First Published: In Struggle! No. 216, September 3, 1980
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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The issue of winning workers to our Organization was central to the debates of the most recent Central Committee session.
Should we be satisfied with the results obtained to date? Were the methods we employed the best possible ones? To which popular strata and sections of the working class should we give priority attention? These are some of the questions we must answer so that we can change our practice and our organization to meet the demands of the current situation and the needs raised by the fact that our degree of intervention in struggles and campaigns has gone up considerably.
To get those answers, IN STRUGGLE! decided almost a year ago to undertake a systematic review of its practice in the working class and oppressed people. The Central Committee’s decisions concerning the winning over of workers to work with and join our Organization were reached on the basis of this review which was carried out publicly, involving contributions from many readers of this paper.
The Central Committee believes that the Organization has succeeded in establishing a political presence and in developing a significant influence in all parts of Canada. We are well on the way to becoming a political force that must be reckoned with.
That conclusion is verified by the continuing increase in the numbers of workers and progressives who are taking up and defending our slogans and calls to action. This was especially true during the Quebec referendum in both Quebec and English Canada and in the trade-union movement around the Dump McDermott pamphlet and our fight against class collaboration in the labour movement.
What is even more significant is that the people who are getting closer to the Organization are already involved and influential in their milieu. Close to half come from the working class.
There are four main factors which explain these important steps forward. First, we have improved our ability to make concrete analyses of the current situation as it develops and to provide greater leadership in the class struggle. Second, we have developed a greater openness to progressive forces and have broken with sectarianism and dogmatism that had marked our work. Third, we have learned to lead people into action better by getting involved ourselves wherever we work and live. Finally, our propaganda work has developed so that it is both more varied and more closely tied in with our agitation.
The numbers of people listening to what we have to say and a supporting it keeps going up and up. However, not that many people are joining the Organization as full-scale members. Our membership level has remained static.
A number of things explain this situation. First on the list are the reverses in the struggle for socialism, particularly in the Soviet Union and China. These setbacks explain why many workers and progressives hesitate about getting fully involved in the work of a communist organization. Those same problems are experienced, on an even greater scale, by most organizations which claim to be socialist in Canada.
Those hesitations are simply made stronger by the lifestyle that we have upheld before our supporters up to now. Our past practice was strongly marked by idealism and voluntarism. This left many people with the impression that working in a communist organization meant you had to go at it 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to the end of your days.
And finally, any analysis must be realistic. Generally speaking, for any large number of workers to make the jump to the level of revolutionary political commitment the Organization must have associated itself closely and continuously with their immediate struggles. Many workers will see the practical relevance of the communist programme in such a context and will appreciate what the struggle for socialism really means.
However, having said all that, recruitment must nonetheless remain a constant preoccupation in our work. One thing which should be done is to give more attention to leading and organizing our work among contacts and active supporters.
But just making more contacts and getting them involved in specific struggles is not enough. Advantage must be taken of every opportunity to explain what our line and programme are in a detailed way. That does not mean rhyming them off in a dogmatic and stereotyped fashion. It means explaining what our views are on the issues that affect them directly and then taking off from there to criticize capitalism, nationalism and reformism, thereby progressively drawing out the necessity of socialist revolution.
Finally, the Central Committee has decided that we must simplify and make easier the process of recruiting those persons we are working with, starting with active supporters. As far as possible we should enable these comrades to continue working in the milieux and mass organizations where they were already active after they join the organization.
There is a formidable obstacle which gets in the way of the winning over of workers to work with and join a communist organization in an advanced capitalist country like Canada: the labour aristocracy. The labour aristocracy is that stratum of workers who have been corrupted with the superprofits garnered by the monopolies. They are drawn from among the strata of skilled workers working for the monopolies and are generally concentrated in the big plants. Not only do these workers benefit from working and living conditions which are privileged in relation to the working class as a whole, they are also by and large the leading strata of the working class. The labour aristocracy is well-organized within the unions and it also has its own political party, the NDP.
The economic crisis is undermining the living conditions of many of the workers who used to profit from such privileges. However, the Central Committee reaffirmed its view that we must give priority to working with the strata of workers and oppressed peoples which are the most exploited, most militant and most open to Marxist-Leninist ideas. That means working in those areas where the domination of the labour aristocracy is weakest because that is where we will be able to make the greatest inroads into the working-class movement at present.
Workers corresponding to these criteria are most often in the public sector (where there are a lot of Canadian unions), and among women, young people and oppressed national minorities.
A number of questions have been raised about the kind of leadership which we have been providing to workers’ struggles. Have IN STRUGGLE!’s interventions been too general and too cut off from the specific demands raised by the workers themselves? Have the political campaigns, such as those against the Wage Control Act and around the Quebec referendum, been really effective?
The Central Committee feels that communist leadership in the class struggle still consists of dicating the course the working class should pursue in each specific situation in order to gain ground in its struggle against the bourgeoisie. This is essential if the Organization is to really play a leadership role including with regard to mass organizations and struggles.
However, more and more workers are in motion because of the crsis. Many are turning to us to find a way forward out of the present situation. We should be getting more actively involved in the most important movements and struggles. We have to do more agitation in the heat of spontaneous struggles. We must do more to apply the tactic of uniting people around their just demands against the capitalists, against the main enemy and those who betray their demands. The political campaigns must be looked at within that general context. Campaigns are an important way for communists to intervene. However, they should be fewer in number and shorter if we want to develop our ability to intervene in workers’ and mass struggles.
When we decide to mount a country-wide campaign, there must be very definite objectives set and very precise tactics and methods determined. There can be all sorts of campaigns. We might do an informational and agitational campaign scheduled to last for a brief period only. It could involve press conferences, a speech-making tour, public rallies, and distribution of printed material. Another possibility is to organize a mobilization-type campaign to fight against a specific law or policy. In this case the timing for the beginning and ending of the campaign would be all important. You cannot mobilize people when the immediate consequences and relevances of the struggle are unclear to the mass of people and they thereby do not see it as something that must be done right away.
You have to be aware of and understand the various forces that are active in a struggle, including the leading forces, if you want to come up with the right tactic and give correct leadership.
We must get rid of the sectarian attitude towards certain union leaders and the women’s movement which has to a degree marked the work of the Organization in specific struggles and in the labour movement. That attitude has led to a weakening of our links with the masses.
This raises the question of what attitude we should take to the reformist elements, especially the left social democrats and how to demarcate from them. We must always keep in mind that the main objective in our interventions is not to demarcate from the other political trends. It is to advance the struggles of the working class and oppressed peoples. That doesn’t mean we stop demarcating. It does mean that clarifying our views in relation to others must be carried out within the framework set by the struggle itself. It must be conducted with a view to what the precise stakes involved in the struggle are, the conditions under which it is being waged and the balance of forces prevailing at the time. We must learn how to distinguish, between those workers who are under the influence of reformism and revisionism but who are genuinely fighting to uphold their rights and the organized opportunist forces in the strict sense of the term. If we fail to do this we are going to see social democrats and revisionists everywhere which will prevent us from properly grasping what the different forces are in the struggle.
The orientation for the coming months is based on the above evaluation of the many aspects of our work of winning people over to work with and join us (which the Third Congress, held in 1979, net as the priority for the next period).
In the next issue, we will look more closely at our work in the trade-union movement.