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Birth of the International Socialists

In March 1975, a group of former members of the Waffle Group in the NDP launched Workers’ Action, monthly paper of the International Socialists. (Workers’ Action became Socialist Worker in 1985.)

The article What We Think, from the April 1975 issue of the newspaper, summarized their views and their reasons for creating a new organization.

A summary of the group’s principles, What We Stand For, appeared in every issue of Workers Action.

In January 1976, the group held a National Convention, and changed its name to International Socialists. The article published below includes summaries of the convention reports on the need for revolutionary party, the NDP, the unions, the women’s movement, and on why a new name was adopted.

Beginning in November 1976, a new version of What We Stand For replaced the original one.

In converting these articles for the web, we have corrected obvious typographical errors and made some minor stylistic changes for legibility. Most significantly, headlines and subheads that were all upper case in the original have been changed to upper and lower case.

What We Think
(Workers’ Action, April 15, 1975)

It is now clear that the 1970’s will go down in history as a decade of crisis of the capitalist system. Canada is entering its worst social and economic crisis since the Great Depression and things show no sign of improving.

But if the ‘70s are remembered as a period of capitalist crisis, they may also be known as a decade when Canadian workers began to organize themselves to put an end to this crisis-ridden system.

Already Canadian workers are responding to the attack on their standard of living that the crisis is bringing with a strike wave greater than anything seen in the last thirty years. The Independent Socialists are a product of this new wave of working class militancy.

During the last half of the 1960’s large numbers of Canadians began to speak out against American control of the Canadian economy.

The hold of American capital over large sections of the Canadian economy was seen as the source of all of Canada’s problems. A wave of nationalism swept Canada.

The most important expression of this rising nationalism was the growth of the Waffle grouping inside the NDP. Many members of the Independent Socialists were originally involved in the Waffle group.

According to the analysis of the Waffle it was not capitalism but American control that was the major problem for Canadian working people. As the Waffle Manifesto put it: "the fundamental threat is external, not internal."

In the Waffle analysis the task for socialists was not to build a socialist workers’ movement and a revolutionary workers’ party, but rather to build a movement of Canadians from all social classes against American imperialism.

As the crisis of Canadian capitalism set in the bankruptcy of the Waffle’s nationalist position became clear.

The economy had entered into a period of stagnation combined with rising inflation and unemployment and attacks by both Canadian and American bosses on workers’ wages and working conditions.

What was needed was a strategy of working class struggle — a strategy that pitted the interests of Canadian workers against those of Canadian and American capital. The Waffle could not provide such a strategy. With the onslaught of capitalist crisis its nationalist politics became increasingly irrelevant. It was inevitable that the Waffle would fall apart.

The Independent Socialists come out of the break up of the Waffle. It is our belief that it is now possible to begin building a working class socialist movement and ultimately a mass revolutionary socialist party.

Right now, the fight against the attempt of the capitalists to make workers pay for the crisis must begin in the unions. The unions are the only mass organizations of Canadian workers. They offer the best ground for starting to fight back.

But the bureaucrats who run our unions are not interested in fighting for our interests. They have become cut off from the rank and file and are concerned mainly with defending their own privileges. All they want from us is to keep quiet. We must let them know that we will keep up the noise until we have transformed our unions into militant, class struggle weapons of the rank and file. Then another fight begins.

On its own, fighting through our unions is not enough. If we are to put an end to the capitalist system and build a socialist Canada, then millions of working people will have to come to socialist consciousness.

And since some workers come to an awareness of the need for socialism before others, it will be necessary for the most conscious militants to organize themselves into a socialist workers’ party. In this way they will be able to act collectively in winning the majority of working people to a revolutionary socialist outlook.

The nationalist politics of the 1960’s did not understand the importance either of fighting in the trade unions or working to build a revolutionary workers’ party. Equally important, they discouraged workers from seeing that their interests are international.

Socialism must bean international system. Capitalism is international and it will do everything in its power to defeat a working class revolution. The only insurance of the victory of socialism is international solidarity of workers. This was an idea foreign to the nationalism of the ‘60s.

Of course, these ideas aren’t new. Why then do the Independent Socialists think that we have to form a new group in order to fight for these ideas? Why doesn’t the IS simply join up with all the other socialist groups in Canada?

We believe that most of these groups do not fight for the interests of the working class. Many of them want to build societies like Russia and China. We do not believe that these societies are socialist.

For us, socialism equals workers’ power. Workers’ power means workers democratically running society through their own organizations, workers’ councils, elected at the work place.

Russia and China bear no resemblance to this idea of socialist democracy. Workers have no power in the basic decisions that are made in these countries. They are denied the right to strike and to form political parties.

In our view the working class is oppressed in these bureaucratically-controlled societies just as it is in western capitalism.

We stand for independent socialism — for a socialist society free of the command of the Russian or Chinese ruling classes.

Even those socialist groups that do not follow the twists and turns of the Russian and Chinese bureaucracies are a long way from our ideas. Some of them believe in working for socialism inside the NDP. Others oppose the idea of building a rank and file opposition movement in the unions that will fight for militant, class struggle unionism.

No other group stands for the ideas that the Independent Socialists believe are essential if we are to fight back against the crisis and build socialism. That is why we have formed a new socialist organization.

Rank and file movement, revolutionary workers’ party, workers’ power, international socialism  — these are the ideas that will take hold in the workers movement in the 1970’s. They are the principles of the Independent Socialists — the principles of a new world.

What We Stand For
(Workers’ Action, April 15, 1975)

The Independent Socialists is a revolutionary socialist organization open to all those who accept our basic principles and are willing to work as a member of our organization to achieve them. These principles are:

Independent Working Class Action
Socialism must be achieved by the independent action of the working class. The liberation of the working class can only be won by the struggles of workers themselves.

Revolution Not Reform
Capitalism is based on the exploitation of working people. No attempts to reform the system can do away with this exploitation. The only way workers can come to control society and create a society based on freedom and a decent life for all is through revolution.

Workers’ State Not Capitalist State
The state is an instrument of capitalist class rule. The present parliament, army, police and courts serve the interests of the capitalists. The working class cannot use this state to build socialism. The capitalist state must be destroyed and replaced by a workers’ state based on workers’ councils elected at the workplace.

Work in The Mass Organizations of the Working Class
We believe in working in all mass organizations of the working class. In particular, we work in the trade unions in order to make them fighting organizations of workers against the bosses. We work to build the struggles of the trade unions and to bring them under rank and file control.

A Revolutionary Workers’ Party
To achieve socialism the most militant members of the working class have to organize themselves into a revolutionary socialist party so that they can act collectively and provide leadership in the working class movement. The activity of the Independent Socialists is directed to the building of such a party by fighting to strengthen the self-confidence, organization and socialist consciousness of the working class.

Socialism From Below
Socialism means workers’ power — the self government of the working class through its own democratic organizations, workers’ councils. The bureaucratically-controlled societies of Russia and China and the other so-called ‘Communist’ countries are not socialist. The working class is not in control in these countries and its control can only be achieved through working class revolution.

The working class is an international class and socialism must be an international system. We fight for solidarity with workers and oppressed people of all countries. We support the right of all nations to self-determination and unconditionally support all those fighting imperialism. We support the struggle against American imperialism in Canada. We oppose all forms of Canadian imperialism.

We Fight:

For rank and file control of the trade unions. No secret negotiations. All contracts to be voted on by mass membership meetings. For rank and file controlled committees to lead the struggle when union officials refuse to fight. For rank and file opposition caucuses in all unions in order to achieve militant, democratic unions. For independent Canadian unions controlled by the rank and file — if Canadian workers in international unions-are to control their unions, they must take them back from the control of American bureaucrats.

For class struggle unionism. Business unionism defends the privileges of the union bureaucrats, not the interests of the rank and file. The rank and file must transform their unions into fighting class organizations.

Against all anti-labour legislation. Against all restrictions on the right to strike, picket or boycott.

Against unemployment, layoffs and speed-up. 30 hours work for 40 hours pay to fight unemployment. We demand the right to a job at union wages for everyone. Organize the unorganized. Nationalize all shut-downs without compensation and under workers’ control.

Against imperialism — East or West. Against all nuclear weapons and imperialist alliances such as NATO and the Warsaw pact. For unconditional support to all national liberation movements against imperialism. We oppose American imperialism in Canada and Canadian imperialism in the Third World.

For the right of self-determination for Quebec. We oppose the oppression of Quebec by English Canadian colonialism. We support all those fighting against English Canadian oppression of Quebec.

Against all forms of sexual discrimination and oppression. We fight for complete social, economic and political equality of women. Free quality daycare, birth control and abortion. For a working class women’s liberation movement. End discrimination against gay people.

Against racism. We fight against all racist ideas and practices. We stand for working class action against racist and fascist organizations and practices. We oppose all immigration controls and all attempts by the ruling class to blame immigrants for the problems of capitalism.

National Convention 1976
(Workers’ Action, February 1, 1976)

"This Convention has really excited me. I want to go back to my branch; I want to start organizing in my trade union; I want to bring my fellow workers into the I.S. A working class socialist organization can be built  —  that’s what this Convention has taught me."

With those words, one I.S. trade union militant summed up the enthusiasm of the first national convention of the International Socialists.

For three days, from January 9 to 11, I.S. militants from the Steelworkers union, hospital workers, meatpackers and railworkers unions, CUPE, the nurses union and the autoworkers union met in Toronto. They discussed the growing crisis of capitalism, building a rank and file movement in the unions, fighting against the oppression of women, challenging the NDP, and building a socialist workers’ group.

Across the world, capitalism has entered into its most serious crisis since the 1930’s. Workers are defending themselves against the effects of this crisis — layoffs, unemployment and wage controls — with increasing militancy.

But as the crisis deepens and as the employers try to make the workers pay, more than militant struggle is needed. Workers must be organized to do away with this system based on exploitation, a system that has nothing to offer but inflation and unemployment. Workers must be organized to build a socialist society based on workers’ control.

That requires building a revolutionary party of the best, most dedicated working class fighters — a party that can unify and lead the struggles of all workers.

That is the task that the International Socialists has set itself; that is the task that was the main topic of the convention.

The following are highlights of the convention discussion.

Building a Revolutionary Workers’ Organization

"We have entered a period of intense capitalist crisis — a period in which working class revolution is once again possible."

This was the message of the opening talk given to the convention by Workers’ Action editor David McNally.

For the twenty-five year period following the Second World War capitalism enjoyed a prolonged economic prosperity. During that period, workers could win increases in their standard of living without having to wage militant struggle. For this entire period, revolutionary socialist politics were cut-off from the working class.

Now all that is beginning to change. With the world-wide economic crisis, workers are being forced to fight fierce battles just to protect what they have. General strikes and factory occupations have swept countries like France, Britain and Italy.

In Spain a massive strike wave is exploding despite the fact that strikes are illegal, and in Portugal a working class revolution is in process. Portuguese workers are running factories themselves and fighting for control of the society as a whole.

"The events which are taking place in Portugal," McNally explained, "are just the highest stage of an international upsurge of working class struggle. The period which has opened up is one in which revolutionary workers’ organizations can and must be built. That is our task."

Situation In Canada

In Canada, all the conditions exist for building a rank and file movement and a revolutionary party.

Since 1966, Canadian workers have been fighting to defend their livelihoods with a new militancy. The last ten years have seen an escalating number of contract rejections, wildcat strikes, and long and bitter battles.

"Working class militants are groping for a strategy to fight the crisis and the employers’ attacks, for rank and file organization and workers’ power. Our task is to build an organization that can rise to the opportunities," McNally said.

Only revolutionary socialists who have a clear understanding of the system they’re fighting and stand uncompromisingly on the side of the working class can build a workers’ movement that can beat the bosses.

But ideas must be translated into practice. I.S. must become a workers’ combat group — a group which leads working class struggles, wins advanced militants to its politics, and trains them as revolutionary leaders in the class struggle. The experience of I.S. in its first year has shown that this is possible, McNally said.

Combat Group

This sentiment was echoed by a trade union militant who had recently joined I.S. "I joined I.S.," he said, because this is the only group that can build a revolutionary workers’ party. That is what this group is all about."

No longer can socialists content themselves with’ discussion groups, McNally said. This is a period of intense class struggle. We must cast off all the old discussion group habits and build a disciplined activist group with a strong leadership — a workers’ combat group organized to lead class battles.

Only a workers’ combat group can live up to the tasks posed by this new period of capitalist crisis and massive workers’ upheavals.

"We have opportunities that have not existed for 50 years," McNally said. "If we do not take advantage of them, if we do not seize them, we can be sure that our generation will not get another shot at socialism and workers’ power."

Organizing in the Unions

Edward Collins, I.S. Industrial Organizer, presented the I.S. strategy for the trade union movement to the convention.

With the economic crisis, Collins explained, the period of business unionism is coming to an end. The bosses no longer have the room to grant wage increases in exchange for industrial peace. Now, with the Liberal government’s wage controls, workers need to organize their militancy if they are going to defend themselves.

The game plan of employers is to make the working class pay for the economic crisis — with wage controls and attacks on the right to strike. In this situation, the approach of the bureaucratic leaders of the trade unions will no longer work.

These bureaucrats are used to negotiating back room deals behind the backs of the rank and file. Now the rank and file must be mobilized in struggle if any gains are to be won. But the trade union brass fear the strength of a united rank and file; they try to hold back the militancy of their members.

"The only way workers can win anything in a period like this," Collins stated, "is through militant, rank and file struggle. And this kind of struggle demands that the rank and file organize themselves, that they build a rank and file movement."


The role of revolutionary socialists in the trade unions is to lead in the construction of a class struggle, rank and file opposition movement.

Workers know that they are getting screwed, what they don’t know is that they can beat the bosses, Collins pointed out. What workers lack is confidence in their own power.

Revolutionaries must show that by organizing and fighting workers can win the little victories on the shop floor that give them the confidence to fight the big battles.

Militants from different unions described how they had found the shop floor issues that could mobilize large numbers of workers and lead to rank and file organization.

One Hamilton Steelworker described the health and safety conditions in his plant. "There’s no problem finding an issue to organize around," he said. "The real problem is deciding which health or safety hazard to pick, to fight around. It’s that bad in my plant."

Other militants discussed how they had launched rank and file newsletters, organized opposition caucuses and fought on the issue of union democracy around local elections.

Almost all the speakers agreed that the most important issue in the trade union movement is the wage controls.

The wage controls, Collins said, are the most severe attack on the Canadian labour movement in a generation.

In the next three years, either Canadian workers will smash the Liberals’ controls or they will see the gains of a decade wiped out, as happened to American workers under the wage controls from 1971-74.

The difference between victory and defeat will depend on whether a militant, rank and file movement can be built in the trade unions.

That is the main task I.S. has set itself, Collins explained, along with the building of a revolutionary party that is the backbone of that movement.

Whether or not such a group is built will determine whether or not Canadian workers can take on "the greatest challenge in a generation."

The NDP: A Dead-End for Socialists

Just as the business unionism of the labour brass is reaching a dead-end in the midst of the economic crisis, so the "parliamentary socialism" of the NDP is showing its bankruptcy said I.S. National Committee member Eli Singer in introducing the session on the NDP.

The NDP, Singer explained, is the political expression of the trade union bureaucracy. The labour leaders were behind the creation of the NDP from its beginnings.


The NDP is committed to capitalism Singer pointed out. It believes that certain "inequalities" and "injustices" of capitalism can be reformed out of existence. Thus, according to the NDP and the labour brass, the solution to political problems is to "elect more New Democrats to Parliament."

The NDP is opposed to any forms of working class political action outside the bounds of Parliament. In fact, it is opposed to any actions which seriously threaten the economic or political stability of the capitalist system.

Delegates from Vancouver described how the NDP had legislated 65,000 striking workers back to the job. To many militants, they explained, the NDP is now looked upon as a party of strikebreakers.

Singer pointed out how the NDP had opposed the 1973 rail strike and had legislated striking power workers back to work in Saskatchewan.

No Alternative

The NDP is increasingly showing that it is no alternative to the Liberal and Conservative parties. In the final analysis, the NDP is just as committed to capitalism as they are. However, the difference between the NDP and the Tories and Liberals is that the NDP is based on the trade union movement. This means that in elections socialists will generally call for a vote for the NDP at the same time as they criticize its policies.

But as the I.S. National Chairperson, Don Lake, pointed out, as the crisis deepens the NDP will increasingly betray the interests of workers. More and more, socialists will find it impossible to give any support to the NDP.

"That is why," Lake explained, "in the long run the only alternative for workers is to build a revolutionary party that can represent the real socialist alternative."

"We must show that revolutionaries are the best fighters for the demands of working women"

While the entire working class is under attack from the employers, the least organized sections of the class are being hit the hardest. This is especially true for women workers.

Eighty percent of women workers are unorganized. Most work in industries, like sales and service, which are un-unionized. And women are encouraged to look at themselves as workers who bring in "extras."

Attack On Women

But women are paying for their lack of militancy and organization and paying dearly. "Between 1965 and 1973 the wage gap between men and women workers doubled," Anna Brooks, I.S. Women’s Organizer, told the convention. "The average yearly income for women is about $3,600, or less than half the male average."

Working women are being subjected to a four-pronged attack on their wages, working conditions and basic rights.

"Firstly, the wages of women workers are being slashed savagely. Secondly, vicious cutbacks are taking place in the public sector where large numbers of women are employed. Thirdly, cutbacks in social services, especially daycare, seriously threaten the freedom of women. Finally, women are being subjected to a general political attack on the right to abortion."

Women need a strategy to win. The I.S. position on building a rank and file movement offers that strategy.

Although most working women are unorganized, it is women in the unions who are in the best position to organize a fighting movement for women’s liberation.

As Brooks explained, "It is precisely women in the unions who are in the most powerful position to fight back in defence of all women workers and for the class as a whole. It is also women unionists who will be best able to win the leading sections of male workers over to the fight in the interests of their fellow women."

Breaking the barrier of sexism in the class is critical if the working class is to fight back against the employers’ attack. Male workers must be shown in practice that they need the support of women if they are to win. And they must be shown that women can fight just as militantly as men. This is how — in struggle — sexism can be broken.

"The I.S. must commit itself’, Brooks concluded, "to taking up the struggles of working women and developing women leaders in the class struggle. We must show that revolutionaries are the best fighters for women’s liberation."

"This means committing ourselves to ‘revolutionary feminism.’ This is the view that the struggle far the emancipation of women is a fundamental part of the struggle of the working class for its self-emancipation."

Many delegates described how they had fought discrimination against women on the job. One telephone operator described how she had won her reinstatement after she had been fired for filing a grievance. Others discussed fighting discriminatory layoffs of women.

Why We Changed Our Name

At the January convention, the I.S. changed its name. Formerly called the Independent Socialists, the convention voted unanimously to rename the group the International Socialists.

The present upsurge of workers’ struggles is a world-wide phenomenon. The name change emphasizes that the working class is an international class and that socialism must be an international system.

But even more importantly, the name change signifies the identification of the I.S. in Canada with the International Socialists in Britain and the United States.

Both the British and American groups have begun the process of building revolutionary organizations rooted in the working class. Canadian I.S. plans to follow the path of building a revolutionary workers’ party in order to fight for a system based on workers’ control and international socialism.

What We Stand For
(Workers’ Action, November 1976)

Workers’ Power
Workers create all the wealth under capitalism. A socialist society can only be constructed when workers collectively seize control of that wealth and plan its production and distribution according to human need instead of profit.

Independent Working Class Action
There can be no substitute for the central role of the working class in the fight for socialism. The liberation of the working class can only be won by the struggles of workers themselves. The working class must be organized collectively and independently of other classes.

Revolution Not Reform
Capitalism cannot be patched up or reformed as the established NDP and Trade Union leaders say. The present system is based on the exploitation of working men and women. No attempts to reform the system can do away with this exploitation. The only way workers can come to control society and create a system based on freedom and a decent life for all is by overthrowing capitalism.

There Is No Parliamentary Road to Socialism
The structures of the present parliament, courts, state bureaucracy, army and police protect the rule of the capitalist class. They cannot be taken over and used by the working class. The working class needs an entirely different kind of state — a workers’ state based upon mass, democratic councils of workers’ delegates.

Class Struggle Unionism
The existing unions in Canada are bureaucratic business unions. To make unions fighting organizations of workers, power must be returned to the shop floor. This can only happen if the rank and file organize themselves independently to fight for democratic, class struggle unions. A class struggle union movement can only be achieved by linking up local rank and file groups into a nation-wide movement.

Against Oppression
Capitalism pits sections of the working class against one another. Women, blacks and minorities suffer special oppression under this system. Sexist and racist ideas are used to divide the working class.

We oppose racism and support the right of black people, native people and other oppressed groups to organize for their rights.

We oppose sexism and are for real social, economic and political equality of women. We are for an end to all forms of discrimination against homosexuals.

The struggle for socialism is part of a world-wide struggle. We campaign for solidarity with workers in other countries. We oppose everything which turns workers of one country against those of another.

We oppose imperialism and support all genuine national liberation movements. We support the right of self-determination for Quebec.

The experience of Russia demonstrates that a socialist revolution cannot survive in isolation in one country. Russia, China and Eastern Europe are not socialist, but are ruled by a bureaucratic class. We support the struggles of workers in these countries against the bureaucratic ruling class.

The Revolutionary Workers’ Party
To achieve socialism the most militant members of the working class have to organize themselves into a revolutionary socialist party so that they can act collectively and provide leadership in the working class movement. The activity of the International Socialists is directed to the building of such a party by fighting to strengthen the self-confidence, organization and socialist consciousness of the working class.

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