Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

B. Workers’ Unity: Vacillation and Cowardice

Vacillating Elements on the Journal

Workers’ Unity is a collective in Toronto which, like the TCG, has a long history of economism and right-opportunism. Their mutual association and political bankruptcy dates back to the close of the terrorist era. However, in the case of Workers’ Unity we will not be dealing in this pamphlet with the wide range of their politics, because they have submitted two major position papers to Canadian Revolution which are already for public examination and which the Bolshevik Union will be analyzing in the future. In particular, the first issue of LINES OF DEMARCATION will contain a major analysis of Workers’ Unity’s economist and opportunist position on building the party, as well as a discussion of their opportunist trade-union practice. As many of their activities within the Journal collective are discussed earlier in this pamphlet, we limit ourselves in this section to points not dealt with elsewhere.

Workers’ Unity in the Journal played the role of vacillating elements. They did not take leadership in guiding the Journal towards opportunism but neither did they commit themselves toward opposing it. The reader will notice that Workers’ Unity’s first document upholds the coalition nature of the Journal, calling for debate and struggle over major questions within the pages of the Journal; while simultaneously calling for developing unity on major political questions within the Journal group (as is called for by TCG in “Step-by-step Unity”). In their second position, Workers’ Unity came out clearly in favour of open debate and the maintenance of a clear distinction between the nature of the Journal and the nature of a Marxist-Leninist democratic centralist organization with a political line. During that time their voting patterns vacillated between the principle of representivity and the principle of “unity”. In their final position paper, after having come out orally in favour of elections, they objectively liquidated the principle of representivity: by refusing to support the Bolshevik Tendency’s candidates for the Editorial Board, by calling for the principle of majority takeover of the Journal as originally put forward by the TCG, and by endorsing the platform of the one individual who called for “unity around a task” and demarcation of political line by Canadian Revolution.

Workers’ Unity’s vacillating posture in the Journal is a reflection of their vacillating and tailist political line, as will be dealt with by us in LINES OF DEMARCATION. In our first article on Workers’ Unity, we will be putting forward the position that they vacillate between proletarian ideology and bourgeois ideology, but when forced to choose a side they choose the bourgeois line. This was true in the Journal as well.

Up until the final stretches of the struggle, Workers’ Unity behaved in a generally more principled fashion than did the TCG in several respects. (This was not a difficult achievement.) Their vacillations in position were sometimes accompanied by self-criticism, particularly in their decision to support at-large elections. Moreover, Workers’ Unity never took leadership in opposing the publication of any material. They advanced criticism of the first draft of the Native article for its style, tone and general sloppiness but made clear that they were not advancing any criticisms of its political line. Unlike the TCG, they supported the publication of the Native article in its full suggested final form and were in fact helpful in making suggestions to realize this form.

When Workers’ Unity finally came out in favour of at-large elections, they strongly indicated that they would be voting in such a way as to ensure the representative character of the Journal, and that this would be the basis of their voting pattern. Such a position can only be described as the height of bureaucratic farce. If they supported the principle of representivity – which would reflect the coalition nature of the Journal – then they should have rallied to the Bolshevik Tendency’s leadership in supporting a representative editorial board. If, on the other hand, they supported the principle of “developing political unity” within the Journal collective – which would reflect an opportunist organizational structure – then they should have rallied to the leadership of the TCG, and supported the principle of majority takeover of the Journal. Yet in the spirit of a sociable attempt to please all possible worlds, Workers’ Unity supported their own, on-the-fence invention which called for representivity ensured on the basis of at-large elections!

Workers’ Unity’s vacillation did not last forever. At the meeting at which they came out in favour of elections, it was pointed out to them that the Bolshevik Tendency would leave the Journal if we were not represented on the Editorial Board. Then, without ever raising the issue again in the Journal grouping, they submitted their election platform which the reader can examine. It calls for “the principle of unity in action and majority decisions” without saying unity around what. It invited any minority which happened to be present to submit to majority decision or else leave the Journal, in the spirit of “Step-by-step unity”. And, perhaps as the primary example of such developing “unity”, it called for the isolation of the left by the elimination of the Bolshevik Tendency from the editorial board. They say, “We fell that the BT has played an obstructionist role in the group and in practise does not operate from our basis of unity. This is a serious criticism.” This despite the fact that, on several occasions, they had indicated their support for our positions within the Journal group! If, indeed, Workers’ Unity found this to be such a serious criticism, it might have occurred to them to advance this criticism to the Bolshevik Tendency! Then they continue, “We feel especially that recent decisions, adopted as our working policy, on methods of work in the journal in handling contradictions among its members have been ignored”. We would have been delighted if Workers’ Unity had thought to explain to the Bolshevik Tendency, of whom this criticism is made, just how we had handled contradictions incorrectly within the Journal group. As we note in the Introduction, our methods of struggle – that is, struggle itself, and the effort to engage in polemics and open criticism – is, we maintain, the correct method of handling contradictions. Moreover, we note that the Bolshevik Tendency as a fully constituted tendency had existed during only two collective Journal meetings prior to the elections, and at neither meeting were such criticisms advanced to us. We characterize Workers’ Unity’s sudden change of heart as an attempt to use the opportunity of at-large elections to oust the Bolshevik Tendency from the Journal coalition in a cowardly and back-door fashion. This did not surprise us, however, because it was a reflection of their cowardly political practice which they have exhibited in previous political contexts. In fact, our interpretation of their move here is that they saw this as a good way to isolate people at last who had long been a thorn in their economist side. The following is an account of their cowardice and opportunism.

Workers’ Unity: A Phony “Desire for Unity”

Workers’ Unity, in their article “Unite to Build the Marxist-Leninist Party” (CR 1:3), criticizes the Stover-Perri position on building the party (CR 1:1) as “opportunism of a ’left’ variety”, “a serious ’left’ deviation” and “an over-reaction to the errors of the recent period.” However, we are told that their criticism of Stover and Perri is conducted “according to the method of ’unity/criticism/unity””. They say:

The Marxist-Leninist method of struggle must proceed, as Mao said, from the “desire for unity” and according to the method of “unity/criticism/unity”. . . . The new Communist movement must strive to build the widest possible principled unity, to lay the basis for a new Communist Party. We must defeat all tendencies towards “seeking hegemony” and narrow “group mentalities”, (p. 46)

We will respond with a look at Workers’ Unity’s practice in ; terms of their “desire for unity” with Stover and Perri.

Stover and Perri contacted Workers’ Unity when they first entered the Marxist-Leninist movement. Workers’ Unity presented Stover and Perri with a position paper, which they said was the first position paper which their collective had written. This paper was the paper which Workers’ Unity self-criticizes in their article in Issue No. 3 of Canadian Revolution. Stover and Perri met with them again and criticized them for economism and right-opportunism, and said that the principal task was not to “build the class consciousness and fighting capacity of the working class”, but to build the party. They strongly disagreed and found the Stover-Perri position to be a “left” error.

Stover and Perri then wrote them a response to their position paper, which, like their original position, is now available from the Bolshevik Union for the price of xerox. The Stover-Perri paper itself contained many economist errors and was in fact an extremely liberal and cautious criticism.

Workers’ Unity never responded to that paper. They said that they had “learned a great deal from it” and would be reworking their position in light of the Stover-Perri paper and “others which they had received”. As to which other responses they were referring to, we have not been informed. They refused to discuss the politics of their position or the Stover-Perri position.

Stover and Perri then set out to write an article for the Journal on “why building the party is the principal task.” They found that this was a necessary article to write because they had not met ANY Marxist-Leninists in English Canada who defined the principal task correctly. Their struggle at that time was a two-line struggle against out-and-out anti-Leninist liquidationism, of which Workers’ Unity’s position was a leading example. As Workers’ Unity themselves said in their article, their paper was “one of the few articulated positions of the right-opportunist trend within our movement.” (p. 6) How true, Workers’ Unity! But, whereas Workers’ Unity found this a valid reason to use their paper for public self-criticism, they did not find it a valid reason to allow others to use it as an object of public criticism. They instead chose to set the stage for their own self-criticism, where they would not have to respond to the criticisms of other Communists. Their old position paper was public exactly to the extent that they chose to exerpt from it and make it public.

Not only did Workers’ Unity refuse to be held accountable for this paper, but they also told Stover and Perri that if they used it despite Workers’ Unity’s objections, then there could be no future talk of unity between the two tendencies. Thus Workers’ Unity made this question a question of principle. Different questions are questions of principle to different Communists. Some of us find the right of an oppressed nation to secede a question of principle. Some of us find Lenin’s formulations on how to build the party a question of principle. Some of us find our opposition to “building our unity around a common practice” to be a question of principle. Workers’ Unity found their need to hide their opportunist politics from exposure to the Marxist-Leninist movement, to be their question of principle. This is how they priorized their politics.

In Workers’ Unity’s election platform on the Journal, they criticized the Bolshevik Tendency for not operating from the basis of unity of the Journal in practice. Presumably, this meant that the Bolshevik Tendency made non-antagonistic contradictions antagonistic and did not act in the spirit of “unity/criticism/unity”. Yet Workers’ Unity drew a firm and definite line of demarcation between themselves and those who would seek to quote their position paper. This is the practice of the people who have criticized others for making non-antagonistic contradictions antagonistic.

Stover and Perri have been criticized throughout our movement for not quoting the Workers’ Unity position by name, and they accept the criticism. They are self-critical for their liberalism. They objectively contributed to the festering of right-opportunism in Canada, because they did not understand how low right-opportunists will stoop when Leninism comes haunting their hiding places. Stover and Perri conciliated Workers’ Unity’s opportunism in the interests of a “desire for unity”, because they did not understand that a “desire for unity” is not a call to liberalism.

Even this conciliation, however, has never resulted in one meeting with Workers’ Unity since then on the subject of building the party. Since then as before, Workers’ Unity has refused to meet with Stover and Perri about building the party. At one point they said that they would agree to such a meeting when they “got their new position paper together”. However, when they “got it together”, they submitted it directly to the Journal, including a superficially scathing but fundamentally pathetic attack on the Stover-Perri position. Stover said that the attack was “consciously unprincipled and consciously opportunist”, and requested the right to a simultaneous reply. (Note: he did NOT seek to have the article suppressed!) Workers’ Unity never responded to that criticism, and in fact, when invited to a meeting to discuss the response that Stover and Perri were preparing to their article, replied, “Unless you agree with our criticism of you, there is nothing to talk about.”

And that is the story of Workers’ Unity’s practice in their search for “the widest possible principled unity to lay the basis for a new Communist Party.” (p. 46) Workers’ Unity has shown in practice that they are unable to accept criticism, unable to acknowledge correct leadership, cringing in fear of ideological struggle, and opportunist in their relationship with other Marxist-Leninists.

Reading their article, one might get a different impression. “It has been less than a year,” says Workers’ Unity, “since we began to be genuinely critical and self-critical of right-opportunist errors.” (p. 5) Far less than a year, indeed. We did not see one word of self-criticism from Workers’ Unity on the subject of the party until they submitted their article to the Journal. “Although we made initiatives from time to time to other Marxist-Leninists and ’unaffiliated leftists’, we never followed through in the consistent fashion that was required.... Without this, our occasional initiatives were bound to fail.” (p. 7) They happen to omit that to this day they are not even following through with us in inconsistent fashion. They further “self-criticize”:

A further subjective error on our part was that of adhering to a ’small group mentality’ .... Although we did argue with other Marxist-Leninists about the need for discussion and debate towards the formation of a pre-party organization, we quickly retreated back into the security and obscurity of our small collective as soon as those initiatives were rebuffed, (p. 9)

They paint themselves as so principled and well-intentioned; just a little bit shy! Of course, they never did any “rebuffing” This sentence in particular was criticized before the article went to press, but no change was introduced.

When Workers’ Unity criticizes the Bolshevik Tendency for not demonstrating the proper “desire for unity”, we find it amusing. Workers’ Unity has never shown our members the smallest “desire for unity”. They were more than willing to work with us around our common practice, and in fact to call for “unity” with us on that basis. But, when it came to struggle over line to build the party, they have objectively treated us as counter revolutionaries. Thus we are not piqued when they demarcate against us as “saboteurs” engaging in “counter revolutionary acts”. In practice, it does not change our relations with Workers’ Unity one iota.