Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Statement of political agreement for the creation of the CANADIAN COMMUNIST LEAGUE (MARXIST-LENINIST)

VII. Our Tasks in the Workers’ Movement

The working class is the leading force of the proletarian revolution. It is the most revolutionary class in history.

Work in the working class, particularly providing leadership in the big factories which regroup and concentrate a large number of workers will therefore be the main concern of the CCL(ML). Developing this work is one of the essential conditions for accomplishing our central task, the creation of the communist party. At the time of the struggle to create a Russian party, Lenin wrote:

Our work is primarily and mainly directed to the factory, urban workers... The creation of a durable revolutionary organization among the factory, urban workers is therefore the first and most urgent task confronting social-democracy, one from which it would be highly unwise to let ourselves be diverted at the present time. (Tasks of Russian Social-Democrats, Vol. 2)

This work should be undertaken in order to achieve the principal goal – rallying the most advanced elements of the working class to communism – and to accomplish all our tasks, especially communist agitation and propaganda among the working masses.

To succeed, we have to do a concrete analysis of the Canadian workers’ movement and some of its essential characteristics.

The Canadian workers’ movement was not always cut off from the science of Marxism-Leninism. The Canadian proletariat had a party for its class at one time, the Communist Party of Canada. But, as we have noted, its degeneration into a revisionist party serving social-imperialism left the working class without revolutionary leadership.

Moreover, Canada’s prosperity and relative peace since the Second World War, along with the benefits that came from being an imperialist country allied to American imperialism, gave strong impetus to the development of a workers’ aristocracy. The influence of bourgeois ideology, of reformism, within the workers’ movement increased accordingly.

By amassing superprofits for handful of rich countries, imperialism makes it economically possible to bribe a tiny minority of the proletariat, thus creating a labor aristocracy, completely corrupt and sold out to the bourgeoisie. The labor aristocracy regroups the most privileged part of the working class – those who benefit from favours and advantages granted by the bourgeoisie. This stratum, a product of imperialism, serves as an agent of the bourgeoisie in the workers’ and union movement, spreading its ideology, reformism, and collaborating with it down the line. It is this stratum, along with the union bureaucrats, which presently controls the unions.

But the labour aristocracy is only a tiny stratum of the working class; it does not represent the large masses of workers who always have an objective interest in overthrowing capitalism and making a socialist revolution.

The development of the state monopoly capitalism, regardless of what bourgeois and revisionist theoreticians say, cannot resolve the contradictions between exploiters and exploited nor “integrate” the working class into capitalism. Those who remain deprived and stripped of all form of property do not have a role in either the direction or the organization of production. Further, the intensification of work and the continual degeneration of working conditions expose more and more workers to industrial sickness and accidents. At the same time, the worsening economic crisis is showing the working class just how fragile and ephemeral are the gains and benefits they won through hard struggle.

Thus, we should orient our activities mainly toward the large mass of workers, the overwhelming majority of the proletariat.

But the subjective and objective conditions mentioned above – a period of peaceful development and relative prosperity following the war, the strong influence of the bourgeois ideology on the workers’ movement, and above all, the absence of a genuine communist party – have strongly affected the class-consciousness of the Canadian working class.

A look at the level of consciousness of the Canadian working class reveals, first of all, that there is no longer a communist workers’ vanguard in the Canadian workers’ movement. The number of communist workers, that is, workers who are class-conscious and who lead the large masses of workers is extremely small.

There is, however, a good number of combative workers who are progressive enough to put into question the existing system. They aspire in a confused way to socialism. Often in the forefront of local struggles, these workers are active on the local union level and exercise certain leadership over the masses of workers. But they are undeveloped ideologically, tainted with reformism and nationalism.

The few class-conscious workers and the larger number of combative workers, under the conditions in Canada today, make up the most advanced elements of the working class. These are elements which we must initially rally to communism in order to bring about the fusion of Marxism-Leninism and the workers’ movement.

The intermediate elements, are primarily characterized by a trade union consciousness and some activity on the local level. They do not initiate local struggles, but they participate in them once they are launched.

The backward elements are strongly marked by the ideology of class collaboration and heavily influenced by the labor aristocracy. They are difficult to mobilize, even on the local level.

We have to thoroughly study these different characteristics of the Canadian working class and develop the most adequate methods of agitation and propaganda for raising the political consciousness of the working masses – particularly, at the stage, for rallying the most advanced elements to communism.

1. Tasks of the communist cells

The formation of factory cells will permit the League (and later the party) to link up with the working masses and intervene in their daily struggles in order to raise their class-consciousness. The factory cells enable communists to do political agitation and propaganda right where the exploitation of the workers takes place; they enable us to take our political exposures right to the heart of the proletariat. They are thus a means to have direct and constant contact with the most advanced elements of the working class in order to rally them to communism through political agitation, to recruit them into the League.

On the basis of the 5th Congress of the Communist International, let’s take a look at the tasks of factory cells in more detail:

–Their principal task is to conduct communist agitation and propaganda. To this end, they distribute the newspaper and other publications of the League and participate in all the spontaneous struggles in the milieu. As a consequence of their agitation and propaganda, they set up study circles regrouping the most advanced elements in the plants. Within these circles, the workers can acquire Marxist-Leninist formation and will thus be prepared to enter the League.
–The cells will intervene in all economic conflicts, in all the demands of the workers, to expand and deepen the movement, by showing the workers the political consequences, pushing them to larger struggles, to political and not just economic ones.
–They will break away the factory workers from the influence of other political parties harmful to the working class through communist agitation-propaganda against these parties.
– They will establish a relationship between the employed and the unemployed workers to avoid competition between them.
–They will struggle for the unity between the workers of both nations in Canada, as well as for the unity between Canadian and immigrant workers.
–They will do particular work among the women and youth of the factory.
–They will lead the struggle within the unions against the reformist bureaucrats and reactionaries, against the domination of the bourgeois trend, reformism, to win the unions to the line of the CCL(ML). As for the other mass organizations in the factory (workers’ committees, newspaper committees, political education committees), communists should work in them or create new ones if needed. The decision to create mass organizations and the particular forms they can take depends on the tactical demands and conditions in the workplace.

Outside of these tasks in the factory itself, the factory cells will carry out regional tasks in the communities where the workers live. These include:

–communist agitation and propaganda, distribution of the newspaper and various publications of the League; the recruitment of new readers and members
–organization and political action; various campaigns, (for example, on housing, inflation, and elections)
–agitation in the homes of the community.
–action among women and young people.

Setting up factory cells is very important in order to firmly link our organization to the working class, permitting it to develop the capacity to lead and organize the revolutionary struggle of the proletariat.

Under current conditions, it is important to send some militants of the organization into the factory in order to promote, by their work of agitation and propaganda, by their direct participation in struggles, the creation of factory cells.

2. The Unions

The trade unions are the largest mass organizations in the workers’ movement in Canada, even though they only regroup one third of the working class. This one-third, is principally made up of the proletariat from the large factories, the industrial centers. In order to reach the large masses of workers, therefore, communists must work in the unions, even the most reactionary ones.

The first unions were created through the concerted efforts of the workers, a product of their spontaneous consciousness of the need to organize their struggle against capitalism. Their immediate goals were to unite the workers and organize their collective struggle to defend their working conditions, that is, the struggle over questions of salary, work hours, unemployment, etc. The trade unions marked a big advance for the working class, its passage from a condition of dispersal and impotence to the first traces of class organization. But trade union consciousness is not communist consciousness. It is only with the penetration of communist ideas in the working class that the proletariat comes to understand the necessity of revolutionary political struggle to overthrow the system which exploits it and thus equips itself with its highest form of organization – the communist party.

But the development of the highest form of organization does not make the inferior forms out of date.

The unions are “historically inevitable” and “historically indispensable” for the working class in its struggle against capitalism; they are the widest mass organizations. Thus the communist party must always seek to link up with the unions, to educate them and lead them. It aims to win the support of the large mass of workers who belong to the unions, to rally them to the banner of the revolution and socialism.

As the workers’ movement developed and gained political and social influence, two opposing trends appeared within the trade unions. The bourgeois trend, manifested by opportunism, reformism and revisionism, seeks to make the unions a tool of class collaboration, to integrate them into the capitalist state apparatus; and the proletarian trend, which aspires and fights for class struggle unions – unions which, far from limiting themselves to economic demands, prepare, educate, and mobilize the working class in the struggle against capitalist exploitation – unions which support the communist party and struggle for socialism.

With the development of capitalism and its transition to the stage of imperialism, the bourgeois trend was strongly consolidated in the workers’ movement in imperialist countries. The labour aristocracy is the principal support and agent of the bourgeoisie within the workers’ movement and unions. The bourgeois trend is represented in the unions by the union bureaucracy – the full-time officials, the functionaries in the union apparatus, press, teaching institutions, and in the different services attached to the centrals – which orients and effectively leads all activities inside or outside the unions. This stratum comes from the labour aristocracy (e.g. Louis Laberge, president of the Federation des Travailleurs du Quebec, Joe Morris, president of the Canadian Labour Congress) as well as the petty-bourgeoisie (e.g. Marcel Pepin, president of the Conseil des Syndicats Nationaux).

The best defenders of the proletarian trend have always been communists. Only a Marxist-Leninist communist party can struggle till the end against reformism and revisionism within the union movement in order to sweep these bourgeois trends out of the union movement. Karl Marx took up the struggle against corporatist deviations in the English trade unions over a hundred years ago:

Trade Unions work well as centers of resistance against the encroachments of capital. They fail partially from an injudicious use of their power. They fail generally from limiting themselves to a guerilla war against the effects of the existing system, instead of simultaneously trying to change it, instead of using their organized forces as a lever of the final emancipation of the working class, that is to say, the ultimate abolition of the wages system. (Wages, Price, and Profit).

It was the communist parties of the Third International, led by Lenin and Stalin, which took up the struggles against the labour aristocracy in their countries in favour of revolutionary unions. Today, after the betrayal of the modern revisionists, the parties and organizations loyal to Marxism-Leninism are taking up again this heroic class struggle.

Presently in Canada, the bourgeois trend completely dominates in the trade unions. Under the domination of the reformist, revisionist and reactionary bureaucrats, the unions have become instruments of class-collaboration, collaboration which goes as far as the integration of the unions into the bourgeoisie’s state apparatus. Betrayals, opportunist sell-outs, calls for state intervention, repression of honest union militants and of revolutionaries are regular practice. It is quite common to see union heads sitting on parliamentary commissions, presenting reports to the government, supporting this or that bourgeois party, or becoming a member of parliament of government (e.g. former CSN president Jean Marchand, now a federal cabinet minister).

These betrayals did not take place without provoking reactions from the workers. Some respond by losing interest in or becoming hostile towards the unions. Others struggle inside as well as outside the unions against the reactionary bureaucrats, unleashing violent protest movements or wild-cat strikes.

As the economic crisis worsens and the contradictions of our era sharpen, worker struggles gain breadth, and the conflict in the unions between the bureaucrats and the mass of workers intensifies. Pushed by the workers’ combativity and fearful of being totally exposed, the bureaucrats take on a combative guise and lead strikes only to better control them. Playing on the splits within the unions, the bourgeoisie benefits from the situation by trying to break the unions, under the pretext of wanting “to protect the unionized workers from the reprehensible actions of their representatives.” But, in fact, the target is the masses: the bourgeoisie is trying to weaken the working class by stripping it of its ability to defend itself, destroying its defense organizations, making it further pay for the capitalist crisis.

3. Our Tasks in the Trade Unions

What, therefore, is the attitude that we, as communists, should adopt towards the unions?

Firstly: Struggle against reformism and bourgeois ideology within the trade union movement

We must start from the principle that communists must work wherever the proletarian masses are to be found. It is therefore vital to work in the trade unions, even in the most reactionary ones. In spite of the bourgeoisie’s hold over the unions, one should not conclude that reactionary or reformist unions be abandoned or that new unions, all nice and clean, be formed. Such an attitude means abandoning the masses of workers to corrupt union leaders and the isolation of the best elements of the working class from the masses who would stay in the old union organizations.

The task of Marxist-Leninists within the unions is to lead the class-struggle against the agents of the bourgeoisie (labour aristocracy and union bureaucracy) and to win the support and sympathy of the masses or workers. We should struggle for the victory of the proletarian line in the unions, for unions of class struggle. We must lead the struggle against reformism and revisionism in order to educate the workers in the spirit of class struggle, in the spirit of Marxist-Leninist ideology. This implies two things:

1) To spread the influence of communists among the large masses, developing communist agitation and propaganda is indispensable. We must put forward and defend the political program of the CCL(ML) – and later that of the party.

We must link immediate struggles to the proletariat’s long-term goals, explaining the necessity of revolutionary political struggle, of the unity of classes, of the struggle against the state.

We must explain the nature of the trade unions – what their role should really be – exposing reformist bureaucrats and putting forward the necessity of class struggle unions.

At the beginning, leadership in the unions will be assured by the organization’s cells. In the future, to the extent that the our organization develops and that the need is felt, communist fractions regrouping militants belonging to the same union, the same federation, and eventually the same central, will be set up.

2) In leading the struggle against the reformist bureaucrats and reactionaries, Marxist-Leninists must seek to develop a large united front of workers in order to isolate the reactionaries as much as possible. This is why communists must try to unite with the small number of the most advanced elements, and win over the intermediate elements in order to rally the backward elements.

According to the concrete conditions of the factory, they may decide whether or not this united front needs organizational form. In other unions, again taking the concrete conditions into consideČration, it may be necessary to concentrate work in certain union committees such as the newspaper committee, committee of delegates, etc. The important thing in all cases is to always carry out independent communist work while trying to unite all those who can be united against our principal enemy in the trade union movement – the reformist and reactionary bureaucrats.

Secondly: Defend and reinforce the workers’ and the trade union movement against the attacks of the bourgeoisie and its state

Presently, through the intervention of the state, the bourgeoisie is trying by all available means to “neutralize” the union movement. Be it legislative measures of the state against the dockworkers, the Fantus Report or the Cliche Commission in Quebec, and the subsequent trusteeship of construction unions, or the back-to-work law against the striking workers of British Columbia, these repressive measures all follow logically from the attempts of the bourgeoisie to “break” the union movement, to further integrate the unions into the state apparatus. Already in certain countries – such as capitalist Sweden, fascist Spain, or social-fascist Soviet Union – the unions are totally integrated into the state.

These measures reflect that Canada, like all capitalist countries, is wracked by an increasingly serious economic crisis, resulting from a sharpening of the contradictions of the capitalist system.

The bourgeoisie right now is also moving to an economic offensive against the working class – layoffs, growing unemployment, reduction in real salaries, inflation, wage-freezes. The bourgeoisie seeks to make the workers pay for its crisis. But the workers are fighting back, refusing to bend – hence the rise in workers’ struggles. This past year in Canada, the capitalist lost more days due to strikes than anywhere else, in the capitalist world, except in Italy.

Confronted with the bourgeoisie’s offensive against the workers’ and union movement, communists must struggle against the reactionary measures aimed at breaking the unions or integrating them into the capitalist state. This struggle is linked to the struggle against opportunists in the trade unions because they, by creating illusions about the “neutrality” of the state, by undercutting workers who aspire for fighting unions, by associating with the underworld (FTQ construction), by tying the union to the state, only weaken the unions and make them more vulnerable to the bourgeoisie’s attacks.

To counter the bourgeoisie’s attacks and the undermining work of the opportunist bureaucrats, Marxist-Leninists must put forward the absolute necessity or workers’ unity above union allegiances, of the united struggle against the common enemy. For this reason, the raiding campaigns which weaken workers’ unity should be severely condemned.

Another aspect of the work to defend the working class and the workers’ movement is the unionization of the non-unionized. Today, unions encompass only 30 to 33% percent of the workers. This weakens the working class, making it more vulnerable on the economic level, and weakens the unions inasmuch as they only regroup a minority of the workers. Historically, communists always struggled to organize the non-unionized, not because they approved of the orientation of the union centrals, but rather because they recognized the importance of linking up with this large mass of workers and the need for a defense mechanism against capital.

Among the most exploited and defenseless workers are the large number of women and immigrants. Women are concentrated in the lowest paying industries and jobs, often receiving a lower salary than men doing the same work. Newly-arrived immigrants who don’t know the language provide good cheap labour for the capitalists to shamelessly exploit. Communists must struggle not only for unionizing these men and women workers but also for defending their fundamental democratic rights (for women – equal pay, equal work, paid maternity leave; for immigrants – against racism, etc..)

In this task as in all the others, one must not count on the union bureaucrats, whose lack of interest and even sabotage of unionization drives, is well known.

The struggle for the victory of the proletarian line in the workers’ and union movement will be a long and hard struggle; only the Marxist-Leninist party of the working class can carry it through to the end. But even in the absence of the party and while struggling for its creation, communists must undertake this struggle. For it is only through this struggle that communists will penetrate the proletariat, gain influence, rally the vanguard, and thus establish the necessary conditions, initially for the creation of the party, then for building it into the Party of the proletarian masses. Thus the struggle for the trade union movement must be an integral part of the Canadian socialist revolution.