a clear line on whether the Canadian bourgeoisie actually controls the State. PWM, at least, was consistent on these matters. It simply declared the Canadian bourgeoisie to be insignificant, powerless, and incapable of standing up to US imperialism in any way.

The RSC fails to provide us with a political analysis of the State as an instrument for the domination of one class over another. It mechanically transposes its analysis of economic forces to the question of State power, without providing a concrete analysis of the class forces actually at work. Is the only service which the stage renders the bourgeoisie the protection of its banking interests from the Rockefellers? What about the current offensive of the Canadian State against the working class – wage conrols, attacks on immigrants, cutbacks in UIC and social services? Whose class interests does the Canadian State defend with these actions? It should be noted that the PWM pamphlet in dealing extensively with the question of the State, argued that “it does not matter which government it is, federal or provincial; or which party it represents, Liberal, Conservative, Social Credit or NDP; the feature that unites them all is their subservience to US imperialism.” (p. 35) The RSC has yet to clearly demarcate from this position.

The RSC criticizes IN STRUGGLE! and the CCL(ML) for applying Lenin’s definition of imperialism both incompletely and dogmatically. It then goes on to apply Lenin totally mechanically, arguing that two of his criteria are not found in Canada: (a) the sharing of the world by monopoly cartels, and (b) the territorial division of the world “among the biggest capitalist powers”. It should be pointed out, first, that Lenin was describing an era of development of the capitalist mode of production. That each criterion might not fit a country exactly does not in itself mean that this country has not reached the imperialist stage of development. Second, we contest the suggestion that Canadian monopolies do not share in the spoils of the international cartels.

The RSC’s case concerning the territorial division of the world is the most curious aspect of its argument. They suggest that since Canada has no colonial territories and no military apparatus capable of defending its ventures abroad, it cannot be described as imperialist. But by this measure, we wonder how West Germany or Japan could be described as imperialist countries: they both lack a strong military force and have both been subjected to US military occupation for over 30 years. It seems that it might be necessary to be a superpower to qualify as imperialist according to the RSC. But even this might not be enough. RSC argues that the export of culture is one aspect of imperialism, and observes that “if they’ve begun listening to Stomplin’ Tom in Jamaica we haven’t heard about it.” (p. 73) Perhaps we should wonder whether peasants in India do Russian folk dances while they work the fields? Perhaps the Soviet Union doesn’t even make it into Red Star’s very elite definition of an imperialist country?

Despite these errors, RSC’s current position does represent some sort of advance over the PWM pamphlet, which did not even bother to refute the line that Canada is an imperialist country,[2] and dismissed as Trotskyist any suggestion that Canada has an independent ruling class. The RSC recognizes the existance of an indigenous Canadian capitalist class, furthermore it repeatedly disclaims a two-stage revolution in Canada. What does it propose instead?

In its seventy-nine page text – Canada: Imperialist rower or Economic Colony? – the RSC says almost nothing about the strategic or tactical implications of its line. It argues that the “shared perspective” of IN STRUGGLE! and the League must be defeated “not because our group and others would be excluded (or would exclude themselves) from the Party, but rather because such a Party would not represent a correct application of Marxism-Leninism to Canada and thus would be unable to lead the Canadian working class to victory.” (p. 66)

But we are left to speculate on how, in the view of the RSC, victory will be won. The RSC seems to be going in several directions at once. It is difficult to see how its few strategic conclusions follow from its preceding analysis. By failing to correctly take up the question of State power and its relationship to the principal conradiction and by refusing to draw out the strategic implications of its position, the RSC has not clearly demarcated from the old PWM “united front against US imperialism” strategy.

As a strategic statement of the “path of the revolution”, the current pamphlet of the RSC marks, if anything, a retreat from the scope of the PWM pamphlet. The earlier text looked at the history of the proletariat, attempted to analyze the question of the State, and contained an elaborate strategic and tactical line. Unfortunately, this admirable scope was not matched by a rigorous application of scientific principles to the analysis, leading to the serious economist, bourgeois nationalist and revisionist errors we cited above.

The RSC admits that “many questions remain unanswered”, including “class analysis”, “the specific personal links between capital and the State”, and other matters (pp. 6-7). But they do not explain why they chose to ignore these questions.

One explanation is the empiricist methods of the VSG-RSC, their mania for “research” and “concrete analysis” which prevents them from seeing the forest for the trees. They have been unable to do a statistical analysis of the composition of the proletariat or to establish a total picture of the personal relations between the bourgeoisie and the Canadian State[3]. So the proletariat will just have to wait before it can apply a line on class unity or attack the State as an instrument of class oppression.


The text Canada: Imperialist Power or Economic Colony? contains some of the major errors of the PWM pamphlet. The analysis is economist in that it fails to draw out a revolutionary strategy, and essentially ignores the history of proletarian class struggle in Canada. It is empiricist in that it relies on a long list of “facts” of one sort or another, rather than the explicit and systematic application of Marxist-Leninist theory to the subject at hand. The RSC fails to demarcate against bourgeois nationalism by, on the one hand, failing to present a history of class struggle in Canada but instead presenting a history of the struggles of the Canadian bourgeoisie against foreign imperialism, and on the other hand failing to analyze who holds State power.

We do not describe the RSC work as revisionist. It stops short of promoting two stage revolution, nor does it argue for the creation of an “independence movement” as a priority over building the ML Party.

Thus, the RSC is correct in its claim that its present position is not the same as the line it defended when, as the VSG, it upheld the PWM pamphjet. But it certainly cannot claim to have broken definitively with the errors of the PWM line.


Economism takes many points of departure in the Canadian Marxist-Leninist movement, but it always leads to the same thing: theory for the intellectuals and economic struggles for the workers – which can only liquidate the fundamental objectives of the proletariat.

In our view, the Red Star Collective is putting forward a thoroughly economist point of view on how to develop political line and how to unite the ML movement.

In its position paper on the unity of Marxist-Leninists published last March 29 RSC states: “The priority for all Marxist-Leninist groups must be development of correct line leading to unity. Until this goal is achieved, the winning over of new recruits to the movement from among the conscious workers must be a secondary task. It is only the Marxist-Leninist Organization, founded on a clear political program, which will be able to take up this task in earnest. Those workers who are recruited into the MLO, as into any ML group at present, will participate as communists, undertaking all tasks (primarily to create the Party), not as some separate category called “advanced workers”. That viewpoint which calls for Marxist-Leninists to recruit “advanced workers” on the basis of general abstract principles of Marxism-Leninism, condemns those workers to sitting in limbo as second class communists until a political program is worked out by the MLO“.

This formulation makes economism into the guiding line and method for building the Marxist-Leninist Organization of struggle for the Party. At a time when the forces of the ML movement, particularly in the Vancouver area, remain extremely isolated from the working class, the RSC elevates this isolation into a principle by making “secondary” the winning of workers to the movement until the MLO is built.

The RSC shows contempt for the workers in putting forward the view that workers who are won to Marxism-Leninism at this stage must (presumably because of their stupidity) sit idly by while “communists” (i.e. intellectuals) develop the program of the MLO. The practice of the Marxist-Leninist movement in areas of the country where a systematic practice in the class has been developed for some time (particularly Quebec) shows the fallacy of this arrogant attitude. Advanced workers who are sympathetic to ML, as well as those who have rallied to ML groups, participate actively in the struggle to develop a revolutionary program for the MLO, as can be witnessed by the recent national conference in Montreal.

Rather than small groups in Vancouver (and elsewhere) overcoming the organizational backwardness which ensures these groups’ isolation from the class, RSC offers its own prescription – every small group in the country should continue to work in isolation from the masses, without a consistent practice in the class, to develop lines on all the questions currently facing the Marxist-Leninist movement.

As we have already seen (Section II of this paper), the Progressive Worker Movement was totally pre-occupied with its incorrect strategic line of an independence movement as the first stage of the struggle for socialism. While recognizing the need for a Party, PWM failed to make party-building central. The main task of “socialists” was, according to the PWM pamphlet, the building of independent Canadian unions and the independence movement in general. The practice of the VSG was a direct application of this line.

The RSC has rectified some of the most glaring right opportunist errors of its history. But its failure to demarcate clearly, either from PWM or from its own recent practice and political line, means that the legacy of economism and bourgeois nationalism remains with the RSC.

The RSC recognizes that party-building is the central task, but makes debates over strategic line in the ML movement primary (and particularly the adoption of its own bourgeois nationalist line) and denies the central importance of the struggle to win advanced workers to Marxism-Leninism, thus testing and developing strategic line through class struggle.

In the past, members of the VSG-RSC have argued that the defeat of American unions in Canada is a pre-condition for the struggle for socialism to be waged effectively. Members of the VSG, in the position they presented to the Western Voice Collective (mentioned above), defended the CCU’s support for “progressive” features of the NDP government’s Labour Code and the NDP’s appointment of a CCU representative on their Labour Relation Board which aided the organizational aims of the CCU, without any demarcation from the fundamentally bourgeois, and class collaborationist character of this strategy. This line of reasoning is quite consistent with the PWM pamphlet, which focussed its criticisms of the NDP and CP on those parties ’ “betrayal” of the struggle for national independence, and their support for the “imperialist” CLC.

These tendencies in the RSC’s line and practice are also evident in their present work in the class. As late as last Fall, RSC opposed including the class collaborationist trend within the CCU unions as part of the demarcation against opportunism in the worker’s movement for the tactical unity coalition of Oct. 14. This despite the fact that a representive active of the CCU sits on the bourgeoisie’s Labour Relations Board, the vanguard of tripartism in BC.

The consequences of this line are quite striking. The defence of the CCU as an organization is placed ahead of the struggles of its members. In an article published in IN STRUGGLE! (vol. 4 no 7, page 6) the RSC calls the Alcan strikers at Kitimat “naive” and suggests that they erred in fighting for “an unwinable demand”. The RSC defends CAIMAW’s refusal to participate in a support committee for the strike (the Alcan workers are in CASAW, another CCU affiliate) on the grounds that “internal factors are key in the resolution of any contradiction.”

The RSC failed to grasp the class significance of the Kitimat struggle. The workers there took on the State and the RCMP in a struggle which challenged the foundations of the wage controls. This struggle united workers of the two nations, English Canada and Quebec.

But all the comrades of the VSG-RSC could do was complain that the CASAW local didn’t go through proper channels in seeking support: “there was no specific request to the CCU for the establishment of a support committee”. Where were the communists of the RSC-VSG while the proletariat was setting up barricades in Kitimat? Sitting in their union office waiting for a phone call!

We must also say that we do not view the RSC as the only Marxist-Leninist formation in the Vancouver area that commits economist errors (although they have elevated their economism to a principle and are the clearest expression of this trend within the ML movement locally). The other small groups in Vancouver (including our own) have yet to definitively break with this error. To “lower our profile” by partially or completely withdrawing from reformist activities in mass organizations does not constitute the defeat in practice of the VSG/Western Voice local legacy of economism. In fact, it simply replaces one form of economism with another. Instead of actively participating in spontaneous struggles on an economist basis, there has been a tendency to withdraw from the day-to-day struggles of the workers to debate in small groups the “correct line” on the path of the revolution and other questions.

The tactical unity of local groups around a Marxist-Leninist line for Oct. 14 and March 8 were important steps forward in combatting the isolation of the local movement from the class. But united interventions at certain privileged moments cannot substitute (as the RSC implies in its “unity” paper) for an ongoing and systematic practice in the class on a communist basis, in the struggle to build the Marxist-Leninist organization of struggle for the Party (MLO).

The LMC holds the view that the struggle to develop a correct orientation on the path of the revolution in Canada, as well as every other major question of political line which must be debated and resolved to form the MLO, must be struggled over in full view of the working class and with the greatest possible participation of the advanced elements.

Although it is only in a practice extending over years or even decades that the correctness of the lines on the path of the revolution will be definitively tested, the initial development of lines in isolation from the masses and their day-to-day struggles will guarantee that errors are made.

Marxists-Leninists who find themselves organized into small groups which are incapable of carrying out the tasks of communists must find means to resolve the contradictions which prevent them from carrying out these tasks.

The RSC’s prescription for every small group to develop complete analyses of all the questions being debated by the movement places the interests of small groups ahead of the interests of the proletariat and the Marxist-Leninist movement. If their advice is followed, the economism still prevalent in the local movement would be reinforced and we would continue to divorce the struggle to build the MLO from the day-to-day struggles of the proletariat and the active participation of the advanced workers in the struggle over ideological and political line.

In conclusion, we must agree with the comrades of the RSC when they say that the determination of the path of the revolution in Canada is crucial in that the success or failure of the Canadian revolution will depend on its correctness. And it is precisely for this reason, comrades, that you must make clear your own strategic formulations on the path of the revolution and make a sharp demarcation from the bourgeois nationalist and economist trends within the workers’ movement, trends in the service of the bourgeoisie which block the struggle of the Canadian working class for socialism.

RSC should realize that party-building means putting the interests of the proletariat first. The main block to proletarian struggle has not been the absence of a line saying that U.S. imperialism is the main enemy (on the contrary). The main block has been economism: the absence of scientific demarcation against class collaboration, bourgeois nationalism, racism, sexism and other forms of bourgeois ideology within the working class. If RSC based its work on this recognition, it might begin to make a far batter contribution to advancing along the first steps of the path of the revolution.


[1] The Workers Unity League was founded by the CP in 1929. Affiliated to the Red International of Labour Unions, it provided militant leadership to the struggles of Canadian workers in the early years of the Depression. In 1936 the CP leadership dissolved it in favour of the CIO, one of the US-based forerunners of the CLC.

[2] Since the first publication of this text, we discovered that in fact the 67-page PWM pamphlet devotes half a page to the question of Canadian imperialism. The “refutation’ on Canadian imperialism contains some of the RSC’s main present arguments, in embryo form.

[3] The earlier version of this sentence as published for the Western Regional Conference on the Path of Revolution, May 1977, was a typographical error.