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

CHAPTER SEVEN: A New Stage of Political Development

WHEN Mr. Justice Wright sentenced its leaders to imprisonment in November, 1931, the Communist Party of Canada was ten years old. It had led every progressive current in the Canadian labor movement throughout those ten years. Indeed, with the sole exception of the Canadian Labor Party, the Communists had initiated all the progressive movements and organized the early activities in support of them. Our party initiated and led to success the struggle against the ivory-tower sectarian isolation from the masses of the workers that had characterized the Socialist Party of Canada. Our Party initiated and led to victory the nation-wide campaign against the tradition of secession which had made two eneyations of militant workers politically sterile. In place of the false theory that secession from the craft unions was the hallmark of militancy, our party had won recognition of the fact that the place for a militant worker is in the union that is genuinely supported by the masses of his fellow-workers. The great "back-to-the-unions" movement led by our party had healed the catastrophic O.B.U. split and re-united the labor movement. Our party, along with the Trade Union Educational League and later the Workers' Unity League, had initiated and led the struggles for industrial unionism and to organize the unorganized. By its consistent battle for the Canadian Labor Defence League, our party had won recognition throughout the working-class movement of the necessity for organized labor defence.

The political advance that the working class made in those struggles was not always evident at the time. When the advance did become evident it appeared to be scattered. Basically, however, those progressive activities worked a profound change in the labor movement. Step by step the Communists led the progressive workers forward along the historic path of working-class political development to mass understanding of the fact that, created by modern industry as a class by itself, the working class must become a class for itself; that the working class must consciously engage in the struggle to raise itself up from the position of an oppressed and exploited class to the position of the leading, ruling class in society.

Along with its fight for labor unity and independent working-class political action the party had initiated activities which mobilized tens of thousands of farmers on the Prairies in organized struggle against the ruthless exploitation of monopoly-capital and the cynical disregard of Liberal and Tory governments. The campaign led by the party and the Farmers' Unity League halted the ruthless sweep of foreclosures, sheriffs' sales and evictions. In the process it raised farmers' action on the Prairies to a new high level, arousing tens of thousands of poor farmers to recognition of the need for united farmer-labor political action.

The organization of unemployed workers on a national scale by the Workers' Unity League, the co-ordination of their struggles for survival and the great campaign for the Party's National Non-Contributory Unemployment Insurance Bill, were reaching a new high level when the Bennett government loosed the nation-wide R.C.M.P. raids and attempted to stamp out the growing radicalization of the workers and farmers by the use of the courts. The government failed to accomplish its purpose, however. It was precisely when capitalist law was exposed as an instrument for the suppression of working-class ideas and activities that the accumulated ideological results of the preceding decade of party work crystallized. Popular revulsion against the fascist methods of the Tory governments and the catastrophic effects of the economic crisis combined to create a situation characterized by the fact that the Canadian Labor Defence League secured 483,000 signatures to its second petition for the release of the eight Communists and repeal of Section 98. This is not to suggest that all the people who signed the C.L.D.L. petition necessarily agreed with the Communist Party. A large number of them certainly did agree with the growing demand for a national program of great public works, to employ 200,000 Canadians improving Canada, and the demand for such a program had been initiated by our party. But, the decisive fact in connection with the enormous number of people who supported the C.L.D.L. petition was that they illustrated the widespread and acute dissatisfaction with the Tory government; indeed, those signatures testified to the measure in which elements of disintegration were developing within the two old parties of the capitalist class.

The Communist Party being outlawed, bourgeois politicians and social reformists seized upon the possibility presented by the widespread radicalization of workers, farmers and urban middle-class people.

During the year after the Bennett government banned the Communist Party, a conference of social democrats and leaders of farm organizations, held in Calgary, planned the organization of a new reformist party. Shortly afterwards H. H. Stevens, the minister of trade and commerce in Bennett's cabinet, utilized the popularity he had achieved by his sponsorship of the inquiry into cost-spreads and mass buying to organize a political party of his own, under the name of the National Reconstruction Party. Simultaneously, there emerged in Alberta a provincial party under the name and pretending to the philosophy of Social Credit. In the Province of Quebec, Paul Gouin, the son of Sir Lomer Gouin, long-time Liberal boss in that province, split the provincial Liberal Party and organized a movement of dissidents under the name of L'Action Liberale. Gouin pretended to progressive aims but in effect, the function of L'Action Liberale was to provide the means whereby some Quebec "Liberals" could merge with Duplessis.

In the federal elections held during October, 1935, more than a million of those who went to the polls voted for candidates other than those of the Liberal and Tory parties. Because the disintegrating influences affected mainly the Tory party, the Bennett government was the loser and the Liberals were returned to power.

The actual competition between Liberals and Tories in that, as in all elections, was solely as to which party could serve Canadian capitalism best. There was no difference in their attitudes towards the profit system. Such superficial difference as appeared between the attitude of the two parties towards the working class was the difference between Bennett's practice of the "iron heel" and King's promise of a velvet glove. At the same time, the defeat of the Bennett government was a setback for the most reactionary forces in Canada and the fact that a million (twenty-two percent) of all those who voted opposed both old parties was a serious warning to the victorious Liberals. Mackenzie King's repeal of Section 98 during the first session of the new parliament was a tacit admission of that fact. The monopoly of the two old parties had been broken: the new government was, for the time being at least, compelled to listen to the voice of the people.

* * *

Because the C.C.F. marked the establishment of a national social-democratic party politically identical with the social-democratic parties in Europe, its foundation was of special importance to the working class and, therefore, to the Communist Party.

It was a very important stage of the historic struggle of the workers and poor farmers to free themselves from the political tutelage of the capitalist class. Objectively the emergence of the C.C.F. was a result of the work of the Communist Party -- indeed it testified to the effectiveness of its work. Dialectically it was an integral part of the evolutionary process in which the working class learns by its own experience that only its own party, based unequivocally upon the historical destiny of the working class, will lead it to victory.

A very large proportion of the men and women who participated in the foundation of the C.C.F. had that process in mind at the time -- a much larger proportion than is generally realized. That they supported the establishment of a social-democratic party, the leaders of which refused to identify it directly with the aim of socialism, does not contradict their general socialist aspirations. In the conditions prevailing in Canada at that time, and the level of political development corresponding as it did with the relative youth of Canadian capitalism, it was inevitable that the first mass popular breakaway from capitalist politics should be of such a character. The fact that, turning away from the Liberal and Conservative parties, they established a radical reform party which "extended its hand," as it were, to the masses of workers who aspired to a socialist re-organization of Canada, made the foundation of the C.C.F. a development of tremendous importance. The law of working-class political growth makes it a stage in the advance of the working class to recognition of the historical necessity for Communist policies.

Along with large numbers of socialist-minded workers and farmers the foundation of the C.C.F. attracted wide circles of reform-minded people who, without definitely supporting socialism, recognized some of the evils of capitalism and wanted action to mitigate them. The Communist Party of Canada wanted to cooperate with all such democratic people even if such cooperation had to be limited only to the amelioration of the most pressing, immediate effects of the crisis. The Communist Party was fighting for what the majority of them aspired to. The attitude of the Party towards the C.C.F. movement was stated on behalf of the National Committee of the Party by Tim Buck in a public address delivered in Massey Hall in Toronto, early in 1935, to open the party's campaign for the federal general elections to be held that year. In the course of his address, Tim Buck explained the attitude described above, and appealed to the C.C.F. leadership and members to join in a united front effort to ensure one labor or farmer candidate in each constituency in the forthcoming election. He pointed out that the conditions created by the splits in the old parties and the organizations of the new ones made it possible that an electoral united front of the C.C.F. and the Communist Party could rally the farm and labor movements to such an extent as to elect a farmer-labor government.

In addition to public proposals for electoral cooperation the Communist Party addressed a letter to the C.C.F. leadership setting forth specific proposals for an exchange of views concerning the possibility of cooperation and the means by which it could be made effective. The National Council of the C.C.F. rejected the proposal for electoral cooperation; instead it plunged into a campaign of violent propaganda against the C.P., the Soviet Union and all proposals that suggested a united front against monopoly capitalism. All its efforts to bring about electoral unity being rejected by the C.C.F. leadership, the Communist Party entered the federal elections with its own candidates and election platform. To limit electoral conflict between the party and the C.C.F. as much as possible, only nine candidates were nominated. The party's federal election program, of which 150,000 copies were distributed, was built around the following eight points:

1. Immediate enactment of genuine unemployment and social insurance at the expense of the rich, as embodied in the Worker's Bill, pending which unemployed relief to be paid at the rates of benefit provided in this bill.
2. To prevent further attacks upon the living standards of the masses, rising prices resulting from monopoly and inflation, wage cuts, relief cuts; to abolish sweat-shops and forced labor; to win higher wages, shorter hours, and improved working conditions. To prohibit all evictions and forced sales of workers' homes for debts or arrears in taxes. To prevent the railway amalgamation scheme of big capital.
3. Repeal of the Natural Products Marketing Act and the Farm Creditors' Arrangement Act. Provision of emergency relief for all needy and drought-stricken farmers. Long-term farm credits at low interest. Cancellation of mortgages and debts of impoverished farmers. Prevention of the forced sale of farms, the seizure of crops and the forced collection of rent and taxes. Immediate enactment of the Farm Emergency Bill.
4. Repeal of Section 98. No utilization of police and militia against struggles of workers and farmers. Prevention of the deportation and oppression of foreign-born workers. Prevention and repeal of all measures restricting trade union rights. Prohibition of company unions. Maintenance of the right of workers to join the union of their choice, to strike, to picket and demonstrate without restriction. Immediate release of all workers imprisoned for labor activities.
5. Prevention by united mass struggle of the imperialist designs to hurl the Canadian masses into the imminent imperialist war. Prevention of the shipment of war materials to Japan and Germany. Against all war preparations and the war provocations of Canadian imperialism against the Soviet Union. Establishment of full diplomatic and trade relations with the Soviet Union. Support of the Soviet Union's peace policy. Defence of the Soviet Union and Soviet China(1) against imperialist attacks.
6. Immediate payment of all veterans' pensions, restoration of cancelled pensions, and free medical attention for all veterans.
7. Abolition of the sales tax; abolition of all taxes on necessities of life and on persons or the property of persons earning less than $3,000 per year; steeply graduated taxation on the rich.
8 Cancellation of the war-and-forced-labor building program of the Bennett government; commencement of a billion-dollar building program at trade union wages, to clear the slums, build workers' homes, schools, hospitals and other works for the workers and farmers.

The party's proposal for electoral cooperation with the C.C.F. was reiterated in the following words:

"The Communist Election Committee proposes a united front of the C.C.F. and the Communist Party in the coming federal elections on the basis of the common economic and political interests of the masses in this fight. The Communist Election Committee calls for unity in struggle for the needs of the masses -- unity against the Liberal and Conservative parties of big capital -- unity for the election of a substantial number of Communist and C.C.F. candidates, who are pledged to the line of daily, united struggle against hunger, fascism and war."

The aggregate vote cast for the party's candidates in the elections was 21,000. Its significance was greater than its numbers, however. The party was illegal, the electorate was subjected to systematic anti-Communist propaganda, the C,C.F. leaders and most of the C.C.F. candidates exerted more efforts against the party than against the capitalist parties. While seeking to bring about a united front between the Communist Party and the C.C.F. it was necessary, during the infancy of the C.C.F., as today, for the Communist Party to carry on a consistent struggle against the illusion that the battle against monopoly-capitalism can be won by the policies and the methods pursued by the leadership of the C.C.F. Then as now it was necessary to expose and combat the anti-working-class ideology of the C.C.F. leaders. The "organized confusion" of their policies and propaganda tended to delude uncritical supporters into the idea that it was some sort of a new, easy, Canadian path to socialism. They calculatingly sidetracked the majority of delegates in the constituent convention from proclaiming socialism to be its goal. They aimed to make of the C.C.F. a revival of the opportunistic petty-bourgeois social reformism that had marked labor parliamentarism up to the end of the First World War, to make it the third party of bourgeois politics in Canada -- sharing the parliamentary field with the two old parties. The source of that aim and the consequent role played by the C.C.F. leadership since, of a buffer between the working class and the capitalist class, was fully explained at the time of its foundation by Stewart Smith in his book Socialism and the C.C.F.(2)

Even if Stewart Smith's book had never been written, the keynote speech submitted to the Regina convention by J. S. Woodsworth was full and conclusive evidence of the determination of its sponsors that the C.C.F. should not be a working-class party, and that it should not be committed to the aim of socialism. To mollify the large and enthusiastic left wing at the convention, Mr. Woodsworth explained his opposition to the word "socialism" or "socialist" in the name of the new party as follows: "Socialism has so many variations that we hesitate to use the class name." In the rest of his speech, he made it quite definite that the reason for not including the word socialism was not the "variations" but its class meaning. The dominant group at the foundation of the C.C.F. repudiated the word "socialism" precisely because it had become identified with the aspirations of the working class.

J. S. Woodsworth, whose memory is honored by the working-class movement because of his loyalty to progressive principles as he understood them, did not misrepresent his position. His aim was a reform party -- a party which could secure support from sections of the capitalist class, from well-to-do farmers and urban middle-class people, and from some workers. He did not pretend that he advocated socialism. His political philosophy was summed up in the following sentences which he repeated hundreds of times: "The state should own and control certain essential public utilities. That is all."(3) He often used the terms "cooperation," "planning," "public ownership," as though they were all synonymous with socialism. He did not differentiate between public ownership such as that of the Canadian National Railways, which was established solely to guarantee an undiminishing flow of unearned income to the capitalist class at the expense of the masses of the people, and genuine public ownership, exemplified in the Soviet Union, which puts an end to unearned increment and assures that all the advantages of ownership accrue to the community. He even welcomed as "advance along socialistic lines,"(4) the report submitted to the government by Sir Lyman Duff, later chief justice of Canada, recommending amalgamation of the Canadian National Railways and the Canadian Pacific Railway in a manner that would have established a C.P.R. monopoly of railroad transportation.

The real character of that proposal was described in the condemnation of it published by the Central Committee of the Communist Party, characterized by the following quotation:

"Our country stands before a new attack on the welfare of the people. Powerful financial and industrial interests headed by Sir Edward Beatty, president of the C.P.R., are preparing to fasten a gigantic railroad monopoly on the people of Canada.
"The proposals of Sir Edward Beatty are being supported by the reactionary press all over Canada. Cynical admissions are made by Sir Edward Beatty to the effect that the unification of the two railway systems will mean a reduction of staff, Every honest observer admits that if unification goes through to its final aim, complete amalgamation, from 30,000 to 40,000 railway workers will be discarded.
"The Communist Party, through its Dominion Committee now in session, declares its complete accord with the railway unions, and great sections of the Canadian people, in saying: This reactionary plot against the Canadian people must be foiled!."

Mr. Woodsworth stated his attitude towards finance-capital in the following words: "We are not advocating the immediate taking over of the banks, but we are advocating a central bank which will control credit and currency. This will prevent credit being extended at one time when it is not needed, and refused at times, like these, when it is urgently needed."(5)

How little of socialism there was in that proposal of the leader of the C.C.F. was proved two years later when the Tory government, headed by the crass reactionary Bennett, established a central bank, the Bank of Canada, to perform exactly the functions that Mr. Woodsworth had advocated as a solution for all financial ills. Unfortunately for the workers and farmers and small-business people, it gave no protection whatsoever to them. Contrary to the easy but unfounded assurances given by Mr. Woodsworth, it facilitated the extension of credit when that suited monopoly-capital, and it ensured even more drastic curtailment of credit and consequent refusal when the need of small-business people was desperate. Contrary to the assurances of Mr. Woodsworth, the central bank provided protection only for the capitalist banking system.

That particular example of C.C.F. policies is especially important today because the national leaders of the C.C.F. have refused to learn from experience. They still reject the idea of nationalizing the banking system and its function of creating credit. Indeed, they have made repudiation of the aim of nationalizing the chartered banks an expressly written part of C.C.F. policy.

Mr. Woodsworth did not misrepresent his political creed but the more hard-boiled right-wing social democrats around him were, and are, frequently, less honest in their declarations. One of the most serious crimes committed against the Canadian working class has been their deliberate "behind the barn" cultivation of the lie that their term "cooperative commonwealth" is synonymous with socialism, while systematically pursuing policies which support monopoly-capitalism against the working class. Occasionally they qualify their pretence concerning the meaning of "cooperative commonwealth" by explaining that their aim is "Canadian socialism." By that trick they compound their treachery. They set the workers under their influence against socialism by instilling into their thinking the completely false idea that socialism is a matter of national taste instead of the abolition of capitalist exploitation. That sort of unprincipled deception is illustrated today by the contrast between the aims and policies to which the C.C.F. was supposedly dedicated by its Regina Manifesto, and the aims and policy to which it is committed in practice by its national leaders. For example, the Regina Manifesto declared:

"We stand resolutely against all participation in imperialist wars.... Canadians must refuse to be entangled in any more wars fought to make the world safe for capitalism."

Such is the position which is presented to rank-and-file workers as the C.C.F. attitude towards peace and war. What is the real policy now being pursued by the national leadership? It is one of complete and unconditional support of the actions of the St. Laurent government in its preparation for an aggressive imperialist war - "to make the world safe for capitalism."

(1) Following the Great March of the Red Army, a hundred million people in China had established Soviet Governments in their districts.

(2) Socialism and the C.C.F., Contemporary Publishing Association, Montreal, February, 1934.

(3) Toronto Daily Star, February 15, 1933. Quoted by Stewart Smith in Socialism and the C.C.F.

(4) House of Commons Debates.

(5) Toronto Daily Star, February 15, 1933. Quoted by Stewart Smith in Socialism and the C.C.F.