Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Red Star Collective

Critique of In Struggle!’s “The Path of the Canadian Revolution”

Section I

At the very beginning IS! lays out what is to be their argument under the title of “The conquest of political independence”. They state that in creating the national state and national market, the colonial bourgeoisie would confront “primarily foreign colonial domination”. Thus we know that IS! does not consider that the creation of the “national state” could serve the interests of the foreign imperialist power.

In addition, their assertion that a “national market” was created will require substantiation. IS! is assuming that the developing Canadian bourgeoisie won first the national market and then presumably expanded to compete externally with other imperialist countries. This precludes major penetration of Britain into the market (which unfortunately means precluding reality). It is possible that by national markets IS! means simply Canadian markets, in which case they must show how the development of Canadian markets necessitated a break with Britain. We can assume that they will go on to prove that the colonial bourgeoisie, which later gained control of the state, had interests in opposition to British interests.

But instead of that IS! informs us on page 15 that: 1) Britain “controlled all the economic activities in the colonies”; 2) “the colonial state . . . was entirely devoted to (the British) interests”; and 3) feudal aspects were maintained to aid the British in their domination.

So far IS! has not told us in what way the colonial bourgeoisie’s interests were in opposition to the British. In fact they go on to say that “...agricultural riches of the colonies were thus shared amongst the British merchants and financiers and their local agents: the merchants of the colonies...”. Up until this point, then, the interests of the British and those of the colonial bourgeoisie do not differ.

But what is this? In the next paragraph IS! tells us that between colonial and semi-feudal aspects, the colonial character was principal and therefore ”any struggle for progress, then, had to first of all aim at the overthrow of British colonialism”!

This is an extremely mechanical placing of European development onto Canada, with a clumsy attempt to accommodate Canadian historical reality. Because capitalism developed in opposition to feudalism in Europe, IS! feels that in Canada capitalism must have overthrown something, too. Looking around they don’t see enough feudalism on hand, but colonialism will do just as well. Treating Canadian history like a recipe, IS! substitutes colonialism for feudalism. This ’analysis’ avoids examining the actual Canadian situation. It also fails to understand that while feudalism is an historic level of development, colonialism is not a stage of productive forces. Capitalism can develop and grow within a colonial framework.

In order to prove that colonialism was overthrown, IS! examines the class forces involved in the rebellion of 1837 and concludes that ’the revolutionaries’ failure was not due to the absence of a truly revolutionary ideal. What this revolutionary ideal was becomes clear a few paragraphs later when they state that, “The struggle for the establishment of a national democratic state was soon to spring up again with new force.” (emphasis RSC’s)

This is all predicated on the assumption that Canada followed the path of colony – national liberation struggle – independent country and fits in with IS!’s other assumption that colonialism and capitalism are mutually exclusive ’stages’. We do not disagree with IS!’s conclusion that Canada is a politically independent country, but their contortions to prove this and the conclusions they draw from it are anything but a concrete analysis of concrete conditions.

While the failure of the revolution may well not have been from a lack of revolutionary ideals, it is incorrect to describe the Reformist movement in Upper Canada as a struggle for a national democratic state. IS!’s error is that it combines the movements in Upper and Lower Canada and proceeds to do its analysis on this basis. In fact the aims of the movements were not the same.

In Upper Canada the reformist movement, led by William Lyon Mackenzie, strove for the realization of the rights granted in England under the Reform Act of 1832. The main force in winning this Reform Act had been the petty bourgeoisie and the proletariat, but they did not receive the franchise by it. The main result of the Act was to open the way to Parliament for representatives of the industrial bourgeoisie. In Upper Canada the petty bourgeois forces and the small industrial bourgeois forces fought for an extended franchise that would give them power in the colonial government. Responsible government was to mean the transfer of power from the merchant Family Compact of the Executive Assembly to the elected Legislative Assembly.

But this was not seen as necessitating a break with Britain. Mackenzie opposed a severing of the British connection until after he had been defeated and had run to the US for protection. There he became infected with ’republican’ ideas and returned to Canada to read a grandiose proclamation which demanded ties with Britain be cut. He remained in Canada only long enough to read the proclamation and then beat a hasty retreat to the US.

The farmers in Upper Canada, who largely supplied the forces of the movement, were primarily concerned with land reforms, such as the end of exploitative land prices by the big land companies, and roads through church lands, which were providing severe transportation and communications obstacles. Again, their demands did not make necessary a break with Britain and the establishment of a “national democratic state”. (RSC’s emphasis)

A factor operating against breaking from Britain was fear of invasion from the US. The War of 1812 was still recent enough that a southerly attack was seen as possible – more possible if the colony was no longer militarily supported by Britain.

In Lower Canada the situation was somewhat different. While reformist tendencies, led by Papineau, opposed armed struggle and fought for increased priveleges for the French colonial bourgeoisie, the ideals of the movement as a whole were revolutionary. Lower Canadians had to suffer the burden of national oppression, and to liberate themselves from this oppression it was essential to overthrow British colonial domination. The bourgeois democratic struggle was thus linked to the national struggle.

In Lower Canada the Rebellion ended tragically, as it did in Upper Canada. In 1839 the Patriotes returned from exile in the US to fight again for a national democratic state, not for the two Canadas, but for Lower Canada. Once again they were defeated by superior British forces. Thus in both Upper and Lower Canada the Rebellions suffered defeat. As IS! points out, this did not mean the death of the movement, but in what way it was successful remains for them to specify.

They tell us that “compromise took the place of revolutionary struggle”. We assume that this means compromise between the revolutionary forces and British colonialism. In other words, British colonizers compromised to allow Canada to “conquer political independence”. How nice that those holding state power so gladly relinquish it and allow others to “conquer”.

“Towards Confederation”

This section begins with IS! setting out general Marxist principles and then crudely applying them to Canada. The implication is that if we dare to disagree with them we are anti-Marxist.[1]

IS! tells us that “the creation of the national democratic State is both the result and the condition for the development of the capitalist mode of production in a country. This general law of history applies as much to Canada as it does everywhere”. That this ’general’ law of history is the sole basis on which they analyze the particulars of Canadian developments is immediately apparent in the next paragraph where they say that, “essentially then, the creation of the Canadian state was the means through which the bourgeoisie of the British colonies of North America achieved its class interests ...”

Despite the lack of concrete analysis, IS! has not yet stumbled too badly for the Canadian state did in fact reflect the Canadian bourgeoisie’s interest. (We will deal later with the nature of this bourgeoisie.) But they go on to sweep aside British interest in the Canadian state as the “wheeling and dealing of London financiers” and assert that the Canadian state ”... responded first of all to the needs of capitalist development here”. (RSC’s emphasis)

This can only mean that the Canadian state serves the Canadian bourgeoisie “first of all”, and only then serves British interests. Yet never does IS! prove that the interests of the two bourgeoisies were necessarily in opposition. They merely alternate between Marxist-Leninist generalities and IS! assumptions.

They go on to criticize PWM for saying that with Confederation Canada became a neo-colony, only serving British interests. PWM was wrong, but it doesn’t make IS! right when they say that the Canadian state served Canadian capitalist needs “first of all”. In reality, the needs of the Canadian bourgeoisie and those of Britain were fundamentally in harmony.[2]

The Act of Union is described by In Struggle! in a very unclear fashion. They say, “Upper and Lower Canada were united in the same State in 1840. French and English reformers joined forces to obtain ’responsible government1 for the legislative assembly. Supported by a vast movement throughout Canada, and favoured by the transformations in British colonial policy, they achieved victory in 1848: the empire allowed responsible government. This was a victory of the highest importance for Canadian capitalists”, (p 18)

Contrary to the impression created in the above paragraph, the Act of Union did not occur because the French and English reformers joined forces. It was partially the result of manipulations by the Canadian merchant bourgeoisie in order to re-establish credit with Britain. As we state in our Pamphlet #1:

... the Rebellions of 1837, which saw a petty bourgeois initiative go down to defeat, had completely undermined Canadian credit in the British capital market. In order to restore confidence in the economy a decision was taken to spread public debt over a wider base. To this end an Act of Union was passed through the imperial parliament, resulting in the union of debt-ridden Upper Canada (Ontario) with nearly debt-free Lower Canada (Quebec). Current and potential British holders of Canadian debentures were thereby assured of repayment and confidence in Canadian securities was restored. (P 15)

It was also the outcome of Lord Durham’s Report, commissioned by the British Parliament to look into the causes of the 1837 Rebellions. The Report recommended self-government for the colonies as a necessary step for Britain to maintain her hold. It also recommended Union as a means of Anglicizing the French.

Responsible self-government did not immediately come into operation with the Act of Union, but even so the relatively powerless Legislative Assembly was rigged to ensure that English Canada West had equal representation with the much more populous French Canada East. The Act of Union was, in fact, one of the repressive tools used in the national oppression of the French.

The fact that Britain “allowed” responsible government – this “victory of the highest importance for Canadian capitalists” – should indicate that it was not at variance with British interests. The change in colonial policy through the 1840’s which IS! makes reference to was not the moral awakening of the British parliament but the realization on the part of the British bourgeoisie that they must deal with their colonies differently if they intended to keep them.

A brief look at some of the reformers also indicates the nature of the victory. In Upper Canada two of the leading people were Baldwin and Hincks. Both of these had backed out of the Reform movement, opposing armed struggle, and had become ’moderates’. In Lower Canada, too, the radical leadership was replaced by that of Louis Lafontaine. This swing to the right was a direct result of the defeat of the Rebellions and the death and exile of many supporters.

Hincks is a prime example of a Canadian capitalist who upheld British interests. Hincks was a leading light in the Grand Trunk Railway, which also featured the Baring and Glyn financiers of Britain. Hardly a case of overthrowing British colonizers to assert independent Canadian interests. In fact, the coalition of 1854 which IS! refers to was a coalition predicated on the furthering of commercial interests of Canadian and British capital via, for example, railway schemes.

This is not to say that responsible government was not an advance of any sort. It extended the franchise and was an important step towards representation by population, an important part of bourgeois democracy.

IS! next takes up the question of merchant’s capital, claiming that it transforms itself into and fuses with industrial capital. We would point out that IS! does no concrete analysis but merely quotes Marx. That these quotes are out of context and that Marx did not show “how the laws of development of capital necessarily bring about the unification of merchant capital with the rest of capital” (p 18) can be proven by referring again to Marx.

A developed capitalist mode of production, compared with earlier conditions, exerts a twofold influence on merchant’s capital. On the one hand, the same quantity of commodities is turned over with a smaller mass of actually functioning merchant’s capital; owing to the more rapid turnover of merchant’s capital, and the more rapid reproduction process, on which this depends, the relation of merchant’s capital to industrial capital diminishes. On the other hand, with the development of the capitalist mode of production all production becomes the production of commodities, which places all products into the hands of agents of circulation.” (i.e. merchants – RSC) Capital, Vol. 3 p 310

The extent to which products enter trade and go through the merchant’s hands depends on the mode of production, and reaches its maximum in the ultimate development of capitalist production, where the product is produced solely as a commodity, and not as a direct means of subsistence. (RSC’s emphasis) Ibid p 325

Marx talks about how “commerce became then the servant of industrial production ...”, but this is not the same thing as merchant capital ’accepting defeat’ as IS! would have it. (IS!’s bourgeoisies submit so gracefully – “compromising”, “allowing”, “accepting defeat”...)

In Canada merchant capital was the servant of industrial capital, but the particularities demand examination. The “division of labour between capital” (Capital, Vol. 3 p 280) which Marx speaks of merchant’s capital effecting, took on a specific form in Canada.

As we have noted, “there was established a triangle of investment, starting with British portfolio investment in Canada, while Canadian merchant-bankers used their capital to speculate in commodities and gold in the US and American banks stayed at home financing industrial development. But Canadian bankers promoted economic stagnation in Canada by draining off funds required for industrial development and using them in commercial pursuits”. RSC Pamphlet #1 p 16.

IS! says of the 1859 tariffs that they “were instituted for the first time to protect the Canadian manufacturing industry”. But the 1859 tariffs were described as “incidental protection” by the Finance Minister of the time, their main purpose being to increase revenue to the government coffers to pay off the onerous burden of public debt created by the building of canals and railways. In 1866 even this ”incidental protection” was largely removed.

The policy of this country has been to make every article of natural production imported into the province free and for revenue purposes to impose duties on all those manufactured articles which it is thought were able to bear the burden, affording at the same time an incidental amount of protection to our own manufactures. Now we propose to decrease the duties on the largest class of manufactured goods entering the country and to take them off altogether from those articles which, to a great extent, enter into the manufacture of other articles in this country.” A T Gait’s Budget Speech of 1866

The latter stipulation allowed for the importation of machinery necessary for the railway industry. IS! claims that “these various measures (tariffs and state intervention into financing of transport – RSC) accelerated the development of Canadian capitalism and strengthened the Canadian bourgeoisie”. There is no doubt that railways promoted industrial development in Canada, but in light of the evidence available (and IS! provides none to the contrary) we cannot assume this was the prime interest of the ruling class. Rather, it would appear to be a by-product, their central source of profit being elsewhere.

IS! deals briefly with Confederation. Their main point is that Confederation was essentially the completion of the bourgeois democratic tasks. The RSC sees Confederation as the first step in completing the bourgeois democratic tasks (Canada still did not control foreign policy), but we have no disagreement with the basic point. This fact has important consequences for revolutionary strategy in Canada as it means that the bourgeoisie is not a progressive force but a reactionary force, a block to the proletariat in its historic mission.

On the question of the 1879 National Policy we take issue with IS! on one important point. They state that the National Policy included the “adoption of a protectionist tariff policy to accelerate the development of a manufacturing industry”. While superficially this is true, it glosses over the important fact that the tariff largely developed American owned industry! It forced US capitalists and/or their capital to move to Canada in order to capture the Canadian market.

IS! goes on to say that “the Canadian bourgeoisie controlled state power and used it in the defence of its interests”. IS! assumes that these interests are those of an industrial bourgeoisie. But would a bourgeoisie with primarily industrial interests construct tariffs that promote foreign industry within their own national borders?

“Resume of the First Section”

IS! concludes in their resume that they have shown that the colonial regime in Canada was “liquidated”. In fact they have not even shown that the Canadian bourgeoisie which created the National Policy of 1879 was an industrial bourgeoisie with interests in opposing Britain.

They also claim that 1848 represented a “determinant victory”, the achievement of “a government responsible before the people and the autonomy of the colonies”. We wonder what IS! means by autonomy. Was it autonomy the colony demonstrated when in 1851 the government followed the bidding of London financiers and passed legislation “to the effect that public debt would not be increased without first consulting Baring and Glyn (of London)”? RSC Pamphlet #1, p 16. Although responsible government had been achieved, the Canadian bourgeoisie continued to operate within the framework of British imperialism.

Before passing on to Section II, IS! indicates the direction in which they are going as follows: “These characteristics of this rotten and ultimate stage of capitalism are:

1) industry and banks are concentrated to such a point that only a handful of large monopolies control the economy of the country;
2) Canadian bank and industrial capital merge to form a veritable financial capital which is also Canadian; (We wonder how this can happen within the logic of IS!’s own argument. Merchant capital, which Marx defines as including banking capital, transformed into and fused with industrial capital in the mid-1800’s according to ISPs analysis. At what point did it break away from industrial capital in preparation for the later merger?)
3) This Canadian financial capital launches out into the export of capital abroad and thus participates in the exploitation of the dominated peoples’ nations. (p 20-21)

In this way they neatly avoid all mention of the external characteristics of imperialism by only dealing with part of Lenin’s definition. They have left out the fourth and fifth characteristics of the imperialist era: “The export of capital as distinguished, from the export of commodities acquires exceptional importance” and “The territorial division of the whole world among the biggest capitalist powers is completed”. (Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism) They must leave them out or at best give them only lip service because on these points Lenin proves inconvenient to their analysis.


[1] We might add that IS! is a bit foggy on the development of the superstructure, stating that “... the Canadian state was the very condition of existence of the Canadian bourgeoisie”, (p 17) If the state is an initial condition for the existence of the class, it is hard to envision how it managed to exist long enough to gain state power.

[2] For the RSC analysis of developments during this period see “Canada: Imperialist Power or Economic Colony?” p 15-17 (Development of an Infrastructure and Confederation)