BY JOHN STEELE
TORONTO - The membership of the Communist League (CL) in Canada met January 3 - 4 at the League's Fifth Constitutional Convention. The convention was preceded by a two-day international socialist conference where nearly 300 people from across North America and several other countries attended. Participants discussed the weight of the Cuban revolution in the world, imperialism's march toward fascism and war, and the opportunities to build the communist movement today. Convention delegates participated in all of the sessions and classes during the January 1- 2 conference, and many conference participants stayed to observe the CL convention.
Many convention participants reported on their efforts to build solidarity with the ongoing strike of the 2,400 pulp and paper workers at Fletcher Challenge in British Columbia, and the struggle of 2,300 meatpackers in four cities across three provinces, who are on strike and locked-out against the union- busting drive of Maple Leaf Foods.
Communist League members in Toronto have begun selling the Militant newspaper to workers at Quality Meats as part of their efforts to build solidarity with the Maple Leaf strikers. "Because the Militant is a reliable source of information on the strike we have been selling quite a few copies to workers each time we go to the plant gate," reported Heidi Rose, a member of the International Association of Machinists.
The importance of week-in and week-out efforts to get communist ideas into the hands of fight-minded workers and youth was one of the central themes of the convention. The entire membership of the Communist League was seated as delegates at the convention. In addition, fraternal delegates from communist leagues in Britain, Iceland, New Zealand, and Sweden; the Socialist Workers Party in the United States; and the Young Socialists in Canada and the U.S. took part in the convention discussion.
The convention concluded that in order to take full advantage of the growing openings for communist work among working-class fighters and youth, the League had to unambiguously reject the party's drift over the previous months toward political adaptation to the reactionary nationalism of Canada's imperialist rulers. These pressures are transmitted into the labor movement by the petty-bourgeois reformist left and the "progressive" trade union officialdom.
Political crisis confronted
"The course of the party," Communist League leader Michel Prairie explained in a report to the convention on behalf of the Central Committee, "has been more and more divergent with the line of march of the working class toward the revolutionary struggle to replace the capitalist government in Ottawa with a workers' and farmers' government.
"This political crisis has come to a head because the retreat of our class has bottomed out, we have been recruiting a new levy of young fighters, and there are growing opportunities to win fighting workers to a communist perspective," Prairie continued. "These changes are forcing us to confront our weaknesses and to transform what we do.
"Despite the almost two-decade long retreat of the labor movement in Canada, the Communist League has been able to maintain branches in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver," Prairie noted. "No other organization has succeeded, as we have done, in building a centralized party in the working class, with a leadership that has a strong Quebecois component, and a branch located in a region central to the fight for Quebec's independence.
"As a party of workers, our members are doing communist political work in four of the main industrial unions in this country," said Prairie. "Young members, many of whom are leaders of the Young Socialists, are becoming leaders of the Communist League. League members are central to the work of the three Pathfinder bookstores and the new Toronto center for the distribution of Pathfinder books across Canada. These gains in cadres and structure of a communist workers' party are a strength that we can use to move forward."
A good deal of discussion focused on the participation of Communist League members in the conferences and demonstrations organized in Vancouver last November against the Ottawa-hosted meeting of government and business leaders from the 18 member countries of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC).
Wrong to join anti-APEC actions
The anti-APEC activities were organized by two coalitions involving the Canadian Labor Congress, Council of Canadian Unity, New Democratic Party, and Stalinist church, student, and other organizations. Under the guise of fighting for democracy and human rights against "Third World dictators," the anti-APEC campaign promoted a protectionist perspective of "jobs for Canadians" that converged with the interests of a layer of Canada's capitalist rulers. Among the demonstrators were those who attacked the Chinese workers state, in the name of "freedom for Tibet."
"Communist workers are opposed to military pacts or trade arrangements like APEC and NAFTA that the capitalist rulers use to extend their domination over exploited workers and farmers, and oppressed nations," said Steve Penner from Vancouver. Communist workers are also opposed to all the alternative ways of organizing bourgeois trade put forward by some of the capitalist ruling families and labor tops. "But we rationalized that we could block with the anti-APEC forces and at the same time fight against their reactionary Canadian nationalist campaign. However, as participants we could not differentiate our working-class perspective from them and were drawn into giving left-wing cover to their Canadian nationalist campaign, and ultimately to Ottawa's imperialist foreign policy," Penner explained.
"At the time of the APEC conference the Canadian government was backing Washington's preparations to bomb Iraq," said Penner. "U.S. president William Clinton was in town and yet there were no demonstrations protesting the war moves against Iraq, or Ottawa's complicity. There was a conference dealing with the impact of Washington's economic sanctions against Iraq that we should have participated in and didn't.
"We fooled ourselves into thinking that we could meet up with a lot of young fighters through participating in the anti- APEC actions." said Penner. "But our eyes were not on the real fighters. A member of the Young Socialists found himself waving to a picket line of striking postal workers who were taking on the federal government, as he marched past them as part of the anti-APEC demonstration." Being on that march instead of on the picket line gave a signal that workers should direct their demands against APEC, instead of the Canadian government and bosses.
Responding to a delegate who lauded the efforts of League and Young Socialist members to debate federal government ministers and officials at the anti-APEC events, Susan Berman, a member of the United Steelworkers of America from Toronto, argued that the Communist League and Young Socialists fell into a trap. "We didn't get the Canadian government minister," said Berman. "By debating him on his terrain, he got us."
Land mines and the trade union left
The Communist League stood alone in its opposition to Ottawa's cynical campaign to ban land mines that culminated in the December 2 - 4 international conference hosted by Ottawa.
"Although late in reacting to Ottawa's campaign, the Political Committee issued a statement published in the Militant following the conference," said Prairie, "condemning Ottawa's campaign as a cold-blooded maneuver to convince working people in Canada to support its foreign policy and the use of its so-called peacekeeping troops abroad and at home" to defend its economic interests.
Montreal delegate and Young Socialist leader Maria Isabel Le Blanc pointed out how events like Ottawa's land mines conference provide the communist movement with an opportunity to explain Ottawa's role as an imperialist nation in the world. "By telling the truth about Ottawa's foreign policy we can help working people understand how Canadian imperialism oppresses nations abroad and nationalities like the Quebecois at home," she said.
The officialdom of the Canadian Auto Workers and a number of public sector unions style themselves as the left-wing of the labor movement. They have been central to the building of a series of "Days of Action" that have mobilized tens of thousands of working people over the past two years in job actions and street demonstrations against the antiunion austerity drive of the Ontario Conservative government.
Communist workers in Ontario have correctly built and participated in these events. "But we tended to exaggerate their scope accepting as good coin the claim of the union officialdom that they represented the birth of a new `social movement,' " said Young Socialist leader and steelworker Mick McDonnell. "Despite their power and breadth, the Days of Action never went beyond the control of the trade union officials."
Toronto delegate and machinist union member Sylvie Charbin explained how the activities of Communist League members in that city tended to be guided not so much by important developments in the class struggle in Canada and internationally, but by announcements that came through the fax machine from a service called "Faxleft" announcing hundreds of activities of those oriented to radical unionism and the petty- bourgeois left rather than the fight to get rid of capitalism.
"I propose that we end our subscription to this service," Charbin said, "and get back into the weekly rhythm of picket line participation, sales of the Militant to workers at plants where we have members working and doing political work, organizing members to get union jobs in industry in a variety of factories in each city, building the Militant Labor Forum, getting Pathfinder books into the bookstore chains, and other propaganda activities, which are the bedrock of building a working-class, revolutionary party today."
Delegates concluded that veering off the weekly rhythm of communist party-building work described by Charbin had led to their being drawn into the chauvinist anti-APEC protests and other activities of the "Faxleft" milieu.
A proletarian axis
In his concluding remarks at the end of the six-hour discussion, which took place with simultaneous translation into French and English, Michel Prairie called on the veterans of the Communist League to lead the party as a whole in one of the most important turning points of its history.
Currently a quarter of the Communist League membership is under 27 years of age and has joined over the last two years. "By leading the work of the party back toward a working-class axis the veterans of the party can advance the transition in leadership that has begun," said Prairie.
The delegates voted unanimously for a number of proposals. These included adopting the report presented by Prairie and a written report by Steve Penner drawing a balance sheet on the participation of the Vancouver branch in the anti-APEC coalitions. This report had earlier been adopted by the Vancouver branch.
"We were organized as if the smoke and mirrors of the anti- APEC events were more important than the actual class struggle unfolding today," stated the report. "One of the most fundamental lessons of the communist movement in times of an accelerating war drive by the rulers," the report continued, is that "we need to go more deeply into our class," and its "resistance to the rulers' attacks."
It took a number of rounds of discussion to get clarity on these issues. The participants decided to set aside the original convention agenda, including a leadership election, to take the necessary time. They decided to hold a second session of the convention later this year to assess the progress of the League in implementing this course and to elect a new Central Committee.
In the weeks following the convention Communist League members in Vancouver traveled to Vancouver Island to report for the Militant on the Fletcher Challenge strike and Toronto members got out to the Maple Leaf Food strikers' picket lines in Stoney Creek and Burlington. In response to the social crisis facing workers and farmers in the aftermath of a massive ice storm, Communist League members in Montreal increased their weekly propaganda sales at plant gates where they work; and organized sales of the Militant and Pathfinder books to working people forced into emergency shelters and to hydro workers and others clearing the streets and rebuilding the region's power grid.
John Steele is a member of International Association of
Machinists Local 2113 in Toronto.
Front page (for this issue) | Home | Text-version home