First Published: Canadian Revolution No. 4, November/December 1975
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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This letter is written in response to the Guelph Workers Committee’s attack on CANADIAN REVOLUTION. It is our position that the GWC have ignored the concrete conditions now confronting the Marxist-Leninist movement in Canada and so have failed to understand the nature of the tasks demanded by these conditions.
The professed basis for the GWC’s attack is their adherence to the struggle for principled Marxist-Leninist leadership of the revolutionary movement in the country. As we hope this letter makes clear, however, the GWC’s application of principles amounts to nothing more than dogmatism and opportunism. The effects of their proposals would be a severe setback to the development of Marxist-Leninist struggle at this time in Canada. This becomes clear as soon as we look behind the GWC’s proclamations of revolutionary fervour to the real content of their criticisms and the nature of their conclusions.
The GWC accuses CR of two fundamental errors: (1) “acceptance of the low ideological level of our movement, actually perpetuating this low level by providing a forum for debate with no clear ideological leadership”; and (2) “providing organizational leadership to a tendency with no ideological clarity or clearly stated principles of unity. The GWC characterizes these two errors as (1) right opportunism and (2) left opportunism.
What substance have these criticisms? Let us take the so-called “left-opportunist error” first. The content of this criticism is more clearly revealed earlier in the GWC letter, where it states: “CANADIAN REVOLUTION is fighting for the creation of the party; is trying to unite Marxist-Leninists through the necessary pre-party debate; and is building national organization through the production and distribution of thejournal.” In other words, CR has taken on a vanguard role in relation to the movement as a whole, is building a national organization that aims to become a party.
This is nothing but the most opportunistic juggling of CR’s real goals and positions. Because CR (along with all Marxist-Leninists) recognizes the need for a revolutionary party; because they also recognize the necessity for widespread struggle, debate and analysis as part of the process leading to this goal; and because they have taken steps to promote the resolution of this immediate need – they are accused of secretly plotting to take organizational leadership of the whole process. The GWC have been obliged to search frantically for some shred of evidence to back up this claim. And what have they found? That CR “works to build national distribution and thus national coordination.” Distribution network equals organization equals “leadership in the process of party-building”. Poppycock!
As for the rest of this criticism – that CR has “no ideological clarity or clearly stated principles of unity” – more poppycock. CR has ideological clarity on which questions the movement should be confronting now, and who should and should not be confronting them within the pages of a Marxist-Leninist journal. The collective has outlined as its basis of unity those principles necessary for the struggle to develop positions and a correct political line, a basis of unity which is both necessary and appropriate for the task they have taken on. The GWC rejects these because they are incorrect for a vanguard organization intent on party-building. But they can offer no proof that CR either is or should be such an organization.
Let us move on to the GWC’s other criticism of CR – that the Journal accepts “the low ideological level of our movement, actually perpetuating this low level by providing a forum for debate with no clear ideological leadership” (earlier referred to as “diffuse and undefined petit-bourgeois ideology” and “bourgeois ideological leadership”). This perpetuation of the low ideological level, according to the GWC, results because “the political unity of CR is designed for accomodation of ideological differences and the blurring of class lines”, for compromise and unprincipled unity rather than principled struggle.
This criticism is also based on the GWC’s insistence that meet the criteria of a vanguard organization, that anything less can only be “bourgeois” and/or “petit-bourgeois”. Our own analysis of conditions within the Canadian revolutionary movement leads us to a much different conclusion. First, however, let us lay bare two more examples of the GWC’s unprincipled method of debate.
At one point in their letter, the GWC include two quotations from Lenin in an attempt to back up their demand for a tightly-consolidated leadership of the Marxist-Leninist movement in Canada now. The first of these quotations, however, is taken wholly out of context. In the article from which it has been extracted (Draft of a Declaration of the Editorial Board of ISKRA and ZARYA, Lenin CW, Vol. 4, pp. 320-330), Lenin is, in fact, arguing a very different position from that implied by the GWC’s use of the quotation. Elsewhere in the same article he states,
We desire our publications to become organs for the discussion of all questions by all Russian Social Democrats of the most diverse shades of opinion . . . Open polemics conducted in full view of all Russian Social Democrats and class conscious workers are necessary and desirable in order to clarity the depths of existing differences.
The point here, let us make clear, is not that the article actually tends to support CR’s position in opposition to the claims of the GWC. It is rather that the GWC have ignored both the concrete conditions to which Lenin was responding in this article, and the actual conclusions which he drew from the concrete analysis of these conditions. The ignoring of concrete conditions is a failure which runs through the whole of the GWC letter. They rely instead on distortions of Lenin’s revolutionary theory and analysis in order to present a distorted view of the present tasks of Marxist-Leninists in Canada.
Despite this, the GWC proclaims in bold print “WHAT MATTERS IS THE METHOD OF ANALYSIS, THE CONTENT AND DIRECTION OF THE DEBATE, AND THE NATURE, REVOLUTIONARY OR REACTIONARY, OF THE PRACTICAL ACTIVITY.” It is to be expected after this statement that the GWC will surely base their charges against CR on analysis of the “content and direction” of the journal itself, which is, after all, CR’s major “practical activity”. Not so. Instead, the GWC most conveniently and most opportunistically sidestep any responsibility for concrete analysis of this “content and direction”. This blatant failure to match their practice to their words they excuse because “the working collective of CR does not directly stand by the articles published in the journal”. Later in their letter, however, they inform us that “CANADIAN REVOLUTION does draw boundaries around itself . . . does set priorities and guidelines for publication of material based on these boundaries; does choose articles based on these priorities and guidelines.” Indeed it does – and with the aim of advancing the level of ideological development, not of retarding it as the GWC claim the journal does.
While insisting that the “materialist method” be used in analysing the journal, the GWC have, in fact, abandoned this method entirely by incorrectly separating the content of the journal from its form (i.e., its statement of unity and policy). We challenge the GWC to show where its criticisms are substantiated by concrete analysis of the journal’s content.
In rejecting the GWC’s criticisms, we also wish to state our positive support for CANADIAN REVOLUTION. We regard the publication of the journal as a progressive and necessary step in resolving some of the weaknesses that have historically beset the Marxist-Leninist movement in Canada. Crucial among these has been the general low level of theoretical development among would-be Marxist-Leninists, manifested most strongly in the absence of correct political and ideological line and a concrete analysis of Canada and the world. This weakness has often resulted in incorrect forms of mass activity and is reflected in the widespread feebleness or absence of principled struggle. These weaknesses have been further reinforced by the geographical isolation of Marxist-Leninist groups and individuals.
From our own experience, and the view of Marxist-Leninists from other parts of the country, we believe that CR is correctly responding to these historical conditions at this time and is, in fact, advancing our struggle.
First, CR has most definitely promoted the expansion and deepening of debate among Marxist-Leninists around questions which critically affect the development of a genuinely revolutionary movement in Canada. This debate is a powerful weapon in overcoming the weaknesses – theoretical, ideological and analytical – which are currently impeding the progress of Marxism-Leninism in this country.
Second, the fostering of debate on the national level has already begun to crumble the walls of geographical isolation which have helped to perpetuate the theoretical underdevelopment of our movement. A glance through the letters section of the journal itself illustrates how eagerly in fact Marxist-Leninists from across Canada welcome the chance to end this isolation. For groups such as our own, the exchange of ideas and information with Marxist-Leninists elsewhere in Canada is helping to break down the regional narrowness of our own experience and understanding. Only through such a process will we gain effective insight into the conditions facing revolutionaries in all parts of the country, and achieve a correct understanding of the nature and complexity of revolutionary struggle for Canada as a whole.
Third, the publication of CR has had an indisputable effect on the political development of ourselves and other. We have much to learn from the contributions of other Marxist-Leninists to the pages of the journal, but we are also determined to participate actively in this struggle. To this end we have begun to deal with some of the questions and issues raised by CR that previously we had not confronted. We also consider the self-criticism by Workers’ Unity (Toronto) in their article in the third issue of CR as further proof of the development through struggle which the journal has promoted.
Fourth, we regard this development of principled struggle around major questions of the Marxist-Leninist movement in Canada as an important step in isolating and exposing the opportunist and reactionary policies of both the revisionists and the self-proclaimed vanguard organizations, which have too often held hegemony in both the workers’ and the communist movements. The article by Dave Paterson on CPC (M-L), Dance and Hull’s analysis of the Ontario Waffle and Jack Scott’s review of the Moore and Wells book have further provided some of the long-needed analysis and criticism of these reactionary tendencies and organizations.
We agree with and support the tasks which CR has undertaken. We believe that the journal has provided some much-needed leadership and direction to the Marxist-Leninist movement. We strongly reject the GWC’s assertion that this leadership is opportunist. The leadership position which CR has taken on is a partial one – it addresses only one of several key tasks facing the movement and does not itself attempt to provide leadership to the whole process. The journal’s leadership role is also temporary – the very process which CR is promoting will lead to the development of other and higher forms of struggle and organization which will eventually supplant it.
We believe CR’s statement of unity is correct at this time for the task it has undertaken. But even with a correct basis of unity, the potential for opportunism still exists. We wish to stress in particular the importance of the opposition stated in CR’s basis of unity to “all forms of opportunism and revisionism, including social-democracy, anarcho-syndicalism, social imperialism and trotskyism.” It is a crucial task of the journal collective, as well as Marxist-Leninists across the country, to analyse at every point whether a position falls within the framework of legitimate Marxist-Leninist debate or not. The struggle against opportunism must not be compromised.
The CR’s basis of unity is an adequate starting point, but it must not remain static and unchanging. As the debate within the Marxist-Leninist movement progresses and theoretical clarity increases, the CR collective itself will have to internalize and synthesize these developments, and reflect them in their basis of unity. This means that there must be constant struggle and debate within the collective. It is important that these struggles be made known to the journal’s readers and supporters.
We suggest that CR include in its next issue an article explaining how the journal came into being and the composition of its editorial board. Readers should also be made aware of differences within the editorial collective affecting the political line, strategical and tactical direction and basis of unity of the journal which arise in the course of present or future struggles within the collective. Only with this knowledge can Marxist-Leninists in other parts of the country properly help to guide the development of the journal.
We have dealt at some length with the nature and role of CR as we see it, in order to further clarify our rejection of the GWC criticisms.
What, then, does the GWC position entail? First and foremost it demands the liquidation of the CR journal and a halt to the process of struggle and debate which it has fostered. It follows that the groupings within the CR collective (or representatives of various groups on the editorial board) are to resolve any outstanding contradictions among them and then procede to hammer out a new basis of unity based on development of a Marxist-Leninist political line for Canada. Once this task is achieved, the collective (or new organization?) can then go on to publish a genuine Marxist-Leninist journal which will constitute the “leadership” and “centre” of the movement. And all in isolation from the rest of the movement.
We consider that in essence this proposal is a step backward and a reflection of a small-group mentality which sees a political and ideological line developing from small, consolidated groups rather than from frank and open struggle among Marxist-Leninists on the tasks facing our movement. This represents an attack, not only on CR, but upon the very process of developing and establishing Marxism-Leninism within the Canadian revolutionary movement. It is a line that all Marxist-Leninists must struggle against and eliminate from our movement.
Does the foregoing mean that we are only interested in open debate for debate’s sake? Not at all. We stand for the emergence of a “leading centre” that will rally comrades to it on the basis of a clear political and ideological line tested in practice. But again, this can only be done by open polemics between Marxist-Leninists on as wide a basis as possible. Already some initial lines are being presented and struggled for and against. It is to the credit of CR that its pages reflect this struggle. Keep up the good work.
J.B., A.L., M.L., A.S., J.V.B., and other comrades in Halifax
* * *
Dear CANADIAN REVOLUTION,
In response to the Guelph Workers Committee’s letter, we would like to reaffirm our opinion that CANADIAN REVOLUTION has made a good start in the necessary task of promoting discussion of questions of importance to Canadian Marxist-Leninists, and to urge you to relegate any similar mail to the garbage can and carry on with your work.
The Guelph Workers Committee’s demand that unity on a developed line must precede the publication of a Marxist-Leninist journal displays a real ignorance of the current state oi Marxism-Leninism in Canada, and dismisses the importance of real struggle which is essential to actual political advance. If the debate on basic principles is carried on in the absence of a forum which provides for the widespread dissemination of positions – disagreements and agreements, conclusions, etc. – then it will be focussed within small groups like Guelph Workers Committee (apparently infertile ground), it will reach and involve fewer Canadian Marxist-Leninists, the logistics of exchange between existing groups will be made unnecessarily difficult (as has been the case in the past), and the results will be all the poorer.
It may matter little to the Guelph Workers Committee that sole access to many of the positions published so far has been through pages of CANADIAN REVOLUTION, but it is important to us and to others who are obviously in a similar situation, and should be to those who honestly want the best debate and principled resolution to the problems facing us. Any conception of the struggle for unity on basic principles among Canadian Marxist-Leninists which is limited to small groups operating in isolation – which is the only alternative possible if we accept Guelph’s call for the abolition of a national forum – is a conception leading to quick, easy, sham unity. It is just such fradulent unity which the Guelph group promotes in asking for agreement on a heretofore-nonexistent political programme first, and the publication of a journal second.
The Guelph Workers Committee did their position a tremendous favour by limiting their examination of CANADIAN REVOLUTION to the inside cover. Although writing that “it is necessary to rely on the materialist method”, and claiming to base their views on concrete analysis, they chose to ignore the real test of the policy of the CR collective, how it is carried out in the magazine itself. If there is evidence that the editors of CR have been guilty in their choice of articles of condoning opportunism, of confusing instead of clarifying issues, and of hindering rather than helping our understanding of matters of basic importance to Canadian Marxism-Leninism, then this should be demonstrated by concrete exposure. To simply conclude that CR’s general policy statement which, to our minds, forth-rightly reflects the primitive state of Marxism-Leninism in Canada exemplifies such condemnable errors, while ignoring the content inside the magazine is, to put it most charitably, empty-headed nonsense. Such immodesty and super-revolutionary posturing cannot be anything but obstacles to anyone’s enlightenment.
In actual fact, the CR articles published so far have generally been important, timely and instructive. In putting meat on the bones of the editorial policy, they have dealt concretely and in a principled way with many (considering there have only been three issues so far) of the most basic questions which still remain to be clarified and consolidated. The nature of the articles have more than justified the existence of the journal; they have proven its necessity. They show that these questions are often complex and difficult, and no solutions to them can be arrived at without real work and study, exposition and criticism. If the Guelph Workers Committee feels otherwise – and this is what they are saying when they tell the CR editorial collective that they can and ought by themselves to achieve unity on the basic questions facing Canadian Marxist-Leninists – then we must ask them: What are your conclusions on these vital questions, and why have you withheld your answers from us up to now? Further we would ask this group: What exactly is the axe you wish to grind?
The Guelph letter is itself proof of the need for a journal in which dogmatic ultra-leftism is exposed and fought. Whether or not the Guelph group is an official part of any self-proclaimed “party” is of little importance. While hiding behind a seeming ambivalence to CANADIAN REVOLUTION (who can fathom the logic of concluding that the journal is “bourgeois and petty bourgeois” and then instructing it on how to become Marxist-Leninist?) and to the Marxist-Leninist forces, they do the kind of wrecking job of CPC (M-L) and their like. We trust that genuine and honest revolutionaries will join in repudiating their attempt.
In our opinion, CR need not have printed the Guelph letter. It is not necessary to take seriously such bull-headed trivia from a group which apparently has nothing better to do than fulminate congratulations to its own inflated importance. It is a sheer waste of time and effort to open the pages of CR to so obviously malicious a piece as the one from Guelph. CR or any revolutionary journal would not, after all, allow itself to be drawn into publishing andor responding to similar outpourings by clearly reactionary outfits like CPC (M-L) or the Western Guard.
P.B., K.C., J.D., O.S.
* * *
Dear CANADIAN REVOLUTION:
The letter in CANADIAN REVOLUTION NO. 3 by the Guelph Workers Committee argues by implication for the liquidation of the journal. While our group has supported CR from the start, we are not wed to its continued existence. However, given the positive effects it has had, strong arguments would have to be mustered to convince us that it is not a good development. The GWC in no way advances such arguments.
The GWC accuses the CR collective of both “left” and right opportunism, and says that CR bases itself on bourgeois ideology, blurs lines of demarcation and gives leadership without a clear political line. These are serious charges. Most of their letter is taken up with one basic point: that the struggle for the creation of a Marxist-Leninist party must proceed on the basis of principles – that unprincipled unity is bourgeois unity. Well and good – we agree.
We find ourselves nodding in agreement to most of the passages in their letter – for example the first several paragraphs on p. 58 down to and including the quote from Mao. And yet we disagree strongly with the conclusions the letter comes to. Why is this? It is because the GWC does what it accuses the CR collective of – “talking with the aim of saying nothing”. They get caught up in what amounts in the context to “Marxist-Leninist” platitudes (about the need for ideological struggle, about leadership based on M-L principles, etc.) without ever doing a concrete investigation of the situation to which they claim to be applying these principles. They speak of the need for principled unity and claim that CR manifests unprincipled unity.
But CR is not taking up the task of creating a “national organization of struggle for the party” nor even a local organization. It is trying to advance this process, and has helped advance the conditions for the creation of such an organization. It does not engage in a common practice, asiside from putting out the journal. It is simply a collective which has taken on the task of providing a means of principled debate among Marxist-Leninists. It is principled because it is within the framework of the communist movement historically – it recognizes the lessons of the movement guided by scientific socialism and developed by Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, Mao and others. Anyone who reads the Political Unity and Policy of the Journal and who is even vaguely acquainted with the Marxist-Leninist classics is aware of the political criteria for acceptance of material by the collective. It is not true that the CR collective has failed to state the “basic general principles of Marxism-Leninism”. What the GWC position amounts to is that since there is not agreement in the Canadian Marxist-Leninist movement on all basic points of political line, that we must restrict ourselves to the exchange of mimeographed position papers rather than accomplishing the same tasks through a regular journal. This position is plainly ridiculous.
The GWC letter claims that the CR collective in fact provides a leadership which it denies that it provides. The CR collective is committed in spirit and print to fostering debate, and to this end it tries to bring forward clear expositions of opposing views (e.g. Workers Unity on Political Economy; Scott on Moore and Wells); it also ensures that contributions to the journal are attempts to apply the science of Marxism-Leninism. The GWC claims that this leadership is non-existent in theory and opportunist in practice. Can the GWC come forward with one concrete example of where this leadership provided by the CR collective has led to the exposition of an opportunist line to the exclusion of a correct line? Don’t take this to mean that we are for equal time for opportunism – but the point is that CR creates an opportunity for a correct application of scientific socialism to expose and refute both straightforward and concealed forms of opportunism. Can the GWC show that the fact that opposing lines appear means that the CR collective is promoting liberalism, and shirks from a resolution of the questions? i.e. that the CR collective promotes confusion and opportunism by pretending that there is no correct application of Marxism-Leninism on each question? A rattling off of quotes from Lenin on general questions will not do as an answer to these questions.
The GWC criticises the CR collective for (basically) not being a political group or organization with a clear political line, for not applying Marxism-Leninism concretely to Canada. Well comrades, what is your political line? Not one crumb is offered to us in your rather long letter to help us understand your positions on all the key questions. We feel that it is not enough for a group claiming to adhere to Marxism-Leninism to repeat a few basic points of scientific socialism on the struggle against opportunism in order to show that they in fact do oppose opportunism. The attacks on CR are consistently off the mark – chasing phantoms rather than the positions actually put forward by the CR collective.
We feel that the misplaced criticisms from the GWC come from a wrong understanding of what it means to apply Marxism-Leninism. To the GWC, this fundamental and essential process (one which will be happening for many many decades) is a simple one of reading through the M-L classics and applying the points one by one. At the same time we are to “guard” against opportunism lest it should somehow creep in.
But Marxism-Leninism is (it keeps needing to be said!) a guide to action, not a dogma or formula. It is a method which can be applied to all situations, including ones on which Lenin made no comments. On the question of the principal contradiction in Canada, five comrades honestly attempting to apply the lessons of the world communist movement may arrive at five different answers. Yet to the GWC this is a question which can be easily resolved – as easy (or difficult) as determining the “nature and place of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tse-tung Thought in the development of modern history”. For them all distinctions between ideology and political line fade into obscurity.
Polemics based on concrete investigation will resolve the question of the principal contradiction to a sufficient degree to allow the creation of a new Communist Party. The position of our group may be shown to be incorrect. But in the end, the correctness of any line is tested by the application of that line in practice.
An ongoing ideological struggle is necessary to correctly apply Marxism-Leninism to Canada. CR provides a “forum” for the first stages of this struggle. It would be foolish to presume that, after seeing all the arguments in a journal, all those claiming to adhere to Marxism-Leninism would somehow magically agree – lines will definitely be drawn and sides taken. It is likely that CR will become at some point the organ of one or another tendency. Groups with a clear political line should be attempting to do what GWC asks of CR – to become a “leading centre” (in the sense used by En Lutte!) to which comrades all across Canada rally. If GWC has such a unity and development, then they should use the pages of CR to win us to their line.
If there is a positive aspect to the letter from the Guelph comrades, it is that it underlines the fact that CR is only a transitional form. It is not a political organization, not even a “leading centre”. But it is one means (others being conferences, pamphlets, live debates, etc.) to advance toward the creation of the new Communist Party. We feel that its value has already been amply demonstrated in catalysing the development all across the country, and in making comrades in cities separated by thousands of miles aware of each other. We hope that the Guelph Workers Committee can come to appreciate the necessity of forms such as CR and begin to contribute on substantive questions to the developing debate.
Vancouver Study Group