Thirty Years – 1922-1952
The Story of the Communist Movement in Canada

CHAPTER THREE: "The American Way..." in the 1920's

MILITANT LABOR struggles were not the only characteristic of the 1920's. The political climate of that decade was colored by the rise of American imperialism to world primacy. With the tremendous expansion of foreign investment and influence there went also a new cycle of expansion of United States economy, in which Canadian economy shared to some extent. An outgrowth of this new stage of American imperialism was the increasing corruption of trade union leaders. To secure for themselves a share in the "prosperity" of American capitalism, more and more of them used the resources of the unions under their leadership to establish union-financed capitalist enterprises: insurance companies, banks, real-estate companies, even scab industrial concerns.(1)

Along with commitment of the resources of trade unions to capitalist enterprises there went attempts to tie members to the unions through insurance policies and investments, instead of by the struggle for higher wages and better conditions. The unions were made part of the machinery of capitalist management -- in some cases, for example the Amalgamated Clothing Workers, the International Association of Machinists, etc., union leadership sought to replace the capitalist efficiency experts. "Theoretical" and "moral" justification for the brazen betrayals perpetrated by those "misleaders of labor"(2) was attempted by the elaboration of a whole body of propaganda to the effect that, through "Fordism," American capitalism had discovered the secret of permanent prosperity. The "labor" bankers, real-estate speculators, insurance brokers and their paid propagandists declared that all previous experience of the labor movement was now out of date, the teachings of Marx completely discredited, and that the sole but wide-open path forward for the labor movement lay through class collaboration. They described their schemes to transform the unions into capitalist trusts and promoters of speed-up systems as "the higher strategy of labor." The Executive Council of the American Federation of Labor carried its anti-working-class doctrine to such a length as to invite a hundred right-wing social democrats from Germany to attend the El Paso convention in 1926 as guests "to study the secret of the new American economy." Following the convention, the German right-wing union officials were the guests of the Ford Motor Company. They were taken to Detroit, shown through the Ford plants and lectured concerning Ford methods with a great show of cooperation. The real content of the so-called "union-management cooperation" of that period is illustrated by the fact that, right then, while it was entertaining the A.F.L. leaders and their guests, the Ford company was smashing, by the most ruthless use of labor spies, discharge and blacklist, an attempt being made by A.F.L. unions to organize the Ford workers. The visit of the right-wing social democrats put an end to even the pretence of a campaign. Hundreds of workers who had been defying the company's intimidation threw up their hands in disgust. Even the joint organizing committee sponsored by the A.F.L. dissolved.

The political character of the policies developed by the right-wing union leaders and socialists all over the United States and Canada during that period showed their acceptance of the perspective aimed at by the bankers and the manufacturers' associations. They became conscious agents of the capitalist class within the labor movement. Accepting the capitalist perspective, they moved to emasculate the trade union movement and destroy its fighting spirit. When the left wing mobilized the workers for effective opposition, the bureaucrats resorted to a vicious anti-working-class campaign to "clean out the Reds."

The above characterization of the situation in the trade union movement applies in every detail to both Canada and the United States. There was little trade union organization in Canada except the international unions. International officers interfered in the affairs of Canadian locals with even less regard for the will of the Canadian membership than they show today. Charters were lifted by presidents in the United States who disdained to hide their contempt for the small Canadian membership. Workers were expelled from unions for "advocating industrial unionism." Hundreds of workers were excluded from union membership for refusing to incur large obligations for life insurance in the company headed by the president of their union. Because independent working-class political action was contrary to the political philosophy of the capitalist-minded bureaucrats who dominated the A.F.L., Canadian locals of the international unions and trades and labor councils were ordered to disaffiliate from the Canadian Labor Party on pain of expulsion from the "international" trade union movement. Expulsion didn't mean simply that the expelled local or council could henceforth pursue its own course: it meant that another local or council was set up. By collaboration between the top union leadership and the bosses, the new one usually became the only organization through which the workers could secure employment.

During that period a change took place in the attitude of monopoly capital towards the trade union movement. The limited success achieved in their open-shop drive, at enormous expense to their corporations, had shown the more far-sighted of them that the trade union movement could not be destroyed or rendered incapable of militant struggle by the traditional methods of open warfare against the idea of trade unionism. To an increasing extent the "labor relations" experts of monopoly-capital were searching for more efficient methods of blunting the militancy of the workers and beheading their efforts to secure improved wages and conditions.

Collaboration with right-wing union officials was already an established practice. The Dominion Coal Company collaborated with reactionary officers of the Provincial Workmen's Association for years to keep the United Mine Workers of America out of Nova Scotia, because the movement of the U.M.W.A. was headed by J. B. MacLachlan and supported by the most militant miners. But, during the very year in which the Dominion Coal Company was forced at last to recognize the U.M.W.A. in Nova Scotia (1919), the international officers of the U.M.W.A. were collaborating with the mining companics in Alberta to defeat and destroy a united movement by the miners for more militant unionism in that province. The U.M.W.A (which the mine bosses had fought bitterly up to that time) was granted a district-wide contract, a closed shop and the check-off, thus making every worker in the mines a member of the U.M.W.A. by the will of the Colliery Managers' Association. Whereas in Nova Scotia it was the members of the U.M.W.A. who had been victimized, in Alberta the miners who were organizing a Canadian union were excluded from the mines by the technique of hiring only through the U.M.W.A. office. In that way, well-known militants were excluded from the mines for years. Most of them got back to work only after the Workers' Party and the T.U.E.L. campaign to reunite the trade union movement had succeeded to the extent of getting them back into the U.M.W.A. -- after which its leadership and its policies in District 18 were changed again rapidly.

Such collaboration had not been the general policy of monopoly-capital. When practised it had been in the nature of a temporary acceptance of what big business management considered at the time to be a lesser evil. But, in the second half of the 1920's, organized collaboration with the right-wing officialdom of the trade union movement became the main policy of monopoly-capital towards the trade union movement.

In some cases, typified by numerous experiences of the unions organized by the party and the Workers' Unity League, employers would invite reactionary leadership of other unions to "come in." In such cases, a closed-shop agreement and the check-off were utilized to ensure that' every worker employed paid dues to the collaborating outfit, thus ensuring that only the most class-conscious workers would remain members of the militant union. Such was the evolution of the class-collaboration technique by which reactionary trade union leaderships serve monopoly-capital against the working class today.

During the second half of the 1920's the capitalist class and its governments resorted increasingly to open reaction as an integral part of their conscious turn to fascism and imperialist war. Use of the state machinery against the labor movement became more open. Contemporaneously with the increasing use of R.C.M.P. spies in labor organizations and of police and troops against strikers, there was a marked change in the attitude of local police authorities to working-class activities. The change was too general and uniform to have been accidental. Street meetings, which had been the traditional form of public expression for the working-class movement for decades, were subjected to violent persecution which was developed rapidly to systematic suppression. Local police authorities sought to bar the left-wing movement from the use of public halls. In Toronto, for example, Chief of Police Draper prohibited public speech in any language other than English in licensed halls. A member of the party, Albert Greaves, was arrested and charged -- for speaking French. Operators of licensed halls were warned by the police that any who rented his premises to the Communist Party or an organization which supported the party, without first securing permission from the police, would be liable to lose his licence. At first some operators ignored the warning. In one such case police officers of the so-called "anti-subversive" squad tried to create a panic among 1,300 workers crowded into the Standard Theatre and almost succeeded. They detonated a stink bomb on the stage while Beckie Buhay was speaking. When Philip Halperin, then editor of Der Kamf, appealed to the crowd to remain calm and not to play into the hands of the police provocateurs, he was arrested and charged with disturbing the peace.

Organized efforts at suppression of the public activities of the party reached a critical stage in the latter part of the decade. The struggles that raged all over the country at that time were typified by the "battles of Queen's Park" in Toronto through 1929 and 1930. Those were, in fact, attempts by the workers to maintain their traditional right to hold meetings in Queen's Park -- a right then being challenged for the first time since 1872.

The first violent effort to destroy this traditional right was made by the Toronto police department on August 1, 1929. Some 12,000 Toronto workers were gathered in the park for the annual "No More War" day. At the last moment Chief Constable Draper allowed it to be known that he intended to prevent the meeting. When the speaker and the chairlady approached the bandstand they were seized by half a dozen policemen. The speaker was beaten, several of his teeth being knocked out by a police billy. The chairlady,(3) eighteen years of age, was roughly mauled and insulted. As though this were a signal, scores of mounted policemen rode into the crowd using their whips right and left against everybody who didn't run. Simultaneously, motorcycle police rode into the small knots of workers missed by the cossacks. The meeting was smashed.

There was some considerable public perturbation at what the daily papers described as the "high-handed" methods used by the police department. Assuming that the widely-expressed public disapproval would deter the chief constable from repeating such tactics, the Toronto City Committee of the party called another meeting to carry through the annual anti-war demonstration two weeks later. The police department was not deterred by the public protests, however. The only difference in their tactics was that, the second time, the chief constable did not announce his intention to break up the meeting and the police in the park did not limit their actions to simply driving the workers away. This time, the speaker was given a merciless, protracted public beating, including brutal kicking while two policemen held him. After that, every worker who did not run at full speed was beaten. A university professor attracted to the park by the newspaper protests against the tactics of the police at the first meeting, was knocked down, kicked until he got up again and then beaten because he protested.(4)

Such were the conditions in which the party had to carry on its public activities at the end of the 1920's. As part of their general campaign of persecution, the police succeeded in getting the party evicted from its national office on the pretence that the building was a fire trap. (Promptly after the eviction of the party the building was utilized as a rooming house -- it is still so used.)

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The rapid spread of the Communist movement throughout Canada during the 1920's was accompanied by a certain lowering of its theoretical level. Many workers had been attracted by the practical work and unwavering devotion of the Communists, particularly its battle against secessionism, its campaigns against wage cuts and to organize the unorganized. Other workers were attracted to the movement by the party's unwavering struggle against the class-collaboration policies pursued by the international officialdom and the unscrupulousness of the campaign launched against the Communists by the A.F.L. bureaucracy. But the activities which proved it to be "A Party of Action" had not been accompanied by equally systematic efforts within the party on the front of theoretical work. The party membership had not yet grasped the full import of Lenin's emphasis upon the fact that "without a revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement." While self-criticism was mentioned frequently in quotations or in comments upon discussions taking place in other countries, there was not then a full understanding of the vital significance of criticism and self-criticism as the law of growth of Communist parties. As a result the party was vulnerable to highsounding propaganda even when it was based upon false theories. Some party members were confused by the propaganda about "permanent prosperity" in North Arnerica. Others were attracted by the radical-sounding phrase-mongering of the Canadian followers of Leon Trotsky

Because the party's leadership had failed to press the fight for theory, infiltration of bourgeois influences into the party did not always immediately become evident. Often, ideas which were basically revisionist were masked successfully for considerable time. The followers of Trotsky developed to a high degree a technique of screening their opposition to Marxism-Leninisin by emphasis upon matters of detail and methods of application. Later, when a group of leaders of the party and mass organizations adopted the bourgeois theory of "American exceptionalism," they used a similar technique.

The first of these revisionist tendencies to show itself within the party (exposure of which forced the other tendencies into the open) was that represented by the Canadian followers of Leon Trotsky. Adhering closely to the general political standpoint of Trotsky himself, and using the same tactics, his Canadian followers presented their opportunistic petty-bourgeols theories under a screen of "leftist" demagogy.

Trotsky himself had carried on opposition to Lenin's policies for a decade before the Russian Revolution. At the time of the Russian Revolution he acknowledged that Lenin had been correct, but he reverted to opposition again before Lenin died. In a letter to one of his American followers, Shactman, on December 10, 1930, he explained that since 1923 he had been a member of an organized bloc of heterogeneous elements who agreed with each other only in their opposition to the policies of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (Bolsheviks).

For all the superficial appearance of brilliance in his polemical writings, Trotsky demonstrated an inability to grasp the fundamental dialectics of the revolutionary struggle. In opposition to the great program of socialist construction in the Soviet Union he catered to capitalist hopes -- and illusions -- with assertions that "the law of labor-productivity" would render it impossible for the Soviet people to build up a largescale socialist industry in the face of the inevitable flood of cheap commodities from the West. He failed completely to understand that the law of socialist revolution is higher than the law of labor-productivity. Lacking faith in the working class, he denied that the dictatorship of the proletariat, in alliance with the poor and middle peasantry throughout the vast Soviet Union, could build a new socialist economic system. On the basis of a completely erroneous conception of the operation of economic laws he, in alliance with Bukharin and the "right opposition" in the Soviet Union, opposed the Lenin-Stalin policy of building a large-scale unified socialist economy. He proposed instead that the peasants should revert to simple commodity production. In that he contradicted what Lenin had defined as "the elementary propositions of Marxism concerning the inevitability of capitalist development where commodity production exists." Lenin continued, "Marxism teaches that a society which is based on commodity production and which has commercial intercourse with civilized capitalist nations, itself invariably takes the road of capitalism at a certain stage of its development."(5) On the other hand, Trotsky insisted, ridiculously, in the 1920's that only the dictatorship of the proletariat could solve the democratic tasks which were then on the order of the day for the Chinese Revolution.

Stalin's uncompromising battle against the opposition of the Trotskyites and the right liquidators in the Soviet Union was, in fact, a battle against plans and proposals to establish conditions which would have facilitated the growth of capitalism in the Soviet Union. Stalin's battle was based firmly and simply upon the line of struggle embodied in Lenin's life's work; keyed to maintenance and continued strengthening of the alliance between the proletariat and the poor peasantry, neutralizing the middle peasantry and eliminating every vestige of capitalism and capitalist-class influence.

Trotsky's role confirmed in every respect the characterization of him written by Lenin in 1914. "Trotsky has never yet held a firm opinion on any important question of Marxism. He always manages to 'creep into the chinks' of this or that difference of opinion and desert one side for the other."(6)

Unable to win popular support on the basis of their policies, Trotsky and his allied oppositionists tried to discredit the plans for socialist construction by fomenting kulak opposition to collectivization, the murder of party leaders, e.g., Sergei Kirov, destructive sabotage and planned disorganization. Frustrated by the revolutionary vigilance of the workers, they turned to the path of counter-revolution and entered the service of the imperialists. Offering in advance to agree to Japanese seizure of the eastern maritime provinces, German seizure of the Ukraine and Anglo-French domination of the Caucasus, in payment for imperialist military assistance to them in overthrowing Soviet power, they served the imperialists immediately as spies and provocateurs. In the course of his trial Bukharin described how they received 250,000 gold marks per year from the German government in payment for military and economic intelligence work and organization of sabotage within the Soviet Union. When a leading U.S. Trotskyite was sent to Norway in 1936 for personal consultation with Trotsky concerning some questions about which there were sharp differences within the Trotskyite sect in the United States, he returned to report that "the Master" had shown very little interest in their differences but had insisted that the Trotskyites in North America should show more interest in his plans "to organize a counter-revolution against the Soviet Union." As Stalin pointed out in 1937, Trotskyism ceased to be a political trend in the working class. "It has changed from the political trend in the working class which it was seven or eight years ago, into a frantic and unprincipled gang of wreckers, diversionists, spies and murderers acting on the instruction of the intelligence services of foreign states."(7)

The difference between the Canadian followers of Trotsky and the other oppositionists was that the Trotskyites concentrated their attention upon opposition to the policies being pursued in the Soviet Union, with noisy, radical-sounding arguments to the effect that "it is impossible to build socialism in one country." They aped Trotsky in his transition to open counter-revolution with assertions that there is no socialism in the Soviet Union, therefore the Soviet government must be overthrown.

The right liquidators in the Soviet Union also had their organized followers in North America. The right opposition eventually set up an open party organization in the United States and Canada under the leadership of Lovestone, the ex-general-secretary of the Communist Party of the United States. It sought an understanding with American imperialism. Lovestone and his followers tried to justify their renegacy by the pretence that the class-collaboration policies being pursued by the A.F.L. bureaucracy and the right-wing Socialists mirrored a fundamental difference between North American capitalism and capitalism as Marx had known it. This came to be known as the theory of "North American exceptionalism." Its essential argument was that North American capitalism in its imperialist stage was so powerful that by subordinating other capitalist countries, exploiting them as well as colonial countries in its own interests, it could prevent economic crisis in the United States. American economy was therefore, according to Lovestone, "exceptional" in that it was immune from the economic laws of motion of capitalism and, therefore, from the periodic crises which Marx had shown to be an inseparable feature of the economic laws of motion of capitalism.

Lovestone's supporters in Canada were not all motivated solely by belief in the theory of "American exceptionalism." In the conditions of sharpening police persecution and efforts at suppression with the increasing difficulties of extending the party's public work, some members of the Communist Party, including some members of its leadership, became receptive to the idea of class collaboration. Starting with resistance to the mobilization of mass public working-class action against police terror, such people soon sought to justify their passivity by the arguments of "American exceptiorialism." It was a time in Canada when, as Lenin had pointed out in the Russia of 1902, "the fashionable preaching of opportunism went hand in hand with an infatuation for the narrowest forms of practical activity."(8)

In Canada, as in other countries, what appeared on the surface as two rival oppositions were in reality but the two wings of one political opposition, as was demonstrated when they eventually merged their organizations.

At first, however, they appeared to be in opposition to each other as well as to the party. Maurice Spector, then editor of The Worker, reported on the Sixth World Congress of the Communist International to a public meeting in Toronto in October, 1928. The content of his report was such that, following the meeting, a number of party members headed by Beckie Buhay demanded of the chairman that the matter be dealt with by the Political Committee of the party. The following day, to the surprise of the other members of the Political Committee, Jack MacDonald, the general secretary of the party, anticipated discussion of the question by moving that an emergency meeting of the Central Committee of the party be convened immediately to investigate the "political position of Comrade Spector." When the emergency meeting of the Central Committee convened, MacDonald sprang another surprise by producing copies of corespondence between Spector and the leaders of the Trotskyite organization in the United States, elaborating plans to split the Communist Party and establish a Trotskyite organization in Canada. Exposed, and refusing to repudiate the activities that he had carried on secretly until then, Spector was suspended by the Central Committee. In cooperation with heterogeneous elements and the police, he called a public meeting at the Standard Theatre and tried with very limited success to launch a Trotskyite party.

MacDonald met the dissatisfaction of the majority of the members of the Central Committee at his failure to report possession of the evidence against Spector earlier by "explaining" that the secretary of the American party, Lovestone, had only recently come into possession of the evidence by a peculiar accident and had supplied it to MacDonald because of their close personal cooperation. MacDonald proceeded immediately on a national tour to report on the matter' and alert the membership against Spector's Trotskyite activities. He had got no farther than the Head of the Lakes when reports came back to Toronto that the political line he was advocating against Spector was not the line of the world Communist movement but Lovestone's line of "American exceptionalism." In Winnipeg, Tom McEwen, district organizer of the party, was compelled to take public exception to elements of MacDonald's report. MacDonald did not complete his tour. He returned suddenly to Toronto where several members of the national leadership confronted him with the question as to his fundamental political position. That issue dominated all party discussions, the life of the party in fact, from then until the Sixth National Convention held in May, 1929.

In the public debates that were held, as well as in executive discussions, the Lovestonites, of whom MacDonald was the leader and main spokesman, tried to win support for the theory that Canadian economy, by virtue of its close ties with United States economy, was immune to the danger of capitalist crisis and, therefore, it was wrong to base the line of the party upon the prospect of economic crisis and increasing radicalization of the masses. A minority of the members of the party leadership opposed that point of view. They based themselves upon the economic laws of motion of capitalism as revealed by Marx and the thesis adopted by the Sixth World Congress of the Communist International. To the concrete question posed in numerous public meetings -- "Can the perspective of Canadian economy be determined on the basis of the economic laws of motion of capitalism revealed by Marx? -- MacDonald and his Lovestonite supporters answered No!; the minority answered Yes!

Conflict over that question dominated the Sixth National Convention of the party. When Secretary MacDonald called his supporters into a caucus to prepare their slate for the election of the new Central Cominittee, it was revealed that, despite the evident influence of the minority in the debates, 65 of the 78 accredited delegates were MacDonald supporters. The result was that the Lovestonites elected the Central Committee of their choice. Considering it tactically wise, they elected three members of the minority also: namely, Buck, Smith and Bruce. When the convention adjourned, it appeared that the Lovestonites had won the party.

Life, however -- which in our case means mainly the working class -- decided otherwise. The Lovestoneites had the votes in the national convention but the position of the minority had corresponded with the basic economic and political realities. Despite the frantic efforts of the capitalist press and the stockateers to maintain the illusion that Canadian economy was thriving, signs that its contradictions were acute were becoming evident. Side by side with reports of new high peaks of profits, unemployment was increasing also. Over-expansion of industry revealed itself. Some new plants never operated at capacity. The comrades who had fought Trotskyism and opposed the policies based upon the theory of "American exceptionalism" continued their battle after the national convention. Leading officers of some of the mass organizations supported the Lovestoneite position of MacDonald but the minority was winning ever wider support among the most active members of the party as a whole, including the activists of the organizations, the leaders of which were supporting the Lovestone position. The position of the minority was supported by the whole leadership of the Young Communist League. The membership of the party was recognizing that the minority was fighting for a correct Communist position. With that recognition support for the minority was growing rapidly. As a result MacDonald found his position so contradictory that, six weeks after the convention, he called a special meeting of the new Central Committee (July 12, 1929). Right at the opening of the meeting, he informed the Central Committee that, due to the conflict within the party, his position was untenable and lie had therefore decided to resign. In the same statement, he nominated for the office of general secretary Tim Buck, who had opposed Trotskyite tendencies within the Central Committee since Spector had first revealed them in 1925, and who had been the main spokesman for the minority through the pre-convention discussion and the convention debates. All except three of the members of the Central Committee were ardent supporters of MacDonald yet, after some perfunctory debate, his resignation was accepted and Comrade Buck elected general secretary. The following day, a carefully prepared statement over the name of MacDonald and naming several members of the Central Committee as being aligned with him, appeared in papers edited by his supporters, calling upon the workers to abandon the Communist Part of Canada and establish a new organization.

It was evident that MacDonald's resignation and the election of a new secretary had been carefully staged in the belief that it would help to isolate the minority and tend to encourage members to follow MacDonald out of the party. As we shall see later, he underestimated both the intelligence and the loyalty of the majority of the party membership. Within a relatively short time, the organization that he established and the organization established earlier by Spector were compelled to join forces in an attempt to maintain an appearance of strength. Within a few years it disappeared completely as an organized political force.

(1) Such as, for example, Coal River Collieries, a scab mine owned and operated by one of the capitalist offshoots of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers.

(2) W. Z. Foster's description of them.

(3) Lillian Himmelfarb.

(4) Professor Meek of the University of Toronto.

(5) "The Right of Nations to Self-Determination." Selected Works. Vol. 4, p. 286.

(6) V. I. Lenin, "Two Tactics of Social Democracy in the Democratic Revolution." Chapter 6, Selected Works. Vol. 3, p. 74,

(7) Mastering Bolshevism.

(8) "What Is To Be Done?" Selected Works. Vol. 2, p. 47.