back to 1967 Correspondence index back to main page


(Transcribed from speech notes, August, 1968)                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                

The occasion of this talk is the recent publication of a book entitled "Soldiers of the International" by an associate professor of history at Royal Road Military College in Victoria BC, and the death of a man in New York on August 1st at the age of 70.

This man was a Canadian who has not participated in a direct sense in the Canadian political life for thirty years, who withdrew from the life which he made his most notable contribution, and abandoned his beliefs for which alone he is notable. A man who is unknown to the present generation, but whose role in the history of the Canadian revolutionary socialist movement is imperishable: Maurice Spector.

The dual aspect of this forum is quite logical: the book is a study of the Communist Party of Canada 1919 to 1929, and Spector is the leading actor in this drama. Insofar as the theme of the book is of importance, so too is our commemoration of Maurice Spector of importance.

Just a month ago the conventions of the League for Socialist Action/Ligue Socialiste Ouvrière and the Young Socialists/Ligue des Jeunes Socialistes were held. Where does this movement, the Canadian revolutionary socialist movement of today, come from? "Dowson's boys" - called Trotskyists, referring to the leader of the October Revolution, socialist theoretician, famous for the theory of permanent revolution, founder of the Fourth International. Who were it's leaders and what is it's record?

Some seek the new, but no particular attributes, particularly when you realize that there is an extensive history of struggle such as we are involved in, in Canada and across the globe. Our theory is commencing with Marx and the historic events which have tested all his ideas. Where do we come from - what are our roots? And where are we going? At best the NDP, as significant as it is, can only be a stage in the struggle of the Canadian workers. As for the CP today, there is no movement more discredited.

We are for a socialist revolution in this country. We are trying to build an instrument capable of leading it, the sooner the better. We are not the first in Canada to have this view. Pioneer communists held this view, including Spector; we're harking back to the pioneer.

Spector's struggle lasted from 1929 to 1936 - 7 years - to uphold Leninism, with "Mac" (Jack MacDonald), in the period of the Left Opposition and the Workers Party. Spector's important contribution not only opened the international struggle but laid the foundations of the League for Socialist Action. Spector, even in his abandonment of Bolshevism didn't join the renegades. He was threatened with deportation, and Canada refused him admission. He was threatened with deportation to the Soviet Union but the American Civil Liberties Union prevented it.

Spector attended the 6th World Congress of the Communist International as a delegate of the Communist Party of Canada. James P. Cannon of the (U.S.) Socialist Workers Party (was in attendance as well). He smuggled out Trotsky's "Criticism of the Draft Program," was expelled from the CPC and became the first of the Trotskyist cadres in Canada.

The CI (Communist International, or Comintern - ed.) subsequently rebuffed the Canadian leadership for it's "expression of support for Leon Trotsky." Spector continued as chairman, editor and chief reporter (for the CPC journal). He was the first Trotskyist in early 1928, soon making contact with Cannon, Abern and Schachtman (central leaders of the SWP).

The November 1933 Vanguard (reports:) "It is necessary to build a new party and a new International," as it's position as "Left Opposition" was abandoned. The June 15, 1934 Vanguard (published an article) "For the Fourth International."

Bossovitch, who was the Ukrainian leader and national organizer of the UFLT and founder of the CPC, was expelled by the end of 1931 or 1932.

Author Rodney perpetuates the myth of MacDonald's "Lovestoneism" - as espousing the concept of "American exceptionalism." Rodney sees the CI as the fatal connection for the young CPC. He judges the CPC doomed when it sought and secured Russian help. Rodney identifies Bolshevism with Stalinism.

1) but it was the Russian influence that revived hope after the debacle of 1914-1918 and the betrayal or inadequacy of all other influences. Cannon asks (referring to Draper's history of the USCP) - those who rejected the Russian influence - where did they go? What of the members of the SLP (De Leon's Socialist Labor Party), the SP of C (the Socialist Party of Canada, or the) CCF (Co-operative Commonwealth Federation) - where did they go?

2) it was the Russian influence that brought about the unity of various forces on the Left.

3) it was this influence that helped put out the first paper, The Communist under Spector's leadership

4) it was instrumental in overcoming those who wanted to remain underground (including Bakunin?)

5) the Russian influence established an open paper, Workers Guard (Scott's advice was not always accepted).

By 1925 William Moriarty, in the midst of the anti-Trotsky intrigue in the CPC asked the party for a directive. Spector openly confirmed his identity with Leon Trotsky, following which the party sent it's reproof to the Comintern (see page 95 of "Soldiers of the International").

"The cable, dated April 8, 1925, ran:
The Executive Committee is not convinced on the basis of evidence obtained, that the Comintern is actually menaced and confronted with a system constituting Trotskyism. Notwithstanding Trotsky's mistakes prior to 1917 and during the course of the revolution, we are unconvinced that the implications of the 'permanent revolution' theory attributed to him are actually entertained by Trotsky and that he contemplates revision of Leninism. We are of the opinion that the prestige of the Comintern has not been enhanced here by the bitterness of the anti-Trotsky attack. No request from leading elements or party membership for discussion in the Party press.' ''

This book is important, a big stride in providing much of the true picture of our origins. The fact that subsequently the CI deteriorated and imposed false policies, manipulated the Leadership, expelling Spector, and maneuvered to expel MacDonald, is only part of the picture. Of this revolutionary period we can say that the book "Soldiers of the International," subtitled "a History of the CPC 1919-1929" deals with the great pioneer period. It deals with a period practically unknown even by interested radicals, and what they know is almost totally false. It deals with the period when the CP was an honest party, with the days when it commanded respect of the best workers in Canada -- particularly the youth -- before it's credit, it's integrity, ran out.

How does this book stack up? Other histories - Tim Buck's "30 years, 1922-1952" is not a serious study, but an apologia by the man who more than any other person destroyed the CPC. This book (by Rodney) is the first serious study - scholarly, with interviews, unique sources; it tells the main story in an essentially accurate way, although - despite - the efforts of the author, who has no feel for the subject, no sympathy or understanding for the actors, and doesn't in any way share their ideals. He attributed the failure of the CP to its Marxist ideas.

It is like dead history, as if at 1929 with the Stalinization of the CPC, the struggle stopped, as if the characters in the drama ceased to exist. Rodney correctly sees the demise of he PC as a revolutionary force with the expulsion of MacDonald in November 1930, two years after Spector.

But contrary to his report (pages 167 and 170): "After his break with the CPC, MacDonald and Spector joined forces in attempting to form an opposition Communist Party more in keeping with their views. The enterprise failed for lack of support, and ended when Spector left to settle in New York in 1936. MacDonald, though he remained a dedicated Marxist, never again resumed political activity. He died in Toronto on November 28, 1941.''

The movement continued

The struggle to build the revolutionary socialist party didn't end - we are here, as big as life, working hard and growing. In fact, in 1929 we entered a new phase. Spector, the primary founder of the CP, inspired by the Russian Revolution, who read Leon Trotsky's dispatches in the Mail & Empire, and who at 19 years old attended a meeting of the SDP (Social Democratic Party) and ILP (Independent Labor Party), where he met Florence Custance and Marx Armstrong and with them organized the Plebs League (subsequently the Ontario Labor College), and in 1920 made contact with the United CP of America.

He came into conflict with the rival Workers Educational Club, under the leadership of Jack MacDonald. He was part of the ferment which saw the rapid development of the Ukrainian Social- Democratic Party, and the Canadian Finnish Organization. But it was the leadership of Custance, Bell, MacDonald, Buck, Buhay and Spector (whom the CI contacted), that lead to the foundation of the CP of Canada at a conference in Guelph on May 23, 1921.)

Remarkable was the youth of the Central Committee: Buck was 30 years old, Becky Buhay 26, Custance 40, MacDonald 33 and Spector 23. On February 17, 1922 the Workers Party was launched, with it's National Chairman MacDonald, Vice-Chairman Max Armstrong, Editor Kavanagh, with assistants Spector and Peel.

Spector's international outlook

Spector's international outlook was dominant, see pp 71-72: in 1923 " while news of an expected revolution in Germany caused some speculation within the Canadian communists' upper echelons, the majority of the CEC (executive committee) were too engrossed in their own problems to give the German situation much attention. Maurice Spector, editor of The Worker, alone became increasingly absorbed in the possibilities of revolution in Germany, and the prospect of a further extension of communist rule, this time in an advanced, industrialized country. When the German uprising in October failed, Spector, disappointed, went to Moscow in January 1924 for consultation with the Comintern. Spector summarized and analyzed for the CPC executive the underlying causes of the German communists' failure to spark a full-scale uprising. His report was a surprisingly accurate and succinct appraisal of the prevailing views and of the causes underlying the October fiasco. Spector anticipated the identical thesis put forward by Trotsky in his Introduction to "Lessons of October'' Unknowingly, Spector had become one of the Western Hemisphere's first Trotskyites.''

The fate of the Canadian section lay in the international arena - MacDonald didn't understand this. The Canadian problem couldn't be solved outside the international question. &&&(notes end)

©2004 ~ 2008 Forward Group Last updated: Friday, August 01, 2008
All Rights Reserved - Webmaster: