First Published: The Forge, Vol. 6, No. 23, June 12, 1981
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
Copyright: This work is in the Public Domain under the Creative Commons Common Deed. You can freely copy, distribute and display this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line as your source, include the url to this work, and note any of the transcribers, editors & proofreaders above.
“Where do we go from here?”
This is the question posed in a three-part series on the state of the Canadian Left published by the BC newspaper Leftwords. The articles were written by the Socialist Organising Committee (SOC), an independent Left organization based In BC’s lower mainland.
Leftwords raises some important issues for all Canadian progressives, such as how the struggle for reforms can be linked to the battle for socialism, and how the revolutionary movement can be built in Canada today.
Unfortunately, SOC fails short in its analysis and proposals for the Left. Arguing that the Communist Party of Canada (CP) has become bureaucratized and that other groups present no serious alternative, SOC calls for a loose grouping of independent left caucuses across Canada.
Is this really where we should go from here?
Obviously, we cannot get a good start in rebuilding the revolutionary movement in Canada unless we analyze well the demise of the party that once led that movement – the CP. For SOC, the decline of the CP is caused mainly by bureaucratism: “The real working class control of the CP, which led to its successes in the 1930s and ’40s, has been replaced by an institutionalized leadership.” “Lifetime party bureaucrats” now run the show and the CP has become isolated from working people.
This is a fairly accurate description of the CP’s history, but it is not an analysis of the factors that led to bureaucratization and isolation. The key question of political line is left out.
It was with the development of a revisionist orientation and an abandonment of class struggle that the party began to lose its mass base and become more vulnerable to the attacks of the ruling class.
When the party emerged from illegality in 1943, its new program promoted illusions of winning socialism through the ballot box and proposed alliances, with “progressive” factions of the bourgeoisie. By the early fifties, the CP’s “Put Canada First” policies virtually made US imperialism the main enemy in Canada and let the Canadian bourgeoisie neatly off the hook. And today, the CP’s revisionism has reduced the party to an apologist for Soviet oppression at home and aggression abroad.
Bureaucratism is a problem that Marxist parties have to combat. But SOC artificially separates that problem from the struggle over ideological and political line. Ignoring this struggle over political line leaves the door wide open to repeating the errors of the past and following the CP into the dead end of revisionism.
The SOC then goes on to list several problems to show that existing groups “have little to offer Canadian workers” and concludes that “socialists should form into caucuses to assist...in handling current problems and creating longterm strategy.”
But how real and generalized are these problems?
“There is little working class composition or control” in these groups, SOC writes. This may be true of other organizations but it is not the case with the WCP.
With a program that answers some of the key questions of working people and with steady work in factories and workplaces, we have been able to build up a solid and growing working class base. Half of the WCP’s membership is now proletarian.
To dismiss an organization solely on the basis of its class composition becomes somewhat of a self-fulfilling prophecy: according to SOC, no organization has links with workers, therefore one cannot join any party to bring Marxism to workers. But any advanced party will at its outset have many intellectuals in its ranks, and if its program is good it will grow and develop among working people.
Existing groups have “Ideological and political dependency with foreign parties and revolutionary struggles.” This, too, is a false bogey, at least when it comes to the WCP.
We proudly draw lessons and inspiration from the international communist movement, from the Chinese revolution and its leaders, for example. But we do not make kneejerk defenses of China’s every move, as our criticisms of recent developments inside China have shown.
SOC is quite tight in stressing the need for revolutionaries to be independent and to develop their own strategies for their country. At the same time, we cannot shut ourselves off from the world and fail to draw lessons from the international revolutionary movement of which our Canadian struggle is a part.
SOC also criticizes “sectarian and factional activities’ of existing groups.
Sectarianism is too often a failing, particularly of small and young organizations. But it can be fought and eliminated when one has confidence in the ability of program to gain people’s respect on its own merits.
The WCP is active in many united front actions, from anti-Klan groups to Irish support committees. Its recent May Day meetings across the country featured numerous independent trade union leaders and anti-imperialists.
“No existing Left group has developed a program, coupled with a strategy and tactics suitable to Canadian conditions,” SOC says.
Here SOC at last touches on the heart of the issue – political line – but shies away from confronting it. Surely the problem is not that there is no program but rather which program is the best one. What is the main target of the Canadian revolution – US imperialism or the Canadian ruling class? Is the Soviet Union a progressive force in world affairs? In the trade unions, should our main goal be to build Canadian unions or class unions?
These and other burning questions have already been the subject of numerous articles, documents and books in recent years. Instead of complaining about “no” program, why doesn’t the SOC come out with some clear positions on the international scene, the demarcation with the NDP, etc.?
The WCP, for its pan, has tried to contribute to this serious search for analyses and a socialist program. Our party program contains a basic class analysis of Canada. We have also published in-depth analyses of the Canadian economy and a detailed program and constitutional proposal dealing with Canada’s many oppressed nationalities.
The key thing to realize is that there are different points of view on strategy and tactics, not that these views do not yet exist. It is by debating and developing these analyses that the Canadian Left can best move forward.
SOC rightly calls for “widespread debate” and a “program of study” for independent socialists. But why ignore some of the work that has already been done and start from scratch?
We should build on the strengths that the Left has developed.
Instead of small, isolated caucuses meeting and debating among themselves, debate can be organized around their differences in line with existing organizations.
Independent progressives should study and debate the programs and practice of existing parties.
The WCP feels it has developed positions that are worthy of examination. We also believe that there are lessons to be shared from our practice and our development over a short period of time into an organization that is active in many trade unions and communities across the country.
In addition to the program for the Canadian revolution, there must be debate over what kind of organization is needed to wage that struggle: do we need a party of the Leninist type or will loose groupings of independent Leftists suffice? By trying to restrict debate to individual militants rather than organized political formations, SOC in effect limits the development of the Canadian Left and narrows the options available to independent socialists.
The SOC articles on where the Canadian Left should go from here bring. up some important questions and obstacles for the socialist movement. But we are not starting from zero. The viable political and organizational alternatives do exist.