First Published: Documents of the National Conference on the Unity of Canadian Marxist-Leninists, January 1977.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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We wish to point out the participation of Jack Scott, a Marxist-Leninist devoted to the cause of the proletarian revolution for more than 45 years. During the Conference, there was a standing ovation of several minutes for him, by all the participants who thus paid homage to his revolutionary spirit and implicitly to all the veritable communists who shaped the revolutionary tradition of the Canadian proletariat.
I have been invited to speak on a particular topic. Before, proceeding to that task I want to declare my solidarity with IN STRUGGLE!/EN LUTTE! for having taken the initiative in calling this conference of Marxist-Leninists. As one of a generation that is passing from the scene, I find it a stimulating experience to see so many young people participating in this historic event. As Mao Tse-Tung has said: “A journey of ten thousand li begins with but a single step”. In our journey toward the organization of struggle for the creation of the party this is indeed a significant step. I accompany you some distance on the way toward our goal.
It is a strange phenomenon indeed to see how an organization, the Progressive Workers Movement, that has been defunct for more than seven years, is today being made the target of considerable discussions and criticism. This is all the more remarkable in view of the fact that, while it did lay claim to being a Marxist-Leninist organization, PWM was never a party, and for its entire existence was confined to the province of British Columbia. If some people who were formerly members of PWM are failing to conduct themselves properly within the context of present conditions, would it not be more appropriate, for criticism to be directed at their present views and practice?
However it is a fact that some questions are being raised concerning the history of P.W.M., so it would seem to be necessary that at least one of those people who played a significant role in the movement should offer some comment on the state of the discussion now under way.
It is not possible, of course, to deal with the subject adequately on the few notes submitted here. But a beginning has already been made on the preparation of a more detailed history of P.W.M., and a lengthy first draft of a paper dealing with the origins of the movement has now been completed.
Almost all of the comments on P.W.M. that I have read until now, start out with the remark that the writer is not at all versed in the subject. But the confession of inadequate knowledge and information has never yet proved to be a deterrent to the writer’s proceeding with the penning of broad and sweeping statements on the subject. This would appear to be an appropriate moment for reminding these writers of the Chinese policy in such matters: “No investigation, no right to speak.” How about some small effort at investigation before more articles on the subject are published!
A great deal is being spoken and written about “two-line struggle” these days. But are we really being made aware of what two-line struggle really is, and the particular way in which it manifests itself in a specific period? This question is most relevant to the continuing discussion concerning P.W.M., because none of those who are busily engaged in discussing the problem undertake to deal with it within the context of two-line struggle. The question is: what was the role of P.W.M., and those that created it, in the two-line struggle as it was manifested during the sixties? That is the only proper way to deal with the matter.
Now surely we all know that there are only two lines in the struggle, – the bourgeois line, and the proletarian line – and we must clearly identify each of these lines, and the forces that represent each in the movement. And we must be careful not to confuse differences over tactics with real issues in two-line struggle.
It is axiomatic that two-line struggle objectively represents on the one side bourgeois interests, and on the other side the interests of the proletariat. There can be, and are, disputes in which neither side represents the objective interests of the working class. This inevitably occurs when opportunists of both right and left clash in dispute. Both sides serve the objective interests of the bourgeoisie in different ways, representing a quarrel over methods, but not being in any way a manifestation of two-line struggle. All variations of right and left positions constitute but one line, that of the bourgeoisie. If a political line does not serve the objective interests of the proletariat it must, of necessity, serve the interests of the bourgeoisie. By the same taken there can be no such thing as three-line struggle.
Two-line struggle must be clearly recognized for what if it; an ideological manifestation of the irreconcilable struggle between two opposing classes in society. As such it is evidence of the constant and enduring struggle between proletariat and capitalist, which persists even into the period of proletarian rule and socialist construction.
The history of the Communist Party of Canada provides us with many examples of two-line struggle. Several of the more notable of these struggles are worth mentioning briefly here:
In the twenties, when the party was still a very young organization, especially in experience, there was a very sharp struggle conducted against the Trotskyist faction, which concluded only when this element was driven out of the movement. In this two-line struggle the objective interests of the bourgeoisie, while the interests of the proletariat were represented by the party majority, even though that representation was far from being as efficient and effective as it might have been given a party with more experience, and a higher level of ideological development. Of course Trotskyism outside the party still represents the bourgeois line in the working class movement, and must still be struggled against. It is an antagonistic contradiction having consolidated in the service of the bourgeoisie.
In the war and immediate post-war period Browderism exercised an overwhelming influence over party leaders in Canada, until it was denounced on an international level by Jacques Duclos. This struggle was taken up internally by Fergus McKean and his associates who were concentrated mainly in the British Columbia district of the party. They sharply criticized the Browder line in Canada and attempted to reconstitute the party of revolution in the country. But the majority of the party leadership was successful in absolving themselves of the stigma of Browder revisionism and defeated the venture of McKean. But the fact of defeat must not be allowed to obscure the fact that the McKean group represented proletarian interests in a two-line struggle, while the leading majority persisted in revisionism and the bourgeois line.
During the late fifties and into the sixties yet another two-line struggle developed in an organized way in British Columbia. This struggle was carried on internally until the expulsion of the group in early 1964. This particular struggle was conducted with the end in view of rallying all those opposed to the bourgeois line being promoted by the Central Committee under the guise of an anti-monopoly campaign. An attempt was made to rally a centre on a national basis, but this failed of achievement, and a movement – not a party restricted to British Columbia, (the Progressive Workers Movement) was founded.
The evolution and subsequent record of P.W.M. must be viewed within the context of this concept of two-line struggle. Only then can we arrive at a correct balance of successes and failures. Did this development of the sixties serve the objective interests of the bourgeoisie, or those of the proletariat? If the former is the case, then all further criticism of its work would be largely an exercise in futility. But if the latter correctly describes the situation, then the critical examination of P.W.M. experience is deserving of a more serious attitude than has been evident in most articles to date. Including P.W.M. a general statement referring to other splits in the Communist Party is not a proper approach to the problem. As pointed out above, not even split represents the objective interests of the proletariat. So each incident must be examined independently in order that it may be established which class interests are served – bourgeois or proletarian.
The Communist Party members who ultimately founded P.W.M. were all solidly proletarian in character. They were factory workers, and members and activists in trade unions and other working-class organizations. That, of course, is in itself not a guarantee of a correct proletarian line.
As early as, the closing months of the 1950’s, the group engaged in inner-party struggle over what was considered a wrong political line. As the line of the party degenerated further, into a petty-bourgeois anti-monopoly program, the struggle sharpened and began to take on an antagonistic character.
Simultaneous with the sharpening struggle over domestic policies, there appeared a sharpening of attitudes in the international ideological dispute. In that dispute the party majority stood on the side of the Soviet Union, while the proletarian element in British Columbia openly proclaimed solidarity with the CP. of China.
Towards the end of 1963, while still members of the Communist Party the proletarian element founded the Vancouver Canada-China Friendship Association, the first, and for some years the only, organization of its kind any where in the Western Hemisphere, and one of a very few anywhere in the world. This organization has been in the past, and still is is the present, responsible for many practical acts of international solidarity, and consistently carries on activities designed to inform Canadians on the struggles within China, and the victories in socialist construction there. It was the work in this area that was finally employed as the excuse for the expulsion of the proletarian element from the Communist Party.
The Party members who were deeply involved in this struggle were conscious of the fact that their activities, which were becoming increasingly open and public in character would inevitably end in expulsion or split. With that in mind, the British Columbia group took steps to ensure their own survival and continuity as a group, with the clear objective of becoming a part of a revitalized revolutionary party on a national scale.
The British Columbia group was never at any time interested in, or in favour of, a movement which would be limited to the western province. It was the intention of the B.C. group to participate in a revolutionary proletarian party in Canada.
Towards that end three of the B.C. people embarked on a 9,000 mile journey, throughout Canada, a journey which resulted in the holding of a conference in Toronto in 1964 for the purpose of discussing, ways and means of achieving our goal. We in British Columbia were convinced that the ultimate success of the operation on a national scale depended upon the existence of a solid core of activists in Ontario.
For a brief period there appeared to be a basis of common unity, and solid hope for at least limited success in our endeavours. But one person, of considerable influence in Ontario, returned to Toronto from Cuba immediately after our departure, and proceeded to convene, at London, Ontario, a meeting of virtually the same people that had gathered at Toronto under British Columbia sponsorship. At the London conference, the returnees from Cuba presented a romantic interpretation of the Cuban revolution, and argued the alleged lessons contained in it for the Canadian situation.
The argument proceeded along the lines that what was required in existing conditions was a broad anti-imperialist movement, out of the success of which would spontaneously emerge a revolutionary party. But, it was contended, a Marxist-Leninist Party was just, then irrelevant to the Canadian situation. This line, of course, did not in any way represent the objective interests of the proletariat. It was merely a variation of the bourgeois line in the movement, dressed up in some “leftist” rhetoric.
Naturally, their unforeseen development, which had resulted in the disintegration of the Ontario centre, confronted the B.C. people with something in the nature of a crisis. From the start we had been opposed to, and had striven to avoid the formation of a movement which would be restricted to British Columbia. But clearly, we faced a dilemma: to join a nebulous broad anti-imperialist movement, or pursue, from a necessarily limited base, our efforts at the reconstitution of the revolutionary proletarian party in Canada.
After much careful examination and discussion of the problem, the B.C. people opted for the latter course. The Ontario group was informed that B.C. was conscious of the need for Communists to actively participate in the popular mass movements, so far that it was within their capacity to do so. But on view of the degeneration of the Communist Party the first duty and main task of revolutionaries in this period was to work towards the objective of reconstituting a revolutionary party.
Reluctantly, but without any other alternative as they saw it, the people of B.C. proceeded with the founding of a local organization, the Progressive Workers Movement. The very thing had occurred that they had to avoid.
PWM therefore was neither spontaneous, nor deliberately conceived over a long planning period of time. It was not a reaction to the degeneration of the Communist Party. Rather it was the direct result of the collapse of plans of a much different organization, national in scope. It was a response to the undermining activities of people masquerading as anti-revisionist elements, who really represented a variation of the bourgeois line in the movement two-line struggle.
PWM was not conceived of as a party by its creators, but more in the nature of a holding operation, to keep alive the anti-revisionist struggle and the fight for a proletarian party in Canada. How the members of PWM intervened in this struggle, and in the international ideological dispute, is recorded in the pages of Progressive Workers, B.C. Newsletter, leaflets and other documents, paper and statements, issued over a period of six years.
The logical conclusion to this brief outline is that the movement which resulted in the emergence of PWM, and PWM itself, represented the objective interests of the proletariat in the two-line struggle. Therefore any critical analysis of the movement must start from that point of departure, taking into account this fundamental character of the movement.