The following is a transcript of a 13 February debate at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario, between the Trotskyist League (Canadian section of the International Communist League--TL/ICL) and the International Bolshevik Tendency (IBT). We have reproduced the remarks of all speakers in the debate with only minor corrections for grammar and syntax.
This exchange is likely to be of particular interest to people who believe (as we do) that the now thoroughly degenerate Spartacist League once represented an important link in the chain of revolutionary continuity after Trotsky. The issues posed are also of course vital to the future North American Revolution.
In 1995 the Trotskyist League abruptly changed its position on Quebec and began to advocate separation. When invited by the Brock Socialists to debate the IBT the TL insisted that the topic be Quebec. This did not prevent their speakers from rattling off a list of unrelated accusations too extensive to adequately respond to during the debate. The scatter-gun polemical technique is one that will be familiar to those acquainted with the contemporary Spartacist tendency. It is not, in our opinion, the best way to conduct a political discussion, but it is useful for distracting an audience's attention.
We have appended the ICL's report on the debate (published simultaneously in Workers Vanguard and Spartacist Canada), along with a few comments of our own on some of the issues raised.
We invite comments on the debate and will consider posting interesting contributions on this site. Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
On behalf of the Brock Socialists I'd like to welcome you and thank you all for coming. The topic for tonight's debate is "The Quebec National Question and the Case for Socialism." The debate tonight will be conducted by speakers from the Trotskyist League and the International Bolshevik Tendency. From the TL we have Charles Galarneau and from the IBT we have Tom Riley....
Tom Riley (IBT):
Thank you very much. It's been a long time, and we appreciate the fact that the Trotskyist League has agreed to debate with us.
When we set up the Trotskyist League in the mid-`70s (a few of us in this room were present and involved in that process) one of the first things that we had to develop was a Marxist analysis and a program on the question of Quebec. The existing Marxist groups had atrocious positions which pointed in different directions.
As Leninists, we began from the recognition that Quebec is a nation, and that all nations have the right to self-determination: that is, the right to separate and form their own state at any point when they determine that they wish to do so. As Lenin said, however, the right to self-determination is a bit like the right to divorce--you have a right to do it but it doesn't mean that you are required to do it; that is, to exercise that right at any given time. Nor are Marxists required to advocate the exercise of that right, whether it is getting divorced or setting up a separate nation-state.
For Leninists, what's important in determining our attitude on whether or not this right should be exercised (for Quebec or any other nation that is part of a multi-national state) is what will best advance the class struggle--that's the criterion we apply. So we are not opposed to independence for Quebec, any more than we are opposed to divorce for anyone in a marriage--but it's a question of what will accelerate the struggle for socialism. That's really the issue.
Certainly, at any time, if the people of Quebec indicate that they wish to establish their own nation-state, it is necessary for all Leninists to support that desire, and to defend the right of the Québécois to do that. And we certainly would.
The question that we are really debating tonight, and the issue between us and the comrades of the TL, is whether or not Marxists should have consistently advocated that Quebec separate, and constitute a separate nation-state, since approximately the early 1960s. My understanding is that's when the comrades date it from--[a TL comrade] is shaking his head. Well, let's say from the time of the inception of the Trotskyist League, which would be the mid-1970s, I think I'm not mistaken there. I've found that the dates move around a bit in the documentation.
Now, in the 1960s and `70s, many Québécois feared that without independence they risked assimilation, that is, disappearance as a people. And this fear tended to fuel the desire for separation and for the establishment of a separate Quebec national entity. This sentiment has abated significantly, as is widely recognized, with the imposition in the late `70s of the Quebec language laws which have enshrined French as the dominant language and have significantly arrested the tendency toward assimilation and therefore tended to attenuate the fears of assimilation and remove it therefore as as pressing an issue as it would otherwise have been.
So, as I say, the nub of the difference we are debating tonight is whether or not for the past 35 years, 25 years, or whatever it is, joint class struggle has been possible--or whether Quebec needs to separate before it is possible.
There is certainly no question that among the most militant sections of the Quebec working class nationalist sentiment is popular and has been popular during the period that we're talking about. But despite the fact that this nationalist sentiment has been popular, we have seen repeated instances of joint class struggle. I think this is extremely important.
The first article that Spartacist Canada ever wrote on Quebec appeared in December 1976, and in that article the observation was made that:
"Quebec workers notably spearheaded militant action by the entire Canadian proletariat against [Liberal prime minister Pierre] Trudeaus wage controls. Recent postal and railway strikes began on the initiative of Montreal locals of country-wide unions. With an independent Quebec, important links among workers of both North American nations such as international and cross-Canada unions might well be lost, thus retarding the struggle for proletarian power."
Now I think that was true in 1976, and I think that remains substantially true today. We should remember that when this was written, at the end of 1976, approximately a month earlier there had been a Canada-wide general strike that had been largely occasioned, largely initiated, from the pressure of the militant working class in Quebec and had spread to English Canada. There are a lot of people here who are too young to remember it, but it was a very important political event. It involved approximately a million people. It was much stronger in Quebec (where the working class is more militant) than it was in English Canada, yet it was a very significant political action for the entire working class of this country. And participation tended to vary in different parts of English Canada depending on the level of consciousness.
But the significant thing is that there was this connection. This national struggle against wage controls, against the bourgeoisie's policy to attack the working class, began in Quebec and spread to English Canada. Now that's highly important. It was in fact the only national strike ever undertaken in North America--that is, the only national general strike. And it happened as a direct result of the influence of the Québécois workers on the English-Canadian working class. As a direct result.
Now, two decades later, the Trotskyist League comrades have decided that class unity along national lines, between English-Canadian workers and Québécois workers, is impossible, that it has been impossible and that it will be impossible until Quebec separates. How do they account for the 1976 general strike? They don't. They can't account for it. Perhaps Charles will, but so far they haven't in all their literature and all the discussions we've had on this question. All they can do is repeat over and over that unity among the workers of these two components of the working class is impossible.
And the 1976 national general strike was not an isolated episode. There's the pattern of class struggle in this country and, to a very considerable extent, the influence of the more militant Québécois workers accounts for why the level of unionization and the general level of working-class struggle is higher in English Canada than it is in the rest of English-speaking North America, that is, the United States.
The reason that there were "Days of Action" in response to [Ontario Tory premier Mike] Harris' attacks on the working class--one of which took place here in St. Catharines, one of which shut down the major financial center of Canada (Toronto), and [others] took place around Ontario--had a lot to do with the fact that there was this national general strike in 1976. The reality and the possibility of that kind of action was known and understood by English-Canadian workers--by workers in Ontario--because they had personally participated in a similar action 20 years earlier. That's highly important. And that action, as I say, came as a result of the initiative of the Québécois working class.
These demonstrations, these [Ontario] "Days of Action," limited as they are, partial as they are, are very significant actions by the working class, judged against the standard of the current level of struggle of the North American working class. And they are directly as a result of the influence (of the militancy) of the Québécois working class in English Canada. That's a connection that you shouldn't want to lose, comrades.
What we're talking about in this debate therefore is very concrete. It is not an abstract question, it's a historical question.
The case of the postal workers (some people in this room have some considerable experience with that union--it's a union with roots in both nations in Canada, a history as the most combative union in the Canadian labor movement) illustrates the importance of the connection between English-Canadian workers and Québécois workers in terms of promoting the class struggle.
Until 1965 (when the postal workers staged a massive, illegal national strike) they were regarded as rather tame, rather passive, civil servants. There was a law that prohibited them from ever going on strike because they were an "essential service." What happened in that strike, as recalled by Joe Davidson, who was later the CUPW [Canadian Union of Postal Workers] president, in his memoirs--he recalled the 1965 strike, which was the decisive strike, where they smashed the anti-labor legislation, won the right to strike--he recalled it like this, he said: "The initiative came, as has often been the case since, from Montreal."
And in fact that's what happened. The Montreal unit of the postal workers said to their passive, national, Anglo-dominated leadership: Hey, we can't stand this any more, we're going to go on strike. And the leadership as usual said: Oh you can't go on strike, don't you know? There's a law, that'd be illegal, we can't do that. And the Montreal local said: We don't care about the law, we've had it up to here--we're going to go on strike. And they set a date. And everybody watched--it was well known, well reported, heavily watched in the working class.
When the date came, Montreal walked. Postal services were shut down in Montreal. And everyone waited to see what would happen. And you know what happened? Toronto went out, Hamilton went out, Vancouver went out, Winnipeg went out. And before long, Chatham and Tiverton and Moose Jaw and everywhere else went out. And the government had a little more on their plate than they wanted to handle. So they changed the law. They said: Oh, that was a mistake, from now on postal workers can go on strike.
The postal workers emerged, for the next several decades, as the vanguard of militant struggle throughout Canada, particularly in English Canada. They were a union that the Trotskyist League recruited from--a number of people here have experience--they were a union which the [Toronto] Globe and Mail regarded as being run by and controlled by Marxists. It was a little overblown, some of the hyperbole, but they had a reputation for militant struggle which was well-deserved. And the connection is extremely important.
Now, what's very important in this--I mean, this is a living example of the vanguard role played by the Québécois workers and the influence that it had in English Canada. And then, beyond that, the English-Canadian postal workers began to have an influence on other workers in their localities who observed that they had pretty vigorous picket lines, that they weren't afraid to shut the plant down, etc. And that contributed significantly to the rising levels of class struggle in the late `60s.
What's important to think about in this connection is that this initiative by the Montreal postal workers touched off solidarity actions throughout English Canada. But it never touched off solidarity actions among postal workers in Seattle, or in Buffalo, or in Chicago, or in New York. And there's a reason for that--and the reason is the border. Because it was a separate state, because they weren't in the same union, because they didn't have the same employer, it didn't have a significant effect. And that connection is important.
In 1972 Quebec public sector workers launched a general strike that came as close to a mass insurrection as anything that has ever happened to date in North America. A very important episode in the class struggle. And yet there was no article in [the Spartacist League's] Workers Vanguard. Why not? Not because Workers Vanguard was indifferent to class struggle; not because Workers Vanguard was prejudiced against Québécois workers; not because Workers Vanguard was Anglo-chauvinist, or anything else. It's because it was taking place on the other side of the border, it didn't have a lot of impact in a different country--it wasn't on the national news, it was difficult to find out about. The New York Times was able to keep the coverage out.
They could not ignore it in Toronto though. The Globe and Mail had to cover it. They covered it in the Vancouver papers and the Regina papers, and every Canadian left group knew about it and paid attention to it and had an opinion on it one way or the other. Once again, there is a certain reality to being in a common state which gives struggles in one part of that state an impact in other parts that they would not have otherwise.
The influence of the more militant Québécois workers on English-Canadian workers has not been confined to the post office either. In 1975 the head of the CLC [Canadian Labour Congress] came up with a plan called "tri-partism" where the government, the employers and the unions all sit down and work out things for their mutual benefit. It's kind of organized class-collaborationism. And a lot of bureaucrats thought that sort of sounded good. Trudeau was certainly willing to fool around with it. But the Quebec labor movement smelled a rat immediately. They immediately objected to it and made a lot of telling points about why this wasn't a good idea and why anyone who got in on this was a sucker, and very soon the more militant sectors of the English-Canadian working class began to mobilize around that. Their leaders then started to get cold feet, and "tri-partism" effectively fell through. And that was quite directly as a result of the influence that the Québécois workers had.
In the rail unions there is also a history of common struggle between English-Canadian and Quebec workers. The rail unions went on strike in 1950--they were legislated back to work. Again in 1966 they were legislated back to work. In 1973 they went out again and the first article that Workers Vanguard ever wrote about Canada, which appeared in the 14 September 1973 issue, reported how "French-Canadian" workers had been among the leading elements in the strike. And on the front page of Workers Vanguard they had a picture of workers storming Parliament Hill, one of whom is carrying a sign in French, (actually a sign advertising the NDP [Canada's social-democratic New Democratic Party] as it happened--he would be an unusual element).
But this was a very important political strike. There was considerable debate within the labor movement as to whether or not they should defy the government. And again, the Quebec section of the labor movement was in favor of defying the government. It was a strike that took place across Canada, was supported enthusiastically and participated in by workers of both nations. Very important. And it was, as I say, one of a series. There wasn't a split in the ranks of those workers along national lines, just as there weren't splits along national lines among the postal workers of any significance.
The railworkers' strike was stabbed in the back by the labor bureaucrats, it was stabbed in the back by the NDP who supported the legislation at a critical stage, but it was not crippled by nationalist poison. It wasn't crippled by divisions between Anglo-Canadian and Québécois workers.
In 1995, just a few years ago, there was another national rail strike. There was another [piece of] government legislation brought down to smash that strike and send those workers back to work and again there was no split along national lines. Again the trade union bureaucracy played a perfidious role, and again the NDP voted to stab the strike in the back. But there was not a significant division between Québécois and English-Canadian workers in that national strike either.
Since the 1960s and 1970s, the general level of class struggle has been lower, but the pattern has remained. The pattern, that is, of unity across the national divide in the working class, in the important struggles. In 1981, the year that [Quebec premier] René Lévesque won his second mandate for the PQ [Quebec separatist Parti Québécois], the year that Trudeau repatriated the constitution without Quebec's consent, mortgage rates started to hit 22 percent, a lot of people started to lose their houses. And Trudeau said: Oh I know, we can fix this--we'll bring in wage controls again. And a lot of the unions, including this time some of the Anglo-Canadian dominated unions like CUPE [Canadian Union of Public Employees], said: If you do that we're going to have a general strike and this time it is going to be a real one.
Well, of course that was sort of huff and puff, but there was a lot of pressure at the base of the labor movement against wage controls. It made the government think twice and, on the part of the bureaucracy, they were kind of worried what was going to happen to all this restiveness. And again, as usual, the Québécois workers were about twice as involved and twice as militant. But this was a bi-national event. So the labor bureaucracy called a big demonstration in Ottawa for November 21st and 100,000 workers turned out, the biggest demonstration ever in Ottawa--an important index of the desire to struggle and the willingness to struggle, should the workers be attacked by wage controls again. And the workers there carried banners in English and in French, chanted and sang in English and in French. It was a powerful mobilization from both sides of the national divide. And this, at a point where there was significant tension: as I said, the year that the constitution (so-called) was forced on Quebec.
Ten years after this, in 1991, [Tory prime minister Brian] Mulroney decided he was going to whack the tame civil servants' union--PSAC [Public Service Alliance of Canada] and he got a huge surprise when 10,000s of PSAC members (sparked, as usual, by the more militant Québécois sector) mobilized, exploded in anger, punched through the RCMP [Royal Canadian Mounted Police] lines, ran up and besieged parliament. It was a completely unprecedented and unanticipated response to what Mulroney thought would just be a bit of routine union-bashing.
At the time Spartacist Canada [Winter 1992-3] reported that:
"The thousands of PSAC unionists, English-Canadian, Québécois and immigrant alike, who stood shoulder-to-shoulder on mass pickets in Ottawa/Hull during last years government workers strike showed the way toward common struggle against a common enemy."
Indeed they did. Spartacist Canada had it exactly right again. This strike, we should remember too, took place one year after the Meech Lake [formal recognition of Quebec as a "distinct society"] rejection. It took place at the point, certainly one of the points, of the highest level of national polarization. And yet it was supported by both components of the working class. It was not crippled, it was not divided by national antagonism, it was not doomed by the poison of national hostility. It was doomed by the betrayal of the bureaucracy, they were stabbed in the back.
Today Spartacist Canada refers to the PSAC strike as an "episodic" event--an "episode": there have been "episodes" where there is joint class struggle. I'm saying they weren't "episodes"--it's characteristic. Bourgeois sociologists dismiss any upsurge of working class struggle as an "episode." But, let's hear, what are the "episodes" on the other side? I'll be anxious to hear what the evidence is. I don't think there is any.
Those connections that exist, that have been forged over years, through many struggles, between the workers of English Canada and the Québécois working class--they're worth something. At many union conventions the Quebec delegates constitute an automatic bloc of votes in favor of things like sending aid to Chiapas, or to Cuba, or in favor of abortion rights, or in favor of equality for gays and lesbians. And this has inevitably exerted considerable influence on the attitudes of sections of the English-Canadian working class, and it goes a long way to explaining why Canadian labor bureaucrats find it necessary to strike a more left-wing pose than American labor bureaucrats.
There is a difference, and the difference--more than anything else--is the connection with the Québécois workers. The TL simply can't provide any serious account of the lessons of the social struggles of the past 30 years and instead what we hear is a mantra, over and over, that separation is necessary as a first step before there is any possibility of successful class struggle.
In the Spartacist No. 52 [reprinted from Spartacist Canada September/October 1995]: "successful proletarian struggle demands separation into two independent nation-states." You can't have "successful proletarian struggle" before you have separation. In the same article they say:
"The recognition by the workers of each nation that their respective capitalist rulers--not each other--are the enemy can come only through an independent Quebec."
It can "only" come--the workers can "only" see that their boss is their enemy--after Quebec's independent. That's what the comrades are telling us.
Another example is: "the only road to bringing to the fore the real social contradictions" in Canada is through Quebec separation. That's also a quote from Spartacist Canada [September/October 1995].
In the Winter 1997/98 issue of Spartacist Canada we read that independence is:
"the means to cut through the barrier which sets worker against worker along national lines, thereby laying a basis for bringing the decisive class questions to the fore."
"Laying a basis"--there's no "basis" to bring the decisive class questions to the fore until we have separation. The "basis" doesn't exist, according theSpartacist Canada. Wrong! Wrong, comrades. You can't explain how there has been as much class struggle as there has been if there is no "basis" for it--if the "basis" doesn't exist. The basis does exist.
Was there a "basis" in 1978 when CUPW defied the government for five days, until they were stabbed in the back by the CLC? What about Harris' Ontario--is there a "basis" for class struggle? Contrary to what the comrades of the TL tell us, there is, and there has been, a basis for successful class struggle in Canada for the past historic period.
The problem, comrades, is not that we haven't had Quebec separation; the problem is the character of the leadership of the workers' movement. The problem is the crisis of proletarian leadership. It may very well be that the day will come, and it may come next week, that separation is necessary to push forward class struggle. But to assert that through the 1960s, the 1970s, `80s and `90s there has been no basis for joint struggle--it just flies in the face of the entire history of this country.
To claim also that proletarian struggle cannot be successful until Quebec is independent implies a kind of two-stage model of social revolution: first we get Quebec independence, then we can have successful proletarian struggle. This two-stage model is characteristic of every kind of revisionist, from Mensheviks to Stalinists. And the logic (if you were to take it to its logical extent) of this position is that you really should want to vote for the PQ because the PQ is going to bring independence if anyone--that's the logic of it, that's a logical corollary. I'm not saying the Trotskyist League is advocating that, I know they're not, but that's the logic of this stageist argument which you are making in your newspaper repeatedly.
Another thing you might think about is, what are the implications of this kind of model if we look at other societies? Like in the United States, for instance--the division between white workers and black workers is at least as serious as the division between anglo- and francophone workers here. What's the conclusion to be drawn there? Is class struggle impossible? Or does it only become possible after black workers are somehow separated from white workers? No, it's very pessimistic, it's very objectivist and it's a very false model that you comrades have developed.
It struck me in reading the Trotskyist League literature on this question that they're a little vague when exactly it was necessary to call for separation. Maybe we will get a little clarity on that, but at different points it seems to me that they suggest 1960, 1965, 1970, 1975. I think that reason that they lack precision is because their position is not derived from the concrete analysis of the developments in the workers movement, but rather from a sudden change of mind by their leader who is resident in California and doesn't actually know very much about the question at all, as is quite evident from his contributions to the bulletin that these comrades have done us the favor of publishing.
You don't have to take my word for it--the TL has published a bulletin of their deliberations ["On the Quebec National Question"]. Anyone can read it and draw their own conclusions. But I think that it is quite a revealing document about the way their organization works, and I think that anyone with a modicum of political sophistication, who is able to read between the lines, will see pretty clearly how things work in the ICL [International Communist League, formerly the international Spartacist tendency] these days.
It's rather depressing reading in many ways, or amusing, depending on how important you consider the Trotskyist League to be. Comrade Oliver Stephens, in the March 1996 issue of Spartacist Canada, made a contribution that was considered valuable enough to be reprinted without comment or criticism. He talked about the national question and his article ends (part one of his article ends) with a rather peculiar quote. I think to understand it you have to appreciate that while Oliver does not have a Scottish background, Comrade Robertson [founder/leader of the Spartacist tendency] does. Oliver's quote is this:
"So the concept of a nation, as we know it in the latter 20th century, is historically a recent development. This of course has not prevented various nationalists from inventing a glorious `history' for their own particular nation. Most of this is nonsense, but the Scots may be an exception to the rule. In 1320 the Scottish lords petitioned the Pope--in writing, quite a novelty at the time!--for succor against the predations of the English king. In their `Declaration of Arbroath' they noted that:
"`...we find that among other famous nations our own, the Scots, has been graced with widespread renown. They journeyed from Greater Scythia by way of the Tyrrhenian Sea and the Pillars of Hercules, and dwelt for a long course of time in Spain among the most savage tribes, but nowhere could they be subdued by any race, however barbarous. Thence they came, twelve hundred years after the people of Israel crossed the Red Sea, to their home in the west where they still live today....In their kingdom there have reigned one hundred and thirteen kings of their own royal stock, the line unbroken by a single foreigner."
Now, some of you may not know that the house of Robertson was indeed one of the royal houses of Scotland. I personally think that has something to do with the fact that was considered to be significant and important and included in the document. I don't want to embarrass or put the comrades on the spot, but I would be interested in having them explain exactly what that was supposed to have meant in their newspaper.
I think that the comrades of the Trotskyist League have renounced the position which was one of the very important founding positions of our organization in this country. I think that their reversal on Quebec is a part of a larger revisionist pattern that at bottom reflects a loss of confidence in the power of the Trotskyist program, and even the feasibility of forging socialist consciousness in the working class and they increasingly exhibit an appetite to look to what they take to be more "real" forces--from Stalinist bureaucrats like Yuri Andropov, or [Gregor] Gysi [head of the ruling Stalinist party during the liquidation of the East German workers' state in 1990] or whoever, to the forces of Québécois nationalism.
We launched [the forerunner to] the International Bolshevik Tendency 16 years ago to preserve and advance the historic program of Trotskyism which the Spartacist tendency and James Robertson, its historic leader, had long championed. We remain committed to that struggle and, as a part of that struggle, to defend the position on Quebec developed by the TL over 20 years ago, against the pessimistic, impressionistic and revisionist policy which they have recently embraced.
Charles Galarneau (TL/ICL):
Before addressing the question of Quebec, I have one opening remark. The only reason we have agreed to engage in tonight's debate is because it was requested by a third party, the Brock Socialists, who have expressed an interest in Trotskyist politics. Otherwise, we would have no interest in debating the Bolshevik Tendency.
One can judge most organizations on the left pretty accurately by what they say in their press and in interventions, but this is not entirely the case with the IBT. It was founded by people who individually quit our organization almost 20 years ago, and spent the next decade and more pursuing a hostile obsession with us. They are a peculiar and dubious outfit. While at times they present a counterfeit version of our positions, they simultaneously insinuate themselves in places and among forces which are aimed at doing us harm.
About a decade ago, these embittered ex-members went and found the most revolting anti-Spartacist on the face of the earth to be their supreme leader. The leader of the International Bolshevik Tendency, Bill Logan, is a vicious sociopath who was expelled from our organization twenty years ago for gross crimes against communist morality and elementary human decency. This is an individual who finds personal gratification in the overtly sadistic exercise of power over others, especially women--and like attracts like.
Two weeks ago, a former leading member and longtime supporter of the IBT, Ian Donovan, staged a vicious physical attack on an Irish woman comrade of ours at a London demonstration commemorating the Bloody Sunday massacre in Northern Ireland. So, okay, Donovan recently broke with the IBT, but he's straight out of their culture medium. Several left organizations in Britain immediately protested this vicious assault: but not Ian Donovan's friends in the IBT.
But given that the Brock Socialists have asked us to debate the BT, the question of Quebec independence is an appropriate topic.
First of all, it is central to revolutionary struggle in this country, and second, the BT's overtly Anglo-chauvinist line exposes their opportunist positions and social-democratic appetites--in other words, it exemplifies why the BT has nothing to do with the struggle for a Leninist party acting as a tribune for all the oppressed.
We in the Trotskyist League call for Quebec independence to help clear the way for united struggle by the working class against capitalism. Chauvinism and nationalism have deeply poisoned the class struggle in both English Canada and Quebec, binding English-speaking and French-speaking workers to their capitalist enemies. This is caused by the continued existence of two separate and increasingly divergent nations, one oppressing the other, within the same bourgeois state structure.
Just look at the Ottawa parliament. In the last two elections, the opposition benches have been filled by the ultra Anglo-chauvinist Reform Party on the one side, and the indépendantiste Bloc Québécois on the other. Large sections of the English-Canadian working class fell for Preston Manning's unvarnished chauvinism as the alternative to the discredited pro-capitalist NDP, which itself pushes anti-Quebec bigotry, notably in the West. And this chauvinism gives the Quebec nationalists all the ammunition they need to keep the Québécois workers attached to their coat-tails.
First and foremost, we fight against Maple Leaf chauvinism in the English-Canadian working class. We believe with Lenin that, "a proletariat that tolerates the slightest coercion of other nations by its `own' nation, cannot be a socialist proletariat." At the same time, calling for independence helps combat nationalism in Quebec, giving us a hearing to win Quebec workers away from their pro-PQ misleaders.
But the Bolshevik Tendency opposes Quebec independence. They called on Quebec workers to vote "No" in the 1995 sovereignty referendum. Aside from the notoriously Canadian-nationalist Communist Party, they were the only left group to join the "No" campaign gainst Quebec independence. The BT was in a direct bloc with the English-Canadian ruling class and their agents in the workers' movement, the NDP.
And the big-time Anglo-chauvinists knew they'd found a soul-mate. They invited the Bolshevik Tendency to their big federalist, national unity parade in Montreal just before the referendum. The BT's call to vote "No" was a gross capitulation to the Anglo rulers--the federalists knew it, and the BT's only Quebec member quit over it. Here is what he told his comrades at the time:
"I believe the `no' perspective advocated by the IBT was a misguided, politically damaging and unfortunate position for a revolutionary organization to defend, placing you in a de facto bloc with the Canadian bourgeoisie."
In truth, the BT has never been any sort of revolutionary organization. Their founding members quit our party some two decades ago under the pressure of Cold War anti-Sovietism. At a time when the imperialist rulers sharply escalated their war drive against the Soviet Union, the future BTers fled from our sharp-edged defense of the deformed and degenerated workers' states.
The Russian Revolution has long been the dividing line between revolutionaries and all kinds of reformists and other petit-bourgeois dilettantes. All those who have gone over on this question reflect the pressures of their own imperialist rulers, and thus actively capitulate to the bourgeoisie on the home front as well.
The BT's chauvinist line on Quebec obeys this logic. So it is at the same time slimy, false, and irresponsible for them to cite us as the authors of their disgusting position. They claim that their "No" vote and the false arguments they use to justify this, were just upholding the historic position of the Trotskyist League. This is laughable. Our so-called historic position was always for the right of Quebec to self-determination, which absolutely excluded any bloc with the Anglo bourgeoisie to keep Quebec down.
But the real point is that we fought for defense of Quebec's national rights. Spartacist Canada has had dozens of articles on this subject, much before 1976, at least a year before that. We have intervened within the English-Canadian workers' movement and the trade unions against the Anglo-chauvinism of the labor tops and the NDP. In Quebec, we distributed propaganda in both languages which sought to break the hold of Québécois nationalism within the proletariat.
So now I'll give you a basic Marxist proposition: you know the world only to the extent that you intervene to change it. On the streets, in the factories--not in some library or in your head. So, we intervened and we learned. And when the question came to a head once again before the '95 referendum, based on all these years of work, we stopped and we thought. We reassessed our position in the fashion of Leninists, and we realized we had been wrong. We figured out--a little late, but in time--that had we not gone over to the advocacy of Quebec independence, it would have called into question our existence as a revolutionary organization in this country. I encourage everyone here to read our bulletin, "On the National Question in Quebec," which details not only how we came to change our line to advocacy of Quebec independence, but how a truly Leninist organization arrives at a correct political line.
But what about the BT? Did they intervene? No, not for years. In the first ten years of their existence in this country from 1982 to 1992, these guys wrote exactly one sentence on Quebec--and man, did we have to look for it. When the BT finally did put out a piece of propaganda on Quebec, it was a common statement on the 1992 Charlottetown referendum with Maoist groups. It didn't so much as mention Quebec's right to self-determination. So much for upholding our historic position.
Instead we see here the abyss between revolutionary Marxism on the national question and the views of the BT. In 1992 to make their cosy coalition with the Maoists, the BT dropped the right of self-determination. But in 1995, in the referendum, they just opposed independence outright. In their pre-referendum leaflet [1917 No. 17], they say:
"Our advice to Quebec workers is to vote `No' to Parizeau and Bouchard's attempt to establish themselves as the political representatives of an independent Quebec bourgeoisie."
So the BT worries about an independent Quebec bourgeoisie. But what about the already well established political representatives of the Anglo-Canadian bourgeoisie, whose federal state is maintained by the forcible subjugation of Quebec? Here, the Bolshevik Tendency openly fights for the status quo. And they justify this with arguments exactly parallel to those of the Anglo-chauvinist labor bureaucracy.
The BT claims it's not necessary to call for independence because the workers of Quebec and English Canada are not decisively divided. Solidarity Forever--blah, blah, blah. They sound like a CLC press release.
The BT say in their occasional journal that, "the pattern of class struggle since the 1950s has largely been one of joint struggle." And Tom said so much tonight. In the same vein, they state that, "The working class of Quebec is the best organized and most militant in North America." Notice that the BT puts this in the present tense. This used to be the case, but not any more. And you want to know why? Because the militancy of Quebec labor was channelled into support for bourgeois nationalism. And this was in direct reaction to the virulent chauvinism of the NDP and the CLC bureaucrats.
The once-militant Quebec proletariat was driven into the arms of their own nationalist exploiters, not least because of the tirades for Canadian unity coming out of the CLC and the NDP. This is what led to the first election of the Parti Québécois in 1976, and the subsequent sharp decline in the combativity of Quebec labor. But in the BT's fantasy world, all this never happened. Because they're infused with the same vicious Anglo-chauvinism pushed by the NDP and the labor bureaucrats.
I'll give you a very important example of what I mean. The semi-insurrectionary Quebec general strike of 1972 was isolated and betrayed by the chauvinist CLC and NDP tops. At the very height of the general strike, the CLC passed a resolution denouncing "those elements in any part of Canada which advocate the destruction of Confederation." Then NDP leader David Lewis supported the jailing of Quebec labor leaders, yet the BT scoffs at any suggestion of Anglo-chauvinism on the part of the social democrats. In their only major article on Quebec in 1917 No. 17 they simply say that David Lewis,
"was certainly an enemy of militants in the Québécois workers' movement, But he was equally hostile to leftists of any sort in the English-Canadian labor movement."
The BT puts an equals sign between the NDP's betrayal of a near-insurrectionary general strike in Quebec and the expulsion of the left-reformist Waffle. And this is the only time they even mention the NDP in their article. To hear 1917 tell it, you would not know that the social-democrats foment anti-Quebec chauvinism at all. Well, anyone who watches the news knows that the likes of Bob Rae, Roy Romanow and Glen Clark [NDP provincial premiers] have been willing, aggressive point men for the "national unity" crusade--just as David Lewis was 25 years ago.
For our part, we fight to build a Leninist party of the proletariat, which means breaking the working class base from the NDP social-democrats. That means we expose and fight against these chauvinist misleaders. Now you can draw a straight line from the betrayal of the general strike to the rise of the bourgeois nationalist PQ. Since then, just about every union in Quebec has come out for sovereignty. Only one of its union federations (and there are three or four big ones) the FTQ [Quebec Federation of Labour--to which half the unionists in Quebec are affiliated], has any kind of links with English-Canadian labor, and even they almost walked out in a nationalist split in the early `90s.
Significantly, BT's evidence for united class struggle starts in the 1960s with the rise of the postal union and goes up to 1976. That's 23 years ago. After that, they cite only one example in the article, the 1991 federal civil servants strike. Okay, it is a good thing that there was some united struggle by English-Canadian and Quebec workers then, and we could cite another couple of examples of this happening. But for anyone who wants to see, it is clear that beginning in the mid-1970s, chauvinism and nationalism have deeply polarized this country, including the working class.
This was also the period when the rising Quebec bourgeoisie established its restrictive language laws underlining that there would be no assimilation into English Canada, but that they would build their own separate society. Now the BT even admits that, "labor has been on the defensive in recent years." But what has conditioned this but the misleadership of the labor movement which ties the working class to the capitalist system? And a key mechanism for this is English-Canadian chauvinism, which has in turn pushed Quebec workers deeper into the arms of the bourgeois nationalists.
Now perhaps the most anti-Leninist and anti-Marxist argument that the BT raises against our call for independence is that it amounts to a two-stage theory of social liberation. They say,
"the clear implication is that the working class cannot develop class consciousness until and unless Quebec separates."
Well, Karl Marx said a long time ago that a nation which oppresses another cannot itself be free. Here's what Marx wrote about the Irish national question,
"It is in the direct and absolute interest of the English working class to get rid of their present connection with Ireland....The English working class will never accomplish anything before it has got rid of Ireland."
Perhaps the BT will now attack Marx as a proponent of two-stage revolution. In fact, the position of the BT is a straight capitulation to national chauvinism. Our position, like Marx's, is premised on opening the road to proletarian revolution by breaking the hold of chauvinism on the working class.
On this score, it's worth noting that the BT's affiliates in England have spent the last several years calling for electoral support to a group known as the Socialist Party, which is notorious for supporting the occupation of Northern Ireland by British troops. Not once has the English BT polemicized against this thoroughly pro-imperialist stance of this outfit on Ireland.
In fact, on every national terrain where they exist, the BT is a walking capitulation to their "own" capitalist rulers. As in Canada over Quebec, and in England over Ireland, so too in the United States over the black question, the forcible suppression of the majority of the black population at the bottom of American society. Our organization has long emphasized that the fight for black freedom is central to the fight for socialist revolution in the U.S.
But from their very origins, the BT has sneered at our fight for the working class to actively champion black freedom. When we organized a 5,000-strong labor/black mobilization which stopped the Ku Klux Klan in Washington in 1982, the BT spat on this work. One of their members called it "ghetto work." The BT accused us of "abandoning trade union work." What can this mean, except that the BT sees the working class as separate from and counterposed to the black plebeian masses--exactly the view of the labor bureaucracy. In fact, our Washington mobilization brought together in microcosm the forces for American proletarian revolution--black and red. Labor, with its core centrality of black workers, bringing its power to bear in defense of the ghetto masses, who were also mobilized, all under communist leadership.
The BT's Anglo-chauvinist position on Quebec is perfectly consistent with their political origins in the early 1980s, in a series of cowardly flinches over the defense of the Soviet bureaucratically degenerated workers' state. In the Cold War 1980s, our organization put hard and up front our unconditional defense of the deformed and degenerated workers' states against counter-revolution, even as we continued to politically oppose the Stalinist bureaucracies and fight for proletarian political revolution.
For example, when the Soviet Army intervened against the CIA-backed Islamic cut-throats in Afghanistan in late 1979, we said, "Hail the Red Army in Afghanistan," calling to "Extend social gains of the October Revolution to the Afghan peoples." The social-democrats and pseudo-leftists, who are howling with the imperialist wolves against the Soviet Union, hated our slogan. At the time, we wrote that if the ET, (that's the External Tendency--the BT's precursors) were more honest, they would admit that they hated it too.
Well, it took them a few years, but they finally did admit that yes, they hated it, arguing that it meant we were putting faith in the Stalinists. No. First of all, we were simply expressing our unconditional defense of the Soviet degenerated workers' state against capitalism. And we also recognized that the deformed expression of the dictatorship of the proletariat, as represented by the Soviet Army, was the only force capable of bringing some measure of liberation, especially to women, in Afghanistan.
The BT is an organization which congealed in reaction to the heat of imperialist Cold War II. From this original capitulation to their own ruling classes, it was a short step down a slippery slope to embracing the chauvinism of the bourgeoisie from Canada to Britain and beyond. Far from a fight to build a revolutionary party, the BT at best reflects the views of the petit-bourgeois intellectual fringe milieus in which they live.
We in the TL however fight to build a revolutionary, proletarian and internationalist vanguard party. Quebec independence is necessary to further class consciousness among workers in this country. That is why this call lies at the heart of our struggle to build the vanguard party, which, in Lenin's words, will be a tribune of the people.
I think an important test to determine whether or not an organization can carry forward the ideas of social revolution, is its ability to tell the truth to the masses. This is an elementary concept and you will not get anywhere through petty deceptions, through all kinds of tricks in your literature. And unfortunately we're seeing a fairly grotesque display by the Trotskyist League tonight, where they think they can use these petty deceptions and petty lies in order to advance their political agenda. And I would submit to the people who are not familiar with the politics of both groups to investigate the literature of both groups in order to determine where the truth lies.
I would draw your attention to three issues especially raised by Charles tonight, and these were just taken at random. There were plenty of them but here are three that struck me as extremely outrageous.
First of all, he started off his presentation by saying that a "BT hanger-on," Ian Donovan, attacked a member of the Spartacist Group Britain in England.
a) He is not a BT hanger-on. He has left our tendency for more than a year. In fact he is also a former member of the Spartacist League/Britain, which Charles forgot to point out. And the fact is that we denounced the attack. We defend any leftist who is subjected to violence in the workers' movement and we would offer defense in the event of an attack. In fact, at the site, we denounced the attack, and indicated that to the Spartacist League/Britain.
You can take my word, but it will be in print. But the fact is this is a tradition we've always upheld and I challenge anybody in this room to show otherwise.
b) On the question of "Hail Red Army": you would hardly know from listening to Charles' presentation that our position on Afghanistan was "Victory to the Soviet Army in Afghanistan." Our tendency believed it would have been to the advantage of the oppressed people in Afghanistan if the Soviet Army had won in Afghanistan. There was an important victory to be won against the mujahedin who wished to impose the veil and the bride price on women. And we think there was a side to be taken. But was that indicated at all in Charles' presentation? Not at all, it's just pure slander.
c) Do we spit on anti-fascist mobilizations? This is perhaps the most outrageous. There have been two major united-front demonstrations in Toronto to save the life of Mumia Abu-Jamal. We've been in a united-front committee with the comrades of the Trotskyist League to build demonstrations to defend Mumia's life. You wouldn't hear any of that from this group. But also we have in fact participated in anti-fascist actions organized by the PDC [Partisan Defense Committee--ICL's legal defense arm], demonstrations against Nazis, and they know that.
Our position is actually quite straightforward. We advocate Quebec independence because the national divisions in this country where the Québécois are oppressed under an Anglo-dominated state have poisoned any perspective for anti-capitalist class struggle. This is a fact and anybody who seeks to make a revolutionary intervention into the labor movement knows this. But the BT does not know this. They refuse to accept this and I note that all of the examples they provided end around 1976, precisely at the time when all the national divisions began to be intensified.
Since you brought it up, I just want to talk just a little bit about CUPW, which happens to be my union. Back in the 1960s it was indeed quite militant but if you look at CUPW today it's been paralyzed by internal faction fighting and divisions. And the national divisions have played a part in this. The position of the English-Canadian bureaucrats is to vote NDP, but the NDP has been leading the anti-Québécois bashing, especially in the West. And if you look at the Québécois workers, what they've been fighting for is for independence, and so they vote for the PQ and the BQ [Bloc Québécois--Quebec separatist party in federal parliament]. In the last couple of years the Quebec bureaucrats have been fighting for financial independence in the union. And just recently if you look at the web site you will see that in the French translation of CUPW the word "Canadian" has been dropped.
So what the real story is, is that by the mid-1970s national chauvinism had taken a decisive hold on Québécois workers. And this is thanks to the betrayals of the chauvinist English-Canadian labor bureaucrats in knifing the 1972 general strike. Back at the CLC Convention in 1972, there was a demand for the Congress and all its affiliates to oppose the elements who were against Confederation, and also any attempts to decrease the federal powers. At the same congress, [NDP leader] David Lewis was on the front podium cheering on the jailing of the Common Front leaders. Since the 1972 sellouts what we've seen is a clear line that can be drawn, where the rise of the national division has begun. But the BT has been denying this reality.
You've got to ask yourself--why are they doing this? It is all the better to capitulate. If you think about it, with their line, divide), if the workers were united in class struggle then you can be against independence and you can tell the workers to vote "No." But what does this really mean? It means that you are in the camp of the Anglo chauvinists. It also means that you have such a right-wing political position that you get a personal invite to the unity rally called by Ottawa and Quebec big business. And this is not some sort of mistaken analysis, but a straight capitulation to the bourgeoisie.
I thought it was interesting that comrade Charles used the word "reassessing" in describing what caused the TL to shift its position on independence for Quebec, into advocating it. Because there's a lot of ways that we can reassess something, and having recently joined the IBT one of the things that was very important for me to do was to go back and look at the history of revolutionary continuity. And to look at the differences that had emerged between the BT and the TL, to see who was actually historically standing by those original positions, and what I really thought of those original positions, and if I agreed with them.
Marx and Engels in a sense were "reassessing" the socialist movement that pre-existed in that day and that led them to develop and extend the theory that we know as Marxism today. Lenin was making a "reassessment" when he formed the Third International, based on the collapse of the Second International. But there's another way we can talk about something being a "reassessment," and I think it becomes a codeword for something else, which is a capitulation or a degeneration. Because one could argue in the history of our movement, the Fourth International, that the Pabloists were reassessing the situation when, in the mid-1950s, they said that we couldn't build a vanguard party at this time, that wasn't possible, and looked to the Stalinists, and looked to the social-democratic movement, and looked to liquidate themselves inside of that.
Cannon wrote something that I think is very telling about the situation in the American Communist Party at the time where he said, that:
"When you begin by giving a little principle here and there for the sake of expediency, you start a process that confronts you just a little later with a demand for a little more. This was particularly true in the early Communist Party when the sophisticated people began to realize the power was in Moscow, and that you couldn't function in a small, national party like ours if you were in conflict with Moscow."
Now I'm suggesting in a certain sense that the Moscow of the TL is Jim Robertson and that what you've got is a change of policy that's talking place in that internal bulletin that you can purchase back there. I think everyone in this room should read where Jim all of a sudden changes his mind, and the whole party is expected to snap to it and change their mind. And you know, there's been a lot of reassessment going on by the ICL and the TL in the last decade. You look at the positions the RT, the Revolutionary Tendency [forerunner of the Spartacist League], split from the Socialist Workers Party over, and you can see capitulations all along that line by the TL today where they do not uphold those positions any more.
Would the founding cadre of the RT defend the Stalinists, apologize for them unconditionally in advance, and any crimes they might commit in the suppression of Solidarnosc? In 1974, the SL in Great Britain called to extend a general strike that was occurring there. Do they do the same in Canada today? Did they do the same in Paris a few years ago? Did they do the same in Italy a few years ago? The written record is there. The TL has preserved it in print. You can look at it and compare both sides and I urge everyone to do so and ask themselves who is really defending the orthodox Trotskyist positions?
I'm from the International Communist League. The refusal to fight against national oppression and special oppression of minorities and women is a hallmark of rotten chauvinist laborism. The BT labels our labor-black mobilizations as signs of the ICL abandoning the working class, sneeringly referring to these mobilizations as "community," or "ghetto" work. What these mobilizations have done is provide, in exemplary fashion, the way that the integrated proletariat can, and must, be a tribune of all the oppressed.
This requires a fight against the pro-capitalist labor bureaucracy, who oppose the fusion of red and black. The task of revolutionary Marxists is to bring socialist consciousness into the proletariat. It is the duty of the working class to defend black rights, to link the multi-racial working class with that of the ghetto and the barrios.
The Bolshevik Tendency also laughingly says that the Internationalist Communist League has abandoned its trade-union work. Recently the largest transit workers' union in North America, the Amalgamated Transit Union, at its national convention passed a resolution in defense of American death row class-war prisoner, Mumia Abu-Jamal. This is a result of class-struggle militants in that union working for over ten years to mobilize the labor movement in Mumia's defense.
At the November 21st 1998 Chicago labor-black rally in Jamal's defense, members of the ATU were front and center. These are examples of communist trade-union work . The BT doesn't do trade-union work. What they do is scab on the 32-B-J strike in New York City of building workers, and then have the nerve to write an entire document defending the right of petty-bourgeois dilettantes to cross picket lines. That's what the BT does.
Briefly on the Andropov contingent at the November 22nd 1982 demonstration that stopped the Klan: it was a joke. We had a bus of people with a lot of ex-members (you know, Mensheviks), so we called it our Andropov brigade. But you know what? There was also something there called the "Ulysses S. Grant Bus," who was a U.S. president, all right? No howls of indignation.
There was an "in memoriam" box though for Mr. Andropov in Workers Vanguard [No. 348, 17 February 1984], which you won't find for any of the other ones, which gave him a pretty good rating--a three out of four rating. The discussion that's gone on tonight on the question of Quebec, which is what the TL had wanted to have this debate over, is not one of principle but rather one of strategy. We both agree that Quebec has the right to self-determination. It is question of advocacy of that point. All this talk, trying to label us as Anglo-chauvinist, and chauvinists and all the rest of it--until James Robertson wrote his little memo (his ill-informed memo, I would say) in December of 1994, this was a position that the Trotskyist League had upheld until that time. A position that they had had since their inception.
Tonight we've had no clarity except making the blanket statement--and that's all we've heard from Charles and the other speakers on behalf of the Trotskyist League--the blanket statement that there cannot be class unity until independence for Quebec has been achieved. You state that, and you say the class struggle can't move forward. I would say that you are arguing basically two-stagism. What we have argued is that, in fact, the history of the class struggle in this country has shown otherwise.
And you just snuff that off, and make a blanket statement. That's not very precise, not very useful--there's no clarity there. When would you have advocated this independence for Quebec? Right from the get-go? From the Quiet Revolution [of the early 1960s], from 1974, 1976--you never state that, we didn't hear that from Charles tonight. Your document on it is completely muddled and befuddled and doesn't state it anywhere. When?
I would say to the Trotskyist League, that Marxist methodology is to be precise, that Marxism is a science--and just as on this question it goes back to some imprecise time in the past, so too on the Russian Question. In 1991, when the coup happened between Yaneyev & Yeltsin, and we said yes, you have to side with the coupists against Yeltsin--this is the decisive moment. When Yeltsin won this represented the triumph of the counterrevolution in the Soviet Union.
The Spartacist League said no, and they waited until they handed out their leaflet and found they didn't get a response to it and then, I guess, it did [happen]. They didn't take a side in the major historic dispute in 1991. It shows there's a lack of historical precision: when quantity becomes quality, when things happen--it's just some amorphous time for them and likewise on the question of Quebec.
I would just say also that to tell the truth is one of the most important things for a revolutionary group. And this piece of drivel, this piece of crap that they have in their newspaper [on Ian Donovan] here, has the audacity to state: "one account of a survivor of Logan's organization, Phil Ferguson, notes..." Well, I will inform you: Phil Ferguson has never even met Bill Logan.
First, this isn't about analysis, and this is not about tactics. This is about principle, all right? When you blocked with the Anglo bourgeoisie you crossed the line. You broke with everything that has anything to do with revolutionary struggle in this country. When you said "Vote No" you voted with everybody: Reform, and, most importantly, you voted with the union bureaucracy, and you voted with the NDP, like centrists like you always do.
Lenin made it very clear that opportunism is always nationally-based, okay? The little guys like you, you don't capitulate straight to the bourgeoisie--you capitulate to the social democrats, who feed the poison of chauvinism and racism and everything else into the working class. That's how you guys do it.
If anybody was paying any attention to what Tom said tonight, you will notice that he said nothing about the NDP traitors and their chauvinism against Quebec. Not one word. Not one word about the chauvinism of the labor bureaucracy. Not one word about the Quebec labor tops and their nationalism. Nothing. Why? Because that's the direction they capitulate in. And it's not just here.
In Britain, they capitulate along the same lines, along the same lines of special oppression and national oppression, refusing to criticize the Socialist Party for troops in Ireland. The little joke we get here about the Declaration of Arbroath: Tom thinks it's funny? Let me tell you, their organization do not think that the Scots are an oppressed nation. And Tom laughs.
That's the kind of militant indifference that this organization has towards questions of national and other forms of special oppression. Their organization in New Zealand almost never writes a word about the grinding oppression of the black Maori population in that country. And U.S. black people--you've got yourself a nerve! They started out--you should read this--the very first and only statement on the black question in their newspaper for many years is in their first issue. It is a disgusting, cop-baiting diatribe against a supporter of the MOVE organization. Why attack the MOVE organization? Because it's a stick to beat the Spartacists.
You want re-evaluation? Yes, the Bolshevik Tendency has recently, very recently, decided to become involved in the Jamal work, after many years. That's not a bad thing, but I'd say that's a re-evaluation in terms of which way the wind is blowing in the petty-bourgeois milieus they like to circulate in.
The only time Tom raised the black question tonight was to make a joke. To make a joke! At our expense. Do we think that the struggle can't go forward in the United States unless blacks are separate? Very funny Tom, very goddamn funny.
I'm from the Brock Socialists. I'm interested in socialism and I realize it's an important issue on what side of the boundary you line up on when you're fighting for socialism. It always seems to me, from what I've learned about Marxism and consciousness and how racism and sexism and chauvinism get manifested and is reflected in our lives, is that its a result of the underlying relations and structures, which in our case is capitalist social relations. It's capitalism to me which seems to be the enemy.
I want to fight for socialism, but I don't want to fight to lash some oppressed group to their own national bourgeoisie. I don't want to fight to install a bourgeois country in Quebec. I want to fight for socialism, and to try and figure out the best way to get there. I don't think the relations are that poisoned. Compared to what's going on in the Balkans and whatnot, I don't see how the working class nationally is that divided in this country. And I think the task of any revolutionary socialist group, would be to call for an independent socialist state in Quebec, not necessarily an independent Quebec. I haven't heard that lined up, and because I haven't heard that, I tend to agree that this sounds like some form of two-stagism. And that's all I have to say.
I'm a supporter of the Bolshevik Tendency. First I'd like to thank the Brock Socialists who invited us, and I think that it's great to have a discussion among different socialist organizations. That way we can exchange opinions and develop further politically, so I hope that we can have more of these kinds of discussions in the future.
I would like to make a couple of comments. The first point on Quebec. Tom mentioned very clearly that the BT and SL both agree that we defend Quebec's right to self-determination, but we differ on the question of when Marxists should call for separation, when Marxists should advocate separation. As a principle, Marxists oppose any kind of nationalism, sexism, racism which divide the working class and make workers think that their enemy is not the bourgeoisie, but their fellow workers: blacks, Asians or women and people on welfare.
As Marxists we oppose nationalism, and there is nothing wrong with that. But Marxists also acknowledge that they have to advocate separation when nationalism poisons the relationship between Quebec and English workers to the point that there is no possibility of having any joint struggle. The SL thinks yes, that has been and is the case in Quebec, and we think that was not the case and is not the case. Of course in the foreseeable future, if things change, if nationalism is so deep that we have to change our assessment, we might have to call for separation. But Tom provided many examples--has that been the case? What about the joint struggles? Just name-calling ("Anglo chauvinists," "you capitulated," etc.) does not explain anything--it does not clarify minds.
I was going to talk about Lebanon, because Charles mentioned that under the pressure of imperialism, the BT capitulated to imperialism. I think that Lebanon proves that is not the case and in fact that label applies to the SL. I will elaborate on that on another round, or after the discussion is over.
It takes a lot of nerve for a group that stood with the Canadian bourgeoisie in the 1995 Quebec referendum to call us social-patriots, which is exactly where [M. an IBT comrade] was going with that. The BT continually recycles this lie that we supported the Marines in Lebanon in 1983. We said, "U.S. troops out," just as we oppose all imperialist interventions.
When the U.S. imperialists wage war on a bourgeois-nationalist movement, or a semi-colonial country, we side militarily with the latter against imperialism, even as we fight for proletarian class independence. This was our position in Grenada when the U.S. invaded that country the same week. We said, "Get out now, dead or alive." But in Lebanon none of the contending religious forces were fighting imperialism. And while we said, "U.S. Out," we didn't vicariously cheer for a bomb set by unknown forces. This is not revolutionary politics, it's idiot bloodthirstiness-- and of course from a safe distance too.
So what about the BT's own record? What about the far more important events of 1990, when the U.S. and Canadian imperialists were preparing war on Iraq? We said, "Defeat U.S.-Canadian imperialism! Defend Iraq!" Here's what the BT said in 1917 [No. 10] in a reprint from Militant Printer. Here it is--you can get it for yourself, it's on the back table there. They said, "It is our sons and daughters who will die in Saudi Arabia--No to Bush's war for Big Oil."
"Our sons and daughters?"--what about the hundreds and thousands of Iraqis that were being prepared for the kill? Not a word. The BT statement did not even hint at the need to defend Iraq. They did not so much as call for defeating imperialism. It's social patriotism through and through.
And the BT's record on Quebec is no better. This was shown with crystal clarity in 1995 in the Quebec referendum. Your call for a "No" vote directly aligns you with the bourgeoisie. It was so bad that their only member in Quebec quit. We printed excerpts of his letter in Spartacist Canada, which I also have here. Among other things he recounted how his boss was pressuring him to line up with the "No" rallies--the federalist rallies. The BT was also pressuring him to do this. He was unable to stomach this disgusting bile, at their capitulation to Anglo chauvinism, and he quit. So the real question is here--who capitulated to their own bourgeoisie, who are the real social-patriots?
Most of you know me. I was one of the founders of the Trotskyist League. I was one of the original formulators of the Trotskyist League's position on Quebec. I shouldn't really say that, because the original position of the Trotskyist League on Quebec was formulated in New York City. That's fine--it was a position I was won to and helped to further refine.
The position that I was won to was that revolutionaries in Canada, the working-class movement in Canada, had a responsibility to defend unconditionally the right of Quebec to self-determination. I was also won to the position that we had to oppose petty-bourgeois Quebec nationalism--we had to oppose, for example, the campaign for a unilingual French Quebec.
That took some doing on my part because I had been won previously to the position of the League for Socialist Action, and later of the GMR (the Groupe Marxiste Révolutionnaire of Quebec), led at that time by Mike Mill--Michel Mill, that the task of socialists in Canada was to support a unilingual, independent, socialist Quebec. In the GMR's case it called for a Quebec workers' republic.
I supported that position for several years. I supported it in the chauvinist West. I was one of the main organizers of a demonstration to oppose the War Measures Act imposition in 1970. Within two days of the imposition of the War Measures Act I had-- practically single-handedly comrades, I had very little help, very few other comrades with me at this time--I had mobilized 600 people at a demonstration at the Manitoba Legislature. I was the main organizer of that event.
When I went over to the Spartacist position on the Quebec national question, people like the RMG leadership denounced me for being an Anglo chauvinist. What fucking nerve!
I was really angry about it, I'm still angry about it after all these years, and I'm still pissed off as hell when I hear people on the left throwing around accusations of chauvinism against their opponents, indiscriminately, without any scintilla of evidence. You haven't provided any evidence. There is no documentation of this at all. I'll tell you one thing--when Tom tried in his presentation to criticize your positions he at least had the decency to quote from Spartacist Canada. How many times have you comrades quoted from 1917?
[interjection: "About 12 in the presentation."]
No, not at all.
[interjection: "Well, add it up."]
I am a political supporter of the International Bolshevik Tendency. First of all I would like to say that this debate is very eye-opening to me, seeing as the consistent theme running through the remarks of the Trotskyist League is not a political analysis--it's a string of lies and slanders and falsifications of positions, instead of really debating the questions, instead of really addressing the questions we are raising about their analysis of Québécois nationalism, and what position we should take on this question as revolutionary Marxists.
They can't point to what specifically they are saying has poisoned the relationship between the Québécois workers and the Anglo-Canadian workers. What decisively has changed since the original TL position was formulated in 1976, that you had to go back 30 years and say, you know, our position has historically been wrong--we should have been advocating independence all along. Instead of answering these questions that we have raised with the TL they bring up these lies--baiting us as a "dubious" organization, baiting us as "scabs," baiting us for a former member of the International Communist League--the Canadian affiliate being the TL (and also a former member of the [International] Bolshevik Tendency) having attacked a member of the Spartacist League/Britain: an action that we condemned on the spot, on location, in Britain when it happened.
I would just encourage any independents here who have any questions about the relationship between the two organizations to read a number of specific documents that you can get on our literature table back here, the Bolshevik Tendency's literature table, two in particular. The "ICL vs. IBT" reprints one of the documents published by the ICL against the International Bolshevik Tendency and challenges all their lies and slanders point for point. I would also encourage anyone who is interested to buy the "Road to Jimstown" which would considerably enlighten any independents as to the way the TL functions, why they act the way they do in the debate today, why they are unable to address the questions that we are posing to them. So, if you get a chance, I would encourage you to check out our literature table.
I'm speaking for the Trotskyist League. Well, the professor objects to the term "chauvinism" being thrown around, however, if the shoe fits--
Now, I want to draw a link between the Quebec question and the BT's approach to Northern Ireland. We have a long history of opposing British imperialism, without giving an iota of political support to Irish nationalism. As we have laid out in our "Theses on Ireland" this is an example of "interpenetrated peoples," that is, there can be no democratic resolution of this question this side of a socialist revolution.
Our starting point has always been for the unconditional withdrawal of British troops, and our fight against British imperialism has always been tied to our opposition to the chauvinist, pro-capitalist Labour Party.
Now contrast this with the Bolshevik Tendency. In their only major article in 1917 [No. 16] on Ireland, of some seven and a half pages, the only mention they have of the Labour Party (which sent troops in to Northern Ireland in 1969) is to say that they did so in response to "a wave of pogroms against Catholic working class ghettos." This is nothing but back-handed support for the lie that British troops can be some sort of neutral arbitrator in Northern Ireland.
And then you take a look at their English newsletter, something called Marxist Bulletin, and we read again and again the BT calling for votes to this organization called the Socialist Party, for alliances with the Socialist Party, etc. What you won't read in the BT's propaganda over these past several years is that the Socialist Party supports British troops in Northern Ireland, and are notorious publicity agents for Billy Hutchison, the leader of a violently anti-Catholic death squad.
In fact it is only in the past month that the BT wrote anything about the SP's position and what did they say? Well, basically the Spartacists have been hounding us about this for years and yes, sure, we are for troops out, and yes the Socialist Party's position is really quite scandalous. Oh, but we shouldn't let the Socialist Party's support for British imperialism impinge on our efforts to unite with them, or giving them electoral support--god forbid!
[interjection: "Is that a direct quote?"]
No, I have it right here. Excuse me, can I continue? Now while being oh, so solicitous towards these social-chauvinists, who does the BT direct their political fire against? Us! For saying that any imperialist deal will necessarily be at the expense of the oppressed Catholic minority. Oh no, says the BT. No?
Yeah, first of all in response to what that gentleman over there was saying--if you are for Quebec independence it is two-stagism. That shows how anti-Marxist these guys are getting, because then when can you advocate independence? Every time you advocate independence you are automatically a two-stageist? The Trotskyist League stood for the independence of Eelam [a separate Tamil state] in Sri Lanka for a long time. Are you objecting to that? Is that two-stagism in Sri Lanka? Why isn't it--just because there is some killing in the streets all of a sudden you can have two stages--first you have to have the independent Eelam and then you have the socialist revolution? It has nothing to do with it. Think Marxism.
Now then, you talk about there's never been a case of a strike being broken by national chauvinism, it's always been the NDP that's been stabbing it in the back. Well, in a sense that's true--there's never been francophones beating up on the Anglos on the picket lines. But what is the NDP? Before the formation of the [right-wing Quebec-bashing] Reform Party, the NDP was the most virulently Anglo-chauvinist party in this country, and everybody knew it. Why was it that the NDP was [inaudible] in Quebec and nobody wanted to vote for it and every labor bureaucrat in Anglo Canada supported it. Guess what!
The thing about continuing on the TL line on Quebec: I didn't see the Trotskyist League voting, or advocating a "No" vote in the last referendum around 1980--unless you are reading different historical documents than I am.
Also this thing that Tom said: Oh, any time that the Quebec people want to separate we will honour that. Well how much indication do you need from the Québécois people? Here you have the very unique situation that an oppressed nation banned the language of the oppressor in many forms in its own provinces. What is that indicating? The Quebec population has shown over and over again that they are for independence, and it is only the blackmail of total economic sanctions and oblivion that's pushing them back from actually voting so in the referendum. Other than that the polls have all indicated that more than 60 percent have always been in support of it.
The other thing that I found very sinister is this thing about if you are for the independence of Quebec from Canada therefore you should for a separate nation for blacks in United States. First of all, besides the fact that the Québécois have a separate language, are isolated in a separate region geographically, have a separate religion, and a separate history they have been conquered by the English forces. Tom knows this--so this is a real sinister show of his distaste for the black work we do, his equating what we say on Quebec and what we say on the black question.
I'd like to present you with two different pictures of two different major historical situations happened in the last 20 years. One is Poland in 1981. We think Poland, and the Trotskyist League would agree with us, was a deformed workers' state up until 1991--when Walesa assumed power with Solidarnosc. So in Poland in 1981 Lech Walesa's Solidarnosc movement led an anti-communist union against the Polish workers' state. Behind Walesa, was the Catholic Church, the Pope--he made a special trip to Poland--Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan. Just about every piece of reactionary garbage on the entire face of the earth was in favour of Solidarnosc, to bring "democracy" to Poland. And the Trotskyist League, correctly, opposed Solidarnosc and said "Stop Solidarnosc counterrevolution."
The Bolshevik Tendency upholds that historic position. We think the Trotskyist League was right in that situation. Now, ten years after that, in 1991, when the Soviet degenerated workers' state was in peril, what did we have? We had George Bush, Reagan's vice president, (Reagan who opposed Solidarnosc), even the Ayatollah Khomeini, every reactionary force on the earth in August 1991 opposing the Russian workers' state. Yeltsin, Bush, everybody--the Catholic Church, I'm sure, probably didn't like it either. But what was the position then? The fake left, everybody, CNN, the bourgeoisie, hated it.
But the Bolshevik Tendency said, "Stop this counterrevolution!" There was a counterrevolution in August 1991. What was happening? We upheld the correct position. The exact same thing that happened in Poland in 1981. We uphold that. What did the Trotskyist League do? They didn't have a position. There were the battle lines--the battle lines were set, okay? The Russian workers' state was in peril. Everybody was up against the Russian workers' state, it was on the line, this was the major historical test.
What is key here is the Trotskyist position on the Soviet bureaucracy. We see the bureaucracy as having a dual character. The Soviet bureaucracy: their position is that they didn't support either side of the bureaucracy in 1991. They said both sides were equally committed to capitalist restoration. That is an anti-Trotskyist position. That's a Shachtmanite position. If the Soviet bureaucracy, all wings of it, the coup leaders and the Yeltsinites were both equally committed to capitalist restoration--you are arguing on the wrong plane. It's a Shachtmanite position. You should admit it and then argue it on that level.
I want to deal with the BT's claim to be staunch defenders of the Soviet Union. They say the ICL was neutral in August 1991 in Moscow. This is a flat lie. This is what we said: our headline was "Defeat Yeltsin/Bush Counterrevolution." We distributed this by the tens of thousands, in Russian, to workers in the former USSR. We made it clear that in August we were for workers to mobilize to stop Yeltsin. We said this could have been the start of a political revolution in Russia. And we said, if the coup leaders moved to stop Yeltsin a military bloc against counterrevolution would have been posed. But they didn't, because they too were committed to capitalism.
So the BT's call to support the coup, issued over a month later and certainly not in Russian, was empty posturing and nothing more. In fact, it was a convenient cover for the BT to prematurely write off the Soviet Union. In the following months we issued propaganda saying only a massive proletarian mobilization could stop Yeltsin consolidating a capitalist state. After a period, when it became clear the workers would not resist, we drew the conclusion that the workers' state had been destroyed. Meanwhile the BT sat smugly on their hands, saying it is all over.
It was not a question of academic analysis, it was not a question of naming dates but of communist intervention to try and change reality.
Similarly in Germany, when we intervened heavily to try to lead a workers' political revolution after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the BT said it's all hopeless. When we initiated a quarter million strong anti-fascist protest in East Berlin they denounced us for failing to invite the hardened pro-capitalist West German social democrats. This was a straight capitulation to anti-communism.
They recently did it again over North Korea. The ICL defends this deformed workers' state against counterrevolution, while fighting for political revolution against the Stalinists. But the main recent BT article on Korea in 1917 does not once call for defense of North Korea, even as it screams to "dislodge the crumbling dictatorship in the North."
Then their recent entry into the British Socialist Labour Party which is lead by Arthur Scargill, a left-reformist union leader, known for his opposition to anti-Sovietism, notably Solidarnosc in Poland. Inside the SLP the BT formed a common electoral slate with open anti-communists.
Thank you very much--I get up and somebody goes [inaudible]. This is really typical of tonight's debate, lots of sneering.
I was an initiator of Brock Socialists and obviously this debate as well. I've a number of young comrades who are present tonight who are in Brock Socialists and I was hoping they would have the opportunity to sort out the differences between the Trotskyist League and Bolshevik Tendency. I think that some of those differences have become clear.
I think that perhaps the most important lesson they can learn from tonight's debate is the importance of telling the truth. Of finding out what the true positions of different groups on the left are before they commit themselves to joining any organization.
I would like to reiterate the importance of that lesson to all these young comrades. Don't take anybody's word for it. As Lenin once said, if you only read one sides point of view in a particular debate and accept that at face value, then you are a fool. You have to read both sides. And just because the International Communist League has a more frequent publication, a much more frequent publication I admit-- Workers Vanguard, which comes out every two weeks and the BT admittedly only has an occasional publication--that doesn't necessarily mean that the ICL is correct.
There is a famous cartoon from the 1930s which was published in Daily Worker (I believe that was the name of the Communist Party paper at that time) which showed a speaker who is labelled a Trotskyist raising the slogan "Down with Stalin!" and it showed also another person, a fascist on the podium, or a capitalist politician calling "Down with Stalin!" And that is the Stalinist argument by amalgam. I think we have to be very careful here too to avoid those kind of arguments.
Because the BT took the position, whether correctly or not, to oppose a call for a vote for independence of Quebec in 1995, doesn't mean that they were blocking with the Anglo-chauvinist bourgeoisie, any more than the TL was blocking with Parti Québécois and the petty-bourgeois nationalists of Quebec by calling for a "Yes" vote.
[interjection: "What is your position?"]
My position is the historic position of the TL. I haven't changed it in all these years. And, after having read the documentation from the Trotskyist League, which I read over very carefully, I wasn't persuaded that the line change was necessary. In fact I was quite surprised to learn that there was a retroactive line change which suggests that you were wrong all those years. I was won to the wrong position, I guess.
When I first spoke it was about keeping the truth in mind when trying to build a revolutionary organization and arguing your politics. Unfortunately, I have to make the same presentation because the TL in their subsequent presentations have added to my list of lies that they have stated this evening. [As for] this outrageous claim that we were in a bloc with Anglo chauvinism--well, let me submit to you then that on the  Charlottetown Accord referendum that the TL was in a bloc with the Reform Party and all the other reactionary elements who wanted to see that thing sunk.
I mean you cannot simply claim that somebody is in a bloc with somebody because they happen to vote the same way in a certain referendum. You have to analyze what is to be gained, what is to be lost for the working class in any particular battle and take your position accordingly and I invite people to read our analysis. Unfortunately, [a TL comrade] doesn't think it's about analysis. You think it's about whatever--I don't know. But if working class action isn't based on analysis then it's nothing. Without revolutionary theory there is no revolutionary practice--and that's Lenin.
Listening to [a TL comrade], you wouldn't think that we raised the slogan "Defend Iraq." I invite anybody to read our literature on the Iraq war. The headline of every article includes the words "Defend Iraq!" I mean,
[interjection: "Not that one!"]
the extent of lies--well, unfortunately I didn't see any trade union resolutions raised by the Trotskyist League or the Spartacist League during the Gulf War. I invite them to present them today regarding the Gulf war conflict. To my knowledge, there are none.
Certain Trotskyist League/Spartacist League members here have alluded to the fact that we have polemicized against the Spartacist League about their withdrawal from trade-union work. The fact of the matter is that there has been a substantial and marked withdrawal from organized trade union opposition both in Canada and United States.
Twenty years ago there was something called the Militant Action Caucus in the Communications Workers of America. It was organized by the Spartacist League. They opposed the leadership in the union--they did it in a number of other unions in the United States. In fact, it required [U.S. President Jimmy] Carter's secret police to drag a delegate off the floor of the conference.
We think this was exemplary trade-union work, which we would like to base our future trade work on. The fact of the matter is that today you won't see an iota of this trade union work because there was a conscious move to withdraw from that. But I invite people here to read our literature on this question.
[inaudible comment from the floor]
Oh, congratulations, you are members of unions. Where are your caucuses? I would love to read about it.
The truth. Fact. Yes--read both sides of the story. I quote from the BT's "ICL vs IBT," right after we polemicized around their opposition to these labor-black mobilizations: "Today the SL has no trade union work at all." Judge for yourselves whether that's true.
Or maybe the BT considers that trying to mobilize the unions on Jamal's behalf, which is one of the things that our non-existent trade union supporters have done, is not trade union work. Maybe that doesn't count. Maybe it doesn't count that we brought out a hard core of 200 black transit workers for a demo to defend Mumia in Chicago last month. It's a lie by the BT's standards. It couldn't have existed, because we do no trade union work. I could multiply the examples if you like.
So, truth--truth. Did the Bolshevik Tendency, or did the Bolshevik Tendency not, vote "No" in 1995? Was not the situation in 1995 one of a huge chauvinist campaign against Quebec's democratic right to independence? True or false? Their only Quebec member quit. He said--it's not us, I'm quoting him--he said that the position of the Bolshevik Tendency was a "defacto bloc with the chauvinist Anglo-Canadian bourgeoisie." Their ex member, not ours, not our politics otherwise at all this guy. He nailed them. He was on the spot. He was right. Truth or lie?
Truth or lie? Their position was perceived by the powers that be to be as so bad that they were even invited to participate in that chauvinist national unity rally in Montreal on the eve of the vote. Truth or lie?
None of this was answered. Now the excuse given for this is that all is well, all is rosy. The workers are really united in struggle. Yeah, maybe there is not as much struggle going on, but that doesn't have anything to do with the chauvinist and nationalist divide in the proletariat--it is just some abstraction called the trade union bureaucracy. Except that the mechanism for dividing the working class is precisely through the trade union bureaucracy. Play the tapes (that's a favourite phrase of theirs) listen to the number of times the NDP was mentioned in their presentation: once, and even then it was not in the context of how they promote chauvinism within the working class.
Read 1917--read that long seven page article in 1917 number 17. See how many times the NDP is mentioned there, once, and even there--truth!--the mention of the NDP is to scoff at the fact that David Lewis' opposition to the 1972 general strike in Quebec had anything to do with chauvinism. Oh, it was just like his expulsion of the Waffle [left-nationalist wing of the NDP in the early 1970s] in English Canada. The truth is that beginning of the mid-1970s, precisely as a reaction of the betrayal of the chauvinist union bureaucracy, the national divide has hardened and that's why it is necessary to call for independence.
At this point then we will go to the final summaries.
Charles Galarneau (TL/ICL):
Well, fundamentally, I mean the BT hasn't answered this and they will not because they can not (unless they had a different position) is why is nationalism so pervasive within the Quebec working class? And why are all Quebec union federations essentially separate from the Canadian federations? And why do workers vote for the Parti Québécois? And why, in their majority, did francophones and francophone workers vote "Yes" in the 1995 referendum? Why in their majority did they vote "No" to the 1992 Charlottetown deal to strengthen Canada? But they can't answer that. We have answered that. And that is fundamental. It points to the fundamental importance of the national question from the Quebec standpoint.
The main thing when you are in English Canada is to fight chauvinism. But the BT, and those who echo their line, don't get that. It's all equal. Part of that thing they signed with the Maoists in 1992 says:
"Since its inception Canada has been the arena of multifaceted social and national oppression within which the Quebec and English-Canadian ruling classes have been engaged in unequal..."
(And that's a typo--"unequal struggle"-- they really mean "in an unequal struggle") "over the division of powers."
So there's these two ruling classes that are in this one country, and they're pretty much equal: they fight for power. The Québécois, there are fewer of them, so maybe that's where the inequality is.
That's a lie! The BT fundamentally denies there is national oppression. They deny it over Scotland--yes! I like that one. And they deny it essentially over Quebec. They defend the right of self-determination, because otherwise then they couldn't pretend to be Marxists, but fundamentally they don't care.
So I want to come back to the question, where does the BT's chauvinist line on Quebec come from? They started out as an organization capable of churning out paper positions that tried to sound like us. And sometimes getting caught in it--like in this case. By the way, I responded to this in my presentation, our historic position precluded voting "No"--for the Anglo-bourgeoisie, that is, voting against Quebec national rights.
So they try to sound like us, while at the same time they try to pursue a hostile obsession with us, ready to play footsy with forces to their right. This last part has become especially true after Bill Logan took over. They usually try to have a good rapport with anti-Soviet social democrats and other forces. Those forces which hate us and sometimes find it useful to have people like the BT around. People who call us a cult. People who slander us. People who call us violent (essentially) in their public press. So it's useful for these people to their right to have these slanders against us to protect their milieus against the communist influence of the International Communist League. This is what the BT is about.
For instance, 1992, the Charlottetown referendum, I mentioned the Quebec Maoists--who are these people? The main group in that coalition is Action Socialiste and they were obviously virulently anti-Soviet back when there was a Soviet Union--as all Maoists are. And like the earlier Maoists of the `70s they had a position for a united Canada and they opposed Quebec's right to independence. This group acts as a cheerleader for Shining Path in Peru. I never heard the BT call these people a cult, violent or any such thing! Shining Path!
Their slanders against us: the very first issue of 1917, after denouncing the Healy organization's violence against political opponents, this is what the BT says, (and I quote):
"This is something which the SL is not guilty of to our knowledge. We do note however that inside that organization intimations of such appetites are increasingly common."
End quote. This is the language of witchhunters. The BT tells the world we are violent crazies ready to lash out. And who cares if there is not a shred of evidence?
[My comrade] already mentioned their unity-mongering with the pro-British imperialist SP. Well, they had the same solicitous attitude to hard anti-communists when the BT was inside the Socialist Labour Party in Britain. They had a common slate with people who were infamous for their earlier support for counter-revolution in Eastern Europe, like Solidarnosc, even people who support pro-Hitler Ukrainian nationalists--I mean fascists! That's the sort of people the BT aligns with.
The BT finds the greatest difficulty criticizing the anti-communist, chauvinist, social-democrats and indeed are always happy to unite with them. But when it comes to us they go full steam. This is all documented. Your bloc partners in the SLP were these right-wing, anti-communist, social democrats and you knew this.
Another example, in December 1997, there took place a so-called international conference in South Africa where various reformist groups got together under the so-called base document which enthusiastically greeted the destruction of the Soviet Union, which didn't say anything about the defense of the remaining workers states and which denounced the very idea of an international Leninist party--saying international parties run the risk of establishing predatory relationships with unaffiliated revolutionary groups. We were invited to this conference, and we declined for obvious reasons, given our fundamental differences with this "base document." Instead, we fought independently for our views around the conference. But not so the BT. Not only were they all too happy to attend, they praised the document as a "broadly anti-capitalist" document! So insofar as they are about politics, this is what the BT does.
I've mentioned how we've made our internal discussion on Quebec available. We also make available in our "Hate Trotskyism" series many documents written against us by political opponents, notably including the BT. This is hardly what a bureaucratic organization would do. Our own history is well documented in the bound volumes of many hundreds of copies of Workers Vanguard and elsewhere. With our organization, what you see is what you get. We are still doing what we set out to do from the beginning--to forge a revolutionary, internationalist, proletarian party to lead the working class to power. To this end we have, on several occasions, had to re-evaluate our positions, not only on Quebec, but for instance also on the  Arab-Israeli War among other questions.
In contrast, the BT is a genuinely strange outfit who have focussed their scant forces on destroying our organization. Their own internal life is truly strange as shown by the communist-criticism/internal torture sessions orchestrated by William Logan. Or for example the internal bulletin published with this internal stuff after they had a split in this group (the CWG [Communist Workers Group]) which highlights a discussion--I guess a faction fight--inside the BT, the highlight of which was a fist fight in the streets of Oakland, California. Very edifying.
Many issues of interest to the proletariat they don't even comment on. They don't care. If they do it's more often than not after the fact. For example, on the Quebec question, we have written extensively about the rights of native people of the north, also in opposition to the chauvinist partitionists in Montreal. We don't know what the BT has to say about these vital questions because they haven't written a word about them.
Indeed, what defines them as an international tendency is mainly hatred of the ICL. Otherwise their individual sections, such as they are, purely reflect the national variants of a social-democratic embrace of the values of their own ruling class. As I've said we're debating them only because the Brock Socialists asked us to.
So to conclude, let me reiterate why calling for Quebec independence is decisive if you want to build a proletarian revolutionary party. It's the only way to break the workers of English Canada from chauvinism and to shatter the grip of nationalism in Quebec. So I want to say to any members of the Brock Socialists, and others who really want to dedicate their life and fight for proletarian revolution, that their place is among the ranks of the International Communist League--the party which uniquely has the programme and perspective to achieve world socialist revolution.
Tom Riley (IBT):
Well, we wanted to have a debate with the TL. We wanted to have a debate with them for a number of years--for 16 years, roughly. We've repeatedly challenged them and they've repeatedly turned us down. We're very glad the Brock Socialists have finally smoked them out.
I think it's a little bit obvious that the TL didn't want to have the debate. And I think it's obvious in the content and in their behavior. You wouldn't know that the TL specified that the debate had to be about Quebec. They didn't want to debate other subjects like, I suppose, the Russian question or Lebanon. And yet a good deal of their attention they seem to have devoted to these related questions. Which we're happy to follow up on--perhaps the Brock Socialists might want to have us back and we could really do justice to something like the Russian question, or the question of the Middle East, Iraq, and the Marines--whether we want to keep U.S. Marines "alive" when they are invading Lebanon or not. We had a little difference about that. Or there's lots of other questions. So there's a lot of territory that needs to be covered.
I think that there have been some useful things that have come out of the debate today. I didn't really expect that the TL comrades would be able to deal with the question of Quebec and why they changed their line. The TL comrades have reprinted a number of things, we've reprinted lots of things--polemics have passed between our groups for a long time. Those who are going to make a serious commitment, in terms of their lives, to continuing to struggle for socialism and is at all seriously interested in the groups that (purport anyway to) represent the tradition of Trotskyism really owes it to themselves to make a careful and serious study. You can waste a lot of time in politics if you get into the wrong group by mistake. So do read about it, and think about it.
I want to remind people that when I made my presentation (unfortunately I wasn't able to range quite as broadly as I might have liked) I really was trying to develop an argument and substantiate it and to talk about what the real politics in this country have been--what the real politics in the working class regarding Quebec have been. I went through a bunch of incidents: 1965, 1973, 1976, 1978, 1981, 1991, 1995--that's about all that I had time for. I don't know if others noticed, but I noticed several TL comrades getting up and saying that it was no accident my examples stopped in the mid-`70s. Well, they didn't stop in the mid-`70s, class struggle didn't stop in the mid-`70s and united class struggle didn't stop in the mid-`70s. And that--well, go play the tapes and you can hear it, but it's important for more than that, comrades. It's important because things didn't change in the mid-1970s and the historical record will bear that out.
Now, you drag in lots of stuff: "Well, what happened in New York?"; and "What happened here?"; and "It's no accident"; and "We wrote another article on--" and "You only mention the NDP once in this article--" etc., etc. It's not a particularly useful way of conducting politics to find how many times this question wasn't mentioned in that article. It's better to take on the position that's actually articulated.
I think that the comrades do show a tendency to want to evade a lot of these questions. The only substantive argument you've made that's historically based regarding Quebec, to my mind, is the statement you made about the 1972 general strike. The fact is that the NDP and David Lewis did the best they could to oppose it and to scab on it, there's no question about that. But comrades, they opposed and scabbed on the railway strike in `73, on the postal strike in `78, on the railway strike in `95, etc., etc. This is what they are. They are the agency of the bourgeoisie within the working class. So it should come as no surprise that they also opposed the much larger, more dangerous, insurrectionary Quebec general strike. Of course they did. But that's not why the general strike was defeated in Quebec. You are misleading yourselves.
There was an excellent article published in 1983 in Spartacist Canada, of all things. And here's what Spartacist Canada said about that strike:
"But in the end it was not the Liberal government, its cops, courts and vigilante squads or fake back-to-work meetings that stemmed the tide of the 1972 general strike in Quebec. It was the return-to-work orders that came from the jailed Common Front leaders in Orsainville Prison on May 17th."
That's the truth...
[interjection: "That's right!"]
Yeah, that's right. So what we've got there--the problem is the crisis of leadership, comrades, in the labor movement. David Lewis would have loved to have pulled the plug and stabbed and ruined and destroyed that strike. He wasn't able to. That was not what was going on in the `72 strike. That's not why it was defeated.
I'm not blaming Charles for not remembering, because he wasn't around--but if he goes back and reads Spartacist Canada Summer 1980, which was the original referendum, he will read:
"Therefore at this time the Trotskyist League does not advocate the independence of Quebec. In a clearly worded, democratic referendum we would today vote `no.'"
[interjection: "We were wrong."]
I'm just reminding you of what the position was. So that was the position and some of you comrades seem to be confused about it. I'm just reminding you.
I also want to clarify the question of the black question which I brought up in my presentation (only once, it's true). What I was saying was this: if it is true that the national division in the pan-Canadian working class (English-Canadian and Québécois) is so deep and poisonous as to make united class struggle impossible (there is not a "basis" for it--all the things that I quoted from your newspaper) then what are we to make of other situations where there are equally deep, or deeper, divisions?
In fact we could find lots of strike situations that have been undermined and poisoned and where workers' struggles have been corrupted and perverted by the racist division that characterizes the American working class. That's what I was saying. It's very pessimistic. We know that they use racism and that they undermine workers' struggles with it, but it doesn't mean that there's no basis for class unity because there are those divisions. It doesn't automatically follow.
On the Scottish thing--I simply said that this is absurd leader-worship. That's the only explanation for how this gibberish about the Pillars of Hercules, Moses parting the Red Sea, 113 kings and how all the nations of the world make up horseshit about their own country, except Scotland!
If you haven't been in the Spartacist League this means nothing to you. But those of us who have--we know about Scotland. We heard about Scotland and the royal house of Robertson. That's all it is. It's just bizarre horseshit. It doesn't belong, even in a centrist, pseudo-Marxist newspaper. It's indefensible. I note that the comrades pretend that what I'm saying is that Scotland's not a nation, or Scots don't have national rights--that's not what I'm saying. I'm just saying that this is bizarre horseshit and it shouldn't be in a newspaper purporting to be Marxist and it wouldn't be, unless the leader somehow fancied it and enjoyed reading that kind of material.
Finally, I want to say that there is an interesting situation that's developed in the line of the comrades regarding the national question in relation to Puerto Rico. Now, the Trotskyist League (and the Spartacist League) always had the view that Puerto Rico should be independent and always favored independence. Recently they've come to the view that they're not advocating independence at this time in an active sense because it is so unpopular in Puerto Rico.
This poses an interesting question in relation to Quebec, because the proposition that we've been hearing from the comrades is that the national question is central and it doesn't really matter what the percentage of popular support for [independence] is at this time or at that time. In 1983 Spartacist Canada reported that nationalist sentiment for sovereignty-association (which is vague and nobody really knows what it means) was 17 percent and that support for independence (everyone knows what that means) was four percent in Quebec. This is in Spartacist Canada 1983--four percent wanted independence. And yet the Trotskyist League advocates independence: you must have independence in Quebec! Without independence you can do nothing! But in Puerto Rico, well, it's a matter of what the conjuncture is, how popular it is, what the workers want. Comrades: there is a considerable contradiction in your position here.
There are contradictions in your positions on many other questions and I really do hope we get an opportunity, for the benefit of course of the Brock Socialists, to go over the whole history of Trotskyism and the Russian question, which is a central question in our movement, at some future date. Thank you very much.
I'd like to thank everyone who spoke from the BT and the TL and anyone else who came tonight.
APPENDIX No. 1
"Bolshevik Tendency: Still in the Camp of Anglo Chauvinism"
(the following article was published simultaneously in Spartacist Canada, Spring 1999, and Workers Vanguard, 19 March 1999)
For the whole of its existence, the clot of quitters, renegades and accidental elements called the Bolshevik Tendency (BT) have badgered us to debate them one-on-one. This oft-repeated "challenge" has generally provoked distaste in us, and indifference in others. But mostly it has prompted the question: Whats to debate? The BTs founding members all individually quit our international organization. Their current international leader, Bill Logan, is a vicious sociopath who was expelled from our organization 20 years ago for gross crimes against communist morality and elementary human decency. The BTs occasional "journal," 1917, has not appeared since 1997.
So it was only at the request of a third party, the Brock Socialist Group, that on February 13 the Trotskyist League debated the Bolshevik Tendency at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario. The Brock Socialists are a student group which has been examining Marxism and sought the debate to further their understanding of Trotskyism. We proposed "The Quebec National Question and the Fight for Socialism" as an appropriate topic, as this is a central question in the fight for proletarian revolution in Canada.
Our advocacy of Quebec independence is key to the struggle to advance revolutionary class consciousness among the workers. As TL spokesman Charles Galarneau explained:
In sharp contrast, the BT is notorious for opposing Quebec independence. Thus, our speaker noted, the choice of topic for the debate was doubly appropriate: "The BTs overtly Anglo-chauvinist line exposes their opportunist positions and social-democratic appetites--in other words, it exemplifies why the BT has nothing to do with the struggle for a Leninist party acting as a tribune for all the oppressed."
Characteristically, Bolshevik Tendency representative Tom Riley simply ignored the poisonous reality of national oppression and its impact on the consciousness of workers of both nations. Counting his presentation and summary, he spoke for 40 minutes without once acknowledging that Quebec is an oppressed nation, or making a single substantive reference to the existence of Anglo chauvinism. This silence was maintained by the BT through several rounds of discussion, despite repeated challenges by TL comrades.
Riley sought refuge in historical descriptions of militant actions by the Quebec labor movement, and in appeals for "joint class struggle." Denying or downplaying the crippling effects of chauvinism, racism, etc. on working-class consciousness, such facile unity-mongering is counterposed to any struggle against the many forms of special oppression engendered by capitalism. The BT directly echoes the social democrats and labor bureaucrats who present any struggle in defense of the oppressed as disruptive of the "solidarity" of the labor movement.
Of course, Riley claimed the BT upholds the right of self-determination for Quebec. So does most of the English Canadian labor bureaucracy today, on paper. But like the social democrats, in the real world the BT endorses the Anglo-dominated status quo. During the narrowly defeated 1995 referendum on Quebec sovereignty, for instance, the BT openly called for a No vote against Quebec independence. TL spokesman Galarneau remarked that "The BTs call to vote No was a gross capitulation to the Anglo rulers." Indeed, the BTs loyalty to the cause of Canadian "national unity" did not go unremarked by the Anglo-chauvinist powers-that-be, who officially invited the BT to participate in the flag-waving rally orchestrated by the federal government in Montreal on the eve of the referendum. Comrade Galarneau also noted that the BTs only Quebec member quit over this, publicly denouncing his former comrades for their "de facto bloc with the Canadian bourgeoisie."
As our speaker emphasized, Quebec is not the first or only place that the BT has embraced the chauvinist status quo. In Britain, their co-thinkers deny that the Scots and Welsh are in any way oppressed, even as they pursue "joint work" with an outfit, the Socialist Party, which adamantly refuses to call for withdrawal of the murderous British army from Northern Ireland. In New Zealand, the BT scarcely mentions the brutal oppression of the indigenous black Maori population. "In fact," said comrade Galarneau, "on every national terrain where they exist, the BT is a walking capitulation to their own capitalist rulers."
Our speaker located the source of the BTs wilful blindness on questions of special oppression in the founding impulse of its first members:
BT vs. Lenin on Revolutionary Class Consciousness
In his remarks, comrade Galarneau extensively motivated our call for Quebec independence as key to the struggle to remove the barriers to revolutionary class consciousness among workers on both sides of the national divide. This perspective derives from the basic Leninist proposition that without the leadership of a revolutionary party, the working people must remain in thrall to one form or another of bourgeois consciousness, such as national chauvinism. For communists, advocacy of Quebec independence is the means to break the grip of national chauvinism. Unless that grip is broken, the working people cannot be won to a revolutionary socialist perspective.
Denigrating and dismissing the struggle for revolutionary consciousness, the BT substitutes "militant struggle." In fact, Rileys whole presentation rested on a straight equation of class consciousness and simple trade-union militancy. His "argument" consisted of a list of binational strikes since the 1960s, many of which were sparked by the explosive Quebec labor movement of the time. On this basis, he denounced our contention that Quebec independence was necessary for the workers of each nation to see their own rulers as the enemy; he mocked our assertion that chauvinism and nationalism were the fundamental roadblock to revolutionary class consciousness, and therefore to successful working-class struggle.
The falsehood that socialist consciousness derives directly from militant struggles over economic demands is hardly new. Lenin called this view Economism and attacked it in his 1902 book What Is To Be Done? Lenin showed how the working class through its own struggles is unable to spontaneously develop a consciousness any higher than trade-union consciousness: the need to unite in economic struggle against the employers and government. But trade-union consciousness is itself a form of bourgeois consciousness: by itself it does not challenge the capitalist mode of production but only seeks to better the workers immediate conditions. Revolutionary class consciousness has to be brought into the working class from the outside, by a revolutionary party which understands the historic necessity of destroying capitalist exploitation and oppression. Integral to this is the fight for the proletariat to take up the cause of all those strata which suffer special oppression under capitalism.
In his thoroughly Economist presentation, Riley never once hinted that the militancy of the Québécois proletariat during the `60s and `70s was fueled by resentment of and opposition to national oppression. When that militancy ran into an Anglo-chauvinist wall of hostility erected by the New Democratic Party and the Canadian Labour Congress leadership, angry Quebec workers were corralled by their own nationalist mis-leaders into the arms of the bourgeois nationalists of the Parti Québécois. When the TL speaker described the chauvinist opposition to the semi-insurrectionary 1972 Quebec General Strike by the NDP and CLC brass, Riley leapt to defend the social-democratic traitors from any imputation of anti-Quebec bigotry. "The fact is that the NDP and [its leader] David Lewis did the best they could to oppose [the strike] and to scab on it, theres no question about that," Riley declared. "But comrades, they opposed and scabbed on the railway strike in `73, on the postal strike in `78, on the railway strike in `95, etc., etc."
The Anglo-chauvinist social democrats certainly are strikebreakers. Their role is to insure the subordination of the working class to the national interests of the enemy class and key to that in this country is the ideological glue of Anglo chauvinism. This in turn deepens and hardens the reactionary nationalism instilled by the Quebec labor tops. Yet according to the BT, national chauvinism is simply not a factor. As comrade Galarneau observed, to hear the BT tell it,
"You would not know that the social democrats foment anti-Quebec chauvinism at all. Well, anyone who watches the news knows that the likes of [NDP provincial premiers] Bob Rae, Roy Romanow and Glen Clark have been willing, aggressive point men for the `national unity crusade--just as David Lewis was 25 years ago."
A Sneering Indifference to Oppression
The BTs snottily dismissive attitude to the national oppression of the Québécois signals and embodies their capitulation to the Anglo-Canadian bourgeoisie. Indeed, for Trotskyists it would be hard to imagine an attitude more repulsive or more distant from the Leninist ideal of a tribune of the people than their arrogant contempt for specially oppressed sectors of the societies in which they find themselves. Comrade Galarneaus presentation described a notorious and typical example:
"When we organized a 5,000-strong labor/black mobilization which stopped the Ku Klux Klan in Washington in 1982, the BT spat on this work. One of their members called it `ghetto work. The BT accused us of `abandoning trade-union work. What can this mean, except that the BT sees the working class as separate from and counterposed to the black plebeian masses--exactly the view of the labor bureaucracy. In fact, our Washington mobilization brought together in microcosm the forces for American proletarian revolution--black and red. Labor, with its core centrality of black workers, bringing its power to bear in defense of the ghetto masses, who were also mobilized, all under communist leadership."
Riley showed the same kind of disdain in addressing what he called "the implications" of the TLs position on Quebec for the United States. Stating that "the division between white workers and black workers is at least as serious as the division between anglo- and francophone workers here," the BT spokesman asked demagogically: "Whats the conclusion to be drawn there? Is class struggle impossible? Or does it only become possible after black workers are somehow separated from white workers?"
The national oppression of Quebec and the oppression of black people as a race-color caste within American society are very different questions. However, the racial divide in the U.S. has indeed severely undermined labor struggles against capital. No, that does not make trade-union struggles of black and white workers there "impossible," any more than national chauvinism precludes joint strikes of French-and English-speaking workers in Canada. However, until and unless the American working class becomes the active champion of the cause of black freedom, there will be no revolutionary class consciousness and no socialist revolution in America.
The BTs attitude toward the oppression of Northern Ireland Catholics is similarly steeped in militant indifference. The BT has denounced our simple statement that any imperialist "peace" deal over Ireland would "necessarily be at the expense of the oppressed Catholic minority. And it would not do any good for working-class Protestants either." But this is a simple statement of fact. The so-called "peace process" in Northern Ireland is premised on maintaining the British army presence, and it has unleashed huge Loyalist mobilizations and deepened the communal division among the workers.
In fact, the Irish national question exposes the BTs bogus claims to stand in the revolutionary traditions of Marxism. It was precisely over Ireland that Marx and Engels began to define the revolutionary proletarian attitude to national oppression. During the debate, BT spokesman Riley made the absurd charge that our advocacy of Quebec independence meant we had embraced the Stalinist theory of "revolution by stages": "To claim also that proletarian struggle cannot be successful until Quebec is independent implies a kind of two-stage model of social revolution. First we get Quebec independence, then we get a successful proletarian struggle." Comrade Galarneau replied:
"Karl Marx said a long time ago that a nation which oppresses another cannot itself be free. Heres what Marx wrote about the Irish national question: `... it is in the direct and absolute interest of the English working class to get rid of their present connection with Ireland.... The English working class will never accomplish anything before it has got rid of Ireland. Perhaps the BT will now attack Marx as a proponent of two-stage revolution. In fact, the position of the BT is a straight capitulation to national chauvinism. Our position, like Marxs, is premised on opening the road to proletarian revolution by breaking the hold of chauvinism on the working class."
On paper, the BT is for withdrawal of British troops from Northern Ireland. Yet the reality is that the BTs co-thinkers in England have long courted the reformist Socialist Party, without ever mentioning the Socialist Partys despicable line on the British army presence, or its sponsorship of "former" Loyalist killer Billy Hutchinson. Only after years of exposure by our comrades of the Spartacist League/Britain did the English BTs Marxist Bulletin (January 1999) print the following justification:
"[The Spartacists] claim to find a great deal of significance in the fact we have not to date written an article criticising the Socialist Partys refusal to call for the immediate withdrawal of British troops from the north of Ireland. This is indeed a scandalous position for a British left-wing organisation and is indicative of the fundamental problems in their left-reformist programme. But we do not regard this as a sufficient reason to avoid any common work with them on issues where there is agreement nor to consider giving them critical support in elections when appropriate."
Obviously, the BTs paper "principles" are disposable if they interfere with opportunist combinations with open supporters of the murderous British army and its fascistic Protestant assassins.
Comrade Galarneau noted how "the BT finds the greatest difficulty in criticizing the anti-Communist, chauvinist social democrats, and indeed are always happy to unite with them." He cited BT leader Logans participation in a so-called "International Conference" in South Africa in 1997, one of a number of recent "regroupment" attempts among reformists and centrists internationally. The "base document" for the conference enthusiastically greeted the destruction of the Soviet Union, and denounced the very idea of an internationalist Leninist party, saying: "International parties run the risk of establishing predatory relationships with unaffiliated revolutionary groups." Comrade Galarneau explained our attitude:
"We were invited to this conference, and we declined for obvious reasons, given our fundamental differences with this `base document. Instead, we fought independently for our views around the conference."
In contrast, the BT rushed to accept delegate status, signing on to the "base document." As the TL spokesman noted: "Not only were they too happy to attend, they praised the document as a `broadly anti-capitalist document!"
The Bolshevik Tendency: What Is It?
The BT cares nothing for the struggles of the oppressed, much less the fight for revolutionary consciousness, because it is not an organization which seeks proletarian revolution. In fact, it is a peculiar and dubious outfit with a history of insinuating itself in places and among forces which are aimed at doing us harm. Its perpetual slanders of our organization as a "bureaucratic cult" have even found their way into a premier mouthpiece of the U.S. imperialist ruling class. in the summer of 1995, the Wall Street Journal wielded the BTs smears to try to undermine the vitally important defense of black U.S. death row prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal.
Riley repeated the BTs favored anti-Communist "cult" theme during the debate, claiming that our change of line to advocate Quebec independence several years ago came from "leader-worship." In fact, as the TL spokesman pointed out:
"You know the world only to the extent that you intervene to change it. On the streets, in the factoriesnot in some library or in your head. So, we intervened and we learned. And when the question came to a head once again before the `95 referendum, based on all these years of work, we stopped and we thought, we reassessed our position in the fashion of Leninists, and we realized we had been wrong. We figured out--a little late, but in time--that, had we not gone over to the advocacy of Quebec independence, it would have called into question our existence as a revolutionary organization in this country. I encourage everyone here to read our bulletin `On the National Question in Quebec, which details not only how we came to change our line to advocacy of Quebec independence, but how a truly Leninist organization arrives at a correct political line."
Contrast this to the BT and their genuinely strange internal life under Bill Logan, an individual who finds personal gratification in the sadistic exercise of power over others, especially women. Logan delights in orchestrating internal torture sessions called "communist criticism." This was exposed in a bulletin published by a BT split group, which we reprinted as No. 8 of our series Hate Trotskyism, Hate the Spartacist League. The bulletin describes an "internal struggle" inside the BT, of which a highlight was a fist fight between opposing BT factions in the streets of Oakland, California!
In his summary, TL spokesman Galarneau cited this Hate Trotskyism series, which makes available many documents written against us by political opponents, including the BT. He noted:
"This is hardly what a bureaucratic organization would do. Our own history is well documented in the bound volumes of many hundreds of copies of Workers Vanguard and elsewhere. With our organization, what you see is what you get. We are still doing what we set out to do from the beginning--to forge a revolutionary, internationalist, proletarian party to lead the working class to power."
Building such a party means struggling to clear away the obstacles to revolutionary consciousness created by the bourgeoisie and perpetuated by its reformist henchmen. As the TL speaker concluded:
"Let me reiterate why calling for Quebec independence is decisive if you want to build a proletarian revolutionary party. Its the only way to break the workers of English Canada from chauvinism, and to shatter the grip of nationalism in Quebec. So I want to say to any members of the Brock Socialists and others who really want to dedicate their life and fight for proletarian revolution, that their place is among the ranks of the International Communist Leaguethe party which uniquely has the program and perspective to achieve world socialist revolution."
APPENDIX No. 2
A Few Additional Points...
We have already dealt with many of the accusations raised by the TL in our literature (see, in particular, our Trotskyist Bulletin No. 5, "ICL vs. IBT" as well as "Socialists, Sectarians and `Scabs'"). We do not propose to cover the same territory again here, but there are a few additional points that need to be made.
To begin with, our comrades made a few factual errors during the debate that we wish to correct. Firstly, Charles was indeed correct that Spartacist Canada published several articles on Quebec prior to December 1976. Secondly, Ian Donovan (a former member of both the ICL and IBT) quit our organization in April 1998, which means that when he attacked a female Spartacist League member in London last January he had not yet been out of the IBT for a year (for our statement on the incident see: "IBT Statement on Ian Donovan's Attack on SL/B Comrade".) And thirdly, in 1974 the SL did not call for extending an existing general strike, but rather for launching a "defensive general strike" in response to the Tory government's attack on the miners.
No SL Trade Union Work?
The last TL/ICL member to speak on the round disputed our assertion in "ICL vs. IBT" that "Today the SL has no trade union work at all," and pointed to efforts by Spartacist League supporters in the Amalgamated Transit Union on behalf of Mumia Abu Jamal. That was indeed commendable. We are pleased that IBT comrades have also been able to play a modest role in obtaining union endorsements for Mumia.
However, when we used the term "trade union work" we meant something more than having a few supporters putting forward occasional solidarity motions. We meant it in the sense that it has traditionally been understood in our movement, i.e., the creation of programmatically-based caucuses within the unions to act as:
Examples of such SL-supported caucuses in the 1970s were the Militant Action Caucus in the Communications Workers of America and the Militant Caucus in West Coast longshore. If indeed SL supporters are engaged today, or were engaged in 1995, in such work we stand corrected. But they are not, to our knowledge.
Blocs, United Fronts and Conferences
Unlike the contemporary Spartacist tendency, we do not make a principle of refusing to participate in blocs or united fronts, or to attend conferences or to offer critical support to other leftists in elections simply on the basis that we may have substantial and important political differences. Like Lenin and Trotsky, we do not consider that reaching fundamental political agreement is a precondition for uniting in action for a common objective. Lenin's military bloc with Kerensky against Kornilov, like Trotsky's call for a united front between communists and social democrats against Hitler, should be models for revolutionaries today. (see: "Building the Revolutionary Party and United Front Tactics")Yet the ICL's tactical approach often more closely resembles the stupidities of the Third Period Stalinists' "united front from below."
We accepted an invitation to attend a December 1997 conference of South African leftists, even though we did not endorse many of the particular positions of the sponsors and could not therefore sign the base document (see: "Report on South Africa"). At the conference we had the opportunity to discuss many of our differences, while the ICL members hung around outside the hall and denounced us to whoever would listen. To each their own.
We have extended critical electoral support to the Socialist Party in Britain, despite its scandalous position on Northern Ireland (see: Marxist Bulletin Nos. 7 - "Local elections and London referendum - No Vote to Labour!and 8 - "As Socialist Labour collapses... Is the Socialist Alliance a step forward?"), just as we gave critical support to an SL candidate in San Francisco in 1984, despite the SL's scandalous call for saving the U.S. Marines in Lebanon the year before. In December 1974 the TL (then known as the Canadian Committee of the international Spartacist tendency) critically supported the candidates of the reformist League for Socialist Action in the Toronto municipal elections, despite the fact that the LSA and its parent, the U.S. Socialist Workers' Party, was busy calling for Gerald Ford to send the U.S. Army to Boston to "protect" black schoolchildren from racist mobs. Perhaps the TL now thinks that too was a mistake.
The Spartacist League has also made much of the fact that in 1996 an IBT supporter within Arthur Scargill's British Socialist Labour Party decided to bloc with some other leftists (some of whom were state capitalists who once belonged to Tony Cliff's International Socialism tendency) to campaign inside the SLP for the party to include a call for expropriating the bourgeoisie in its formal program. Comrade Charles denounced the state capitalist members of this bloc as:
"infamous for their earlier support for counter-revolution in Eastern Europe, like Solidarnosc, even people who support pro-Hitler Ukrainian nationalists--I mean fascists! That's the sort of people the BT aligns with."
This is meant to sound very alarming, but all it boils down to is that we are willing to do joint work around particular issues with people who agree with Tony Cliff's International Socialists (IS), or the United Secretariat (USec), despite the fact that they have indeed taken some very bad positions in the past. We recall that the Leninist Comintern in the early 1920s made a series of proposals for united fronts to the Second International, despite the murder of Liebknecht and Luxemburg in 1919, the betrayal of 4 August 1914, etc.
What makes Charles' accusations particularly strange is that only a few months earlier (in November 1998) we and the TL were both "aligned" with similar pro-Solidarnosc elements in Toronto in a united front in sponsoring a demonstration in defense of Mumia Abu Jamal! In 1995 the TL participated, along with ourselves, the IS, the USec, and various social democrats, anarchists and others in a similar united front in Toronto. Apparently the ICL has decided not to participate in similar blocs in the future. So be it.
Recycling a Lie
Charles' presentation, which we can safely assume was carefully vetted by the ICL leadership prior to the event, reiterated the following deliberate lie:
"In 1992 to make their cosy coalition with the Maoists, the BT dropped the right of self-determination [for Quebec]."
When the ICL first employed this particular slander (in the 3 November 1995 issue of Workers Vanguard) we responded as follows:
No sane person reading that could conclude that we had "dropped the right of self-determination." We are at a loss to explain why the TL would repeat such a brazen and easily refuted lie.
Was James Robertson Covering for the IBT?
Charles' script also contained the following oft-repeated lies:
"When we organized the 5,000-strong labor-black mobilization which stopped the Ku Klux Klan in Washington in 1982, the BT spat on this work. One of their members called it `ghetto work.'"
We never referred to this important mobilization as "ghetto work," nor did we spit on it. In fact in a 12 December 1982 letter to the Spartacist League we saluted it:
"Congratulations on your victory on November 27th. Enclosed is a cheque for twenty-five dollars to help offset the cost for this successful labor/black mobilization that stopped the Klan. We sincerely hope the follow-up wins many new recruits to Trotskyism."
This letter was personally acknowledged by James Robertson in a letter dated 10 January 1983 (but not actually posted until August that year):
"Thank you for your letter dated 13 December 1982 and for the endorsed check for $25.00 toward our successful but inevitably expensive D.C. anti-Klan demonstration."
Robertson's letter concluded: "Sorry for the delay and do appreciate receiving your views and money." Of course this was before the retroactive discovery was made that we had supposedly "spat on this work." (The full text of both letters is reprinted in our Trotskyist Bulletin No. 1.)
A Few Comments About Ireland
Another allegation levelled by the TL during the discussion was the following:
"In their only major article in 1917 [No. 16] on Ireland of some seven and a half pages, the only mention they have of the Labour Party (which sent troops in to Northern Ireland in 1969) is to say that they did so in response to `a wave of pogroms against Catholic working class ghettos.' This is nothing but back-handed support for the lie that British troops can be some sort of neutral arbitrator in Northern Ireland."
This is another attempt to score points through deliberate misrepresentation. The actual passage in 1917 recalled that there had been:
"a wave of pogroms against Catholic working class ghettos, most notably the `Battle of the Bogside' in 1969, in which police systematically attacked the main Catholic area of Derry, and its residents fought back with great courage. In response, the Labour government of Harold Wilson sent British troops onto the streets of Derry and Belfast to restore `order' and put the lid firmly back on."
Restoring "order" in response to determined Catholic resistance inevitably meant preserving the Protestant ascendancy.
In his presentation Charles also referred to Ireland in response to our criticism that the ICL was introducing a `two stage' approach to the Quebec situation. In doing so, he suggested that Marx's position that the "English working class will never accomplish anything before it has got rid of Ireland" provided a precedent for the TL's new position on Quebec. But this overlooks several important facts. Firstly, Ireland was essentially a colony, and Quebec is not. Secondly, while there was a great deal of anti-Irish chauvinism and a history of brutal oppression at the hands of the English, there was little or no tradition of joint proletarian struggle between Irish and English workers. Marx, in his well-known April 1870 letter on the Irish question to Sigfrid Meyer and August Vogt, remarked that one of the "most important" factors in determining his attitude was that:
"Every industrial and commercial center in England now possesses a working class divided into two hostile camps, English proletarians and Irish proletarians. The ordinary English worker hates the Irish worker as a competitor who lowers his standard of life....The Irishman pays him back with interest...."
Marx based his position on Ireland on political realities of his time, whereas the TL treats Quebec separation as a kind of categorical imperative entirely independent of the political conjuncture and the mutual relations within the workers' movement. When and if relations between English-Canadian and Québécois workers become anything like as bitter as the relations between English and Irish workers were in Marx's time we too will advocate immediate separation. But that day has not yet dawned.
In suggesting that the TL/ICL's approach had an element of "two-stagism" we referred to the classically Menshevik/Stalinist "stages" theory. This is a kind of Trotskyist shorthand which may not be immediately obvious to people not familiar with our tradition. The classic example was the strategy of the "popular front" during the 1930s where the Stalinists advocated that workers had to unite with all anti-fascist forces (particularly the "progressive" wing of the capitalists) for an indefinite period of time and fight for some "more advanced" democratic (capitalist) political order before they could commence the struggle for their own proletarian class interests (socialism). In other words, the Stalinists claimed that there could be no "basis" for "successful proletarian struggle" until anti-fascist unity was achieved.
This advocacy of an anti-fascist "first stage" had nothing to do with the specific situation in a given country. Moscow laid down this policy for all the sections of the Comintern as the strategic line to be pursued for the indefinite future, regardless of the level of workers' struggles, the strength of the fascists or any other factor. This insistence on pursuing the "first stage" of cross-class anti-fascist "unity" led to the destruction of the Spanish Revolution as the Stalinists struggled to crush any forces who transgressed the limits of bourgeois democracy.
While Trotskyists reject Stalinist "stagism" we are well aware that there are situations where the overwhelming immediate requirement is to defend bourgeois democracy by uniting all who can be united, including any anti-fascist elements that may exist among the bourgeoisie or petty-bourgeoisie, in a bloc to resist fascists or other anti-democratic forces. The classic case of such a bloc was that made between the Bolsheviks and Kerensky, the head of the capitalist Provisional Government, in September 1917 to abort an attempted rightist coup by General Kornilov who would have crushed all workers' organizations and abolished all democratic rights. Another example was in Germany in the early 1930s when Trotsky suggested that the Communists should bloc with the pro-capitalist Social Democrats (as well as Catholics and anyone else willing to fight to protect bourgeois democratic freedoms) to smash the Nazi threat.
These examples could be seen as involving "two stages," and in the common sense meaning of those words, they did. First the Bolsheviks united with Kerensky, and then, a few weeks later, rallied the workers to overturn Kerensky. But what differentiates such proposals from Menshevik/Stalinist "two-stagism" is that they are conjunctural in character--i.e., tactical policies that are determined on the basis of the existing balance of forces and relations between different groupings in society at a particular point. They do not have the character of a rigid doctrine or categorical imperative.
Marxists do of course advocate separation in cases like Quebec if national tensions obstruct the possibility of workers' unity. The advocacy of separation, in such situations, is designed to clear the deck for pursuing the class struggle. Examples abound but two current unambiguous cases are those of the Tamils in Sri Lanka and the Albanians in Kosovo. Like the question of forming a bloc against fascism, the advocacy of separation in such situations could be seen as proposing a "stage" in the struggle for social revolution--i.e., an acknowledgement that one must address the national question before it is possible to make qualitative progress towards socialist revolution. Marx made such a proposal as regards Ireland--based on an assessment of the concrete situation there.
But, as we argued in the debate, the ICL cannot provide evidence that Quebec separation has been necessary for the past 30 years as a precondition for "successful proletarian struggle" precisely because the record is one of bi-national workers' struggles. This is why we suggested that the ICL's new position has much in common with the discredited Menshevik/Stalinist theories which removed socialist revolution from the agenda in the name of completing a "first stage" of one sort or another.
Québécois and Sri Lankan Tamils
During the discussion one participant drew a parallel between the situation of the Québécois and that of Sri Lanka's Tamils:
"The Trotskyist League stood for the independence of Eelam [a separate Tamil state] in Sri Lanka for a long time. Are you objecting to that? Is that two-stagism in Sri Lanka? Why isn't it--just because there is some killing in the streets all of a sudden you can have two stages--first you have to have the independent Eelam and then you have the socialist revolution?"
The comrade apparently does not fully appreciate the distinction between recognizing the right to self-determination and advocating that it be exercised at any given moment. When the short-lived Spartacist League of Sri Lanka was launched in 1981, it was reported that in the face of a campaign of "government terror against the Tamils" the SL's "Lankan comrades were the only voices raised in the Sinhala community to oppose this murderous assault on the Tamils" Spartacist (No. 31-32, Summer 1981). This would seem to indicate deeply poisoned relations, yet the SL/L still hesitated to call for separation:
"At this time we do not advocate the establishment of a separate state, but urge the Tamil working masses to join in a common class struggle with the Sinhala workers and peasants."
A few years later the SL did finally advocate the creation of a separate Tamil state:
The same comrade who raised the comparison with Sri Lanka asserted that in Quebec "there's never been a case of a strike being broken by national chauvinism" and that "there's never been francophones beating up on the Anglos on the picket lines." This suggests that relations across the national divide in Canada during the past 30 years has been rather different than those in Sri Lanka.
`Not One Word About...'
During the debate a leading TLer remarked:
"If anybody was paying any attention to what Tom said tonight, you will notice that he said nothing about the NDP traitors and their chauvinism against Quebec. Not one word. Not one word about the chauvinism of the labor bureaucracy. Not one word about the Quebec labor tops and their nationalism. Nothing. Why? Because that's the direction they capitulate in. And it's not just here."
In a similar vein, the TL's account of the debate chastises our comrades for speaking:
"40 minutes without once acknowledging that Quebec is an oppressed nation, or making a single substantive reference to the existence of Anglo chauvinism. This silence was maintained by the BT through several rounds of discussion, despite repeated challenges by the TL."
The TL did not in fact inquire whether we believed that Anglo chauvinism exists, or if Quebec is an oppressed nation, or if the NDP has a record of chauvinism, or if the Quebec labor tops are nationalists. These things are all well known. We saw the debate as a chance to seriously thrash out our outstanding differences--not to list things that practically every leftist in Canada already agrees on. If we wanted to play this stupid game we could come up with our own list of things the TL failed to mention--but why bother?
The technique of establishing guilt by omission has no doubt proved handy for the ICL leadership when it comes to manufacturing "evidence" to use against internal targets. But things that work well within the tightly controlled environment of the ICL do not always produce such good results in the big world outside. Sometimes ICL leaflets read as if the authors' main objective was not to explain something, but rather to avoid leaving anything out. This results in propaganda that is full of slogans and jump-cuts but devoid of ideas--printed matter that teaches nothing and convinces no one.
In an attempt to make something that reads like a political argument the Spartacist Canada/WV article charges comrade Riley with "Economism" for emphasizing the history of united bi-national workers' struggles. They claim that his "presentation rested on a straight equation of class consciousness and simple trade union militancy." If this were true one might expect there to be some evidence. But there is no attempt to substantiate this claim, because there is nothing in Riley's remarks with which to do so.
In fact we are only stating the obvious in observing that if relations were as hopelessly poisoned as the ICL claims then it would be evident in the course of working class struggles. Yet in major strikes involving workers of both nations since the 1960s there is a consistent pattern of solidarity across the national divide, with the more militant (and more class-conscious) Québécois workers tending to take the lead.
The link between the militant Québécois workers and the English-Canadian workers is strategically very important because of the latter's relationship to the American working class. When autoworkers in the General Motors and Chrysler plants in Windsor, Ontario, spearheaded a one-day shutdown of that city in October 1997, autoworkers in Detroit, just across the river, paid very close attention. This kind of example can be highly contagious, and the connections between English-Canadian and U.S. proletarians could prove vital in determining the outcome of future class battles in North America.
From the Pillars of Hercules to the House of Robertson
We have already addressed the ICL's continuing smear campaign against comrade Bill Logan in "ICL vs. IBT." We would only note that while thinking nothing of making ridiculous accusations about "internal torture sessions" in the IBT, the Robertsonians remain exquisitely sensitive to any suggestion that their own regime is less than a paragon of democratic rectitude. An example of this is the claim that comrade Riley's suggestion that Spartacist Canada's bizarre paean to Scottish national mysticism reflects "absurd leader-worship" is somehow "anti-Communist."
Perhaps the ICL has good reason to treat the tall tales in the Declaration of Arbroath about the Pillars of Hercules, Greater Scythia, etc., more seriously than other nationalist "histories." But we have yet to hear it, and until we do it will be hard to get rid of the nagging suspicion that the passage in question was somehow intended as a salute to the Royal House of Robertson.