Thirty Years – 1922-1952
The Story of the Communist Movement in Canada
THE EIGHTH national convention of the Communist Party of Canada was held October 8-13, 1937, in the Masonic Temple, Toronto. The convention celebrated the centennial of the struggle for Canadian independence; paying a solemn tribute to the rebels of 1837 and dedicating the Communist Party to continue the historical struggle. Declaring proudly "We are the heirs of '37," the convention emphasized also the tremendous changes that had taken place during the 100 years that had passed:
"The Canada that Mackenzie and Papineau sought to free was scarcely more than a group of isolated semi-feudal colonies, lacking effective contact with each other and communication with the world at large. Canada, today, is a highly industrialized country with a standard of technical development equal to any in the world."(1)
That was a bare statement of fact, then becoming evident to millions of Canadians. The constitutional provisions of the British North America Act, enacted in 1867, were in glaring conflict with the highly concentrated monopoly-capitalist economy of Canada in 1937. In illuminating contrast to the lack of effective communication with each other and the world at large that had characterized the colonies in 1837, finance capitalism had by 1937 concentrated control of the nation's production and commerce in the hands of a tightly knit oligarchy and had involved Canada deeply in the imperialist struggle for redivision of the capitalist world market. The convention opened with a ceremonial session at the Mutual Street Arena, in which more than 4,000 workers participated in an inspiring tribute to the 1,280 young Canadians who were in Spain in the ranks of the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion fighting against fascism.
History had moved through a full cycle since 1837. The cycle was illustrated by the contrast between the contents and proposals of the convention report and the history of the revolutionary struggle of 1837 which was published as part of the Party's celebration of the centenary. A paragraph in that book illustrated the contrast between class relationships as they were in Canada in 1837 and the class relationships prevailing at the time of the eighth national convention.
"Responsible government, the main demand of the Canadian reform movement, was primarily a means to an end: the breaking of colonial and feudal fetters to allow the economic expansion of an industrial Canada. In this, the aims of the manufacturing class coincided with the general interests of the mass of the people; the industrial bourgeoisie played the role of a revolutionary-democratic force."(2)
The handful of individual land-grabbing office-holders who constituted the "Family Compact" of 1837 had been replaced by a highly organized finance-capitalist oligarchy. Through the systematic interlocking of boards of directors, that oligarchy controlled the vast and intricate machinery of finance, production, transportation, communication and, through its chosen political representatives, the state. Even the ambitions which motivated the modern oligarchy in gradually asserting their freedom from British domination was not an ambition for the independent, industrial development of Canada. It was so that they could sell Canada to United States imperialism. In 1937 monopoly-capitalism already was becoming less interested in the all-round development of Canadian economy and increasingly interested in the quick profits to be made by selling Canada's irreplacable natural resources and territorial independence to the United States.
The eighth national convention drew the attention of all Canada to that profound contradiction between the interests of the overwhelming majority of the people, the real nation, and the so-called "national aims" of monopoly-capitalism. The convention called upon the workers and farmers of Canada to recognize that the real interests of the nation are the interests of the masses of its people. The thesis around which all its resolutions were built was that Canadians were confronted by the necessity for decision-the real interests of the nation could be served only by the political defeat of the monopolists and the replacement of profits and war by people's welfare in peace, as the sole objective of national policy. It pointed out:
"The people seek progress, the big financial interests seek to turn the wheel of industry back. The people are democratic, the big financial interests are afraid of democracy. The people want peace, the policies of finance-capital are leading Canada in company with the reactionary powers of Europe towards an imperialist war against democracy and progress. Every man and woman in Canada must take a stand upon these issues."(3)
The situation was a challenge to true Canadians. After seven years of crisis and depression profits were up again above the peak of 1929 while wages remained very close to the lowest levels to which they had been slashed during the crisis. The burden of debt and taxation upon farmers and urban middle-class people bad increased tremendously, their incomes remained at depression levels. Preparations for war had become the keynote of imperialist policy. Reaction was on the offensive. Big financial interests and leading politicians of the two old parties were exploring the possibilities for a coalition of all reactionary parties under the high-sounding title of "The United Canada Association." Fascist organizations, typified by Adrien Arcand's organization in Quebec, were being generously financed by big business in various parts of the country. Men who were recognized as enemies of the people, such as Meighen the father of Section 98, Sir Edward Beatty the advocate of railroad amalgamation, Sir Herbert Holt whose financial operations had led to the ruin of thousands of small-business people, Colonel George Drew the pro-fascist admirer of the Mussolini and Hitler regimes, were advocating a "national government." Later the owner of the Toronto Globe and Mail sought to establish an over-all general staff for capitalist reaction under the title of "The Leadership League."
The drive of reaction was motivated by fear of the rising militancy of the workers and farmers as well as by the general turn of imperialism towards policies of fascist reaction and war. The need of the people, the development which could guarantee democratic progress, was "Unity in Action." The convention emphasized in its call to the workers and farmers: ". . . Life itself is opening up splendid possibilities ... united action does not necessarily require unity in one organization; it involves only cooperation to secure certain specific objectives." As part of the party's contribution towards a programmatic basis for such unity, the convention called upon all democratic Canadians to elaborate through joint discussions a people's program built around the following six main heads.(4)
a) Legislate for Social Security
"The people of Canada want progressive legislation. Canada at the present time has the least progressive social legislation of any except four of the twenty-five countries of the Americas. It is a shameful thing that there still remain three provinces, including wealthy Quebec, which have no Widowed Mothers' Allowance and that, in those provinces which have such legislation, a widow with two children should have to live on less than the inadequate minimum wage prescribed for a single girl. We need unemployment and health insurance legislation which will guarantee, to all victims of sickness or involuntary unemployment adequate maintenance for themselves and their families. Old age pensions at sixty, prohibition of juvenile labor, minimum wages for young male workers, limitation of hours of labor, are all essential for the protection of the Canadian working people. A central need today is trade union legislation which will guarantee to working people the right to join the union of their own choice and the right to bargain collectively through their own freely chosen representatives."
b) Save Canadian Agriculture
"...Canada needs a comprehensive national farm policy. Farmers must be protected against the conditions created by the fact that they sell their products in a market controlled by the buyers and are compelled to buy everything they need in a market controlled by the sellers..."
c) A Democratic Fiscal Policy
"The fiscal policy of the Dominion and the provinces needs a complete revamping ... the tax structure needs to be drastically reorganized. ... The nation's currency and credit should be under the control of a nationalized banking system."
d) Give Our Youth a Chance
"The National Youth Commission established by the King government marks the beginning of governmental recognition of the fact that the problems of the youth of Canada have become a matter of national concern. ... The beginning made is totally inadequate but it shows that the Youth Bill and other proposals advanced by the Youth Congress are practical and should be given effect."
e) A Democratic Constitution for Canada
"... The Communist Party proposes that the labor and progressive movement of Canada should cooperate through legislative conferences in the formulation of proposals towards the working out of a democratic constitution for our country and join forces in the effort to secure its adoption. Provincial rights must be fully protected. The constitution of Canada must guarantee complete provincial autonomy and control in all matters concerning civil liberties, education, cultural and religious rights and in all matters concerning the organization and coordination of municipal and provincial governments. ... Appeals to the Privy Council must be abolished. Canada's parliament must be competent to decide."
f) A Foreign Policy That Makes for Peace
"... We object to Canada being gradually and insidiously involved in the diplomatic entanglements which are the 'spiders' webs' of the schemers who are working out the plans for a new balance of power and imperialist war in Europe. ... Never before has there been such a widespread and general desire among the people for peace. ... But it is not enough to merely condemn war, we must influence government policy upon issues which are concrete and urgent today. This requires mighty mass movements in support of peace. ... As Mr. Peter Bryce, Moderator of the United Church, has said: 'The mighty power of sentiment against all that is involved in modern warfare may yet save the world from disaster if it is expressed, individually and collectively by the people of the world, and if it is crystallized into action by governments, compelled to do so through the sheer force of the weight of public. opinion.'...
"... We must organize tens of thousands of people in all the constituencies of Canada to bring pressure to bear upon their members of parliament, to demand of them that they place themselves on public record against war. Every candidate for public office should be asked for a similar pledge. Peace-loving people must be aroused to the fact that the issue of peace or war is being decided now. Continued retreat before the fascist offensive means war. If we want peace we must defend it."
In addition to the draft program of which these quoted sections are typical, the convention adopted resolutions setting forth specific demands for the youth, for the women, for the farmers, for the native Indians, for French Canada; for a foreign policy based upon Canada's interests, etc. The following excerpts are typical.
"Being deeply concerned with the welfare of Canada's youth, the party must focus its attention on their outstanding needs and generate mass movements for their immediate realization, making the struggle for the needs of the youth an integral part of all economic and political struggles of the working class. Our party must offer practical programs for legislation on behalf of the social and economic needs of youth and champion their enactment. ... Such legislation should include: minimum wage laws and stipulations for their enforcement; establishment and extension of vocational and technical training; introduction of a system of apprenticeship under trade union supervision; adequate scholarships for needy students; grants to farm youth; creation of recreational youth centres, etc."(5)
"This eighth convention of our party places before our whole membership and all party bodies the immediate task of carrying on an intensive educational campaign within the party and the labor movement for the correct appraisal of work amongst women. Our leading party bodies still seriously underestimate this vital work and consider it in the main to be the work of women themselves rather than the work of the whole party. Our party has not yet fully grasped that the organization of women requires particular attention to their special problems and needs; hence special forms of organization for which capable trained leadership must be provided. Opinions are still encountered in our party minimizing the importance of organization of women, opposing special efforts in this regard, critical of special women's organizations, disdainful of the contribution which women can make to the labor movement. Such views have hindered the recruiting of women into the party and have led to a tendency on the part of many women comrades to be unwilling to devote themselves to organization of women, since this is falsely regarded as less important than other fields of party work."(6)
Limitations of space prevent reproduction of the entire text of the programmatic proposals put forward by the eighth national convention, as they do of numerous other important documents. The key passages quoted above do illustrate, however, the fundamental fact emphasized by that convention, that the workers are now the only class whose interests as a class are completely identical with the true interests of the nation.
Comparison of the draft People's Program adopted by the eighth convention with subsequent developments shows that, while only a few of the reforms advocated there have been achieved, the formulation of specific and well-defined immediate, political objectives is, in itself, a vital contribution to the popular struggle for democracy and progress. Most of the legislation advocated in that draft is now recognized as necessary by the majority of Canadians.
(1) Monopoly vs. the People, by Tim Buck. p. 6.
(2) 1837: The Birth of Canadian Democracy, Stanley Ryerson, Francis White Publishers, Toronto, p. 47.
(3) Monopoly vs. the People, p. 8.
(4) Monopoly vs. the People, pp. 25-29. Limitations of space prevent reproduction of the entire text of the draft program but the sentences quoted are typical.
(5) Resolutions of the Eighth Dominion Convention, C. P. of C., p. 51.
(6) Resolutions of the Eighth Dominion Convention, C. P. of C., p. 58.