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The History of the Canadian Trotskyist Movement - Pre-1921 to 1939 - Conclusion of Part 1

(Made to the League for Socialist Action, Vancouver, BC)

As Stalinism spirals into crisis, enter the mass-based social-democratic CCF
Trotsky projects the concept of the "French Turn"
1971 The History of the Canadian Trotskyist Movement - World War 2 to 1971
Trotskyists in Canada driven underground by the War Measures Act
Wartime repression against the Left very severe in Canada
Canadian Trotskyists plan a public conference before end of the War
Labor Challenge is launched: "THERE IS NO PEACE"
The battle to consolidate the great Canadian industrial unions won after the War
The foundation of the Trotskyist RWP
The CCF grows into the first mass labor party in North America
Pablo's attempt to liquidate the forces of world Trotskyism
The wave of expulsions of Trotskyists from the CCF
The youth radicalization brings a breakthrough for Trotskyism

( Conclusion of Part 1)

(. . . ) {inaudible - ed.}
. . .Why didn't the movement grow, on this occasion, in this case and other cases; why didn't the movement grow? Well Trotsky explains very well the phenomenon of the tremendous defeat - a devastating defeat that the working class movement had never seen before (. . . ) Most important was the debacle when the biggest Communist Party in the world, the party that the entire Comintern - all the revolutionary workers looked to, as the party that was going to make the next breakthrough, a breakthrough which would lead the forces which would change the whole relationship of forces decisively - this party went down without a shot.

Trotsky said if this is what is happening; its true, my theory was proving correct; the theory of Bolshevism was sustained - sustained in a negative sense; was proved correct, but the big reality was the defeat that the working class movement suffered, and so what was the result? The destruction of the revolutionary cadre, in some cases physically, physically destroyed (see Victor Serge, "Memoirs of a Revolutionary 1901-1941," Oxford, 1963 - ed.) Workers learned the lessons, but died shortly after; they were removed from the political arena, unable to transfer the lessons of their own experiences forward - and the demoralization of an entire generation of workers.

And that was the main problem which confronted the building of the revolutionary forces in the period of the Thirties. Trotskyist ideology was crushed - and all you have to do is read these documents (. . . )(documenting) the problems of the working class in their respective countries. But the big phenomenon, the phenomenon which hit everybody in the jaw, was the defeat - the defeat which brought to the fore all the conservative tendencies in all the Communist Parties, the adaptationist tendencies, the Stalinized tendencies-(that trend) continued in ascendancy over the workers in this country. That's not to say there weren't any internal disputes in the Communist Party. After the Lenin dispute, the (. . . ) dispute, and that was primarily within the CP of the Soviet Union; there were disputes (in Canada) - for instance the McKeen struggle in B.C. McKeen was a provincial leader of the BC Communist Party, and he came to the conclusion that the CP was an opportunist party, no longer Marxist-Leninist, no longer for the class struggle; he certainly had the evidence, as a matter of fact if you have read his book - I assume you must have a copy in the library here - and if you don't we will have to send you ours (in Toronto) because it concerns British Columbia primarily - he led the struggle in the CP of Canada in British Columbia primarily, against opportunism. He was moving in the revolutionary socialist direction - he didn't make it, but he was moving in that direction. His criticism was primarily around the Liberal-Labor coalition policies of the Communist Party - perhaps you know the CP of Canada was even able to succeed in this (at the time); it hasn't been very successful in the last few years . . . but it succeeded in the 1945 Federal elections, when it arrived in a coalition with the Liberal Party. McKeen had all the evidence. They had thousands of dollars at their disposal that the Liberal Party gave them, to fill up their election chest. And the Communist Party ran in every riding in British Columbia where it could hope to defeat the CCF. This coalition was an instrument of the Liberal Party against the CCF.

Well I see I have about ten minutes. In order to understand the problem of building the Trotskyist movement, of carrying on the struggle that was launched in 1921, following the impact of Stalinization; the main phenomenon you have to observe are the difficulties of this process of building the revolutionary vanguard party, was the atmosphere of defeat that permeated the revolutionary socialists - there was defeat from all sides. The Communist Party made it difficult to make headway against the reformist program, it was a (inaudible) struggle against the current - there were a couple of upsurges, it wasn't all one grey color - but by and large it was a period of defeat for the revolutionary socialist movement, and therefore it was a period of difficult - extremely difficult, you hardly have an idea how difficult it was - for revolutionary socialists to function, to hold on.

I remember reading somewhere where someone asked: "What did you do in the War?" Someone (replied): "I survived." . . .A profound comment. What did the Trotskyists, the revolutionary socialists, do in the Thirties? Well, they survived. That was a great achievement, to survive. To get a picture of those days, I used to read about the History of American Trotskyism and the great difficulties they had - sometimes not enough funds, which was sometimes a problem for us. Cannon talks about how they had a rent-revolving system where if they didn't have enough money to pay for a headquarters, so some comrade would delay paying his rent; and he would give the money to the organizer, and then he would delay for a little while, and then another comrade would delay paying his rent to pay the first comrade's rent; so we survived by the revolving rent process. So we had a hard time financially, but we also had an extremely difficult time getting a hearing.

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As Stalinism spirals into crisis, enter the mass-based social-democratic CCF

(. . . ) Our comrades were beat up. Jack MacDonald was very seriously beat up, on a couple of occasions, by Communist Party hooligans... this was a common occurrence. (. . . ) At any rate, the movement survived. That was the main achievement of the movement - a very important achievement. I just want to close off this area of the report (with a review) of the problems that started to confront us with the development of the CCF (Co-operative Commonwealth Federation). This started to become a critical question for our movement at the time of it's foundation, which is when I happened to come into the movement, in 1936, when our movement was very much concerned with this phenomenon - which we had to face, and which the American party had not had - the challenge and the opportunity of the growth at this early stage, of a mass, agrarian, populist movement, and later, which developed into a labor party. Of all the sections of the Fourth International I would say the experience of the Canadian party has been the most profound and the most fruitful on the whole question of meeting such a challenge.

In 1936, the movement then was composed of a very small handful of comrades, of generally sophisticated workers, and intellectuals, many of them unemployed - the majority of them unemployed - perhaps one hundred in all, that's my recollection of that period; and at that time there was a big discussion on the CCF - of what we should do about it, and Trotsky's concept of the theory of such currents; which came out of his advice to the French comrades, who were faced with a somewhat similar phenomenon of a leftward-moving social-democratic party, in France; and Trotsky projected the need of our movement to make an entry into this movement. And this period could be dealt with from another aspect from what I dealt with - we could talk about the continued problem of building the revolutionary vanguard party. In the 20s, Lenin developed the theory of the United Front, and this was designed to overcome the failure of the Communist Party to settle accounts with social-democracy.

The Russian Revolution had a tremendous impact on the world working class, but the social-democracy remained an important factor despite the validity of the experience of the Communist Party and in the face of the appeal for the foundation launched by the Comintern (for the establishment of) communist parties throughout the world. The Communist Party was not able to solve this problem, of how to establish hegemony over the revolutionary working class. The Communist Party of Canada and the CPs of every other country almost was able to come to grips with this problem armed with the concept of the United Front. Now of course you could say the cadre failed, with the Stalinization that took place of the Communist Party, in implementing this theory, particularly in the "Third Period." (The sudden ultra-left turn of the Stalinists -ed.)

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Trotsky projects the concept of the "French Turn"

But Trotsky projected a new theory to overcome the problem, the problem of the isolation of the revolutionary vanguard, and that was the "French Turn," what we knew as entrism; and this became one of the great pivotal debates in our movement for the next period. This led to a split - the first experience of our movement on the discussion of the question of the CCF and how we can meet the challenge the CCF presents us; how can we establish our hegemony over radical workers - this dispute in our movement led to a split in our ranks, in '36.

At that time we were faced with the challenge of making an entry into the CCF. One force in the party, led by Jack MacDonald, favored an entry into the CCF. There was an equal force in number and influence in the party who opposed it; not from the point of view that it was wrong in principle, but (they) considered that the tactic would not work; in Canada the situation was unfavourable for us at this time. There was another sectarian tendency which developed on the fringe of our movement who opposed it in principle. And that group was called the "League for a Revolutionary Workers Party," and if you are in Toronto once in a while you'll hear about it - I don't know what they called it in Vancouver; they did have a small connection in Vancouver.

This was the group that, in American Trotskyism, was called the "Field Group." I don't know how many of you comrades have heard about it, but Cannon talks about the experiences with the group around C.J. Field, who had his biggest forces not in the United States, but in Canada. As a matter of fact when I came into the movement, the Field Group, the LRWP, was bigger than the actual Trotskyist movement, and they were a sectarian current within our movement, who opposed entrism in principle. They considered that under all circumstances and all conditions it was necessary to maintain the independent banner of the revolutionary vanguard party.

But the most important dispute took place on a different plane, on the tactics of the entry. This difference was not overcome until 1938, as the two Trotskyist tendencies were re-united, at the 1938 founding convention of the Socialist Workers Party (USA -ed.) and if you have had an opportunity to read the official documents, bound together, of the founding of the Fourth International, you will see a report in that document of the reunification of the Canadian section. It`s in a grey edition (. . ..) And there they recorded the reunification of the two tendencies in Canada, in January 1938. But of course the big problem then was, the War. No sooner had the movement been reunited, and started to move forward again to project its ideas, starting to publish Socialist Action, that was the paper; we got two issues out and we were banned; the movement was declared illegal - we were driven underground. Now I think I will just leave it there, at the War, and we will deal with the post-war period, the second part of this period (at a future meeting) - I see my time is up. (Applause)

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1971 The History of the Canadian Trotskyist Movement, World War II to the present - Part 2

(Made to the League for Socialist Action, Vancouver, BC)

Well comrades, my visit here in BC was by chance; as I had an opportunity to respond to a big affair our comrades in Brandon (Manitoba), managed to organize, just last weekend, through their influence in the trade union movement there, to organize a seminar over a two-day period and we were able to bring a couple of our comrades - comrade Penny S. from Montreal to speak on the Quebec situation, and myself to speak on the European union. I can only spare two copies (of the report) But the occasion was that I was able to get a cheap fare to Brandon and then to get another cheap fare to Saskatoon where I spoke at a campus there, and I didn't want to go back to Toronto without coming out to the Coast to see you comrades and to see the comrades in Edmonton before I go to Europe for a period.

(Indistinct. . .) Some while ago while I was here I prepared two talks on the history of our movement. I don't remember them, unfortunately (laughter) and the notes appear to be destroyed or lost . . . but I am supposed to supplement that speech (laughter). I have a little bit of a task. Okay. I gather from Phil that the history that appeared on the first tape is the history of our movement from the early days of its foundation. Perhaps you know that our movement is the continuity of the Communist movement that came into formation out of the experiences of the Canadian working class who were inspired by the October Revolution in Russia. And I gather that that talk is taped and preserved, and it takes us up to the, yes, the First World War probably to the beginning of the Second World War. So I am going to try to give you a little sketch of the history of the movement. I hope this doesn't prejudice the publication of a pamphlet which I am going to prepare very shortly on this topic. You will have to scrap all this. (Laughter - but, this pamphlet never appeared - ed.)

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Trotskyists in Canada driven underground by the War Measures Act

(Indistinct. . .) some of you were politically active at that time, and perhaps some of you weren't alive at the time - and so I will try to give you a picture of what the situation was confronting the revolutionary socialists, the forerunners of our movement at that time - when World War 2 broke. I gather the first speech took us right up to there. So I have to say first that the revolutionary movement was under a tremendous suppression when WW 2 broke. At that time the revolutionary socialists were driven underground. The first case of ("Section 98") which was a part of the War Measures Act, and you're all familiar with that, following the Quebec events; the first case that was prosecuted under the War Measures Act was against one of our comrades who dared to speak up on our behalf against World War 2. His name was Frank Watson; he was a member of the Toronto movement, and we decided that it wanted to make a declaration to the workers of Canada despite the difficulties. (Ross's sister Lois Bedard later reported that it was Ross who rounded up bail to free him from jail -ed.) The repression was tremendous - for instance the first victim was our press, if you followed the sequence of it - I'm not sure if you have a microfilm of it, but one will be available shortly - an issue of our press was prepared for January 1939 and was suppressed - the printer would not print it. I think there was one copy - that's all. (See Vanguard, Sept. 1939 - ed.) Because under the Canada Defense Regulations, any printer and any technician, who was a participant in the production were held co-responsible with the Editor. That's what the War Measures Act is, as you know. So no printer would touch our paper, and our paper ceased to come out. We were denounced by the Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario as a subversive group, and of course this was made known to the authorities who had the responsibility to act thereupon, and so our movement was driven underground.

As a matter of fact, the entire left was driven underground in the first phase of the war. You may not know it, but in the early stages, the CCF - the precursor of the NDP, which had been committed to opposition to the war, also was under circumstances which were somewhat oppressive to its functioning. (CCF leader) Woodsworth, in the name of the movement, when the war broke out, disassociated the CCF on the position of support of the war, but, nonetheless, he participated in the betrayal of the official position of the party by turning over the rostrum to Coldwell (a leading CCFer) and Coldwell committed the CCF to World War 2. In this period the CCF was in a favourable situation, and the Communist Party opposed the war in the early days before the invasion of Germany (into Soviet Russia, betraying the Stalin-Hitler Pact-- ed.) which caused a reversal in their position.

. . . So, our comrade Frank Watson, who spoke out against the war - I don't remember his speech, but I believe it dealt with, he exposed the fraud of this "war for democracy" by revealing the oppressive circumstances under which the colonial masses lived under the heel of British imperialism - and he was immediately arrested and sentenced to three months in jail. At any rate, the oppression was so complete that the whole movement was driven underground. And this was not parallel to other English-speaking countries. In the United States, the Socialist Workers Party was able to function quite openly. You are well aware of the Minneapolis Defence Trials - but that was defence carried on by our movement in the United States on its rights to promote its views, and while some of our comrades went to jail, for expounding our revolutionary socialist ideology, the movement was never suppressed. The Militant continued to publish. I think Cannon relates there, how the movement had developed such a strong cadre, that when the American Trotskyist movement was decapitated by the prison sentences, they had sufficient cadre and resilience that they were able to carry on the fight against World War 2, in the United States, openly, with almost no restrictions.

In the case of the European and British Trotskyists, they were never under any particular repression at all; as a matter of fact, Jock Haster (?) who was the leader of our movement at that time carried on a big electoral campaign at the beginning of the war as a candidate for the House of Commons (British parliament), and all during the war the French section functioned openly. (. . . ) But the Trotskyists in Canada were driven underground. So we were confronted with a big responsibility to hold on to what cadre we had gathered, to preserve the doctrine of the revolutionary socialists. And for the next period which I am dealing with had the character of a "holding operation." To survive was an achievement for revolutionary socialists under such conditions. As you see, we not only survived but we are now having a bit of a revival. All the other groups were pretty well smashed. There was another group which called itself Trotskyist - described by Cannon; you will recall he referred to a group under the leadership of C.J. Field - an intellectual, an economist who came to our movement - and the anecdote which Cannon uses to present Field is around his substitution of himself as a trade union leader, for the Party. That's the incident that Cannon uses to illustrate the Field case.

But Field developed a movement, and his biggest group was in Canada. And when I joined the movement, in Canada in the 30s, about 1936 or so, why, the Field group was larger than the official section of the Fourth International. But this group, which became a centrist group, that is, a revolutionary formation which is revolutionary in words but not in deeds. This group was opposed to the formation of the Fourth International, and considered the whole question of entrism - the tactic which we developed in order to allow ourselves to fuse with radical and developing currents within the CCF, they considered that a betrayal. This group disappeared completely - just disintegrated - with the impact of the war. There were some well-known revolutionary socialists in that group, but not one of them survived. After we tried to gather together our group in Canada from all the forces we could after the war, not one of those persons existed or was functioning, and none of them came through. So our movement was the only revolutionary socialist current to come out of the war.

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Wartime repression against the Left very severe in Canada

This war period was a very difficult period. In order to try to hold ourselves together, to survive by publishing our literature, and we published a little mimeographed sheet - it was a big thing for us - when we put it out we never knew when we might be arrested when we were circulating it. For anybody to be caught with it would be picked up - they were of course taking all kinds of radicals and putting them into concentration camps. The entire leadership of the Communist Party at that time, who were at that time opposed to the war, were picked up; and there were other radicals and dissidents who were arrested, so our action in publishing the paper, modest as it was, was a matter of some concern from a security point of view; but we did this because we thought it was necessary to hold our own forces together, and to do what we could to promote our views - if only on the plane of hand-to-hand circulation. As a matter of fact we had trouble distributing the copies of the paper we had, because it was quite risky to circulate it. I don't know if any copies of this paper are in existence in Vancouver. It was called Socialist Appeal (actually, it was called Socialist Action - see selection of articles on Home Page -ed). But we have copies in the centre and this material has all been microfilmed and we will be able to send you a complete record of the journal of that time - there was quite an interest in the student movement of this period, and there are copies in libraries in Toronto (. . . ) we could prepare a film on it.

The leadership of our movement didn't come through too well in this period, either. Then Executive Secretary of our movement was Earle Birney - I wonder if any of you know of him - one of Canada's most eminent poets, he was the leader of our movement; he was the Executive Secretary, a sort of custodian at that time, because as the war approached (I`m a little at a loss how far I should go, not having my previous talk`s notes) - at the time of entrism, which we carried out into the CCF in 1936-1937, some of the top leaders of our movement went into a period of inactivity - Maurice Spector and Jack MacDonald went down to the United States - so there was a problem of leadership in our movement, and Birney - who was a top intellectual at the time - (later he wrote a historical novel on this period called "Down the long table" which gives a bit of the picture of the times) - he later recruited Joe Hansen in Salt Lake City, Birney did, and he came into contact with the Trotskyist movement there and came back to Canada, and participated (. . . ) - but his role in our movement (was shaped by his knowledge of ) (leading SWPers) Schachtman and Burnham, who, as the war approached, came to revise their previous positions of defence of the Soviet Union, in other words, in opposition to the War. And he (Birney) just disappeared, and the older comrades that were around him were not able to hold the fort; with the responsibility of maintaining the movement falling down to the second layer of comrades, and I was one of them.

An activist, that's just what I was, just an activist. I was active in the movement with other comrades, I went out and distributed the paper and sell subs; I had never written anything for the movement; I had never spoken for the movement except on a few street-corners, and with my limited qualifications (nevertheless ) all responsibility for the movement fell back to comrades such as myself, and we responded as best we could, and we sustained the movement. This was at the centre; I am not talking about Vancouver, because they had Ruth and Reg (Bullock) particularly at that time. That was the situation in the centre (Toronto). In Vancouver and other areas where we had comrades, those relations were smashed. The authorities were scrutinizing the correspondence going to and from the West Coast, and for a whole period we had no contact with one anther; we were cut off from Vancouver and other centres. And that continued until I made a trip across Canada.

I went across Canada and I met most of the comrades whom I had never met before, and we started to pull together, to revive the movement, and to talk about the possibilities which we knew were going to come out of the War. As a matter of fact, one thing that sustained us was our conviction, not only of the victory of the workers state and the Red Army against the Hitler forces of the invasion, but also our conviction that there was a revolutionary ferment and culture developing in Europe, and out of this conflict would come some victories in the European theatre for the socialist revolution. As far as the union situation was concerned, we anticipated of course a revival of militancy on the part of the Canadian working class. And that's how our movement could grow, on the conviction of the coming crisis, on our overall evaluation of post-war developments.

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Canadian Trotskyists plan a public conference before the end of the War

Well there was a whole period of holding on, and I don't want to go into the details of it - the difficulties of it. I will take us further forward to the preparations for the close of the War by our movement. We had by now revived our connections with comrades across the country. There was a small group of comrades in Vancouver; there was a small group of comrades in Montreal, and a scattering of comrades at several other points - a few comrades in Lloydminster (Alberta) and that was what made up the structure of the movement. By November 1944 we were able to call a conference together of these forces, after that considerable period of four years of great difficulty to sustain any kind of connection whatsoever of any kind of operation. That opportunity was (facilitated) by the fact that some of our comrades in Vancouver and a couple of other places now maintained connections within the union movement and had become delegates from their local to the CCL (Canadian Congress of Labour) convention in Montreal. I happened to be in the army by that time, stationed in Three Rivers and I was able to get to where the comrades were, in Montreal, for that convention. There is a rather interesting report of this convention . . . the situation was getting more favourable to operate, and one of the reasons for that convention was the conviction that the delegates had to take on the no-strike pledge the labor brass were able to impose on the unions as a ban on strikes for the duration of the war but . . . (much of the following is garbled or inaudible -ed.) . . .but many resisted that and it never committed itself to a no-strike pledge (. . . ) despite some militant struggles, it did not, and it was not able to make a pledge on behalf of the workers to the employers (. . . ) (thereby assuring that) the conditions of the Canadian working class would not have deteriorated as drastically as it would have otherwise in this period of extensive and deep class-collaboration, contributed heftily to by the Communist Party. At this time the CP leadership had been released from prison and joined the ranks of the social-patriots (swinging in behind) the war effort and behind the no-strike pledge and all kinds of pacts of peace and no-wage-increase contracts. With the release of the CP leadership there was all kinds of campaigning in Quebec and other parts of Canada for conscription (. . . ) conscription for overseas service. Sometimes when you have the chance you should check a back file of Labor Challenge for a very extensive article on "how the Canadian workers went to war." The working class of this country opposed the War all during the War (. . . ) and it wasn't just the Quebec workers who made up the antiwar opposition.

At that time, in 1944, when we held our congress at the same time (as the CCL) some of our comrades came in from (. . . ) and one who came from Prince Rupert (BC), Paddy Stanton, was one of the delegates at that (CCL) convention. He was the president of the Prince Rupert Labor Council and president of the Woodworkers' local. And he made one or two speeches at that congress. One of his speeches opposed the no-strike pledge; I can't remember the vivid way that he expressed it, it's recorded in his Obituary; he is now dead, one of the pioneers of our movement; but anyway it was to the effect that the workers weren't going to commit themselves to a no-strike pledge, they weren't going to give up the right to strike, and he attacked the Communist Party for their policy and he paid tribute to (. . . ) who made the greatest profit in history, in the midst of a war (cheers and laughs from the audience -ed.). (. . . ) The workers didn't respond to that speech by making the revolution on the basis of that speech, but they didn't support the no-strike pledge.

After that convention we held a preliminary conference of the core of comrades who had come to that convention and other comrades in the East who were able to come down to it, and they laid the basis for the re-formation of our movement, in November 1944. In the Spring of 1945 we announced our public press. We came out boldly, and we launched our paper called Labor Challenge. At the time we came out with the first issue of that paper, we were not at all sure that we would be picked up and thrown into the hoosegow or not; we went ahead anyway. The War Measures Act was still in force; the war was still on, the war was in the European theatre but as you probably know, the Canadian government was not content to win the war in Europe; we were asked to stand behind our allies, the American imperialists, and move into the Japanese theatre, and the pressure was on for the Canadian troops who were only committed to fight the war in Europe, to go active in the war against Japan. Not many of them did, but at that time the war was still a full-blooded operation, the flow of blood to be sure on the Japanese front - and we launched that paper right about that time - but we didn't know what would happen when we launched it. We wanted to exercise some care because we wanted to function, we wanted to get something with our ideas. For instance, in the first issue we talked about the responses of the troops to the victories in Europe and the actions among the Canadian troops for a return to Canada and for their being released from army work, and the air force and the navy of course. We reported the important strikes that had taken place among the Canadian troops, one that one of our comrades, Hugh Dowson, was involved in as an airman in England, another that I was involved in, in Canada, a strike among the Canadian armed forces. We were starting to develop this, and starting to present a history of the class struggle that had taken place during this war period, and to present a picture of the struggles in Europe during the war, the struggles of the Greek revolutionaries. And we started to deal with the political issues in Canada, and of course as we came out in this period the CCF was undergoing a tremendous growth.

Among the youth, among the troops, right off, we issued a very important statement to the workers of this country, (while) the headline of the CP paper at this time was "Hail the victory" - victory of course would lead to stable development of relations, and community and society, housing, and whatever was anticipated by the workers and was promised by the bourgeoisie - this was going to come with the dropping of the H-bomb - the genocidal blow against the Japanese people. And the dropping of the H-bomb was hailed as you probably know, by the Communist Party, in their press, "Drop the bomb against the Jap Warlords," they said in their press, they didn`t talk about the Japanese people - only against the Jap Warlords - in the headlines in their paper.

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Labor Challenge is launched: "THERE IS NO PEACE"

We came out in our paper saying "There is no peace -- now there will be another war" (. . . ) and "Let the workers take power" - this was 1945. Everybody else was talking about "hundreds of years of peace" (laughter from the audience )- that`s what everybody else was talking about - and we said: "There will be no peace until the workers take power in this country."

And, we developed our paper as quite an important factor I think at that time in the radicalization process of the Canadian workers - and there was a profound radicalization (how much time do I have?) At any rate . . . as memorable at this time (. . .) it was not quite so dramatic as the Winnipeg General Strike, or on quite so broad a scale as the repercussions of the Winnipeg General Strike across America, but quite important; as a matter of fact, important sectors of the Canadian workforce were organized during the course of the war, to a large degree because of class collaboration. The employers were seeking class peace and as the CCF and the CP attempted to move forward and sink some roots, they acquired certain types of contracts, and many the CIO unions were organized during the war. I would say that unlike the situation in the United States, the industrial working class in this country were not organized in the first wave of the CIO in the late thirties; but they were only organized in the process of the war - and, the unions in this country were built to some degree on the basis of class collaboration.

What was going to happen to this union movement? There was no doubt about it that the Canadian bourgeoisie were out to smash it. Completely destroy it, and throughout there were a series of confrontations on the biggest fronts of the organized labor movement. In the Ford plant, in the Ford strike of 1945, in my opinion was one of the most revolutionary strikes in the history of Canada. You can look back on the pages (of Labor Challenge) of that time and see that the Canadian workers set up barricades in Windsor - modern barricades, not the old-fashioned barricades with paving blocks (audience laughs) and manhole covers and things like that; they made barricades of automobiles and trucks. At that time I was stationed in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Some of the fellows I was in the army with were sons of Ford workers, and believe it or not, in the camp that I was in, there was open talk by the brass that they were going to send us, Canadian troops, in to help break the Ford strike. But I guess they had to re-think this because there was open talk among some of the fellows I was with that if they went down to Windsor and their old man was on the picket line, they`d take the gun and give it to their old man (big laughter) - they openly talked that way. At any rate, they never sent the troops; they sent the RCMP and some hand-picked troops of course that didn`t reflect the level of consciousness and understanding of the workers, but were a select gang; and they sent the RCMP in. The RCMP were preparing to smash that strike, and at a very critical juncture of the struggle, the workers moved out, commandeered cars, buses, trucks and took their own cars and drove them down the main street that paralleled the major shops and they just jammed that whole street and the intersection with cars and buses all parked kitty-corner - an impenetrable barricade - and the RCMP couldn`t get in and get the scabs in. And we had a very modern revolutionary technique develop in that struggle. Very impressive.

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The battle to consolidate the great Canadian industrial unions won after the War

That struggle was the first where the workers declared their determination to hold on to what gains they`d made. On the other front was the steel mill in Hamilton, the Stelco plant. At that time that local was a very weak local, formed in a period of class collaboration. When the strike was called, in the first period of the slowdown, there were more scabs in the plant than there were strikers out on the street. The relationship of forces was not favourable . . . and there was great doubt what would happen in that struggle. But that struggle was a very important one, too. First, the workers set up a very militant picket-line; they won the support of the railway workers who wouldn`t take goods out or take goods into the plant while the bosses tried to keep the plant in operation. The scabs were serviced by helicopters. You see with our knowledge of new techniques, and I think that was probably one of the first times that aircraft had been used to bring in supplies for scabs - strikebreakers. They had an airfield in the middle of a gigantic plant, in the middle of Hamilton. At any rate the employers tried to mobilize scabs against this strike, but the climate wasn`t too favourable for that; they attempted to send the troops in, in mufti, who were taking trades courses in the Hamilton area, but these fellows came out in solidarity and joined the picket-line. And there were many demonstrations of militancy on the part of workers in the East which I am sure was duplicated across the rest of Canada.

But the main two battles took place in Hamilton and Windsor and the labor movement came out of that struggle vastly armed for subsequent struggles. And we had aside from these two defensive actions, a wave of a couple of years, a wave of struggles with the workers in strikes right across the country, involving woodworkers, in Mine-Mill and the Pulp and Paper workers - all the major sectors of the working class in gigantic struggles which involved without precedent large wage increases, and other key struggles which consolidated the organized labor movement.

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The foundation of the Trotskyist RWP

Okay, so we launched our press, and we started to move out in this milieu - very favourable milieu. Workers were going to the left, and we organized ourselves as the Revolutionary Workers Party, Canadian section of the 4th International. Up until then we had been working in the CCF - working in the CCF. We went back into the CCF during the war because we needed some area to work, in a milieu where we could put forward some of our views. But the radicalization was taking place outside the CCF - all this big wave of union struggles took place completely outside of the CCF. The CCF was limited to the House of Commons, passing laws and (. . . ) you know, but the workers were out in the streets, battling against the bosses. So we went out, with our small revolutionary cadre, into this big wave of struggles, and we moved out with this very good base for our press, and we started to make modest progress. We started to undergo a process of differentiation among radicals who had come along, and in the process had become somewhat tired and exhausted and we lost some who had become somewhat tired and exhausted, and who were not prepared for the new problems of the struggle; so some people fell aside, but new elements joined the struggle, important elements, particularly in the union movement in British Columbia, where we recruited a couple of very important unionists - perhaps some of you know them - Lloyd Whalen (reaction from the audience) - the name is familiar to you? And Tom Bradley, who died a few years ago; and we recruited some other trade unionists to our movement. However they thought that they were bigger than our movement, and we underwent an experience with Lloyd Whalen - who was caught up thanks to our theory and our ideas and the work of our comrades, our basic cadres, in an extremely favourable situation - in a union situation wide open for our leadership in the Woodworkers. But Whalen thought he knew more than we did, and he came to feel that the movement stood in the way of his taking advantage of the big challenges of the pportunity. But he ended up compromising himself, and compromised this great opportunity. We were unable to convince him, so it was that Whalen went up, and went down just as fast; and a very favourable opportunity was lost to build real strength in the Woodworkers Union.

Reg (Bullock) can some time give us a real picture of that struggle; it was a very interesting struggle; and if we were going to relate that episode in the history of our movement, we would do what Cannon did (in the case of the exemplary SWP role in the Minneapolis Teamsters` strike -ed.). Cannon doesn`t give a logical sequence to this history, but only in part in (his book) the History of the Trotskyist Movement, but he gives an illustrative anecdote, that B.J. Field uses with one time relevance to the Lloyd Whalen incident. - the failure of potential revolutionaries to rise to the challenge, and the transformation into the opposite - an exact opposite, an opportunist.

Okay, so we are at the foundation of the RWP, and the attempt to put some fibre on our bones. We were then confronted now with the task of being part of the mass movement. I think it was one of the American . . . leaders who talked about "what our past is'' in respect of building mass movements. We are in a perpetual struggle, in a perpetual effort to realize the potential possibilities of mobilizing the mass in broad numbers against capitalism. It`s not a small protest as far as we are concerned, but (we need to) know its ebbs and flows. One of the supreme tasks for revolutionaries is to fuse with those workers who are developing in political consciousness, a political understanding, which of course is a generalization of all the other experiences of the class. And so we were faced again with the CCF, which had become, by 1948, in our opinion, a labor party formation. Up until then, we had found that, in general, that the CCF was a petty-bourgeois primarily agrarian-based political formation. It`s main base was in the Prairie areas of Saskatchewan, Alberta and Winnipeg, and its future - there was a question-mark about it in that respect. But by 1948, coming out of the war, and in great anticipation for the workers of this country, and from the sacrifices they had made in the course of the War, something had been fundamentally changed in Canadian society, and the workers moved towards the CCF.

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The CCF grows into the first mass labor party in North America

And by 1948 it was apparent to us, by a series of episodes, that the CCF had become a labor party formation - the first labor party formation on the North American continent. And that fact was a big challenge for us. What would be the attitude of the revolutionary vanguard; how are we going to relate to this vastly important movement? In a sense it becomes a decisive movement for revolutionaries - how to link up with the onward political development of their class. And so we started, shortly after we founded the RWP - a few years after - to discuss this matter. How are we going to resolve this problem? How are we going to link up effectively with the unfolding development, the politicization of the class as a whole, which is going through the CCF.

We started to talk then, about not just our orientation, because we always had an orientation to the CCF, we always identified ourselves with the CCF, even as the Revolutionary Workers Party - how are we going to more extensively link ourselves up with this process? And once again there was a big discussion about this in our movement. And this (tactic) is called "entrism," and I had hoped the comrades who are were not involved in the pre-convention discussion of the LSA/LSO just a few months ago, would pick up the documents of our convention. One of the key documents is on the whole development of our movement's policy with regards to the mass political expression of the Canadian working class, and one of the first documents is the document in which we projected the need to make an entry into the CCF. It was that our movement should move in wholly, without any inhibitions and any hedgings or restraints, into the CCF, and fuse our ideas into this movement, with the workers who were most receptive to these ideas.

By 1951 we had completed that discussion in our movement, prepared our forces, and we made an entry into the CCF. That entry meant we gave up our individual independent press, our paper, and we pulled down the banner of our individual organization. It took us some time to prepare that because we did not have long to carry it out; we wanted to go in united, with a clear understanding of what we were attempting to do, because it is dangerous as everybody knows, to move into the broad level, the broad layers of the working class, without some kind of good protection, and one of the most powerful forms of protection for revolutionaries when they move out into the class generally, is of course the League. What could we do without the League - as socialists? How could we function? -and I am not talking from the point of view of the material resources which have been gathered by these two organizations, but the ideology which is expressed in the title of our movement, its public existence, and the (forces) and unity which are coming together and the force it gives us, and t he unity we have as we got out into the class as a whole. Well we decided to give that up. It is always very important that we have a (. . . ) and sense of unity when we make this entry. And so we took some three years to prepare ourselves for that - when we made this entry.

Well, there were a lot of things happening, of course, we weren't living in a vacuum exactly - we were part of a world movement, and . . .

(tape ends - sentence continues on Track 3, Part 2)

1971 The History of the Canadian Trotskyist Movement - World War 2 to the Present - (Track 3) Part 2

(Continuation of a speech to the League for Socialist Action, Vancouver)

. . . ) at that time there was a big struggle in our international movement. In 1953 Comrade Cannon of the New York centre of the Socialist Workers Party of the United States launched a struggle against a very strong revisionist current that had developed in the world movement and was expressed by the leader of our movement, the Executive Secretary of the Fourth International at that time, Michel Pablo. And we were confronted at that time with a struggle to preserve the basic doctrines of our movement on an international scale, against the revisionist policies of our leadership, at that time. I will give you a thumbnail sketch of what that dispute was about.

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Pablo's attempt to liquidate the forces of world Trotskyism

Michel Pablo and the leading cadre of the (4th) International projected the concept that we are headed into the third world war; that the third world war was inevitable, nothing was going to stop it. There was some substance to think that, you know - the bomb was hanging over the world; and the working class movement had not been mobilized to fight against it effectively; the Stalinists and social-democrats were spreading pacifist illusions and were not mobilizing the workers against the war preparations which were going hell-bent. So Pablo and company concluded that we couldn`t stop that war, we were faced with the inevitability of this war. However, he consoled us in this period of great peril, with the idea that out of the war would come the revolution. Some of us were very sceptical; we thought that an H-bomb war would be so devastating that it was doubtful that anything would come out of it - but that`s what the Pablo leadership projected.

That out of the war would come the revolution. But in the meantime, for the Trotskyists, because the process of this struggle would be of such catastrophic circumstances, that you could see that there wouldn`t be time for a period of protest (. . . ) and the revolution would have to be made by a realignment of revolutionary forces. He projected the idea that all of the Trotskyist formations should integrate themselves into the Communist Parties in those countries where the CPs were a mass movement, or in countries with social-democratic parties, if the social-democratic parties were big movements in their countries. We were told to liquidate ourselves and not worry about trying to build the Trotskyist movement because there was no time for that; and that later Trotskyists would find victory coming out of the nuclear holocaust.

We questioned that (laughter). And most vigorously. The Socialist Workers Party (in the US) most vigorously. The comrades in Vancouver also very vigorously - admittedly they immediately identified themselves as being in solidarity with Cannon`s attacks on this series of concepts; and a little more reluctantly, the central leadership of Toronto also identified themselves with the Cannon position. And so we were confronted with this split in the world movement. But, there was also a split in our own movement, because there were some forces who identified themselves with Pablo`s views. Pablo proceeded to line up the world movement - and he split our movement. The split in B.C. was of no consequence - I think we lost no one ("one person", from the audience). In the East we lost some of our cadre in the course of that struggle. But that was an international struggle, and we lined ourselves up with the SWP and the International Committee (the anti-Pablo caucus of the Fourth International -ed.), and from there on, up until 1963, when we and the American comrades played an instrumental role in rectifying, in overcoming the division in the international and succeeded in achieving a re-unification (of the FI) in 1963. (Ross Dowson's contribution to the international reunification is noted elsewhere --ed).

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The wave of expulsions of Trotskyists from the CCF

In the process, during the intervening ten years, some of the differences had become minimal, and there was substantial grounds for re-uniting the movement and of course there was tremendous pressure on us to re-unite the movement to meet the new wave of radicalization which was beginning to unfold across the world. We survived that threat without too much difficulty although it was a searing process for our movement (in Canada). (See the Dowson correspondence of this decade elsewhere -ed.)

Then there was a period of vast expulsions of Trotskyists, of our forces, from the CCF. The Canadian Pabloites turned informers against us for the CCF brass and we were expelled right across the country (to a question from the audience: pardon me? well, yes, there were probably incidental expulsions before that, but this was a cross-country expulsion.) We weren`t too overly dismayed by that because we had made the decision to move out independently of the CCF at a time when the radicalization was taking place. And here we are talking about the beginning of the process which you are part of. We were starting to pick up layers of the youth who were particularly moving to the left; I was thinking of how the radicalization was first expressed in Canada. I think George Novack, rather George Breitman in particular (two leading theoreticians of the SWP) wrote an article recently about the radicalization today, and he makes a comparison with the radicalization of the Thirties. He tries to define what the point of radicalization was, what vital questions - to try to get the feeling of the time. I would think that the first signs of the important radicalization among the youth that we were aware of was the first demonstrations around (the fight for Black integration, in the late Fifties -ed.) in Selma. These are the first ones I remember, that were significant, that started to take place outside of us, and we started to bring in the youth, particularly the campus youth, into action. At any rate this radicalization process was starting to take place.

We started to prepare to meet it, to move out, and to show that our movement was a public movement, first in the East, under the name of the Socialist Educational League and in the West later under the name of the Socialist Forum (actually, the Socialist Information Centre, SIC -ed.), which we fused in 1961 as the League for Socialist Action. The LSA was founded in actuality in 1961 through the fusion of our League component parts in the East and the West a few years before that . The foundation of the League took place at the very time of one of the most auspicious developments in the Canadian labor field. And that was the formation of the NDP (New Democratic Party).

We consider the development of the NDP to be the most significant that has taken place in Canadian labor politics up until that time. It was the synthesis of the pulling together of the forces that were radicalizing, coming out of the whole radicalizing process, the remnants of the CCF, under the signature of the two major Canadian labor bodies - these forces came together to launch the NDP. And we decided we needed an organization, built along Bolshevik lines, open and public, appearing as adhering to the working class, and identifying itself with its formations. We wanted to project ourselves as the left wing of the New Democratic Party. We felt that this was a great opportunity to intercede in this radicalization process, and in our opinion, and for a couple of years, the fate of the New Democratic Party (which was) to become a reformist movement in the classic meaning of the word, was by no means determined. But I am sure I am over my time on this; I think the comrades should refer to the (record of internal) bulletins in which we had developed our whole concept of entrism, which was the evolving orientation of our movement to the labor party formation.

That was the main problem of this whole period - how to adjust ourselves to the radicalizing process expressed in labor politics through the CCF and later the NDP. The next stage in the history of our movement, and I think this tape will have to stop here, as I see the time, the next stage is "the Trotskyists learn the art of politics" (laughs) because that`s the problem, you know; we are a very small group and the radical movement is an ongoing process, you don`t have to know anything about real politics, as it is classically known. You meet these young people, and they want to know about the history of the class struggle; they want to learn Marxist theoretical concepts, which are the accumulated essence of previous struggles; they want to have a world view; they are not satisfied with some basic rudimentaries; these are very complex concepts; and the youth need to figure out what life's about and where they fit into it, what the problems of society are - and for a long time that's what the Trotskyists were about, that's what they were doing, they were trying to pull together cadre, which was coming out of relatively sophisticated experiences. Basically we were recruiting to our movement, particularly those who came out of other political movements - they came out of the Communist Party, where they had learned some of the great lessons of the October Revolution, and felt the impact of Stalinism, and came to Trotskyism. They were of a number that could be counted on our hands. Then there were the workers who were going through the experiences of the CCF and the NDP reformism, and getting some awareness of how inept and inadequate tools their reformist theory is, and who found satisfaction in a revolutionary socialist and internationalist class-struggle concepts.

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The youth radicalization brings a breakthrough for Trotskyism

But now we have an opportunity which all revolutionaries seek. And for the first time, the Trotskyist movement was faced with the challenge of how to work in an ongoing process of radicalization. And that's the period I would say started around 19-oh, I would say 19-well with the death of Stalin (1953) it started to develop . . . the Krushchev revelations of the Moscow Trials shattering the CP; the beginning of the political revolution posed now in Hungary, and then the rise of the Black Liberation struggle in the United States, the beginnings of the opposition to the War, the imperialist role of America across the world, subsequently in Vietnam - these developments (other suggestions from the audience) yes, you are quite right; I wrote it down but I didn't get to it. These processes started to create a totally different climate in this country. New young forces, forces which never had been in the Communist Party, never been corrupted, never had to be de-educated and re-educated in that sense, young new revolutionaries, potential new revolutionaries, coming out of these experiences, coming out of the CCF and NDP (. . .) in fact, the entire leadership cadre of the first layers of the NDY, of which Gary is a part, and Dick (F.) is a part, and John (R.) We started to win this new cadre - the leading cadre of our movement now, are those elements that came out of that process. The cream of that process. They came to our movement because our movement started to learn the art of revolutionary politics.

We met the challenge - it presented some challenges, around the question of what we mean by a Bolshevik party; but we were always convinced that no party could make the revolution unless it understood why a Bolshevik party is required for a revolution to take place; and what that meant; (how it could) grasp these developments and identify itself with them, and become part of this radicalizing process (this passage reconstructed from unclear recording).

At any rate, I think we have started to learn the art of politics as the process continues to unfold. A few years ago nobody would have talked about the women's liberation movement. Not that this question presented a terrible problem for us. In the past our movement has been women's liberationist - always has been. We've always had women in the leadership of our movement, (we've always been sensitive not to project ourselves in some sexist terms;) but that was a minor reflection of pressures on our movement. Our movement with its revolutionary Marxist theory was well prepared for the rise of the women's liberation movement, (. . . ) but it became part of the radicalization process. And I think I will just drop it there, on that tone. We showed that in the process of the long struggle . . . most of us were not born when it started; some of us maturing in the process - in getting involved - in spite of all these difficulties, we prepared for the new layers of youth coming onto the arena, who have showed that they have assimilated some of the basic ideas of Trotskyism, and were capable of handing it on, to you, and to those who are standing outside the door, which you have to bring in, to build this revolutionary vanguard party.

(ends to extended applause).

continue on to 3rd section "The nature of our internationalism" (1970, History -Pt. 3)
A historical review of the Split in the Fourth International from 1953 to 1963)& (Portion of a mid-series speech to the League for Socialist Action educational forum, Toronto)


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