First Published: Spartacist Canada No 40, Dec-Jan 1979-1980
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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Each week the big red thermometer on the front page of In Struggle! inches toward the goal of 50,000 signatures on the “Declaration for the Absolute Equality of Languages and Nations.” Week after week IS! cadres don their sandwich boards and parade around university campuses and shopping plazas in order to collect their quota of signatures. And each week Charles Gagnon, through the pages of In Struggle!, exhorts his followers to redouble their efforts.
In Struggle! likes to style itself the “left wing” of what it once described as “the Marxist-Leninist movement.” But the day-to-day practice of the members of the workerist Maoid collectives, reformist community organizers and social workers who “rallied” to In Struggle! has changed very little. In Struggle!’s current petition campaign (in which it pits its canvassers against NDPers collecting signatures to save Petrocan and Medicare) is only the latest in a series of gimmicky, reformist campaigns designed to provide a short-cut to mass influence.
In Struggle!’s last petition campaign was an all-sided defeat. In February 1978, two and a half years after the imposition of wage controls and just as the Trudeau government was about to remove them, IS! announced the creation of a nation-wide network of ultra-economist front groups (“struggle committees”) against wage controls. These committees, which involved no one besides IS! members, set as their tasks “contacting different groups, distributing leaflets and circulating [a] petition” (In Struggle!, 16 March 1978). Summing up this campaign at the organization’s Third Congress last April the leadership admitted that “the ’struggle committees’ against Bill C-73 put forward by In Struggle! weren’t a great success” and noted in passing that “the results of this campaign disappointed many comrades or, to be more precise, raised many questions.
No doubt IS!’s current round of petitioning is again giving rise to “many questions” among the ranks. For a Leninist organization a petition campaign may be useful as a tactic to mobilize the masses around a particular issue. But the leadership of IS! has raised petitioning to the level of a strategy. By centering its activities to petitioning the chauvinist, imperialist rulers of the Canadian state to stop oppressing the Quebecois, IS! promotes illusions about the possibility of achieving social change by appealing to the “sense of fair play” of the bourgeois authorities.
By its own reckoning IS!’s biggest achievement of 1979 was the adoption of its “Programme for the proletarian revolution in Canada.” In the modest opinion of its authors this document represents “a true milestone in the proletariat’s century-old struggle to free itself from the claws of capitalist exploitation.” But the long-awaited and much discussed program provides only an abstract gloss on IS!’s chronic political confusion.
The bulk of the document consists of a rambling description of the oppressive nature of capitalism and the desirability of socialism. Reading IS!’s program one gets the impression that the authors have purposely kept it vague so as to leave plenty of room for future political zigzags. For example throughout the text there are a number of references to “the socialist countries” but no hints as to which countries these might be. North Korea? Poland? Cuba? While the Soviet Union is condemned as “social-imperialist” the program ventures no characterization of either China or Albania – both of which were held high as shining beacons of socialism by IS! at various times during the writing of its “Milestone.”
In Struggle !’s fundamental political dilemma stems from the fact that it is a Stalinist group without a fatherland. Spurned by the bureaucratic rulers in Peking and Tirana IS! faces an unenviable future as advocates of “socialism in one country” without a country, and therefore without a reason to exist. In order to carve out a political niche for itself IS! attempts to take up a position to the left of its various Maoist and ex-Maoist rivals. Thus while Hardial Bains’ Communist Party of Canada (Marxist-Leninist) and Roger Rashi’s Canadian Communist League (Marxist-Leninist) CCL(M-L) which now calls itself the Workers Communist Party were hailing Ayatollah Khomeini’s reactionary rise to power in Iran last winter IS! hedged its enthusiasm with a few agnostic reservations. Of course IS! did not have the revolutionary integrity to tell the simple truth about Khomeini – that his regime would be every bit as repressive as that of the butcher shah – but in its public press it avoided some of the worst excesses of its fellow Stalinists. However, in the publication of In Struggle!’s Iranian co-thinkers all those who failed to uphold “the unity among the masses” (i. e., who championed the political independence of the working class from the reactionary mullahs) were characterized as being “either prey of the reactionary and imperialist forces or outright agents” (Information Iran, February).
Similarly, IS! excoriates the Chilean Communist Party for its class-collaborationist popular front strategy and then turns around and endorses the critical Maoist Revolutionary Communist Party of Chile’s (RCP) strategy of “building a genuine anti-fascist united front.” But the RCP’s “People’s Front” is only a miniature replica of Allende’s disastrous Popular Unity – for it too seeks to “unite” the proletariat with the “non-monopoly” section of the bourgeoisie (In Struggle!, 19 June).
In the realm of “theory” IS! has attempted to deepen its understanding of the origins of Soviet “revisionism” without breaking with the Stalinist tradition which it stands on. IS! back-dated the degeneration of the Communist Party of Canada (CP) from 1956 (when Khruschev denounced Stalin) to 1943 when Tim Buck liquidated the CP and set up the Labour Progressive Party. But this in turn raised the issue of Stalin’s dissolution of the Comintern in the same year. IS!’s theoreticians handled this awkward question by broadly hinting that they did not agree with the liquidation. But they stopped short of any overt criticism of the man who Trotsky so aptly called the “Great Organizer of Defeats. ”
In Struggle!’s theoretical excursions also led it to briefly flirt with a revolutionary position on World War II – i.e. that it, like World War I, was an inter-imperialist conflict in which Marxists took a defeatist position, while defending the Soviet Union. However after discovering that a Leninist position on the war put it at odds with the Stalinist heritage to which it lays claim In Struggle! took up Tim Buck’s social-patriotic line of support to the “democratic” allied imperialists.
The fraudulent character of In Struggle!’s “leftism” is best demonstrated by the organization’s repeated political betrayals on its own domestic terrain. Last winter, when the bourgeois state put three ex-FLQers on trial for the 1970 kidnapping of former British Trade Commissioner James Cross, IS! refused to call for their release. As Marxists, we do not advocate the self-defeating terrorist tactics of the FLQ but, like Lenin, we defend all those whose blows are aimed against the class enemy. The political cowards of In Struggle! on the other hand took up the bourgeois liberals’ call for a “fair trial” for the ex-FLQ militants. This cowardice is doubly despicable given that these are former comrades of Charles Gagnon and other IS! members.
Just as IS! capitulated to the capitalists’ “anti-terrorist” propaganda barrage against the FLQ it joined the anti-communist chorus against CCL(M-L) at last April’s conference of the Montreal Council of the Confederation of National Trade Unions.
The incumbent bureaucrats prepared a document for the conference which declared that they did not want their unions to be a “transmission belt” for the extreme left. They proposed several anti-democratic measures, including a ban on the distribution of political literature at union conferences and a ban on caucuses within the unions. The election of a new executive at the conference became the focus of a hue and cry in the Montreal press about “communist infiltration” of the unions which was directed primarily against the slate headed by Raymond Gagnon and supported by CCL(M-L).
In Struggle! reacted to this outbreak of McCarthyism by shamefully joining in the red baiting of CCL(M-L) and other left groups, alleging that they were guilty of “infiltration” and “undemocratic” practices in the unions. “There is therefore no justification for banning the distribution of our newspaper at union meetings or outlawing caucussing by our militants” concluded In Struggle!(1 May, emphasis added). Charles Gagnon dashed off a letter to Le Devoir protesting that its editorial writers were attempting to “discredit the communists ( i.e., his group) by mixing them up with agent provocateurs and saboteurs” (Who is Manipulating the Unions? In Struggle! pamphlet).
While it is true that the gangsterism, dishonesty and subterfuge which are routinely practiced by Stalinist organizations, from the CP to CPC(M-L), discredit communism in the eyes of the workers, IS!’s unsubstantiated cop-baiting and its willingness to unite with the capitalists and their labor lieutenants against another leftist organization gives the lie to all its claims to provide principled leadership for the proletariat.
So once again it is time for the IS!ers to celebrate the fact that their organization has managed to survive another year. When In Struggle! was founded in 1973 its apparent leftist impulses, its air of openness and the personal political credentials of Charles Gagnon, who spent years in jail for his association with the FLQ, attracted some of the more thoughtful and serious elements in the Quebec left. But without a correct program IS!’s “activism” is only so much reformist busy work and its “flexibility” is revealed as spinelessness. Unable to defend itself politically IS! has increasingly resorted to a cowardly and bureaucratic policy of physical exclusion of political opponents from its “public” events. Supporters of the Trotskyist League were excluded from the last two meetings In Struggle! held in Toronto. But Stalinist gansterism can’t hide IS!’s manifest political bankruptcy.
In the face of those two caricatures of Trotskyism in Quebec, the Ligue Ouvrire Revolutionnaire and the Groupe Socialiste des Travailleurs, the Stalinist lies about Trotskyism are all too easy to accept. But there are no doubt some IS!ers who are fed up with months of pointless and depoliticizing petitioning passed off as building the revolutionary party, disturbed by the succession of bureaucratic dictators held up by Gagnon & Co. as paragons of Marxism-Leninism and sickened by their organization’s repeated betrayals of elementary class principles. For these comrades only the authentic Trotskyism of the international Spartacist tendency represents the communist tradition which they mistakenly sought in In Struggle!
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The Trotskyist League challenges IS!’s Toronto branch to defend its organization’s record and political line in a public debate before a working class and socialist audience. Stop trying to hide behind cowardly and bureaucratic physical exclusions of revolutionaries from your “public” meetings. Defend your politics in an open debate – if you dare!
We propose that the debate take place at the earliest possible date, at a time and place mutually agreed on and that it be chaired by someone not associated with either organization and acceptable to both.