All posts by YK

No to Trump’s Trade War!

A joint statement by Socialist Action, Canada and Socialist Action, United States of America

The recent imposition of a 25% tariff on steel imports to the United States and a 10% tariff on aluminum from Canada, Mexico, and the European Union follow the earlier imposition of these tariffs on the rest of the world, and even earlier tariffs on solar panels and washing machines aimed at China and South Korea—all by the U.S. Donald Trump administration.

Trump has also threatened to place heavy tariffs on automobiles and parts imported from abroad, and on numerous industrial and technological products from China. He has also re-imposed economic sanctions on Iran and put new sanctions on Russia.

Understanding Trump’s intentions is no easy matter.  He seems motivated more by sheer bravado than rational thought. Trump’s rhetoric often appears to be aimed at playing to his base rather than reflecting any meaningful thoughts about the future. “Make America Great Again” and “America First” are the shibboleths that appeal to his populist supporters.

At the same time, these notions do speak to the interests of a section of the U.S. capitalist class that is falling behind in global capitalist competition. They are supported by a layer of trade-union leaders who hanker for a return of smokestack America with its millions of well-paid manufacturing jobs. These bureaucrats seek to tie the future of U.S. workers to the “success” of their “own” capitalist corporations and their twin parties, the Democrats and the Republicans, as opposed to furthering the independent organization of workers to challenge the root cause of the problem—the fundamental, for-profit-only operations of the capitalist system.

The United States no longer has the only powerful economy in the world. As global competition relentlessly heats up, and the rate of profit tends to fall, the methods of past times don’t work. For many years after World War II—years of American economic hegemony—free trade was the battering ram to force open foreign markets to cheaper U.S. goods. This was likewise the policy of the U.K. during the height of the British Empire, before World War I. In general, capitalist nations operating with the highest, or most advanced levels of technology tend to be “free-traders” while their weaker competitors are “protectionists.”

Trump’s repeated reference to “many jobs, good jobs” appears to mean the re-creation of jobs that have largely disappeared in the United States, such as coal mining, steel making, and auto manufacturing jobs. Most of these have been lost to automation in auto and steel plants. The U.S. makes about as much steel now as in 1960, but with 20% of the previous labor force. Car manufacturing automation is similar.

Underground coal mining is foul, lung-destroying work that hopefully will never return. But the jobs have disappeared only because they are less profitable in the U.S. and worldwide, and not out of any concern on the part of the coal magnates for the health of the miners. Unfortunately, the labor bureaucracy, tied to capitalism hand and foot, prefers to advocate for capitalism’s most polluting jobs rather than challenge the entire deadly energy system in a fight for a just transition that would guarantee all fossil-fuel workers new jobs at union wages in a 100 percent sustainable and nationalized energy system.

Working people have no interest in trade wars. We simply end up bearing the cost.

The United States produces just below 60% of the steel it uses, while importing the rest from 85 other countries. Canada provides 17% of the imports. Other sources of steel to the U.S. include Brazil 14%, South Korea 10%, Mexico 9%, Russia 8%, Germany 4%, and China 2%. If foreign steel and aluminum become much more expensive as a result of the tariffs, U.S. manufacturers who use such materials will no doubt respond in order to protect their profits. Their options include striving even harder to keep wages low, passing on the price rises to consumers, or even closing down U.S.-based manufacturing plants.

Of course, Canadian, Mexican, and European capitalists have all responded with tariffs on American goods. In this way, too, U.S. workers lose jobs. But workers in Canada, Mexico, and Europe will likely face similar problems—higher prices and the loss of more jobs than tariffs can possibly create.

Global capitalist competition is a completely unavoidable aspect of the system of private profit. As competition results in new innovation, and automation increases the rate of profit for the innovator temporarily, these gains are offset again by the rapid adoption of the new technology by competitors and the resulting fall of profit rates.

In their desperate struggle to fight the falling rate of profit, capitalists try to reduce costs by attacking trade unions and workers’ rights, by attacking pay and benefit levels, by attacking general social benefits such as education, medical, and pension benefits, by refusing to accept any responsibility for the massive environmental damage caused by cutthroat capitalist competition, and by transferring production to low-wage, unregulated areas both within and outside their own countries.

In decades past, the volatile world capitalist system sought to mitigate its inherent contradictions through organizations like the World Trade Organization (WTO). In this context, the leading representatives of the world’s most important corporations hammered out comprehensive agreements that sought to meet the needs of all the ever-competing capitalists. The stronger capitalists, like the ruling rich in the United States, always had the upper hand because the U.S. market was the largest in the world.

Nevertheless, each sector of capital understood that one or another competitor had an edge in specific commodities that were traded on the world market. Their objective was to balance their various needs with deals. A modicum of French wine was allowed into the United States, for example, while a certain amount of U.S. products was allowed into France under reciprocal conditions.

NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement) was in truth, despite its name, a mass of literally thousands of separate negotiated agreements between the ruling elite of Mexico, the U.S., and Canada. These include all kinds of protectionist measures for weaker U.S. corporations, and the same for those in Mexico and Canada.

In the face of intensified cutthroat competition between capitalist powers, the old rules of the game are incapable of resolving the growing contradictions of the system. Trump sounded the alarm for the wing of the U.S. capitalist class whose interests he thinks he represents. Ignoring the delicate or fragile balance that has been hitherto established by his predecessors, he proposes to upset the world capitalist system’s apple cart to advance the interests of his favored elites.

When Trump gifted $1.5 trillion in tax cuts to the entire ruling class, there were no complaints. But when Trump departed from measures that benefit the broad sectors of the ruling rich, he faced serious opposition internally, not to mention from the potentially wounded lesser capitalist nations. Hence Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, as well as France’s Emmanuel Macron and Germany’s Angela Merkel, cried foul and collectively threatened to retaliate.

The world’s working people have no interest in this potential world conflagration. In the end, when capitalists win, workers lose—a fundamental law of the capitalist system that has been verified many times. The common interest of workers lies in defending working people everywhere against all the onslaughts of capital. This means international solidarity on every front, from united worldwide efforts to organize workers into powerful unions, to united opposition to capitalist wars and capitalist destruction of the environment.

There is no such thing as peaceful and/or regulated competition among capitalist nations. No self-respecting capitalist is in business to be the world’s “nice guy.” There are only winners and losers in this deadly game of production for private profit. Donald Trump simply tore the mask off the brute face of a predatory system in decline. Justin Trudeau plays the same game as Trump on the world scene and makes sure that everyone knows that Canadian capitalism can bare its own claws in the profit game.

Reliance on any of these representatives of the world’s elite to advance the interests of working people is sheer folly. Breaking with their corporate parties in the political arena is the beginning of a serious challenge to capitalist prerogatives. But only the abolition of the capitalist system itself by the direct action of the vast majority of working people can ensure a permanent end to capitalism’s endless trade wars and its actual military wars that plague humanity.

www.socialistaction.ca   647-986-1917

It’s War

The June 7 election of the Doug Ford-led Progressive Conservative Party to government in Ontario means an escalation of the class war against working people, visible minorities and impoverished social layers.

The former right wing Toronto city councilor and brother of deceased Mayor Rob Ford cloaked his fiercely anti-labour agenda in populist rhetoric pitched against ‘the establishment, the downtown elites’.  This allowed Doug Ford to channel mass discontent with 15 years of Liberal government cutbacks and corruption.  Premier Kathleen Wynne tried to save the furniture from the fire with a late shift to the left (e.g. increasing the minimum hourly wage, promising more spending to improve health services).  But her Liberal Party lost half its voters and is now reduced to a rump of seven seats in the Ontario Legislature, one shy of official party status.

The labour-based New Democratic Party, running on a mildly left-reform platform, surged to 33.6 per cent and nearly doubled its seat total to 40.  Several of its best policies (re-nationalize Hydro One, free university, drug and dental care, raise taxes on the rich, build social housing and public transit) came straight from the NDP Socialist Caucus playbook.

Andrea Horwath was over-the-top ecstatic at becoming Leader of the Official Opposition, pledging to hold Ford “to account”.  But this won’t do.  The Tory agenda today is much more aggressive than that of right wing Premier Mike Harris in the mid-1990s.  The horror show must be confronted and stopped by mass protest in the streets and work places, not by reliance on polite parliamentary criticism.

NDP and union leaders should be challenged to lead the fight outside the Legislature. In fact, the labour tops should have mobilized the ranks to campaign for the NDP, to counter the threat of the rampant anti-worker agenda of Ford and his conservative hate mongers. A serious effort to expose Ford’s populist propaganda might well have won the election for the NDP. Instead many labour officials sat on their asses; some even urged ‘strategic’ voting, which meant a vote for the Liberal Party. Unforgivable. This shows why union leaders should be paid no more than the average wage of their union collective agreement. Privileges and fat expense accounts be gone! Replace the conservative bureaucrats with rank and file militants and turn the unions into instruments of class struggle.

Still, one thing is very clear:  Doug Ford’s victory does not signal a unilateral shift to the right. The election rather reflects a polarization to both the left and the right.  The highly disproportionate first-past-the-post electoral system perpetuates capitalist rule by usually delivering a majority of seats to parties that gain a minority of votes. On June 7 the Conservatives captured 61 per cent of the seats (76 in total) with only 40.5 per cent of the votes cast.  In other words, nearly 60 per cent of those who cast ballots supported parties ostensibly to the left of the Tories. That includes the Green Party which won 4.6 per cent and (for the first time in Ontario) one seat. Taking into account a voter turnout of 58 per cent (up from 51 per cent in 2014), it is evident that only about a quarter of the electorate backed Ford Nation.

But Ford says he has a mandate to implement his policies, swiftly.  What are they?  He will probably begin by breaking the strike of teaching assistants at York University, CUPE Local 3903, and then repeal Bill 148, the labour law reforms that include a $15/hour minimum wage set for 2019.  Next will be a tax cut of 20 per cent that will most benefit the rich.  His tax credit for child care costs will not create more spaces, raise or enforce standards, or boost pay for low wage workers.  No steps to build social housing, and no significant increase in health care funding are in store.  On transportation, Ford pledged to take ownership of Toronto’s subway system, which could be the fast track to privatization — while bus service remains woefully inadequate.

Jobs?  The $6 billion Ford says he will find in “efficiencies” translates to firing thousands of teachers, health workers and others in the public sector.  Scores of schools and hospitals will be shuttered.  Cuts in services will be staggering and bloody, impacting most harshly on the impoverished.  Welfare rates will be rolled back and frozen.  Will hydro bills shrink by 12 per cent as promised?  Not likely as the private investors in Hydro One, sold off by Wynne’s Liberals, demand profit dividends.  Most workers won’t miss the demise of the regressive cap-and-trade taxes, a license to pollute, but there is no climate justice plan in its stead.  Hostile to indigenous people’s needs, Ford boasted he’d personally drive the bulldozer to exploit rapidly the Ring of Fire resources in Northern Ontario, with or without local consent.

On education, the Tories promised to repeal the new sex-ed curriculum but earmarked no new funds to repair crumbling school infrastructure.

Surprisingly, Ford never presented a fully costed platform. Economists estimate that the changes he promised, including tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy, will create a $20 billion budget hole.  The shortfall is sure to come out of the hide of the working class.

Many workers who voted for Ford expect him to put money in their pocket and deliver $1 beer.  Imagine the disillusionment, indeed the raw anger, that will be felt when they realize they’re less well off.

As Karl Marx observed over 150 years ago, “The point is not to interpret the world, it is to change it.”  Today, the task is not to wait for unfocussed anger at Ford to swell; it is to fan the flames of discontent, build a broad, democratic, united front against capitalist austerity. It is to provide leadership in the struggle for a Workers’ Agenda.  The municipal elections in October offer an opportunity for the left to unite and confront the Ford agenda with a socialist platform. In any case, the road to effective action at all levels will entail replacing the leaders of the mainstream workers’ organizations with radical grassroots activists.

The class war is escalating.  There is no denying it.  The point is to wage it and to win it through mass protests, up to and including sectoral and general strikes with the aim of replacing the Ford regime with a Workers’ Government.

Public Forum: Eyewitness report—Election in Venezuela and its aftermath

Socialist Action presents a public forum

Eyewitness report: Election in Venezuela and its aftermath

Speaker: Nety Maroquin, Guatemalan socialist just returned from one month stay in Caracas.  Her presentation will be in Spanish, with translation into English, plus a screening of her short videos of every day life in the Bolivarian Republic.

Introduction by Maria Paez Victor, a founding member and spokesperson of the Louis Riel Bolivarian Circle, and the Chair of the Board of the Canadian, Latin American and Caribbean Policy Centre.

Wednesday, June 20

7 p.m.

at OISE U of Toronto, room 5-160

252 Bloor St. West,above the St. George Subway Station

Everyone is welcome.  Donation $4, or PWYC.

For more information, e-mail:  socialistactioncanada@gmail. com

Visit the SA web site at: www.socialistaction.ca

or call 647-986-1917  or  647-728-9143 .

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.