First Published: in The Struggle for the Creation of the Canadian Communist League (Marxist-Leninist), October 1975
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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EROL Note: As part of the process of unification that led to the formation of the Canadian Communist League (M-L), the three founding organizations each made a self-criticism of their prior history. This self-criticism of the MREQ is excerpted from Chapter 2 of the CCL pamphlet entitled The Struggle for the Creation of the Canadian Communist League (Marxist-Leninist)
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The Mouvement des Etudiants du Quebec (MREQ) was created in January 1972 by several Montreal students with little political experience and weak links to the masses. Though they sought to base themselves on Marxism-Leninism, they did not grasp the fundamental principles of Marxism-Leninism. In effect, the founders of MREQ ignored their responsibilities to the working class, the only truly revolutionary class. They created an organization which defined itself as a “student vanguard”; yet a vanguard among students cannot exist before there is a proletarian vanguard (an authentic communist party or organization.)
The political line of this “vanguard” boiled down to a definition of the immediate tasks of “revolutionary students” – that is, the struggle against the capitalist school and the support for workers’ struggles and anti-imperialist struggles – without any basis in a strategic line.
Essentially, the initial political line of MREQ promoted an erroneous conception of the creation of proletarian vanguard: it negated the necessity for revolutionaries to work for the construction of a Marxist-Leninist communist party where none exists. MREQ settled for “advancing the consciousness of students to the positions of the working class” while waiting for the party to be created„ With that as its starting point, MREQ renounced communist agitation and propaganda directed towards the working class and limited itself to supporting (that is, to following) the spontaneist workers’ movement.
MREQ was thus created on a spontaneist basis. This fundamental error condemned it to not defending the interests of the proletariat. In this sense, it was the expression of petty-bourgeois revolutionary ideas within the youth movement, particularly within the student movement.
In practice, MREQ drifted into workerism, separating the role of workers (to fight to abolish capitalist exploitation) and that of revolutionary students (to support the spontaneous workers’ movement.) This meant maintaining a separation between scientific socialism and the workers’ movement rather than trying to fuse them. This in no way helped advance the revolutionary movement.
In short, MREQ’s practice was dominated by an anti-Marxist, non-dialectical conception of the relation between revolutionary theory and practice. This could lead only to opportunism.
MREQ’s work in the student milieu – its only work for almost two years – was strongly marked by right opportunism, which assumed a “leftist” cover.
The underestimation of the role of revolutionary theory, and thus, of ideological struggle, led MREQ to neglect if not liquidate its independent intervention as a revolutionary organization, greatly limiting its work of communist agitation and propaganda. Two exceptions to this rule include the publication of our paper, THE PARTISAN, with correct articles on the international situation and the problems of our revolution; and, above all, the teaching of Marxism-Leninism in study groups which was only undertaken systematically after two years of activity. These facts show just how formal our recognition of Marxism-Leninism was at MREQ’s creation and during its first period of existence. We can also see why MREQ existed as an organization regrouping “revolutionary” students for such a long time (almost four years).
Among the notable opportunist errors of MREQ in its first period when it did only student work, there was workerism and economism which characterized especially our work in support of workers’ struggles (and the work in the CSLO); a “wait-and-see” policy (or incapacity to spark struggles); and tailism (when the masses took action) on the front against the capitalist school. To round out the list, we should add activism (intervention without investigation) as well as a “leftist” denunciation of struggles for reforms – above all concerning academic struggles – which failed to see that these can serve the revolutionary struggle if correctly used, especially when the struggle is for democratic rights.
But the conditions for identifying and combatting the bourgeois line which dominated MREQ existed inside our movement. On one hand, there was the integrity of its members towards Marxist-Leninist principles which necessitated the summing up of work – that is, confronting this practice with the principles of Marxism-Leninism.
The second period of MREQ began with the adoption of a new political line, presented in the October I974 document, “Towards the Marxism-Leninist Organization.” This text marked the beginning of MREQ’s rupture with the “revolutionary” petty-bourgeois characteristics of spontaneism and workerism.
Only the beginning, for the Introduction to the text recognized spontaneism not as an error of principle concerning the role of revolutionary theory and as the ideological root of opportunism but only as an insufficient assimilation of Marxism-Leninism. It was nevertheless the beginning of a real rupture – for once we put forward the need to work for the creation of the party of the proletariat and we undertook a practice in the working class with the goal of spreading Marxist-Leninist ideas, the determining condition for the development of a proletarian line was present. The continued study of theory (including the study of the international communist movement) tied to the struggle to apply the Marxist-Leninist line; the deepening of the critical analysis of our own experience (summing up)j the application of democratic centralism (reorganization); and the practice of criticism self-criticism (internal ideological struggle) – all these factors allowed us to overcome our bourgeois line.
On the basis of the political line it put forward a year ago, MREQ played an important role in the struggle for the creation of the Canadian Communist League (Marxist-Leninist).
With the publication of “Towards the Marxist-Leninist organization,” MREQ was the first Marxist-Leninist group to proclaim throughout the country the need for an organization whose central task would be the creation of the Marxist-Leninist communist party to lead the proletarian revolution in Canada. In Quebec, the manifesto came out when most Marxist-Leninist groups were trying to clarify their political line.
Our document was also distributed in the rest of Canada. It was certainly not the least of MREQ’s merits to situate its intervention on a national scale; our movement contributed to the unity of Canadian Marxist-Leninists by encouraging debate on the major questions of the Canadian revolution as well as the organization of militants. MREQ also combatted pseudo-communist opportunism, principally that of the counter-revolutionary organization which calls itself the “Communist Party of Canada (Marxist-Leninist)”.
We did, however, commit a “wait-and-see” error in the struggle for the creation of the Marxist-Leninist organization, that is we did not resolutely undertake to fulfill the tasks of communists before creating and in order to create the Marxist-Leninist organization. In effect, we had a tendency to wait for the creation of the organization to do “real communist work”. We thus underestimated both the role of practice in the development of political line (being lax in producing a self-critical sum up of our practice) and the ideological and political preparation of our comrades. In a unilateral way we relied upon political debates among Marxist-Leninist groups. One result of this error was that we neglected to involve and rely on our sympathizers in the struggle for the creation of the organization.
In addition to its role in Canada, it should also be noted that MREQ maintained, to the extent its limited means permitted, fraternal ties with parties and Marxist-Leninist organizations throughout the world, making known the struggle in Canada for a Marxist-Leninist organization and its role in that struggle. This reflected an internationalist attitude in contrast to national narrowness.
From this liaison with the international communist movement, MREQ reaped precious fruits in terms of political lessons and encouragement.
Above all, MREQ served the revolutionary cause of the proletariat and the Canadian Marxist-Leninist movement by the development of its political line. In the struggle for the creation of the Marxist-Leninist organization, even before October 1974, MREQ always put unity around political line in the forefront, as the principal and sine qua non condition for unity, thus avoiding the widespread error of “common practice” as the road to unity of Marxist Leninists.
The line presented in “Towards the Marxist-Leninist Organization” contained correct elements, which were dominant, as well as errors or insufficiencies which we have corrected in struggle.
Among the correct elements, there was, first of all, the unequivocal affirmation of the primacy of the fundamental line of the communist party: Marxism-Leninism Mao Tsetung Thought„ Second, the analysis of the international situation was correct, if insufficient, while the analysis of Canada had a correct position on two fundamental aspects of strategic line: the principal contradiction and the Quebec national question. MREQ was the first Marxist-Leninist group to define the principal contradiction in Canada today as that between the Canadian bourgeoisie and proletariat, in contrast to the widespread idea that is between American imperialism and the Canadian people. This analysis of the principal contradiction was not, however, developed enough. Third, the October text put forward the fusion of scientific socialism and the workers’ movement, the penetration of the Marxist-Leninist organization into the heart of the proletariat (and into its main mass organizations, the trade unions) in order to win over the best, most devoted elements. It correctly insisted on the need for a constant application of the mass line, for investigation, and for the greatest devotion during class confrontations, in order to implant the communist organization in the masses.
But this line also suffered from certain weaknesses. First of all, it did not concretely establish the link between the situation in the world and in our country, mainly because of a lack of depth in the analysis of the second world. Consequently, we did not clearly situate the Canadian revolution in the world proletarian revolution or Canada’s role in the world united front against the two superpowers. The analysis of the international scene also failed to underline the rapidly aggravating Soviet-American rivalry and the danger of a new world war.
These insufficiencies came out in the analysis of the contradictions in Canadian society. Our definition of the important secondary contradiction opposing Canada to American imperialism “forgot” the other superpower, the one that is on the offensive.
In practice in the past year, this resulted in a neglect of the struggle against the two superpowers in our propaganda and a failure to do agitation on the question, particularly over the danger of war. In supporting anti-imperialist struggles as well we lacked firmness in the denunciation of the Soviet Union’s hegemonism, especially when we participated in coalitions to support different Third World national liberation struggles.
Another important error in our line in analyzing the concrete situation of our country was our total silence on the oppression of women. MREQ found itself fairly ill-equipped to intervene on the question and play a leading role fighting opportunism. We nevertheless laid the basis for correcting this error by a relatively in-depth study and the development of a basic position on the question, in addition to a struggle against the manifestations of male chauvinism within our ranks.
But we undoubtedly committed our gravest errors on the question of the fusion of Marxism-Leninism with the workers’ movement. For the line in “Towards the Marxist-Leninist Organization” did not make a break with the fundamental error of spontaneism and workerism which marked MREQ since its origins. This led us in practice to make economist errors, that is, to neglect communist agitation and propaganda, doing economic agitation above all and concentrating our activity on shop papers.
Our definition of the tasks of communists recognized the need to bring about the fusion of scientific socialism with the workers’ movement, but still only formally. It accorded too much importance to the growing links the organization should have with the masses in order to lead their struggles and relegated communist education (agitation and propaganda) to a secondary position. Yet this education is the determining factor in the development of the proletariat’s class consciousness, the task which moves to the forefront in the first stage of party-building. We, however, over-emphasized the exemplary actions of communist militants – a necessary but in no way determining factor in making the proletariat aware of its fundamental interests and in leading it in the revolutionary struggle.
This led us, on a tactical level, to steadfastly privilege the implantation of communist militants in factories to the point of making it an exclusive tactic (“the tactical line”, as we put it), if not a question of principle.
Implantation is a correct tactic in the concrete conditions of our country (a separation between the Marxist-Leninist and the workers’ movement, the absence of a strata of communist workers, etc.) when the Marxist-Leninist organization must win the most advanced workers to communism. It reflects an understanding of the fact that communists, who by their agitational and propaganda work are the educators of the proletariat, must themselves learn from the masses, applying the mass line to he good teachers. But implantation is not the only way to conduct communist agitation and propaganda – far from it. Suffice to say that intervention from outside factories is an equally indispensable means.
At the same time, we created a fair degree of confusion by associating the implantation of communist militants in the working class with two questions (of principle): the proletarianization of the Marxist-Leninist organization and the ideological remoulding of its militants. Contrary to what we implied, the proletarian character of the organization is determined by its political line, whose correctness is tested In practice. The proletarianization of the organization consists not in the implantation of its members in the working class but in the implantation of the organization itself; that is, in the fact that the organization rallies and has in its ranks a growing number of workers. It is thus a matter of the social composition of the organization.
As for the ideological transformation which all communist militants, whatever their class origin, must undergo, it consists of the acquisition of a communist world outlook. That comes about first of all by the study of Marxism-Leninism linked to a revolutionary practice of struggling against the class enemy; and by a struggle against the manifestations of bourgeois ideology in the practice and lifestyles of the organization’s members. Such an outlook is manifested in a constant application of “serving the people”. The implantation of militants in the working class is not the determining element in the revolutionary transformation. At the same time, work in the factories and other production center and, more generally, direct links with the popular masses constitutes the material basis for the re-education of communists from a petty bourgeois origin.
Finally, in regard to the trade unions, the positions present in “Towards the Marxist-Leninist Organization” were correct. Our over-estimation of the spontaneist working class movement and our still largely formal understanding of the tasks of communists, however, were reflected in the lack of clear definitions of militant and communist activity in the unions. While dialectically linking communist education with the participation in daily struggles including the battles to transform class collaborationist unions into instruments of class struggle), we did not define communist education in terms of agitation-propaganda and, what’s more, we did not note its leading role. This led us in certain cases to limit our educational work in the working class to the production of shop papers and political study within that framework.
To sum up, MREQ has been a petty-bourgeois revolutionary organization, dominated for the greater part of its existence by a spontaneist, essentially right opportunist orientation, that is, by a bourgeois line (one which objectively serves the interests of the bourgeoisie). For as Lenin showed:
... all worship of the spontaneity of the working class movement, all belittling Of the role of the “conscious element”, of the role of Social-Democracy, means, quite irrespective of whether or not the belittler wants to or not, strengthening the influence of the bourgeois ideology over the workers.
to belittle the socialist ideology in any way, to turn away from it in the slightest degree means to strengthen bourgeois ideology. (What is to be Done?)
Only after ridding itself of its principal spontaneist conception to take part in the struggle to create the Marxist-Leninist communist party of the Canadian proletariat and to begin the practical work of fusing scientific socialism with the workers’ movement – only then could MREQ eliminate in essence, the; principal manifestations of spontaneism which always marked it. In this way, it was able to overcome its bourgeois line; first and foremost by a study of Marxist-Leninist theory linked to revolutionary practice and by a positive ideological struggle in its own ranks as well as through debates with comrades from other groups.
It is because a proletarian line could develop inside our movement that MREQ can now pass on to the creation of the vanguard organization of the proletariat. This is its greatest contribution to the revolutionary movement. But MREQ does not have the organizational characteristics which permit the consolidation of this proletarian line, its framework being too narrow. That is why MREQ must disappear to make way for an authentic Marxist-Leninist organization. This confirms better than ever that the correctness of political line determines everything.
By its liquidation on a correct political basis (after unearthing the root and identifying the political essence of its errors) in order to create the Marxist-Leninist organization, MREQ makes a notable contribution to the revolutionary cause of the proletariat. To the working class it gives a contingent of militants determined to fulfill the tasks which fall to them.
These militants are conscious of the determining role, for the success of the revolution, of the political line based on Marxism Leninism Mao Tsetung Thought, and of the necessity to wage a resolute struggle against all forms of opportunism.