Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Canadian Communist League (Marxist-Leninist)

Draft Program for a new communist party

2. Canada: a history of working people’s struggle

The history of our country is a history of class struggle. The working people have been the motive force of Canada’s development, but it has always been the exploiting classes that have benefited. Today, under the leadership of our revolutionary Party the working class, working people and oppressed nationalities are called upon to play a decisive role in the history of our country by putting an end to exploitation and oppression.

The territory that today makes up Canada was originally settled by the Native peoples, the Indians and the Inuit. About fifteen or twenty thousand years ago, they migrated from the Asian continent, and fanned out across North America. There were about a quarter of a million Native people living in what is today Canada, engaged in fishing, hunting and some forms of agriculture, by the time the Europeans arrived.

From the beginning, Canada was built on the barbaric oppression of the Native people. When they arrived in the 16th and 17th century, the European colonizers slaughtered and oppressed the Native people and stole their lands. The Beothuk tribe in what became Newfoundland, for example, was completely wiped out. But everywhere, the Native peoples fought bravely to defend their way of life.

The early British and French settlements were established on the basis of the fur, fish and timber trades. In the more permanent French colonies that later developed, feudal seigneurs required settlers on their land to give them part of their harvest and even perform corvee (forced labour without pay).

Already at this time, class antagonisms were developing within Canadian society.

The British conquest and the rise of capitalism

Through a series of wars, England consolidated its hold over the northern half of the continent. In 1755, it conquered the French colony of Acadia and brutally expelled the Acadian population. In 1760, with the fall of New France, England’s domination was complete. This conquest lies at the root of the oppression of the Quebecois people and of the French-speaking minorities across Canada, which continues to this day.

The settlements in Canada grew in the latter part of the eighteenth century. Through the exploitation of the Native peoples and the labouring people, fur trade barons like James McGill and Simon McTavish amassed huge fortunes.

By the early nineteenth century, conditions in Canada were favourable to the rapid rise of capitalism. The last remnants of feudal relations which had hindered expansion were swept away. Since 1760, there had been a steady stream of working people coming from Britain to its North American colonies.

Industry grew quickly, as sugar refineries, tanneries, distilleries, wood and iron and steel plants were build up. The industrial working class, through whose sweat and toil production advanced, was born. In 1827, printing workers in Quebec organized the first trade union in Canada.

The 1837-38 rebellions against colonial oppression

With the rise of capitalism, there also developed popular opposition to the colonial administration. The people had no say in governing their affairs. All laws and taxes were enacted by the British government and enforced by their troops. And in Lower Canada, the conquered Quebec people suffered national oppression, as the British tried to forcibly assimilate them.

In 1837, the people of Upper Canada (today Ontario) and Lower Canada (Quebec) rebelled against the British colonialists’ oppression and against their local ruling cliques who were riding roughshod over the people. They took up arms to fight for independence and democracy.

In Lower Canada, the French Canadians were also fighting a national struggle, for their very survival as a distinct people. The Patriots, as they were called, received the firm support of the Upper Canada rebels. And within Lower Canada, democrats of English origin, like Dr. Nelson, fought side by side with their French compatriots

This solidarity between the peoples of Quebec and English Canada in the struggle against their oppressors serves as a shining example for the multinational working class today.

The rebellions were a result of popular anger at colonial rule. They also reflected the development of the bourgeoisie in Canada – which at that time played a generally progressive role – and its desire to struggle for independence.

The rebels fought courageously and won several battles, like the bitter conflict at St. Denis near Montreal. But they were finally crushed by the British troops and severely punished by the colonialists. Many working men and small farmers active in the revolt were publicly hanged or exiled.

The British stepped up their oppression of the Quebec nation: the famous Durham report of 1839 recommended the banning of French and total assimilation of the “French nation” into the English-Canadian nation.

Confederation in 1867

Despite their failure, the 1837 uprisings began the process that eventually led to Confederation in 1867 and the establishment of an independent Canada.

Confederation put Canada on the road to political independence. It gave the young Canadian bourgeoisie the state apparatus it needed to consolidate its domestic market and spur on the development of capitalism.

The establishment of Confederation was also designed in particular to block annexation of western Canada by the United States. From its invasion of Canada in the War of 1812 to its declaration of its “Manifest Destiny” to control the entire continent, the USA made clear its expansionist aims.

Confederation also solidified the bourgeoisie’s rule over the many oppressed nationalities in Canada. The Quebec people were forced to join Confederation, they were not consulted and their right as a nation to determine their own future was denied. The rights of oppressed nationalities like the Acadians, Native peoples and Black Canadians were also ignored.

As well, the Canadian state, created in 1867, still had ties to Britain. Gradually, the Canadian bourgeoisie did consolidate its independence, and with the Statute of Westminster in 1931, Canada’s full independence was recognized. However, up to this day certain vestiges of Canada’s colonial past remain. For instance, Canada has no constitution other than the British North America Act, a law passed by the British parliament, and England’s Queen is still recognized as Canada’s monarch.

The working class and national movements grow

In the decades following Confederation, the Canadian bourgeoisie, with the help and support of its state, extended its rule from the Atlantic to the Pacific. It organized the construction of the trans-continental railways and thus extended its control to the Pacific Ocean.

Capitalists like Lord Strathcona (President of the Bank of Montreal for 27 years) and William Van Home made their millions from the building of the railways. The government gave the Canadian Pacific Railway 25 million acres of land and millions of dollars in grants.

At this time the emergence of the proletariat and its struggle against the Canadian bourgeoisie became increasingly the central motive force in the development of our country.

The railway was built with the sweat and blood of thousands of working men. More than a thousand of them died – many of them Chinese immigrants brought in especially to do the near-slave labour.

Hundreds of thousands of immigrant workers came to Canada in the post-Confederation period, especially before World War I in 1914 and helped build up this country.

The working class movement was growing. As early as 1843, Irish and French workers at the Lachine Canal had united to wage a bitter battle against intolerable working conditions. In 1872, the movement for the nine-hour day was taken up by the emerging trade unions, eventually forcing Prime Minister John A. MacDonald to legalize unions in Canada that very same year. In the second half of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, the first permanent trade unions were established, laying the foundations for the modern labour movement.

The oppressed nationalities also stood up for their rights. In 1869 and again in 1885, Louis Riel led the Metis and Indian peoples in uprisings in what are today the Prairie provinces to stop the seizure of their territory and denial of their national rights by the Canadian ruling class.

Massive demonstrations swept Quebec to protest Riel’s hanging in 1885.

To deal with the resistance of the workers and nationalities, the bourgeoisie built up its own repressive forces. One year after Confederation, in 1868, the Militia Act created an army explicitly to quell any internal revolts. And the North West Mounted Police (later to become the RCMP) was founded in 1873.

The development of Canadian imperialism

In the last part of the nineteenth and first part of the twentieth centuries, capitalism in Canada developed to its highest stage; monopoly capitalism, or imperialism.

Monopoly capitalism developed through the ruin of millions of small producers and the continued concentration of capital into the hands of a smaller and smaller number of monopolists. With the coming of monopoly capitalism, trusts and huge companies emerged to dominate whole industrial sectors. Where dozens of small capitalists had once competed, their place was taken by one or two monopolies. Canadian Pacific (1872), Dominion Textile (set up in 1905), and Stelco (1910) were among the monopolies born of the fusion of many smaller companies.

Monopoly capitalism forges a tight link between the big banks and the industrial monopolies. These forces merge to form finance capital and the financial oligarchy – a small group of big monopolies which dominate the economy. The big five Canadian banks are powerful pillars behind many key sectors of the whole country’s economy. For example, at the turn of the century, the Bank of Montreal had formed a block with Canadian Pacific, Stelco, Sun Life and the Royal Trust.

With the development of imperialism, Canadian capitalists began to export capital to exploit the peoples of other countries. By 1914 the Royal Bank already had 33 branches in the Caribbean. And Sun Life was selling two-thirds of its policies abroad in 18 foreign countries. In 1930 Canada had 1.3 billion dollars in long-term foreign investment. In 1976 the figure reached $23.5 billion dollars, and Canadian imperialism is active in numerous countries, including many areas of the third world.

Today, the Royal Bank has 85 branches outside Canada. Massey-Ferguson, Distillers Seagrams, Weston, the Hudson’s Bay Company and Bata Shoes are but a few of the big Canadian monopolies well-known around the globe as fierce exploiters of the people.

Canada never held its own colonies, but this changes nothing in its imperialist and monopoly nature. Like all imperialists, Canada participated in the struggle to divide the globe. Canada took part the Boer War (1899-1901) and joined the Anglo-French bloc in the first imperialist war (1914-1918). The Canadian bourgeoisie, like those of other capitalist powers, sent troops to Russia in 1918 to attempt to crush the October Revolution.

Today Canada supports reactionary regimes like South Africa and Israel to protect its imperialist interests.

Even after Canada had become an independent imperialist country, the Canadian bourgeoisie remained closely tied in its early years to British imperialism, at the time the largest foreign power present in Canada. In the period between World War I and World War II however, this began to change. Great Britain emerged severely weakened from the First World, War. US imperialism rapidly built up its economic penetration until it finally replaced British imperialism as the dominant foreign power in Canada.

After the Second World War the Canadian bourgeoisie favoured a policy of close alliance with US imperialism. During the late ’40s, the ’50s and the ’60s, while US imperialism was the dominant world power, there was much that the Canadian monopolists could gain from their close association with US capital.

In 1947 the Canadian bourgeoisie adopted the Abbott plan which limited Canadian manufacturing industry and favoured the import of finished American goods in return for the export of Canadian raw materials, and encouraged the setting up of subsidiaries of American companies.

Canada joined the NATO pact when it was established in 1948.

Canadian foreign policy in the ’50s and early ’60s closely followed US policy, Canada sent troops to support US aggression in Korea in 1950, and participated in the US “cold war” policies. Canada served as a cover for US imperialist aggression in Vietnam and Kampuchea in the ’60s.

Even though in more recent years the Canadian bourgeoisie has taken a more independent stand, US imperialist influence in Canada remains massive.

Capitalism creates its own grave diggers

Imperialism is a reactionary system all down the line – a system of heightened exploitation and national oppression. But it also sparks the increased resistance of the working class and people and the oppressed nationalities. The ground is laid for the final overthrow of imperialism, a dying and decadent system.

In the latter part of the nineteenth century, the labour movement matured in scope and militancy. From 1901 to 1913, no less than 11 major strikes led to the intervention of the militia.

During the First World War, the Borden government’s conscription policy in 1917 provoked justified resistance from the labour movement and particularly from the Quebec people, who refused to be cannon fodder in a battle to defend imperialist plunder.

The severe economic crisis that followed the war gave rise to new workers’ struggles. At the same time, the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 had a profound impact on the labour movement. In 1919, the Western Labour Congress, uniting trade unions of BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, passed resolutions in support of the Russian Revolution and proletarian dictatorship in Canada.

In May, 1919, a strike of construction and metal-industry workers led the Winnipeg General Strike, involving 35,000 workers. For 42 days, the working class virtually ran the city before the strike was finally put down by the state’s bloody repression.

But the general strike pointed the way forward and showed the need for a true workers’ party – a communist party. In 1921, the Communist Party of Canada was founded in Guelph, Ontario. During the ’20s and ’30s, the party led the fightback against the crisis measures. In 1934, about 75% of all strikes were waged by communist-led unions. The CP mobilized the unemployed and relief camp workers for jobs and unemployment insurance, with such famous actions as the 1935 On To Ottawa Trek. But the degeneration of the party into revisionism – it is now an agent of the bourgeoisie and Soviet social-imperialism – left the working class leaderless.

Our Party’s task is to take up and carry on the rich tradition of revolutionary struggle of the Canadian working class.

The resistance of the working class and oppressed nationalities has continued during the last 30 years. There were militant strikes, like Asbestos in 1949, Murdochville in 1957, and the struggles in the Post Office in the ’60s.

The ’60s saw a tremendous upsurge of resistance to national oppression in Quebec and the emergence of an anti-imperialist movement among youth and students in reaction to the Vietnam war.

The economic crisis of the ’70s swept away the period of relative prosperity of the ’50s and ’60s. A new strike wave, the likes of which Canada had not seen for many years, swept the country. The battles in 1973-74 for cost-of-living adjustments and the fight against the wage freeze, culminating in the general strike on October 14, 1976, gave Canada one of the highest strike records in the Western world.

Oppressed minorities like the Native peoples and French-Canadian minorities in English Canada made their voices heard with renewed determination. And the early ’70s also witnessed the birth of the new communist movement. With its growth in recent years, Marxism-Leninism has once again begun to take root among the proletariat and oppressed peoples.

Hence our country’s past has been that of a long and bitter class struggle in which the working class and oppressed peoples have never ceased to fight.

The Canadian bourgeoisie has thus produced its own grave diggers – the Canadian proletariat. The bourgeoisie today finds itself trapped in its own system whose basic contradictions have sharpened incredibly. The rampant economic, political and social crises are signs of imperialism’s decay.

Monopoly capitalism is the last stage of capitalism.

It is capitalism ripe for socialist revolution.