Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Bolshevik Union

The Degeneration of Canadian Revolution

First Published: Lines of Demarcation No. 1, July-August 1976
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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MIA Introduction: This article was published by the Bolshevik Union, the successor organization to the Bolshevik Tendency, in the first issue of its journal Lines of Demarcation. The Bolshevik Tendency had participated in the work of the journal Canadian Revolution during its first four issues. The Canadian Revolution editorial refered to in this article,“CR Responds to the Bolshevik Tendency”, appeared in Canadian Revolution, issue number 5.

Canadian Revolution has clearly degenerated. Issue no. 5 is inadequate, to say the least. With the exception of one article by the May 1st Collective (which, incidentally, is excellent), there is little in that Journal to justify its existence as a forum for debate in the Marxist-Leninist movement. It is larded up with reprints, white space, and blown-up graphics from past issues; its editorial continues in the tradition of lameness and dishonesty which marked the editorial of Issue no. 4; its Basis of Unity contains changes which are slipped in stealthily and without defense; and we have reason to believe that some controversial material submitted for publication may have been censored.

The Bolshevik Union has already put forward its position on the split in Canadian Revolution. Our position on the split, plus all of the documents which comprised the struggle, are published in “THE WHOLE IS EQUAL TO THE SUM OF ITS PARTS: OPPORTUNISM, Canadian Revolution AND THE UNITY OF MARXIST-LENINISTS,” available from Bolshevik Books. Here we will summarize some of the conclusions we drew in that pamphlet and apply these to an examination of CR no. 5 (which appeared simultaneous to our pamphlet) with special reference to the changes in the Basis of Unity, to the Editorial, and the censorship which was exercised in this issue.[1]

In “THE WHOLE IS EQUAL...”, and in documents presented in the course of the struggle in the Journal, we predicted that if CR continued internally in the direction it was being pushed by the Toronto Communist Group,[2] its opportunism would inevitably reveal itself in the actual pages of the Journal in the form of sabotage and censorship of the ideological struggle for which CR was created as a forum. If CR no. 5 is an example of what is to be expected in the future, then our prediction has confirmed itself more quickly than we might have imagined.

In our pamphlet we made it clear what “unity” and “leadership” came to mean within the CR “collective”, which, now as formerly, is a coalition of groups and individuals with their own different and distinct political lines. “Unity” meant building unity around a common practice, the practice of producing the Journal, and it was “built” by majority vote and without ideological struggle over the subjects at hand. The purpose of this “unity” was “leadership”. But “leadership” meant taking leadership in censorship, the act of demarcating the debate through the exercise of editorial control, rather than true Marxist-Leninist leadership, which is thorough and open debating in order to demarcate. CR leadership was the attempt to referee over those who have put forward positions and to “guide” (i.e., limit, control) the debate rather than true leadership, which consists in the putting forward of thorough and correct positions for public examination.

The Bolshevik Tendency, in its struggles in the Journal, maintained that the leadership that CR as a Journal could provide was of a practical rather than a political nature, and that CR had to be a forum for debate –an arena within which the groups in CR and in the movement in general would debate in order to demarcate; or else it had to be an organization, itself debating to demarcate on the basis of a homogeneous and developed political line. And, as a coalition, CR was definitely not the latter. Yet some wanted CR to act as if it were so, and this we considered opportunist. For our part, we considered that if political rather than practical leadership came out of the context of CR, it had to be recognized as the leadership of the group or individual in CR who put it forward and that this meant openly recognizing the coalition nature of the Journal, allowing the expression of minority positions, and not judging what lines were correct in the movement on the basis of majority vote within the working collective. This last point is important. Before we left the Journal, CR was composed mainly of three groups, all with autonomous activities within the movement. When one of these groups differed with the other two politically, what possible function could it serve, in terms of the avowed need to stimulate ideological debate in the movement, for these differences to be suppressed and the position of the majority of the groups presented anonymously as the “position of CR”?

The main rationale that was put forward for this kind of “leadership” by the other groups and individuals (primarily the TCG) was that we had to have a basis for accepting or rejecting articles submitted for publication. In putting forward this position in the editorial of Issue no. 5, they certainly do take their readers for fools. The Journal’s problem in this respect was not that it was swamped with copy, but that it was starved for copy, as we noted on page 3 of our pamphlet. The history of the struggle, in particular the history of the struggle to print “Nationhood or Genocide”, is proof that the “need to choose” did not force political decisions; rather, it was the attempt of the opportunists to seek the hegemony of their own politics over the debate which led them to want to choose – that is, to censor. The Bolshevik Tendency, on the other hand, considered that it would be better to have incorrect positions out in the open where they could be exposed and defeated rather than to risk censoring articles that might push the struggle forward, and that the judgment of the debate should be left to the people rather than to the majority clique within CR.

The Lies: The Editorial, Issue no. 5

Apparently banking that we would never be able to represent our side of the story in public, Canadian Revolution is so arrogant as to not even have the decency to convey the concrete reason why we split from the CR “collective”.

We split from the Journal over questions of principle; and, specifically, when the “majority” of the “collective” refused to disassociate itself from “building unity around a common practice”, specifically the practice of producing the Journal. This is a documented fact. CR conceals the entire history and the facts of the struggle and simply claims that we left “when the majority of collective members made it clear the Bolshevik Tendency’s obstructionism would no longer be tolerated. . . .” But in fact, the “majority” actually never did make this clear, because towards the end of the struggle the Toronto Communist Group – which had originally initiated the opportunist trend through submitting their position paper, “Step-by-step Unity” – slinked away from their previous position and made nothing clear to anybody about anything.

They also say that we “admitted” to being “obstructionist”. What we said was this: “If struggling against opportunism is obstructionist, then we are obstructionist.” The TCG initiated an opportunist trend in Canadian Revolution, and attempts to maintain the Journal as the forum for debate for which it was founded were seen by the CR members as obstructionist.

Furthermore, they say that we merely “departed” from the Journal and that there was no “split”, but their reasons for this distinction have nothing to do with politics and are entirely bureaucratic (dues, etc.). We are left to assume that those who hold the keys to the treasury are Canadian Revolution and that those who do not can only “depart” from Canadian Revolution. This is contrary to the statement in the Basis of Unity that there can be a basis for “division (splits or expulsion)”.

Another joke is that they say we left the Journal “rather than continuing to struggle in a principled manner.” For them, a “principled manner” meant submission to their hegemony and “struggle” meant our right to present position papers to be ignored and our right to function as work-horses in the Journal without representation on the Journal’s “leading body”, the editorial board, (see p. 5, 15, and 24 of “THE WHOLE IS EQUAL. . .”) “Against Opportunism in the Journal” (in “THE WHOLE IS EQUAL. . .”, p. 10) was submitted in early December, and, six weeks after its submission, it was allotted 30 minutes on the agenda, during which serious criticisms made of both the TCG and Workers’ Unity were completely unresponded to.

There is another serious case of outright deception. Canadian Revolution has represented our position only on the basis of a short letter prepared by us for distribution as an insert into our copies of CR no. 4. We will be commenting on their responses to this letter below. But first, we note that they say: “... we omitted the addressed (sic) published in the final paragraph of the Bolshevik Tendency letter, because it is that of a native comrade who is not a Bolshevik Tendency member and was put forward without his permission.”

The history of this incident is that we had had this comrade’s explicit permission, by his initiative, to use his address for responses to “Nationhood or Genocide”, a permission that was seen by him as an implicit endorsation of the article. We submitted a copy of the letter CR has printed to this comrade for approval and he decided that, since he was not prepared to take a position on the split and since the letter dealt mainly with that question, it would be best to use another address. Therefore, we never circulated that letter in that form, a fact which we told CR directly. It is that copy, however, that CR obtained through, shall we say, extracurricular means, and used as a basis for their statement, rather than the letter as it was actually circulated (with a different address). (The above information is printed with full knowledge and permission of this Native comrade.)

The sole purpose CR had for raising this matter, falling once again on their “united” head, is to slander the Bolshevik Union.

As to this famous “unity achieved”, this “higher level of unity” that CR constantly talks about, this epoch-shattering breakthrough unity which, however, they now admit ;’s irrelevant (they say it is in no way “an attempt to achieve political unity on any other basis”), as to this “unity”, we have made our position clear in the Journal and in our pamphlet: on the one hand there is principled Marxist-Leninist unity around ideological and political line, i.e., Marxist-Leninist unity of the short that will bind Marxist-Leninists together in one party; and on the other hand there is alliance, or temporary tactical unity. There is a qualitative difference between these two and the latter does not grow into the former. The only way that a higher level of unity is achieved is through ideological struggle and drawing lines of demarcation, not through united activities themselves or by a process of “Accentuate the positive. Eliminate the negative. Don’t mess with Mr. In-Between”[3] – a description exactly of what the Journal means by “unity”.

Canadian Revolution “unity” is none other than “the ’unity to a certain extent’ of the petit-bourgeois intelligentsia who have adopted the viewpoint of the proletariat ’to a certain extent’”.[4] Moreover, Canadian Revolution “unity” has one purpose and one purpose alone: to limit the confines of Marxist-Leninist debate in Canada. It does not call for others to rally to it as a politically united group; rather, it sees itself as a referee of the Marxist-Leninist movement, blowing the whistle when the debate gets out of hand. (We are referring here to the editorial appearing in Issue no. 4.) The purpose of Canadian Revolution “unity” is Canadian Revolution “leadership”, which is nothing other than censorship, as we will be concretely demonstrating.

Canadian Revolution now says,

... it is absurd to consider that this unity achieved around the task of producing the Journal is in any way an attempt to achieve political unity on any other basis or to restrict ideological struggle around lines in the movement, (p. 3, c. 1, CR 1:5)

And yet this is exactly what sparked the struggle!

Far from being “absurd”, the original proposal put forward by the TCG on building unity in CR, and the organizational changes adopted by the Journal in line with that proposal were presented precisely in the context of attempting to achieve political unity on another basis, i.e., for becoming a “vehicle for the propagation of a political line.”

This statement by CR is an outright lie designed to hide the course of the struggle in the Journal from the movement.

And, as to how “absurd” it is that CR would even dream of attempting to “restrict ideological struggle around lines in the movement”, this is another conscious, intentional coverup. The TCG proposal called precisely, as a first step in the building of unity within CR, for “drawing clear lines of demarcation around the Marxist-Leninist movement” and “clear criteria as to what debate is legitimate within the Marxist-Leninist movement and what is debate that goes beyond the bounds of Marxism-Leninism.” (“THE WHOLE IS EQUAL . . .”, p. 34) One individual, moreover, ran for the editorial board on a platform of the need to “principledly demarcate positions”, and that such “determining what are or are not ML positions” “must be done on a straight majority-minority basis with sufficient but limited debate.” (“THE WHOLE IS EQUAL. . .”, p. 38.) Workers’ Unity is on record as having endorsed this platform. (“THE WHOLE IS EQUAL . . .”, p. 37.)

Yes, indeed, the Bolshevik Union is being “absurd”! How “absurd” of us to read the documents submitted within the Journal in the course of the struggle, and to hold the groups and individuals accountable for these documents!

Moreover, CR, in their Issue no. 5 coverup, replies only to the letter we wrote as an insert, referred to previously. They treat this letter as if it were the only available statement of the struggle rather than replying to, or referring to, documents put forth in the course of the struggle in CR. Had they done so, they would not have been able to so grossly misrepresent the struggle.

We will draw out a few points for examination. They say,

it is the view of the CR collective that the main area of ideological struggle is not within the Journal collective, but within the Marxist-Leninist movement as a whole. ... A higher level of unity can and has been reached by means of internal ideological struggle over the role of the journal.

The true nature of this “internal ideological struggle” has been documented in our pamphlet. That aside, however, one of our points exactly in “Against Opportunism in the Journal” was that, indeed, we could not have meaningful struggle that was conceived as strictly internal to the Journal, and that in fact the Journal could not be compartmentalized off from the movement:

We see that certain people are calling for development and presumably sharp struggle in the context of that development. But not struggle parallel to the struggle that goes on in the pages of the journal. Rather, a special kind of struggle determined not in a broad political framework but in a narrower framework of the tasks of the journal. This is not the kind of struggle that we feel should be going on amongst the groups, etc. in the Journal. Nor is it the kind of struggle that will closely relate to, and help maintain, the ideological struggle going on in the pages of the Journal. We cannot have “ideological struggle” around our “common practice”.

We characterize the struggle we fought in the Journal as a part of the main struggle in the Marxist-Leninist movement: the struggle against right-opportunism in whatever form.

CR continues: “To refuse to enter into any kind of agreements on points of a secondary nature (such as producing the Journal) in order to more fully present to the movement for debate major ideological questions, is sectarian in the extreme.” In presenting this rubbish as the position of the Bolshevik Tendency we can only assume that they never expected the documented history of the struggle to come back to haunt them in public. May we remind them, first of all, that it was members of our tendency who took leadership in the struggle to form the Journal, and that it was the TCG –which has the largest voting bloc on the Journal – which originally “refused to enter into any kind of agreements on points of a secondary nature (such as producing the Journal) in order to more fully present to the movement for debate major ideological questions”.

Moreover, in our positions we made it clear that our “common practice” and greater agreement on how to encourage debate in the movement were positive developments. In ”Against Opportunism in the Journal” we said.

What is “wrong” here? Is it having a “common practice” that is wrong or is it mistaking it for unity or building unity? .... We are allied to push this situation forward by facilitating ideological struggle. But the situation is objectively closer to sharing an office (and encouraging others to share it) than being “united” as revolutionaries, (p. 11)

.... It must be understood that we are not opposed to enlarging the scope of our agreement for the purpose of better facilitating the Journal as a forum for debate. We just want it to be understood, clearly, that this is not the same thing as building direct political unity among M-Ls and we want the movement to know just who it is that is agreeing about what. (p. 15)

What we protested was the attempt to pass this greater agreement off to the movement as unity of Marxist-Leninists on a political basis, the attempt to justify opportunist organizational forms in the Journal on the basis of it being a growing Marxist-Leninist unity, and the consequent obscuring of the nature of the leadership provided by CR.

CR claims that, in putting forward our criticisms of opportunism, it was really we who were opportunist (surprise, surprise). They cite as reasons our opposition to an editorial board composed of members elected by majority vote rather than chosen on the basis of group representation, and our urging consensus decision-making rather than majority vote. Yet they give no rationale for why these are opportunist positions. The only theoretical defence of the positions they took on these subjects were contained in the Toronto Communist Group’s “Step-by-step Unity” proposal (reproduced in our pamphlet, p. 34), which called for CR’s transformation into an organization and which we claim is objectively the body of politics to which the Journal now adheres. The appearance of these references in a collective editorial is further proof of this. It seems, however, that the Marxist-Leninist movement is not ready to profit from the great theoretical advances made in its private ”internal ideological struggle” and so we have statements rather than arguments. Readers are asked to refer to pages 5, 14, and 20-23 of our pamphlet for an examination of the question of “the majority” and its role in a coalition situation.

We suggest, too, that CR rush off a letter to the Communist Party of China explaining to them why their position on relations between fraternal communist parties[5] is opportunist, and to inquire as to why they did not, along with the CPSU, uphold the divine principal of majority rule under all circumstances in the context of their common activities at the international level. We also suggest that CR ask Dave Paterson, one of the members of its component groups (the TCG), to clarify his position since he opportunistically (?) exposed the CPC(M-L)’s attempt to achieve hegemony over other Marxist-Leninists by a similar misuse of majority rule in united front work.[6]

Canadian Revolution and the Native Question

CR’s use of deception does not stop at its account of the split. Further examples of it, and the concrete results of CR’s opportunism in general, can be found in the changes in their Basis of Unity. These changes reflect the application of CR’s formula of “demarcating the debate”. (It should be noted that it was generally understood that the Basis of Unity featured on the inside front cover of the Journal was to be the place where the “growing political unity”, and changes in political positions, would be reflected.)

In the editorial they explain one of these changes:

We call your attention to the following changes in the Basis of Unity that CR has arrived at:

“We are further agreed that the creation of one Marxist-Leninist political party throughout Canada is the central task at this time.” The implication of this task means we have removed from the second sentence of the last paragraph, that as a matter of principle in our relations to the Marxist-Leninist movement in Quebec, we uphold their right to their own national debate. We wish to be absolutely clear that the right of self-determination for Quebec is a principle we continue to defend and insist on.

Now, the component groups and individuals of CR are quite familiar with the Native question and the implications of the Native question. It is not by accident that they omit reference to the question of whether Native Marxist-Leninists, too, should or should not pursue their own national debate for the establishment of principles and the development of unity. The reason is that they have simply annihilated this question and highhandedly proclaimed, because between non-Native Marxist-Leninists in English Canada and Quebec the question of a common party has been settled, therefore that there will be only one Marxist-Leninist party, throughout Canada. It is not that the question of an independent Native Marxist-Leninist party has been merely forgotten. No, this has been decided for them. For CR, the question is closed.

The Bolshevik Union endorses the position that the Marxist-Leninists and the respective proletariats of the two nations, English Canada and Quebec, should unite into one proletarian party, and that the time has now passed for separate “national debates” in these two nations. But we note that this has come about because virtually all Marxist-Leninists in Quebec have themselves taken this position and because, as a precondition, Marxist-Leninists in English Canada have consistently upheld their right to self-determination. But this is not the case with the Native nation. There is no consensus in the Native movement that they should unite with the Marxist-Leninists of the other two nations into one party. And, more important, the Marxist-Leninist movement in English Canada and Quebec has not upheld their right to self-determination.

It is entirely legitimate that the member groups and individuals may want to take the position that there should be one Communist Party for Native people as well as non-Native people in Canada. However, if this is what they want to do, then they have an obligation to defend their politics – and defend them in terms of a concrete analysis of the concrete conditions of Native people in Canada. CR does not think it important to put forward any such analysis or even mention of the concrete situation, but apparently sees the question of one party as a divine absolute. We remind people that the question of one party for English Canada and Quebec has been settled because of the concrete conditions of these two nations – in particular, the fact that the common class contradiction is primary. This has not been proved with respect to Native Canada, and, in fact, the most extensive Marxist-Leninist analysis to date on this subject – “Nationhood or Genocide” (CR 1:4) – maintains that it is not true. All CR leaves us with is a neo-trotskyite a priori assumption that one party is by definition ideal, without any reference whatsoever to the national question.

We can only conclude, on the basis of that and what follows, that the groups (Workers’ Unity and the TCG) and individuals in CR have taken the position, dishonestly and obliquely, that the Native people of Canada are not a nation. Formerly CR’s basis of unity read, “As regards . . . Native people, at this time we are not agreed on the national Character of the struggle, but see it as an important question to be debated and discussed.” Now this has been changed to “We see the struggle of the Native people as an important question to be debated and discussed.” Their “struggle” is to be discussed but their “national character” is no longer an issue. Formerly CR claimed to “encourage opinions on this question from Native people and from Native Marxist-Leninists themselves.” This has been changed to “encourage opinions on this question from all Marxist-Leninists”. Now, independently of their will, Native Marxist-Leninists have ceased to exist as “Native” Marxist-Leninists. Presumably they have become just “Canadian” Marxist-Leninists like the rest of us.

Aside from these changes in the Basis of Unity, we move on to the other aspect of CR’s degeneration that we predicted: outright censorship. It is clear, first of all, that anyone who disagreed with the Basis of Unity as now formulated would be unwelcome to join the Journal. It is unclear, however, and unstated, whether disagreements with that statement would be accepted as submissions to the Journal. To clarify this point, we consider that there is one other possible interpretation of the change mentioned above in how they designate whom they encourage to write to CR on the subject of Native struggles. Perhaps it means that they are quite simply no longer open to the opinions of those who claim to be “Native” Marxist-Leninists.

Several months before the publication of Issue no. 5, Vern Harper, a Native Marxist-Leninist, wrote CR a letter for publication which strongly supported the article, “Nationhood or Genocide”, written by two members of the Bolshevik Tendency. This letter has been suppressed without explanation. This is one of the most two-faced and unprincipled forms that CR’s recent opportunism has taken.

Furthermore, although CR has been short of copy, one article that was available for publication was an article by the Native Study Group in Vancouver raising, among other things, the question of Native nationhood. We cannot know the reasons why this article was not published, but it is entirely possible that it, too, was censored.[7]


In the future, criticism of the politics of Canadian Revolution will not be a simple task. Their politics are advanced in a very slippery fashion. We were at an advantage in criticizing their “leadership” in Issue no. 5 because we had been Journal members for part of the decision-making period. From now on, however, people will have to read the Basis of Unity and the editorials with a microscope to detect significant politics positions which have been slipped through without explanation or defense.

We have seen in the appearance of CR no. 5 the results of what happens when Marxist-Leninists seek to “build unity around their common practice”. CR has presented its case based on proven lies and with not a shred of documentation of the history of the struggle, and they have “developed their unity” around unexplained and undefended politics. They are seeking to “guide” the debate without participating in it. We can do without their “guidance”, and their “leadership” as well, and for that matter their “unity”. Canadian Revolution is moribund. The struggle must move on to higher levels.


[1] For those whose first concern is property, we note that in our pamphlet we have indicated our willingness to return the Journals that we took with us when we left the Journal (a quantity proportionate to our size in the Journal), and self-criticized for our action. We note also that, as of this writing, six weeks after our offer was made, we have not even received a response from CR accepting our offer. Clearly the “sabotage” issue was a phony one designed to cloud the politics of the split.

[2] One of the component groups of CR, the group with the largest bloc of votes, and, not coincidentally, the group which first raised the principle of absolute majority hegemony within the Journal over questions of political line.

[3] “Ideological Struggle is Class Struggle”, May 1st Collective, CR 1:5.

[4] “A Reply to CPC(M-L)’s Call for Unity”, Dave Paterson, CR 1:2, P. 5.

[5] The position, put forward in A PROPOSAL CONCERNING THE GENERAL LINE OF THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNIST MOVEMENT, is a good model for relations to be observed between groups in coalitions and in other cases of tactical unity. See page 4 of “THE WHOLE IS EQUAL. . .” for its application to the situation in CR.

[6] “A Reply to CPC(M-L)’s Call for Unity”, CR 1:2.

[7] This article is available from the Native Study Group, P.O. Box 35663, Vancouver, B.C.