Category Archives: Canada

No to Trudeau’s Mid-East military mission creep

by John Wilson

There seems to be no end to the corporate media’s barrage of propaganda in favour of the “war against ISIS”. It is accompanied by relentless attempts to rationalize western imperialist interventions in the Middle East and elsewhere. This presents a serious challenge to the antiwar movement. How to mobilize public opinion in a situation made to look so much more muddy than during the initial invasion of Iraq. That was clearly the violation of a country’s sovereignty, an invasion the vast majority in the Canadian state opposed.

People are horrified by the atrocities of ISIS and those of similar reactionary gangster operations. Popular revulsion is expertly manipulated by the warmongers. Still, the “war on ISIS” is a transparent fraud.

The US and its accomplices could quickly stop ISIS in its tracks simply by getting Saudi Arabia and other “allies” to stop funding and facilitating this monstrosity. ISIS derives massive funding and armaments from Saudi Arabia and other capitalist, right wing Arab dictatorships. The venal Erdogan regime in Turkey pretends to fight ISIS while allowing many would-be “jihadists” to pass through its territory to areas controlled by ISIS. Ankara’s main concern is its war against the Kurdish people, which is used domestically to repress freedom of expression, trade unions, student groups and the left. Social patriotism in Turkey is used to try to whip the majority into accepting the attack on what little ‘democracy’ is present there, in the name of fighting “terrorism”, in much the same way as it is employed in Canada.

The crimes of ISIS are outrageous, but minor compared to the loss of millions of lives due to the reckless “interventions” of the imperialist powers in support of their perceived geopolitical interests and resource greed. Who or what is the real “terrorist threat’? The question answers itself.

Despite all the “sunny ways” propaganda, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s refusal to stop the $15 billion military contract with the murderous Saudi regime may prove to be his Achille’s heel. Polls show majority opposition to the deal. And as public awareness grows, the same will be the case with regard to Trudeau’s decision to triple the number of Canadian troops on the ground in Iraq and Syria, and consideration now being given to renewed Canadian military intervention in Libya – a country wrecked in 2011 by NATO bombing under the command of a Canadian Forces general.

It’s time for the antiwar movement, unions and the labour-based New Democratic Party to step up efforts to educate and mobilize public opinion against the deceitful policies of the Liberal federal government. The halo of humanitarian aid provider and refugee host cultivated by Justin Trudeau should be exposed as cover for a devil’s pitchfork that’s pushing profitable arms sales, domestic repression and foreign military intervention. Self-determination for the peoples of the Middle East and Africa! Canada out of NATO!

For Feminism and Socialism!

On the 105th Anniversary of IWD

For Feminism and Socialism!

A women’s conference of the Socialist International in Copenhagen in 1910 launched International Women’s Day globally in 1911. Trotskyist parties, including the predecessor organization of Socialist Action / Ligue pour l’Action socialiste in the Canadian state, re-launched the modern IWD in Canada in 1978.

For good reason. Women’s oppression is rooted in the capitalist system. As with heterosexism, racism, environmental destruction and war, capitalism profits from discrimination, dispossession and wasteful plunder of natural resources.

We march for bread … and for roses too! We do so in the face of escalating attacks on basic human needs – a vicious austerity drive linked to the deepening global recession.

Establishment claims that women have ‘achieved equality’ are nothing but a sick joke.

  • On average, women are paid 18 per cent less than men – $8000/year less than males.
  • 27 per cent of employed women work fewer than 30 hours per week, more than double the 12 per cent of men who work part-time. 7 out of 10 part-time workers are female.
  • Low paid women increasingly hold more than one job to survive. 56 per cent of multiple job holders are women.
  • Aboriginal women and girls suffer shameful economic and social conditions. They are systemic victims of racism, inequality, physical assault, disappearance and murder.
  • Most women still bear the double burden of doing most of the domestic labour, in addition to work outside the home.

While trillions of dollars are wasted globally on corporate bail-outs and militarism, women and girls are denied adequate education, economic opportunities, clean water, health care, reproductive choice and personal security. From Palestine to Haiti, from Libya, Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan to Colombia, women and children are disproportionately the casualties of wars and military occupation in which Ottawa is directly involved or complicit.

To transform this horrendous situation our demands must be clear:

No money for war. Imperialist hands off Ukraine and Syria. End all subsidies to Capital. Tax big business and the rich. Fund health care, education and social services. Establish a cross-country universal, free, quality child care system. Enforce equal pay and equal access to employment. Restore and increase funding to women’s social justice organizations, emergency shelters and legal aid. Build quality social housing. Raise E.I. rates and provide real access for part-time workers. For an $18/hour minimum wage.

End precarious employment. For job security, a decent annual income and full benefits for all. Victory to Toronto municipal workers, members of CUPE Local 79.

Phase out the Alberta Tar Sands development. Conscript corporate profits to fund the conversion of industry, business, homes and schools to green energy.

For public ownership of the commanding heights of the economy under workers’ and community control. For a Workers’ Government. Fight for working class political independence and for socialist policies in the unions and the NDP.

Women’s Liberation through Socialist Revolution. No socialism without Women’s Liberation.

Party time?

A review of two political classics, by Barry Weisleder

Is it time to build an international revolutionary workers’ party? James P. Cannon consistently said yes. Isaac Deutscher, for most of his adult life, said no. Both were highly esteemed Marxists, selflessly dedicated to workers’ self-emancipation. But their difference on this crucial point amplified important political divergences. Some 45 years after their publication, here are two books still worthy of attention.

“The History of American Trotskyism” by James P. Cannon, (Pathfinder Press, New York, 1972, 268 pages), is not just a ‘what happened back-then’ book; it is a ‘how to do it now’ book. Cannon (1890-1974), former Wobblie organizer, Socialist Party left winger, and a preeminent founder of American communism, wrote the way he spoke – as a smart, sophisticated, yet down-to-earth, unpretentious, popular agitator for workers’ power. Twelve lectures to a Socialist Workers’ Party audience in 1942 constitute this informal history.

In it, Cannon recounts the rough and tumble early life of the faction-dominated Communist Party USA and its predecessors. CP members contended with internal ethnic language power blocs, state repression that drove the party underground, comrades who fetishized its illegal status, who took refuge in ultra-left sloganeering, and those who successfully united the party as it fought for legality and an orientation to mass political action.

The rise of the Joseph Stalin regime in the Soviet Union, and its bureaucratic mutilation of the strategy of the Communist International, led to a radical written critique by Leon Trotsky. His document accidentally fell into the hands of Cannon, and Canadian communist leader Maurice Spector. Once they publicized it, they and a handful of co-thinkers, defenders of workers’ democracy and permanent revolution, in opposition to Stalin’s revival of the reformist ‘stages’ concept of revolution, were summarily expelled. They faced severe social isolation, and physical intimidation.

Trotskyism, as a movement, formed to preserve a Marxist political course. It explained the zig-zags of CP policy, shifting from popular front reformism to ultra-leftism and back again, and it argued for consistent class struggle politics. In the face of vilification by a big CP apparatus, backed by thousands of members and several daily newspapers, the Trotskyists under Cannon knew their priority was to launch a press, The Militant, which they quickly did. But it took a year to find an affordable office, a ramshackle affair, and another year to obtain a simple mimeograph machine.

Up against CP slander and gangsterism (the Trotskyists had to defend their public meetings from physical attack by Stalinist thugs), the next task was to appeal to the CP ranks. The way to the working class is through its vanguard. Without a correct programme it would have been hopeless. In addition to a reliable policy guide, knowing what to do next was equally indispensable.

Still, the times were very tough. The onset of the Great Depression weighed heavily on the working class. The radical dissidents were not spared. Those were the ‘dog days’ of the Left Opposition, characterized by grinding poverty, a low level of class struggle, and agonizingly slow, one by one recruitment to the movement.

The right wing opportunist faction led by Jay Lovestone carried through the expulsion of Cannon and his co-thinkers from the CP. Then the Lovestone forces were themselves expelled, just as the Nikolai Bukharin-led group in Russia got the boot, when world Stalinism zigged to the left. Lacking a revolutionary programme, the Lovestone party disintegrated within a decade (most of its leaders joining the bandwagon of the next imperialist war), while Cannon’s Communist League of America grew and survived. The CLA opposed the “insane policy of building ‘Red Unions’”. It also resisted pressure from folks who had broken from, or been expelled by the CP, who wanted to abandon the world’s first workers’ state. Cannon argued that “we should continue to support the Soviet state, the Soviet Union, despite the fact that direction of it had fallen into the hands of a conservative, bureaucratic caste.” The Russian Question remained a corner stone for the left (much like the Cuban Question today); those who renounced it ended up in the embrace of imperialism before long.

As the CLA turned to mass work, it re-engaged with agitation. It plunged into active solidarity with struggles of Patterson silk workers and New York hotel workers, and it caught the huge strike wave of 1934. But exemplary team work, which earned the CLA a leading role in the Minneapolis general strike, required severing from its cadres one B.J. Field in Manhattan. He thought he was too big and important to work under the direction of his own party – and he ended up short-selling the hotel workers.

Gains achieved by the Trotskyists through the momentous union victory in the Twin Cities paved the way to fusion with the American Workers’ Party, led by former preacher A.J. Muste. The left-moving AWP played a leading role in the Auto-Lite strike in Toledo, Ohio. But it lacked international connections, and was less homogenous politically than the CLA. The AWP had a right wing that did not want to clash with the labour bureaucracy, and feared fusion with the Trotskyists (who were not adverse to a clash with anything that stood in the way of working class aspirations).

With firmness and clarity the Trotskyists prevailed. They soon faced another test. Newly radicalized workers flowed into the larger organizations — the old Socialist Party, as well as the CP. The Workers’ Party, led by Cannon and Muste, voted to link up with those radical workers in the SP – similar to what the section of the Fourth International did in France, hence called the “French Turn” — but it wasn’t easy. It required dissolving the public face of the WP. It also necessitated an internal battle against sectarianism, in this case a struggle against those who had difficulty distinguishing between tactics and strategy. Muste himself opposed the decision to enter the SP, “not on principled grounds, but on grounds of organizational fetishism, perhaps personal pride. Such sentiments are fatal in politics. Pride, anger, spite – any kind of subjectivity which influences a political course leads only to the defeat and destruction of those who give way to it”, said Cannon. The sectarians, led by Hugo Oehler, were defeated politically. When they violated party rules, they were expelled.

The Trotskyists belonged to the SP for barely a year, during which they formed a militant Left Wing and vigorously educated the ranks on the nature of fascism, the Spanish civil war, the Moscow trials, and the need for democracy in the party. Before they were gagged and expelled, they gained scores of worker activists, especially among maritime and auto workers, and won a majority of the Socialist youth organization.

Optimism and pride marked the launch of the Socialist Workers’ Party on New Year’s Day 1938. In the battle of ideas it was vindicated. More battles loomed. The biggest one centred on the Russian Question, the defence of the first workers’ state against imperialism, combined with opposition to the treacherous, despotic Stalinist ruling caste.

The History of American Trotskyism is full of faction fights waged out of necessity. That is what faces any serious revolutionary party.

Cannon put it this way, “It is hard fighting all the time, there is never any assurance of smooth sailing. How can that be expected? The whole weight of bourgeois society presses down upon a few hundred or a few thousand people…. The influence of bourgeois society finds an expression at times even in sections of a revolutionary workers’ party. Therein is the real source of serious factional fights.”

The same is true for the socialist movement on an international level. It is all about meeting the test of ‘what is to be done next’. The only alternative to the principled battle of ideas is submission to prevailing ideologies, capitulation to the powers that hold the world hostage, or to flail away at injustice as an individual, perhaps in a loose association with disparate others.

Isaac Deutscher (1907-1967) was a Jewish-Polish writer, journalist and political activist who moved to the United Kingdom at the outbreak of World War 2. Best known as a biographer of Leon Trotsky and Joseph Stalin, he was a commentator on Soviet affairs. His three-volume biography of Trotsky, in particular, was highly influential.

Around 1927, he joined the illegal Communist Party of Poland (KPP) and became the editor of the party’s underground press. In 1931, he toured the Soviet Union during the first Five Year Plan, and then returned to his underground work in Poland. Deutscher co-founded the first anti-Stalinist group in the Polish Communist Party, protesting the party line that Nazism and Social Democracy were twin evils. Like Trotsky, he urged the formation of a united front against Nazism. Deutscher was expelled from the party for “exaggerat[ing] the danger of Nazism and … spreading panic in the Communist ranks.”

In London in 1939 he taught himself English and wrote for The Economist and The Observer. After 1946 he left journalism to write books.

“Ironies of History – Essays on Contemporary Communism” (Ramparts Press, Berkeley, California, 1971, 278 pages) is a collection of articles from the 1950s and early 1960s, including speeches he made to American teach-ins on the war in Vietnam. The writings invariably demonstrate the elegant prose and erudition of Deutscher. Sensitive character studies, lively metaphors and sweeping analysis attracted a huge readership to his rigorous application of historical materialism. In the repressive, cold war atmosphere that then permeated academia, he upheld the scientific method against the ideologies of ‘the great man’ and the ‘greed is human nature’ theories of history.

Still, Isaac Deutscher embodied a big contradiction: he was a Leninist-Trotskyist without a party. Not only did he refrain from joining a revolutionary organization after 1939, he advised others against it, and declared as counterproductive the construction of the Fourth International, to which Trotsky devoted his life in exile. This contradiction, his separation from collective political practice and debate, disconnected from class struggle comrades in arms, cut Deutscher off from potential antidotes to errors that crept into his analysis.

While he explained scientifically the degeneration of the Russian Revolution, and defended the workers’ state from its capitalist enemies, he ascribed to Stalin’s bureaucratic heirs the capacity to radically reform the state and restore workers’ control. This conflicted with his own vivid and ongoing account of Nikita Khrushchev’s superficial ‘Revelations’, his betrayal of Algeria’s struggle for independence, his undermining of Cuban and Vietnamese freedom aspirations, and more.

“Has Khrushchev not sought to impose a standstill on revolution in the Middle East, in Africa, and in Latin America, backing Nasser, Kassem, and, of course, Nehru, and confounding the Communist Parties on the spot?”

In “Trotsky at his Nadir”, Deutscher castigates the co-leader of the Russian Revolution for “undoubtedly underrat(ing) the vitality of the new Soviet society, its inherent capacity for self-reform and regeneration, its inherent ability to overcome Stalinism eventually, and to go beyond Stalinism.”

Post-Gorbachev, present-day-Putin Russia delivered definitive judgement on that score. Generations of bureaucratic terror and mis-education depoliticized the Soviet working class. Clearly, that was decisive. But fostering political illusions in the bureaucracy certainly didn’t help anyone.

The State of Israel furnished another signal for retreat. As a convinced atheist of Jewish origin, Deutscher was a militant opponent of Zionism – until World War 2. The horrors of the Holocaust, for which the Palestinians and Arabs as a whole bore no responsibility, changed his mind. He later qualified his support for the Zionist state, which initially he saw as a refuge for desperate Jews. He longed for ‘cooperation’ between the occupiers and the occupied. But that is little more than a liberal sentiment marginalized by the demands of western elites for control of Middle East resources. Their Zionist attack dog, thinly disguised as a safe haven, is heavily subsidized by Wall Street to keep Arab anti-imperialism in check.

Despite contradictions, the essays in this collection are a treat aesthetically and politically. “Maoism – its Origins and Outlook”, “Twenty Years of Cold War: Vietnam in Perspective”, plus the piece titled “The Mensheviks” make it worth a search to find this book. In the latter article Deutscher shows what happened to the party that thought a socialist revolution in Russia was premature, and in any case opposed Lenin’s concept of a centralized party with an accountable leadership. The disparate elements of Menshevism aligned themselves with extremely regressive forces. Deutscher summarized the outcome as follows:

“Thus Menshevism has ended its long career, driven into two ideological impasses: in one we saw the conscience-stricken Dan humbling himself before Stalinism; in the other we heard Abramovitch praying fo the world’s salvation by the Pentagon (which he urged to use nuclear arms to destroy the ‘Bolshevik evil once and for all’ – BW). What an epilogue this is to the story of Martov’s party; and how Martov’s ghost must be weeping over it.”

What a searing indictment of reformism. Does that not underscore the objective need, indeed the moral imperative, to fight for a revolutionary alternative, no matter its popularity at any moment in time?
Though he is long gone, the debate with Deutscher over the building of a revolutionary International continues, so the issue should be addressed.

The Fourth International began, and continues today, as a relatively small political movement. Doubts within its leadership may cloud its policy. Self-described Trotskyist parties around the world, with a few exceptions (France, Argentina, Pakistan and Philippines come to mind) count their members in the dozens or hundreds, not thousands. But the power of revolutionary ideas and collective organization continue. They are what enable revolutionary Marxists to play a disproportionate, even a leading role in major class and social struggles. When Stalinist and social democratic forces refused, Trotskyist parties led massive unionization battles. They furnished material support for Algerian independence fighters, defended the Cuban revolution, mobilized millions against the U.S. imperialist war in Vietnam, won choice for women on abortion, and today resist military intervention aimed at Arab and Muslim peoples while contesting the capitalist austerity agenda that aims to dismantle a century of working class gains.

Without a party, each of us is but a grain of sand on the grand beach of life. But as Trotsky famously said, “The party is a lever, and with this lever we can move the world.”

Even a very small, but principled revolutionary party, can have a greater positive political impact on the world than any one person can, no matter how brilliant she or he may be.

No to Trudeau’s Mid-East military mission creep

by John Wilson

There seems to be no end to the corporate media’s barrage of propaganda in favour of the “war against ISIS”. It is accompanied by relentless attempts to rationalize western imperialist interventions in the Middle East and elsewhere. This presents a serious challenge to the antiwar movement. How to mobilize public opinion in a situation made to look so much more muddy than during the initial invasion of Iraq. That was clearly the violation of a country’s sovereignty, an invasion the vast majority in the Canadian state opposed.

People are horrified by the atrocities of ISIS and those of similar reactionary gangster operations. Popular revulsion is expertly manipulated by the warmongers. Still, the “war on ISIS” is a transparent fraud.

The US and its accomplices could quickly stop ISIS in its tracks simply by getting Saudi Arabia and other “allies” to stop funding and facilitating this monstrosity. ISIS derives massive funding and armaments from Saudi Arabia and other capitalist, right wing Arab dictatorships. The venal Erdogan regime in Turkey pretends to fight ISIS while allowing many would-be “jihadists” to pass through its territory to areas controlled by ISIS. Ankara’s main concern is its war against the Kurdish people, which is used domestically to repress freedom of expression, trade unions, student groups and the left. Social patriotism in Turkey is used to try to whip the majority into accepting the attack on what little ‘democracy’ is present there, in the name of fighting “terrorism”, in much the same way as it is employed in Canada.

The crimes of ISIS are outrageous, but minor compared to the loss of millions of lives due to the reckless “interventions” of the imperialist powers in support of their perceived geopolitical interests and resource greed. Who or what is the real “terrorist threat’? The question answers itself.

Despite all the “sunny ways” propaganda, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s refusal to stop the $15 billion military contract with the murderous Saudi regime may prove to be his Achille’s heel. Polls show majority opposition to the deal. And as public awareness grows, the same will be the case with regard to Trudeau’s decision to triple the number of Canadian troops on the ground in Iraq and Syria, and consideration now being given to renewed Canadian military intervention in Libya – a country wrecked in 2011 by NATO bombing under the command of a Canadian Forces general.

It’s time for the antiwar movement, unions and the labour-based New Democratic Party to step up efforts to educate and mobilize public opinion against the deceitful policies of the Liberal federal government. The halo of humanitarian aid provider and refugee host cultivated by Justin Trudeau should be exposed as cover for a devil’s pitchfork that’s pushing profitable arms sales, domestic repression and foreign military intervention. Self-determination for the peoples of the Middle East and Africa! Canada out of NATO!

Tom Mulcair’s Plea for Redemption

by Barry Weisleder

His February 10 open letter has an air of desperation about it. And a touch of remorse. But it is severely lacking in political transparency and the identification of damaged principles.
For New Democrats who consider electoral prospects paramount, it is enough to know that Tom Mulcair will not lead the party to victory in the next federal election to conclude that he must be replaced as Leader a.s.a.p.

But there are other, better reasons that lead inexorably to the same conclusion.

The first is the status of the much-vaunted Interim Report of the Campaign Review Working Group, chaired by party president Rebecca Blaikie. The document remains in the shadows. It is bad enough that the hand-picked Review group included no one to the left of the establishment. Worse is that its findings are not intended for release.

Why were they not attached to Mulcair’s February 10 plaintive written plea for redemption? How can the party ranks properly appreciate the “insights” of the review if it is not unveiled well before the April convention? According to Blaikie, the Report summary will go only to the incoming federal executive and council. So much for transparency and the promises from on-high to improve communication and decision making.

Core social democratic values? It might be good to make a list of these, if only just to see how close they come to meeting human needs. Sadly, the letter does not.

“We fell short.” That admission puts Mulcair in the global derby for understatement of the decade. Yet the “short”comings evidenced were not primarily due to what he cites as faults of “preparation and execution”. The campaign content was dead wrong, and the super-centralized enforcement of its pro-capitalist message was decisively fatal.

Lapses? Cautiousness? Were those really the problems that impeded the vision – or was it the vision itself?

In his public missive, Mulcair asserts that “our commitment to balancing the budget overshadowed our social democratic economic vision which saw new government revenues generated through higher taxes for corporations, closing CEO tax loopholes and a crackdown on tax havens.”

No, it was not a matter of overshadowing. It was a case of contradiction. Any attempt to balance the budget with such tiny moves on the revenue side was a prescription for soft austerity — not unlike what social democratic parties have offered or have implemented in Europe for years – and which is why many of them have been superseded by populist forces of the left and right.

And what about new pipelines? Is an NDP that condones, much less favours, the Energy East line compatible with a vision of a rapid shift to green, sustainable, public energy — the last hope of civilization now at the brink?

While socialism is increasingly the watchword in Britain, even in the USA, why does Mulcair try to re-warm the left-over soup of the 2015 campaign, regurgitating the vague “goal of a fairer, more progressive Canada”?

“Respect between the Party and Caucus, and specifically respectful dialogue, will make us stronger.” Now this looks like an opportunity for frankness. Exactly how was this respect lacking? Do tell us, Tom. And what about respect owed by the Leader for adopted policy, and for the right of members to seek to be nominated as a candidate without being censored, blocked or removed for such crimes as quoting Amnesty International on the plight of Palestinians in Gaza or the West Bank?

We’re told “The campaign lacked an over-arching narrative that could easily communicate our progressive proposals.” The truth is that a campaign theme was not lacking. It was clearly present and plainly reactionary. A balanced budget. No major new taxes. Incentives to big business, and a foreign policy to match. Mulcair’s brain trust offered the Trudeau Liberals a bar so low that it was easy for the latter to hurdle it, however disingenuously. Canadians wanted a sharp break with the hated Harper regime. Instead of a LEAP forward, the NDP brass offered a cautious, awkward stagger towards a hazy horizon.

Newly appointed officials in the Leader’s suite, however super-enthusiastic they may be, won’t make a dime’s worth of difference if they are cut from the same cloth as their predecessors.

What’s really needed is policy decided from the bottom up, with plenty of time for debate at convention, and enforced adherence to the policy priorities decided by the mass membership. Really required is a Workers’ Agenda, socialist policies and new leadership. A so-called “strong role for government” just won’t do, up against a violent, wasteful, and irrational system dominated by gargantuan greedy corporations and banks. The problem is capitalism, not mismanagement of the deck chairs on the Titanic.

The importance of the Leader should not be exaggerated to the detriment of other factors. Let’s keep in mind that big change almost always comes from the bottom up. But in order to open the doors and windows to a more democratic and socialist process, there is no choice now other than to vote for Leadership Review at Edmonton in April.