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The 1973 Debate with Ernest Mandel
[ Introduction ] [ Mandel ] [ Hansen ] [ Riddell & Young ]

Introduction

by Ian Angus

The 1973 pre-convention discussion in the League for Socialist Action / Ligue Socialiste OuvriŤre (LSA/LSO) was the longest and most wide-ranging in the organizationís history. In addition to extended oral debates in all of the organizationís branches, dozens of articles were published in the LSA/LSO Internal Discussion Bulletin.

During the discussion, two groups stood opposed to the majority. One, led by Ross Dowson, focused primarily on how the LSA/LSO should evaluate the growing "Canadian Nationalist" current in the left. That discussion has already been documented on this website.

The other minority group, the Revolutionary Communist Tendency (RCT) advanced sharp criticisms of almost every aspect of the LSA/LSO policy, accusing the organization of opportunism, adapting to reformism, and in general of abandoning fundamental principles of Marxism and Leninism.

The debate inside the LSA/LSO paralleled and reflected the debate then taking place in the Fourth International about strategy and tactics in Latin America. The majority current in the International wanted Trotskyists in Latin America to adopt a strategy based on guerrilla warfare and armed struggle. The minority viewed this turn as "an adaptation to ultraleftism" that "could prove dangerous to the future of the Fourth International."

In Canada, the LSA/LSO majority supported the minority position in the International debate, while the Revolutionary Communist Tendency allied itself with the International majority.

Perhaps the best-known leader of the International majority was the Belgian Trotskyist Ernest Mandel, author of such noted works as Introduction to Marxist Economic Theory and Late Capitalism. Early in 1973, he intervened in the Canadian debate by including a lengthy polemic against the majority of the LSA/LSO leadership in a document that otherwise focused on the Latin America debate.

Mandelís "In Defence of Leninism: In Defence of the Fourth International," signed with the pseudonym "Ernest Germain," was circulated clandestinely in Canada by the RCT for several months before Mandel submitted it for publication in the International Discussion Bulletin in April, three weeks before the LSA/LSO convention. As a result, the RCT was able to use the document to build support, while the majority was unable to reply to it before the convention met. The RCT subsequently split from the LSA/LSO and joined the Revolutionary Marxist Group.

Joseph Hansen, a central leader of the U.S. Socialist Workersí Party who supported the International minority, replied to Mandelís polemic in "The Underlying Differences in Method," in July 1973. His reply included several pages defending the LSA/LSO leadership.

John Riddell and Art Young, leaders of the LSA/LSO, responded in considerably more detail in "The Real Record of the Canadian Section: In Reply to Comrade Germain," published in October 1973. In addition to dealing with Mandel's specific accusations, this document was an important statement of the views of the new leadership team of the LSA/LSO, on major issues then being debated in the Canadian Trotskyist movement. Perhaps most important, it set the framework for the discussion on the LSA's "NDP Orientation" that took place over the next two years.

We have posted the parts of this debate that deal directly with Canada:

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