First Published: Spartacist Canada No 24, March 1978
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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MONTREAL – In his address to the closing session of the “Fourth Conference on the Tasks of Marxist-Leninists,” In Struggle (I.S.) General Secretary Charles Gagnon claimed that the conference had been a success, although “there were difficulties, but we dealt with them correctly and eliminated them.” But Gagnon’s cynical self-congratulations could not hide the fact that I.S.’s “Fourth Conference” was a flop.
More than a thousand people gathered in a suburban Montreal college on February 4-5 to discuss building the “Canadian proletarian party.” But no new collectives showed up, no perspectives were outlined, no clarity was achieved and no resolutions were adopted. There wasn’t even any political debate, as the only other left-wing organizations to attend, the Trotskyist League (TL) and the super-Stalinist Bolshevik Union (BU), were both bureaucratically expelled for failing to intervene in a “spirit of unity.” Workshops, ostensibly designed to discuss I.S.’s “Draft Program for the Canadian Proletarian Party,” became boring discussions on selling the newspaper, fighting for more and better daycare centers and building “struggle committees” against Bill C-73, the wage-control law which is scheduled to expire next month.
The past period of rapid growth which acted as a surrogate for political clarity for In Struggle is now over, and the organization is facing a crisis of perspectives. Discomfited by Peking’s support to sundry “third world” tyrants, confused by the secession crisis in the Heavenly Palace, yet unwilling to commit political suicide a la Canadian Party of Labour by abandoning the Chinese “socialist fatherland,” I.S. is trying to straddle fences through abstract demagogy about “unity of all Marxist-Leninists.” But Peking has already picked its Canadian flunkies in the Canadian Communist League (Marxist-Leninist) (CCL [M-L]), leaving I.S. out in the cold. And, as became clear right from the start of the Montreal conference, the organization is already beginning to flounder.
Gagnon gave a long-winded discourse on the I.S. “Draft Program” to open proceedings, but no one seemed particularly interested in discussing this abstract, platitudinous tome. While I. S. members sat on their hands, the discussion period was dominated by the tiny but aggressive clique which styles itself the Bolshevik Union.
The BU is a sterile literary sect, which in its three years of existence has not yet felt the need to adopt positions on Quebec, the woman question, the trade unions or almost any significant political question confronting the working class. Rather than than deal with any concrete political issues or sully itself with “mass work,” the BU revels in bizarre archaeological “polemics” between the myriad schismatic sects which aspire to the mantle of Stalinist “orthodoxy.” Its publications consist mainly of page after page of unreadable encyclical extolling the infallibility of the new Trinity: Stalin, Mao and Enver Hoxha.
But I. S. found itself unable to deal politically even with the BU’s nonsense. So the chairman repeatedly ruled BUers out of order (to the applause of the assembled “masses”) on the grounds that they were not addressing questions relevant to the Canadian proletarian party. Despite its much-vaunted opposition to Canadian nationalism, I.S. seems to consider nothing external to Maple Leaf lotus-land “relevant” for Canadian workers. The BU was silenced for its “spirit of splittism, ” and when BUers attempted to enter workshops after the first morning session they were barred by an I.S. goon squad.
Although I.S. resorted to physical violence to avoid debating the BU, Gagnon’s speeches devoted much attention to political opponents not visibly present, including the self-proclaimed “Trotskyists” of the Ligue Ouvriere Revolutionnaire/Revolutionary Workers League (LOR/RWL) and Groupe Socialiste des Travailleurs du Quebec (GSTQ). It is a damning indictment of the revisionism of these pseudo-Trotskyists that a Maoist organization can attack them from the left, often with orthodox Leninist criticisms. Gagnon could easily parade as a Leninist when he criticized the LOR for tailing the bourgeois Parti Quebecois and supporting unilingualism, and scored the GSTQ for forming an electoral alliance with the New Democratic Party in the last Quebec provincial elections.
While I. S. may borrow from Lenin to attack the LOR and GSTQ, the program it actually implements in its day-to-day work is a far cry from that of the Bolshevik Party. In practice I.S. generally puts forward only minimal democratic and reformist demands, with an abstract call for the dictatorship of the proletariat tacked on at the end. Nevertheless the organization’s left-posturing opposition to bourgeois nationalism and its “class struggle” rhetoric are in constant tension with its national parochialism and Stalinist dogma. As a TL spokesman stated in his intervention at the closing session of the conference:
“At the root of the nationalism of all Stalinist organizations is the acceptance of the Stalin-Mao theory of ’socialism in one country’ ... Stalin sacrificed the interests of the international proletariat to the narrow national interests of the privileged Soviet bureaucracy, subordinating the workers of Europe to their ’own’ bourgeoisies through the popular front”
Despite I.S.’s claim that it is necessary to engage in “ideological debate” with Trotskyists, the TL spokesman’s critique of the fundamentals of counter-revolutionary Stalinism at the conference was quickly ruled out of order because it “insulted Comrade Stalin” and “injured Marxism-Leninism.” For I. S.“debate” with Trotskyists is okay – so long as it avoids the differences between Stalinism and Trotskyism! When TL supporters attempted to protest I.S.’s gag rule, they were promptly evicted from the meeting. As he was being escorted from the hall by Stalinist goons, one TLer shouted “You’re afraid of revolutionary ideas!”
I.S. seeks to exploit the revisionism and opportunism of the LOR and GSTQ in an attempt to discredit Trotskyism. However when confronted with authentic Trotskyism at the Montreal conference, I.S. could only call out the goons. Following the expulsion, an I.S. spokesman attempted to deal with the TL “politically,” but he could only sputter that the TL’s call for “Bolshevik parties united in an international democratic-centralist communist party on the model of the Communist International of Lenin and Trotsky” was... a liquidation of the call for a Canadian party!
After more than a year of internecine warfare between cliques loyal to rival wings of the Chinese bureaucracy, the American Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) exploded in a violent split between followers of China-loyal Mickey Jarvis and “Gang of Four” supporter Bob Avakian in January. There are a number of obvious parallels between the RCP and I.S., the most obvious of which is on the China question. Just as the RCP lost the Peking “franchise” to Mike Klonsky’s servile Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist) in the States, so CCL(M-L) got the nod over I. S. in Canada. While Gagnon’s organization may be less clique-ridden and less crassly opportunist than the RCP, it is every bit as nationally parochial and faces the same fundamental political contradictions.
Gagnon attempts to innoculate the I.S. membership against Trotskyism and suppress discussion on China for a good reason. For any serious examination of the China question would require confronting Trotsky’s incisive Marxist analysis of the bureaucratic degeneration of the USSR under Stalin. Hopefully there remain militants, attracted to In Struggle by its leftist posture, whose revolutionary impulses have not yet been so corroded by Stalinist bureaucratism and cynicism that they cannot absorb the lessons of the RCP split. Trotskyism – not Maoism – is the Marxism of our time.