Fergus McKean

Communism versus Opportunism

An Examination of the Revision of Marxism in the Communist Movement of Canada


MARXISM, “the science of the working class movement,” is a subject of importance to all working people. It is of importance because, if the policies advocated and practiced by those entrusted with the leadership of the organizations of the working class are incorrect, are a revision of Marxism, it obviously follows that the economic and political interests of the working people will not be defended and further advanced. On the contrary, the pursuit of incorrect policies can only lead inevitably to the subordination of the economic and political interests of the working people to the interests of the dominant circles in our economic and political life, monopoly capital.

The modern proponents of Marxism in Canada hitherto have been the Communist Party and its successor, the Labor Progressive Party. In practically all countries of the world today the Communist Parties occupy a very influential if not dominant position in the labor movement. Hence, it follows that the policies they advocate can and do affect a large proportion of the working people in general and of the industrial working class, to a large extent organized in trade unions, in particular.

The science of Marxism, or Marxism-Leninism as it is often referred to, is based on the doctrines of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin and has been added to and enriched by testing its theories in practice, during the past century, by the working class movement of all countries. Hence, Marxism cannot be regarded as a system of abstract theories unrelated to real life but as a developed science verified and enriched by the acid test of experience.

It is utilized as a guide to action by large sections of the working class all over the world, in the capitalist countries generally and by the working class of the U.S.S.R. in particular, where it has achieved its greatest triumph in the successful realization of socialism on one-sixth of the globe.

The economic, philosophical and political theories on which Marxism based and the tactics which have been developed and tested in practice have as their ultimate aim, the realization of the abolition of all forms of exploitation of man, by man, of all forms of oppression and injustice, through the achievement, of a socialist society.

Marxism holds that the leading force in transforming society from capitalism to socialism is that class which is itself a product of capitalism, the working class or, as Marx more precisely defined it, the proletariat, i.e., wage workers who earn their livelihood through the sale of their labor power and have no other means of existence. However, although the working class, as the most politically developed, best organized and disciplined class is historically destined to transform society, as Marxism holds, it does not follow that this is to be achieved in opposition to all other classes but rather as the leader of all toilers, of all working people, and in alliance with them. By working people is meant all who work for a livelihood and do not exploit the labor of others; a category which includes a large section of the farming population and of the middle class of the cities.

Marxism, then, constitutes a “guide to action” for the working class to follow in the struggle to achieve political power and to build socialism. In order to realize that aim, however, Marxism must and does constitute a guide to action in defending and advancing the day to day interests of the working class; in realizing their immediate aims as well as their ultimate aims. And there is no conflict between their immediate and ultimate aims, as the ultimate aim of socialism can, only be realized as a result of the experience, organization, unity and education gained in the struggle for immediate aims. Thus, Marxism serves both the immediate and ultimate interests of the working class. Marxism further maintains that the interests of the working class (the proletariat) and the interests of the capitalist class (the bourgeoisie) are irreconcilable and that therefore, the interests of the working class can not be served through collaboration or alliance with the capitalists but in opposition to them. From these conflicting interests of the two basic classes, bourgeoisie and proletariat, capitalists and workers, arises an antagonism, a struggle, between the two classes: the class struggle.

The class struggle is not an invention of the Marxists but something which has manifested its existence in all countries of the world without exception. What Marxism does do is recognize the class struggle as the motive force of history, as the means by which society moves forward and achieves higher forms of civilization. Consequently, the strategy and tactics of Marxism are also the strategy and tactics of the class struggle of the working class. To give direction and guidance to this struggle, which is essentially a political struggle, the working class must of necessity develop its own Marxist political party, apart from and independent of all other political parties. Hence, when revision of Marxism does occur, it usually develops within a political party of the working class which professes to be a Marxist Party.

Because of the fact that the theoretical foundation of Marxism is the doctrine of the class struggle, the revision of Marxism invariably takes the form of revising the doctrine of the class struggle; of teaching the identity of interests of antagonistic classes rather than their irreconcilability; to endeavor to reconcile the interests of the irreconcilable, of exploiter and exploited.

The revision of Marxism is not a new phenomenon in the history of the working class (or labor) movement. Prior to, or during the first world war, practically all professed Marxist parties of that time, which were called Socialist or Social Democratic Labor Parties, were guilty of revising Marxism, of “emasculating Marxism of its revolutionary content,” with the exception of the Social Democratic Labor Party of Russia, the Bolsheviks, led by the immortal Lenin. It was precisely because of the fact the Social Democratic Parties, affiliated to the Second International, had revised Marxism and had substituted the theory and practice of collaboration or co-operation between the two basic classes, workers and capitalists, for the theory and practice of the Marxian doctrine of the class struggle that the left wing groupings of these parties split away and formed Communist Parties and a third, Communist International in 1919.

The Communist Parties always condemned the Social Democratic Parties for their revision of Marxism which, they pointed out, resulted in subordinating the interests of the working class to the interests of the capitalist class. They correctly accused the Social Democrats of advocating reform of capitalism rather than the revolutionary transformation of society from capitalism to socialism. Therefore, they defined Social Democracy as “the theory and practice of class collaboration.”

The Communist International and its affiliated Parties in all countries regarded the Social Democratic Parties as the main obstacle to unity of the labor movement because, by following a policy of class collaboration, they brought a section of the working class under the ideological and political influence of the capitalists, thus splitting the unity of the working class.

The whole history of the Bolshevik Party in Russia, as expressed in the writings of Lenin, was a history of struggle against revisionist theories and tactics within the Party, which finally resulted in a complete organizational split in 1912. The revolutionary wing, led by Lenin, from then on constituted a separate party, the Bolsheviks. The struggle against the former opportunist wing, the Mensheviks, continued right up to, and even after the seizure of power and the founding of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

Because of the fact the Communists had always conducted a struggle against the opportunism of the Social Democrats, few people considered the possibility of some of the Communist Parties themselves revising Marxism and of advocating and practicing policies of opportunism, rather than Marxism, i.e., Communism. Hence, it came as something of a surprise when the French Communist leader, Jacques Duclos, denounced the basic line of the Communist movement in the United States as “a notorious revision of Marxism” and still more so when the overwhelming majority of the leading American Communists admitted that Duclos was correct and commenced to rectify their mistakes.

However, the discussion of revisionism was not confined to the United States. Many Canadian Communists who realized the similarity of the political line of the party of Canadian Communists, the Labor Progressive Party, followed the discussion of the American Communists with intense interest. Several L.P.P. members undertook a critical examination of the policies of the L.P.P. and some of them arrived at the conclusion that the revision of Marxism had been carried even further in Canada than in the United States and looked forward to an admission of the mistakes by the national leaders, as had been done in the U.S. Hence, the disappointment and disagreement when the National Executive of the L.P.P. announced in effect, that there was no revisionism in the Canadian Party.

The author was one of those who critically examined the policies of the L.P.P. and realized the seriousness of the revisionism of which the Party was guilty. However, against the opposition of the entire National Executive and of the B.C. Provincial Executive it was impossible to make any headway in securing a full discussion on revisionism and therefore of proceeding to correct the mistakes. Subsequent events have shown that the leadership placed their own position above the welfare of the Party and the working class. They refused to follow the advice of Lenin:

“The attitude of a political party towards its own mistakes is one of the most important and surest ways of judging how* earnest the party is and how it in practice fulfills its obligations towards its class and the toiling masses. Frankly admitting a mistake, ascertaining the reasons for it, analyzing the conditions which led to it, and thoroughly discussing the means of correcting it – that is the earmark of a serious party; that is the way it should perform its duties, that is the way it should educate and train the class, and then the masses.” – (History of the CPSU, p. 361.)

Although a considerable section of the membership entertained doubts as to the correctness of the Party’s policies they did not realize the serious consequences of a refusal to permit a full and free discussion on revisionism. They did not know that “All revolutionary parties, which have hitherto perished, did so because they grew conceited, failed to see where their strength lay, and feared to speak of their weaknesses.” – Lenin. (Ibid.)

The author’s attempt to point out the serious character of the revisionism of which the Party leadership was guilty was branded as “a brazen attempt at a conspiracy aimed at beheading and ultimately destroying the Marxist Party of the Canadian working class.” Subsequently, many of those who maintained that the Party’s policies were opportunist policies and against the best interests of the working class were accused of being part of the “conspiracy” and either expelled, threatened with expulsion or voluntarily dropped out of the Party.

Instead of a sincere attempt to decide whether the policies of the L.P.P. were correct or incorrect, whether the policies were Marxian policies or policies which constitute a revision of Marxism, the leadership of the L.P.P. made the “unity of the Party” the issue. Many sincere members who believed the policies were a revision of Marxism, were opportunism, were made to believe that the “unity of the Party” transcended all other questions and failed to realize that unity is only feasible providing it is based on ideological conviction and correct policies.

Therefore, the “accursed tradition of unity,” as the Bolsheviks called it, was utilized, as in the past, to justify opportunism. The false, non-Marxian theory that “mistakes would be corrected in time” providing unity was preserved, was advanced to justify the covering up of opportunist policies. The membership was not informed that:

“The theory of ’overcoming’ opportunist elements by ideological struggle within the Party; the theory of ’living down’ these elements within the confines of a single party are rotten and dangerous theories that threaten to reduce the party to paralysis and chronic infirmity, that threaten to abandon the Party to opportunism, that threaten to leave the proletariat without a revolutionary party, that threaten to deprive the proletariat of its main weapon in the fight against imperialism.” – Stalin (Foundations of Leninism, p. 121).

The membership did not realize the degree to which the Party leadership had succumbed to opportunism and therefore the absolute impossibility of overcoming opportunism “within the confines of a single Party.” Instead of encouraging a principled discussion on Marxian theory and practice in order to correct Party policies, the leadership substituted an unprincipled discussion of personalities designed to divert attention from consideration of Party policies. However, such tactics are a poor substitute for political debate and frank criticism of policies. For instance, the statement of the L.P.P. National Executive that the author “and his handful of degenerate cohorts are known to the workers of B.C. as men totally unfit to lead in the struggles of the people” or to denounce the author as “an unprincipled traitor and disruptionist” certainly does not convince anyone that the policies of the Party are correct. Slander cannot replace logic as a method of discussion in solving problems and arriving at correct conclusions; a subjective approach to questions cannot substitute for an objective examination.

To such lengths, however, did the leaders of the L.P.P. see fit to resort in order to discredit the critics of the Party’s policies and prevent the membership from hearing their viewpoint. It became very evident that there was no possibility of the L.P.P. admitting its mistakes and correcting its opportunistic policies. But the question of whether the labor movement should be guided by correct or incorrect policies is not a narrow question concerning the L.P.P. alone but a question that concerns the whole working class and all working people. Hence, the need of a written work that would adequately deal with the question of revisionism and which would make the issues involved the property of the entire labor movement.

Obviously, in order to intelligently treat a topic such as the revision of Marxism it is necessary to refer at length to the works of the authorities and creators of Marxism. Exhaustive quotations, of course, tend to make the text cumbersome and do not make popular reading. However, in order to decide what is revisionism and what is not, frequent and sometimes lengthy quotations are unavoidable.

The subject matter herein dealt with is divided into six chapters. Chapter I presents the opinions of Jacques Duclos and several of the leading American Communists on the revision of Marxism in the United States with very little comment by the author. Chapter II deals with the question of whether or not the American Communists have fully overcome their basic revisionist line and adopted policies of a correct, Marxist character.

The two chapters on the revision of Marxism in the U.S. were included in the present work because of the close similarity of the theoretical propositions, tactics and organizational methods advanced and practiced by the Communist movements in the two countries. In fact, the National leaders of the L.P.P. in Canada defended their policies as correct, in many instances, because they coincided with those of the American movement. Furthermore, a knowledge of the recognized revisionist concepts and tactics practiced in the U.S.A. makes it easier to recognize revisionism in the Canadian movement when its policies are examined.

The four chapters dealing with the revision of Marxism in the Communist movement in Canada trace its gradual development, the results, and deal with some of the factors which facilitated its introduction and spread. Chapter V also deals with some of the international aspects of the question. Chapter VI treats with some of the basic questions which must be dealt with by a bona fide Marxist Party and the need of such a party.

This book is probably the first Marxist work of a polemical character published in Canada. It is the author’s sincere hope that it will contribute towards overcoming the confusion and controversy from which the Canadian labor movement now suffers as a result of the revision of Marxism.

March 15, 1946