At the CCF Convention in Winnipeg in 1956, the CCF formally dumped the Regina Manifesto and its commitment to socialism. This article appeared in Workers Vanguard September 1956.
Contribution by R. Dowson
Where do socialists go from here? A good question, what with the Winnipeg CCF National convention.
A scattering of embarrassed apologists for the leadership, who still, for reasons best known to themselves, want to be thought of as socialists, pretend that everything is basically as it was. Smarting under the charges that they have opportunistically dumped their principles, they nervously mumble about bringing the 1933 Regina Manifesto up-to-date.
But no one takes them seriously. Least of all are these apologists taken seriously by the Coldwell-Lewis leadership itself.
It is apparent that, as far as the leaders of the CCF are concerned, the sole aim of the Winnipeg convention was to proclaim from coast to coast, in words about which there could be no mistake, that the CCF is absolutely through with what Angus McInnis told a BC convention 10 years ago is “old socialist tripe that has long since decayed” that the CCF is through with, what Eamon Park at an Ontario convention three years ago sneered at as “ideological nonsense.”
Anyone who has participated in the movement in recent years, or who has followed its activities closely, has long been aware that there is no more socialism in a speech by Coldwell or Gillis, than there is in that monolith called Mount Robson. The Regina Manifesto, with its declaration of refusal to get entangled in “wars fought to make the world safe for capitalism,” its pronouncement on the need to “socialize the basic means of production,” to “eradicate capitalism,” has long had nothing in common with the public pronouncements of the party, with its election manifestos, with the speeches and the positions adopted by its MP’s in the federal and provincial parliaments.
And it is not only by omission that they have made it clear that they have nothing in common with anything that the socialists at the 1933 convention managed to get written into the manifesto. Even when their influence meant nothing in the outcome of events, when their mere abstention would have won them support among broad layers of the workers, the Coldwell leadership demonstratively repudiated positions adopted by the movement—when they voted for NATO, called for intervention in Korea, supported rearmament of the enemies of the German peoples, etc.
What then has changed? Now, the national leadership has formally hauled down the tattered, torn, dishonored banner of socialism and nailed to the masthead the slogan of peaceful co-existence between capitalist and social ownership of the means of production, that socialism collaborate and bow before capitalism. “Make capitalism work,” reads the standard to which Coldwell would have the workers rally.
What does this mean for the CCF as a movement and its future development? Why have the top brass of the party felt it necessary to so ruthlessly and demonstratively repudiate the program of the movement?
Certainly the Regina Manifesto has been a continued source of embarrassment to the leaders of the party. No matter what their actions, bigots such as Social Credit MPs continued to remind them of the party’s socialist program. The Douglas leadership, beset with the problems of office in one province for 12 years now, seeking to entice investors into the province, wants to guarantee security of investment.
As long as the Regina Manifesfo was not superseded by any other programmatic document, it provided socialists in the movement with a lever to resist the liberal-reformist course of the leadership.
This militant past of the movement, committed to print at Regina, tended to make it attractive to radically moving workers and somewhat unattractive, despite all the appeals of the leadership, to petty bourgeois elements. For years the leadership has been attempting to cut down the clubs and constituency associations in their role as opinion and policy making bodies and transform them into election machines. The socialists with their serious approach to ideas and principles stood in the way of this process. These reasons are good and sufficient for the top leaders of the CCF to ditch the Regina Manifesto.
But one might ask—was not the whole course of events favoring all the wishes and desires, all the policies, of the right wing. “Responsible” bourgeois opinion has nothing but respect for the loyal CCF opposition. The parliamentary caucus conducts itself in the house as if clubs, constituencies, conventions and manifestos did not exist other than to ensure their election. Hasn’t the right wing been able to expel those socialists who refused to walk away in discouragement but stayed to fight?
Why such blatant, such obvious revisionism, such arrant opportunism which has permitted the press from coast to coast to mockingly expose the CCF leadership?
Some commentators have suggested that this opportunistic swing to the right has as its premise the conviction on the part of the “practical” politicians of the CCF that there is a new political alignment shaping up within the framework of bourgeois politics.
The Tories are a declining force, the Liberals increasingly discredited. The CCF can win over whole slabs of Liberal support if it will only trim its sails, clean out socialism, and out-liberal the Liberals.
We question that any of the real party strategists believe this to be possible. They know only too well that these is no room for another liberal-bourgeois party. One of the arguments that they used to good effect in justifying the dumping of the Regina Manifesto in toto was that many of the minimum (reform) demands that it outlined have since been realized—by Liberal or Tory governments. They know that were the Liberals to legislate a national health plan before the next election, they would have nothing with which to cover their nakedness. And who would vote for a minor party rather than a major party which is more likely in this period to get elected and would be able to do what it talks about?
No, we have to look deeper, the “practical” politicians in the CCF top brass have no illusions on this score. It would appear that something much bigger is in the air.
A New Labour Party
The first signs were revealed at the founding convention of the Canadian Labour Congress when the CCF trade union brass were successful in preventing pro-CCF delegates from putting the newly unified congress on record as endorsing the CCF as its political arm. At that time a Vanguard correspondent speculated that some sort of deal had been cooked up between the trade union brass and the CCF leadership.
There is a new political regroupment in the air—one that can only be consolidated by laying the ghost of socialism that has been flitting around the CCF. This alliance, formed from on top, would encompass the CCF, the CLC, the Farmers Union, and the CCCL in Quebec where the CCF has not been able to get a foothold. How this new alliance will come into being, its form, and just when, is difficult to say. But one thing is sure—that socialists will certainly have to take this probable new development into account—and now.
With the Winnipeg Manifesto, finis has been written to any concept that the CCF is a socialist party. In what, however, has it been, a socialist party? No socialist could have seriously considered the present leadership capable of leading the workers in the class battles that lie ahead. Last year, the year before and the year before that, the public program of the movement was not socialist. Yet socialists supported the movement, and not because of any secret solace gained from the thought of the Regina Manifesto lurking in the wings.
The LPP in the past years, when not denouncing the CCF as “social fascist” or as it did at its first Ontario convention for “setting class against class” and “raising the issue of socialism,” has on one or two occasions opposed support to the CCF for some specific position adopted by the movement or its leadership—for instance, their support of NATO. But those who are neither sectarians or followers of policies determined by interests other than those of the Canadian working class have consistently supported the CCF.
Socialists have supported the CCF not because they had any illusions that the CCF was a socialist party but because it represented in Canadian politics the principle of independent working class political action. It represented a rupture from the parties of Big Business and a step of an elemental but nonetheless fundamental character in the direction of socialist consciousness. The CCF was the form that the farmer-labour party took on in this country—a reform party but none-the-less a class party—the party of the workers and poor farmers.
Socialists Remain In
Socialists have not only supported the CCF as against the capitalist parties but have remained in it and have been joined by others who understand the need to go through the experiences of the more advanced workers, by their side, explaining and sharpening their socialist consciousness. This has required socialists to make certain tactical adaptation of their views so that they would not fall under the one-edged disciplinary axe of the leadership—an axe that only cuts against the Left. But at no time have socialists hidden their criticisms of the movement from the working class.
Now, what are socialists to do? The CCF, after Winnipeg, is no less a farmer-labour party than before. But the Right has declared socialism outlaw. For the whole next period the CCF will be much less attractive than it is even now to radically moving workers. Nonetheless, we take it for granted that every socialist will fight to hold on to whatever socialist gains have been established in the movement in whatever way is open to him.
With the adoption of the Winnipeg Manifesto the struggle for a socialist policy is not ended. In a sense, and certainly in some sections of the movement, the struggle for a socialist policy will reach new heights The rank and file have yet to see and discuss this perfidious statement. Many, both within and without the movement, who heretofore showed no interest in socialist ideology, will want to know what this is all about. The socialists will patiently explain.
There is no question that the Winnipeg convention spells out a new turn for the movement. But in the light of the probable regroupment of forces in the Canadian labour movement socialists would be ill-advised to get involved in hasty actions of a sectarian character.
The Coldwell leadership intends to settle accounts with the socialists. But the socialists have a most powerful instrument in their hands—THE WORKERS VANGUARD. Socialists across the country must rally to its side—aid in the circulation of its message and help to make it many times more effective.
Socialists should get together to discuss the path ahead. The Socialist Educational League has proven of great value in consolidating leftists both within and outside the CCF and increasing their understanding and effectiveness. Serious consideration should be given to the setting up of similar organisations across the country.
Copyright South Branch Publishing. All