First Published:The Forge Vol 7, No 23, June 11, 1982
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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Whenever a new political organization is set up, it is important to analyze it, examine its origins and look at what it represents. It is the same when an organization dies.
After a decade of activity, the In Struggle group dissolved itself at its 4th congress in May. Why? How can we analyze this event? The debate on this question has begun among the left and will no doubt continue for a certain time. For our part, we would like to comment on this event and on the various explanations for it.
Some people maintain that the disappearance of In Struggle, coming on the heels of problems in the socialist countries and in some Marxist-Leninist parties, is just one further indication of the bankruptcy of Marxism, and of Leninism in particular.
Is this the case? Can In Struggle be seen as some kind of barometer measuring the health and validity of Marxism? We do not think so. While In Struggle continued to qualify itself as Marxist-Leninist, in our opinion its ideology, line, practice and methods of work and organization were very far from Marxism-Leninism.
All the analyses made by the differing tendencies within In Struggle indicate that the group’s problems go back a long time, but the final crisis dates from June, 1980.
From that point on, a great number of problems affecting all aspects of In Struggle’s line as well as its practice and functioning were brought up and discussed, both in IS’s publications and in its internal documents. Three major questions were objects of confrontation: democracy within the group, the struggle of women and their situation in IS, and the group’s basic orientation, the debate on this last question occurring around the IS program.
In this process several tendencies appeared. The many severe criticisms of the lack of democracy within IS led to the setting up of the “Caucus for Democracy.” The serious problems of male chauvinism within IS – problems pointed out and criticized by a large number of people – led a group of women to condude that it was impossible to continue working in a mixed group and pulled out of the organization even before the last congress.
Just before the congress itself, two basic tendencies were producing documents and taking positions: the “Majority Consensus” and the “Group of 30,” linked to activists in British Columbia.
The “Majority consensus” put forward the rejection of the In Struggle program, and affirmed that, “The In Struggle organization such as it has existed until very recently should disappear,” adding that in order to continue discussion a way had to be found to “maintain links between the various sectors of the organization (groups, caucuses, tendencies, regions, sexes, nationalities, classes, social groups, etc.).” (IS, May 18, 1982, p. 6, our translation from the French).
The “Majority consensus” posed a lot of questions, many very much to the point, but it had little in the way of answers. Central to its reflections, however, was a radical questioning – in fact, a rejection – of “several fundamental concepts: the dictatorship of the proletariat, the vanguard party, the leading role of the working class, the place of democracy, economic planning and the nationalization of the means of production, the collapse of world capitalism the basic postulates of Marxism-Leninism and Marxism as such.” (Les Cahiers brouillons, pp. 8, 9, 27. Our translation.)
As for the “group of 30,” which included ex-IS Secretary-General Charles Gagnon, from the beginning it defended the basic lines of the IS program. By many it was seen as the “Marxist-Leninist” tendency that wanted to maintain orthodoxy. The “group of 30” found itself increasingly on the defensive and, by the time the congress was held, was reduced to proposing that the IS program be “suspended.” Evidently its positions were defeated at the convention.
This is hardly surprising if you look at the kind of “defence of Marxism” it made, particularly concerning the history of socialist societies and the nature and causes of IS’s problems – and the perspectives that followed from these analyses. The whole thing was as un-Marxist as it was demoralizing.
In the “group of 30’”s analysis of socialist societies to date, economic determinism reigned, materialism devoid of all dialectics. Objective conditions determined everything, and there was no role left for human consciousness and action, a conception abundantly criticized by Marxists, notably Marx, Engels and Mao Zedong.
This approach led the “group of 30” to conclude that essentially the Bolshevik and Chinese revolutions were doomed to failure sooner or later because of the backward state of the productive forces and the large proportion of peasants in the population. In an internal text in 1980, Gagnon even arrived at the conclusion that in the eyes of history the Bolshevik Revolution would appear as a bourgeois revolution rather than a proletarian one. Lenin would have been surprised at such a “defence” of Leninism.
As for the future of socialism in the advanced capitalist countries, it was no brighter. For the “group of 30” the situation was bad in every possible way: the economic crisis was too serious, the bourgeoisie too strong, and the workers movement too weak to hope for any progress towards socialism.
And that was why IS was in trouble, they said. The seriousness of the economic crisis, far from being a factor encouraging mobilization, a phenomenon making even clearer the urgent need for a revolutionary organization, was analyzed as an obstacle preventing people from struggling. At a time when the labour movement was growing more radical and a militant opposition was developing in the unions, the “group of 30” considered that the workers’ movement was losing ground. Thus it was “normal” for an organization like IS to stagnate.
As a result one of the main criticisms the “group of 30” made of IS’s program and practice was that of “idealism.” It was utopian, they said, to think that a revolutionary organization could grow in a period when “the labour movementwas in retreat.” Conclusion? It is all the fault of the labour movement, and there’s not much to be done.
Certainly, it wasn’t Marxism that led to such an analysis of the labour movement, nor to the attitude IS developed towards it. Since when have revolutionaries, rather than trying to build worker militancy, complacently predicted the worst? Yet this was what the “group of 30” did in a recent text, writing, “The Canadian UAW has not yet agreed to make as many concessions as its American comrades, but it can only be a question of time.” (“La conjoncture actuelle: quelques faits marquants,” April, 1982, pp. 26-27. Our translation.)
The same document stated that “it will be important to follow events” at this year’s CLC and CSN conventions to see if “the militant opposition makes progress or loses ground.” If In Struggle did follow events at the two conventions, it was from afar, since it chose precisely that moment to hold its own final congress.
This attitude of standing back from the class struggle and blaming the organization’s problems on the labour movement is not a new phenomenon for In Struggle. The same thing happened when the IS leadership, seeing that the organization was incapable of developing within the proletariat, came up with the line that the majority of the industrial proletariat was a part of the labour aristocracy and decided that IS would virtually cease working among them.
In such a context, it was impossible for In Struggle to go on. Its various tendencies either had no interest in maintaining the group, or were totally incapable of offering any orientation or perspective whatsoever. Those leaning towards social democracy were probably ready to move towards other groups closer to their ideas (like Quebec’s Mouvement socialiste), while the “group of 30” had made it clear it was unable to provide the group with a theoretical, political and practical orientation that could lead anywhere.
IS’s collapse is not the fault of the labour movement or the difficult economic crisis. Nor is it because Marxism-Leninism is dead or because it is impossible to build a revolutionary organization.
In no way can the failure of In Struggle be considered an indication of a failure of Marxism. In fact, the “group of 30” turned out to be as poor “a defender of Marxism” as the IS leadership in preceding years.
For a long time In Struggle had made it clear it was incapable of a profound understanding of Marxism in order to analyze reality and guide its practice. A number of documents published during the final debate present many examples of this and the consequences it had: the confusion, the wavering, the 180 degree turnabouts on the principal contradiction in Canada, on the various national questions in our country, on the international situation, on the question of women, and on work in the labour movement.
The best example of this is IS’s famous program. This vague and abstract document avoids taking positions on a whole series of questions (the demarcation with Brezhgev-style “socialism,” the question of violent revolution, etc.), evades an analysis of the contradictions in our country, relegates the national question and the woman question to minor points of no strategic significance and, finally, offers no orientation for struggle. The general idea of IS’s leadership was to unite as many people as possible by keeping the program very general. But the result gives a picture of Marxism-Leninism as a series of abstract affirmations incapable of taking account of reality or guiding one’s action.
In Struggle’s practice also did much to spread this image. On the national question, for example, IS was unable to understand or assimilate the lessons of Marxism, or analyze the concrete situation of our country and come up with an orientation. Instead it stumbled here and there, trying first one position, then another.
For example, a text by IS militants in the Maritimes criticized the fact that in 1978 the group’s leadership had virulently rejected the idea of any form of regional autonomy and refused to develop any concrete program on the Acadian national question. Then, at the end of 1980, IS decided that Acadia was a nation and should have the right to self-determination, but without giving any more details than that, and without explaining the change or debating it within the Acadian national movement or even within its own ranks.
It was the same on international questions, with IS first supporting, then attacking, and then supporting the PLO, and rejecting, adopting and then rejecting again the three worlds theory.
In the labour movement IS alternated between arrogant sectarianism (remember IS’s denunciation of Jean-Claude Parrot slap in the middle of the big postal strike) and the most vulgar tailism. One day IS would oppose struggles for reforms on the grounds that only revolution could solve the problem, the next day it would fall into the most blatant reformism. In every case it was incapable of linking the struggle for reforms and the struggle for revolution, although the history of the communist movement abounds with examples and the texts of Lenin don’t lack explanations.
The functioning of IS reflected its line. Numerous accounts within the pages of IS’s own newspaper showed that the group’s organization had no relationship to democratic centralism. Rather, it was a bureaucratic leadership, where democracy had taken a holiday and where intellectualism and chauvinism once again placed people of working-class origin and women in a situation of oppression. Many women in IS denounced the fact that women in the organization were more often than not relegated to technical tasks and that questions concerning family life were neither discussed, analyzed nor taken into consideration.
While some, like Quebec’s Le Temps Fou magazine, are jubilant, crying from the rooftops that the collapse of In Struggle proved the bankruptcy of Marxism, others on the left – including people interested in IS’s work – are seriously asking questions about the road to follow given the current crisis of socialism.
We believe that the many questions being posed about Marxism and socialism need to be asked and answered. Many things remain to be analyzed, and Marxism greatly needs to develop answers to questions about the causes of the restoration of capitalism and ways to combat it, and about the road to revolution in the advanced capitalist countries.
But to answer these questions, to make these developments, we must base ourselves on what are and remain the fundamental lessons of Marxism. We must take a dialectical materialist approach in our studies and analyses. This is because we are convinced that Marxism remains the fundamental instrument for defining, developing and applying a revolutionary orientation. As far as we are concerned, the disappearance of In Struggle in no way contradicts this position, it confirms it.