Canadian Communist League (ML)

Response To May First

First Published: Canadian Revolution No. 6, October 1976
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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The last issue of Canadian Revolution contained a position paper from the Vancouver group, the May 1st Collective (hereafter referred to as MF), entitled “Ideological Struggle Is Class Struggle”. The first section of the document dealt with the struggle for Marxist-Leninist unity; the second examined a proposal to set up a “liaison committee” between groups in Vancouver. Because we were unable to obtain all the relevant documents pertaining to the liaison committee, the League cannot at this time comment on the second section of MF’s paper. We thus limit our observations, here, to a critique of the first section – the one which, in any case, is of much more importance for the entire Marxist-Leninist movement in Canada.

Put bluntly, we feel that just about the only positive thing in MF’s document is that is provides an excellent example of how not to prepare a position paper. Confused and full of distortions, particularly on the League’s line, it has several grave political errors.

The document is, in fact, an occasion for MF to attack the CCL(ML) and declare its support for the Marxist-Leninist group In Struggle. The problem is that MF knows precious little about the line of either group and even less about their practice (as we’ll soon see from their document). The article is very much like a commentary by a sportcaster who, having missed the game, makes up the play-by-play action for his listeners with an obvious bias for his favourite team. The fight for a genuine communist party in Canada, and the struggle for unity between the League and ln Struggle is a lot more serious than messing up a sports broadcast. And while no one will listen to a commentator who they know has missed the game, some militants might be easily fooled and confused by MF’s document.

MF’s article covers a lot of different questions. In a relatively short space it manages to throw in something like 15 different accusations and criticisms of the line of the CCL(ML). Many of these questions have been dealt with elsewhere by the League or will be treated shortly. In this response, we’d like to tackle only the most important points: 1) MF’s understanding of the tasks of Marxist-Leninists; 2) its line on how to carry out the struggle for the unity of Canadian communists; and 3) its theory of the primacy of ideological struggle.

I – The Tasks of Marxist-Leninists

It’s hard to know just where to begin criticizing the many incorrect views of the MF militants. Let’s start by examining one of their major criticisms of the League:

The far more serious error, (they write,) is the complete split they make between the two aspects of the central task of the period – uniting Marxist-Leninists and winning advanced workers to communism – while denying the centrality of ideological struggle to both these tasks.

This theme about the “centrality” of ideological struggle – it certainly is “central” to MF’s entire document – is something we’ll examine a bit later. For now, we’d just like to ask where MF invented this nonsense about the League “splitting” unity from rallying the most advanced workers?

The League has always maintained that party-building entails three interdependent tasks, as explained in our Statement of Political Agreement:

– the development of a correct political line, and the elaboration of a program, including the strategic and main tactical elements to lead the proletarian revolution in Canada.
– the achievement of the greatest possible ideological and organizational unity of Marxist-Leninists in Canada;
– the recruiting of a certain number of advanced workers and the formation of factory cells in the main industrial centers of the country.

To prepare for the creation of the party, the Statement explained, we have to struggle to achieve all three of these conditions by carrying out certain theoretical and practical tasks. Of these, communist agitation and propaganda is the main one, the principal activity of communists today.[1]

Despite this clear definition of the conditions that we consider essential to found the party – something, incidentally, which MF never provides – the League is accused of “separating the two aspects of the central task”. But this is hogwash! Regardless of what MF may think, winning the most advanced elements of the working class to communism and struggling to unite communists are not exactly the same thing. The point is to understand the relation between these two interrelated and interdependent conditions, not to consider them as indistinguishable.

The real error of falsely separating tasks is MF’s. While getting so upset about the League’s supposed “splitting” of two aspects of party-building, MF completely “forgets” the third essential element in the fight for the party which links the two: the struggle for a correct ideological and political line. Only if an organization has a correct ideological and political line will it be able to correctly lead the struggle for the party. How can one even consider the question of party-building without considering around which line the party will be founded? It is around a correct line which Marxist-Leninists must unite, and to which the most advanced workers will rally. And the struggle for unity and the work of rallying workers will, in turn, push forward the development of a correct line.

So in what becomes a trademark of MF’s position, we’re left with a lot of noise about “ideological struggle” covering up MF’s “forgetting” about political line.

More on this later. Let us first move on to MF’s stand on the question of the struggle for Marxist-Leninist unity – without of course, trying to “separate” it from other questions.

II – On the Unity of Marxist-Leninists

1. Who is in the Marxist-Leninist movement?

The May 1st Collective accuses the League of “drawing narrow lines around the Marxist-Leninist movement which., by definition, excludes not only counter-revolutionaries but also opportunists.” (emphasis in original). Here is one of the rare occasions in its document where MF does succeed in accurately presenting the League’s position. Too bad it takes an opposing one.

MF can stick counter-revolutionaries or opportunists or anyone else who calls themselves Marxist-Leninist inside the revolutionary movement if it wants, but the League certainly will not. For us, the Marxist-Leninist movement is made up of all those groups, collectives, cells, organizations and even individuals who base themselves on the fundamental principles of Marxism-Leninism, Mao Tse-tung Thought, struggle against all forms of opportunism and strive to apply Marxist-Leninist principles to the concrete conditions in Canada, thus engaging in a revolutionary practice. That is, they have taken up the task of communist agitation and propaganda to win the most advanced elements of the working class to communism and to fulfill the conditions for creating a genuine communist party in Canada.

Right now, all types of opportunists are trying to worm their way into the communist movement in Canada. It has now become quite fashionable to call oneself a Marxist-Leninist. For this reason, we have to be especially careful today before we call a group part of the Marxist-Leninist movement.

To be a Marxist-Leninist means much more than having read a few books by Marx and Lenin, saying you support their ideas, calling yourself a communist and talking about the need for a new party. To be a communist one has to do more than talk. One must be actively engaged in the struggle to bring Marxism-Leninism to the workers and to build the party.

MF’s apparent objection to the League’s stand is that we “define” opportunists out of the movement. Lenin said that:

(Ideological and organizational) unity cannot be decreed, it cannot be brought about by a decision, say, of representatives; it must be worked for. (Collected Works, Vol. 4, p. 354).

Does MF think the League “defines” who is and who isn’t in the Marxist-Leninist movement by just sitting down one day and drawing up a couple of lists? Any such analysis of a group can come only after careful study of its line and a good knowledge of its practice.

The real danger is not excluding groups by definition, as MF incorrectly assumes the League does, but including them. The real danger is trying to achieve Marxist-Leninist unity simply by uniting everyone who calls themselves a Marxist-Leninist. This is making unity by definition!

MF should try to understand Lenin before it goes around quoting him. For his comments were directed precisely against the opportunists, the future Mensheviks in Russia who sought to blur fundamental differences of line and pushed the need for “all social-democrats to get together”. Lenin fought bitterly to expose the opportunists disguised in revolutionary clothing, insisting that unity be built on a correct revolutionary line and not by “decree” of “representatives”.

Just as in Lenin’s time, it is essential for us, too, to be clear on who are genuine communists and who are just pushing a sham revolutionary line.

Of course, there is opportunism within the Marxist-Leninist movement. Individuals and groups commit errors and deviate from a correct Marxist-Leninist line. But there is a world of difference between a Marxist-Leninist who commits errors and an opportunist. For example, the Marxist-Leninist group In Struggle!, in our opinion, is making serious opportunist errors. But we treat it differently than an opportunist group, and certainly very differently than a counter-revolutionary group like “CPC(ML)”.

The League has always maintained that the struggle to combat all forms of opportunism are inseparably linked with the struggle for Marxist-Leninist unity. On the one hand, we must wage a sharp ideological struggle within the Marxist-Leninist movement to oppose all deviations from a correct Marxist-Leninist line. On the other hand, we have to completely expose and smash the opportunist or counter-revolutionary groups which pose as genuine fighters in the communist movement trying to build a party. And we have to constantly demarcate ourselves from outright counter-revolutionaries like the revisionists or the trotskyists.

The League, complains MF, “see(s) differences among communists as relatively insignificant, and at any rate, to see them ... as being ’qualitatively different’.” Notice the neat sleight of hand MF uses to connect two points which have nothing in common. Yes, the League sees contradictions within the Marxist-Leninist movement and those between Marxist-Leninists and opportunists or counter-revolutionaries as being of a different nature. But does that mean that we consider the contradictions within the Marxist-Leninist movement as insignificant? Obviously not! They are important precisely because of their different nature. The opportunism within the Marxist-Leninist movement must be eradicated all the more completely.

These are contradictions which we must resolve correctly in order to achieve the unity of communists and advance on the road towards the creation of the party.

If the League viewed the differences within the Marxist-Leninist movement as “insignificant”, why would we spend five months struggling with the Toronto group Workers’ Unity to achieve unity? Why would we devote so much space in our newspaper The Forge, for open polemics? Why would we publish a pamphlet taking on the opportunism of In Struggle! on the principal contradiction?

Both the struggle against opportunism within the Marxist-Leninist movement and the struggle to smash the opportunist and especially the counter-revolutionary groups are essential aspects of the proletarian class struggle. Both have been firmly undertaken by the CCL(ML) since its creation.

It is the most blatant opportunism on the part of MF to try to include all those who call themselves Marxist-Leninists within the Marxist-Leninist movement just because they find the League’s view of that movement to be too “narrow”. Instead of opening up the Marxist-Leninist movement to opportunists and counter-revolutionaries, MF would do much better trying to widen the movement by struggling to rally some workers to communism.

2. Unity-criticism-unity or Demarcate to Unite

MF has another axe to grind: “They (the League) counterpose the formula ’unity-criticism-unity’ to ’demarcate in order that we may unite’.” MF does not offer a shred of proof for this accusation – not surprisingly, because it is completely untrue.

The League has never counterposed these two statement – nor have any of the League’s founding groups. For there is no contradiction between them. The first is the method used to overcome, resolve contradictions among the people. The second affirms that unity of Marxist-Leninists must be based on a clear ideological and political line and on an uncompromising struggle against opportunism.

The way our sports commentators of MF read the game, the League is for “unity-struggle-unity” while In Struggle supports demarcation. But this is not the case at all. The League seeks to apply both of these maxims. Our criticism of In Struggle is that it has not applied either one. In Struggle! has not clarified its positions on key questions of political line or engaged in open polemics – demarcation, in other words – nor has it shown a desire for unity and a willingness to criticize itself for its errors. Thus, the struggle for unity between our two organizations is blocked.

And in its public call for Marxist-Leninist unity last April 2, In Struggle! neatly skips over the question of demarcation of political line – or anything else to do with political line, for that matter. It calls for organizational unity of all those who call themselves communists on the basis of some future program! (See In Struggle!, April 28, and The Forge, July 1, 1976).

Is MF now in the process of also changing its song about unity accordingly?

On this issue, MF simply reveals its ignorance and confusion on the debates that have occured within the Marxist-Leninist movement.

3. On What Basis Should Marxist-Leninists Unite?

We’ve seen briefly how MF missed the point on who to unite (who is a Marxist-Leninist) and how to unite (through open demarcation and the method of unity-criticism-unity). Let’s see how they strike out by erring also on the question of on what basis Marxist-Leninists can unite.

Mao Tse-tung explained that “the correctness or incorrectness of the ideological and political line decides everything”. MF fails to understand this basic point. It confuses ideological and political struggle with ideological and political line and neglects all of them.

The League’s ideological line is Marxism-Leninism, Mao Tse-tung Thought. This is our class outlook – the point of view from which we analyze the world.

Our political line is the application of the universal principles of Marxism-Leninism to the concrete conditions of Canada. Our political line is summed up in the Statement of Political Agreement for the Creation of the CCL(ML), published with the founding of the League.[2]

It is the ideological line which guides us in the formulation of the political line. It is in the political line that the ideological line is translated into a concrete situation.

Communists wage ideological struggle against opportunism on questions of both ideological and political line, to define the correct path that the revolutionary movement must follow to achieve victory. To unite, communists must reach unity on the key questions of ideological and political line. Only on the.basis of an intense struggle against opportunism – and in particular, against right opportunism, the main danger within the Canadian communist movement at this time – can such unity be achieved. That doesn’t mean there must be unity of every little detail. There remain political differences and debates even within the party. In Canada today, it is essential that we reach unity at least on the major questions of line: the principal contradiction; the Canadian people’s role in the world united front against the two superpowers; the Quebec national question; the strategy and tactics of party-building and the fusing of Marxism-Leninism with the workers’ movement; and our tasks within the trade unions (see The Forge editorial on unity, February 26, 1976.

Of all this, MF appears to know absolutely nothing. Nowhere in its text does it even attempt to define what is meant by ideological or political line. It throws around these terms like a football, but never sits down to analyze what they mean.

According to MF, the League is supposedly guilty of neglecting ideological line for political line, of neglecting the struggle against right opportunism in favour of political questions. Mocking the League, MF writes:

So long as we have agreement whether or not grocery clerks form part of the proletariat, surely we can unite. In comparison, the question of bourgeois ideology shrinks to the size of an amoeba in in importance. Class struggle can come later.

Our eager-beavers of ideological struggle had better hold on a minute before they split their sides laughing at their gross distortions of the League’s positions (for we never said that the definition of the class status of grocery clerks is a pre-condition for Marxist-Leninist unity). They might stop chuckling long enough to consider the fact that it is they not the League, who are doing the shrinking. It is the MF which commits the very serious right opportunist error here – and throughout its document – of limiting the struggle against right opportunism to the fight against some of the most blatant manifestations of economism in practical work.

MF can stick its grocery clerks anywhere it likes. But when it passes uncritically over In Struggle’s position on the Canadian bourgeoisie, when it objectively supports a right opportunist view which blurs the distinction between two imperialist bourgeoisies – then, we’re dealing with real opportunism. The League, and we think many militants across the country, think the principal contradiction is serious. But the way MF scorns (and distorts) the League’s insistence on clarity of class analysis shows it apparently sees the struggle to correctly identify the principal contradiction as secondary and not part of the struggle against opportunism.

It is, on the contrary, an essential question. Because behind political differences on this question, like many others, there could lie serious ideological differences on principles of Marxism-Leninism (in this case, on the nature of imperialism and the state). Surely, if right opportunism is the main danger within the Marxist-Leninist movement in our country, it will come out in lines on strategic questions and during the struggle around these major questions. It is not the League which neglects ideological struggle against opportunism by placing so much emphasis on political line but MF, which insists on narrowing the struggle against right opportunism.

This comes out all the more clearly in the contempt with which MF dismisses the League’s political line:

Although MREQ/CCL(ML)call for a debate on the theoretical foundations of positions, their understanding of uniting around ideological and political line is essentially that people should unite around a range of positions (what else is their small booklet for) especially around a line on the principal contradiction and on the trade union work.

MF, here, is so pompous in its eagerness to join with In Struggle! to wage “ideological struggle” it cannot even see the forest for the trees. The League’s paltry “range of positions” (why our Statement doesn’t merit the name of political line document only MF must know) clearly has no significance in the struggle against opportunism, MF arrogantly tells its readers. MF fails to recognize that the questions addressed in the League’s line text – whether one agrees with our analyses or not – are precisely the most important questions that face the Marxist-Leninist movement in our country today.

In passing, we feel MF’s designation of the League as “MREQ/CCL(ML)” deserves to be roundly denounced by all sincere Marxist-Leninists. With the creation of the League, the three founding groups – CMO, COR and MREQ – were dissolved and a new organization formed. For MF to refer to the League in this manner shows up its incomprehension of how principled unity among communists around a correct line is reached. It contemptuously negates the qualitative difference between the League’s line and that of the founding groups. And, in an arrogant and sectarian manner, it dismisses the contribution all the founding groups made to the development of the League.

4. A Right Opportunist Stand on Unity

The proof is always in the tasting. And no better proof of MF’s opportunism precisely on its cherished topic of ideological struggle exists than in its very document on the subject. Scratch the surface a bit and you fight a complete abandonment of struggle over Marxist-Leninist ideological and political line.

The entire thrust of MF’s polemic supposedly is that we have to wage “ideological struggle” to build the party.

Against what should we struggle?

Bourgeois ideology, the Vancouver comrades answer gleefully.

Well, that’s fine, – so far. But this remains meaningless unless you explain what you mean by that.

For whether it wants to or not, MF ends up reducing the struggle against right opportunism to a struggle against certain manifestations of economism. Try as you might, you won’t find a single word in the MF document, a single shred of criticisms of a right opportunist stand on any major question of strategic line.

Completely absent is even a hint of recognition of the need for wider criticisms of right opportunism. One searches in vain for even the smallest statement which indicates MF realizes it has only begun its position paper and that it must go on to tackle other, more important key political line questions which face the Canadian communist movement.

That MF wants to eradicate economism is a good thing, but good intentions never build a proletarian party. Unless the struggle is pushed forward and widened, it will stagnate. The struggle against right opportunism must be carried out around all key questions of line. Lenin, in a passage quoted, but hardly grasped by MF stressed that the neglect of struggle over political line is precisely a fundamental characteristic of economism:

The majority of the Economists look with sincere resentment (as by the very nature of economism they must) upon all theoretical controversies, factional disagreements, broad political questions, plans for organizing revolutionaries, etc. ’Leave all that to the people abroad!’, said a fairly consistent economist to me one day . . . (Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 5, pp. 364)

Do not our friends in MF express “sincere resentment” over the League’s political line text, over our insistence on theoretical and political clarity? Do they not get all upset about our insistence on not blurring over “factional disagreements” to create a paper facade of unity?

Unfortunately for MF and the economists in Canada today, we have “no people abroad” onto whom the burden of developing political line can be shifted. So our modern-day opportunists turn resourcefully to “people in the future” so to speak. “Sure, we have to develop political line,” many comrades say, “Sure we have to agree on the principal contradiction, on the danger of war, the national question and everything else in that small booklet of yours. But right now, the main thing is to reach unity on how to build the party, on the need to fight economism. The other questions can be settled later.”

What is this if not a right opportunist stand on fighting opportunism? This is a conciliating, liquidationist position which fails to see how that struggle must be waged. It fails to see that building the party is more than just a set of tactics, a method to get everybody together; it is above all a question of what line the party will carry, of what course it will map out for the development of the proletarian revolution in our country.

MF’s position flies in the face of the historical experience of the world revolutionary movement, in particular, of Lenin’s fight to build the party in tsarist Russia. Before Lenin even wrote What is to be Done?, he had already smashed the Narodnik line on the path of the Russian revolution and had undertaken an analysis of the development of capitalism in his country. Lenin had already worked out the draft program for the Party, outlining the basic strategy and tactics. In his struggle against the economists, Lenin roundly denounced their fear of debating political line. And in the struggle to establish Iskra, Lenin was able to play the role of a leading centre in the Russian revolutionary movement precisely because it took correct positions on the major questions of the day.

Thus, to talk of struggling against right opportunism and bourgeois ideology while criticizing the League for according too much attention to question of political line is quite erroneous. For it is in the struggle to apply the universal principles of Marxism-Leninism to the concrete conditions of our country, in the struggle to develop and apply a correct political line, that opportunism can be attacked – and defeated.

What better proof that MF does not understand the first thing about this struggle thain the conclusion to its own document?

We wade through mountains of prose on how we should unite (most of it confused or dead-wrong). But there is precious little on what basis we should unite, on what political line is correct for Marxist-Leninists to rally around.

And then comes the clincher. MF urges Marxist-Leninists across the country to re-organize themselves along communist lines“, to break with the loose regroupments of the past; it calls on all groups to promote the “national publication and circulation of positions as they are developed,” positions that are “central” to “ideological demarcation”. But no sooner do our comrades finish uttering these very fine principles, then do they turn around to say: “At present, we feel that the development of a leading centre is best served by the creation of a national communist newspaper. And we also feel that at present such a paper should be under the editorial direction of En Lutte!”.

Now wait a minute, comrades! If you want to go and ally yourselves with In Struggle!, that’s your business. But at least be principled enough to let the rest of us know on what basis you made your decision. On the one hand, you urge all Marxist-Leninists to develop their positions, and on the other you wish to place yourself under the ideological leadership of In Struggle! without once in your document having dealt with the major aspects of its line!

Iskra became a leading centre because it had a correct line on the main questions. Is is In Struggle’s stand on the principal contradiction you find so appealing? Well, then, tell us why you disagree with the League’s criticisms of that line. Unless of course, you think grocery clerks and the bourgeoisie are all the same thing. Or is it In Struggle’s view on the international situation, on the Quebec national question, on women, on party-building?

For goodness sake, MF, don’t keep these things a secret. If you’re so concerned about demarcation and ideology, then, do the Canadian Marxist-Leninist movement a favour and start demarcating. A little more action and less talk would suit everybody. We’re building a proletarian party, to wage class warfare; we don’t have tine for fellow-travellers who want to tag along for the ride because the way someone talks or writes appeals to them. In other words, make unity around ideological and political line!!!

In this regard, there is an extremely dangerous tendency that can be seen in the way MF treats line. It writes, at one point:

It will not serve the qualitative advance of the movement if an empiricist approach to the principal contradiction serves to promote a line which turns out in retrospect to be more or less correct (formally) if the exposition of the line is so fuzzy that its application serves to rationalize an opportunist practice.

On the surface, this statement does not seem too bad, though it is somewhat fuzzy itself. But placed within the context of MF’s entire polemic, it underlines its contempt for the importance of strategic line. Does MF think that it is just by coincidence that one can come up with a correct strategic line? Frankly, taken with what MF says elsewhere, this passage seems very much like saying: “Well, even if the League was right and In Struggle does turn out to be all wrong on those questions, it doesn’t really matter ...”

If a group incorrectly defines the principal contradiction for two years, this is no little matter. This contradiction tells us who is the main enemy. Having a wrong analysis simply means that all one’s work has been incorrectly directed.

So after making a whole lot of noise about “ideological struggle” and “demarcation”, MF throws whatever principles it has left out the window and “supports” In Struggle! without any real political basis.

And if In Struggle’s line turns out to be wrong?

To sum up, what are MF’s main political errors on the question of the unity of Marxist-Leninists (leaving aside all the confusions and distortions of the League’s line)?

First, it does not see the need to clearly distinguish genuine Marxist-Leninists from the opportunists and counterrevolutionaries and instead opts objectively for a “unity by definition” of all those who claim to be Marxist-Leninists. The MF militants thus answer incorrectly the question of who to unite.

Second, MF does not understand the method of unity-criticism-unity or the need to demarcate nor In Struggle’s neglect of both. The MF militants thus do not know how to unite Marxist-Leninists.

Third, MF does not understand the relationship between ideological and political line, its importance as the basis for achieving unity and the breadth of the struggle against right opportunism. The MF militants thus do not understand on what basis to unite Marxist-Leninists.

In short, MF understands nothing about how to carry out the struggle against opportunism and for the unity of Marxist-Leninists which is so essential for preparing the conditions for the creation of a genuine Marxist-Leninist communist party in Canada.

Ill – On the Primacy of Ideological Struggle

1. Intellectualism and Idealism

One theme the MF militants latch on to with extreme vigour – it runs throughout their entire document – is the primacy of ideological struggle.

MF first quotes Engels on the importance of recognizing three basic forms of class struggle of the proletariat: economic, political and theoretical (ideological). It then quotes approvingly from In Struggle! to the effect that En Lutte! adds that theoretical struggle is the principal form of class struggle which must be promoted at this time. Finally, the kernel of MF’s argument comes out when it affirms that “because the tasks at this stage are primarily to win workers to communism, the primary method of intervention in working class struggles should be ideological intervention.“

To state categorically that of the great forms of class struggle noted by Engels, one of them – ideological struggle – is the principal form today is a serious statement. If true, it would obviously have major consequences on the definition of the tasks of Marxist-Leninists today.

One major fault with MF’s stand, of course, is that nowhere do the MF militants even attempt to define ideological or political line or ideological or political struggle . We’ve already seen what confusion this leads to when they rant and rave about “ideological struggle”, then chide the League for producing this “small booklet” on a “range of positions” and at the same time, hook on to In Struggle’s chariot without so much as a word about political or ideological unity.

Engels did in fact point out there were three great forms of class struggle and defended the importance of ideological struggle against the opportunists who refused to recognize it “on a par with the first two” (political and economic). But there is big difference between defending ideological struggle and asserting its primacy.

Economic struggle is, obviously, the battle on the economic plane, the “guerilla warfare” between capitalists and workers over working conditions, wages, etc. Though crucial, only vulgar economists would assert that this form of class struggle, waged spontaneously every day by the working class, is the primary form of proletarian class struggle in the fight for socialism.

Ideological struggle, as the term denotes, is the battle in the realm of ideas. Whether it’s waged on questions of ideological line (for example, against the revisionist notion of peaceful transition to socialism,’ or questions of political line (for example, In Struggle’s erroneous view of the principal contradiction) it consists of defending Marxist-Leninist principles. Without the ideological struggle to develop a correct revolutionary theory, earned out openly in front of and with the masses, the revolutionary movement cannot grow. It is necessary to smash opportunism and to correctly apply Marxism-Leninism to the concrete conditions in Canada. After all, Marxism develops precisely in the struggle against what is anti-Marxist. Without a resolute ideological struggle a solid unity among communist forces cannot be forged.

While the League recognizes the significance of ideological struggle – as shown in the importance we attach to open polemics such as this one – we must correctly situate the relationship between it and the other forms of class struggle.

Today, it is the political struggle of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie, the struggle for state power, which is primary. It is only through the political struggle that the revolutionary transformation can be brought about. It is the political struggle against the Canadian bourgeoisie which must preoccupy us above all.

This doesn’t mean that we should neglect other forms of struggle. We must engage in both economic and ideological struggles. The economic struggle to defend the interests of workers is a constant concern of communists. But the key thing is to wage that struggle in a manner which raises the class consciousness of the workers. As Lenin insisted repeatedly, this struggle must be subordinated to the political struggle. As he points out:

The fact that the economic interests play a decisive role does not imply that the economic (i.e. trade union) struggle is of prime importance; for the most essential, the decisive interests of classes can be satisfied only by radical political changes in general. (What is to be Done?)

Ideological struggle is important too, in order to break the stranglehold of bourgeois ideology on the proletariat. Here again, though, it is the political struggle which is the guiding force. It is the political struggle which indicates the terrain upon which the ideological battles must be waged.

MF would contend, of course, that since we are in the first stage of party-building and we must win the most advanced workers to communism, we must break the hold of bourgeois ideology over these workers and thus, ideological struggle is primary. But this is a profoundly intellectualist deviation which sees workers being won to communism simply by the beauty of ideas.

We must carry out ideological struggle, but it is above all through the political struggle that communists can identify and educate the advanced workers. That’s why Lenin says that “we must take up actively the political education of the working class and the development of its political consciousness.”

MF hopelessly confuses the different forms of class struggle and misunderstands the tasks in the first stage of party-building. Concerning its dictum about the primacy of ideological struggle, MF writes: “This formula stresses propaganda as ’the principal form of mass work’ for communists in this period of’preparation for struggle to build the party.” This is just not true. It is communist propaganda and agitation which is the principal task of communists. Lenin did not emphasize the importance of political agitation for nothing. Agitation and propaganda are “inseparably linked” as he put it, and both are essential if we wish to win the most advanced workers to communism. (In passing, one wishes that at least if MF is so intent on signing In Struggle’s tune, they should learn the new words. After many months of talking about propaganda as the principal task, In Struggle! correctly began to use the formulation of agitation-propaganda, without making a self-criticism, however.)

MF also supports En Lutte’s concept of primarily ideological intervention in mass struggles . . .“ Now just what is “ideological intervention” anyways? If it means communist agitation and propaganda, well fine. But let’s be clear that communist agitation and propaganda does not carry out struggle on the ideological plane alone; it also involves economic and above all the political terrain.

We cannot just tell the workers that they must fight bourgeois ideology and that what they need is proletarian ideology. We can’t just say that the trade unions are dominated by bourgeois ideology and that what we need is proletarian ideology. Unless ’you have a program for struggle against the reformist trade union bureaucrats and for revolutionary class struggle unions – and this is fundamentally a political struggle – you go nowhere in your struggle against bourgeois ideology in the trade union movement. You can very well say that English-Canadian chauvinism is bourgeois ideology and therefore workers should reject it; but unless you concretize this struggle with a clear-cut political struggle against Quebec’s national oppression and for definite political rights, your struggle remains impotent. In short, you can pat yourselves on the back as much as you want for accepting the need to carry out communist agitation and propaganda, but it is the content of that agitation and propaganda, the direction of the political struggles you plan to undertake, which will determine whether or not you’ll successfully rally workers to communism.

Communists must deal with the political needs of the working class and their agitation and propaganda must be inseparably linked to the struggles of the working class. When Lenin states that “these comprehensive political exposures are an essential and fundamental condition for training the masses in revolutionary activity” he is talking about much more than “ideological intervention in mass struggles”. Communist agitation and propaganda are essential precisely because it is in the political struggle against the bourgeois regime and its agents in the workers’ movement that the proletariat’s class consciousness can be developed. This is the whole sense of Lenin’s work What is to be Done? where he emphasizes the particular need for political agitation to bring class consciousness to the proletariat.

Mao too was very clear on the relationship between the three forms of class struggle before state power has been gained. This is how he described the link between the political and ideological struggle:

The revolutionary struggle on the ideological and artistic fronts must be subordinate to the political struggle, because only through politics can the needs of the class and the masses find expression in concentrated form. (Talks at Yenan)

MF’s talk about “primarily ideological intervention” thus betrays a profound misunderstanding of the task of rallying the advanced workers to communism and of the nature of communist agitation and propaganda. It is the political struggle and not the ideological struggle that is the key to winning the most advanced workers to communism. And thus, we must devote ourselves principally to the political struggle.

The ideological root of MF’s error is idealism, a view which sees the motive force on the development of the world as ideas and not the class struggle. The MF polemicists glorify the struggle in the domain of concepts and ideas, and objectively diminish the importance of the political struggle. They worship the ideological (theoretical) struggle at the expense of the political battle against the bourgeoisie and its agents. In short they do not understand Lenin’s statement that “practice is higher than (theoretical) knowledge, for it has not only the dignity of universality, but also of immediate actuality.”

It is impossible to “wage the ideological struggle” to win the most advanced workers to communism and the, once they have been rallied through “ideology” to start the political struggle for state power. To say so is to put forward a new form of the theory of stages! A worker does not acquire class consciousness because he reads something that seems to give a good explanation of the world. This is pure intellectualism. If it were true, the workers would all be staunch Marxist-Leninists by now!! It is in the heat of the class struggle that Marxism-Leninism can be assimilated by the proletariat.

This idealist and intellectualist error of MF is extremely serious. Objectively, it has the same result as the work of those economists who insist that it is the economic struggle which is primary. Both hinder the fusion of Marxism-Leninism with the working class. Both are right opportunist in nature.

MF is not the first group to have defended this bankrupt thesis in Canada. It was first put forward back in 1972 in a pamphlet written by Charles Gagnon entitled For the Proletarian Party. While correctly defending the need for a proletarian party, Gagnon erroneously advanced the thesis that “ideological intervention” was primary, that the “ideological struggle” was the most important form of class struggle today. To this day, this line has not been decisively smashed. Though In Struggle has since dropped reference to the “primacy of ideological struggle”, it has never formally repudiated this line and made a self-criticism.

At any rate, no matter who pushes it, it is a wrong line.

2. Some Consequences of a Wrong Line

MF’s erroneous conception of ideological struggle and of the stages of party-building necessarily lead it to commit a series of other errors. Many of the confusions and errors that we have already noted on the question of Marxist-Leninist unity are related to its misunderstanding of the importance of political struggle. Here, we’d like to briefly touch on two other questions, where MF’s underestimation of political struggle leads to mistakes: factory cells and implantation.

MF, like In Struggle, opposes the formation of factory cells on the grounds that the conditions for their formation are not yet ripe. But this is to impose intellectual ifs, ands, and buts, on a principle of Marxism-Leninism. The factory cell is the basic unit of a communist organization. It assures the firm links with the working class and applies the line to turn each factory into a fortress of the organization. Whether there are ten or ten thousand workers in a communist organization matters little in terms of making the factory cell the basic unit, whatever the conditions (i.e., which stage of party-building we’re in, the existence of widespread repression, etc). To deny this is to negate one of the fundamental organizational principles of the international communist movement.

MF also opposes the tactic of implantation. To justify its stand, MF resorts to the crudest deformation of the League’s position. It quotes from the self-criticism of MREQ, published when the League was created, and then adds:

But having said that, they proceed to defend implantation as the main means of conducting communist agitation and propaganda, thus fundamentally narrowing its scope to areas where the organization is able to implant itself and/or lead political struggles.

But just compare this blunt assertion with this quote from MREQ’s self-criticism:

Implantation is a correct tactic in the concrete conditions of our country.. . . But implantation is not the only way to conduct communist agitation and propaganda. Suffice it to say that intervention from outside the factories is an equally indispensable means.

Now the MF authors are either lying, or they should buy themselves a new pair of glasses.

As far as understanding the implantation debate, MF is about a year and a half behind the rest of the Marxist-Leninist movement in Canada – again, one of the consequences of leaping on to In Struggle’s boat without first checking out all the equipment. MF insists on seeing things in terms of implantation – or – communist agitation and propaganda. For MF’s benefit, we’ll repeat our point of view here.

Communist agitation and propaganda is our principal task (and not a “form of mass work” as MF says) in order to attain our principal objective in the first stage of party building: rallying the most advanced elements of the working class to communism. Sending militants into factories today is not, as Ml suggests, a method for “making communists into advanced workers”. It is a tactic to facilitate our work of communist agitation, and propaganda.

It is not a question of a universal principle to be applied at a times in all conditions. In fact, the League’s position on implantation is related to the particular conditions in Canada where complete rupture between the revolutionary movement and the proletariat existed for many years. Because of the degeneration of the once revolutionary “Communist” Party of Canada into a revisionist party, no communist agitation and propaganda was carried out in Canada for a long period. Thus, the task of rallying the workers requires tactics specific to the conditions which differ from those applied in France, for example. There, genuine communists split from the revisionist party and actively participated in the struggle to found a new, genuine Marxist-Leninist party, continuously maintaining their agitation and propaganda among the workers.

Here in Canada, at this point in time, the implantation of militants into workplaces widens our possibilities of coming into contact with and identifying the most advanced elements, of carrying out systematic communist agitation and propaganda with them.

This does not mean that you don’t conduct agitation-propaganda in places where there are no militants employed. (Where does MF think we distribute The Forge?) The work is simply more difficult. We are very conscious of the need to use all means possible to facilitate the penetration of Marxism-Leninism within the working class.

We place particular importance on the widest possible distribution and use of a country-wide communist newspaper, our main means of agitation-propaganda. We also feel that political campaigns, public meetings and demonstrations are key to mobilizing broad sectors of the working class and extending the influence of communists. Direct participation in the daily struggles of workers, in their factories or communities or schools, is also essential. Around the general strike, the CLC sell-out, the Quebec common front battle, at union meetings and conventions, League members were able to conduct much agitation and propaganda. MF’s complete neglect of even talking about the role communists must play in these daily battles is typical of an intellectual attitude of wanting no part of class struggle.

MF simply liquidates the organizational base of a Marxist-Leninist organization (by negating the need for factory cells) and restricts the field for carrying out communist agitation and propaganda (by rejecting the tactic of implantation). And this is closely connected with MF’s talk about the primary need for “ideological intervention” in the working class.


In this response to MF’s document, we have tried to show the grave right opportunist errors which underlie MF’s thinking. MF confuses the nature of the Marxist-Leninist movement; it negates the importance of political line in the struggle to unite Marxist-Leninists; and by so glorifying the “ideological struggle” in practice it negates the struggle to win the most advanced elements of the working class to communism.

We have only dealt with here some of the major criticisms MF launches at the League. It would take pages more to exhaust all the material, all the distortions, misunderstandings, turning Lenin on his head, and just plain foolishness.

One last point, however, must be pointed out because it is of particular importance for genuine Marxist-Leninists across our country. When Mao said that “no investigation, no right to speak” he was not kidding. And we would all do well to learn from MF’s horribly negative example.

MF’s position paper reveals a very sparse knowledge of the development of the revolutionary movement in Quebec and the positions of the various groups. Bad enough MF has to resort to the worst forms of lies and distortions to bolster its tirade against the League; at least MF is not planning to rally to the League. But MF commits the inexcusable crime of leaping before it looks, of riding In Struggle’s coattails without first making a serious study of its political line. The results can be downright embarrassing. Thus, when In Struggle has long since abandoned splitting off propaganda from agitation as the principal task, there is MF plugging away at propaganda, propaganda, propaganda. And, on the other side of the balance, MF quite correctly complains that “the public nature of the debate is very restricted”, but seems to be unaware that today it is In Struggle which has refused to engage in open polemics on any major strategic question. MF’s song about “demarcation” is quite out of step these days with In Struggle’s attempts to blur over differences within the Marxist-Leninist movement and create unity at all costs; MF had better change its tune if it wants to get into the act. And on many other questions of In Struggle’s political line – for example, the question of the leading centre and the tasks of Marxist-Leninists – MF latches onto stuff written by In Struggle in the spring of 1975, some of which In Struggle apparently no longer holds to.

Furthermore, MF’s paper reflects the work of a group of intellectuals who are cut off from the class struggle. It shows no knowledge of the lines or the practice of either In Struggle or the League. It in no way reflects any experience of struggle within the working class. All that talk of ideological struggle may sound nice, but in practice it shows that MF has had no experience of actually bringing Marxism-Leninism to the working class.

In short, having conducted no serious study of the Marxist-Leninist movement and with no practice in the working class, for MF to advance its position paper as a contribution to the Marxist-Leninist movement is pure opportunism.

There is a rich lesson to be drawn here for all of us. In the coming months the ideological struggle within the Marxist-Leninist movement will grow more intense. There will be a greater exchange of polemics and more contact between Marxist-Leninists across the country. For this ideological struggle against opportunism and for the unity of Marxist-Leninists to advance, it is essential for all the Marxist-Leninist collectives, groups and individuals in Canada to carry out the struggle correctly. This means carefully studying not only Marxist-Leninist classics, but also taking the responsibility of seriously dealing with the actual positions being advanced by others and not replacing them with our own subjective desires of what we expect them to be. It means Marxist-Leninists have the responsibility to participate actively in the development of a correct political line and apply that line through communist agitation and propaganda. It means rejecting the right opportunist option of latching on to some “bigger” group without first reaching profound ideological and political unity through a process, of struggle around line.

The contradictions on the international scene are sharpening every day. Domestically, the crisis is intensifying and the spontaneous workers’ movement is on the rise. These objective factors make our task of building a new Marxist-Leninist party in Canada all the more pressing.

To accomplish our central task, we must move boldly forward, apply Marxism-Leninism to the concrete conditions in Canada, win the most advanced sections of the proletariat to communism and unite the communist forces.

During this period it is obvious that open polemics and discussion, carried on in a principled way within the revolutionary movement can only serve to clarify the situation. But documents such as the MF position paper in no way serve this struggle. MF simply confuses the issues.

What we need are Marxist-Leninist polemics to help build a proletarian party . . .not intellectual games.


[1]. Tor a more complete definition of the tasks ot communists, see the Statement of political agreement for the creation of the CCL(ML), Chapter V.

[2] In our Statement, as in many documents for example of the Chinese comrades, political line is often used to denote both ideological and political line.