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International Socialist Review, Winter 1958


Ross Dowson

Canadian Stalinism in Shambles


From International Socialist Review, Vol.19 No.1, Winter 1958, pp.16-17, 30.
Transcription & mark-up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


When Khrushchev dumped the Stalin cult, the effect on the most backward Communist party “outside of Albania” was devastating

Ross Dowson, a prominent Canadian socialist, is editor of The Workers Vanguard. As the only opposition candidate against Sidney Smith, the Conservative nominee, Dowson ran a vigorous socialist campaign in the November 4 Frontenac-Hastings by-election. His “Peace and Freedom” platform called for an end to H-bomb tests.

* * *

A RECENT issue of the Canadian Tribune, organ of the Canadian Communists, reproduced a photograph of a mass meeting in the Toronto Maple Leaf Gardens. The date – 1943. Tim Buck, national leader of the Communist party, which had just been renamed the Labor Progressive party, speaks to an audience of 17,000. Buck on the same platform as Canada’s Prime Minister William Lyon MacKenzie King, Ontario’s Premier Mitchell Hepburn, and other notables! The Labor Progressive party basking in the bourgeois hosannas to Stalin, in the Russian workers’ victorious repulse of the German imperialist invasion. The LPP just fresh from its campaign to line up French Canada behind a YES vote for conscription, wined and dined for its attempts to wheedle a no-strike pledge from Canadian labor. Two members in the Ontario legislature, one in Manitoba, a member in the Federal House, representatives in city and town councils across the country. A national membership of 25,000. Plans underway to convert its twelve-page weekly Canadian Tribune into a daily.

Today? The Liberal J. Pickersgill, to whom the times have not been overly kind, the Tory June 10 electoral sweep having cast him down from Minister of Citizenship and Immigration to a mere Member of Parliament, recently made the cruel thrust: “The LPP could hold a national convention in a telephone booth – if it had a dime.”

Today almost the entire leadership, but for Buck, has decamped. Membership is down around the 2,000 mark. There is almost no public activity. One member in the Manitoba legislature. Cleaned out of Toronto municipal office. Clubs, whole districts, wiped out. The Quebec section, once the pride and joy of the party, cut down to a couple of handfuls in uneasy alliance with one another. Finances dried up. The staff pared to the bone. The youth movement and paper defunct. Peripheral bodies decimated and torn away. The party down to the hard core of aging Finnish-Ukrainian language groups. The centers sustained by stripping the extremities. The Canadian Tribune, a weekly, down to eight pages. Just over 900 subscribers a year ago in the key Ontario area – certainly less today. In Toronto a recent meeting, publicized on the front page of the Tribune, drew an audience of thirty. A public gathering appealing to the youth was so small that it adjourned without hearing the speaker. Demoralization, loss of confidence everywhere.

The cold war launched by the ungrateful Premier W.L.M. King with spy charges against LPP Member of Parliament Fred Rose, the witch hunt, the persecution of LPP members, the expulsion of the Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers and United Electrical unions from the main stream of the labor movement, took a heavy toll. But at the same time it hardened the cadre. Today it is the cadre who are leaving the party in droves, its longtime leading spokesmen, the forces that were its financial backbone, the sub-getters, pamphlet-sellers.

Not the cold war, not the arms-fed economic boom, nothing that has in any way to do with either the ebb or flow of the class struggle within this continent is the cause of the LPP debacle. Nikita Khrushchev, to whom the skeleton leadership of the LPP now bows in cultish worship, struck the blow in his speech at the Twentieth Congress of the Communist party of the Soviet Union in February 1956. More accurately it is the movement of the workers in the Soviet zone to rid themselves of the bureaucratic incubus, it is Poland’s October, the Hungarian Workers’ Councils, and their repercussions in the ranks of the bureaucracy, the downgrading of Molotov, Kaganovitch and now Zhukov, that are tearing into the Labor Progressive party, threatening to leave not one stone upon another.

The Twentieth Congress and its aftermath struck body blows at the Communist parties across the globe; but none have been so staggered, none have been so severely crippled as the LPP. J.B. Salsberg, now a leading dissident but long-time LPP National Trade Union Director and member of the Ontario legislature, has characterized the Canadian Stalinist movement as the most backward outside of Albania. It would certainly seem to be the most rigidly machine-controlled. On top of the stultifying effect of the international cult of Stalin it has suffered the stultifying effect of the national cult of Tim Buck.

While other CPs, in their wild gyrations to the tunes of the Kremlin, flung aside compromised figureheads, disposed of spokesmen whose suppleness had some limitations, Buck has whirled through them all. Buck has headed the LPP since 1930 when he ousted the party’s founding National Secretary Jack MacDonald, who then joined forces with the leading theoretician Maurice Spector, expelled two years previously for supporting Trotsky in his struggle against Stalinist revisionism.

In the intervening twenty-six years Buck built a tight machine composed of toadies, sychophants, and persons totally miseducated in the principles of Leninist politics and democratic centralism. These twenty-six years saw no development of opposition tendencies or contending forces in the LPP – a monolithic party par excellence. Whatever differences developed, if in the ranks, were brutally settled by ukase, usually slander and expulsion; if in the top bodies, were closeted up and settled there in the same way. Twenty-six years of hand-raising and toeing the line left the party ill-prepared to react to the Khrushchev revelations – the secondary leaders to think things out for themselves and give voice to ideas; the ranks to overcome the shock, the deep paralysis at discovery of their deception.

Although the Khrushchev revelations of Stalin’s crimes hit the LPP hard, they never did open up any real discussion in the party. With Buck away in Moscow attending the Twentieth Congress, the caretaker leadership was struck dumb. For weeks, while members read the astonishing developments in the daily press, the leadership had nothing to say. Finally one month later, the March 26 Tribune broke silence by reproducing without comment an article by the London Daily Worker’s Moscow correspondent which confirmed in broad outline the essence of Khrushchev’s report. Then on April 2 National Organizer Leslie Morris commented: “While it is of enormous interest to the people of all countries, the present discussion is primarily the domestic affair of the Soviet people.” The ranks were advised to wait for Tim Buck.

On his return, Buck, without so much as batting an eye, joined the anti-Stalin chorus replacing Stalin, the once-infallible, with Khrushchev, the now-infallible. Not until May 14 was any rank-and-file voice heard in the “letters to the editor” column, but by then the ranks had already spoken up in a most tangible way. The editor, in a special June 4 appeal, reported that “Less than a third of the $25,000 we need has so far come in. This is new in our experience. Never before in our 16 years have we been so far behind at the end of a campaign.” From then on large sections of the party followed the discussion from the outside.

On October 15 six leading staff members of the Quebec Provincial Committee of the Labor Progressive party, including the provincial leader and the editor of the French press, four of them National Committee members, announced their resignation. In large part their statement was a recital of how Buck and his toadies attempted to curtail and minimize the discussion. It told how, on Buck’s recommendation, the NEC automatically endorsed the CPSU statement and how Buck in the pages of National Affairs Monthly publicly repudiated criticisms in a previous NEC statement which had suggested the inadequacy of Khrushchev’s explanations of the crimes and the responsibility of the CPSU itself.

Quebec provincial leader Caron revealed that only two persons on the NEC voted for a proposal that the LPP state publicly “that some leaders of the CPSU have a certain negative attitude to the Jewish people which is inconsistent with socialist democracy and which we are confident will be corrected.” The six concluded their statement – ”a sound moral and political basis for the continuation of the struggle for socialism in Canada cannot be reconstructed within the framework of the LPP.” By December 1 over 200 Quebec members drew the same conclusion.

A letter to the December National Committee meeting from J.B. Salsberg, Harry Binder and Stewart Smith, all three top leaders of the party for three decades, gave little insight into the political problems confronting the LPP ranks but more insight into the workings of the Buck machine. Back at a May plenum, Buck had stated that he had not seen the Khrushchev report although the truth was that he had. “Under the personality cult around comrade Buck the other NEC members were expected and did, in fact, remain silent although several criticized him in the NEC.” On October 12, 1956 the old NEC in a burst of independence cabled the CPSU and the Polish Workers party calling for a policy of nonintervention by the CPSU in the affairs of the Polish Workers party. At the following meeting of the National Committee on October 28, Buck demanded the election of a new NEC that would give him unqualified support, with the statement that he would “never again sit and listen” to the type of criticism he had been compelled to hear in the NEC, and with a slanderous attack on his opponents as supporters of “peoples’ capitalism.”

As Chairman of the Program Commission, Buck called no meeting and no draft political resolution was presented to the National Committee, called ostensibly to define political positions. The elections, for or against Tim Buck, were to Harry Binder “final proof that the national committee majority had no intention of permitting free and unfettered debate in the party.”

With the elimination of the opposition from the NEC, the October 12 cable in defense of the Polish struggle, which Buck and his supporters had voted for, was repudiated. On the tenth day Buck introduced a statement designed to force the opposition out of the party. It was so extreme that no one on the committee would move or second its adoption.

By now the ranks of the LPP, those who had remained in the party, were confronted by two tendencies. The Salsberg faction declared that “there are two lines and two policies before the party” which “cannot be reconciled. Because the question of an independent Canadian Marxist-Leninist party versus one that is subservient to the CPSU is one of principle.”

However, both factions proved to be in agreement on all the key political issues of the day. This shifted the question of independence or subservience, which Buck of course did not for one moment grant Salsberg, into the realm of an abstraction. Both factions were in agreement on the Stalinist theory of “peaceful coexistence” and on the concent of the bourgeois parliamentary path to socialism; both supported the UN. Despite its ridicule of the Buck faction for its rehash of Pravda editorials on Hungary, the Salsberg faction did not even take an independent stand in support of the Hungarian struggle for workers democracy. Buck rallied support because the Salsberg tendency contained within it forces who were openly abandoning what Buck long ago abandoned but continues to give lip service to – Marxism-Leninism and the concept of the Leninist party.

The results of the National Convention were a foregone conclusion. The Buck supporters took all Toronto’s thirty-six delegates – the minority were cut down to twenty out of a total of 170. The feeble Salsberg resolution, calling for a get-together of Kadar and Nagy to discuss common problems and present facts on what happened in Hungary, was shoved off the floor to the incoming National Committee. Also shuffled off was a resolution protesting that no visible steps toward the full restoration of the rights of Soviet Jews had as yet been taken by the Soviet CP.

On May 16 Salsberg, Smith, Binder and Lipshitz announced their resignation from the LPP. In their statement they declared that “the historically necessary task of regroupment of socialist forces in this country has to be undertaken. This is not an organizational task in the first place but a political one, an educational one.” New paths must be found, new alliances formed “to speed the process of healing the splits of the past.”

Seven months have slipped by, the LPP has suffered further defections, the most notable being that of long-time leader Charles Sims. Under the unending crisis of the Soviet bureaucracy, the continued purges at the top, the exposure of the myth of “rule by law” and “collective leadership,” the LPP knows no peace.

And what of the opposition to Buck? Caron concluded the Quebec leadership’s statement of resignation with the comment, “I wish to spend a period of time restudying.” Nothing more has been heard from the Quebec area. A select group of thirty to forty Salsberg supporters held two meetings earlier this year where informal plans were discussed to issue a publication, “non-partisan, non-party and broadly progressive,” possibly this fall.

Salsberg himself has enunciated his views in several articles in the Toronto daily press and at a socialist forum. While his article on Hungary could scarcely be said to mark a step further in a revolutionary socialist direction, it did not signify a retrogression as has been common with many ex-Stalinists. It established that the struggle was of a working-class character and in the direction of democratic socialism. His article on disarmament warmed over the traditional petty-bourgeois line promoted by Buck that Canada faces a challenge to its national greatness – as leader of the bloc of middle powers. Salsberg even-handedly balances “mistakes” on the part of both major contending powers and modestly chastises the Diefenbaker government for not providing adequate leadership.

The forces that are potentially available for revolutionary-socialist regroupment are for the most part at present outside all existing formations. The LPP, the greatest single barrier to the building of the party of Canadian revolutionary socialism, has suffered a debacle. It has not been removed but it has been tremendously weakened. Further developments will no doubt shake loose what valuable human material is still holding onto the LPP because of the lack of what appears to be a viable alternative.

Hundreds of workers in the LPP at the time of the Twentieth Congress who walked away, repelled by Buck’s “business as usual,” “now follow Khrushchev” line were left cold by his opponents’ confinement of the struggle to the top echelons and their failure to project a new course. There are hundreds more who passed through the LPP over the years and whose experiences have taken on new meaning for them, as a consequence of the Khrushchev revelations and recent developments in the LPP. Great possibilities are opening up.

The Salsberg group has an opportunity to play a catalyzing role in the process. This would be a most favorable outcome. But will it do so? Must we await a turn in the class struggle to bring forward a new, more dynamic leadership?

These are among the important questions Canada’s socialist forces are now discussing. It is too early to determine what the answers will be. Nevertheless, no matter what happens next, the history books will put down the debacle of Canadian Stalinism as a big step forward in the re-constitution of the revolutionary-socialist movement.

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Last updated on: 29 April 2009