From The Militant, Vol. IV No. 34 (Whole No. 93), 5 December 1931, p. 2.
This article is also included in the Canadian Socialist History Project archive.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).
It was common ground that the trial at the Toronto assizes was not of the accused as individuals only but of the Communist Party of Canada. That circumstance placed a great responsibility on the comrades to conduct their defence in accord with revolutionary traditions and in a manner promoting the political education of the masses. The accused could not resort to a merely legalistic defence without grave sacrifice of positions of principle. It was patently in the nature of the case that the rules of court procedure and the exclusionary technicalities of evidence were no less weighted in favor of the prosecution than the section of the Criminal Code which was the basis of the indictment. The presiding Judge would not, for example, permit explanatory statements where, in his view, the question could be answered categorically. The evidence of an interested witness was not as “safe” as of a witness absolutely disinterested in the outcome. In the light of the emphasis it received in the Judge’s charge to the jury, the oral evidence of the police spy Leopold was presumably counted as “disinterested”. The court ruled out as inadmissible all evidence of the activity of the party in the labor movement that it conceived as not bearing on the particular issue of “force and violence”. With due regard to these limitations, which operate in other jurisdictions, it was still necessary and possible to develop a revolutionary defence. To what extent did the accused succeed?
Following the testimony of Leopold, the Crown read an enormous number of exhibits, the booty of the police raids, into the evidence. The prosecution quoted profusely from tine organ of the underground days of the party, The Communist, from the Worker, the Communist Manifesto of Marx and Engels, the Theses and Statutes of the Comintern, the 21 points of admission adopted at the Second Congress, the reports of proceedings of successive Congresses of the C.I. and conventions of the party, the program of the Sixth Congress, the minutes of the Political Bureau, cablegrams that passed between the Comintern and the party committee, etc. All this painstaking accumulation was intended to bring home to the jury that the Communist Party of Canada was admittedly a section of the Comintern, that it was subordinated to the “instructions” of Moscow, and accordingly the agent was responsible for the plans and acts of the principal. Mr. Norman Somerville, the Crown prosecutor, was not satisfied with eloquent quotations from fundamental documents. The police had also seized what purported to be a pamphlet of Vassiliev of the Organization Department of the Comintern, in which the author undertakes to discuss more efficient methods of workers’ self-defence for protection of open air demonstrations against any ensuing police attacks. The Crown attempted to link this pamphlet up with a demonstration in Toronto in which certain policemen were alleged to have suffered injuries.
But of course the crux of the Crown’s case was that the whole program and strategy of the party were based on the advocacy and defence of “force and violence”, or as the Judge charged, “I must instruct you that if you think force and violence a logical, natural result of their teachings, it is a matter of law that they are advocating, advising and defending force and violence for the overthrow of governmental and industrial institutions. It is not a question of time, but a question of the intent and meaning of their teachings and documents.”
The first of the accused who went into the box was Tim Buck, the party secretary. He described the formation of the Communist Party of Canada from the various groups of the Communist and United Communist Parties of America, which had branches in this country, and from other elements of the former socialist and trade union movements. The period was overshadowed by the Palmer raids in the States with their mass deportation and the War Measures Act and Orders in Council in the Dominion which had outlawed a whole series of socialist organizations. Here lay the reason for the underground character of the party in the early days. But in December 1921 the Workers Party was organized from a preliminary Conference, and in 1924 the underground party was wound up and the Workers Party became the sole Communist Party in the country, frankly associated with the Communist International. There had never been any real difference in the objects of “Z” and “A”. It was the lapse of the War Measures Act, the widening of democratic rights which had made an open party possible, which could participate in municipal campaigns and parliamentary activity.
Dealing with the trade Union Policy of the Party, comrade Buck denied that the Workers Unity League was the “industrial department” of the party. In the first stage of the career of the party, the emphasis had been on an amalgamation campaign inside the old craft unions in favor of industrial unionism, a campaign which had received wide support until the A.F. of L. bureaucracy countered it with expulsion of the militants and closer collaboration with the employers. Neither the Workers Unity League nor the Farmers Unity League had any “organic connection” with the party. There had been no language sections of the party since the re-organization in 1925, and the Finnish Society and Ukrainian Farmer Labor Temple were independent organizations. The minority active in these organizations naturally sought to influence and direct their policies by the same methods of persuasion open to others.
To the question if the purpose of the Communist Party was to bring about a change of government by force and violence the witness replied:
“We teach the inevitability of the collapse of capitalism. The present system was essentially a system of government which had grown out of private property relationships and so could not be expected to function for socialism. When the workers obtained political power they would create their own state.”
Tom Ewan, secretary of the Workers League, testified that this organization had a mombers.hip of 25,000 of which only 5 or 6% were Communists. He denied that the Communist Party advocated or taught the use of force or violence for industrial change. It was the capitalist class which resorted to violence in the class struggle. A clash in the distant future was inevitable. The Communist Party speaks against force and violence. The day to day struggle concerned wage reductions, unemployment, etc. There was no suggestion of a present overthrow of the system but an eventual overthrow is what the party was organized for.
There was no organic connection between the Comintern and the R.I.L.U. He suggested that there was little essential difference between the work and aims of the Workers Unity League and an ordinary trade union organization.
Tom Hill was examined on the relations obtaining between the party and the Finnish society.
Malcolm Bruce denied knowledge of any workers self defense corps in Canada. Violence had come from the police.
“We don’t create or foment strife or discontent or discord,” declared comrade Bruce in the course of examination by defence counsel. “We merely recognize this discontent and discord and regard the consequent class conflict as ultimately inevitable. We do not seek to bring about an armed revolution in Canada. It is merely our hope that the workers’ opportunity to seize power will come when the revolution breaks out ... our ultimate aim is a farmer-labor government in Canada and a system of Soviets or councils but not necessarily by overthrow. We feel that the system will decay and collapse of its own accord ... The present system of government will not be in existence by the time the inevitable struggle arrives ... all we seek is the amelioration of the lot of the workers, under this or any other system ... The tendency of capitalism was to supercede democracy by Fascism ... armed revolution lies in the lap of history. We recognize an evolutionary process going with two currents in society leading towards a conflict. A revolutionary crisis would arise from gradual worsening of the conditions of the workers whether there was a Communist party or not ... The program of the Communist International was a question not of application but of interpretation. Some parts applied in Canada and were carried out and some did not.”
He agreed however that the Comintern program contained the underlying principles of the party operations so far as they could be applied. In reply to questions of the Crown, Bruce denied knowledge of any Workers Defense Corps in Canada or that he had voted or advocated them. He agreed that he believed in the proletarian dictatorship.
On the seventh day of the trial, Tim Buck, who conducted his own defence delivered his address to the jury. The fact, he declared, that the party had been in existence and operated publicly for ten years went to the root of the situation. The Judge however refused him the privilege of referring to the activities of the party in the working class movement “outside the evidence”. The Communist movement, he proceeded, was worldwide. The present general program was the historical continuance of the Communist Manifesto of 65 years ago, based on the principle that all history was the history of class struggle. The program of the Comintern was also an analysis of society and the present crisis.
“Revolutions don’t come because parties make them, but because history proceeds forward from one epoch to another. In each system is the germ of the next one.”
Capitalism must eventually fall under the weight of its own contradictions. The world war was an expression due to the fact that the producing powers of the capitalist world had come into insoluble contradiction with state boundaries. Imperialism has developed the prerequisites for socialism. Communism is the only alternative to fascism. The class struggle grows whether the Communist Party was in existence or not, for it came out of the struggle, not the reverse. But the Communist Party was increasing the resistance of the working class by organization in capitalist countries.
“We are placed on trial as having advocated something we haven’t advocated or taught.
“Force and violence was not something which grew up by being advocated.
“I don’t believe in violence nor does any Communist ... While there has been violence in historical changes, it has been the result of the fight by the privileged classes to retain their privileged position.”
Violence is coming and is bound to increase but “if the people are to learn force and violence it is not from us.” He concluded with an expression of the hope that the outcome of the trial would be an increased realization of the need for working class organization.
The Crown Prosecutor addressed the Jury last. It was a savage recapitulation. He disclaimed that this trial was an attack on socialism or communism “if it could be advocated in a legitimate fashion” nor was it an attack on trade unionism which was “protected” by the institutions of the country. “Nowhere was there more freedom of speech than in Canada”. The men in the box constituted the general staff for civil war. He again quoted from the Statutes of the Second Congress and alleged that the role of the Communist Party had been clearly set forth there. The time to put out a fire was before the conflagration. “To convict is to declare that revolution shall not prevail in Canada, that Moscow shall not dictate to Canada ...” He wound up by invoking the “shadow of Remembrance Day” and the sacrifices in the war.
After the Judge’s charge to the Jury, the verdict was a foregone conclusion. “The documents and testimony at this trial”, he said, “have drawn a distinction between two classes – the proletariat, covering all wage workers, and the bourgeoisie comprising all others with the petty bourgeoisie in between. In a democratic country like this, where the proletarian of today may be the bourgeois of tomorrow, is it just and proper to set one of these classes against the other ... The law is the collective wisdom of our representatives in Parliament and must be obeyed ...”
The verdict is already known to the readers of The Militant. The Attorney-General of Ontario, has graciously offered to make the mass of evidence available to any provincial attorney-general who may undertake prosecutions against other members of the Communist Party or against organizations with similar policies and principles. In a statement to the press, the Crown prosecutor, Mr. Somerville, thought it best to add his own pleasant note. Not only were the 4,000 members of the party liable to prosecution, but any who have dropped membership or been expelled. “Under this last class,” he believed, “would some such former leading members of the party as Jack MacDonald, one time party secretary, and Maurice Spector, former editor of the Worker.”
Since this statement, the party headquarters in Winnipeg have been raided and the District Organizer there, C. Marriot, has been placed under arrest.
We have acknowledged the technical circumstances that embarassed the defence. We add that we do not impugn the personal courage of the accused. That indispensable attribute is not, however, exclusively Bolshevik. Our criterion of the merits of the defence must be political. To the Communist, the courtroom is another forum for the program of class struggle. To dilute it before the jury is no more permissible than on the floor of the House of Commons. “Ideas have their own logic and explosive force”. The principal defect of the defence was the lapse (at times amounting to a negation) from the Leninist conception of the vanguard role of the Communist Party in the struggle for the proletarian dictatorship. The defendants’ keynote was that “parties do not make a revolution ... we teach the inevitability of the collapse of capitalism, that is all ...” Though never guilty of the caricature of it sometimes drawn, it is for this very theory of “spontaneity” that Rosa Luxemburg has been subjected to countless post-mortems. In effect there was a retreat to Kautsky’s apologetic theory of “the level of the forces of production”.
To explain the material and objective pre-requisites of the revolution was entirely correct. What was wrong was to obscure and minimize the function of the revolutionary party. Our positions on this head have been incontrovertibly established by Marx and Lenin. Granted that no social order disappears which has not developed its maximum productive forces and that if there were the possibility of a fresh organic development of capitalism today, the proletarian revolution would be impossible. What has that in common with “economic determinism” or fatalism? It certainly does not mean that the old order collapses of its own weight when it becomes economically reactionary. Determined by the concrete situation, the will of the class and its crystallization in the party constitute an integral element of the historic process. The bourgeoisie will not abdicate: it must be conquered. Neither bourgeois decline nor proletarian dictatorship are automatic. The epoch of imperialism has created the worldwide conditions for the proletarian revolution. In this epoch it is assuredly not true that “parties don’t make revolutions”. Contemporary history alone affords a dozen examples in Germany, Bulgaria, China, Spain and elsewhere, of revolutionary crises which the ruling class “surmounted” in the absence of a competent revolutionary party.
Lenin’s classic opposition to this theory of the “elemental development” of the workers’ movement is well known.
“Without a revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement ... the workers do not automatically develop a socialist consciousness ... without a party of our own, it is impossible to wage such a struggle for the dictatorship of the proletariat ... the revolutionary social-democrat is a Jacobin bound up with the organization of the class-conscious proletariat …”
He fought tooth and nail against the Menshevik proposals to liberalize the party by the admission of the pre-October counterparts of some “Friends of the Soviet Union”. The Communist Party of Canada is yet a propaganda organization. Nobody pretends that there is an immediate struggle for power. For the final struggle the Communist party must count its supporters in the millions, not thousands. All the more necessary is it to emphasize the role of the revolutionary party. The workers have paid dearly for their illusory hopes of the Labor Party and the Social Democracy. The Comintern has paid for its entente cordiale with the British trade union bureaucracy and the Chinese Kuo Min Tang and its reliance on “workers and peasants’ parties”.
Another marked shortcoming in the defense was the obscure stand on the fundamental problem of the revolution – the conquest of power, in other words the dictatorship of the proletariat. In their natural desire to prove that “force and violence” were not the product of mere advocacy or propaganda but of existing property relations, the defendants leaned over backwards and involuntarily drew a picture of an increasingly violent capitalism and a social-pacifist communism. It was stated and repeated that no communist “believes” in force or violence. Of course no Communist believes in “force and violence” for its own sake. But we Marxists do something more than deplore the violence of the possessing classes. We give no direct or indirect aid or comfort to the constitutional illusions fostered by the reformists of a democratic transition to socialism. Capitalism, in the words of Marx, comes dripping from head to foot, from every pore, with blood and dirt. The capitalist state has never yet been guided by faith, hope and charity and it will not meet the revolutionary challenge of the working class with the Sermon on the Mount. It will avail itself of the fraud of parliamentarism while it is still an effective opiate of the masses; it will resort to the unmasked terror of fascism when “democracy” fails it. Against this State, with its panoply of police, militarism, bureaucracy, judges and jailers, and its basis of finance-capital and monopoly, the Communists cannot advocate the policy of the struggle for power with folded arms. Lenin and Marx were in complete accord that the proletarian revolution could not be realized “without the forcible destruction of the ready-made bourgeois state machine and its replacement by a new machine”.
The standpoint of the Crown was the continuity of the legal system before, during and after a revolutionary crisis. But law is the handmaiden of social forces. The common law crime of Seditions conspiracy failed to overawe the American Revolution; the Constitution failed to deflect the American Civil war. Codes and injunctions have notoriously failed to solve the fundamental contradictions of social systems in decay. The proscription of the Communist Party is the vindication of its necessity. The repeal of section 98 of the Criminal Code should be immediately inscribed in letters of fire in the program of demands of every working class organization in the country.
Last updated: 24.2.2013