Emergency Rally for Palestine

By Mitchell Shore

During the lunch hour on Friday, May 18th, Socialist Action members gathered with about 200 like-minded people at an emergency rally outside of the office of Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland. We were there to urge the Canadian government to condemn Israel’s May 14th massacre of at least 60 people and the injury of 2,700 more, including the shooting of Palestinian-Canadian Dr. Tarek Loubani. The protests follow the decision by US President, Donald Trump, to relocate the American embassy to Jerusalem. Trump’s move has been widely criticized by the international community.

After a few speeches, including the reading of a letter to Prime Minister Trudeau, the group then marched from Freeland’s office to the Israeli consulate, where it staged a “die in” in the middle of the road. Throughout it all, we loudly chanted slogans including: “Hey Hey Trudeau – Occupation Has Got to Go!”; “Free Free Palestine – Zionism is a Crime”; “From Palestine to Mexico: Border Walls Have Got to Go”.

The Gaza border protests are actually part of a larger struggle which began on March 30 when more than 30,000 people demanding their rights for justice and the right of refugees to return to their home land. At that time, 23 people were murdered by Israeli Defence Forces and more than 1400 people were wounded. In over six weeks of mass protests, at least 115 protesters were killed and more than 9000 were wounded.

Since its founding 70 years ago, Israel has maintained a regime of of settler colonialism, apartheid and occupation over the Palestinian people. It is a racist regime which privileges Jews over non-Jews. On a daily basis, millions of Palestinians face indignities and institutionalized discrimination, including the denial of the the right for refugees to return to their homes from which they were violently removed. Since 1967, Israel has maintained an illegal military occupation over the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza.

The situation in Gaza has been particularly brutal. Over the past decade, Israel has murdered and injured thousands of Palestinians. Palestinians are forced to live in the world’s largest open-air prison–something that in a sick sense of irony resembles the very concentration camps which many Jews and others were forced to live in as prisoners during World War 2. According to various reports from the United Nations, Gaza today has become unlivable. Residents of Gaza are without access to food, education, health care, electricity, and work. Ninety-seven percent of drinking water is unfit for human consumption. So much so that it is slowly poisoning millions of innocent people, mostly children. Electricity is only available for a few hours a day, and the unemployment rate is the highest in the world.

Socialist Action Canada demands the Canadian government condemn Israel’s violations of international law, including its illegal occupation, building of illegal settlements, and imposition of a siege on Gaza. We also demand that the Canadian government denounce the opening of any embassies in Jerusalem, as this act is illegal under international law. Socialist Action calls on Canada to impose sanctions against Israel, similar to the sanctions that were imposed against apartheid South Africa. And we call for an immediate embargo on the sale of weapons to Israel.

We say:

  • Stop the violence against Gaza and end the blockade!
  • Free all Palestinian prisoners, including the more than 400 children!
  • We demand the right of Palestinians refugees to return!
  • End all military and economic aid to Israel!
  • Support the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaigns!

Cannon’s Concept of the Revolutionary Party

Barry Weisleder

Revolutionary socialists in Canada and the United States, respectively, began organizing a revolutionary workers’ party around the same time.  This occurred in the wake of WW1.  The new organizations adopted the name Communist Party.  That was done in solidarity with the leading force in the Russian Revolution, in support of the leaders of the world’s first workers’ state, the Soviet Union. In Canada, many members of the new party came from the Socialist Party of Canada and from the Social Democratic Party of Canada.  In the U.S.A., many of them came out of the Socialist Party of Eugene Debs, and from the syndicalist Industrial Workers of the World, like James P. Cannon, who was a Wobblie before he became a Bolshevik. There were numerous internal tendencies and factions inside the new CPs, until Moscow stamped out internal democracy, and required affiliates to the Comintern to expel all opponents of Joseph Stalin.  In the USSR, many of Stalin’s political opponents were not just expelled or exiled; they were murdered.  Historians say that Stalin killed more communists than Adolph Hitler did.

Founding leaders of the Communist Party of Canada were Jack MacDonald and Maurice Spector.  They worked closely with the leaders of the CP USA, like James P. Cannon and William Z. Foster.  Spector and Cannon were delegates to the Sixth Congress of the Communist International in Moscow in 1928.

Spector accidentally got hold of a copy of Trotsky’s Critique of the Draft Programme of the Communist International, which criticized the position of Nikolai Bukharin and Joseph Stalin.  It especially exposed the anti-Marxist theory of “socialism in one country“. This critique became a basis of the International Left Opposition. In a truly prophetic statement, Trotsky warned that if “socialism in one country” was adopted by the Communist International, it would inevitably lead to the nationalist and reformist degeneration of every Communist Party in the world.  His prediction – which was ridiculed by the Stalinists at the time – was proven to be correct.  Cannon reported what happened on that fateful occasion:

“Through some slip-up in the apparatus in Moscow,” recalls Cannon, “which was supposed to be airtight, this document of Trotsky came into the translating room of the Comintern. It fell into the hopper, where they had a dozen or more translators and stenographers with nothing else to do. They picked up Trotsky’s document, translated it and distributed it to the heads of the delegations and the members of the programme commission. So, lo and behold, it was laid in my lap, translated into English! Maurice Spector, a delegate from the Canadian party, and in somewhat the same frame of mind as myself, was also on the programme commission and he got a copy. We let the caucus meetings and the Congress sessions go to the devil while we read and studied this document. Then I knew what I had to do, and so did he. Our doubts had been resolved. It was as clear as daylight that Marxist truth was on the side of Trotsky. We had a compact there and then – Spector and I – that we would come back home and begin a struggle under the banner of Trotskyism.”

Here’s some background on MacDonald and Spector.

Jack MacDonald (nicknamed “Moscow Jack” Macdonald) was born February 2, 1888 in Falkirk, Scotland. He was a founding member of the Communist Party of Canada. He was party Chairman from 1921 to 1923, and National Secretary from 1923 to 1929.

MacDonald received a scholarship to attend high school, but economic necessity forced him into pattern making, the same occupation as his father. His imagination was “fired by the revolutionary events of 1905 in Russia.”  He joined and later became president (1910-1912) of the Falkirk Pattern Makers Association, a member of the British Socialist Party, and a member of the Scottish Social Democratic Federation. He immigrated to Toronto in 1912, where he became involved in the local left.

MacDonald supported the expulsion of Maurice Spector for Trotskyism in 1928. Subsequently, he tried to play a balancing role between Tim Buck‘s Stalinist faction and the party majority headed by Finnish, Ukrainian and Jewish groups of which J.B. Salsberg was a notable figure. Macdonald failed and was expelled from the party in 1931, accused of being a Lovestoneite (that is a supporter of Nikolai Bukharin‘s Right Opposition). MacDonald, however, maintained that he was attempting to play an independent role.  MacDonald went on to reconcile with Spector and joined the Toronto branch of the International Left Opposition (Trotskyist) Canada in 1932.

MacDonald and Spector sided with Martin Abern and Max Shachtman in a dispute within the Communist League of America in the early 1930s. The split emerged in the late 1930s, this time over the question of the class nature of the Soviet Union with MacDonald siding with Shachtman in his split from the International in 1940. Macdonald died of a sudden heart attack on 7 November 1941 as he was recovering from an earlier, unspecified operation.

Now a few words about Maurice Spector (1898 – August 1, 1968).  He was Chairman of the Communist Party of Canada and editor of its newspaper, The Worker, for much of the 1920s. Spector was born in the Russian Empire and immigrated to Canada with his family as an infant.  He graduated from Queen’s University and practised labour law in Toronto when he wasn’t employed in political positions.

Spector was influenced by Trotsky’s work The Bolsheviki and World Peace, which was published in the Toronto Mail and Empire in January 1918, and by Social Democratic Party of Canada (SDP) Dominion Secretary Isaac Bainbridge who introduced him to Lenin’s writings and inspired him to join the SDP. Spector worked with the left-wing of the Canadian SDP, and eventually left to form the Communist Party of Canada.

Spector was a founder of the Canadian Trotskyist movement which was first constituted as a branch of the Communist League of America in 1929. In 1932 he co-founded, with Jack MacDonald the International Left Opposition (Trotskyist) of Canada, a section of Trotsky’s Left Opposition. Spector moved to New York City in 1936 and became a leading member of the Trotskyist movement there. He presented the International Report at the founding convention of the Socialist Workers Party at the end of 1938 but dropped out of the party in 1939.

He joined the Socialist Party of America shortly after leaving the SWP in 1939, and remained on its executive body until 1958.

In the 1930s and early 1940s the Canadian and American Trotskyists developed and implemented a common concept of the revolutionary party – partly in rejection of the bureaucratic and repressive methods of the Stalinist parties, and largely by embracing the approach of the previous revolutionary Marxist movement.

So, who personified the link between that early generation and our modern Canadian movement?  Ross Dowson.  Dowson was born on September 4, 1917, the third in a family of seven children in a working class family in Weston, Ontario, then a suburb of Toronto. His father was a printer, an atheist and an anarchist sympathizer and his mother was a stenographer.

In the midst of the Great Depression, Dowson’s older brother, Murray, joined the Workers’ Party of Canada, a Trotskyist organization, while a student at York Memorial Collegiate Institute and brought Ross along to meetings. The pair set up the York Memorial High School Spartacus Club. The younger Dowson joined the party and declared to his mother at the age of 17 that he intended to spend his life as a professional revolutionary.

Dowson joined the Co-operative Commonwealth Youth Movement (CCYM), the youth wing of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation in 1938, and was expelled for his radical ideas.

The Canadian Trotskyist movement collapsed at the beginning of World War II. MacDonald and Spector had already left.  The leader at the time the war broke out was Earle Birney. He dropped out to focus on being a poet and because he disagreed with the Trotskyist position on the war. The movement suffered a further blow when Ottawa declared the Socialist Workers League (as the Workers Party was now called) illegal under the Defence of Canada Regulations.

Ross and Murray Dowson remained with the group as it went underground. Dowson joined the Canadian Army in 1942 and rose to the rank of second lieutenant. He recruited two other soldiers to the Trotskyist movement and organized a successful strike for better pay by soldiers who had been assigned to lay train tracks in southern Ontario.  Dowson was discharged from the army in December 1944.

Dowson was elected secretary of the Socialist Workers League in October 1944, and reorganized the movement, founding the Revolutionary Workers Party (RWP) with Dowson as national secretary and editor of its newspaper Labour Challenge.

Dowson ran for mayor of Toronto nine times in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. He campaigned openly as a Trotskyist under the slogan “Vote Dowson, Vote for a Labor Mayor, Vote for the Trotskyist Candidate” and garnered 11% of the vote in the 1948 mayoral election and over 20% of the vote in 1949.  Olivia Chow got 23% of the vote for mayor in 2014 on a rather inferior programme.

The RWP declined however due to the pressures of the Cold War. Its members joined the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) as a group known internally as “The Club” but continued to operate the Toronto Labor Bookstore on Yonge Street, run by Dowson.  There they held meetings and organized their activities. In order to save money, Dowson lived in the bookstore.

A split in the Fourth International in 1953 had ramifications in the RWP and in Dowson’s own family. Ross Dowson and the majority of the group sided with the faction led by James P. Cannon and the Socialist Workers Party (United States).  This faction formed the International Committee of the Fourth International, which opposed joining Stalinist parties.  His brother Murray and brother-in-law Joe Rosenthal formed a pro-Michel Pablo minority, and split from the RWP in 1954. It disappeared by the end of the decade.  This episode reveals an aspect of Cannon’s concept of the revolutionary party, namely, that even when working deeply inside another working class party, the revolutionaries should not dissolve their programme, strategy and separate identity.

By 1961, Dowson and his comrades joined the New Democratic Party (NDP) at its founding. In that year, the Trotskyist movement relaunched itself as the “League for Socialist Action” (LSA), with branches in Toronto and Vancouver and Dowson as national secretary.

Dowson was also editor of the LSA’s newspaper, which was first called Workers’ Vanguard and later Labour Challenge. The LSA grew during the student radicalization of the late 1960s. He helped shape the movement in Canada against the Vietnam War, devising the slogan “End Canada’s Complicity in the War in Vietnam”.

In 1963, Dowson played a role in the reunification of the Fourth International when he went to Europe with Joseph Hansen to help negotiate a settlement between the American and Canadian groups on one side and the International Secretariat of the Fourth International led by Ernest Mandel following the ouster of Michel Pablo earlier in the decade.

In 1964, the LSA developed a Quebec wing, the Ligue Socialiste Ouvriere (Workers’ Socialist League).

In the late 1960s, Canadian Marxist academics, under the influence of the then-predominant dependency theory, tended to view Canada as an economic colony of the United States. Dowson was influenced by this analysis, which inspired the Waffle movement in the NDP.  Dowson moved towards a position that viewed Canadian nationalism as progressive against American imperialism, a position that put him in the minority in the LSA.

Dowson’s tendency was defeated at the LSA’s 1973 convention and, in early 1974, he and about 20 supporters left the LSA and the United Secretariat of the Fourth International to form the Socialist League. This group came to be known as the “Forward Group” after the name of its newspaper.  By 1989, it had been reduced to a small group of friends around Dowson when he suffered a devastating stroke that left him unable to speak or write for the rest of his life.

Nonetheless, Cannon’s concept of the revolutionary party, as transmitted by Dowson, was rooted in the LSA/LSO.  Application of the concept took a detour when the LSA fused with the RMG and GMR which created the RWL in 1977.  But it took flight again with the formation of Socialist Action/Ligue pour l’Action socialiste in 1994.

Bruce and I have touched on a number of elements of Cannonism already.  Cannon summarizes his concept of the party in a booklet published in 1966 called “The Vanguard Party.”

“The vanguard party, guided by the methods of scientific socialism and totally dedicated to the welfare of the toiling masses and all victims of oppression, must always be in principled opposition to the guardians and institutions of class society. These traits can immunize it against the infections, and armour it against the pressures, of alien class influences. But the Leninist party must be, above all, a combat party intent on organizing the masses for effective action leading to the taking of power.

That overriding aim determines the character of the party and priority of its tasks. It cannot be a talking shop for aimless and endless debate. The purpose of its deliberations, discussions, and internal disputes is to arrive at decisions for action and systematic work. Neither can it be an infirmary for the care and cure of sick souls, nor itself a model of the future socialist society. It is a band of revolutionary fighters, ready, willing, and able to meet and defeat all enemies of the people and assist the masses in clearing the way to the new world.

Much of the New Left, imbued with an anarchistic or existentialist spirit, denigrate or dismiss professional leadership in a revolutionary movement. So do some disillusioned workers and ex-radicals, who have come to equate conscientious dedication to full-time leadership with bureaucratic domination and privilege. They fail to understand the interrelations between the masses, the revolutionary class, the party, and its leadership. Just as the revolutionary class leads the nation forward, so the vanguard party leads the class. However, the role of leadership does not stop there. The party itself needs leadership. It is impossible for a revolutionary party to provide correct leadership without the right sort of leaders. This leadership performs the same functions within the vanguard party as that party does for the working class.

Its cadres remain the backbone of the party, in periods of contraction as well as expansion. The vitality of such a party is certified by the capacity to extend and replenish its cadres and reproduce qualified leaders from one generation to another.

The vanguard party cannot be proclaimed by sectarian fiat or be created overnight. Its leadership and membership are selected and sifted out by tests and trials in the mass movement, and in the internal controversies and sharp conflicts over the critical policy questions raised at every turn in the class struggle. It is not possible to step over, and even less possible to leap over, the preliminary stage in which the basic cadres of the party organize and reorganize themselves in preparation for, and in connection with, the larger job of organizing and winning over broad sections of the masses.”

That compact and rather elegantly phrased summary bears close examination.  I want to show how it has reverberated in our own experience of building Socialist Action in the Canadian state.

1.  First of all, it says that our party is “in principled opposition to the institutions of class society.”  So, for example, we don’t trust the state or the corporations, not even ‘fine’ public corporations like Toronto Hydro and the CBC.  We don’t try to reform the police; we want to disarm them.  We don’t think socialism will come about through the capitalist state, but only by its replacement by a workers’ state based on work place and community councils.

2.  Ours is a combat party, training militants for the seizure of power.  It is not a “talking shop for aimless and endless debate.”  We are action-oriented.  Like most working people, we want to see results – results we scrutinize closely to learn lessons for future action. Socialist Action is a party of bold and exciting ideas, but it is not a book club.  I remember a young professional who joined us recently who said he found the atmosphere in SA intellectually stimulating.  Well and good.  But SA is not a literary society.  We aim to put our ideas into practice.  We expect active engagement on the part of members to do just that.

3.  Ours is a working class party.  Our orientation is summed up in the slogan: “Workers make the country run.  Workers should run the country.”  Even as a tiny minority, we are constantly seeking ways to influence masses of workers.  That is the road to political power.  It is why we work diligently in the unions and the NDP, without any illusions in reformism, just as our predecessors engaged in the workers’ organizations of yesteryear.

4.  Only a party of professional revolutionaries is capable of leading the masses to take power away from the most centralized, the most intrusive, and the most violent ruling class and state in the history of humanity.  Just as Cannon decried “the New Left, imbued with an anarchistic or existentialist spirit” in his day, we encounter radicals today who elevate their individualism, who put their personal preferences ahead of the needs of the party.  As any union member will tell you, a strike requires sacrifice.  In a revolution, sacrifice can be a matter of life or death.  In every day life, most sacrifices are pretty small.  Here is an example.  Selling the revolutionary press is not every comrade’s cup of tea.  The point, however, is this:  if you cannot shoulder the task of distributing leaflets or selling socialist newspapers or buttons to workers at a public event, how are you going to summon the courage to speak the revolutionary truth to a hostile meeting, or defend a demonstration against violent cops or fascists?  Life is about learning to overcome adversity, and revolutionary politics is certainly no exception to that rule.

5.  The revolutionary party is not a hospital.  Capitalism is an alienating and de-humanizing social system.  It is not surprising that socialism attracts many victims and misfits of a hellish society.

The socialist movement provides comfort, purpose and solidarity for the oppressed.  But it cannot professionally treat the physical and mental ills of the outcast.  It cannot substitute for the medicines and caregivers that we demand for all who are in need.  Our job is to fight for social funding and workers’ control of the economy, not to open clinics, host drop-in centres or staff food banks.

6.  The revolutionary party is not a model of the future socialist society.  Karl Marx, whose 200th birthday we celebrated last week, addressed this issue in the Communist Manifesto of 1848.  I refer you to the section titled “Critical-Utopian Socialism and Communism.”  Marx and Engels write that the Utopians “want to improve the condition of every member of society, even that of the most favoured. Hence, they habitually appeal to society at large, without the distinction of class; nay, by preference, to the ruling class.  For how can people when once they understand their (Utopian) system, fail to see in it the best possible plan of the best possible state of society?  Hence, they reject all political, and especially all revolutionary action; they wish to attain their ends by peaceful means, necessarily doomed to failure, and by the force of example, to pave the way for the new social gospel.”  Instead of an isolated model community, or a blueprint for change, we advance a program of demands the struggle for which will give shape to the future society in unpredictable ways.

7.  The revolutionary party is not a charity.  The Manifesto speaks to this issue in the section titled “Conservative or Bourgeois Socialism.”  In exchange for a few crumbs of charity the socialistic bourgeoisie “wants that the proletariat should remain within the bounds of the existing society but should cast away all its hateful ideas concerning the bourgeoisie.”  Does this remind you of the Basic Income plan?

8.  Our party is not a publishing house dedicated to the advancement of the careers of budding petty bourgeois journalists.  An article written for our press instantly becomes a tool of our party.  It is subject to whatever changes the editorial board deems necessary.  The only choice the original writer has is whether to put her/his name to it, if there is to be a by-line at all.  I mention this petty issue because we had an experience with a young writer who wanted to have the final say on what was published, right down to matters of spelling, syntax and footnotes.  We said “No way, Jose.”  SA is not your publicist or your platform.  The writer is an agent of the party, not the other way around.  So, he quit, which was better sooner, because later it might have hurt our party over a more serious issue of political confidence.

9.  The revolutionary party is not a mutual admiration society.  Fortunately, comrades in our party do like one another quite a lot.  But the basis of our party is its programme and strategy.  It is not a social clique or a fan club which can be blown apart by the mere addition or subtraction of certain personalities.  It is well known that the capitalist state interferes in radical parties, trying to play on personality differences in order to wreak havoc.  We aim to make it as difficult as possible for the cops and the courts by sticking to our policies and principles, not personalities.

10.              The selection of leaders of the revolutionary party is a process that reflects the function of the party.  The leaders must enjoy the political confidence of the party ranks — and they will — if they display the level of political depth, astuteness and dedication expected by serious workers.  Beyond high school elections, political leadership is not a personality contest – thank goodness, or some of us wouldn’t get to the rank of corporal, myself included.

Finally, what is Cannon’s concept of party discipline?  Democratic Centralism distinguishes Marxists from reformists and parliamentary careerists.  But should the emphasis be on democracy or on centralism?  Cannon answered this question in correspondence that was published under the title “Don’t Strangle the Party.”  Here is the back story.

Arne Swabeck, an SWP founder and National Committee member, had been trying for seven years to convert the SWP from Trotskyism to Maoism. Despite repeated efforts before and during SWP national conventions in 1959, 1961, 1963, and 1965, his small group made little headway among the members. Increasingly he and his group began to ignore the normal channels for discussion in the party, and to communicate their ideas to selected members by mail. This led to demands by Larry Trainor, an NC member in Boston, for disciplinary action against Swabeck and his ally in the NC, Richard Fraser. Through a circular letter for the Political Committee, Tom Kerry announced that the matter would be taken up at a plenum of the NC to be held at the end of February.

Cannon’s letter was addressed to the supporters of the NC majority tendency. Cannon tried to convince the majority that political discussion and education were the answer to the minority tendencies, not disciplinary action. “There is absolutely no party law or precedent for such action,” he said, “and we will run into all kinds of trouble in the party ranks, and the International, if we try this kind of experiment for the first time…. It would be too bad if the SWP suddenly decided to get tougher than the Communist Party [of the 1920s] and try to enforce a nonexistent law — which can’t be enforced without creating all kinds of discontent and disruption.”

This was written five months after the adoption of the 1965 Organization resolution. It demonstrates that Cannon saw nothing in that resolution that could be cited as “party law or precedent” for the kind of disciplinary action taken by the Jack Barnes SWP leadership in the 1980s.

The February 1966 meeting of the NC found Cannon’s arguments convincing. They did not want to conduct the experiment of trying to enforce “a nonexistent law.” So, the whole question was dropped – until after Cannon’s death.

Sadly, in the 1980s, the American SWP did degenerate, as did its counterpart in Canada.  That is a subject for another talk.  But the fact is that Socialist Action is alive and well, in both countries, doing excellent political work.  We have James P. Cannon and Ross Dowson to thank for that.  And hopefully, we have you who are gathered here today to help us build the revolutionary workers’ party that will play a leading role in the self-emancipation of the working class.

Think of what a joy it will be to put an end, once and for all, to a system based on exploitation and oppression that threatens the very survival of nature and humanity.  Cannon’s conception of the revolutionary party is absolutely critical to our future victory.

Toronto van attack, toxic masculinity, and the Canadian forces

By Yves Engler

Progressive on-line commentary about the April 23 van attack in Toronto has focused on the influence of “toxic masculinity.” The analyses should be expanded to include the alleged perpetrator’s ties to a powerful patriarchal institution that is Canada’s biggest purveyor of violence.

Early reports suggest alleged mass murderer Alek Minassian may have targeted women and been motivated by sexism. Before carrying out his horrific attack he posted on Facebook about the “Incel Rebellion,” a community of “involuntarily celibate” men who hate women and praised misogynistic U.S. mass murderer Elliot Rodger.

Minassian reportedly wrote: “Private (Recruit) Minassian Infantry 00010, wishing to speak to Sgt 4chan please. C23249161. The Incel Rebellion has already begun! We will overthrow all the Chads and Stacys! All hail the Supreme Gentleman Elliot Rodger!”

It should surprise no one that alongside his call for an “Incel Rebellion” the misogynist Minassian cited his (short) military service. Last fall he joined the Canadian Forces (CF), which has 100,000 active members and 300,000 retired members. A 2015 investigation led by former Supreme Court Justice Marie Deschamps found a “culture of misogyny” in the CF “hostile to women and LGTBQ members.” While women now represent 15 per cent of military personnel, the Deschamps report concluded that “the overall perception is that a ‘boy’s club’ culture still prevails in the armed forces.”

Until 1979 women were excluded from the Royal Military College. Until 1989 women were excluded from combat roles in the CF. In 2000 the submarine service finally opened to women.

A 1992 Department of National Defence survey found that 26.2 per cent of female CF respondents were sexually harassed in the previous 12 months. Subsequent investigations have shown steady improvements, but 27.3 per cent of women in 2016 still reported having been victims of sexual assault at least once since joining the CF. The Deschamps review found that there is an undeniable problem of sexual harassment and sexual assault in the [Canadian Armed Forces].” In 2017 plaintiffs in five separate cities united to sue over sexual assault, harassment and gender-based discrimination in the CF.

When Nichola Goddard became the first female CF member to die in Afghanistan it came to light that she wrote her husband about sexual violence on the base. Goddard wrote about “the tension of living in a fortress where men outnumbered women 10 to one” and “there were six rapes in the camp last week, so we have to work out an escort at night.” But, the CF only admits to investigating five reports of sexual harassment or assault in Afghanistan between 2004 and 2010. Valerie Fortney, author of “Sunray: The Death and Life of Captain Nichola Goddard,“ said she “hit a brick wall” when seeking to investigate sexual harassment in Afghanistan.

Male veterans have repeatedly engaged in gender-based violence. Last year Lionel Desmond killed his wife, daughter, mother and himself while Robert Giblin stabbed andthrew his pregnant wife off a building before killing himself in 2015.

After the worst incident of patriarchal violence in Canadian history, members of the elite Airborne Regiment reportedly held a celebratory dinner to honour Marc Lepine. In 1989 Lepine massacred 14 women at the Université de Montréal while shouting, “you’re all a bunch of feminists, and I hate feminists!”

Not only is the CF a patriarchal social force, it is the country’s greatest purveyor of violence. The Canadian military spends hundreds of millions of dollars a year promoting militarism and during the past quarter century it has fought wars of aggression in Libya, Afghanistan, Yugoslavia, and Iraq (not to mention helping to overthrow an elected government in Haiti and engaging in gunboat diplomacy in a number of locations).

To a large extent the CF is the institutional embodiment of toxic masculinity, and therefore it’s not surprising that Minassian was drawn to it. His connection to an organization that receives over $20 billion a year in public funds while upholding patriarchy and promoting violence ought to be part of the discussion of this horrible act.

The Winnipeg General strike in the Context of the Bolshevik Revolution

The Winnipeg General Strike began on the 15th of May 1919 and ended on the 25th of June. During that time, the strike  Committee, set up by the unions, ran the city. It was the first worker run city in Canada, brief though it was. For 42 days, 6 weeks, the workers ran the City of Winnipeg and the bosses and politicians could do nothing about it.

A year and a half earlier on Nov 7 1917, under the leadership of the Bolsheviks led primarily by Lenin And  Trotsky, the workers had seized power in Petrograd establishing the very first workers state in history These two events were closely related

Both of  these events rose out of the massive imperialist convulsion pf blood and gore and disease and destruction known as World War I. The 4 long years of mud and blood and artillery fire and machine guns and rain and cold had been a hell none of the soldiers could have imagined.

Repeated, uncaring orders from aristocratic officers on both sides for hundreds of thousands of soldiers to go over the top into the teeth of merciless machine gun fire had resulted in slaughter and mountains of corpses with the maggots and rats they inevitably draw.

When these workers in uniform recoiled and refused to continue such insane and suicidal behaviour they were summarily court marshalled and shot dead.

This was brutal imperialist competition in its most basic and bloody form.

Working class Canadians had signed up en mass in a wave of enthusiasm for the flag waving, the parades, the chance to go overseas and do something exciting and heroic. Their drab lives in the forests, mines, factories and grain fields did little to hold them back.

Their introduction to the reality of modern war came quickly and roughly. These young Canadians adapted to it, and became among the toughest soldiers on the allied side. German officers would watch where Canadian troops were sent and send in reinforcements. Partly this was because of the grit shown by these kids from the Canadian wilderness and partly it was the greater willingness of British officers to send in the colonials to try to reduce the long casualty lists of dead and wounded being sent home to Britain.

But at least this was the war to end all wars, the war to make the world safe for democracy. Or at least that was what the ruling class said it was.

At the end of it all, demobilization was slow. Canadian troops were left in camps in England in mud and rain, often without pay and even short of food. No longer the naïve patriotic kids who volunteered, Canadian soldiers rioted repeatedly. There was talk of using Canadian troops to fight to red army in the Soviet Union. The mood among the men was against this. They were sick of war and wanted to go home. Many of them felt a strong sympathy with the new workers government in Russia.

A contingent was sent from Canada to Vladivostok on the east coast of the Soviet Union. They were sent through Victoria. During a march through the city to the ships, they mutinied. The mutiny was quelled and they sailed with the mutineers in irons. They got to Vladivostok, but never fired at shot at the Red Army. The Red Army won against the Aristocratic Russian generals and their foreign allied imperialist troops.

How had such a thing happened? Why were the workers ruling Russia? Such a thing had never happened before.

The overthrow of the Tsarist regime and then the Kerensky government was precipitated by the horror of the war. Bolsheviks, who had opposed the war from the outset, entered the army to be with the worker and peasant soldiers, share their fate and agitate against the war.

As the death toll skyrocketed and arrogant aristocratic officers treated the soldiers as valueless pawns the soldiers began to rebel. The bolsheviks were informing them of the uprisings in Petrograd and elsewhere. The soldiers began simply to shoot their officers and head back home. At home they overwhelmingly supported the workers and the revolution.

This was the revolution the imperialists including Canada’s ruling class feared and loathed. They saw bolshevism in every workers action, every workers meeting and every whisper of unionism.

Canadian workers, after the profound and sobering experience of the war were far less naïve as the war ground to an end. Their leaders knew about the revolution and many supported it. There was no communist party in Canada in 1919. It would be formed in a barn in Guelph Ontario in 1921. But there were class conscious leaders, socialists, anarchists and syndicalists, many of whom would later become members of the early Communist party. Labour conferences in Canada in this period overwhelmingly expressed solidarity with the new Soviet Union and passed resolutions demanding that The Canadian soldiers in Vladivostok be brought home.

Immediate Causes of the Strike

Soldiers returned home desiring jobs and a normal lifestyle again only to find factories shutting down, soaring unemployment rates, increasing bankruptcies and immigrants taking over the veterans’ former job. The cost of living was raised due to the inflation caused by World War I, making it hard for families to live above poverty.

Another component which caused the strike was the working conditions of many factories that upset the employees, thus pushing them to make the changes that would benefit them.

After three months of unproductive negotiations between the employers of the Winnipeg builders exchange and the union, worker frustration grew. The city council’s new proposal to the workers was unsatisfactory to the four departments, electrical workers took action and a strike was established. Waterworks and fire department employees joined a few days later.

Strikers were labelled as Bolsheviks who were attempting to undermine Canada. The city council viewed the strike as utterly unacceptable and thus dismissed the striking workers. This did not discourage the workers; instead, other civic unions joined the strike out of sympathy, which was an important feature of twentieth century social history.

On May 13, City Council gathered again to review and look over the proposed agreement issued by the strikers and their leaders. Once again, City Council did not accept the proposal without their own amendments, specifically the Fowler Amendment, which read that “all persons employed by the City should express their willingness to execute an agreement, undertaking that they will not either collectively or individually at any time go on strike but will resort to arbitration as a means of settlement of all grievances and differences which may not be capable of amicable settlement.”

This amendment incensed the civic employees further, and by Friday, May 24, an estimated total of 6,800 strikers from thirteen trades had joined the strike.

Organization

In Winnipeg, workers within the building and metal industries attempted to strengthen their bargaining ability by creating umbrella unions, the Building Trade Council and Metal Trade Council respectively, to encompass all metal and building unions. Although employers were willing to negotiate with each union separately, they refused to bargain with the Building and Metal Trade Councils, because the solidarity of the unions greatly strengthened the workers bargaining position

Restrictive labour policy in the 1900s meant that a union could be recognized voluntarily by employers, or through strike action, but in no other way. Workers from both industrial groupings therefore struck to gain union recognition and to compel recognition of their collective bargaining rights.

The Building and Metal Trade Councils appealed to the Trades and Labour Union, the central union body representing the interests of many of Winnipeg’s workers, for support in their endeavours. The Trades and Labour Union, in a spirit of solidarity, voted overwhelmingly in favour of a sympathetic strike in support of the Building and Metal Trade Councils.

Ernest Robinson, secretary of the Winnipeg Trade and Labour Union, issued a statement that “every organization but one has voted in favour of the general strike” and that “all public utilities will be tied-up in order to enforce the principle of collective bargaining”.By suspending all public utilities, the strikers hoped to shut down the city, effectively forcing the strikers’ demands to be met. The complete suspension of public utilities, however, would prove impossible. The Winnipeg police, for example, had voted in favour of striking but remained on duty at the request of the strike committee to prevent the city from being placed under martial law. Other exceptions would follow.

At 11:00 a.m. on Thursday May 15, 1919, virtually the entire working population of Winnipeg had gone on strike. About half of these workers were not even union members. Somewhere around 30,000 workers in the public and private sectors walked off their jobs. Even essential public employees such as firefighters went on strike, but returned midway through the strike with the approval of the Strike Committee.

Although relations with the police and City Council were tense, the strike was non-violent in its beginning stages until the confrontation on Bloody Saturday.

Sympathetic Strikes

General strikes broke out in other cities, in solidarity with the Winnipeg strikers and in part as protest against local conditions. Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver, Amherst (Nova Scotia) and several other cities were locations of these sympathy strikes. Thirteen sympathy strikes in 13 cities have been recorded, some nearly as big as the Winnipeg strike

When Winnipeg strike leaders were arrested in June, Toronto streetcar drivers went on strike.

Victoria, BC held a general strike in protest at the police repression on Bloody Saturday and to show local labour strength.

Opposition

The local newspapers, the Winnipeg Free Press and Winnipeg Tribune, had lost the majority of their employees due to the strike and took a decidedly anti-strike stance. The New York Times front page proclaimed “Bolshevism Invades Canada.” The Winnipeg Free Press called the strikers “bohunks,” “aliens,” and “anarchists” and ran cartoons depicting radicals throwing bombs.

These anti-strike views greatly influenced the opinions of Winnipeg residents. However, the majority of the strikers were not revolutionary. The winnipeg strike and the huge symparht strike could not have ended up in a workers Canada. There was no centralized leadership like the bolsheviks in Russia which could tackle the problem f state power.

When certain unions refused to comply with various boss and City Council demands their members were dismissed and replaced without any second chances. In regards to this, the Federal government opposed the dismissal of the Winnipeg police force and afterwards refused to step in when the police force was dismissed by the city thus creating the workforce called the “specials”.

Most opposed to the strike was the state including three levels of government: federal, provincial and municipal. The opposition could have been more efficient if they coordinated their policies and deals with each other rather than gradually working into the agreement and not being the total opposition that they were labelled in the first place.

At a local level, politicians showed sympathy for the strikers making them neither a monolith nor unalterably an enemy. The federal government’s only direct interest in the general strike other than calls from the local authorities was keeping the railroads and post office running.

A counter-strike committee, the “Citizens’ Committee of One Thousand”, was created by Winnipeg’s elite, among whom were A. J. Andrews, James Coyne, Isaac Pitblado, and Travers Sweatman, all four of whom would later co-prosecute the sedition cases

The Committee falsely declared the strike to be a violent, revolutionary conspiracy by a small group of foreigners also known as “alien scum”. On June 9, at the behest of the Committee, the City of Winnipeg Police Commission dismissed almost the entire city police force for refusing to sign a pledge promising to neither belong to a union nor participate in a sympathetic strike. The City replaced them with a large body of untrained but better paid special constables who sided with the employers.

Within hours, one of the special constables, a “hero”World War I veteran Frederick Coppins, charged his horse into a gathering of strikers and was dragged off his horse and severely pummelled.

As the situation spiralled out of control, the City of Winnipeg appealed for federal help and received extra reinforcements through the Royal Northwest Mounted Police. Despite these drastic measures, control of the streets was beyond the capacity of the city in the period between Tuesday June 9 and Bloody Saturday, June 21.

The Citizens’ Committee saw the strike as a breakdown of public authority and worried that the Strike Committee was attempting to overthrow the Canadian government.

The Citizens’ Committee met with federal Minister of Labour Gideon Decker Robertson and Minister of the Interior (and acting Minister of Justice) Arthur Meighen, warning them that the leaders of the general strike were revolutionists. Meighen issued a statement May 24 that he viewed the strike as “a cloak for something far deeper–an effort to ‘overturn’ the proper authority”. In response, he supplemented the army with local militia, the Royal Northwest Mounted Police and special constables. Legislation quickly passed to allow for the instant deportation of any foreign-born radicals who advocated revolution or belonged to any organization opposed to organized government.

Robertson ordered federal government employees back to work, threatening them with dismissal if they refused. The two ministers refused to meet the Central Strike Committee to consider its grievances.

Bloody Saturday

On June 10 the federal government ordered the arrest of eight strike leaders (including J. S. Woodsworth and Abraham Albert Heaps). On June 21, about 30,000 strikers assembled for a demonstration at Market Square, where Winnipeg Mayor Charles Frederick Gray read the Riot Act. Troubled by the growing number of protestors and fearing violence, Mayor Gray called in the Royal Northwest Mounted police, who rode in on horseback charging into the crowd of strikers, beating them with clubs and firing weapons. This violent action resulted in the death of two strikers Mike Sokowolski (shot in the heart) and Mike Schezerbanowicz (shot in the legs, later dying of gangrene infection), 35 to 45 people injured (police, telephone operators, firemen, utility workers and laborers) and numerous arrests.

Four Eastern European immigrants were rounded up at this time (two of them were deported, one voluntarily to the United States and the other to Eastern Europe). This day, which came to be known as “Bloody Saturday”, ended with Winnipeg virtually under military occupation. Interacting with other prisoners that consisted of editors and strikers, police shut down the striker’s paper called the Western Labour News and arrested the editors for commentating on the event.

At 11:00 a.m. on June 25, 1919, the Central Strike Committee officially called off the strike and the strikers returned to work.

Aftermath

Eight of the strike leaders arrested on June 18 were eventually brought to trial in what were called “state trials” of political crimes. Five were found guilty of the charges laid against them. Their jail sentences ranged from six months to two years.

Sam Blumenberg and M. Charitonoff were scheduled for deportation. Only Blumenberg was deported, having left for the United States. Charitonoff appealed to Parliament in Ottawa and was eventually released without deportation. The lack of criminal proceedings taken against them was taken as evidence that their arrests were part of a government ruse so as to continue the fiction that foreigners, not British born, were the “agitators” of the strike.

A jury acquitted strike leader Fred Dixon.

The government dropped charges of seditious libel against J. S. Woodsworth, whose “crime” was quoting in the strike bulletin from the Bible. Woodsworth was elected MP in the next federal election as a Labour MP and went on to found and lead the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, a forerunner of the New Democratic Party.

A Settlement

Fearing that the strike would spread to other cities, the Federal Government ordered Senator Gideon Decker Robertson to mediate the dispute. After hearing both sides, Robertson settled in favour of the strikers and encouraged Council to accept the civic employee’s proposal. Bolstered by their success, the labour unions would use the strike weapon again and again to gain other labour and union reforms.

After the strike many employees had mixed emotions about the solution the mayor provided agreed to. The metal workers received a reduction from their working week of five hours but did not receive a pay increase. Many of workers lost their pension rights and a deeper division between the working class and the capitalist class persisted.

Civic employees were obligated to sign an oath promising not to partake in any sympathetic strikes in their future. Among the Bloody Saturday participants, many lost their jobs and others resumed their previous jobs but were placed at the bottom of the seniority level. This was in spite of the fact that the violence was caused by the specials and the RCMP.

The Royal Commission which investigated the strike concluded that the strike was not a criminal conspiracy by foreigners and suggested that “if Capital does not provide enough to assure Labour a contented existence … then the Government might find it necessary to step in and let the state do these things at the expense of Capital.”

Organized labour thereafter was hostile towards the Conservatives, particularly Meighen and Robertson, for their forceful role in putting down the strike. Combined with high tariffs in the federal budget passed in the same year (which farmers disliked), the state security forces’ heavy-handed action against the strikers contributed to the Conservatives’ heavy defeat in the 1921 election – they lost every one of their seats on the Prairies.

The succeeding Liberal government, fearing the growing support for hard left elements, pledged to enact the labour reforms proposed by the Commission. The strike leaders who had at least faced charges if not served time in prison (such as Woodsworth mentioned above) were applauded as labor’s champion and many were elected to serve in provincial and federal governments.

Role of women

The role of women during that time period played an influential part when dealing with the strike. As active citizens, various women were among the crowds joining the bystanders, sightseers and victims at major rallies and demonstrations. The division of women in the province included the strikers and women called “scabs” that were against the strike and tried every way to end it. Striking women would unplug the telephone operators and the scabs would plug them back in. It was especially hard for the women at home due to the low income and absence of goods and services to survive weekly as well as fully depending on their own salary.

By 1919, women constituted roughly one-quarter of that labour force, mainly working in the service, clerical and retail parts of the economy. Around 500 women workers walked off after the first call of the strike, followed by hundreds more days later. The Young Women’s Christian Association provided emergency accommodations to women who lived far away from their job. They accepted women strikers and non-strikers to get through the strike with ease. A major figure rose named Helen Armstrong, who was head of the local branch of the women’s labour league, accompanying husband George Armstrong, who was one of the strike leaders. Helen was responsible for the women’s kitchen maintained by the women’s league to feed the striking women. Male strikers were allowed to come to the kitchen to eat but had to provide a good reason as well as sometimes even paying for their meal.

Being arrested and put in jail, Helen made the media with names like “the wild women of the west” and “business manager for the women’s union”.

Among many other women who were sent to jail, Helen was granted a substantial bail of $1,000. When newspapers and articles commented on the strike and the women involved, the Winnipeg Tribune referred to many of the militant women as having accents thus labelling them as foreigners whenever something was published.

After the strike concluded many women came out for “ladies day” at Victoria park on June 12 and occupied seats of honour near the front cheering along with J. S. Woodsworth promoting emancipation of women and the equality of the sexes. This event was a catalyst for the equality of women and soon after leading to women being able to vote.

Lasting Lessons

What for us are the lasting lessons of the Winnipeg General strike.

First, it was based on strong solidarity among the unions and the willingness of leaders of various unions to subordinate their differences in the interests of solidarity and the needs of the workers as a whole. We could use a lot more of that today, witness the destructive withdrawal of Unifor from the Canadian Labour Congress which has nothing to do with worker needs and everything to do with the interests and bloated egos of the trade union bureaucrats.

Secondly, it demonstrated that the workers could set up a leadership, allocate and carry out responsibilities and ensure peace, security, distribution of food, operation of basic services and even opening of cinemas under authority of the strike committee. It was possible over 6 full weeks to run the city without the bosses and their crooked politicians.

Thirdly, although brutally suppressed, this massive and impressive action brought the bosses to concede, greater union rights, better pay, shorter hours in many cases and women’s suffrage shortly after.

Fourthly, it showed the possibility of Canada wide action by workers as demonstrated by the size and number of sympathy strikes from Halifax to Victoria.

Finally, it was a strike not only for wages and working condition but for rights. It was not merely economic but political in scope and contributed to the subsequent establishment of worker based parties such as the early communist party formed in 1921 in Ontario and in Calgary in 1932 the CCF.

The Farcical May Day March in Toronto

Around the world, millions demonstrated for workers’ rights and socialism in the main city squares.  It was the continuation of a proud revolutionary tradition that began 132 years ago.  But in Toronto, fewer than two hundred people met in a muddy field at the corner of Keele Street and Four Winds Drive.  After a much-delayed rally on the soggy grass, featuring excellent socialist hip-hop rapper Mohammad Ali Aumeer, and a good opening statement from the organizers, the gathering of far-left factions walked for an hour south to a desolate Downsview Park.  There the event ended in disarray.

Now is the time for some accountability on the part of ‘organizers’ of one of the most farcical gatherings for May 1 in the modern history of the day in Toronto.

At the terminus, there was no concluding statement from the organizers.  The saving grace was a circle dance led by Kurdish women, and a rendition of the Internationale led by Socialist Action.  SA hosted a lively contingent, walking and chanting at the front of the parade.  Other organizations on the left, ostensibly socialist, anarchist and left social democratic, were conspicuous by their absence.

The purported reason for holding this virtually hidden display of workers’ solidarity, far from the eyes and ears of working people concentrated in the busy downtown districts, was to bring the celebration closer to teaching assistants on strike at York University, to indigenous people and environmentalists fighting Line 9, and to the victims of Ottawa’s imperialist war policies.  These were good goals.  But, sadly and predictably, this plan failed on all fronts.  The demonstration did not approach the site of the strike.  It attracted almost no friendly onlookers en route, and obtained zero mass media coverage.

Apart from a dozen, stalwart, flag-waving members of CUPE Local 3903, there was no significant union participation visible, and no presence of indigenous people’s movements evident.

Instead of the 1,000+ folks who typically gather at Dundas Square or Toronto City Hall or Christie Park or Queen’s Park on the occasion, this effort of the so-called United May Day Committee was one of weakest displays of outreach, event planning and parade marshaling seen in decades.  Organizers did not inform SA, and others, of the meetings of the UMDC.  As a result, we are reduced to openly expressing our concerns post-facto.

Clearly, there are hard lessons to be drawn from this sad experience.  Just as importantly, activists in the unions, international solidarity campaigns, and on the left should strive to ensure that the May 1, 2019 march does not repeat the egregious errors of the rather pitiful one just held in 2018.

We can and must do better in the future.

Ligue pour L'Action Socialiste