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Rethinking the ‘NDP Orientation,’ 1973-1975
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Is the LSA/LSO 'Tail-Ending Reformism'? (1973)

Excerpt from “The Real Record of the Canadian Section: In Reply to Comrade Germain.” by John Riddell and Art Young. International Internal Discussion Bulletin, Volume X Number 16, October 1973. The full text of this document is posted here.

"Germain" was a pen-name used by Ernest Mandel, a prominent leader of the Fourth International.

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 Canadian Trotskyists.

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 charge.

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 original.)

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

"Dear George,

"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.

"Yours truly,
"Gordon Vichert,
"Provincial Secretary"

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.

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