Lenin and Canada

Chapter 5: Irreconcilable Theoretical Polemics

I have dealt at such length and in some detail with the manner in which the virus of Trotskyism was allowed to spread through our party over a period of nearly six years, because that period in our history illustrates the heavy cost, to the communist movement and to the working class as a whole, of our failure to make the fight fir Leninism the heart and soul of the party’s live.

For some time afterwards we ascribed our failure to the deplorable scarcity of Lenin’s works in the English language, but that was wrong. While an immeasurable treasure of Lenin’s work on those problems was unknown to us at that time, we did have “Left”-wing Communism; The State and Revolution; The proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky; What Is to Be Done, and several other works in English. We need only to have studied seriously Chapter 4 of “Left”-wing Communism, entitled “The Struggle Against Which Enemies Within the Working-Class Movement Helped Bolshevism Develop, Gain Strength, and Become Steeled.” Even the following brief excerpts illustrate clearly the importance of the two crucial weaknesses against which we should have waged a relentless struggle:

First and foremost, the struggle against opportunism, which in 1914 definitely developed into social-chauvinism and definitely sided with the bourgeoisie, against the proletariat.

It was, however, different with Bolshevism’s other enemy, within the working class movement. Little is known in other countries of the fact that Bolshevism took shape, developed and became steeled in the long years of struggle against petty-bourgeois revolutionism, which smacks of anarchism, or borrows something from the latter and, in all essential matters, does not measure up to the conditions and requirements of a consistently proletarian class struggle. (Vol. 31, pp. 31-32)

The real reason for our failure was that we had not learned the necessity for an unremitting and relentless struggle against all deviations from Marxism-Leninism in the spirit which characterized Lenin and the Bolshevik Party. We obstructed self-critical recognition of that fact by nursing for a long time the excuse that not enough of Lenin’s works were published in English. MacDonald’s practice of counterposing his conception his conception of “party unity” to what he claimed was “futile hair-splitting over questions of theory” carried the day for years, because those of us who were opposed to both MacDonald’s opportunism and Spector’s crypto-Trotskyism had failed to grasp the essential content, what Lenin described as “the practical and political value of irreconcilable theoretical polemics.”

Following the 7th Plenum of the ECCI there was a change in the attitude of the party towards the fight for Leninism. It was not as sharp or far-reaching as it should have been but it raised the level of discussion of the policy and of theoretical questions enough so that wide circles of the members recognized opportunist character of MacDonald’s position. Even as he adopted the pose of leader or a campaign to eliminate all traces of Trotskyism from the party, more and more members recognized that he was utilizing exposure of and opposition to Trotskyite petty-bourgeois revolutionism as a smokescreen for his own propaganda of “American Exceptionalism.” That unprincipled attempt to sidetrack Marxism-Leninism in North America, for the advantage of the United States imperialism, was given short shrift in the Communist Party of Canada. Members of the party such as T. McEwen, Beckie Buhay, Bill Bennett, the entire leadership of the YCL, and numerous others, challenged MacDonald in his meetings. Within a short time we were able to compel him to meet the writer of these lines in public debate in the Alhambra Hall.

By the time that the 6th National Convention convened, the so-called theory of “American Exceptionalism” was exposed. The majority of party members understood that the laws of motion of capitalism discovered by Marx and extended by Lenin in the imperialist epoch operate in the United States and Canada with the same inexorability as in every capitalist country. We were able to show that the sharpening contradictions in the economy of the U.S. and Canada were warning signals which indicated the prospect of a severe economic crisis and mass unemployment.

In our first public debate MacDonald declared flatly that United States monopoly capital had become so strong that it could control the economy and, therefore, there would not be an economic crisis in the U.S. or Canada. Under pressure of the attitude of the membership he retreated from that position. By the time that the 6th National Convention of the party convened on May 30th, 1929, he had changed his position. In his Report to the Convention he confessed that, in his pre-convention draft “the question of the development of the inner contradictions of Canadian capitalism was left out completely.” He added that the omission was because of “our over-estimation of the strength of Canadian capitalism.” (Secretary’s Report to 6th National Convention)

It is necessary to explain that the 6th Convention of the party was postponed from early April until the end of May. Delegates to the convention were elected by district conventions before any except a very small minority of the membership had become aware of the anti-Leninist “theory” of “Ameerican Exceptionalism” and even fewer of them had any inkling of MacDonald’s identification with it. One of the anti-Leninist features that had been preserved in the party was its federalist character, which enabled its language sections, Finnish, Ukrainian, Jewish, to exercise effective autonomy within the party. A minority of the leading comrades had fought to replace that by consistent democratic centralism but without any success. The relations between MacDonald and the leaders of the language sections was of an intimate factional character and the majority of the delegates elected to the national convention were committed to support what by that time had become a clearly defined MacDonald caucus. Their commitment persisted through the convention in spite if the marked change that took place in the attitude of the membership towards the estimate of the political perspective that they had been elected to uphold. The result was that MacDonald and his supporters (who operated openly as a caucus) won every vote by an overwhelming majority (54 to 13) but discovered after the convention that they had lost the support of the membership.

Because those members of the Central Committee who recognized the anti-Leninist character of “Ameerican Exceptionalism” had launched a forthright ideological offensive against it, promptly, active members throughout the party had taken up the fight. During the period of postponement of the convention the question “Leninism or American Exceptionalism” became the centre of the pre-convention discussion. Re-reading of Lenin’s writings soon brought refutation of the claims advanced by the advocates of “Exceptionalism.” Their claim that, in the United States and Canada, monopoly capital and its trusts and cartels had become so powerful that there would be no more capitalist crisis in those two countries, that class antagonisms were becoming less acute, was recognized as anti-Leninist and soon discredited. Party activists were able to show that the arguments in favor of “Exceptionalism” were one-sided and dependent upon unprincipled selection of facts. In opposition to “Exceptionalism” there emerged almost unanimous agreement throughout the party upon the understanding that Lenin had described in the following words 20 years earlier, in refutation of similar anti-Marxist assertations put forward by Bernstein and his like:

The forms, the sequence, the picture of particular crises changed, but crises remained an inevitable component of the capitalist system. While uniting production, the cartels and trusts at the same time, and in a way that was obvious to all, aggravated the anarchy of production, the insecurity of existence of the proletariat and the oppression of capital, thereby intensifying class antagonisms to an unprecedented degree. (Vol. 15, p. 35)

Members of the party saw that the economic situation in Canada at that time corresponded exactly with Lenin’s summary. Even before the party convention met, rejection of the propaganda of “American Exceptionalism” was extending to rejection of MacDonald and resentment against his attempt to smuggle it into the party. The contradiction between the majority of the members and MacDonald’s record became so sharp that, on July 12th, five weeks after he had been re-elected General Secretary, he resigned.