The formation of the Revolutionary Marxist Group, combining the Old Mole group at the University of Toronto and the Red Circle group that had emerged from the Waffle tendency in the NDP, was announced in 1973. They were subsequently joined by the Revolutionary Communist Tendency, a group that split from the LSA/LSO.
The Revolutionary Marxist Group, the League for Socialist Action/Ligue Socialiste Ouvrière and the Groupe Marxiste Révolutionnaire reunited in 1977, creating the Revolutionary Workers League/Ligue Ouvrière Révolutionnaire.
Old Mole Number 5, July-August 1973
The last few years have seen the emergence of anticapitalist political forces in Canada on a significant scale for the first time since the working class upsurge of the 1940’s. Almost from the beginning, the appearance of a new generation of socialist militants has posed in an extremely acute form fundamental questions of revolutionary analysis and political orientation. Particularly since the disintegration of the radical student movement in 1969, Canadian socialists have been trying to resolve questions such as the appropriate forms of revolutionary organization, and their relationship to the working class, Canadian nationalism, the NDP, and many others. This has resulted in a continuous process of flux, splits, regroupments and realignments. It is now clear to many revolutionaries that a strategic impasse has been reached which must be overcome if the revolutionary movement in this country is to grow and develop.
Despite the diversity of these political and organizational experiments, they all reflect one overriding theme—the historical isolation of North America from the main convulsions of the world revolutionary process, and the consequent absence of revolutionary theoretical and political traditions. The vanguard throughout this continent remains the prisoner of the parochialism and empiricism which are the main ideological pillars of the North American bourgeoisie.
The political crisis which presently exists within the left can only be resolved through the transcendence of the geographical and the generational limits of the political perspectives of the left itself. The development of the revolutionary movement can only proceed if the vanguard appropriates the main historical acquisitions of the international workers’ movement as it has developed over the past century and a half, and particularly since the formation of the Communist International in 1918. This can have practical political meaning only if it is consciously integrated into the task which Marx, Engels, Luxemburg, Lenin and Trotsky all took as their point of departure: the construction of an International committed to the victory of the international proletariat. Since 1918, this has concretely meant the construction of a world revolutionary party, structured along the lines of democratic centralism.
The necessity of such a party flows from the character of imperialism itself.
"In our epoch, which is the epoch of imperialism, i.e., of world economy and world politics under the hegemony of finance capital, not a single communist party can establish its program by proceeding solely or mainly from conditions of and tendencies of developments in its own country .... An international communist program is in no case the sum total of national programs or an amalgam of their common features. The international program must proceed directly from an analysis of the conditions and tendencies of world economy and of the world political system taken as a whole in all its connections and contradictions, that is, with the mutually antagonistic interdependence of its separate parts. In the present epoch, to a much larger extent than in the past, the national orientation of the proletariat must and can flow only from a world orientation and not vice versa. Herein lies the basic and primary difference between communist internationalism and all varieties of national socialism." (Trotsky)
The Fourth International is the only international organization which upholds this fundamental tenet of revolutionary Marxism. Since its founding in 1938 it has remained the only current in the international workers’ movement actively attempting to build a world proletarian party armed with a programme and strategy for revolution that encompasses all sectors of the world economy. The Fourth International is not such a party itself; it represents only the nucleus of this historical project. But since 1968, the Fourth International has undergone a process of political transformation: from a federation of propaganda circles to an international combat organization, demonstrating its capacity to provide programmatic and strategic answers to the main questions posed by the contradictory development of the world revolution, capable of initiating and leading mass mobilizations independently of the Stalinist and social democratic parties. The Ligue Communiste, (French section) is the largest revolutionary organization in that country: this spring it led a movement of hundreds of thousands against the militarist policies of the Pompidou regime. The Liga Communista Revolucionaria (Spanish section) plays a prominent role in the Workers’ Commissions, the only independent organizations of the Spanish proletariat. The LSSP-(R) (Ceylonese section) recently initiated, through the trade unions itleads, a strike of one million workers in solidarity with political prisoners. The Partida Obrera Revolucionaria (Bolivian section) was the only political current which actively organized and led the armed resistance of the workers and peasants to the counterrevolutionary coup in 1971. In the workers’ states, the Fourth International is involved with socialist opposition against the bureaucratic strata that presently rule in the name of the proletariat. In a number of countries, spanning the globe, the sections of the Fourth International have begun to sink deep roots into the organized working class.
The process by which we have come to an understanding of revolutionary Marxism and consolidated our small forces on the basis of support for the program and strategy of the Fourth International has been a lengthy one. The Old Mole, a group of revolutionaries who developed out of the independent left, centered mainly at U of T, and the Red Circle, a group containing the main opponents to the nationalist, Laxer-Watkins leadership in the Waffle, have fused into the Revolutionary Marxist Group. Together with an RMG group in Peterborough (and individuals in other centers) we are putting out a call for a founding convention, to begin the construction of a revolutionary Marxist organization in Canada.
We recognize that we are but a revolutionary nucleus within a fragmented left and that the process of party building is a difficult one. We call upon all revolutionaries in Canada to enter into the fraternal discussion and concrete practice necessary to the growth of a party capable of winning the confidence and leadership of the working class in Canada. The growth of such a party can only occur on the basis of principled agreement among revolutionary groups and individuals around united action. Such unity in action with all anti-imperialist struggles, in solidarity with the Quebec revolution and in support of workers’ struggles—is a necessity posed by the objective dynamics of the international class struggle itself.
We intend to build our organization with this perspective—fully confident that the program of the Fourth International will play a central role in the unfolding of the North American revolution.
Old Mole Number 7, November 1973
From October 5 to October 8, the Revolutionary Marxist Group held its founding convention in Toronto. The RMG is a Trotskyist organization in active political solidarity with the Fourth International. It includes groups and individual militants formerly associated with a variety of formations: New Left and radical student currents, the Waffle, the New Democratic Youth, and the League for Socialist Action/Young Socialists.
The primary purpose of this convention was to determine the RMG’s political orientation over the coming year. In this sense it represented a first attempt to articulate a strategy for constructing a revolutionary party in English Canada. But the convention was also striking as an example of workers’ democracy; it also represented a practical refutation of certain misconceptions about Leninism widely expressed within the left.
If the self-consciously anti-Leninist currents within the North American Left see Leninism in terms of a totalitarian ‘discipline’, monolithic political unity, and bureaucratic and cultist styles of leadership, then the self-styled "Leninist" groups seem intent upon acting out this caricature. The pro-Moscow Communist Party, the pro-Chinese Communist Party of Canada (Marxist-Leninist) and the Canadian Party of Labour all ban internal tendencies or factions. The CP, Brezhnev’s creature in Canada and long-time Stalinist stalwart, would find it hard to reconcile internal democracy with the bureaucratic despotism of the regimes which the CP functions to defend. In addition to the Prophet of Peking, CPC (M-L) has its own local diety—Chairman Bains. The Canadian Party of Labour has never publicly confessed to having had any convention or similar procedure to determine its political line.
Thus, the North American radical movement has tended for several years to divide into two distinct camps. The "Marxist-Leninist parties" caricaturize Leninism, feud among themselves, and enjoy very little broader influence within the left. The ‘independent’ left, repelled by its ‘vanguardist’ counterparts, exhibits the worst features of spontaneism, including both practical ineffectiveness and opportunist adaptation towards mass movements and especially towards the workers’ struggles.
Of course, ultra-spontaneism and ultra-democratism on the one hand and neo-Stalinism on the other tend to reinforce each other. Many capable revolutionary militants, disgusted by the political and organizational chaos and inconsistency of the New Left, joined the existing sectarian groups precisely because of their desire to engage in more sustained political work. Conversely, the spontaneist tendencies of large numbers of radical youth who sought an anti-Stalinist Marxism were strengthened by the Stalinism and sectarian tendencies of those groups which claimed to be Leninist. The content of this regressive ideological polarization is, in the final analysis, a reflection of the historic political backwardness of the working class movement on this continent.
As a communist organization, the RMG rejects both the populist and ultra-democratic fetishes of the New Left and the neo-Stalinism of the existing ‘vanguard parties.’ In contrast to the latter the RMG does not regard itself as a revolutionary party. A revolutionary organization becomes a party, not through self-proclamation, but through its ability to actually lead major sectors of the working class in struggle. The RMG is merely a small nucleus which seeks to build such a party. As such we think it is necessary to base ourselves on the program that such a party must hold, the historic program of revolutionary Marxism. We believe that it is necessary to examine the question of Leninism as defined by Lenin, the Bolsheviks, and the early congresses of the Communist International rather than by the reality of the existing "Marxist-Leninist" sects. In the classical theses of the communist movement, we find a conception of the Leninist organization very different from most of the current myths of the Left.
The question of the organizational structures of the Leninist party cannot be divorced from its political functions. It is an instrument of revolutionary struggle. It must synthesize the practical experience of revolutionary militants and of the class struggle as a whole. It must act as the collective memory of the workers’ movements.
The organizational form of democratic centralism flows logically from these considerations. Democracy is absolutely indispensable for the all-sided exchange of opinions and experience, for a rich and unfettered theoretical life. Only thus can the highest possible level of political and strategical development be assured. Only through completely democratic discussion and decision-making can the possible errors of a leadership be rectified. The indispensability of centralism flows in the first place from the need for the organization to participate as an effective and united force in revolutionary combat, but also from the need to transcend the limitations of local and individual experience, to generalize analysis, to collectivize political understanding.
Indeed, both the political and organizational aspects of democratic centralism are critical for revolutionary unity. Of course, democratic centralism is not itself enough. The unity of a revolutionary Marxist organization depends on prior agreement on basic principles and programmatic concepts (characterization of social democracy and Stalinism, proletarian internationalism, necessity of armed struggle, the theory of permanent revolution etc.). The Leninist party does not seek internal differences; quite the opposite, it strives to become politically homogeneous. But Leninists understand that even with basic programmatic agreement, differences repeatedly surface in the course of the class struggle. This is partially due, of course, to the human imperfections of revolutionaries (sometimes no-one is correct). But they also rise from the objectively contradictory and uneven character of the revolutionary process itself. These factors must be recognized and practical ways to resolve political differences must be found. This is why the Bolshevik Party, the Pre-Stalinist Communist International, and the Fourth International always guaranteed the right of members to organize internally for their views, and to decide major political decisions at democratic congresses of elected delegates.
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All of this is in the realm of theory. The importance of the RMG’s recent discussion and convention was to demonstrate this interrelationship between revolutionary strategy and democratic centralism in practice.
The RMG is a young organization; at the time of its convention it had existed in unified form for only a few months. Previously, the RMG and its predecessors had been largely absorbed in gathering together an initial nucleus of revolutionary militants around the basic programmatic themes of revolutionary Marxism. It is both theoretically immature and practically inexperienced. The recent discussion was the RMG’s first attempt to delineate a more precise strategy for revolutionary Marxists operating in the specific conditions of English Canada. Not surprisingly, given the youth of the RMG, political opinions varied to a considerable extent on a number of important questions posed at this point in the development of the Canadian class struggle.
Two different political resolutions were prepared by members of the RMG Political Committee (which functions as the day-today national leadership). One was supported by a majority of the PC, the other by a minority. In the course of the vigorous debate which ensued after the two documents were presented to the RMG membership, tendencies were formed in support of each.
The function of tendencies within a democratic centralist organization is to permit militants with the same views on strategic and tactical questions to collaborate and to present their views in an organized fashion. Tendencies customarily dissolve after disputed issues have been decided upon, although if differences are sufficiently serious they may remain intact.
The formation of tendencies did not signify complete political disagreement. Both documents agreed with the general perspective of the Fourth International that the economic and political problems of the imperialist system were deepening and that this process was being felt within the advanced capitalist countries themselves. There was general agreement that Canadian capitalism was moving into a period of rather serious internal crisis and that this would generate a significant escalation of the intensity of the class struggle. The differences centered around the specific forms of this crisis, the tempo of working-class radicalization, and the necessary political orientation of revolutionary Marxists at the present time, as well as certain theoretical questions surrounding the building of the revolutionary party.
The document presented by the PC majority emphasized the importance of the structural characteristics of Canadian capitalism. It held that the peculiarity of Canadian capitalism lies in its subordinate status within the continental economy and the way in which this continental integration has a fragmenting effect on the internal cohesion of the Canadian social formation itself. While this internal fragmentation has the effect of weakening the objective foundations of capitalist stability and leaves Canadian capitalism exceptionally vulnerable to the more general economic problems of imperialism, it also acts as an obstacle to the generalization of the class struggle.
The document attempted to analyze the economic and historical bases of these peculiarities and indicate how their development has affected both the bourgeoisie and the labour movement politically. It projected a generalized crisis of Canadian bourgeois society developing over the next few years; a crisis whose dimension is not only economic but also includes a political crisis of the bourgeoisie, the national question in Quebec, the instability of the social democratic and trade union leaderships, and the crisis of bourgeois ideology and bourgeois social relations.
However, the document noted the underdevelopment of the subjective conditions at the present time. Indications of this include the absence of significant vanguard currents within the working class movement, the weakness of the radical youth movement of the late 1960’s and the rapidity of its disintegration, the absence of mass response in English Canada to the 1970 and 1972 crises in Quebec, and the virtual absence of any struggles or mass movements of a national scope.
While the document isolated the structural fragmentation of Canadian capitalism as one of the reasons for the situation, it did not see it as being permanent, nor did it project the perspective that the class struggle would continue to stagnate until a revolutionary party had been built. Indeed it pointed a further intensification of the class struggle as the necessary precondition for spreading communist political influence within the working class. However, it projected that further mass radicalization would develop slowly and that moreover, the activity of a small revolutionary organization was not enough to provoke a significant modification in the relationship of class forces.
The resolution of the PC majority also drew certain conclusions from its thesis of the multi-faceted character of the developing crisis of Canadian capitalism. While the key development from the viewpoint of the class struggle as a whole will be workers’ struggles, any significant deterioration of capitalist stability will also provoke struggles of students and teachers around the institutional contradictions of capitalist education, mobilizations against political and legal repression, and movements in solidarity with struggles in Quebec and internationally (Cambodia, Chile etc.). These struggles will be extremely important to revolutionary militants because they will be outside the hegemony of the labour bureaucracy and because they will play an important role in breaking the ideological grip of economism over advanced worker militants.
The document presented an immediate perspective for the RMG of initiating propaganda and agitation and allocating cadres to work on the themes judged to be of the greatest importance for building the revolutionary movement over the next several years. These were primarily defined as workers’ struggles, Quebec and anti-imperialist solidarity, and work among high school and university students and teachers. It emphasized the critical importance of the RMG acquiring a national political presence and becoming a pole of attraction for radicalizing worker and student youth.
To this end it also emphasized the key role of the tasks of ‘party-building’—regrouping existing vanguard militants and nuclei around a revolutionary Marxist program, developing an adequate national leadership, press and organizational apparatus, centralizing the day-to-day work of the RMG, developing the theoretical and practical abilities of its membership, etc. It held that these tasks were particularly crucial for the RMG in its present state and that their accomplishment would have a relative autonomy from the RMG’s intervention in specific struggles and movements.
The political resolution presented by the PC minority took as its point of departure a detailed analysis of the international economic conjuncture, particularly as manifested in the US. It held that a more or less serious recession would follow the present short term boom in the American economy and that this recession would be felt extremely sharply in Canada, given its dependency on trade etc., with the US. From this the minority tendency concluded that the economic and political attacks by the bourgeoisie on the organized working class would precipitate a qualitative increase in workers’ struggles in the next short period. Like the PC majority the minority saw a major radicalization of the Canadian working class on the agenda.
The document set forward the central task as beginning organized penetration of the trade unions by the RMG and put forward a number of tactical and organizational proposals to this effect, including the formation of support cells of student and unemployed RMG members to assist comrades already in trade unions and probe cells to gain contacts in other workplaces. It felt that the only way for the RMG to develop a political base in the working class as it began to radicalize was to have revolutionary cadres within the trade unions.
In addition to propaganda and to advancing the full Marxist program and directing against reformism, nationalism and sexism, the minority resolution also proposed initiatives aimed at the formation of rank-and-file caucuses in union locals, initiatives to be undertaken either by the RMG or in conjunction with worker militants and other left groups.
The document also recognized, both inside and outside the labour movement, the need to do work around Quebec and to win vanguard militants from the student milieu to the revolutionary organization. But the minority tendency held that as the working class began to radicalize, movements based in other strata would tend to redefine themselves in terms of workers’ struggles. The centrality of the resolution’s ‘proletarian orientation’ flowed from this prognosis. The document concluded by pointing to certain problems and dangers inherent in the predominantly non-working class social composition of the RMG. It noted the possibility of certain petty-bourgeois political currents and deviations developing if this situation were not reversed. While the minority tendency did not think this possibility was immediate it felt that it was necessary to adopt an immediate priority of trade union work to prevent such problems from developing in the future.
The minority tendency also disagreed with a number of other points in the majority resolution. It felt that the majority document exaggerated the political importance of the structural fragmentation of the Canadian economy, class structure and political system. A more important difference emerged around the analysis of the relationship of forces within the labour movement. The minority tendency felt that an emerging vanguard already existed within the working class which was open to revolutionary intervention. While it agreed that this vanguard had no organized expression or continuous existence, it felt that an important factor in this was the absence of revolutionary organizations which could help structure broader vanguard currents. Finally, the minority tendency felt that the majority’s document counterposed party building to sustained intervention in the labour movement, which it thought reflected introversion and excessive preoccupation with organizational questions.
In addition to the two initial resolutions several other documents were injected into the pre-convention discussion. Extensive verbal presentations were made by leaders of both tendencies to all RMG branches. Delegates to the convention were elected proportionally to the votes cast for each document in each branch. To ensure that policy decisions were firmly under the control of the rank-and-file, members of the national leadership were not allowed to stand as voting delegates (a common Trotskyist practice), although they were given voice at the convention.
The convention adopted an amended version of the resolutions presented by the PC majority. The PC minority resolution received the support of a large minority of the 31 delegates. There were no abstentions. A Central Committee was elected including supporters of both documents, with supporters of the adopted resolution receiving the majority of CC seats, as is Bolshevik practice. At the end of the convention, both tendencies unanimously voted to dissolve and work in a united way to implement tire adopted political line—a step which was generally viewed as an indication of the political health and basic unity of the organization.
In addition to the debate on the two political resolutions, the convention discussed and adopted an international resolution, which presented the revolutionary Marxist theoretical position on the questions of internationalism and the revolutionary International and reaffirmed the RMG’s active support for the Fourth International, an organizational resolution, and a constitution. A resolution on work among students and teachers was presented to the convention, but was referred to the incoming Central Committee because of time limitations. The convention also heard greetings and a report on the political situation in Quebec by a member of the Political Bureau of the Groupe Marxiste Révolutionnaire, the RMG’s sister organization in Quebec.
The RMG is proud of the seriousness and political level of the intense debate which has just concluded. It feels that the debate raises questions which are of interest to broader revolutionary circles. Therefore it intends to publish both political resolutions, as well as the international resolution and constitution, in pamphlet form immediately.
Copyright South Branch Publishing. All