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 48 Years of Socialist Journalism (1969)

This article, written by Richard Fidler,  was published as supplement to the March 10 1969 issue of Workers Vanguard, the English language newspaper of the League for Socialist Action/Ligue Socialiste Ouvrière. It was illustrated with pictures of Canadian socialist newspapers of the previous five decades.

Agitator, teacher, historian
—the role of the socialist press

Our 48 years in labor’s fight for a better world

The impressive sequence of newspaper mastheads arrayed on the right hand side of this page represents a continuing tradition of revolutionary socialist journalism in Canada which extends over the past 48 years.

The Workers Vanguard traces its origins right back to The Workers’ World, organ of the Canadian communists, which first appeared on Aug. 17, 1921. Among the prominent contributors to this weekly paper, which subsequently became The Workers’ Guard, then The Worker, were such leading communist spokesmen as Maurice Spector. Jack Macdonald, Jack Kavanagh and Max Armstrong. All four subsequently became leading figures in the Trotskyist movement, and defended the revolutionary Marxist program against the bureaucratic degeneration of the Communist party under Stalinist domination.

Spector, who was editor of The Worker during much of the 1920’s, was the first editor of The Vanguard. established in 1932 as the organ of the International Left Opposition (Trotskyist) of Canada. The Vanguard published on a more or less regular basis until 1936. It was followed in 1938 by Socialist Action, organ of the Socialist Workers League, which was first mimeographed, then printed until the outbreak of war in September 1939 when it was banned by government decree. Socialist Action continued to publish underground in mimeographed form during the war.

The first issue of Labor Challenge, the organ of the Revolutionary Workers Party, appeared legally near the end of the war, in June 1945. Soon after, it became a twice-monthly, and published as such for five years until reverting to a monthly. In 1952, it was discontinued while its supporters entered the CCF, where they participated in publishing a number of left wing bulletins. In late 1955 the Workers Vanguard began publication, and has appeared regularly since then, first as a monthly, and during the last year and half as a twice-monthly. This spring we are aiming to double its size to 8 pages.

The continued publication of this socialist press, in spite of the most adverse conditions—the poverty of its supporters, frequent isolation, periods of reaction when the whole left movement often seemed to constitute no more than a corporal’s guard, even illegality for several years—is indeed an inspiring tribute to the remarkable comrades who kept alight the flame of revolutionary socialism. It is also and above all a vindication of the correctness of the political perspective of Trotskyism.

An impressive record indeed—particularly when compared with that of the trade union movement and the CCF/NDP. With all their resources of money and manpower, their scores of full-time organizers, etc., the labor movement in this country has never attempted to establish a labor daily newspaper. The NDP, Canada’s labor party, has only one weekly newspaper, soon to revert to a twice monthly.

Our press has been primarily a cadre organ—serving as the instrument of the revolutionary socialist movement, seeking recruits to Marxism and educating them in the class struggle program. We have never yet grown to the point where we could even think seriously of providing the mass labor-socialist paper that is needed so badly in this country. But to the extent that our limited capacities allowed, we have consistently spoken out on all the important issues facing the broad working class movement. Our long-standing record in defending the basic principle of labor political action independent of the capitalist parties is without parallel in the left. We were among the first to hail the formation of the New Democratic Party—the mass labor party which we advocated for many years—and we have been in the forefront of the struggle to build the NDP and win it to a socialist program and leadership.

It is in the pages of the revolutionary press displayed here that you will find the only accurate cumulative account of the main issues and events in the history of the international and Canadian working class movement, and a consistent Marxist analysis of their significance. This is one our most precious assets—for armed with the lessons of the past, we will shape the future.

As the multiplicity of journals testifies, the fight to build a revolutionary socialist party in this country has not been a smooth, unbroken process.

The first issue of The Workers’ World, original precursor of the Workers Vanguard, featured a report of the third congress of the Communist International. The headline read "Trotsky Makes Great Speech."

Barely seven years later, in November 1928, Maurice Spector, an editor of what was then The Worker, was summarily expelled from the Communist Party. His crime: having expressed his solidarity with the revolutionary program being defended by Leon Trotsky against the bureaucratic degeneration of the Comintern under Stalin and Bukharin. Forty years after Spector’s expulsion, the Workers Vanguard is continuing the struggle in defense of revolutionary Marxism and workers democracy initiated by Trotsky and the International Left Opposition.

The major issues in the historic Trotsky-Stalin dispute are outlined by Spector in his statement to the Communist party that is reproduced on the opposite page. Stalin’s disastrous policy in China and his opportunist maneuvers in Britain were only the first manifestations of the treacherous international role of the bureaucratic caste that was consolidating its hold on the isolated and industrially backward Soviet workers state. The Stalinist virus spread quickly throughout the world Communist movement, and was a major factor in the crushing defeat suffered by the German working class at the hands of Hitlerism in 1933. This, together with the defeat of the Spanish revolution and the lost opportunity for revolution in France in 1934-36, directly contributed to the onset of World War II, It is the Stalinization of the Canadian CP, with its resulting fatal political errors and demoralization of a whole generation of class conscious workers, that explains the party’s eventual decline to its position today as a shell with almost no influence in the left, rightly rejected by all the new youthful revolutionary elements.

Revolutionary socialism, of course, has nothing in common with the reformist illusions characterized by social democracy and its partisans in the leadership of the CCF and New Democratic Party. In our editorial statement in the first issue of the Vanguard, in 1932 (reprinted on this page), we declared war on the "social reformists" and reaffirmed that the main challenge before Canadian workers, as before the world working class, was to overcome the crisis of leadership in the workers organizations by constructing the revolutionary party.

The Trotskyist prognoses have been vindicated many times over. But for years, the vindication was expressed in defeats, in the failure of the proletariat to take the power owing to false leadership and betrayal by the social democrats and Stalinists alike. It is not easy to build a movement through force of negative example—and even many class conscious workers, understanding the role of the social democrats and Stalinists and acquainted with our analysis nonetheless did not see their way clear to active participation in the Trotskyist movement. During many years, the mere survival of our small cadres was a major achievement.

The postwar extension of the world revolution, beginning with the Yugoslav and Chinese revolutions, and continuing through the Cuban and Vietnamese revolutions, has laid the basis for a new upsurge of radicalization in the advanced capitalist countries like Canada. Insofar as the new revolutionary leaderships, such as the Cuban, bypass the old reformist and neo-reformist parties of social-democracy and Stalinism, they have been obliged to seek their points of reference in concepts long defended by the Trotskyists alone.

Today, we are on the threshold of what promises to be a new wave of radicalization, which has already found initial inspiration and expression here in the anti-Vietnam war movement and the growing support for the NDP. In looking back, we can appreciate with renewed understanding the immense historic importance of the work of the tiny but dedicated forces who in this country as around the world at great cost and personal sacrifice preserved that priceless heritage, our revolutionary Marxist theory.

Looking ahead, we can say with confidence that the Trotskyists in the League for Socialist Action/Ligue Socialiste Ouvrière will play a key role in the struggles that develop. Today more than ever it is clear that only a firm conscious cadre based on the worked out program of revolutionary Marxism can begin to come to grips with the difficult but essential task of building an alternative leadership for the Canadian working class—a leadership capable of guiding the socialist struggle to victory.


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