Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Canadian Communist League (Marxist-Leninist)

Draft Program for a new communist party

3. The classes in Canadian society

In order to build a powerful revolutionary movement that will put an end to capitalism, the working class must identify who are its friends and who are its enemies in the fight for socialism. A basic class analysis is an important tool for answering this crucial question.

By understanding the class forces present in Canadian society the proletariat can concretely identify and target its main enemies and win all possible allies to its cause. By bringing together all those who have an interest in fighting the bourgeoisie, the working class can concentrate the largest possible force, the great majority of the people, against the small gang of profiteers who control our country.

The bourgeoisie, along with the revisionists and opportunists, always distort the reality that classes exist in Canada in order to undermine the revolutionary movement and lead it into a dead-end.

The bourgeoisie would have us believe that there are only a handful of poor people in our country and that they are responsible for their own lot. The bourgeoisie claims, for instance, that the majority of Canadians are “middle class,” regardless of their relations to the means of production, and of course, that this “class” has no interest in fighting capitalism.

Many bourgeois, revisionist or opportunist sociologists propagate numerous theories on “modern” classes. According to some of them, the working class is getting smaller and smaller and does not have the strength to lead the revolution.

Others would like us to believe that professionals, technicians, engineers, intellectuals and other petty bourgeois groups are all part of the working class. The goal of these anti-Marxist distortions is to liquidate the leading role of the working class, the only consistently revolutionary class and thus turn it away from its historic mission – overthrowing capitalism.

The working class’s Party must be armed with a correct analysis of the classes in the country if it wants to lead the working class to victory.

The basic definition of classes was provided by V.I. Lenin:

Classes are large groups of people differing from each other by the place they occupy in a historically determined system of social production, by their relation (in most cases fixed and formulated by law) to the means of production, by their role in the social organization of labour, and, consequently, by the dimensions of the share of social wealth of which they dispose and the mode of acquiring it.(Collected Works, Vol. 29)

There are two fundamental classes in Canadian society – the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. The bourgeoisie holds state power and is our main enemy. The proletariat is the main and, leading force in the revolutionary struggle.

Between the two lies the petty bourgeoisie. This is a complex and diverse class. Its lower strata and elements of its middle and upper strata can be won to the struggle for socialism.

The bourgeoisie

The Canadian bourgeoisie is the ruling class of our country. It is our main enemy in the fight for socialism.

The bourgeoisie is the class of capitalists who own and control the means of production, and live off the profits, the surplus value that they squeeze from the working class. The Canadian bourgeoisie is an imperialist bourgeoisie.

As well as owners of factories, mines and so on, the bourgeoisie includes: the capitalists who own and control the transportation systems, the banks, insurance companies and other financial institutions, commercial real estate, large capitalist farms; the top managers of the big corporations; and the highest bourgeois politicians, state functionaries, and top officers of the armed forces.

This tiny gang of exploiters makes up but two or three percent of the population of our country, but it is they who control all its wealth.

The bourgeoisie forms a single class, but it can be divided into two basic fractions: the monopoly and the non-monopoly bourgeoisie, or middle bourgeoisie.

The monopoly bourgeoisie, which developed with monopoly capitalism, is the dominant and leading core of the bourgeoisie. It is the small handful of finance capitalists who control the big banks, financial institutions and monopoly corporations which dominate the economic life of Canada.

Paul Desmarais of Power Corporation, Jean De Grandpre of Bell Canada, Peter Gordon, the president of Stelco, Alfred Powis of Noranda, Conrad Black of Argus, the Bronfmans and Westons these men are typical representatives of the monopoly bourgeoisie. Altogether, the monopoly bourgeoisie makes up less than one-quarter of one percent of Canada’s population.

The middle bourgeoisie is composed of smaller capitalists. They are often found in the more backward sectors of production and often associated with regional interests. They are concentrated in small manufacturing, the retail trade, as well as small financial ventures.

Often, they try to squeeze the workers even harder to remain competitive with the big monopolies. In recent years, Canadian workers have waged bitter struggles to defend the right to unionize aganist these capitalists, as at Fleck in Ontario or Commonwealth Plywood in Quebec.

For every monopoly capitalist there are dozens of smaller capitalists. Each year, especially in times of crisis, many small capitalists are ruined through competition, as the monopolies continue their drive to concentrate and centralize capital.

There are many contradictions within the Canadian bourgeoisie. There are contradictions between the monopoly and the non-monopoly fractions and among the different monopoly groups themselves. Some Canadian capitalists, like the top management officials of American monopolies in Canada, serve as agents for US imperialism and there are others closely tied to US interests. On the other hand, some elements of the Canadian bourgeoisie maintain a more independent stance toward US imperialism, while a few have adopted a strong nationalist position.

The most acute contradiction in the Canadian bourgeoisie today is between the monopoly bourgeoisie and the Quebec nationalist bourgeoisie.

But despite their differences, the capitalists are united in their thirst for profits, their drive to exploit the proletariat and in their fear and hatred of the socialist revolution.

The proletariat

The working class is the most consistently revolutionary class in Canadian society. It is the principal and leading force in the struggle for socialism. The working class is the largest class in Canada and makes up two-thirds of the population of the country. It is from the labour of these millions of toilers that the capitalists have grown rich.

The workers own no means of production, and are forced to sell their labour power to the capitalists in order to live. The workers receive a wage that corresponds roughly to the value of labour power. Their surplus labour increases or helps increase capital. The working class has no role of direction in the division of labour and is subject to the rigid discipline of capitalist production.

With the development of capitalism and imperialism, the working class has grown ever larger and has become more complex. Today the proletariat is composed of different groups of workers. There are industrial workers in the mines, factories, railways and so on (such as an Inco miner in Sudbury or an assembly-line worker at GM-Oshawa); the commercial workers, including employees in the financial and commercial enterprises, (a sales clerk at Eaton’s, a teller at the Bank of Montreal); the service workers in the state and privately-run services (such as an orderly in a hospital), and finally, agricultural workers on the farms (a farm worker on the Prairies).

Of the various types of workers, it is the industrial proletariat that is the most determined and resolute fighter in the revolutionary struggle.

The industrial workers produce the riches of society. It is they who most directly experience capitalist exploitation. Their labour turns the wheels of modern industry. Concentrated at the point of production in the large workplaces, they are the most disciplined, most experienced and best organized of the workers. They have always stood at the head of the working-class army in the struggle against the capitalists – for example during the unionization battles of the ’30s or the battles against the wage freeze in the mid-’70s.

There are about 2 {A million industrial workers in Canada, according to 1971 statistics.[1] Counting family members, the industrial proletariat makes up nearly 30% of the population.[2]

Among the ranks of the working class we must also include the vast majority of the unemployed and those on welfare as well as those who cannot work because of accident or illness. They make up a huge reserve army of labour from which the capitalists can draw labour power in times of economic expansion. The bosses also use this reserve to lower the wages and living conditions of the entire proletariat in times of crisis.

The Canadian proletariat is a multinational proletariat, made up of workers of many nationalities as well as immigrant workers.

Yet, despite the many differences that exist among the workers – between the various types of workers, between employed and unemployed, between men and women, and among the workers of different nationalities – all have the same fundamental interests in overthrowing the capitalist system.

By forging the greatest possible unity within its ranks, the proletariat can succeed in its struggle for liberation. For, in the long run, the tiny minority of exploiters cannot stand up before the organized might of the working class led by its communist party.

But to make revolution, the proletariat must win still other forces to its cause.

The petty bourgeoisie

Between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat lies a large and varied class called the petty bourgeoisie.

Some of its members own small means of production. Others are professionals, hold jobs requiring a higher education, or participate in administration or the direction of capitalist production. Its members do not live principally by exploiting the labour of others, but neither are they members of the working class.

The petty bourgeoisie is an extremely diverse class. It is an unstable class, constantly in flux. Many of its members are in the process of proletarianization as they are driven to swell the ranks of the working class. A few succeed in moving up into the ranks of the bourgeoisie. The mentality of the small owner and narrow craft spirit characterize the petty bourgeoisie.

As a whole, this class – in contrast to the proletariat – is not a consistently revolutionary force.

An independent farmer artisan or small shopkeeper, a scientist, teacher, doctor; a foreman or lower-management official are all members of the petty bourgeoisie. In total, this class makes up nearly a third of the population of Canada. According to their various means of earning a living, the members of this class are either small owners professionals or petty bourgeois employees.

What is most important for the working class is that by taking into account the different conditions in which the members of the petty bourgeoisie live and work, it is possible to divide this class into several strata each of which will play a different role in the struggle for socialism.

In the lower stratum of the petty bourgeoisie are those whose living and working conditions are closest to those of the proletariat. Small farmers, fishermen, and shopkeepers as well as many white collar employees are part of this stratum.

This section of the petty bourgeoisie suffers from the capitalist system. The small owners are ruthlessly crushed by the monopolies. Every year hundreds of small farmers, fishermen or shopkeepers are ruined while others are forced to take a second job to survive. For instance between 1951 and 1971, in a period of just twenty years, the number of farms in Canada fell from 623,000 to 366,000, or a drop of over 40%. Often the small owner’s standard of living is lower than that of the proletariat.

The petty-bourgeois employees find life harder and harder, and inflation, low wages, deteriorating working and living conditions and other effects of the crisis hit them as they do the working class.

The lower stratum of the petty bourgeoisie has no interest in maintaining the capitalist system. It can be won as a firm ally of the proletariat in the fight for socialism.

The middle stratum of the petty bourgeoisie enjoys much better living and working conditions. Its members usually own more property, have some higher education, or a role in directing capitalist production. They vary from well-to-do farmers to lower-level government and company administrators.

Despite its better standard of living, a large part of the middle stratum can be rallied to the cause of socialism. Other elements can be neutralized.

The upper stratum has a considerably larger share of the wealth and draws significant privileges from the capitalist system. Many professionals, like doctors, lawyers, as well as rich farmers and middle-level company and government officials are part of this stratum.

The upper stratum has the closest links to the bourgeoisie. It has the greatest possibility of rising to join this class. Many members of the upper petty bourgeoisie are faithful defenders of the capitalists. Some in the upper stratum can be won to socialism. Others can be neutralized, while certain elements will stand directly opposed to the socialist revolution.

With the development of capitalism, there is an increasing need for people involved in intellectual work. The intelligentsia is made up of people doing intellectual tasks. It is composed of individuals from different classes. Teachers, scientists, writers and so on are all part of the intelligentsia. Some intellectuals, such as the most successful authors, are members of the bourgeoisie. But the vast majority are members of the various strata of the petty bourgeoisie.

Intellectuals can serve either the proletariat or the bourgeoisie. They can defend either progress or reaction. While some will become die-hard defenders of the bourgeoisie, many can be won to the cause of the proletariat.

Other strata

Besides the three classes – the bourgeoisie, the proletariat and the petty bourgeoisie – there are a number of other important social strata in Canadian society that lie on the boundaries between the basic classes.

Between the proletariat and the petty bourgeoisie there is the semi-proletariat. In Canada it is quite small. It is made up of those who are part worker and part small producer and who are gradually being proletarianized or pushed down into the working class. Small farmers and small fishermen who are forced to labour as workers for part of the year are part ol this stratum.

With the development of imperialism the bourgeoisie has managed to corrupt a small group within the working class: the labour aristocracy. Its members have become labour lieutenants of the capitalist class, sabotaging the workers’ struggles and the labour movement from within, in an attempt to maintain the capitalist system.

The labour aristocracy is the tiny upper stratum of the workers who have been bought off by the super-profits of imperialism. They serve as agents of the bourgeoisie within the labour movement.

The labour aristocracy is made up of those trade union leaders who, like Dennis McDermott of the CLC or Laberge of the QFL, have sold out the proletariat to the bosses and are betraying the goals of the labour movement; it is also made up of a few very highly privileged workers.

The labour aristocracy is the base and the main social support of opportunism and revisionism within the labour movement. It is an enemy of the working class and its influence among the workers must be destroyed.

The lumpen proletariat is the lowest stratum of society, the dregs of all the other classes who live outside the normal process of production and exchange. The lumpen lives from crime and corruption. Small criminals, drug dealers, prostitutes and so on are part of this stratum. The big-time criminals are not part of the lumpen proletariat, but of the bourgeoisie itself.

On occasion, the lumpen proletariat makes some spontaneous outbursts against the existing social order. But on the whole, it is a reactionary force that can be bought by the capitalists to use against the working class. The bosses often use lumpen elements as strike breakers, for example. Their life of crime and corruption makes the lumpen proletariat a dangerous force on which the proletariat can in no way rely in its fight to overthrow capitalism.

This scientific analysis of the classes in Canadian society shows that the enemies of the working class are in reality a small isolated minority, and that the working class and the Party can rally the vast majority of the population under its banner to the cause of socialist revolution.

The analysis of class forces in Canada confirms that the proletariat is the main and leading force in the revolutionary struggle. The lower strata of the petty bourgeoisie and the semi-proletariat suffer in this system of exploitation. These working people of the towns and countryside are therefore invaluable allies of the proletariat in the fight for socialism. Together with the working class, they form the working people of Canada and have a direct interest in overthrowing capitalism.

It is an essential task of the working class and our Party to strive to win the masses of the working people to the cause of revolution.


[1] Figures are based on an analysis of the active population, according to the 1971 census.

[2] Since the family is the basic economic unit of society under capitalism, family members who do not work generally belong to the same class as the breadwinner. Thus, children and housewives belong to the same class as their father or husband because they have basically the same relation to the means of production.