Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Spartacist Canada

CPL vs PL: Biting the hand that rocked the cradle

First Published: Spartacist Canada, No. 28, July-August 1978
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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The 14 June issue of The Worker, four-page newssheet of the Canadian Party of Labour (CPL) contains a polemic aimed at the Progressive Labor Party (PL – CPL’s American parent) on the national question in Quebec. CPL’s polemic comes as a reply to an editorial in PL’s newspaper Challenge which reiterates PL’s long-standing position on the national question. PL’s position can be summarized as follows: (1) nationalism is a reactionary bourgeois ideology which divides workers; (2) to call for the right to self-determination is to make concessions to nationalism and therefore; (3) revolutionaries should never raise a call for the right to self-determination.

Until a year and a half ago CPL shared PL’s position. But in March 1977 it made an abrupt 180 degree line change and suddenly came out in favor of granting Quebec the right to self-determination (see SC No. 16), having learned the hard way that it couldn’t get anywhere with PL’s chauvinist reflex “anti-nationalism.” CPL has already suffered one disaster in Quebec, when it lost virtually its entire Montreal branch in 1972. CPL’s correction on the question of the right of national self-determination was the product of pure opportunism and has been accompanied by adaptation to the bourgeois nationalist politics of the Parti Quebecois (PQ). In May, for example, CPL joined with Rene Levesque, the fake-Trotskyists of the Revolutionary Workers League and other Quebecois nationalists to oppose the transfer of the corporate headquarters of the Sun Life Assurance Co. from Montreal to Toronto.

The Challenge editorial is a thinly disguised attack on CPL’s line change. In arguing its case Challenge uses plenty of quotes from earlier articles in The Worker and warns its erstwhile satellite that “it would be suicidal to look for nationalist-capitalist solutions” to the national question in Quebec. CPL replies by savagely attacking its one-time mentors and asserts that “to say ’fight for socialism’ in the event of an armed struggle over independence and not to say Quebec has a right to self-determipation would be a cowardly and rightwing step, left in form, right in content.” The Worker editorial goes on to “point out to Challenge that the pro-Moscow CP shares that view.” Strong stuff!

“There isn’t a Shred of ’Socialist Consciousness’”

CPL concludes its attack on PL with the charge that: “There isn’t a shred of ’socialist consciousness’ in the ’revolutionary’ who can ignore or turn his back on the question of the right to self-determination.” In a subsequent issue of The Worker (28 June), CPL-reprints a letter bolstering its attack on PL. It draws a parallel between the struggle against national oppression in Quebec and the struggle to destroy apartheid in South Africa. The writer suggests that the logic of the PL leaderdhip’s position could lead them to

“revise their slogan [of ’smash apartheid’] to ’smash apartheid – but not until South Africa acheives socialism.’ The corollary of this demand, of course, the demand to keep Apartheid for the time being. Which is why Lenin branded socialists in oppressor nations as Chauvinists if they refused to back the rights of oppressed nations to secession.

The spectacle of public polemics between PL and its Canadian offshoot would have been unthinkable in CPL’s earlier days. Ever since its formation in 1969 (in which PL cadre played a decisive part)CPL has willingly accepted its role as PL’s junior partner in North America and has obediently reproduced every twist,and turn of PL’s erratic political gyrations. In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s PL was a much larger organization than it is today. Through a successful intervention in. SDS – the hegemonic organization of the American New Left – PL won the allegiance of many of the best militants to its simple-minded brand of Stalinist workerism. After squandering the human material that it picked up in the late 1960’s through mindless sub-reformist hyperactivism and a series of splits (including the departure of the entire Boston branch in 1974 and a major split in San Francisco last year) PL is only a shadow of its former self and is today barely visible on the. American left.

CPL’s sharp attack on PL signals that it no longer takes its orders from New York. This does not mean that CPL has begun to correct its reformist political line. The same organizational opportunism that motivated CPL’s adoption of a crude approximation of the Leninist position on the national question led it to scab on the strikes of postal mechanics in Toronto in 1975 and again this year. CPL’s break with PL demonstrates that Stalinist organizations which share a belief in the theory of “socialism in one country” but who no longer have a “socialist fatherland” to take orders from, must inevitably fall out among themselves. Those subjectively revolutionary individuals who are interested in making a socialist revolution in North America must abjure the unprincipled opportunists of CPL and investigate carefully the consistent and principled record of the, international Spartacist tendency – represented in Canada by the Trotskyist League.