Report on the Resolution, January 1973
LSA/LSO Discussion Bulletin, #39, March 1973
The following is an edited and expanded version of the Political Committee report on "Canada and the Crisis of World Imperialism" given by John Riddell to the LSA/LSO Central Committee plenary meeting of January 4-7, 1973.
The Committee adopted the general line of this report by a vote of 20 in favor, 4 opposed, with 1 Abstention. It adopted the general line of the Political Committee resolution, "Canada and the Crisis of World Imperialism," by a vote of 20 in favor, 1 opposed, with 4 abstentions.
What ARE the Key Issues in the Canadian Nationalism Dispute?
by John Riddell
Aim of this Report
At the September 1972 plenum of the Central Committee we had an extensive discussion of Canadian nationalism, and of Canadian imperialism’s relationship to U.S. and world imperialism. It concluded with two decisions, both of them unanimous. First, we adopted a statement reasserting the long-standing position of the LSA-LSO on the fundamentally reactionary character of Canadian nationalism in its various guises. Second, we instructed the Political Committee to draft a resolution, elaborating the line of the theses on Canadian nationalism drawn up by the Political Bureau and circulated at that plenum, a resolution which was to replace the 1968 resolution, "Canada-U.S. Relations."
This draft resolution, "Canada and the Crisis of World Imperialism," was adopted by an 11-2 vote of the Political Committee, and is now before you. The publication of this resolution launched a lively discussion in the Canadian section.
This report will present the PC resolution to the Central Committee for its discussion and for its decision: whether or not to approve the general line of the resolution. You have all read and studied the PC resolution, and I will only summarize its main points. I will then take a look at how it stacks up against the main criticisms which have been leveled against it.
The International Significance of the Discussion
This discussion is of great importance and great value to the education of our cadres. In addition, it is of no little significance for the world movement, for it focuses in on a development which is taking place on a world scale.
The PC resolution begins by putting the Canadian reality in the framework of the world situation. Its first pages describe a key process of modern capitalism: the advancing integration of imperialist capital on world scale. This is seen in the interpenetration of foreign investment, the rise of "multinational" corporations, and by the very rapid increase of interimperialist trade over the past two decades.
Counterposed to these trends, we see the increasing economic competition of the imperialist powers, which use the state power at their disposal to defend the interests of capitalism in their country against all competitors. We also note the increasing reliance of capitalism on the direct intervention of the national state powers in the class struggle and the economic processes of their respective countries, to guarantee the profits of monopoly capitalism in each country.
The national components of the world bourgeoisie are both partners and competitors. They are partners in defending world capitalist stability against the challenge of the working class, the struggles of the colonial and semicolonial world, and the worst ravages of economic anarchy. Closer partnerships are established within regional trade blocs. Yet each power defends its national interests as best it can, against all its opponents.
What we see today is the aggravation of a fundamental and key contradiction of the capitalist system: between the international character of capitalist production, and the national limits imposed by the capitalist state structures.
This contradiction is reflected in the shocks and jolts in the world imperialist economy today: Rival trade blocs are formed. Monetary crises explode. Tariff conflicts break out, and protectionist measures are taken by various national economies. Recessions become more pronounced, and take on international dimensions. Impelled forward by these problems, the bourgeoisies of various countries launch sharp attacks on the living standards of the workers in each country.
Canada has not proved immune to the impact of this process.
The popular debate in Canada over its relationship to world imperialism—specifically to U.S. imperialism—is no isolated phenomenon. Parallel debates are underway in other countries, impelled forward by the same underlying processes.
In Australia, where our newspaper Direct Action reports 30 percent of corporations to be foreign-owned, our comrades have discussed the same question which faces us: the significance of this foreign investment for the class struggle. Austrian comrades tell us of the impact on Austria of foreign ownership of the bulk of major private capital. The English comrades have been confronted with the challenge of the fight against the Common Market, and of the vast nationalist feelings that came to play in this struggle. In Norway and Denmark important movements developed against the Common Market, with a clear nationalist coloration, and our comrades had to develop a line of intervention. Western European socialists are discussing the significance of growing U.S. ownership in key and strategic economic sectors such as automobiles, computers, etc.
If the debate has developed further in the Canadian section, it is mainly because the process of international interpenetration of monopoly capital has gone further here. Canada has a higher level of foreign ownership of the economy than any other major imperialist power—a level estimated by the Gray Report at 28 percent of assets of nonagricultural corporations in 1968. Most foreign ownership is by U.S. corporations. Foreign trade is exceptionally important to the Canadian economy, and about 70 percent of this trade is with the United States. Put in different terms, U.S. corporate investment in Canada is about the same size as its investment in all Western Europe, and the U.S. finds in Canada its most important source of imports, and market for exports.
"Canada and the Crisis of World Imperialism" explains how this situation is of capital importance for the Canadian economy and for Canadian political life.
Canadian Nationalism: The History of the Debate
The concept of the progressive character of Canadian nationalism was first put forward a year ago, at a public educational conference of the LSA-LSO held in Toronto on New Year’s Eve weekend, at the beginning of 1972.
At that conference, Ross Dowson, Executive Secretary of the League, gave a featured address. In it, he spoke of the upsurge against the Amchitka bomb tests, terming it "a powerful movement of people in the streets, which we have to call nationalist." He continued:
These comments are unedited. They comprise a brief excerpt from a lengthy, address, but they grasp its central idea: that a new nationalism had developed in English Canada, which is progressive right through, although it is not identical with the kind of nationalism we see in Québec.
The discussion was slow to develop. The report by Ross Dowson on the Political Resolution, adopted by the April  Central Committee plenum, included the suggestion that we should make a terminological change, substituting the term "Canadian nationalism" where we had previously said "anti-imperialist sentiment." But this proposal received no discussion at the plenum.
The concept of a progressive Canadian nationalism was taken into our public press in an article in Labor Challenge of April 10, 1972. This article, discussing "Canadian unionism," repeated the formulations of the 1968 resolution on the "anti-imperialist sentiment" of a progressive character, but substituted the word "nationalist" where the word "anti-imperialist" had formerly appeared.
In June the concept went into the YS-LJS [Young Socialists/Ligue des jeunes socialistes], and was inserted by the youth leadership into their Political Resolution. This resolution contained the following passage "The rebellion against the arrogance of imperialism [the Amchitka upsurge—JR] marked the deepening of the nationalist, pro-Canada sentiment of the Canadian masses. As Amchitka showed, this pro-Canada sentiment was directed not in support of the Canadian bourgeoisie but against the brutality of U.S. imperialism. This sentiment has become central to Canadian political life.... It is a sentiment that is leading thousands to see the necessity for a struggle to win the control of Canada by the Canadian people, a struggle that is also against the Canadian ruling class which is unwilling and unable to break its ties with its senior partner in Washington." (YS/LJS Discussion Bulletin, Vol. 8, No. 1, page 7.)
That same month, the Young Socialist carried an article entitled "Which Road to Canadian Independence," which developed elements of a program for a Canadian nationalist movement. After explaining that the struggle against the "Americanization" of the university had to be waged against the Canadian capitalist class, not American professors, it stated:
The LSA/LSO Political Resolution was published in July, and it also identified with this "progressive Canadian nationalism," which, it said, "has nothing in common with the bourgeois nationalism in Canadian history," and "has an anticapitalist thrust." It continued: "Canadian nationalism... serves to quicken, animate, and amplify the issues raised by the radicalizing movements and issuing from the class struggle, to generalize their impact, draw in wider forces, and make more militant the struggles...... (LS//LSO Discussion Bulletin, No. 5, p. 20-22).
This resolution, like the resolutions on women’s liberation and Québec published in July, were issued in the name of the Central Committee. The text of these resolutions, however, had not been presented either to the Central Committee or the Political Committee for their approval.
On July 6, 1972, the Political Committee had its first discussion on the question of the progressive character of Canadian nationalism, a discussion which took place six months after this concept was first advanced publicly. The PC decided by a majority vote to issue a memorandum justifying our identification with Canadian nationalism. This memorandum launched the debate among Central Committee members. Twenty days later, the Political Committee withdrew the memorandum and reaffirmed our previous position of opposition to Canadian nationalism—a position then endorsed by the September plenum.
Nationalism: The Central Issue of the Discussion
What, then, is the real issue of this debate? The document by Ross Dowson, "The Key Issue at Dispute in Canada-U.S. Relations," (Bulletin No. 25) poses it as follows: "Is Canada becoming economically integrated with the United States, or is it not? This is a key question." The document’s title implies that it must be considered the key question. But comrades Dowson and Lomas summed up the main issue, as they see it, very clearly in their statement to the Political Committee dated November 14, 1972. This statement, written eleven months after the Canadian nationalist thesis was first propounded, summarizes this thesis in three brief paragraphs.
The key issue, as these comrades see it, is clear: Economic integration with the U.S. has produced a Canadian nationalism which is progressive, and which we must identify with.
Later, in his previously mentioned document, Comrade Dowson cautions us that "it is not correct to barge into the question of nationalism in Canada." Well, we’re into it. We’ve been into it for 12 months. There’s no evading giving clear answers to it. The key question before the movement is to reaffirm at the coming convention our long-standing position of opposition to Canadian nationalism.
What do we mean by "nationalism"? The term has not been defined by those who support the Canadian nationalist thesis. But it is defined by the Political Committee in its resolution as follows: "In general terms, nationalism is an identification with the integrity, independence, values, culture, or language of the nation; the belief that the nation as a whole has common problems, goals, or tasks; and the concept that a common struggle or process of common endeavor in pursuit of these goals is called for." That’s a general definition that applies to progressive or reactionary nationalism; nationalism of any form. How does this apply to Canada, particularly to the anti-U.S. variety of Canadian nationalism which comrades Dowson and Lomas consider progressive? This nationalism of an anti-U.S. variety, with which we are called on to identify, can only mean pro-Canadianism, the promotion of a Canadian identity, patriotism, the sense of having a common problem; U.S. domination, U.S. control of the Canadian economy, culture, government, society, the problem of the weight of U.S. investment, of U.S. culture, and the need for a common struggle, a common endeavor for Canadian independence, Canadian sovereignty, to defend Canadian culture, etc.
The key question is not whether we should be sensitive to the nationalist sentiments that Canadian workers may have. All of us are for sensitivity—for accurate estimations of the moods of the masses, alertness to shifting moods, adroitness in intervention, ability to sniff out the progressive essence, the justified grievances, that can find expression cloaked behind reactionary concepts like nationalism. Such sensitivity goes hand in hand with resolute opposition to concepts like Canadian nationalism, which, as the 1968 resolution puts it, blunt the cutting edge of the class struggle.
Comrades Dowson and Lomas tell us we must identify with Canadian nationalism. In plain English, this means "making ourselves one with" nationalism—supporting and promoting it. It means that we, as Trotskyists, should hold that the Canadian people have common problems and common tasks and that we support their nationalist aspirations.
Coming to grips with this thesis is the main issue before us:
The Main Ideas of the Political Committee Resolution
The resolution "Canada and the Crisis of World Imperialism" makes four central points in coming to grips with the questions posed by Canadian nationalism. Here is a summary of these points, which constitute the core of the line of the document.
1. While a considerable degree of integration has taken place between the Canadian and the United States economies, particularly in respect to trade and investment, this process has not altered the fundamental character of Canadian capitalism or the Canadian state. This character can be summarized in three propositions:
2. National consciousness has a progressive character only where it promotes the struggle against real aspects of national oppression suffered by a people. In other words, national consciousness is progressive where it corresponds to real national tasks (winning of national independence, establishment of national language, etc., tasks left unachieved by the bourgeois revolution, and which can now be achieved in their totality only through socialist revolution.
In imperialist nations, because they suffer no national oppression, nationalism can only play a fundamentally reactionary role, blunting the cutting edge of the class struggle. This has been and remains the case for Canada. The bourgeoisie can employ nationalist demagogy of an anti-U.S. variety in support of its negotiating positions in its conflicts with U.S. imperialism, to rally workers to its class-collaborationist line (as for example in the event of the imposition of wage controls), to help head off developing class consciousness and fracture the organization of workers along class lines.
3. Our starting point in developing a program for the Canadian revolution is the objective situation, the objective needs of the masses. On this basis, we put forward transitional demands, "stemming from today’s conditions and today’s consciousness of wide layers of the working class and unalterably leading to one final conclusion: the conquest of power by the proletariat." (The Transitional Program)
Our program and our intervention cannot be founded on the desire to identify with the sentiments and aspirations of the masses, except insofar as these correspond to the real objective needs of the working class and its allies.
If no "national tasks" exist in English Canada, that is if English Canadian nationalism does not correspond to any objective needs of the working class and its allies, then no basis exists for an English Canadian nationalism of a progressive character, which Trotskyists would "identify with" or support.
4. We must intervene effectively and adroitly in the debate and ferment around the question of U.S. investment, Canadian independence, "U.S. domination." We do so along these lines:
What the Debate Is Not About
One of the particular values of this debate is that it directs our attention to the realities of Canada today, and impels us to deepen our understanding of the Canadian economy and social structure. The debate has raised many important questions, questions which merit serious study, but which do not form part of the central core of basic issues on which the membership must take a stand, and which therefore have a secondary character in the present debate.
1. This debate is not about a difference in the assessment of the strength of the Canadian bourgeoisie, or the extent of its holdings. Such a consideration is relevant to the nationalism debate only insofar as it might indicate that a qualitative change has taken place in the character of the Canadian ruling class—for example, through its absorption by U.S. capitalism.
While study on the relative strength and holdings of the Canadian bourgeoisie vis-a-vis other national bourgeoisies is of great importance, its bearing on the main issues at stake is unclear. Comrades are called on to vote not on conflicting sets of statistics, but on conflicting political lines dealing with our program and intervention.
2. This debate is not about whether a process of interpenetration of the Canadian and U.S. economies is underway. All participants in the debate agree that this is the case. Nor does it concern the precise degree to which this interpenetration has proceeded—although this question is important to an assessment, for example, of the prospects of the Canadian capitalist economy. To repeat, only if a qualitative change has taken place in the character of the Canadian state and ruling class—e.g., its transformation into a semicolony—can such considerations be relevant to the nationalism debate.
3. This debate is not about just how much Canadian workers suffer from the weak position of Canadian imperialism or, if you prefer, the dominant position of U.S. and other major imperialist powers. The Political Committee resolution has much to say on this theme. Its purpose is not to pose for a vote a series of points of economic theory but to demonstrate the method we must use to go about investigating the real impact on workers of U.S. investment in Canada, and the strength of U.S. imperialism in general.
4. This debate is not about whether there has been a wave of nationalist sentiment in English Canada in the last few years. That fact is obvious to all. The debate is not about whether this nationalism can have "progressive aspects," in the sense that it can be the form in which genuine working class grievances can find twisted expression. That, too, is clear to all. The precise extent of these nationalist aspirations is certainly a question deserving study, but is not the point at issue either.
5. This debate is not about whether those who have nationalist illusions are necessarily right-wing. Nationalism, the ideology of the ruling class, is the dominant ideology of the entire society, and is generally the dominant view in the left. Many nationalists will surely move to the left, towards revolutionary conclusions. The question is whether nationalism, the body of ideas, helps this process or stands in the way; whether nationalism should form part of the body of ideas which we as Trotskyists in English Canada support or identify with.
The key issue is the character of English Canadian nationalism, an issue clearly posed by the juxtaposition of the capsulized statement by comrades Dowson and Lomas, already quoted, and of the main line of the Political Committee resolution, which I have summarized in this report.
A correct position on Canadian nationalism must be deduced by applying the fundamental concepts of Marxism to the concrete objective reality of Canadian society—the solid facts about the character of Canadian capitalism and Canadian class relationships. A Marxist analysis is based on the facts. But it does not end there.
An accumulation of data about the Canadian economy can only make the case for a progressive Canadian nationalism if it is related to the fundamental Marxist concepts on this question, and if it is shown that some qualitative change has taken place relative to these fundamental concepts. And while many significant questions, such as those enumerated above, have been raised in this debate, it is the Canadian nationalism dispute which constitutes the main and urgent question before us.
Comrade Dowson’s Criticisms:"A False, Disembodied Internationalism"
Comrade Ross Dowson’s document, "A Step Backward Instead of Forward," (Bulletin, No. 18), summarizes his criticisms of the Political Committee resolution. We will now examine his main points, to see how the Political Committee resolution stacks up against the criticisms. His first major point attacks what would appear to be one of the Political Committee resolution’s chief merits: its firm grounding in the realities of the international development of imperialism. Comrade Dowson terms the initial section of the Political Committee resolution, which deals with this, "a false internationalism, abstract and disembodied." But he does not express a word of criticism of the content of this section. There’s no indication why he believes the internationalism to be "abstract" and "false."
Comrade Dowson tells us that "the document fails to grasp that while abstract considerations of international solidarity can set in motion the top branches, the students, the intellectuals, the trunk of the tree has to be shaken, the masses themselves have to be set in motion."
International solidarity is more than an "abstract consideration" and affects more than "students, intellectuals." But "Canada and the Crisis of World Imperialism" does not discuss questions of solidarity. Its position is that you cannot understand the reality of the Canadian class struggle except by first placing it in the world context, assessing the world trends and their impact on Canada. To start by ignoring the world context, or by claiming without rigorous proof that Canada is an exception to the world trends, would lead certainly to false conclusions.
Is the Political Committee Revising Our Understanding of U.S. Imperialism’s Role?
Points 2 and 3 of Comrade Dowson’s critique accuse the Political Committee of "revising our basic understanding of the role of U.S. imperialism—the dominant and overriding power both on the world scale and in relationship to all other imperialist powers."
Comrade Dowson will have to spell out this concept of the role of U.S. imperialism, so we can see if there’s a difference here. The Political Committee resolution states its disagreement with the view of the 1968 resolution, which sees all other imperialist powers, from Canada to Japan to West Germany, as "weak, declining, subservient, compliant junior partners of Wall Street." That view is wrong, and has been amply proven wrong by events of the past years. Comrade Dowson has said that some parts of the 1968 resolution need updating; he might specify whether he agrees this is one of them.
His critique continues by quoting Trotsky in 1928 to the effect that U.S. imperialism tries to solve its economic problems at the expense of other imperialist powers—a statement which, we all will agree, continues to hold true today. The quotation thus merely buttresses the thesis of the Political Committee resolution.
Comrade Dowson then quotes the Political Committee resolution as follows:
Comrade Dowson says this passage "defies all economic reality." In fact, it does no more than describe a very obvious reality: The balance of forces among imperialist powers is constantly shifting, and over the last decade has weakened the relative position of the U.S. American hegemony has not been eliminated, and is not going to be in the foreseeable future. But there is a shifting balance of forces. Without doubt, it is an example of the law of uneven development applied to the imperialist world system. If imperialism were to enjoy an unlimited future development, uninterrupted by socialist revolution, it is not excluded that U.S. hegemony could be ended at some point—but this is hardly our prognosis.
Of course, no imperialist bourgeoisie can hope to displace the preeminence of U.S. imperialism today. All of them, however, strive to shift the relationship of forces in their favor—however gradually. Nationalism is an ideological weapon of the imperialist powers in enlisting the workers of their country to support measures required for this competitive struggle.
Is Canada "Imperialized"?
Comrade Dowson’s fourth point condemns the Political Committee resolution for its "refusal to recognize that U.S. capitalism’s relationship to Canada is that of an imperialist power," that Canada is "an imperialized imperialism," that the relationship of the U.S. to English Canada is imperialist, just like its relationship to Quebec.
The relationship of the U.S. to both Quebec and English Canada can be said to be "imperialist"—but in quite different ways. One is the relationship of an imperialist power to an oppressed nation; the other is the relationship of an imperialist power to another imperialist power. These are two qualitatively different relationships and should not be confused.
What does it mean to say that Canada is an "imperialized imperialism." The term must be defined, and explained. Does U.S. imperialism "imperialize" England, too? Argentina? Is Canada the only country in the world to which the term applies? If so, what does the term mean?
What does it mean to say, as Comrade Dowson has said, that the relationship of U.S. imperialism to Canada is exploitative? (Labor Challenge, May 8, 1972) We all know that U.S. imperialism exploits Canadian workers. But does it exploit Canada, as a nation? Is U.S. imperialism strangling the Canadian economy, distorting it, forcing it into a semicolonial mould, after the pattern of Brazil or Argentina? What evidence is there of this?
Comrade Dowson asks whether the U.S. corporations are "imperialist" in English Canada, as they are in Quebec. Of course they are. They are imperialist in their operations in the United States, too. Imperialism does not mean simply foreign investment. The word Imperialism describes the character of capitalism today: monopoly capitalism, the highest stage of capitalism. Canadian capitalism would be imperialist even if it had little investment outside Canada’s borders, because of the monopoly capitalist character of the Canadian ruling class.
What, then, is the character of Canada’s relationship to the United States? We must start with the difference between imperialist countries, and the colonial and semicolonial world. We all believe Canada is an imperialist country. This means that the U.S.’s relationship to Canada is different from its relationship to Quebec or Brazil or Ghana or Iran.
How Canada Differs From Semicolonies
In the colonial and semicolonial world, imperialist domination has blocked the completion of the bourgeois-democratic revolution: the freeing of the country from foreign control, the creation of a unified national market, the establishment of a centralized state controlled by the ruling class of that nation, etc. Imperialist domination has blocked the establishment of the political and social and economic preconditions for the development of the local economy, the carrying through of industrialization. The result is economic backwardness, superexploitation. In such a situation, foreign investment is an agency of imperialist domination.
None of this is true in the relationship among imperialist countries. There, the bourgeoisie in each country has presided over the achievement of the basic "national" tasks of its bourgeois revolution. It controls a state power; industrialization has proceeded apace, and foreign investment, far from being part of the mechanism which blocks economic development, is integrated into the framework of a highly developed capitalist economy.
This, in brief summary form, is the essence of the difference.
Of course, within the imperialist sector, monopolies take advantage of wage gaps to invest where wages are low and profits are high. Imperialist powers seize every opportunity to rob, plunder, and defraud their weaker counterparts. When a weaker imperialist power like Canada has dealings with a stronger power like the U.S., there’s no mystery about who winds up with the short end of the stick. The working class, of course, is always called on to shoulder the costs of its ruling class’s misfortunes.
Yet all this is different from the pattern in colonial and semicolonial countries, where the local bourgeoisie typically cannot use state power to defend its particular interests in any decisive confrontation with imperialism, and where foreign investment and foreign domination distort the economy qualitatively and produce the chronic backwardness of the countries of the colonial world.
Does "imperialized" mean that such a relationship exists between Canada and the U.S.? No? Then, what does it mean?
Where Do the Interests of the Working Class Lie?
Comrade Dowson’s critique pours scorn on the attempt of the Political Committee to ascertain the impact of U.S. corporate ownership in the working class, saying the Political Committee is playing a "plus and minus game as to whether the Canadian working class suffers or actually benefits...." ("A Step Backwards...."). In fact the Political Committee holds only that in order to defend the class interests of the workers, we must find out where their interests lie, and what are the real ways in which these interests are attacked by capitalism.
We often talk of movements, demands, with a radical dynamic. Why? Because these movements, these demands, grow out of a real oppression, a real exploitation which capitalism cannot end. The oppression of women is real, and it cannot be ended under capitalism. That’s what gives women’s liberation its radical dynamic, its anticapitalist thrust.
In Québec there is a real national oppression, which weighs on the life of every Québécois. The rise of Québec nationalist consciousness is progressive because it promotes the struggle against that oppression, the struggle to complete tasks of national liberation which can no longer be accomplished under capitalism.
But if the illness is imaginary, the cure can be imaginary too. Where there is no national oppression, nationalist consciousness places no demands which cannot be met within the framework of capitalism, and met largely through the use of procapitalist demagogy: It is not true, that "any nation that feels oppressed, is oppressed." Many Israelis today think that the source of their dilemma is the hostility of the Arab world. They are wrong—just as were the German workers in the 1930s who felt the source of their problems was the Jews. Where nationalism does not relate to the struggle against real national oppression, it is readily coopted and utilized by the ruling class.
Comrades Dowson and Lomas state that Canada’s relationship to the U.S. "does not project any kind of national task for Canada." If this is true, if there is no basis for a progressive national struggle, national-liberation movement, then we need go no further—the ideology that promotes a struggle for national tasks, national liberation, will not be progressive.
The Political Committee resolution rejects the concept of a progressive nationalism for an imperialist country like Canada. But it states that very real class interests of the workers often lie behind their nationalist sentiments—class interests which we can identify with and develop. But what are these interests? It’s not sufficient to merely declare that U.S. investment is the problem—that in this sense U.S. bosses are more injurious to Canadian workers than Canadian bosses. This proposition must be proved—and we’re waiting to see the proof.
There are many economic problems in Canada which flow from its relationship to world imperialism. The Political Committee resolution discusses them: Canada’s dependency on world trade, on resource exports, its relative weakness via-a-vis the U.S., the wage gap between Canada and the U.S., the ways in which the Canadian economy is less well balanced than, say, the American or German. But the source of these problems is not foreign investment, but monopoly capitalism: the shape and structure of the imperialist world market. And if that is the truth, then that is what we must explain.
When Have Marxists Supported Nationalism of Imperialist Countries?
The sixth point of Comrade Dowson’s critique launches a search for a basis in Marxism to support the nationalism of an imperialist country.
Quotations from an article by Lenin on Russian national pride are used to imply that Lenin supported some kind of Russian nationalism. I hope comrades will read Lenin’s entire article; they will see that there is no truth to this interpretation.
What Lenin attempts to do is what we have done on occasion in popular talks about socialism. I would call it the "Two Canadas" speech. This line of argument can be said to have a kind of "national pride" in it—but of a distinct antinationalist character. It might go roughly as follows:
This is an antinationalist speech.
To say that we identify with Canada, one Canada, and defend it against foreign domination; that is different, that is nationalist.
In his article on Russian national pride, Lenin was giving the "Two Russias" speech to Russian workers influenced by patriotism at the outset of World War One. He never identified with the anti-German-imperialist and nationalist sentiments of the Russian masses.
Comrade Dowson also quotes a passage of the Transitional Program, which stands in fact as a very eloquent defense of the method of the Political Committee resolution, "Canada and the Crisis of World Imperialism." In this passage, quoted in Comrade Dowson’s document, Trotsky explains that when you see a worker or small farmer who is a patriot and wants to defend the fatherland, you must ask: "What is he really worried about? What are the class interests he’s really trying to defend?" Isn’t the problem really that he’s worried his home will be destroyed, his family will be killed by a war, whose source, he falsely believes, is foreign imperialism? Shouldn’t we try to identify with the class interests, that progressive kernel in his thinking, and point out on this basis that patriotism is not the answer, that nationalism is wrong, and that he must struggle against his own ruling class?
This is the method the Political Committee resolution applies, for example, in the famous "case of the Calgary Cop." There was wide protest in Calgary last year against the appointment of an American as police chief—[the protestors argued] that the answer was to hire a Canadian. They are wrong and we should say so. Such sentiments are not progressive; they lead to dead-end chauvinism. In such a situation we can intervene around class concepts, talking of the need for democratic control of the police force, and using this to link up with the rational kernel in the protest, the fear of arbitrary and brutal police forces, in order to combat its nationalist form.
Does the Canadian Bourgeoisie Have State Power?
Comrade Dowson’s fifth point in "A Step Backwards Instead of Forward," undermines our long-standing concept of the character of the Canadian state, the concept that the Canadian bourgeoisie controls this state.
The Political Committee resolution states, as we have outlined, that (1) a Canadian bourgeoisie of an imperialist character exists; (2) it controls the Canadian state, and (3) it utilizes state power to defend, as best it can, its national interest. Comrade Dowson has not made clear where he stands on these points. But his arguments tend to imply they are not correct. And indeed, if these three propositions are correct; it is hard to see how Canadian nationalism could have a progressive character.
"The formalistic question, ‘Does the Canadian capitalist class or the U.S. capitalist class rule Canada?'", Comrade Dowson tells us, "invites the formalistic reply that the U.S. capitalist class rules Canada." ("A Step Backward Instead of Forward") Without explaining this enigmatic formula, he continues that "there are no longer policies that the Canadian capitalist class can pursue that can take it into real conflict with the U.S. ruling class," that their relationship is "not without conflicts," but is a "mutually agreeable relationship." Conflicts exist, but no "real" conflicts can arise. What are we to make of this? The unspoken thesis is that conflicts are not "real" enough to permit the Canadian bourgeoisie to use nationalist demagogy, for example, to mobilize support for its negotiating stance. This thesis stands in complete contradiction to the reality of Canadian politics today.
Comrade Dowson argues at length to prove the relative weakness of the Canadian state. Canada has no army of any consequence, we are told. It is in effect "an occupied country, occupied by the army and air force of U.S. imperialism." Is this intended to imply that Canada today is in a situation similar to France during its occupation by Germany (1940-44), when the power of the French state was a fiction? Or is Canada to be compared rather with Japan today, a country "occupied" by the U.S. army, and possessing only a tiny army?
Of course the Canadian bourgeoisie is weak compared to its U.S. counterpart. It can be said to possess less control of the highly trade-oriented Canadian economy than the U.S. bourgeoisie possesses over its much larger and less trade-dependent economy. In my opinion, however, the image of the enfeebled Canadian bourgeoisie presented by Comrade Dowson is exaggerated, and out of line with reality. But more important, even if his views regarding the Canadian bourgeoisie’s relative weakness were correct in their totality, they would not alter the facts of this bourgeoisie’s control of the state, or ability to use state power to defend its particular interest; they would not make the case for Canadian nationalism.
Comrade Dowson argues that the Political Committee’s analysis detaches the state from its roots in the Canadian economy. Discussion on this point would be aided if he would advance his conception of the character of the Canadian state, so that the differing conceptions could be tested against the facts. But while we lack information about Comrade Dowson’s position, we can examine a proposition he appears to advance, that as U.S. investment rises toward some undefined qualitative turning point (50 percent of the economy? 75 percent?), some qualitative change in the character of the state will take place. Once this watershed is passed, it would seem, the Canadian state will act consistently in the interests of U.S. imperialism. Where their interests diverge, it will defend those of the U.S. rather then the Canadian bourgeoisie.
Comrade Dowson is absolutely correct to point out that control of the state cannot be divorced from control of the economy. The bourgeoisie’s grip on state power is interlocked with its possession of a massive economic power base. In semicolonial countries, imperialist economic domination leads typically to a subservience of the state to the interests of foreign capital, in any decisive conflict with those of the "national" bourgeoisie.
Is such a situation arising in Canada? No evidence exists that this is so. There is no pattern of the decisions of Canadian government cutting against the interests of Canadian capital to favor those of foreign investors. Nor is it easy to see how the Canadian bourgeoisie would lose state power. It controls a massive block of capital; its state has massive means of self-defense.
Nor is it clear why Washington would wish to seize control of the instruments of power in Ottawa. In fact, it clearly regards the integrity, strength, and solidity of the Canadian state, and its firm control by the Canadian bourgeoisie as a bulwark against revolution in this continent. It is in the interests of Washington to respect the Canadian bourgeoisie’s control of its own state, even if this means accepting the problems, the aggravations and frictions that result from Ottawa’s defense of particularly Canadian capitalist interests.
In fact, no example has been produced where an imperialist country has been reduced to the status of a semicolony (although some cases of conquest and wartime occupation have special features). No example has been produced where an imperialist bourgeoisie has lost control of state power, except through war or revolution. No example has been produced of the absorption of an imperialist bourgeoisie by a stronger neighbor.
The reasons are clear. Imperialist bourgeoisies rest on economic holdings which are not only qualitatively more massive, but of a different type than those of semicolonial bourgeoisies—holdings rooted in the monopolized, highly profitable sectors of the world imperialist economy. They control state powers which are not new, unstable, or undeveloped, but which possess massive means of self-defense. And the conflicts among them are of a fundamentally different character from those which divide them from semicolonial bourgeoisies with "national" aspirations. Imperialist economies can absorb massive quantities of foreign investment without being deformed or colonized; this reflects the fundamental differences in their economies and social structures.
These concepts do not exclude borderline cases and exceptional circumstances, but rather provides a Marxist framework for their analysis. It is the framework we must apply to Canada today.
The Hypothesis of "Economic Integration"
The view of Comrades Dowson and Lomas that Canadian nationalism is progressive rests on their assertion that "Canada is rapidly approaching economic integration with the United States." This fact, they state, will "extend and deepen responses within the ranks of the working class... which we should now call nationalist, a nationalism which has been developing to an anticapitalist consciousness." ("A Step Backward Instead of Forward")
Comrade Dowson is presenting substantial material to back up this thesis of "economic integration". This kind of research is of obvious value to the movement, and can bring us valuable new insights into the nature of the Canadian economy. Many supporters of the Political Committee resolution may feel he is overstating his case, and distorting reality. But this is not the main issue before us.
The question is, what has this mass of data on "economic integration" got to do with the debate on Canadian nationalism?
"Canada and the Crisis of World Imperialism" also describes a process of growing international interpenetration of trade and investment, particularly pronounced between Canada and the United States. The Political Committee holds that this process is one of the elements in growing contradictions in world imperialism, contradictions whose effects are felt in attacks against the living standards of the working class.
What is the difference between the process of "economic integration" described by Comrades Dowson and Lomas, and the process described by the Political Committee?
It cannot be merely that in the view of comrades Dowson and Lomas, the process has gone further. No, in their view, the process has passed some qualitative turning point, and has now gone so far as to render Canadian nationalism progressive. What is this turning point? At this point the Dowson-Lomas argument dissolves in mists of confusion.
They offer no definition of "economic integration" which might serve to differentiate the process described between Canada and the United States from the process underway among other capitalist powers. They offer not one word of explanation of why or how "economic integration" has changed the character of Canadian nationalism. Any concrete discussion of the material they have put forward is rendered impossible, because the framework of the discussion is not defined.
In view of this, we can do no better than suggest some possible lines of argument which comrades Dowson and Lomas might be considering.
Do they believe that the Canadian bourgeoisie and state have been absorbed by U.S. imperialism, that an integrated continental bourgeoisie has developed, that Ottawa is a puppet state of this bourgeoisie? Does this mean that a struggle for self-determination is in order so that Canada can regain its lost independence?
Do they believe that Canada has been colonized, that it is becoming a semicolony of U.S. imperialism? This is the line of argument suggested by quotations they have drawn from Ernest Mandel. In this case, Canada would join the other semicolonial peoples, from the Iranians and the Chileans to the Nigerians, fighting for liberation from the economic shackles of imperialism.
Do they believe that "economic integration" threatens the livelihood or the material interests of Canadian workers so profoundly that the Canadian working class should struggle for economic independence, fight integration, and combat continentalism?
Do they believe that the Canadian bourgeoisie has been enfeebled or in some way pensioned off in the course of this process, so that it either has no national interests left to defend, or is incapable of taking any actions to defend them? In the first case, it would be the first national bourgeoisie without national interests. In the second, it would be the first time a national bourgeoisie had not used its state power to defend itself.
Elements of the documents of comrades Dowson and Lomas appear to sustain each of these four theories. Other elements of their argumentation appear to deny them. Yet these questions must be answered before the discussion of economic integration can get underway.
What is meant by "economic integration"? What does it have to do with a progressive Canadian nationalism?
The Views of Comrade Mandel
Comrade Dowson has presented several comments by Ernest Mandel on the relationship of Canadian and U.S. imperialism. (see "A Step Backward Instead of Forward") The thrust of these comments by Mandel is that Canada is on the road to becoming a semicolony, or is about to embark on that road, and that, further, Canada can be characterized as an "imperialized imperialism."
I am not aware if Comrade Mandel has done a special study of Canada, and if so, what his conclusions might be. I do not know whether his comments have a speculative, tentative character. He does not define his use of the now famous term "imperialized imperialism."
The concept that Canada is on the road to becoming a semicolony does not square with reality, and does not appear to be held at this time by any of the participants in the debate in the Canadian section.
It is therefore not clear what assistance these quotations can be in the resolution of the dispute before us.
How Many Nationalisms?
Although comrades Dowson and Lomas base their case on the progressive character of Canadian nationalism, they do not clearly define what the nature of this nationalism is. At the same time, they refer to another kind of nationalism, "bourgeois nationalism," which they consider reactionary. This raises many questions.
Are there two separate nationalisms, one bourgeois and the other nonbourgeois, one reactionary and one progressive? Or is Canadian nationalism contradictory, with two separate and opposed sides? Or, is there a separate "nationalism" corresponding to each social class or, layer whose character is determined by the class origin of the individual who gives it expression? How do we differentiate the nationalism we are to regard as "progressive" from that which is "reactionary"? What is the nationalism, for example, of Walter Gordon—equal parts of both?
The "two nationalisms" approach contrasts strongly with the method we have hitherto employed. We have never spoken, for example, of "two nationalisms" of opposite character in Quebec; we have analyzed national consciousness as a whole, and then examined the different expressions it is given by each social class.
"Canada and the Crisis of World Imperialism" makes the following comment on this point:
Comrade Lomas’s Theory of Nationalism
In Bulletin No. 21 Comrade Lomas begins a "Contribution on Nationalism," aimed at providing the theoretical underpinnings for the theory of a progressive Canadian nationalism.
The document opens with extensive quotations from a book by Hans Kohn, who is referred to as an academic, and as a philosophic idealist. Comrade Lomas explains that "Unfortunately, our research has not uncovered any comprehensive study of the questions from a Marxist standpoint…. Many of Hans Kohn’s observations pull together what various Marxists have said in various places…."
The quotations which follow present a view of the rise of nationalism which has few points of contact with Marxist theory. Kohn makes no reference to the development of bourgeois production, the rise of the bourgeois class, its struggle for a unified national market, the class struggle which unfolded around national demands, or the bourgeois revolution. Unless Comrade Lomas’ quotations do him a disservice, Kohn holds a non-Marxist theory of nationalism—an idealist theory. If we want the theory of Marxism, we must look to the Marxist thinkers.
The references to Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky which follow in Lomas’ document have a common theme: They are presented in an attempt to prove that there are no general objective criteria that we can use in assessing nationalism. In this sense, the Lomas document cuts across the fundamental thrust of Marxist thinking on nationalism.
Marxism—A Materialist Approach to the National Question
Marxism has a distinctively materialist view of nationalism, of its origins, its character. It originated in the historically progressive struggle of the rising bourgeoisie to establish independent and unified national states. In imperialist countries these "national tasks" of the bourgeois revolution were accomplished long ago at least for the dominant nationality. For these nations today, nationalist concepts of unity of the nation, of common struggles for common goals, do not correspond to any progressive national tasks, and nationalism subsists as the ideology of the ruling class, of class collaboration.
Matters stand differently where the expansion of imperialism has cut off completion of the bourgeois-democratic revolution, and has subjugated, oppressed, and colonized nationalities: Not only do national tasks of a progressive character remain to be accomplished here, but they can be accomplished in their totality only through the victory of a socialist revolution. In such situations, national consciousness can be progressive in character, because it stimulates and propels forward the struggle for national liberation.
The dynamic of national consciousness can be opposite to its initial expressions. The outbreak of World War I saw a massive wave of nationalism among workers across Europe, who were convinced that their nation’s victory was essential to defend the gains they had won through the class struggle. The invasion of Ethiopia by Italy resulted in a nationalist wave of support among the Ethiopian oppressed for their feudalist Emperor, Haile Selassie. Yet we analyze national consciousness as reactionary in the first case and progressive in the second.
Why? Because the Marxist view of nationalism is not founded on the prevailing sentiments of the masses, but on the objective situation of the nation.
By attempting to develop a theory of nationalism dissociated from these materialist criteria, Comrade Lomas would unhinge our analysis of nationalism not only in English-Canada, but in Québec and around the world.
From the point of view of Marxist theory, of course, the concept of a progressive Canadian nationalism faces a substantial problem. Never have Marxists held the nationalism of an imperialist nation to be progressive. Proving the progressive character of Canadian nationalism is a theoretical task of unique difficulty, to say the least. It is all the more necessary to guard scrupulously the Marxist method as we proceed with this analysis.
The 1968 Resolution on Canada-U.S. Relations
Some attempts have been made to claim that our 1968 resolution held a position of support for Canadian nationalism. The passages I quoted earlier show conclusively that there is no truth in this position.
In the debate in the LSA-LSO prior to the adoption of this resolution in 1968, both sides agreed on one point: opposition to nationalism. This is why supporters of the 1968 resolution said at the time, "Do not burden us with an antinationalist campaign"; no one in the movement held a pro-nationalist position.
Both sides in the present dispute trace back their positions to aspects of the 1968 resolution: for the Political Committee, its antinationalism; for comrades Dowson and Lomas, its support of the "anti-imperialist sentiment." Both sides however have developed positions going far beyond this resolution, and differing from it on key points.
It would be helpful if comrades Dowson and Lomas would make a critical evaluation of this document from their point of view. Such an evaluation is contained in the Political Committee resolution.
The Political Committee believes that the concept of the "elemental anti-imperialist sentiment with the anticapitalist thrust," put forward in the 1968 resolution, proved sterile. It led to no programmatic conclusions, no indications for our intervention. It told us only to be "sensitive" to a phenomenon which was never adequately defined. In practice, this unclarity proved dangerous; for many it began to undercut the other main position of the 1968 resolution—its opposition to Canadian nationalism.
What was the "anti-imperialist sentiment"? Opposition to imperialism as a system? That, surely, is progressive. But the 1968 document referred exclusively to American imperialism. So the formula was altered to read "anti-U.S. imperialism." This in turn proved imprecise. Did we hold that opposition to every manifestation of U.S. influence in Canada was progressive—opposition to U.S. textbooks, to U.S. professors, to U.S. TV programs? If so, the formula would more accurately read "anti-U.S.ism." Does such elemental anti-American feeling have an anticapitalist thrust? If all opposition to U.S. influence in Canada was progressive, then surely pro-Canadianism would be progressive too. This is the path of reasoning that led some comrades from the 1968 resolution to the concept of a progressive "nationalism."
The problem was reflected in the Waffle experience. The 1968 resolution indicated, at first glance, that we should identify with the Waffle’s anti-imperialism and criticize its nationalism. As a general formula, this was absolutely correct. But the 1968 resolution defined "anti-imperialism" so loosely that it seemed to embrace every form of antiAmerican sentiment. Such a definition made the distinction between, "anti-imperialism" and "nationalism" very unclear. The result was that we were very slow to recognize and to criticize the nationalist errors of the Waffle leadership, even as they led the Waffle badly off course.
The 1968 resolution was contradictory in character. It reaffirmed a series of basic Marxist concepts, under heavy attack in the Canadian left at that time. It also introduced a new concept, which proved to be in error. "Canada and the Crisis of World Imperialism" builds on what we have learned in the intervening four years and corrects the errors of the 1968 resolution.
The Line of Our Press
A number of memoranda have been exchanged inside the Central Committee dealing with the question whether our press has violated or unilaterally changed our line on the question of Canada-U.S. relations. Comrade Dowson has submitted two memoranda arguing that this has occurred. As George Addison, editor of Labor Challenge, explains in his November 20 statement, this is not the case. He explains that our press has been applying the line of the movement, as developed by conventions, plenums, and leadership discussions.
What will we do in the four months which remain before our coming convention? A vote to support the line of "Canada and the Crisis of World Imperialism" will register the leadership’s position on the issues in dispute. In this way, it will give a clear framework for the Labor Challenge editorial board on a series of questions about the character of political reality in Canada.
The replacement of the 1968 resolution is the task of the convention in April and not of this plenum. Before the convention, our line is governed by the decisions of past conventions and plenums, and, within that framework, the ongoing discussions of the central leadership. A sharp disagreement now exists in the leadership on the meaning of. the 1968 resolution—whether or not it held an antinationalist position. Given this disagreement, the application of this resolution must correspond to its interpretation by the majority of the leadership, not by a minority or an individual.
The leadership is responsible for developing a coherent and consistent line in the press on the questions before the movement. A public debate in our press, on issues under dispute within the movement, would damage the movement. The leadership must put forward a single line, representing its majority positions on the questions before us. Under no circumstances is the leadership obligated to apply a minority point of view, or the interpretation by a minority or an individual of a past document. The leadership as a whole must determine how past documents are to be applied in today’s reality.
The votes at the September plenum, and the vote at this plenum, will set a framework for the utilization of past resolutions and will register the majority opinion of this leadership on key aspects of the reality before us today. The September plenum reaffirmed this movement’s opposition to Canadian nationalism in its various guises, and stated that it was an important task for us to explain the reactionary character of Canadian nationalism. This report reaffirms that position.
The Political Committee considers that it is unfortunate that the two conflicting points of view on this question within the PC are not both represented within the Editorial Board of Labor Challenge. It is the line of this report that the representation of both points of view would aid in the practical problems of working out our line. It would enable the paper to benefit from working out our line. It would enable the paper to benefit from the knowledge and experience of the most able comrades within the leadership, regardless of whether they hold a minority view.
"Canada and the Crisis of World Imperialism" is a blueprint for effective intervention in the discussion around Canadian nationalism, U.S. imperialism, and Canadian independence.
It comes to grips with the entire reality before us, not only the degree of close economic ties between the U.S. and Canada, but the continued existence of a Canadian ruling class and a Canadian state. It explains how to link up with the problems before the working class, and how to pose these problems in class terms—a class-struggle framework.
It provides the basis for a programmatic intervention, and for the development of our program along class struggle lines.
It calls on us to state our views on the fundamentally reactionary character of Canadian nationalism.
The road before us is clear. A wave of nationalist illusions has swept the Canadian left, and has confused and disoriented its main contingents. This is a vital and valuable opportunity for us to intervene with our ideas and our program around the question raised by Canada’s relationship to American and world imperialism. The Political Committee resolution provides us with the basis to do so.
I therefore move, on behalf of the Political Committee, that the Central Committee adopt the general line of the resolution, "Canada and the Crisis of World Imperialism" and of this report.
Copyright South Branch Publishing. All