Fergus McKean

A Letter from Canada

First Published: Spark Vol. I, No. 4, July 1947
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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MIA Introduction: This letter from Fergus McKean was published in a U.S. anti-revisionist periodical, Spark. Spark promoted McKean’s book and helped to distribute it in the United States.

Dear Friends:

I was quite favorably impressed with the first issue of your magazine, the SPARK, which I have just finished reading. I feel the magazine is the first attempt at a real Marxist publication in America in recent years and will undoubtedly, eventually achieve its purpose of rescuing Marxism from the hands of the opportunists who have falsified, debased, and discredited it during the past ten years. To a Marxist there can be no doubt about the inevitability of a bona fide Marxist Party, for the reason that Marxism is the science of social change and such change is now on the agenda of history. Without a Marxist Party a successful struggle against fascism and war would be difficult if not impossible. As for Socialism, its realization is unthinkable without a Marxist Party.

But there is the tragedy. It is precisely the two strongholds of world imperialism and of international reaction, the U.S.A. and the British Commonwealth of Nations which at this critical stage of history find themselves without Marxist Parties. Of course this is not an accident nor a contradiction because “the economic base for opportunism is imperialism.” Hence it follows, it is precisely Anglo-Saxon Imperialism, which dominates and exploits the entire world, where opportunism has most completely displaced Marxism.

Having made the above observations I should now introduce myself. I first joined the Communist Party of Canada in 1932. In 1936 I was appointed district organizer for British Columbia, and in 1938 became district secretary. With the exception of 28 months spent in a concentration camp from 1940 to 1942, I remained the provincial leader of the Communist movement in B.C. until I resigned from the Labor Progressive Party in August 1945 at which time I was burdened with the title of Provincial leader of the L.P.P.

My break with the Party arose directly as a result of the Duclos Letter, the admission of guilt of revisionism by the American Party leadership and the denial of any revisionism in the Canadian Party by the National leadership of the L.P.P. and particularly the denial by Tim Buck, who a month or so previously had characterized Earl Browder as “The Outstanding Marxist Thinker of the Western Hemisphere.” Just prior to my reading of the Duclos letter the L.P.P. had contested a Federal Election in Canada under the Slogan of Liberal-Labor Coalition (i.e., that the Communist movement and the bourgeois Liberal Party should jointly form the next government and thus “preserve national unity” and “a rising level of prosperity” in Canada in the post war.)

I first made an exhaustive study of the material published in the American Communist Press admitting revisionism, and then reviewed the literature published in Canada during the previous ten years by the Communist movement. As I did so I constantly referred to the Marxian Classics and the material published by the Communist International. My studies convinced me that the Canadian Party was guilty of more complete betrayal of Marxism and of the working class than even the Browder leadership in the U.S.A., if that were possible. The denial of “any revisionism of Marxism” in the Canadian Party proved to be the proverbial last straw. As a result of expressing the viewpoint that I “had no confidence in the majority of the National leadership” I was suspended by the provincial leadership on the advice of the National leadership. A week later I attended a meeting of the National Committee where I spoke for two hours constantly interrupted by organized heckling. After two days of denial of revisionism and a tirade of abuse directed against myself as a “factionalist” attempting to “split the Party,” I was ordered to appear before a review Commission where, after a further two hours of cross examination and insults, I tendered my resignation from the Party.

There followed an unprecedented campaign of slanderous character assassination over a period of months. I was publicly denounced as a “degenerate,” a “drunkard,” as “an unprincipled traitor and disruptionist,” etc. A small group in B.C. shared my political views and either resigned from the Party or were expelled shortly afterwards. We immediately formed a Committee “for the organization of a Communist Party” and jointly financed the publication of a book which I wrote entitled “Communism Versus Opportunism.”

The book was published in May 1946, but contrary to our expectations did not achieve the result we had hoped for in bringing together a sufficient number of theoretically clear workers to create a real movement for a new Party based on Marxism. We learned, somewhat to our surprise, that the great majority of Party members had little basic understanding of Marxism, and furthermore, many were quite content to accept policies on the basis of blind faith. This attitude of course was the result of ten years of psychological conditioning; ten years during which the membership were taught to believe that the highest expression of discipline and loyalty was, not to participate in formulating policy but, to accept and try to understand the ready-made policies periodically handed down by the National Leaders.

At the time I wrote my book we had expected that once it was circulated and the membership realized the degree to which they had been misled fairly rapid progress would be made in winning over the honest, proletarian, left wing of the Party. However, the leadership were able to curb any such development by first of all preventing any organized discussion of revisionism and secondly by prohibiting the membership from reading the book. The result has been a steady disintegration of the Party arid the disillusionment of those who believed that something could be done by ”preserving the unity of the Party,” and continuing to work within it in hope of affecting corrections.

In the trade unions the Party factions have degenerated into political machines whose main task has been to perpetuate in office the L.P.P. members chosen by the leadership. These L.P.P. political machines are basically no different from the machines of the traditional A. F. of L. bureaucrats, and serve the same purpose.

Whereas in the U.S.A. the question of revisionism was relatively freely discussed, in Canada the discussion was effectively crushed. There are, of course, scores of L.P.P. members who feel instinctively there is something radically wrong with the Party but they are unable to explain wherein the Party is wrong.

Although there may have been elements of revisionism in both parties prior to 1935, it is my conviction that revisionism as a basic line of the Parties was brought about as a result of the distortion of the People’s Front Policy of the Seventh Congress of the C.I. This was expressed through the medium of such slogans as: “Unity of all Progressive Forces,” and “The Labor and Progressive Movement.” These slogans, and others of a similar character, were utilized as a screen to completely abandon the theory and practices of the Marxian doctrine of the class struggle. The term “Progressive Forces” was then interpreted to mean or include all persons and organizations which professed to be opposed to fascism and war. The “Unity” cry was then utilized to attempt the formation of the most unprincipled alliances with the organizations of not only the petty bourgeoisie but even the big bourgeoisie, including as the Canadian Party leaders put it: “The decisive section of monopoly capital.”

The logical culmination of the slogan “Unity of all Progressive Forces” was an electoral agreement with the Liberal Party in the Ontario Provincial election in Canada and in the U.S.A., submerging the Party within the Democratic Party. In both countries the Communist Parties were dissolved as were the Young Communist Leagues.

Having abandoned “the theoretical foundation of Marxism, the doctrine of the class struggle,” it followed that opportunism should replace Marxism in all spheres of Marxian theory. For instance, in Canada the Party’s position on the National question as regards French Canada and its position of inequality within the Canadian state is pathetic, while in the U.S.A. the position of Foster, et al, on the Negro question is equally ridiculous. For instance, take the following example: “In short, the probably future growth of the Negro people in the U.S.A. is not toward further maturation as a nation, but rather toward further development as a distinct national minority.” (Political Affairs, July 1946 p. 660.)

It is indeed strange how a people who have never been a nation, are not now a nation, and, it is stated, will never become a nation, will, nevertheless develop as a distinct “National Minority.”

Or consider this gem of revisionism: “It is this theoretical premise that leads Marxists to recognize the special character of the Negro question, and thus to avoid the Socialist Party’s error of viewing the oppression of the Negro people as merely a part of the larger class struggle of our nation.” (My italics F.M.)

This is in spite of the fact that “The proletariat,” said Lenin, “evaluates every national demand, every national separation from the angle of the class struggle of the workers.” (Vol. 4, Selected Works, p. 265.) Again, “national demands,” said. Lenin, “are subordinated to the interests of the class struggle.” (Ibid, p. 264.) Or this: “Marx had no doubt as to the subordinate position of the national question as compared with the labor question” (Ibid, p. 275.) Or take Stalin: “And yet it is clear to us, as Communists, that the basis of all our work must be to strengthen the power of the workers; and only then do we address ourselves to the other question, a very important question, but subordinate to the first – the national question.” (The National Question, p. 168.)

But according to Doxey A. Wilkerson, it is an “error” to “view the oppression of the Negro people as merely a part of the larger class struggle.” Of course for those who have abandoned Marxism and the class struggle such a viewpoint is quite consistent. As a matter of fact the Negro people of the U.S.A. are not, and never have been, either a nation nor a national minority. It is not national oppression from which they suffer but racial and class oppression. Not only are they not a nation but they do not possess a single one of the five characteristic features of a nation defined by Stalin. (The National Question, p. 8.) They did not evolve historically and neither do they possess a common language (as distinct from other Americans), a common economic life, (their economic life is inextricably integrated with that of the American people as a whole) a common territory, (their largest community, Harlem, is outside of the “black belt”) nor a common culture, (Their culture is basically that of the American people as a whole. In fact it is probably more “American” than that of the Pennsylvania Dutch, for instance, who have been recognized as an integral part of the American nation, without question, for centuries.)

In Canada, the Party leaders likewise have a revisionist solution for the national problem affecting French Canada. Equality for this doubly exploited one third of the Canadian population they say “requires action by the Federal and Provincial Government.” How brilliant! They further made the profound observation that the “French Canadians have political equality” but that they suffer from “economic, social, and cultural inequality” – because of Government policies.” However, the national question is only one of the spheres of revisionism. It is now clear that the basic line of both parties is one of social democratic reform and class collaboration that would even shame the notorious social democratic betrayers of European labor.

As yet, a year after the publication of my book, there has been no movement of a Marxist character developed in other centres of Canada to my knowledge and here in Vancouver, B.C., we have been unable to make any real headway.

I am very anxious to have a critical review made of my book by students of Marxism and would be deeply obligated if your group would make such a review and forward it to me. The book, with the exception of a few bound copies, sells at $1.00 and in lots of five or more for $.70 cents. In view of the fact that one-third of it is devoted to an examination and criticism of the American Party you will, I hope, find it of interest. I am forwarding a copy to you and of course would be pleased to supply as many more as you might desire as we are still heavily indebted to the printer.

I hope, to hear from you shortly, with comradely greetings.