Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Charles Gagnon

For the Proletarian Party

Chapter 3: The Social-Democratic dream

A good number of viewpoints are circulating at present on the question of the nature of the workers’ revolutionary party, in Quebec and elsewhere in the capitalist countries. At present, we are witnessing the emergence of a revolutionary path resting on ’organisation at the base’ on the one hand and propaganda among the masses on the other. But at the same time, we see that opportunism, reformism and “leftism” still have enough followers and spokesmen to be successful in sowing confusion within the proletariat. A correct solution to the contradiction in the workers’ movement between the striving for solidarity and unity, and the real divisions existing between various exploited and oppressed strata of the people is consequently not given the analysis which it deserves. There are many who in practice give up the necessary effort.

The very contradictions of capitalism are at the root of both the desire for unity and the divisions among the people. By putting the proletariat and at least a section of the petty-bourgeoisie in common conditions of exploitation and oppression, these contradictions propel the people to unite. Capitalist exploitation and oppression take on particular forms, different in many aspects for each class, fractions of classes, and even each group of workers in a given workplace. Thus the contradictions of capitalism are also the source of divisions among the people.

Contradictions among the people take different forms, of which the most pernicious is undoubtedly the existence of ideological currents, forms of organization and political projects which appear progressive but in fact carry and sow the seeds of reaction. If not demolished in time, they are called on to play the game of the capitalists, the peoples’ enemies.


The social-democrats presently transmit the most deviant ideas on what they call the “workers” (or even “salary-earners”) party. They also confuse this party with working-class organization in general. According to them, the “workers party” would result from the addition together of the greatest number of salary earners, implying that earning a salary should be a determinant criterion in class analysis. Given that the Prime Minister earns a salary, as do doctors and presidents of big corporations, we have to ask ourselves where all this leads!

Is it necessary to say that the party which will gather together ”all the unionized and non-unionized working people” isn’t close at hand, if indeed it ever sees the light of day? But FRAP among others, has set itself this objective.[14] One could put this down to enthusiasm or naivete, but such is not the case: the document cited above is explicit enough to show how limited and partial are the analyses underlying the positions of at least the leadership of this organisation.

FRAP insists that the Quebec “workers party” be set up right now by the unions, totally ignoring the indisputable lessons of the international and Quebec workers’ movement. The main argument to back up such a position is the existence in recent years of numerous “Common Fronts”, showing the already-accomplished unity of working people. The “Common Fronts” are quite significant. But should we therefore forget the conflicts among the construction workers, the still-recent birth of the Centrale des Syndicats Democratiques (CSD), the departure of the Union of Public Employees of Quebec from the CNTU, threats of other splits, etc.?

The social democrats are tired of debating these and other questions. For them, analysis, study and debate aren’t going to move the workers’ movement forward, but rather action – action which creates solidarity, unity and strength.

In politics, action is certainly determinant but we can also think before we act, especially if we are to put our actions under the light of criticism. If we don’t, action becomes pure activism and working class solidarity becomes an uncoordinated succession of small fires, with no future, except one of grief, like the recent Common Front in the public service, among others, has known.

Based on the false conclusion that working people aren’t interested in theoretical work, the social-democrats are always itching for action, elections for example, and are little concerned with study and criticism. Such a conclusion can only come from an enormous confusion between isolated theoretical work (which always has disastrous results in practice) and theoretical work linked to practical work. No real progress can come in the workers’ movement without this fundamental condition – that theory and practice be constantly joined, that theory be advanced through practice and vice versa. Political organisations applying this political principle won’t necessarily bring together all working people, only those who will be the vanguard of any real progress made by the workers’ movement.

Thus a party must be more than just composed of a large majority of working people, or even entirely composed of working people to qualify as a revolutionary party. The CSD is composed almost totally of working people and proletarians at that. Given the criticisms which many of them make of the CNTU, which they have just left, there are still many progressive workers in the CSD, workers more progressive than many union officials. Yet this doesn’t qualify the CSD as a progressive, let alone revolutionary, organization. The fact that an organisation is composed totally of workers is not a guarantee of its progressive character. Class consciousness, the essential element of the revolutionary character of any workers’ organization, doesn’t spring up spontaneously within the workers, not from their simple organisational unity.


One mustn’t think that Quebec social-democracy ends with FRAP, any more than that FRAP is made up of all social-democrats. On the contrary. Political reality in Quebec isn’t quite so simple: it derives from many contradictions, to be found within the bourgeoisie and its fractions, as well as among the people and the different social strata which make it up. The very complexity of this political reality demands that militants and political groups pay particularly great and constant attention to the theoretical aspects of working-class struggle.

In present-day Quebec, social-democracy is more an ideological current than an organised force, as is the case in Europe (and elsewhere) where the pro-Soviet communist parties are nothing other than social-democratic parties (called revisionist over there). In Quebec we find the social-democratic current in the union leaderships, in the ’PQ left” and in the local peoples’ organisations, such as FRAP.

No ideological current, no organisation or party, can endure without a class basis. It is class interests which push groups to develop an orientation, a common ideology and sometimes to organise into an association or party. The class basis of social-democracy is the same everywhere: the least privileged layer of the petty-bourgeoisie and the “upper stratum” of the working class.[15] We thus find university professors and highly-skilled workers, technicians and others all together. These people share conditions of life which are advantageous relative to the entire proletariat. This is why they see only the “humanization” of the present capitalist system and not its complete destruction. They are offended by a dialectical materialist analysis of society, one which reveals two poles expressing radically opposite interests interests, which are contradictory and literally antagonistic. Faced with the practical problem of choosing within a particular conflict or in the development of the working class struggle, they have to side with either the working class (the proletariat) or the bourgeoisie. The social-democrats are exactly those who play the game of the capitalists, of capitalism, while all the while pretending to side with the proletariat and the whole people.


Certain pequistes (PQ members) say that independence isn’t everything, that we have to go further. We also find militants who, while admitting to struggling for the consolidation of the social-democratic current through the creation of the “workers’ party”, add that it’s a stage which we have to go through. They say that there are or have been social-democratic parties everywhere.

This position brings us back to that of the PQ and its “stages”. For the social-democrats (among whom are to be counted the “Left pequistes”) the stages comes down to a succession of particular battles, seen outside of any coherent strategic line, with the nature of the struggle at each stage entirely determined by the immediate and quite often subjective conditions. This is reflected in their arguments, e.g. “The workers aren’t ready for socialism”; “the workers want action, not theory”, etc.

The struggle for socialism involves stages, for sure. But we can speak of stages only within a single struggle, a single process. The conduct of each stage should be determined by the final objective. These “stages” of the social-democrats are only an expression of their petty-bourgeois opportunism: these “stages” go where it seems easiest to achieve their petty-bourgeois ambitions and try to make people believe that their interests are one stage in the pursuit of the proletariat’s interests.

Actually, the stages of revolutionary struggle are each made up of struggles undertaken to resolve the principal contradiction (within one stage) always within the perspective of resolving the fundamental contradiction in a given historical period. In the age of capitalism’s collapse, the fundamental contradiction opposes the proletariat to the bourgeoisie (and all its fractions). The destruction of capitalism and building of socialism are on the agenda of the revolution today. The Quebec proletariat is henceforth engaged in the struggle against capitalism; its enemies are the capitalists, irrespective of where they come from. Thus an independent Quebec led by a local bourgeoisie dominated by imperialism, is not and cannot be an objective of the Quebec proletariat.

However, the Quebec people’s march toward socialism takes place in specific concrete conditions. It will of necessity involve stages, possibly including that of national independence. In this case, in the stage when the national question constitutes the principal contradiction, the proletariat couldn’t avoid intervening in the solution to this contradiction. But at the same time it should do so, in terms of its own interests, and certainly not on the basis of bourgeois and petty-bourgeois interests. Accepting bourgeois or petty-bourgeois political leadership would make the proletariat play the game of its class enemies. Le Duan writes:

“It is a matter of principle that, either in day-to-day policies or in the practice of revolutionary struggle, no matter in what way and under what circumstances, a revolutionary should never lose sight of the final goal. To consider the fight for small day-to-day gains and immediate targets as ’everything’ while looking upon the final goal as ’nothing’, ’to sacrifice the future of the movement to the present’, is to display the worst kind of opportunism, which can only result in the popular masses being held in eternal servitude. (...)

“From the initial steps to the final end, a revolution must of necessity go through many stages of struggle beset with difficulties and complexities and full of twists and bends, in order to clear one obstacle after another and gradually change the relation of forces between the revolution and the counter-revolution, until overwhelming superiority is achieved vis-a-vis the ruling classes. (...)

“For those reasons, on the long road leading to the final goal, one should never fail to give due consideration to the concrete conditions in which the battle is fought in each given period. (...) Lenin used to demand that the Communists should pay unflagging attention to and view will the greatest objectivity not only the situation at home but also all elements of the world’s economy and politics, all class forces both within the country and throughout the world and the relationships between those forces.”[16]

The proletariat cannot accept nationalist or social-democratic leadership unless it is to negate its interests and take a step backward in the pursuit of its fundamental objective, socialism. Again, history furnishes examples of where the working class was deceived royally by the nationalists and social-democrats. We have only to add the examples of English and European social-democracy, which has produced nothing that could in the least be termed socialist, to those of the African nationalisms already mentioned, Socialism and capitalism are completely irreconcilable; any regime which leaves capitalism in place, which doesn’t undertake the destruction of capitalism, cannot be called socialist. This goes for Sweden, as for Great Britain of the Labour Party.

Calling on the unions to create the “workers’ party” is precisely addressing the representatives of those social strata which constitute the objective basis for social-democracy. One has only to study the history of the NDP to be clear on this. Unions in Quebec, like those in Canada, are largely composed of the upper stratum of the working class and of the least priviledged petty-bourgeois. Their leaderships are all imbued with social-democratic humanism. This quite certainly isn’t where the leadership of the revolutionary struggle – the proletarian party – will come from.


[14] See the mimeographed document entitled Le FRAP, les syndicats, Taction politique [III], which probably dates from September, 1972.

[15] On this question see Lenin’s work, Imperialism: Highest Stage of Capitalism, Peking, FLP.

[16] Le Duan, The Vietnamese Revolution: Fundamental Problems, Essential Tasks, Hanoi, FLPH, 1970, p. 43-45.