The 1973 Debate with
[ Introduction ] [
Mandel ] [
Hansen ] [
Riddell & Young ]
The Real Record of the Canadian Section:
In Reply to Comrade Germain
by John Riddell and Art Young
Dated September 27, 1973. International Internal
Discussion Bulletin, Vol. 10, No. 16, October 1973. "Germain" was
the pen-name used by Belgian Trotskyist Ernest Mandel for internal
Fourth International documents.
For information on the context in which this document
was written and published, see
Introduction to Debate with Mandel on this website.
The Real Record of the Canadian Section:
In Reply to Comrade Germain
"In Defence of Leninism: In Defence of the Fourth
International," the document by Ernest Germain whose general line forms
part of the platform of the IEC Majority Tendency, introduced a number
of new themes and new differences into the discussion in the world
movement. This contribution will discuss the portion of Comrade
Germain's document which criticizes the alleged "tail-endism" of the
Canadian section of the Fourth International.
Comrade Germain's central theme is to call attention to
the "danger of opportunist tail-ending" which, in his view, threatens
the Fourth International today. His polemic contains six sections
devoted to demonstrating the existence of this danger, no fewer than
four of which concern the record of the Canadian section of the Fourth
International, the League for Socialist Action/ Ligue Socialiste
Ouvriere (LSA/LSO). His conclusions are grave indeed, and fully justify
his placing of Canada in the center of his overall polemic.
In these four sections, Comrade Germain outlines six
major examples of a common error: "crass right-wing opportunism and
tail-endism." Here are the examples:
1. In its orientation to the Canadian Social-Democratic
labor party, the Canadian section is guilty of "tail-endist reformism,"
and of a "clear tailist deviation from Leninism." ("In Defence of
Leninism: In Defence of the Fourth International," P. 26.)
2. In its assessment of the revolution in Quebec, the
Canadian section has reverted to "a new edition of the Menshevik 'theory
of stages.'" (P. 32)
3. The line of the Canadian section in the unfolding
class struggle in Quebec has been governed by "tail-endism," that is,
waiting "till the masses had already clearly shown a given 'mood'
before" adopting their slogans. This is proven by the concentration of
the section's leadership on slogans for the rights of the French
language in Quebec during the massive labor upsurge of April-May 1972.
4. The Canadian section's leadership "stubbornly
refused to raise the independence slogan till the very eve of the
outbreak of an independentist mass movement"—a further example of a
tail-endist method. (P. 32.)
5. The LSA/LSO's support of Quebec nationalism
constitutes "tail-ending petty bourgeois nationalism." (P. 32.)
6. The tail-endist method of the Canadian section led it
to adopt a position of supporting "Canadian nationalism"—that is, it is
guilty of "tail-ending imperialist nationalism." (Pp. 35-37.)
The first part of this contribution will set the record
straight on each of the six charges of Comrade Germain. In each case, it
will test his charges against the real record of the Canadian section.
This will show that in each case, he has attacked the LSA/LSO for
positions it does not hold. The second part of the contribution will
examine a number of key points in Comrade Germain's argumentation in
the framework of the reality of the Canadian class struggle. The third
part will examine its significance in the present international debate.
I. Comrade Germain's Charges Against The Canadian
Section: Setting The Record Straight
1. Is the LSA/LSO 'Tail-Ending Reformism'?
a) Comrade Germain's Accusation
Comrade Germain brings to our attention two passages
from publications of the Canadian Trotskyists, both of which formed part
of material presenting the LSA/LSO's stand of critical support in the
October 1972 federal elections to the labor party of Canada, the New
Democratic Party (NDP). The first passage is from a leaflet issued in
October 1972 by the Young Socialists/ Ligue des Jeunes Socialistes
(YS/LJS), the sympathizing youth organization of the Fourth
International in Canada. The second is from an editorial in the Sept. 27
issue of Labor Challenge, the English-language newspaper of the
Comrade Germain makes a long series of criticisms of
these passages. Two central points however stand out. First, while the
passages are part of articles attempting to argue the case for support
of the NDP in the elections, they do not, in his opinion, advance a
revolutionary critique of the social-democratic leadership of the NDP.
Second, the passages argue that an NDP victory would propel the class
struggle forward, which is by no means guaranteed in advance.
There is no question that these criticisms are
absolutely correct. A number of formulations in the passages are
erroneous. Nor does Comrade Germain anticipate any disagreement from
Canadian comrades on the points he has raised: "Obviously, it is A.B.C.
for the leadership of the LSA as well." (Ibid., P. 27.) It would
therefore seem A.B.C. that Comrade Germain would then round out his
criticism of these two passages by noting that such erroneous
formulations contrast with the correct line carried by the LSA/LSO in
its convention resolutions and its publications as a whole. Instead, he
leaps to a sweeping conclusion:
"The position which the LSA/LSO (Canadian section)
leadership—and staunch supporters of the minority position on Latin
America —has adopted towards the reformist social-democratic party,
the NDP in its country, and its position on the October 30, 1972
general elections in Canada in particular, expresses a clear tailist
deviation from Leninism." (P. 26.)
This denunciation is based solely on the two short
passages quoted by Comrade Germain. He goes on to make a further serious
Comrade Germain notes that Lenin posed as conditions for
the tactic of critical support to a social-democratic party, that
communists denounce the bankruptcy of the social-democratic leadership
and use the occasion to "make communist propaganda in favor of workers
democracy and soviets, against parliamentary and reformist illusions."
He continues: "... the Canadian section of the Fourth International,
while calling on the workers to vote NDP, abstains from any such
revolutionary propaganda, and indeed increases the hold of reformism
upon the workers by presenting things as if a 'fundamental social
change' and 'breaking from capitalism as a system' could be conquered by
the masses through an electoral victory of the NDP." (P. 28, emphasis in
What basis is there for his charge that the LSA/LSO
abstains from "any revolutionary propaganda" against the NDP leadership?
Let us listen to the comments of another reader of
Labor Challenge, one of the NDP leaders whom the LSA/LSO is accused
of supporting uncritically. His comments correct the misimpression left
by the presentation of Comrade Germain. The following is the text of a
letter written by Gordon Vichert, Provincial Secretary of the NDP in
Ontario, to Labor Challenge editor George Addison, in reply to a
routine request for advertising space in the NDP newspaper:
"July 31, 1973
"Thank you for the copy of Labor Challenge
(of July 23, 1973), and for your letter of July 25.
"I found the paper most interesting because it sums
up better than I could the fundamental differences between the
L.S.A. and the N.D.P. May I quote from page 7?
"'The NDP cannot be 'reformed'; it cannot become the
instrument for socialist victory in Canada. This requires nothing
less than a Leninist party, with a revolutionary Marxist program and
a democratic centralist organizational structure, a party which can
only be built on the program and cadres of the Fourth International.
It will be built in the struggle against the reformism of the NDP
and trade union leadership — a struggle which now unfolds on the
political plane in and around the NDP, and which will continue in
the coming period to maintain the NDP as its frame of reference.'
"Later, the article says of the L.S.A. that 'Our aim
is more ambitious—to provide a program for the broad struggle
against the bureaucratic rightwing leadership, and for a socialist
course, and to lead this struggle in action.' (page 10)
"We accept these statements at their face value, and
will therefore consistently deny membership in the N.D.P. to all
members and adherents of the L.S.A. or the Young Socialists. Clearly
the cadres of the Fourth International intend to work against the
democratically-chosen leadership and policies of the N.D.P. from a
point of view which is in fundamental opposition to the democratic
socialism of the N.D.P. We do not choose to permit the L.S.A. to use
the N.D.P. as its 'frame of reference'. We have found in practice,
and now see confirmed in writing, that the role of the L.S.A. in the
N.D.P. has been consistently destructive.
"As you know, I am recommending to the Provincial
Executive the expulsion of Cliff Mack. To his name I must now add
yours, since your identification with the L.S.A. is incontestable...
"We will doubtless continue to find ourselves
standing together on many political issues. We should be under no
illusions about our relationship however, so I would be grateful if
you would give this letter as much publicity as you can. Your road
to socialism is not ours.
How could Ernest Germain miss the clear line of
revolutionary criticism of the NDP in Labor Challenge which so
annoyed Gordon Vichert? Is it because the paragraph in Labor
Challenge quoted by Vichert reflects some change in line by the
LSA/LSO? Of course the LSA/LSO has learned a great deal in the course of
its experience in the NDP. But there's nothing new about the LSA/LSO's
revolutionary criticism of the NDP leadership, or its vigorous struggle
against that leadership, inside the party and the trade unions.
The paragraph quoted by Vichert is from the Political
Resolution adopted by the April 1973 convention of the LSA/LSO — a
resolution which was published in February, some six weeks before
Comrade Germain's document was submitted for publication in the
International Internal Discussion Bulletin (IIDB). Although the
resolution reached Comrade Germain some time after his text was first
written, it would automatically have attracted his attention as an
up-to-date and authoritative statement of the LSA/LSO leadership's
policy, and might have merited at least a footnote in his document.
Nor did the Political Resolution add anything new to the
public positions of Canadian Trotskyism in this respect. Here, for
example, is what Labor Challenge had to say in a front-page
article by John Steele in its issue of August 21, 1972, written just one
month before the offending editorial cited by Comrade Germain.
"A condition for this kind of revolutionary change
however is the willingness of decisive sectors of Canada's working
people to organize politically as a class, independent of and
against the political parties of the ruling class, and to engage in
mass action in their own interests on every level of struggle,
around a class struggle program. For this a mass revolutionary
party will be needed in the tradition of the party of the Russian
revolution headed by Lenin and Trotsky.
"The New Democratic Party is not such a party—nor
will it ever be. Fashioned and led by an entrenched leadership
committed to the principle of parliamentary reform within the
framework of capitalism, the NDP is not a sufficient instrument to
enable the working class to mobilize in a struggle for state power
with Canada's rulers."
The same issue of Labor Challenge contained
extensive coverage of the provincial elections in British Columbia (BC),
designed to present the Canadian Trotskyists' stand of critical support
for the NDP in mass sales at campaign rallies. The lead article
explained the limitations of the BC NDP leadership, headed by David
Barrett, in the following terms:
"The outlook of the Barrett leadership is basically
limited to doing 'a better job' than the other parties. They confine
the NDP campaign and activity to electoral gimmicks rather than
leading the party forward as a dynamic force in support of the
struggles of labor, of teachers, of women, students, the native
peoples. They express the social outlook of the 'labor statesmen'
who see themselves not as fighters for the oppressed but as
mediators between the bosses and the workers. They only want to
patch up the system, not change it fundamentally. This leadership is
incapable of implementing the fundamentally anticapitalist measures
that are necessary to resolve the problems of working people."
Did Comrade Germain somehow overlook these passages? A
long list of similar articles in other issues of Labor Challenge
in this period could be drawn up — articles which explain the Trotskyist
approach to the NDP, counterpose the Trotskyist program to that of the
NDP, criticize the bankruptcy of the NDP leadership, report on efforts
to organize the rank-and-file struggle against this leadership, and
attack parliamentarist and reformist illusions.
Indeed the September 25 issue, criticized by Comrade
Germain, is far from proposing uncritical support of the NDP. One
featured article, for example, reports on the campaign of the LSA/LSO's
own candidate in the general elections, running in a Montreal electoral
district also contested by the NDP.
The next issue shows that the editorial board recognized
the faults of the previous editorial just as did Comrade Germain, and
set about correcting them. The front-page editorial of the October 9
issue on the campaign of NDP federal leader David Lewis is headlined:
"Lewis campaign: socialist answers needed," and makes a socialist
critique of the NDP's program in the elections.
A similar balance sheet could be drawn up from the
publications of the Young Socialists/Ligue des Jeunes Socialistes. But
the conclusion is already clear. Comrade Germain's attempt to present
two faulty quotations as representative of the politics of the Canadian
section has no basis in fact. The political position which he condemns
as "tail-ending reformism" bears no resemblance to the real positions of
the section. The effect of such a false polemic can only be to mislead
cadres who are less acquainted than he with the publications and work of
the Canadian Trotskyists.
2. The Case of the Nonexistent Theory of Stages?
a) Comrade Germain's Accusation
The second point of Comrade Germain's indictment against
the Canadian section is, like the first, a serious one: "tail-ending a
new 'stage-theory' of the revolution." (p. 30.) Once again, the charge
is based on a quotation from the Canadian Trotskyist press—this time
from an article by Alain Beiner, national organizer of the Ligue
Socialiste Ouvrière, the Quebec wing of the LSA/LSO, discussing the
split from the Canadian section of a minority tendency led by Michel
Mill. (Mill, together with two members of the section and seven members
of the youth movement, split in July 1972, and set up the Groupe
Marxiste Revolutionnaire — GMR.)
"Contrary to the positions of Lenin and Trotsky on
the national struggle of an oppressed people," Comrade Beiner wrote,
"the tendency [i.e., the Mill grouping] refused to support Quebec
nationalism unconditionally. The tendency did not accept the theory
of permanent revolution, formulated by Trotsky and confirmed by the
Russian revolution, according to which the national bourgeoisie of
an oppressed nation (like Quebec), owing to its dependence on world
imperialism, is incapable of breaking all ties with imperialism in
order to lead a national liberation struggle against foreign
oppression to a successful conclusion. For the tendency, the dangers
of an 'easy co-option' of nationalism and the national struggle in
Quebec by the bourgeoisie and its parties outweighed the thoroughly
revolutionary significance of the struggle for national
emancipation." (Liberation, Sept.-Oct. 1972, quoted by
Germain, p. 30.)
This quotation, Comrade Germain would have us believe,
proves that Alain Beiner and the Canadian leadership hold that the
Quebec revolution will be a "revolution by stages." No further evidence
is introduced to sustain the charge, or to explain it.
Yet there is not a trace of any "theory of stages" in
the passage quoted. It is a refutation of the theory of stages. Its
thesis is that there can be no "bourgeois democratic stage" of the
Quebec revolution. The national bourgeoisie cannot lead the struggle for
national liberation to its conclusion; the process will be one of
Comrade Germain's polemic against the LSA/LSO's "theory
of stages" extends over dozens of paragraphs.
His debating style is most peculiar. He makes no
reference to the definitive statements of the Canadian section on this
question—the resolutions of LSA/LSO conventions. Comrade Germain avoids
the Stalinist technique of distorting quotations or presenting them out
of context — by presenting no quotations whatsoever. He gives no
evidence of the real views of the section.
His only other piece of direct evidence is a curious
reference at the end of this section to a document of the LSA/LSO's
"In its so-called Action Program, of July 1972,
which the LSO leadership never officially repudiated, the reversal
to a new edition of the Menshevik 'theory of stages' of the
Quebecois revolution is pushed to its logical extreme. The programme
culminates in the demand for a 'democratic republic', complete with
blueprint how to organise bourgeois democracy... ." (p. 32.)
This attack dissolves in the face of a few facts.
Circulated to the membership in July 1972, as a draft resolution for the
projected convention, the "Action Program" had not been approved by any
leading body of the LSA/ LSO.
It was withdrawn the same month by the Political
Committee. The September plenum of the Central Committee decided to
write a new document to replace it. This is the resolution which was
published in November and adopted by the April 1973 convention.
Comrade Germain quotes from this resolution. Surely he
has the responsibility to analyze whether it contains the errors which
he has spotted in the "Action Program." Surely he has the responsibility
to come to grips with the resolution put forward by the leadership of
the Canadian section, rather than presenting as theirs the positions of
a document which they have withdrawn and replaced.
The definitive positions of the LSA/LSO on the character
of the Quebec revolution are contained in the resolutions adopted by the
last three conventions of the section: "Vive le Quebec Libre" (1968);
"For an Independent, Socialist Quebec" (1970); and "The Mounting Class
Struggle in Quebec" (1973). The first two resolutions have been
published in pamphlet form. The third was published internally in
November 1972; Comrade Germain quotes from it in his document. It has
already been published in English, in the July-August 1973 issue of the
International Socialist Review. All three provide ready material
which Comrade Germain might have quoted to test his thesis that the
LSA/LSO holds a "stages theory."
The 1968 resolution explained how the national
liberation struggle in Quebec is interlocked with the struggle for
"The struggle to establish the national rights of
the Quebecois is shaping up as a class struggle for political power,
headed up by the working class. Only the mobilization of the workers
and their allies against the present system, against capitalism, the
real cause of the injustices, can open up the road to the national
liberation of French Canada. ...
"The only road to remove the source of [class and
national] injustice is a socialist revolution... ." (pp. 13-14.)
The 1973 resolution builds on this analysis, arguing
against the idea that Quebec's national liberation can be achieved as
part of a separate stage of the struggle, within capitalism. Here is a
passage placing Quebec's struggle in the world context:
"History affords no example of capitalism's ability,
following the post-World War I period, to carry the struggle for
national liberation forward to victory. On the contrary,
revolutionary Marxists have concluded that in our epoch, where
imperialism has blocked the completion of the tasks of the bourgeois
revolution, they can be carried through to completion in their
totality only through the victory of the socialist revolution and
the establishment of workers' power — through a process of permanent
revolution." (p. 39.)
The resolution later describes how national oppression,
far from uniting the nation, tends to deepen class divisions. It further
rejects the peculiar "stages theory" of some "periphery to center"
theorists, who see the national struggle as predominant in some early
stage of the struggle, before, the working class gets moving, but who
believe it is quickly bypassed when the class radicalizes.
"The national struggle in Quebec, far from cutting
across class conflict and subordinating struggles to the interests
of unity of the nation, has acted as an accelerator or catalyzer of
class conflicts, laying bare the internal class divisions of the
nation. The national oppression of Quebec limits the national
bourgeoisie's share of the economic surplus, and requires it to move
drastically to limit the workers' living conditions and democratic
rights in a time of general economic crisis. At the same time,
national consciousness, the revolt against national oppression, has
increased the combativity of the working class and of middle layers
of the population, driving them toward confrontation with
imperialism, and its local agents.
"National oppression polarizes the nation,
accelerating the class conflicts within Quebec society. National
struggles and national demands do not disappear as the class
struggle intensifies. Instead they may well come to the fore as key
mobilizing issues in the workers movement." (p. 43.)
Moreover, the LSA/LSO has noted from the outset the
specific shape of the class struggle in Quebec, and its points of
difference from the struggle in countries like Algeria or Angola:
"In the classical colonial or semi-colonial
countries, the class differentiation within the national movement
and rise of the working class to the leading role necessary to carry
the bourgeois democratic revolution through to the end via the
socialist revolution is usually established only after a series of
complex struggles and at a late stage in the process. Quebec however
is distinguished from the classical colony by the fact that it is an
industrialized area where the farmers, though impoverished, own
their own land and constitute only a small part of the population,
and the class antagonisms characteristic of capitalism dominate
social relations, with the working class a developed, independent
and powerful force." (Vive le Quebec Libre, pp. 13-14.)
There is no sign of a "stages theory" in any of this.
Nor can it be found in Liberation, which has carried an ongoing polemic
against Quebec defenders of the stages theory. In denouncing the LSO's
stages theory, Comrade Germain is arguing against a product of his own
3. The LSA/LSO's Record in the 1972 Quebec Labor
a) Comrade Germain's Accusation
After a lengthy digression on the theory of the
permanent revolution, whose relevance to his charges is not clear,
Comrade Germain returns to his theme—the tail-endist backsliding of the
Canadian section. His criticisms focus on the record of the LSA/LSO in
the massive upsurge of Quebec labor in April-May 1972.
His first point concerns a headline in Liberation,
monthly newspaper of the Quebec Trotskyists.
"Prisoners of their backsliding into a new version
of a theory of stages, the editors of the July-August issue of
Liberation blandly present in a huge headline this issue general
strike [sic] as an example of 'the struggle of the Quebecois for
national liberation' on the same level and in the same spirit as the
'patriots rebellion' of — 1837."
At first glance, it is not clear what Liberation's
headline-writer was trying to say. It is certainly valid to point out
that the coming Quebec revolution will revive the best traditions of the
revolutionary struggle of the rebellion of the "patriotes," as the
revolutionary current of 1837-38 called itself. We can also affirm that
the coming Quebec revolution will complete the bourgeois-democratic
tasks left uncompleted by the movement which culminated in 1837-38. On
the other hand, it will be more than a struggle for national liberation.
It will be a socialist revolution, and it will establish workers power.
It is difficult to summarize a political program in a
headline. The headline in question created unnecessary confusion on this
point. Still, more than an ambiguous headline is needed to prove the
existence of a theory of stages. Comrade Germain seems to agree on this,
for he hurries on to his next "proof."
Referring again to the massive labor upsurge of
April-May 1972 in Quebec, Germain claims that "the leadership of the
section stubbornly clung to the concentration on language slogans in
spite of a general strike of 200,000 workers with the appearance of
workers control." (p. 32.) Language slogans (such as "French as the
language of work") have been the focus of many strikes in Quebec, but
they played little role in the 1972 upsurge. If Comrade Germain's charge
is true, the Canadian leadership would be proven to be blind to reality,
and degenerated beyond hope of reform.
b) What the LSO said in April-May 1972
Once again, Comrade Germain provides no evidence of the
LSO's stubborn "concentration on language slogans." A rapid glance at
the issues of Liberation during the upsurge is enough to disprove
Here are the front-page headlines of Liberation
during the crisis:
"Unionists of the public sector: Respond with a
general strike!" (April 1972—the reference, of course, is to a
"general strike" of public employees.)
"Down With Law 19! In place of the anti-union
Bourassa government; a workers, and farmers government!" (May
1972—"Law 19" is the law ordering public workers back to work.)
"Free the Union Leaders! Down with Law 19!" (June
During the week of wildcat protest actions in May, about
100,000 unionists (in a nation of 7 million) were on strike at one time
or another. Over twelve radio and television stations were temporarily
occupied and operated under workers control. In about a dozen small
cities, almost all union members were on strike. In one city, a strike
committee began to displace the town council and to take control. But
given the inaction of the union leadership, and its failure to give any
direction or project any clear goals for the movement, it declined
rapidly. The intervention of the LSO was aimed at raising demands which
could help generalize and deepen the protest movement, enable it to
become coordinated, and start it in motion towards a general strike. The
1973 convention resolution on Quebec reports on this:
"The Trotskyists of the Ligue Socialiste Ouvrière
participated in the May upsurge with special issues of their
newspaper and massive distribution of leaflets at union meetings and
demonstrations. The LSO put forward a broad program of demands
designed to overcome the inadequacy of the trade-union leadership
and to lead the movement forward. This included mass demonstrations
to generalize the upsurge and draw in new layers of workers;
publication of a daily strike paper to counter the lies of the
bourgeois press and to develop the programmatic side of the
struggle; and the formation of action committees in each factory and
workplace, and at a city-wide level... .
"The LSO also projected throughout the April-May
upsurge that the unions, confronted with the Parti Quebecois' craven
support for the 'forces of order,' should launch a mass labor
party." ("The Mounting Class Struggle in Quebec," in ISR, July-Aug.
1973, P. 49.)
The labor upsurge was a rich experience, and much can be
learned from a review of the events and the challenge they posed.
However that is not what Comrade Germain has done. Rather than discuss
the LSO's record, he has merely launched a slander into orbit.
4. When to Raise the Demand for Independence
a) Comrade Germain's Brief For a Splitter
"There is no justification for comrade Mill's group's
split from the LSA/LSO," Comrade Germain informs us on page 32. "But
this being said, objectivity demands to state unequivocally that Comrade
Mill has been proved right against the majority leadership of the
Canadian section in both instances where he differed with it on the
national question. He requested the section to take up the demand for an
independent Quebec several years before the leadership came around to
that position. Thereafter he requested the leadership to acknowledge the
dynamics of the class struggle in Quebec, which he understood correctly
to be the most advanced in North America, and to combine more and more
in its propaganda and its agitation socialist with national demands."
This surprising paragraph contains Comrade Germain's
summary judgment in support of the group led by Michel Mill which split
from the Canadian section in 1972. After having led minority currents
inside the LSA/LSO for six years, Mill and his two remaining supporters
in the Canadian section walked out in July 1972. Together with seven
supporters in the youth organization and some supporters outside the
Trotskyist movement, they constituted the Groupe Marxiste
Revolutionnaire (GMR). It has published five issues of a newspaper,
Taupe Rouge (Red Mole), since that time.
Comrade Germain's sole proof for his second point, about
the LSO's failure to "combine socialist with national demands," is a
reference to its record in the 1972 labor upsurge. We have already seen
that this charge is baseless. That brings us to the demand for Quebec's
"In the first instance," Comrade Germain says, "the
leadership of the section stubbornly refused to raise the independence
slogan till the very eve of the outbreak of an independentist mass
movement." He contrasts this to what he claims to be the record of Mill,
and concludes: "Should the main distinctive quality of communists inside
the mass movement not be the one to understand and spell out the
direction in which the movement has to develop because of its objective
logic, and the historical class interests which it represents... . " (P.
A look at the record shows that the debate on the slogan
of independence followed an opposite course to that suggested by
Germain, and that the position of the Mill grouping was clearly opposed
to the longstanding position of Trotskyism.
b) For 'Separation—if it is the Will of the
The LSA/LSO decided to raise the demand for the
independence of Quebec only in 1970, when several developments,
particularly the massive vote in Quebec elections for the bourgeois
pro-independence Parti Quebecois, indicated a qualitative increase in
support for independence among the Quebecois masses. Previously,
advocates of independence had been a minority current in the Quebec
nationalist movement— a current particularly weak in its working-class
contingents. The 1970 convention resolution argued as follows:
"The workers party defends unconditionally the
democratic right to self-determination for all oppressed nations, up
to and including their right to separate. But whether socialists in
an oppressed nation like Quebec should demand political independence
depends on how we see the direction of the struggle unfolding, and
above all on whether the mass of the population in the oppressed
nation shows a clear inclination to mobilize in support of the
demand for political independence in its struggle for national
"Where the struggle is clearly orienting toward
political independence, the international workers party has always
been the foremost defender of the independence movement." ("For
an Independent and Socialist Quebec," P. 10. )
The Canadian section's reasoning was firmly founded in
the established positions of Trotskyism. For example, Trotsky dealt with
this question with respect to the Catalan nationality in Spain:
"Even on national questions the proletariat defends
the democratic slogans to the hilt, declaring that it is ready to
support by revolutionary means the right of self-determination,
even to the point of separation. But does the proletarian vanguard
itself raise the slogan of the secession of Catalonia? If it is the
will of the majority, yes; but how can this be expressed? Obviously,
by means of a free plebiscite, or an assembly of Catalan
representatives, or by the parties that are supported by the Catalan
masses, or even by a Catalan national revolt. Again we see, let us
note in passing, what reactionary pedantry it would be for the
proletariat to renounce democratic slogans. Meanwhile, as long as
the national minority has not expressed its will, the proletariat
itself will not adopt the slogan of separation, but it pledges
openly in advance, its complete and sincere support to this slogan
in the event that it should express the will of Catalonia." (The
Spanish Revolution, 1931-39, Pp. 60-61.)
The position of the Mill grouping was outlined in a
1966 document, "The Reconquest of Quebec." Mill predicated his position
on Quebec independence on the belief that the national bourgeoisie had
set its course for independence and had sufficient power and leverage to
achieve its goal relatively rapidly. Given this fact, revolutionists had
to act to prevent the national bourgeoisie from co-opting the workers
movement. Therefore, Mill continued, Trotskyists had to accept
independence as the framework for the demand for workers power. Our
central slogan would then be: "For a workers' republic of Quebec."
Mill's position of 1966 contradicts that of Trotsky.
Mill did not wait until it was clear that independence was the will of
the working masses of Quebec. For him it was sufficient to assert that
independence was the will of the Quebec bourgeoisie, and was within its
Since the Mill group split from the Canadian section
over one year ago, it has not carried a single article in its newspaper
discussing the national question. It has not raised a single democratic
demand related to the national struggle. In no way has it "taken up the
demand for an independent Quebec."
Mill's position since 1972 rejects Trotsky's admonition
to "defend the democratic slogans to the hilt," with respect to the
national struggle. Far from defending them, he ignores them.
Comrade Germain believes that we should have been able
to "understand and spell out the direction in which the movement has to
develop because of its objective logic, and the historical class
interests which it represents." (P. 32.) Therefore, we should have been
able to foresee that the masses would raise the demand for independence,
and thus raise it ourselves, presumably before it corresponded to the
will of the masses.
The LSA/LSO certainly has understood from the start that
the objective logic of the class struggle in Quebec will drive it toward
striving to eliminate Quebec's national oppression. It has therefore
raised a series of democratic demands which correspond to this
"objective logic," centered on Quebec's right to self-determination. But
why does this "objective logic" require that self-determination be
realized through independence, rather than through integration,
federation, national autonomy, etc.?
Marxists do not hold that there is any inherent merit in
separation—or in federation, integration, or any of the other options
through which national self-determination can be expressed. In
Palestine, we support integration of both nationalities within one
state, because it is the will of the oppressed nation. In Quebec, we
support separation, because it is the will of the Quebecois, the
oppressed. These demands have become the concrete expression of the
demand of the oppressed nationality for self-determination.
How were we supposed to argue the case for Quebec
independence in 1966, when the substantial majority of Quebec
nationalists and working-class militants still opposed this demand?
Were we to say that independence was necessary because of the
backwardness of English Canadian workers? That independence is
inherently superior, because every nationality needs its own state? That
only through independence can national rights be achieved? Or perhaps,
as Mill proposed, that we should support independence because the
national bourgeoisie was headed that way?
This course only leads us to the trap set by the
ideologists of petit-bourgeois nationalism. It leads us to argue the
case for independence on fallacious grounds rooted in petit-bourgeois
nationalist illusions, rather than on the firm grounds of the class
struggle. Marxists argue for Quebec independence because it is the
concrete form today of the struggle against national oppression and for
self-determination. They cannot argue for independence until it has
become the expression of the demand for self-determination for decisive
layers of the oppressed masses.
An objective logic presses Quebecois to fight for
self-determination—the logic of national oppression. What "objective
logic" led them to opt for independence? At other periods of Quebec
history, the demand for self-determination has taken quite different
forms. Mass support for Quebec independence has appeared in this century
only in the past decade. Should we have foreseen it in 1966, or perhaps
in 1945, or in 1917? If we had foreseen it in 1917, would we have raised
the demand for independence then, because it corresponded to a
development of the class struggle going to take place some decades
later? Demanding Quebec independence before it corresponds to the will
of the oppressed masses has nothing to do with the tasks of a vanguard
party. This position it based on a methodological error, which has been
encountered in other aspects of the positions of the IEC Majority
Tendency. It consists of calling on us to put at the center of our
program today demands and methods of struggle which correspond to a
situation thought likely to exist at some point in the future, but which
do not correspond to today's conditions.
c) Comrade Mandel Corrects Comrade Germain's Error
At least one staunch supporter of the IEC Majority
Tendency has correctly presented the Marxist method for determining our
position on independence of oppressed nations. Comrade Ernest Mandel, in
a presentation to the Montreal Branch of the LSO, on Dec. 21, 1971,
discussed the nationalism of the Wallonian workers in Belgium, which
developed after the defeat of the Belgian general strike of 1961. He
explained how Belgian Trotskyists developed their program on the
"The Walloon workers came out of this strike with a
feeling of frustration, and there was a very, very rapid, and very,
very sharp development of national consciousness. Since that time,
the majority of the Walloon working class — this may well shock you
Quebecois — is federalist. This is because Belgium is a unitary
state, and by comparison with the centralized unitary state,
federalism seems the most sensible solution for the management of
their affairs. Well, we supported this movement on the basis of
general principles, because we are clearly partisans of the right of
nationalities to self-determination. We do not impose separation on
those who do not want it. The day when the Walloon workers demand
separation, we will support them. Right now they demand federalism,
so we support the movement for federalism."
The IEC Majority Tendency can correct the error of
Comrade Germain by adopting the position of Comrade Mandel on the
conditions for our raising the demand for separation.
5. Are Canadian Trotskyists 'Tail-Ending'
a) Comrade Germain's Accusation
The quotation from Liberation which served as a phantom
basis for Comrade Germain's assault on Canadian Trotskyist "Menshevism"
is enlisted again in the next section of his document, to sustain the
view that the Canadian section is supporting petit-bourgeois
nationalism. This time, a single sentence is sufficient evidence for his
charge. Comrade Beiner said that the "positions of Lenin and Trotsky on
the national struggle of an oppressed people" implied the need "to
support Quebec nationalism unconditionally." (Quoted by Comrade Germain,
For Comrade Germain, this is quickly refuted.
"Nationalism," he explains, "is an ideology, the ideology of national
solidarity irrespective of regional, ethnic or social differences... .
With the epoch of imperialism, nationalism, as a rule becomes
reactionary," and is universally counterposed to the concepts of
proletarian class independence and internationalism. (Pp. 32-33,
emphasis in original.)
And since the LSA/LSO supports "nationalism" in Quebec,
it is therefore tail-ending petit-bourgeois class-collaborationist
ideology. What could be simpler? The logic is iron-clad, and excludes
any appeal to the facts—either the facts about the Quebec national
struggle or about the LSO's role in it.
But what was Alain Beiner talking about when he spoke of
supporting Quebec "nationalism"? Did he really mean we should support
the ideology of national solidarity irrespective of class differences?
Let us take a closer look at what Comrade Beiner meant.
b) What the LSA/LSO Means by Supporting Quebec
The LSA/LSO convention discussion on nationalism was
based on an unambiguous definition of nationalism, and of the conditions
where nationalism has a progressive character. The convention resolution
on Canadian nationalism, "Canada and the Crisis of World Imperialism,"
puts it this way:
"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 struggle or common endeavor
in pursuit of these goals is called for... .
"Nationalism has a progressive character only where
it promotes the struggle against real aspects of national oppression
suffered by a people—that is, where it corresponds to real national
tasks (winning of national independence, establishment of the
national language, etc.) left unachieved by the bourgeois
revolution, and which can now be achieved in their totality only
through socialist revolution. In such struggles of oppressed
nationalities, the working class does not develop a 'different'
nationalism from the bourgeoisie. Rather it is the most
thoroughgoing and revolutionary advocate of the full achievement of
the tasks of national emancipation, and has the most consistent
interest in carrying through such tasks. In contrast, in imperialist
nations where such tasks are already realized, nationalism serves
only the bourgeoisie." (International Socialist Review,
July-August 1973, P. 25.)
So defined, "nationalism" encompasses the Quebecois'
consciousness of national oppression, identification with the struggle
against this oppression, and desire for national independence. These
ideas cannot be reduced to the common denominator of the "ideology of
national solidarity," which serves as Comrade Germain's definition. At
first glance it seems that Comrade Beiner and Comrade Germain are
talking about different things when they speak of Quebec nationalism.
Secondly, the progressive character of the nationalism
of the oppressed is defined in a specific context: the struggle against
national oppression. Comrade Beiner elaborated on this point in his
report on Quebec at the LSA/ LSO's April convention:
"Our complete support to Quebec nationalism is
explicitly limited to whatever is democratic and anti-imperialist in
content, and is directed against national oppression and national
"It is this democratic content that gives the
nationalism of an oppressed nation its progressive and revolutionary
content. This democratic content of this nationalism outweighs the
reactionary ideas which some nationalists may hold."
Revolutionary Marxists support unconditionally the
struggle of an oppressed nation against their oppression, regardless of
the leadership which may head up this struggle or the demands it may
thrust forward at any given time. Marxists support the nationalism of an
oppressed nation which is directed against the oppressor, and thus
serves to promote the class struggle. This context is clearly presented
in the brief sentence of Comrade Beiner quoted by Comrade Germain.
Comrade Beiner advocates support for Quebec nationalism in a specific
context, that of "the national struggle of an oppressed people."
c) The Test of Practice
There remains the question of substance. Does the
Canadian section actually make concessions in its work to the pressure
of petit-bourgeois nationalists? Germain makes no effort to demonstrate
this. In fact the polemic against the bourgeois nationalist "ideology of
class solidarity" is a prominent theme of the propaganda of the Quebec
Trotskyists, as a glance at a few issues of Liberation will quickly
Almost alone of all left political groupings in Quebec,
the LSO opposed the mass bourgeois nationalist party, the Parti
Quebecois, from its foundation in 1966. The LSO ran a candidate against
the Parti Quebecois in the 1970 provincial elections. Opposition to the
class-collaborationist "nationalism" promoted most successfully in
Quebec by the Parti Quebecois is a constant and prominent theme of the
propaganda of the Canadian section. The following is an example from the
time of the 1972 labor upsurge, the period chosen by Comrade Germain to
provide two of his examples of capitulation to "Menshevism":
"The workers cannot sacrifice their interests to
those of another class. They cannot permit themselves to be duped by
the facile demagogy of the leaders of the Parti Quebecois, who speak
of the 'need to unite all classes in Quebec against English-Canada,'
and to 'overcome conflicts among the classes'—because the PQ aims,
once it takes office, to call on the workers to be quiet and
patient, to continue to go to work as usual, in order to avoid,
'excesses' and 'disorder.'" (Liberation, April 1972)
Quebec's dynamic labor movement has yet to find
expression in any mass political formation, be it Stalinist,
social-democratic, centrist or revolutionary. The unions remain chained
by their leadership's support (overt or backhanded) for the bourgeois
Parti Quebecois. In this context, the choice between support for the PQ
or for independent labor political action has become an acid test of
every political current. This test has revealed more than a few genuine
"tail-endists" among those who call themselves revolutionists and
socialists. The Quebec resolution published in November 1972 and adopted
by the April convention spoke of them:
"'Socialists' like Pierre Vallieres and some 'left'
union leaders have openly capitulated to the bourgeois PQ under the
pretext that it is necessary to unite all social classes in Quebec
within a single party capable of winning the 'first stage,' which is
independence, a stage isolated from the class struggle and the
struggle for socialism. They ignore the social content of the
struggle for national liberation, and the fact that the class
struggle is indeed the driving force of the national struggle, the
force upon which depends the struggle for national rights against
the imperialist system.
"In the epoch of imperialism, a national liberation
struggle can only be genuinely solved by means of a mass struggle
led by the working class as an independent political force,
resulting in the establishment of a workers' state. At the same time
as it expels imperialism, a workers' state proceeds necessarily to
break up capitalist property relations within the nation. Instead of
preparing the Quebecois working class for this indispensable
vanguard role during the national struggle, the support that these
'socialists' give to a bourgeois party can only disarm the workers
and drag them into the mire of class collaboration and into a state
of dependence upon the bourgeoisie. This smothers for a whole period
the revolutionary capacity of the working class and thus contributes
to the betrayal of the national struggle." ("The Mounting Class
Struggle in Quebec," ISR, July-August 1973, P. 56.)
There have been no lack of "tail-endists" and
capitulators to the pressure of bourgeois and petit-bourgeois
class-collaborationist nationalism in Quebec. The Canadian section has
not been found in this current. It has been its firmest opponent.
6. Comrade Germain 'Tail-Ends' the Discussion on
a) Comrade Germain's accusation
Comrade Germain begins the fourth and final section of
his critique of the "tail-endism" of the Canadian section by granting us
a glimpse of what he terms "an extraordinary spectacle": "Within the
space of a month," he writes, "the Central Committee of the Canadian
section, the LSA/LSO, first nearly unanimously adopted the general line
of a political resolution expressing support for 'Canadian nationalism'
as against 'US domination of Canada', and then rejected the very same
line by an overwhelming majority." (p. 35.)
The pages which follow present in themselves "an
extraordinary spectacle": Comrade Germain convicts the majority of the
Canadian leadership on the basis of positions held by a minority,
positions against which the majority had mounted a vigorous attack over
the months previous to the writing of his document.
Comrade Germain argues strongly against the view, which
was defended in the Canadian section by Comrade Ross Dowson, as well as
a number of other comrades, that there can be a progressive nationalism
in imperialist Canada. In conclusion, he writes, "Comrade Dowson's grave
mistakes on the question of Canadian nationalism flow from the wrong
method used by the majority of the Canadian section's leadership in
determining its position on Quebecois nationalism, too, — a method of
tail-ending mass moods, instead of starting from an assessment of the
dynamics of class relations and class struggle." (p. 37.)
In Comrade Germain's view, the majority leadership of
the Canadian section employs a method of "tail-ending mass moods," a
method which led, straight as an arrow, to the position that Canadian
nationalism is progressive. Yet Comrade Germain tells us exactly nothing
about the dispute in the Canadian section over this question, despite
the fact that the majority resolution and the main minority rebuttal
were published well before his document was completed.
Such an examination would provide an objective test of
his criticisms of the LSA/LSO's "wrong method." Has the majority
leadership succeeded in correcting the error satisfactorily? Does the
majority leadership use a correct method in developing its position of
opposition to Canadian nationalism? How did the membership—presumably
educated in the method of "opportunist tail-endism" — react in the
debate? How did the majority leadership explain the source of the error?
Comrade Germain neither asks nor answers such questions.
Comrade Germain argues forcefully against support of
Canadian nationalism. He fails, however, to mention that his position
generally coincides with the position of the majority leadership of the
Canadian section, as expressed in its resolution, "Canada and the Crisis
of World Imperialism." In fact he does not even mention the existence of
this resolution, published two months before his document was written.
b) The Real Debate in the LSA/LSO
The resolution "Canada and the Crisis of World
Imperialism" was adopted by the delegates at the Canadian section's
April 1973 convention by a vote of 39 for, 5 against, with 9
abstentions. Eight of the abstentions came from the delegates supporting
the Revolutionary Communist Tendency, the supporters in the Canadian
section of the IEC Majority Tendency.
A good summary of the counterposed views in the Canadian
nationalism debate is to be found in the article on the LSA/LSO
convention in Intercontinental Press, May 21, 1973. This account
fills a yawning gap in Comrade Germain's polemic, and is worth
"An important development in Canada in recent years
has been the development of Canadian nationalism, much of it
directed against the growing weight and influence of U.S. capital in
the Canadian economy. This wave of anti-U.S. feeling has had a big
impact in the left. In the province of Ontario, the main industrial
center of the country, the mass left wing in the NDP split last
year, and a large number of militants abandoned organized work in
the labor party in order to build a nationalist 'Movement for an
Independent Socialist Canada.'
"Much of the pre-convention discussion was devoted
to analyzing this phenomenon of English-Canadian nationalism and how
revolutionary socialists should approach it so as to promote
"The Political Committee position was presented by
John Riddell, executive secretary of the LSA/LSO. His report, based
on the PC's draft resolution, 'Canada and the Crisis of World
Imperialism,' reaffirmed the validity of the traditional Leninist
position of opposition to nationalism in imperialist, oppressor
"[The resolution] noted that while U. S. capital now
owns an absolute majority of the assets of Canadian secondary
manufacturing and mining industries, and holds a substantial share
in some other sectors, this process has not altered the fundamental
character of Canadian capitalism or the Canadian state. The Canadian
ruling class is an imperialist bourgeoisie, with highly monopolized
holdings concentrated in Canada. It is in firm control of the
Canadian state, and uses that state power to defend its class
interests, distinct from those of the U.S. and other bourgeoisies,
and uses the Canadian state as an instrument to defend them. Its
national interests include defending the interests of Canadian
capitalism as best it can against its imperialist competitors.
"In imperialist nations, which suffer no national
oppression and where there are therefore no national tasks,
nationalism can only play a reactionary role, blunting the cutting
edge of the class struggle. The Canadian bourgeoisie employs
nationalist demagogy in support of its negotiating positions in its
conflicts with U.S. imperialism, to rally workers in defense of wage
controls or in support of federal repression in Quebec, to help
detour developing class consciousness and to fracture the
organization of workers along class lines.
"Since no 'national' tasks exist in English Canada,
its nationalism does not correspond to any objective needs of the
working class and its allies, and there is no basis for
revolutionary Marxists to support or identify with Canadian
"On the contrary, they must combat nationalist
illusions in the working class. Where workers voice their social
indignation in a nationalist form, revolutionary socialists must put
forward a class-struggle program which can draw out whatever
anticapitalist sentiments and real class interests are represented
in this nationalism and direct their struggle against the Canadian
ruling class, 'the enemy at home.'
"The reporter held that the establishment of a
correct theoretical framework, through the adoption of the Political
Committee resolution, would lay the basis for further progress both
in the study of the specific relationship of Canadian capitalism to
U.S. and world imperialism, and in the working out of a correct line
of tactical intervention.
"A minority tendency, formed primarily around the
question of Canadian nationalism, held that a 'new nationalism' had
appeared with an essentially anticapitalist thrust — a unique
phenomenon based on popular reaction against the 'domination' of
important sectors of the Canadian economy by U.S. capital. This view
was rejected by the delegates in a vote of 5 for, 48 against, 0
The views of the Revolutionary Communist Tendency (RCT)
evolved during the debate. Their initial document, "The RCT Position on
the Nationalism Debate," by Murray Smith, gave critical support to the
Political Committee resolution. While making a number of criticisms, it
praised the resolution as "in many respects one of the best documents
that has been produced by the Canadian left" on the question. The line
of this document seemed close to that of the Political Committee — and
the line later contained in Comrade Germain's document.
Two months later, in April 1973, the Political
Counter-Resolution of the RCT, while affirming the reactionary character
of Canadian nationalism, put forward a somewhat different view. It was
summarized by Dick Fidler as follows:
"On Canadian nationalism, the RCT denounced the
majority for what it termed their 'ultraleft-abstract calls of
'workers of the world unite'. It held that Canadian nationalism is
mainly confined to the liberal petty bourgeoisie, that the working
class is 'relatively indifferent' to it, that the bourgeoisie has
little use for nationalism 'because its main thrust is directed
against the project to which the bourgeoisie is most committed, the
further integration of the North American economy', and that if the
bourgeoisie were to promote nationalism at some time in the future,
its clearly reactionary use as a defense of the existing order would
be unlikely to win it mass support." (Intercontinental Press,
May 21, 1973, Pp. 607-8.)
Comrade Germain's document paints a more ominous and
more accurate picture of the danger of nationalism in Canada, mentioning
in particular that it may be used by the bourgeoisie in a "De Gaullist"
manner. Perhaps he will wish to revise his position in the light of the
contribution of his Canadian supporters.
Comrade Germain identifies a "somewhat disturbing formal
aspect" in this debate. This refers to the fact — as he tells it — that
the Central Committee first nearly unanimously adopted the line of a
resolution supporting "Canadian nationalism" and then rejected the same
line three weeks later. It is true that the Canadian leadership made an
error, and rapidly corrected it; Comrade Germain records the other facts
A draft Political Resolution was published in July 1972,
by an editing commission set up by the LSA/LSO's Political Committee.
This draft contained the incorrect view that anti-U.S. "Canadian
nationalism" is progressive. While published in the name of the Central
Committee, the draft was not placed before any leading body of the
movement before publication. This error in leadership functioning
contributed to aggravating a political problem.
The publication of this document at the beginning of
July immediately set loose a heated discussion in the Central Committee.
The Political Committee (not the Central Committee) responded to the
development of this discussion by taking a stand, by a divided vote, for
a statement arguing that Canadian nationalism could be progressive.
Three weeks later it reversed its stand, repudiating the pro-Canadian
What are the "disturbing formal aspects" of this
process? Would it be less "disturbing" to Comrade Germain if the error
was left uncorrected?
When the Central Committee met in September, it
supported the Political Committee's stand in reaffirming the LSA/LSO's
longstanding opposition to Canadian nationalism. It further called on
the Political Committee to prepare a fundamental document on the whole
question, which could initiate the debate in the ranks.
This document was published in November. The membership
debate proceeded for five months. Tendencies were formed around the two
main contending positions. Twenty-eight written contributions on the
topic were distributed for the membership. Representatives of both
points of view toured the branches to defend their opinions. The
thoroughness of the discussion permitted a decisive resolution of the
question through the vote of convention delegates. The discussion was an
example of how to handle the emergence of serious political differences
in a leadership.
The test of a leadership is not infallibility, but the
capacity, when an error is made, to correct it quickly and effectively.
By this test, the Canadian section has every reason for pride in its
handling of the question of Canadian nationalism.
Where, in this entire record, is the "tail-endist
method" of the Canadian leadership? Comrade Germain's attempt to pin a
pro-Canadian-nationalist position on the Canadian leadership has no
foundation in fact. The record of the debate tells a far different
II. Toward Discussing The Real Issues
Comrade Germain's polemic against the Canadian section
directs its attack at false issues, and misrepresents the positions of
the LSA/LSO. Nonetheless, it touches on several real issues which have
posed major theoretical challenges to Canadian Trotskyists. If Comrade
Germain's attack has any positive effect, it will be in encouraging an
examination of some achievements of the Canadian section which are of
general importance to the world movement.
Quebec nationalism is only a particularly acute example
of the rising national struggles seen in many imperialist countries. The
New Democratic Party is not the only mass reformist workers party whose
internal struggles and internal contradictions pose a sharp challenge to
Trotskyists. Parallels to the rise of Canadian nationalism can be found
in the nationalist demagogy associated with the struggle against the
Common Market in many European countries, and the agitation against
foreign ownership in Australia.
If discussion of these problems has proceeded faster in
Canada, this is in part due to the more acute form in which these
questions have been posed in the Canadian class struggle.
When the misdirected charges and false issues of Comrade
Germain's polemic are swept aside, we are left with a number of
important questions. His opinions on issues of the Canadian class
struggle carry weight, since the IEC Majority Tendency has incorporated
them as part of its general line for the Fourth International.
The second part of this contribution will examine six of
these issues, each of which raises questions worthy of further
discussion. These questions can be summed up as follows:
1. Should Canadian Trotskyists use the tactic of
critical support of the New Democratic Party, the labor party formation
in Canada? What concrete form should this tactic assume under Canadian
2. Is it conceivable that Quebec's national oppression
can be ended within the capitalist framework? Are the basic concepts of
the theory of permanent revolution, as applied to colonial and
semi-colonial countries, applicable to Quebec? Can Quebec break free of
foreign imperialist domination without socialist revolution?
3. How should revolutionary Marxists raise democratic
demands directed against national oppression in Quebec? How should they
proceed in integrating these demands into their broader socialist
4. Should separate national sections of the Fourth
International be established in oppressed nations like Quebec?
5. What is the significance of the massive holdings of
U.S. imperialism within the Canadian economy? Is Canada headed toward
becoming a semi-colony?
6. How do we determine whether the national struggles of
the Quebecois, or of English Canadians, can have a progressive
1. Some Starting Points for an NDP Debate
a) Is the NDP a "Labor Party"?
The orientation of the LSA/LSO to the NDP is a response
to a major problem before Canadian Trotskyists: how to destroy the
massive obstacle posed before the growth of the revolutionary vanguard
party by the social-democratic leadership of the English Canadian labor
In historic terms, the NDP is a detour for the
English-Canadian working class. While the formation of a mass labor
party was a historic step forward, the absence of a revolutionary
vanguard organization with mass working-class influence permitted the
establishment of a labor party which was social-democratic in character.
The first steps by a significant layer of Canadian
unions away from their traditional abstention from independent political
action took place only in the 1940's. The NDP is an even more recent
development, founded only 12 years ago. While it lacks roots in Quebec,
in English Canada it is the only mass political organization of the
working class. It has some 75,000 direct and 300,000 affiliated members,
and receives about 25 percent of the popular vote in English Canada. Its
nearest rival on the left, the pro-Moscow Communist Party, probably has
fewer than 1,000 active members, and receives an average of less than
one percent of the vote in those electoral districts which it contests.
While firmly controlled and shaped from the outset by a
social-democratic bureaucracy, whose social base is the bureaucratic
layer at the head of the trade unions, the NDP has reflected in its
ranks and in its conventions almost the entire range of left political
opinion in the organized labor movement. The right-wing leadership is
relatively united. But it has faced recurrent challenges from
rank-and-file based left-wing oppositions, in which the Canadian
Trotskyists have played a prominent and leading role. Their
intransigence has led to repeated waves of expulsions of Trotskyist
The LSA/LSO has termed the NDP a "labor party." Its use
of the term is based on Trotsky's exposition of the meaning of the labor
party demand in America.
In his discussions of the transitional program with
comrades of the Socialist Workers Party, Trotsky pointed to three ways
in which mass working-class political parties have been constituted. One
of these is the formation of such a party by the trade unions, seen for
example in Britain, Australia and New Zealand. The term "labor party"
has been used to describe parties of this type. In the United States, in
Quebec, and in English Canada prior to 1961, Trotskyists have raised the
demand for a labor party, under certain conditions, to point to the need
for the working class and its allies to break with bourgeois political
parties and build their own political instrument.
Canadian Trotskyists' designation of the New Democratic
Party as a "labor party" emphasizes the NDP's working-class base, and
its character as the sole mass political party of the trade unions. The
term helps explain the great step forward for the Canadian working class
represented by the formation of the NDP in 1961.
Comrade Germain makes no direct comment on the
significance of the formation and consolidation of the NDP over the last
decade. But he alludes to it when he writes, "We are not dealing here
with a hypothetical Labor Party, arising from a young rebellious and
still partially democratic trade-union upsurge, similar to the one
Trotsky projected in the late Thirties for the USA in relation to the
rise of the C.I.O." (P. 27.)
Comrade Germain's comment is correct. The NDP was formed
on the initiative of the labor bureaucracy in a period of relative
quiescence of the labor movement. But the kind of labor party to which
Comrade Germain refers was only one of three possibilities for a labor
party projected by Trotsky, in a discussion on the transitional program
in 1938. Another of the three variants he mentions describes the New
Democratic Party very accurately:
"Then it can be a labor party created in a less
critical period, in less turmoil, in rather calm conditions, quiet
conditions, with the predominance of the conservative reactionary
leaders, with a more or less centralized machine which will keep us
out as a party. Then, of course, we continue existing as a party
outside such an opportunistic party, and we consider only the
possibility of penetrating such a labor party—but as a party we
remain outside such a centralized opportunistic labor party."
("Three Possibilities with a Labor Party," The Transitional
Program for Socialist Revolution, p. 155.)
Trotsky's definition provides a good starting point for
a concrete analysis of the contradictory character of the NDP, and its
contradictory and complex relationship to the struggle of the Canadian
working class. Comrade Germain's polemic fails to indicate the road
toward such an analysis.
b) Critical Support to the NDP?
Comrade Germain expresses no opinion on whether the
LSA/LSO is correct to utilize the tactic of critical support to the
NDP. The question has international significance, all the more in the
framework of the debates over critical support to social democratic
parties, and the class character of social democratic parties, which
have developed in several sections of the Fourth International,
including the British, French and German sections.
The LSA/LSO holds that the tactic of critical support to
non-Trotskyist currents in elections is limited to candidates or parties
who represent currents within the working class movement, or whose
candidature represents a step toward independent working-class political
action. There is no principled basis for critical support to candidates
of bourgeois political parties, or of class-collaborationist electoral
alliances, no matter how these candidates are viewed by the working
class. This question has provoked some discussion in the Fourth
International: for example over whether we should give critical support
to the French "Union of the Left," or to Allende's Unidad Popular in
As a social democratic party, the NDP has a
pro-capitalist, bourgeois program. This fundamental characteristic has
led Leninists to refer to social-democratic parties as "bourgeois
parties," reserving the designation "proletarian" for parties with a
revolutionary Marxist program.
At the same time, the NDP, like other social-democratic
parties, is a current within the labor movement. Its leader ship is a
petit-bourgeois bureaucratic layer whose base is the trade-union
bureaucracy. Its composition, in terms of membership, financing, and
voting base, is working class and rooted in the union movement.
Representatives of affiliated unions, moreover, have a commanding voice
in party councils. As a party which is working class in its composition
and social base, the NDP stands in contradiction to the parties of the
bourgeoisie. Its contest against these parties, to use Comrade Germain's
phrase, "takes the objective character of a class confrontation." (Quatrieme
Internationale, mai-août 1973, p. 59.) This decisive characteristic
has led Leninists to speak of the "working-class character" of parties
like the NDP, to refer to them as "parties of the workers movement" or
as "workers parties."
The analysis of the NDP as a party of the working class
is the principled basis for critical support of the NDP.
Comrade Germain warns us against leading the masses
closer to "the reformist fakers, the labor lieutenants of capital (to
whom our comrades in Canada now refer to, for shame, as 'the party of
the working people'!)" (P. 27.)
The passage draws an equal sign between the character of
the reformist leadership of the NDP and the character of the party. It
glosses over the contradiction between the petit-bourgeois character of
the leadership and the working-class composition of the party. Comrade
Germain agrees, we assume, that the NDP is a party of the working class
movement, in terms of its composition, its social roots, and the
historic roots of its social-democratic leadership. The Young Socialists
leaflet-writer, in attempting to popularize this concept by terming the
NDP "a party of the working people," chose a poor formulation.
Nonetheless the phrase attempted to express a correct and vital idea:
the difference between the class character of the NDP and the parties of
c) Does Critical Support Help Win the Vanguard?
Comrade Germain proposes some criteria to enable us to
judge whether critical support is an appropriate tactic. He tells us
that Lenin specifies that the task of critical support to
social-democratic candidates "poses itself especially when it is a
question of winning a majority of the workers to a communist party which
has already set itself upon the road to such conquest. He underlined
that before setting upon that course, it is imperative to assemble,
steel, and educate the vanguard." (P. 27.)
It would seem from this that the tactic of critical
support is appropriate once the revolutionary vanguard has completed the
process of assembling and winning the "vanguard," and after it has
constituted itself as a party with some degree of mass influence.
The LSA/LSO has evolved its position on a different
basis. First, we do not see how any "vanguard" can be assembled,
educated or steeled in Canada today except in struggle against
social-democratic reformism. This means not only propagandistic
critiques, but the active engagement of the revolutionary organization
in the struggle against the NDP bureaucracy unfolding in the NDP and the
other mass organizations of the labor movement. Critical support of the
NDP is a correct tool for this job.
We are very small. We cannot yet contest directly
against the NDP for the adherence of the majority of the workers. These
facts are added arguments in favor of the tactic of critical support,
not against it, as Comrade Germain seems to say. The smallness of our
forces makes critical support of the NDP all the more useful in this
state, in seeking the road to the masses, and educating advanced workers
and radicalized youth in principled Leninist politics.
Comrade Germain's criteria might be interpreted as
signifying that the tactic of critical support to mass working-class
parties is wrong during a period when the main party-building
orientation is "winning hegemony in the vanguard." Such an
interpretation would lead to precisely the wrong conclusion about how
small revolutionary organizations should go about winning the support of
the most advanced layers of youth and worker militants.
Comrade Germain does not state the source of the
quotation from Lenin. In the one passage in Left Wing Communism to which
it might refer, Lenin calls on British Communists to unite their four
weak parties into a single Communist Party, on the basis of the
principles of the Third International, before proposing an election
agreement to the Labor Party. (Selected Works, Vol. 3, p. 431, English
edition.) If this is indeed the source of his reference to Lenin, then
Comrade Germain has taken Lenin's specific advice for British Communists
in 1920 and converted it into a general formula for Trotskyists today in
all countries. In so doing, he substitutes the word "vanguard" for the
d) Why the LSA/LSO Opposes Entrism Sui Generis
"Then, of course, we continue existing as a party
outside such an opportunistic party, and we consider only the
possibility of penetrating such a labor party—but as a party we remain
outside." In these words, Trotsky describes the framework for the
present orientation of the LSA/LSO to the NDP. This orientation consists
of critical support to the NDP as the mass political party of the
English Canadian labor movement. It is not an "entry" into the NDP. It
entails the work of a portion of LSA members ("fraction work") inside
the NDP, and an orientation of intervening in the politics of the NDP
and the labor movement through independent activity outside the NDP:
independent propaganda, independent mass campaigns on particular issues,
and all the public activity of the LSA. Thus we intervene in the
politics of the NDP both within the NDP, within the unions, and from the
outside. The balance of the different sides of this work depends on the
political conjuncture. Its aim is not to build a centrist or
left-centrist current in the NDP. Its aim is to increase the
working-class influence and build the cadres of the Canadian Trotskyist
The vicissitudes of the class struggle have on occasion
obliged Trotskyist groups to carry out entries into mass parties, in
which they have given up part of their public face for a short period.
But as a rule, the political independence of the revolutionary
movement, which Lenin insisted on as a condition of the tactic of
"critical support," finds expression in concentrated efforts to
strengthen the public face of the Trotskyist movement: its press, its
meetings, its headquarters, its independent intervention in its own name
in the class struggle. These are the means at our disposal for public
expression of our line of revolutionary criticism of the
social-democratic and Stalinist misleaders.
It is ironic that Comrade Germain should attack the
Canadian section for lacking such political independence vis-a-vis the
NDP. The Canadian section has centered its work on the building of a
strong public face of revolutionary Marxism, including during the hard
days of the 1950's. The successes of this line contrast with the
disastrous record of entrism sui generis in Canada. ("Our
Orientation to the NDP," by Ross Dowson, in IIDB Vol. VIII, No. 6, sets
down a record of the struggle of the Canadian section against this
erroneous line, as it was applied in Canada.)
More relevant material for the discussion of the need to
maintain an effective public expression of revolutionary Marxism could
surely be found in the experience of the many sections, in Europe and
elsewhere, which did carry out entrism sui generis over a period
of almost two decades. In contrast to the approach of the Canadian
section, this approach entailed, among other things, closing down or
drastically cutting back the public work of the sections. The Canadian
section substantially increased its forces during the 1950's and early
1960's. European sections, practicing entrism sui generis, lost
valuable opportunities and cadres through their entry experiment.
An examination of this experience is all the more
pressing since the IEC Majority Tendency has asked the Fourth
International to approve and underwrite entrism sui generis, as
part of the line of the European perspectives resolution.
e) The Real Debate in Canada
Comrade Germain's document, submitted for publication
three weeks before the April convention of the Canadian section, bore
little relationship to the discussion under way in Canada, a discussion
which of necessity dealt with the real policies of the LSA/LSO, rather
than with its imaginary "errors."
The Political Resolution, adopted by a 75 percent
majority of convention delegates, described the work of Trotskyists in
the NDP in these terms:
"Revolutionary Marxists give critical support to the
NDP as the elemental class alternative to the parties of the
bourgeoisie, while giving no support to its reformist program and
leadership. They join the NDP, and intervene in it, in order to go
through the experience of struggle against reformism in the NDP
along with the working class, to participate in the battles and
political differentiation which takes place within the NDP, to
promote the building of a class struggle caucus, and to win forces
to the revolutionary vanguard organization... .
"The intervention of revolutionary socialists in the
NDP would have no purpose if it aimed only to recruit a
revolutionary faction, or to build a caucus which merely brought
together members of different quarreling revolutionary groups. Our
aim is more ambitious—to provide a program for the broad struggle
against the bureaucratic right wing leadership, and for a socialist
course, and to lead this struggle in action. Such a caucus will be
built around a platform of key democratic and transitional demands."
(reprinted in Labor Challenge, July 23, 1973.)
Canadian supporters of the IEC Majority Tendency,
organized in the Revolutionary Communist Tendency (RCT), vigorously
contested this perspective. The RCT held that the "NDP has a minimum
implantation in the proletariat as a party... . Its hold over the
loyalty and consciousness of the masses is extremely weak," and
predicted a coming split between the leadership of the party and the
trade-union leadership. Rising working-class militancy would soon break
free of the NDP framework. The majority believed this to be mere wishful
thinking. It is not likely that the social-democratic obstacle, like the
walls of Jericho, is about to crumble before our eyes.
The RCT also proposed that instead of striving to build
a broad class-struggle opposition in the NDP, the LSA/LSO should
establish only "fronts for revolutionary intervention" to regroup
revolutionary elements in the party. In the majority's view, the issue
was whether the programmatic intervention of the LSA/LSO, in the NDP and
elsewhere, should be adapted to "the concerns of the vanguard" in the
sense of being limited to revolutionary propaganda to narrow "vanguard"
layers, or whether it should be based on the objective needs of the
class as a whole.
The LSA/LSO has used many vehicles to attempt to
intervene in the rank-and-file struggle against the NDP leadership, and
to lead it with our program. As well as fraction work inside the NDP,
these include working in the unions in favor of their affiliation to the
NDP, and to build opposition in them to the NDP leadership; building
independent campaigns, like that against the Vietnam war, which can
rally support of the NDP ranks and put maximum political pressure on the
NDP leadership; and independent initiatives in the name of the LSA/LSO.
An example of the latter is the Canadian section's campaigns in
municipal elections, which are normally uncontested by the NDP in
Canada—campaigns which not only provide an example of effective
revolutionary agitation in a broad arena, but which help generate
pressure on the NDP leadership to alter its "non-partisan" stance in
All this, of course, has been vigorously contested by
the Revolutionary Communist Tendency. Applying the European Perspectives
Document to Canada, it finds the present work of the Canadian section in
contradiction to an orientation to English Canada's miniscule
The leaders of the IEC Majority Tendency have yet to
indicate formally and openly whether they consider that the RCT's
rejection of the LSA/LSO's NDP orientation is correct. When they speak
on this question, they should explain why they were unable to perceive
earlier the "error" of policy which the Canadian section has pursued
since before the reunification of 1963.
2. An End to Quebec's National Oppression under
a) Comrade Germain's Errors on the National
The sections of Comrade Germain's document which deal
with the theory of the permanent revolution and with the national
question have opened up an important new area of debate in the Fourth
International. They contain a series of errors which mark a big step
backwards for Comrade Germain and his supporters, away from the
Trotskyist positions on these questions. Comrade Germain's errors are
discussed in Comrade Gus Horowitz's excellent contribution, "Comrade
Germain's Errors on the National Question" (IIDB, Vol. X, No.
Comrade Horowitz refutes serious theoretical errors in
Comrade Germain's discussion of nationalism in Quebec. He discusses what
is wrong with Comrade Germain's assertion that nationalism is
reactionary not only in oppressor but also in oppressed nations. He
deals with the errors of thinking that national oppression can be ended
within capitalism by the granting of an independent puppet state. He
summarizes "the two main errors in the Germain document in terms of
implications for practical work" as follows:
"1) It downgrades the importance of the national
question in the world socialist revolution, precisely during this
era in world history where it has been shown to have increasing
importance. Its treatment of this question tends to call into
question part of the foundation of the theory of permanent
"2) It tends to put primary emphasis in the national
struggle on the danger that nationalist demands will play into the
hands of the bourgeoisie of the oppressed nation, rather then on the
proven potential that nationalist demands have shown for advancing
the class struggle." (P. 5.)
This contribution will not attempt to add to what
Comrade Horowitz has said. It will take up a few particular themes of
the Germain document which pertain directly to Quebec, and which provide
further illustrations of some of Comrade Horowitz's basic points.
b) Does Formal Independence End National
Comrade Germain criticizes the LSA/LSO for failing to
recognize that imperialism, under certain circumstances, can grant
formal independence to Quebec. No fundamental class interest, he says,
prevents imperialism from transforming Quebec into an "independent
puppet state." (P. 35.)
In fact, the LSA/LSO resolution also states that "such a
development cannot be excluded." ("The Mounting Class Struggle in
Quebec," ISR, July-Aug. 1973, p. 39.) It argues forcefully that
this variant is most unlikely. Yet the key point of difference between
Comrade Germain and the LSA/LSO is not to be found here. The difference
rather is that Comrade Germain holds that such token independence would
mark an end to Quebec's national oppression by imperialism.
Foreign national oppression has been ended, Comrade
Germain states, not only in advanced capitalist countries like Norway
and Finland, but in "most of the former colonial countries of Asia and
Africa who conquered independence after 1947." (P. 30.) Formal
independence, the transformation of a "colony" into a "semi-colony," is
for him equal to the end of national oppression.
Comrade Germain attacks Comrade Alain Beiner for stating
that in the colonial world, national, oppression cannot be ended under
capitalism. On one level, he merely distorts Comrade Beiner's view. He
uses his unique definition of national oppression to make Comrade Beiner
appear to say the opposite of what he means. For Comrade Beiner, like
the LSA/LSO, uses the term "national oppression" to refer not merely to
the lack of formal political independence, but to other forms of foreign
imperialist domination. Comrade Germain agrees that in the backward
colonial countries at least, foreign imperialist domination cannot be
ended within capitalism.
On another level, however, an important political
question is at stake. The definition of "national oppression" used by
the LSA/LSO corresponds to reality: the intertwined character of
political and economic expressions of imperialist domination. Comrade
Horowitz has examined this question, and rightly concluded that Comrade
Germain's definition of national oppression "miseducated revolutionists
about the importance of the fight against national oppression that these
nations still do suffer. Comrade Germain's statement is as astounding as
it is wrong, and makes a caricature of the scientific exactitude of
Marxist terminology." (Pp. 5-6.)
c) Quebec in the Age of Permanent Revolution
Quebec is far from a colony of the classic type. The
land question in its most acute form has been resolved, the proletariat
forms the vast majority of the population, the economy is industrialized
and modernized, the rural population is small and dispersed, and the
petit-bourgeoisie is small.
Does this mean that the oppression of Quebec by
imperialist domination can be ended under capitalism? To use Comrade
Germain's phrase, can Quebec complete the "process of formation of a
classic nation in the historic sense of the word" under capitalism?
Comrade Germain does not give a direct answer to this question, but
clearly implies that he believes that the answer is, "yes."
He emphasizes that "The whole notion of applying the
formula of permanent revolution to imperialist countries is extremely
dubious in the best of cases." (P. 34) "The danger of a mass struggle in
an imperialist country based solely on demands for national
self-determination being absorbed by the bourgeoisie is very real," he
continues, and warns that democratic demands may therefore become "a
democratic noose fastened to the neck of the proletariat." (P. 35.)
Finland and Poland are cited as examples where foreign domination has
indeed been ended within capitalism.
How likely is this in Quebec today? To answer this
question correctly, one must descend from Comrade Germain's plane of
abstraction, where considerations of time and place are ignored. A good
way to start is with a look at the character of the present historical
How able is modern imperialism to liberate oppressed
nationalities from foreign domination — particularly oppressed
nationalities in its industrialized heartland? Comrade Germain cites
only the examples of Poland (independent in 1918), Finland (1917), and
Norway (1905). Why not add other examples such as Romania (1856), Italy
(1861) or Greece (1829)? For we all know that the "process of formation
of a classic nation in the historic sense of the word" progressed for
many centuries without socialist revolutions. It continued within the
capitalist framework right up to the conclusion of the First World War.
But he cites no example from the past 50 years. Nor has
any oppressed nation escaped from imperialist domination during this
period, except through socialist revolution. In general, imperialism has
deepened the oppression of subject nationalities within its
industrialized heartland. Examples of this are found not only in North
America (Blacks, Chicanos, Quebecois), but in Europe, where a number of
minority nationalities have renewed struggles against national
The national liberation of the Quebecois from
imperialist domination, within the capitalist framework, would
contradict a powerful trend of degenerating imperialism. Would it be
wrong to conclude from fifty years experience that oppressed nations can
no longer win full liberation from imperialist domination, even in the
imperialist heartland, without the establishment of workers power?
The possibility of Quebec's national liberation within
capitalism must also be judged through a concrete study of the situation
of the Quebec nation, of its history, economic and class structure, and
the dynamics of its class struggle.
The nature of national oppression in Quebec serves as
the starting point of the LSA/LSO's 1973 convention resolution. It
emphasizes the denial of self-determination, the system of economic and
cultural discrimination against French-speaking Quebecois, and the
deformation of Quebec's economy by imperialist domination: a relatively
backward economy serving as a pool of cheap labor, high unemployment and
reliable, cheap supplies of raw materials within the North American
market. ("The Mounting Class Struggle in Quebec," pp. 37-39.)
(The character of Quebec's national oppression refutes
Comrade Germain's contention that it consists merely of the lack of an
"independent puppet state." Its character reveals the interconnectedness
of political and economic forms of imperialist domination.)
This national oppression is woven into the fabric of
bourgeois rule in Canada. The LSA/LSO resolution mentions the "complex
web of political, social and economic relations [which] have been
created on this foundation. While it can grant certain concessions in
the face of mass pressure, the Canadian ruling class is unable to
abolish Quebec's national oppression without abolishing the foundations
of its own class rule." (P. 39.)
The weakness of the Quebec bourgeoisie, and the
overwhelming weight of foreign imperialist monopolies in the Quebec
economy is also a central consideration. These monopolies not only
control the pattern of investment and economic growth; they also dictate
and maintain the policy of language discrimination, a most immediate
expression of Quebec's national oppression in the lives of the working
The right of Quebecois to live and work without
hindrance in the French language is inconceivable without massive
incursions against capitalist property rights.
Quebec's relative economic backwardness, and the
distortions imposed by imperialism on its economy, its status as a pool
of cheap labor and high unemployment, cannot be ended without
confronting the power of the imperialist monopolies. Ending Quebec's
national oppression is hardly likely through a "cold" process of
parliamentary and constitutional reform.
The heavy weight and high degree of organization of the
Quebec working class must be considered, as well as its proven tendency
to surge to the head of the mass upsurges of the national struggle which
are required to confront the power of imperialist domination over
Quebec. The theory of permanent revolution emphasizes the unwillingness
of a national bourgeoisie to lead national struggles into revolutionary
confrontations, even where the strength of the working class is far less
than in Quebec.
Comrade Germain's apparently optimistic projection for
the possible liberation of the oppressed Quebecois under capitalism
flows from the abstract character of his analysis: abstraction from
time, place, and the specifics of Quebec's national oppression. A
concrete study shows that the completion of national liberation from
imperialist domination is no more probable under capitalism in Quebec
than in India, Ghana or Brazil. For this reason, the national struggle
of the Quebecois can properly be referred to as part of a process of
d) Playing into the Hands of the 'Theory of
Comrade Germain's approach places a serious barrier in
the path of Quebec Trotskyism. In Quebec, he says not only is formal
independence possible under capitalism, but an end to imperialist
domination per se is quite possible without workers power. This
is exactly the theory of Quebec proponents of the "theory of stages,"
who, for the most part, project the bourgeois Parti Quebecois as the
vehicle of Quebec's national liberation.
Comrade Germain continues by insisting that the class
struggle cannot wait until this "stage" is complete. Rather
revolutionaries must press forward with "proletarian and socialist
demands" to head off the danger of a bourgeois cooptation of Quebec's
independence struggle. But in warning us that democratic demands in
Quebec can become "a democratic noose fastened to the neck of the
proletariat" (p. 35), he draws dangerous practical conclusions. He
downgrades the importance of the national struggle and of democratic
demands. As we shall see, the group which he believes to be correctly
applying his theory in Quebec has ended up by drawing the same practical
conclusions as defenders of the "theory of stages" (of the sectarian
variety). This group has abandoned democratic slogans and the national
struggle entirely, leaving uncontested the terrain of the national
struggle now largely dominated by the bourgeois Parti Quebecois.
3. On 'Integrating National with Socialist Demands'
a) Making Sense of Some Admonitions
The third of Comrade Germain's criticisms against the
LSA/LSO was its alleged failure to combine "national with socialist
demands." He pointed to the LSO's record in Quebec's 1972 labor upsurge
as sole evidence to illustrate the meaning of this charge. We have seen
that the LSO's record gives no grounds for this criticism. What can be
said about the validity of the basic concept?
Comrade Germain is quite vague on the meaning of
"socialist" demands. Presumably, they are demands which cannot be
realized under capitalism. But there will be no disagreement with his
general concept. Nor is there any doubt that he is right to point to the
danger if a mass struggle in an imperialist country remains restricted
"solely" to national demands.
Nor is there any disagreement when Comrade Germain says,
echoing the LSA/LSO's resolutions, that the national struggle in Quebec
rapidly becomes intertwined with proletarian, objectively socialist
goals. Yet Comrade Germain obviously regards these self-evident
generalities as a pointed criticism of the politics of the LSO. What is
he getting at?
Comrade Germain comments on the fact that the decaying
imperialist bourgeoisie sometimes grants democratic demands. He believes
it may well grant the full program of the national liberation struggle
of Quebec. (The LSA/LSO disagrees on this point.)
Because the democratic demands of the national movement
may well be granted by the bourgeoisie, he contends, the national
struggle may be absorbed by the bourgeoisie. Revolutionists must block
this by combining democratic with socialist demands, in their propaganda
We had thought that the combination of these demands, in
the program of permanent revolution, was necessary precisely because of
the objective impossibility of ending national oppression, and breaking
free of the bonds of imperialist domination, within capitalism.
Moreover, Comrade Germain does not explain how to go
about making this combination of "national" and "socialist" demands in
the daily life of the class struggle. This opens the door to serious
Does he mean that revolutionists in Quebec must find a
way to raise "socialist" or "proletarian" demands not only in their
overall program, but also in each and every partial struggle where they
intervene? Does he mean that whenever revolutionists find themselves
engaged in a struggle around demands of a nationalist character, their
task is to point to the danger of such demands, and fight for the
movement to adopt additional, "socialist" demands? Does he mean that
whenever a struggle breaks out for demands which could conceivably be
granted within the framework of capitalism (like "French as the language
of work," or "Repeal anti-labor laws"), that revolutionists must
struggle for the mass movement to immediately adopt demands which cannot
conceivably be granted by capitalism (like "nationalize all monopolies"
or "workers power")?
"Of course," Comrade Germain will doubtless reply, "such
ridiculous notions never entered my head. Trotskyists reject reformism,
but they do not reject the struggle for reforms." Very good. Why then
should they reject the struggle for the democratic demands of the
national liberation struggle of the Quebecois—all the more in that all
evidence indicates there is no prospect of these demands, in their
totality, being achieved within capitalism?
Comrade Germain's meaning is unclear. But his hailing of
the Mill grouping for its success in "correctly" combining "national"
with "socialist" demands is ominous. The Mill grouping, since escaping
from the "Menshevik" clutches of the Canadian section, has written
nothing on the national question. It has raised no national demands
whatsoever—let alone "combining" them with "socialist" demands. It has
not advocated independence for Quebec, or full rights for the French
language, or French as the language of work, or any other demand arising
from the national struggle. Its record is absolutely unblemished:
complete abstention. The effect of such a policy would be to leave the
field uncontested, and to permit reformist and pro-capitalist forces to
mislead and betray the national struggle, without meeting the challenge
of a revolutionary alternative.
b) The LSO's Use of National Demands
The approach of the LSO contrasts with Mill's
abstentionism and with Germain's downgrading of the importance of
democratic demands. Key elements of this approach are touched on in "The
Mounting Class Struggle in Quebec":
"We have projected the theme 'For an independent and
socialist Quebec' in order to express concisely the combined nature
of the Quebec revolution, the close inter-connection between the
national struggle and the struggle for socialism, as well as the
impossibility of achieving Quebec's full national liberation without
overthrowing the capitalist system. Revolutionary socialists give
full support to all struggles for national and democratic demands
that are directed against real oppression and imperialist
domination. Such struggles advance the workers' cause.
"In Quebec today, these national struggles have an
anti-imperialist, revolutionary character. Struggles for democratic
demands arising from national oppression have repeatedly shown their
capacity to inspire the masses and propel them in struggle against
"Some have suggested that socialists should support
such nationalist, democratic demands only if they are explicitly and
immediately linked with demands of a socialist character. Another
variant of this position is to insist that we can support
nationalist demands only if they have an 'explicit working-class
character.' We reject such an approach, which violates the method of
the Transitional Program.
"The slogan 'For an independent and French Quebec'
is one of the expressions of the Quebec nationalist movement as it
has taken form to date. Our movement supports this slogan, but
recognizes that it is insufficient to express our strategic
conception of the Quebec revolution, which is summed up in the theme
of 'For an independent and socialist Quebec'." (International
Socialist Review, July-Aug. 1973, P. 55.)
The Quebec Trotskyists are the most militant and most
consistent partisans of the struggle for national liberation and of the
democratic demands that grow from this struggle. In contrast to the
vacillation, the half-measures, and the treachery of bourgeois
nationalists, the LSO calls for carrying this struggle forward to
completion. Where the Parti Quebecois is for a "partial independence,"
defending the need for a monetary union and common market with
imperialist Canada, the LSO calls for complete independence from
imperialist Canada, and breaking the bonds of imperialist domination.
The LSO points out that real independence from imperialist domination is
only possible through expropriation of the monopolies, and a planned
economy under workers control.
The LSO aims to propel the nationalist movement along
the road of mass struggle. To the parliamentarism and electoralism of
the Parti Quebecois, it counterposes the course of mass mobilization,
demonstrations, rallies, and direct action by the labor movement.
The LSO projects the need for the movement for national
emancipation to link up with the heavy battalions of the labor movement,
and conversely, the need for the trade unions to break with the Parti
Quebecois and take the lead in mass action for national rights.
The LSO points out that action for national emancipation
must take the road of independent political action. This means mass
action independent of the bourgeoisie. It means a break with
electoralism and with the bourgeois parties, including the Parti
Quebecois, which betrays the national struggle. The LSO calls for
nationalists to join in working for the constitution of a mass workers
party based on the trade unions, and armed with a revolutionary program,
as an instrument of struggle not only for the specific interests of the
working class, but for the struggle against national oppression. The
aims of the nationalist movement, the LSO explains, require the
establishment of a workers and farmers government.
4. An Unmentioned Side of Mill's Position
One of the most dubious "achievements" of Comrade
Germain's document is its attempt to draw up a balance sheet of the
complex debate on Quebec nationalism between Michel Mill and the
majority of the Canadian section between 1966 and 1970. Comrade Germain
claims that Mill was "right" in "his two disagreements" on Quebec
nationalism. But on both points, Comrade Germain lauds Mill for
positions Mill did not hold. Meanwhile Comrade Germain remains
completely silent on the real differences which separated Mill from the
leadership and the overwhelming majority of the membership not only of
the Canadian section as a whole, but of its Quebec wing, too.
Comrade Germain forgets to mention what Mill considered
to be one of his most important differences on the national question:
his opinion that a separate Quebec section of the Fourth International
was absolutely essential because of the specificity of the Quebec social
formation. Given Comrade Germain's newly discovered affinity for Mill's
political positions, he is called on to state whether he favors Mill's
idea of splitting the Fourth Internationalists in Canada into two
In accordance with the Leninist theory of party
organization, the LSA/LSO holds that the revolutionary vanguard in
Canada must be structured as a unified instrument. This flows from its
task – overthrowing the centralized state apparatus which perpetuates
the national oppression of the Quebecois, and the capitalist
exploitation of Quebecois and English Canadian workers. The fact that a
separate Quebec state may be created at some point in the future is no
reason to build a separate revolutionary party in Quebec today.
Revolutionists can best fight for the overthrow of the state which rules
Quebec today, the federal Canadian state, if they are united in a single
multi-national party, a section of the Fourth International. Should an
"independent" state be set up in Quebec before the overthrow of
capitalism, the necessity for a separate party in Quebec would have to
The 1970 convention resolution of the LSA/LSO explained
this position as follows:
"As long as Quebec is a part of the Canadian state,
it is in the interests of revolutionists in both nations to
participate in a single, centralized combat party best able to
coordinate our common struggle against a centralizing, imperialist
bourgeoisie which dominates both nations and maintains its rule in
part by seeking to foster and exploit national differences between
the workers of the two nations." ("For an Independent and Socialist
Quebec," p. 30.)
The sections of the Fourth International, if organized
on Leninist lines and steeped in Leninist policies and traditions on the
national question, can cope quite effectively with the peculiarities of
a distinct oppressed nation which is structurally integrated, as Quebec
is in Canada. Lenin's Bolshevik party was well able to cope with the
much more complex and varied problems of the many nationalities
imprisoned in the Tsarist Empire. Lenin and the Bolsheviks argued
strongly that a single unified party was required to lead the struggle
against the Russian state.
It would appear that Comrade Germain considers the
Belgian section well able to cope with the complexities of work among
both Walloon and Flemish workers. He does not appear to consider the
Socialist Workers Party inherently incapable of coping with the
complexities of the struggles of oppressed nationalities in the U.S.
Surely "objectivity demands," as he would say, that his balance sheet of
Mill's political positions include an assessment of Mill's view on this
Such an assessment is all the more required because of
the wide-ranging implications of the Mill position. Will the Fourth
International recognize, in addition to a Spanish section, sections for
the Basque country, Catalonia and Galicia? Is the Indian section to be
divided along the lines of India's many nationalities and regional
Mill's support for a separate section represents a
rejection of the Bolshevik concept of party-building. It is a concession
to the prejudices of Quebecois petit-bourgeois nationalist circles,
whose narrow-minded provincialism leads them to reject the idea that
Quebec and English Canadian workers can unite in a common
organization—even a combat party of the Fourth International. Yet Mill
doggedly refuses to support the revolutionary and anti-imperialist
content of Quebec nationalism — the democratic struggle against foreign
In conformity with Lenin's teachings, the LSA/LSO
unconditionally supports the Quebecois struggle for independence and
national emancipation, while consistently opposing any attempt at
dividing the Trotskyists of Canada along national lines.
5. Is Canada a Semi-Colony?
a) Comrade Mandel's Views Attract Attention
In discussing Canadian nationalism, Canadian comrades
felt that they were up against a theoretical question of some
importance. U.S. investment in Canada has been rising rapidly for some
decades, and its bulk is increasing fairly steadily as a proportion of
the Canadian economy. Supporters of the Political Committee resolution
estimated U.S. ownership at between 30 to 40 percent of the wealth of
non-agricultural corporations (including publicly owned corporations).
More than half of the larger private corporations are owned in the U.S.
Does this degree of foreign ownership, concentrated in
the hands of one power, mean that Canada has become a semi-colony? If
not, will not the increase of U.S. investment reduce Canada to
semi-colonial status at some point in the future?
It is unfortunate that Comrade Germain does not touch on
this question — all the more in that the degree of U.S. ownership in
Canada is unprecedented in the history of imperialism. He might have
wished to comment on the position of a comrade whose writings played a
major role in the Canadian nationalism discussion: Ernest Mandel.
In his book Europe vs. America, Comrade Mandel
stated that when foreign investment inside an imperialist power reaches
a certain level, a process is set in motion through which "a once
independent imperialist power can be transformed into a semi-colony like
Brazil or Greece." No such process was taking place in any imperialist
power today, he continued. But in a footnote, he added: "It is true that
there is an exception: Canada, a modern industrial nation where
ownership of an absolute majority of the non-agricultural means of
production has fallen to the USA... ." (Europe vs. America, pp.
The same argument is restated in Comrade Mandel's
article on "The Law of Uneven Development" in New Left Review,
No. 59. "There is not the slightest evidence to show that US imperialism
controls more than 10 per-cent of the industrial means of production and
much less of the financial means of exchange, of any other imperialist
power (with the exception of Canada, which is indeed a border case)."
"There is for that reason," Comrade Mandel
continues, "not the slightest evidence that these powers (France,
Britain, or Italy, not to speak of Japan or West Germany) have lost
their basic independence as imperialist powers and have become US
semi-colonies." (Quoted by Ross Dowson, "The Key Issue at Dispute...
." LSA/LSO DB No. 25, p. 2.)
Comrade Mandel said that "semi-colonial nations only
arise when in fact the key industries and banks in the country are owned
or controlled by foreign capitalists, and when for that reason the state
itself fundamentally protects the interests of the foreign imperialist
The implication is that Canada is on the edge of
becoming a U.S. semi-colony. If it is not now a semi-colony, it would
seem on the road to becoming one, as soon as U.S. ownership of the
Canadian economy has risen past a certain qualitative turning point.
Comrade Mandel had occasion to touch on the topic again
during a speaking tour in Canada late in 1971. In a speech at McMaster
University in Hamilton, he replied to a questioner that he did not think
that Canada was a colony. "The situation of Canada is a very peculiar
one," he continued. "I think that the best way to describe it is with
the formulation used by the American Marxist Nicolaus... . He has spoken
about an 'imperialized imperialism' and I think that this hits the nail
right on the head." (quoted by Ross Dowson in "A Step Backward Instead
of Forward," LSA/LSO DB, No. 18)
If U.S. investment is "imperializing" Canada, or is
heading toward converting Canada into a semi-colony, then is there not
an objective basis for a struggle of a progressive character to block
Canada's degeneration to semi-colonial status, or, if you prefer, to end
Canada's "imperialization" by the U.S? Should we not aim to lead this
struggle, with the program of socialist revolution? This seemed to many
Canadian comrades to be the implications of Comrade Mandel's statements.
Should we not at least recognize that the nationalist
sentiments which have arisen in response to the "imperialization" of
Canada have a progressive essence which we should aim to link up with?
This was the thinking of the current led by Comrade Ross Dowson. When he
based his argumentation on the positions of Comrade Mandel, Comrade
Dowson based his argument on what seemed like firm authority.
Comrade Germain, of course, holds that Canadian
nationalism is reactionary, just as he holds nationalism to be
reactionary in Quebec and in every other nation where there is a
bourgeois layer. Speculation on Canada's possible colonization by U.S.
imperialism will not change his position on that point. Even so, do not
Comrade Mandel's statements at the very least contradict the positions
of Comrade Germain and of the LSA/LSO, which deal with Canada as an
imperialist country like Britain, France, etc., and make no mention of
its "imperialization" by U.S. capital?
b) The Arguments Against the 'Semi-Colony' Thesis
Defenders of the position of the LSA/LSO Political
Committee in the pre-convention debate in Canada felt that Comrade
Mandel's brief comments were misleading.
An analysis of the character of Canada must start not
with the quantity of U.S. investment but the character of Canadian
capital, and the Canadian state. The holdings of the Canadian
bourgeoisie are not marginal to the economy and are not merely an
apparatus to service U.S. industry. The holdings are concentrated in
large-scale industrial and financial corporate giants, whose interests
are heavily concentrated inside Canada's borders. The Canadian
bourgeoisie therefore has a strong interest in defending the competitive
position of industry in Canada against U.S. and other foreign
competition. It also has substantial economic resources which it can
bring to bear to defend its control of the state.
Furthermore, in the Canadian state, the Canadian
bourgeoisie has a highly-developed and powerful instrument which it has
built and which it controls — an instrument for the defense of its
national and class interests.
It is excluded that there could be a gradual,
imperceptible transfer of control of the Canadian state from the
Canadian bourgeoisie to forces representing U.S. interests. Such a
process would entail a political struggle to oust one capitalist band
from power and install another. There is no sign of such a struggle.
Further, the state itself has massive means of
self-defense. There is no example where the bourgeoisie of an
imperialist country has lost control of its state apparatus, except
through war or revolution.
Moreover, contrary to the positions of Canadian
nationalists who hold that U.S. capital is "de-industrializing" Canada,
there is no sign that U.S. investment is tending to transform the
economic structure qualitatively toward a form characteristic of
semi-colonies. In general, the contradictions between local and foreign
imperialism are similar to the pattern found in Britain, France, etc. —
even if the relationship of forces may differ.
The stability and power of the Canadian state is crucial
to U.S. imperialism as a bulwark against revolution on the North
American continent. In any political shoving-matches which would disturb
the firm control of the Canadian state by the Canadian bourgeoisie, U.S.
imperialism would stand to lose much more than it gained.
The reaffirmation that Canada is not a semi-colony was a
determining factor in the Canadian section's conclusion that there is no
progressive essence in Canadian nationalism. The passages of Comrade
Mandel seem to contradict this, and at the very least indicate that the
question is of some complexity. It is unfortunate that Comrade Germain
did not discuss these questions when he chose to write on Canadian
nationalism. Instead of a contribution which might aid political
clarification on an important question, he limited himself to a cheap
polemical shot at the Canadian leadership — based on a misrepresentation
of their real positions. We have the right to expect more of leaders of
the Fourth International.
6. Germain vs. Germain on the Method of Analyzing
a) Discovering "Methodological Roots" of "Tail-endism"
Comrade Germain concludes his polemic on Canadian
nationalism by pointing to what he considers the methodological roots of
the errors of the LSA/LSO:
"Comrade Dowson's grave mistakes on the question of
Canadian nationalism flow from the wrong method used by the majority
of the Canadian section's leadership in determining its position on
Québécois nationalism, too—a method of tail-ending mass moods,
instead of starting from an assessment of the dynamics of class
relations and class struggle." (P. 37.)
Comrade Germain's logic is neat and consistent. But what
method did the Canadian section really use to develop its position on
Quebec nationalism? Once again, Comrade Germain is consistent with his
own unique polemical style — he provides no evidence, and refers to no
documents of the Canadian section to buttress his allegations.
b) The LSA/LSO's Method in Analyzing Quebec
All the resolutions of the LSA/LSO on Quebec have a
common point of departure: the objective situation of the Quebec nation,
and the character of its national oppression by imperialism. This
objective fact gives a radical dynamic to the struggle in Quebec for
national emancipation. It provides a basis for deducing the positive
impact on the class struggle of rising Quebecois national consciousness.
This method was summed up (in a single sentence) in the LSA/LSO's
resolution on Canadian nationalism:
"Nationalism has a progressive character only where
it promotes the struggle against real aspects of national oppression
suffered by a people—that is, where it corresponds to real national
tasks (winning of national independence, establishment of a national
language, etc.) left unachieved by the bourgeois revolution, and
which can now be achieved in their totality only through socialist
revolution. ("Canada and the Crisis of World Imperialism," p. 25.)
In other words, what determines our attitude toward
nationalism is whether or not it corresponds to the struggle of an
oppressed people against their oppression. The nationalism of oppressor
nations is reactionary.
Supporters of the Political Committee resolution
believed that the problem with the pro-Canadian nationalist position was
one of method — just as did Comrade Germain. But they pointed out that
the error on Canadian nationalism had been made precisely because
comrades departed from the method used in analyzing Quebec nationalism —
the method which starts with the objective situation of the nation and
its class structure. This method excluded any concept that nationalism
could be progressive in an imperialist, oppressor nation like English
Canada, whatever the mood of the masses.
c) Comrade Germain's Two Methods on Nationalism
Comrade Germain's analysis of Canadian nationalism
proceeds for the most part along the lines of the method he recommends:
basing the analysis on a concrete study of social conditions and class
relations. He holds that the specifically imperialist character of
Canadian capitalism determines the nature of Canadian nationalism. It
would be an error, he says, to exclude a "De Gaullist" use of Canadian
nationalism "to canalise and divert temporarily a mass explosion towards
channels compatible with the survival of the capitalist relations of
production... . To exclude that possibility is to eliminate the
difference between Canada as an imperialist country and backward
semi-colonial and colonial countries." (P. 37.) In these passages,
Comrade Germain appears to be using the same method which the LSA/LSO
used in analyzing Quebec and Canadian nationalism.
Earlier, when discussing Quebec, Comrade Germain used
quite a different method. He did not discuss and did not even refer to
the concrete "dynamics of class relations and class struggle" in Quebec.
His argument dissolved the concrete in abstract and general assertions.
'With the epoch of imperialism," he argued, "nationalism as a rule
becomes reactionary." (P. 32, emphasis in original.) The sole exceptions
he permits are nations where there is no bourgeoisie. No need then to
discuss Quebec; the concrete is dissolved in abstract and general
assertions. Nationalism is reactionary in oppressed and oppressor
nations alike. The difference between the two categories is merely that
the struggle against the reactionary nationalism of oppressed nations is
best left to the revolutionary movements within those nations. (P. 33.)
Nor does Comrade Germain feel the need to analyze Quebec
reality to draw his conclusions about the dynamics of the struggle
against national oppression in Quebec. The struggle of all oppressed
nations against national oppression can be victorious either under
bourgeois or working-class leadership. Nothing can be deduced from
objective conditions about the dynamics of the struggle. Everything
depends on the capacity of revolutionary Marxists to combine national
with socialist demands, in order to block the ending of national
oppression within capitalism, and ensure that it ends through the
victory of workers revolution. (Pp. 30-31.) His method is thus both
abstract and subjectivist.
d) A Lapse on Canadian Nationalism.
Comrade Germain's conclusions on Canadian nationalism,
and even his approach, appear to be in accord with that of the LSA/LSO.
One paragraph of his document however stands in sharp contrast to the
general thrust of his remarks:
"It follows that anti-U.S. Canadian nationalism has
no automatic 'anti-imperialist' or even 'anti-capitalist' thrust, as
Comrade Dowson tries to imply. It could have this only under very
concrete conditions of conscious political working class
hegemony inside the mass movement, i.e. hegemony by the conscious
revolutionary Marxists, by the Canadian Trotskyists. To consider
this hegemony as guaranteed in advance is to be guilty of a gross
overoptimism. In reality, there will be a constant struggle
between revolutionary and reformist (i.e. objectively pro-class
collaboration and pro-bourgeois) political forces inside that mass
movement." (P. 36, emphasis in original.)
The meaning of this passage is not entirely clear. But
the context indicates that what he is talking about is the circumstances
under which an anti-imperialist nationalist mass movement could have an
His conclusion is that whether such a mass movement will
have an anticapitalist thrust depends entirely on the quality of its
leadership. He drew exactly the same conclusion about national struggles
in Quebec. Moreover, it seems to flow from the same method he used in
Quebec — abstracting from the dynamic of the class struggle. This method
of abstraction has erased the very distinction which Comrade Germain
elsewhere holds to be so vital: that between the nationalism of
oppressed and oppressor nations.
Comrade Germain appears to propose that Canadian
Trotskyists join the "Canadian nationalist movement" and attempt to lead
it. His lapse into subjectivism has brought him to exactly the same
conclusion as that reached by the current led by Ross Dowson in the
LSA/LSO, whose positions he criticizes so vigorously. Utilizing two
opposed methods, he reaches two opposed conclusions.
The LSA/LSO has concluded that the struggle for national
liberation in Quebec has an "anti-capitalist thrust," in the long run,
regardless of the leadership it may receive at any given moment. It also
sees no objective basis for a Canadian nationalist struggle of a
progressive character — regardless of what political force may head up
such a struggle. The contrast between the nationalist movements of
oppressed and oppressor nations is rooted in the method which Comrade
Germain recommends but does not himself follow: one rooted in "a clear
notion of historical and economic conditions."
Ill. A Fraudulent Polemic
1. Balance Sheet of Comrade Germain's Criticisms
What remains of Comrade Germain's criticisms of the
"opportunist tail-ending' of the Canadian section, once false attacks
and distortions have been stripped away?
The charge of "tail-ending reformism" turned out to
be based on isolated quotations, passages which represent neither
the political positions of the Canadian section, nor the LSA/LSO's
The charge of "tail-ending a new 'stages-theory' of
the revolution" was not backed up with any evidence of any
concessions to a stages theory in the work of the Canadian section,
or in its political positions. The charge lacks any foundation.
The charge of trying to impose "language slogans" on
the 1972 Quebec labor upsurge is totally unsubstantiated. Comrade
Germain introduces no evidence of any "language slogans" having been
utilized at all — let alone utilized wrongly. He makes no criticism
of the program which the Canadian section actually put forward
during the upsurge.
The charge of "tail-ending petty-bourgeois
nationalism" turned out to be based on a bizarre distortion of a
single phrase in the Canadian Trotskyist press. It has no basis
either in the political resolutions or the work of the Canadian
The charge of "tail-ending imperialist nationalism"
turned out to be based on a document withdrawn and replaced by the
Canadian leadership, and to have no basis in the real positions of
Five shots; five misses. Not only does Comrade Germain
miss the target; closer inspection shows in each case that the target
was a figment of his own imagination.
But in fairness to Comrade Germain, we must underline
that one of his six major criticisms of the Canadian section did
indeed correspond to a real position of the LSA/LSO:
f) The charge that the Canadian section failed to raise
the slogan for independence of Quebec before mass support had emerged
for independence in Quebec — is entirely accurate. The LSA/LSO holds
this position, which conforms to the Trotskyist view. It is Comrade
Germain who departs from the Trotskyist view.
As for the balance of Comrade Germain's comments on
Canada, they include many well-chosen quotations from Lenin and Trotsky,
and restate many correct ideas. They are in serious error on the
question of nationalism and permanent revolution. When his comments deal
with Canada, they solve few problems, and are frustratingly ambiguous
and abstract. On the methodological question which Comrade Germain
places at the center of his polemic — the method of assessing
nationalism, and struggles against national oppression — his document
furnishes a very clear example of the type of error which he holds the
Canadian leadership to have committed.
2. Argue from the Record!
International discussion of the work of an individual
section, indispensable as it is, suffers from an unavoidable handicap.
Few members of the world movement have direct knowledge of the
conditions of the country being discussed, or of the character of the
national section's activity. Any comrade undertaking such critique has a
heavy responsibility to ensure that the positions and activity of the
section under scrutiny are accurately portrayed.
Critics who locate errors in the work of a section must
also ask if the errors were corrected, and if they were representative
of the section's overall line. Particular weight must be given to the
resolutions adopted by a section or its leadership as authoritative
statements of its politics.
Comrade Germain utilizes quite a different method in his
document. On the New Democratic Party, his critique is based on two
isolated passages in the Canadian Trotskyist press, and he does not
mention any of the passages that might have a different impression, or
any of the resolutions of the section.
On Quebec, Comrade Germain's polemic is based on a
paragraph from the Trotskyist press, a headline, and an internal
document which was withdrawn and replaced by the Canadian leadership. It
does not refer to any of the three major resolutions of the LSA/LSO on
On Canadian nationalism, Comrade Germain's polemic is
based on a document withdrawn and replaced by the leadership, and on the
positions of a minority current. It does not refer to the resolution by
the majority leadership on this subject.
Comrade Germain's method of argument is not adapted to
influencing the members of the Canadian section. They had little
difficulty in perceiving that the politics of the section are totally
different from the politics attacked by Comrade Germain.
This peculiar type of polemic, which does not state the
real positions of the Canadian leadership and presents positions which
they do not hold as theirs, will of course have its maximum impact among
those unfamiliar with the Canadian section. The effect of this procedure
is to block discussion of the real experiences and real problems of
Canadian Trotskyists. Its effect is to prejudice readers against the
politics of the leadership of the Canadian section, and the positions
they hold on other questions, such as the guerrilla strategy in Latin
America. Its effect is to create a diversion in the international
discussion, through conjuring up demons of "Canadian tail-endism" which
can distract attention from the real errors of sectors of the Fourth
International in Latin America, Europe, and elsewhere.
3. Leadership Responsibility and International Debate
Comrade Germain tells us that Comrade Joseph Hansen,
seized by "all-consuming passion" for slaying the "dragon of rural
guerrilla warfare," turns "a strangely blind eye" to such "right-wing
opportunist deviations" as the position that Canadian nationalism is
What exactly was Comrade Hansen supposed to do during
the three-week period of July 1972, during which the majority of the
Canadian Political Committee seemed to be on the wrong track on this
question? Presumably he was to follow Comrade Germain's example, and
rush to his typewriter to write a denunciation of the Canadian
leadership. He was then to submit it to the international discussion
bulletin, while simultaneously allowing a copy of his manuscript advance
private circulation among some personal contacts in Canada.
If Comrade Hansen did not follow this course, it is
perhaps because he has a different concept of how an international
leadership should function.
When a national leadership faces problems in applying
the Trotskyist program to its country, the task is surely to aid it in
recognizing these problems for what they are, and to help enable it to
work out for itself, through its own experiences and discussion, a
correct solution. Such a procedure is consistent with promoting the
emergence of national leaderships which can stand on their own feet, and
solve the problems posed by the class struggle in their own country.
The September 1972 plenum of the Canadian Central
Committee came to grips with the problem of Canadian nationalism and
corrected an error made on this question. It also corrected some other
errors, some of which Comrade Germain has mentioned, and some of which
he has not mentioned. It marked that the Canadian leadership had passed
a watershed in dealing with a political problem of no small proportions.
The executive secretary of the Canadian section reported
on the decisions of the September plenum to the October 1972 meeting of
the United Secretariat. His report elicited neither questions, nor
discussion, nor expression of opinion. At least, no opinions of the
leaders of the IEC Majority Tendency were expressed to the leaders of
the Canadian section. The opinion of the IEC Majority Tendency reached
Canada only five months later — in the form of a manuscript of Comrade
Germain's document, circulating privately among Canadian supporters of
the IEC Majority Tendency.
The nature of the critique in this document was curious.
It did not refer to the positions being advanced by the Canadian
leadership. It criticized the Canadian leaders either for positions they
had never held, or for errors they had made but had corrected. The
method was familiar: it was the polemical method employed against the
PST of Argentina.
This is not the kind of polemic that can help clarify
differences and advance the discussion in the International. It is time
to halt such fraudulent polemics, and focus the discussion on the real
issues before us.
September 27, 1973
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