Maurice Spector on the Founding of the Workers Party of Canada, 1922
"The Constituent Convention of the Workers Party of Canada," by Maurice Spector,was first published in 1981 in Canadian Bolsheviks. By its contents, it must have been written in March or April 1922: it appears to be a report by Spector to the Fourth Congress of the Communist International, which he attended.
Original in Kenny Papers, University of Toronto Rare Book Room.
The Constituent Convention of the Workers' Party of Canada February 1922
By Maurice Spector
The Workers' Party Convention which took place in the third week of February laid the foundations of the first actual political organization of the militant workers of Canada. It is true that there have been other socialist parties in the past, but in the light of developments it is clear that these were merely the elementary stepping-stones for a more serious political evolution of the workers of this country. The Social Democratic Party, which attracted greatest attention during the war period for its pacifist attitude, dimly attempted to be a mass party by its program of maximum and minimum demands. It attempted to go down to the level of the workers just emerging to political consciousness without seeking to raise that level. It attempted to get its "immediate demands" realized through electioneering and legislation, rather than through the pressure of proletarian struggle. The Social Democratic Party vanished from the political scene for two reasons. First, the right wing perceiving that the war had sufficiently quickened the sense of independent political action among the moderate trade union elements, threw themselves into the work of getting control of that development by the organization of an Independent Labor Party; secondly, the left wing developed by the repercussion of the Russian Revolution succeeded in putting a successful referendum on affiliation to the Communist International (1919). But this achievement was in effect little more than a revolutionary gesture, a demonstration of ideal revolutionary solidarity, since the party was rapidly disintegrating, and was finally liquidated by its revolutionary Central Committee to prevent the treasury funds and party name being exploited by the former Social Democratic element in the I.L.P. for its own political ends.
The other Socialist Party, the Socialist Party of Canada, was a sectarian body and not a revolutionary political party in the European sense. For instance, its official organ, the "Western Clarion", declared editorially that the function of the party was purely educational, consisting that is, in the holding of study classes, lectures, etc. In general its party attitude was purely critical of labor developments, and its criticism was characterized by abstruse pedantry. The effect of the party teachings on some of its members was to instill in them a contempt for the everyday "wage struggle" of the workers. The real class struggle was, so to speak, considered postponed until a majority of the workers were ready to accept the S.P of C. program, or if the class struggle was at all being waged currently it was done so at the S.P. of C. headquarters. Another section if its membership, however, was active in the trade union movement, the position of the S.P. of C. members of this section as workers proving stronger than the doctrinarism of their party. Working steadily, they became influential in the Western trade union movement (it should be pointed out here that the S.P. of C. never extended materially into Eastern Canada). But because these S.P. of C. workers were not carrying on under centralized control, because the conception of the role of the party of the proletariat was as yet very vague, their activity in the everyday struggle tended to give them consciously or unconsciously a syndicalist outlook. For real action and leadership in the class struggle they looked to the trade union movement rather than to the organized political vanguard of the proletariat. The S.P. of C. has finally split on the rock of affiliation to the Communist International.
The Communist Party of Canada was formed in the summer of 1921 on an illegal basis, for several reasons. The comrades were still living in the memory of the ruthless government Orders-in-Council suppressing revolutionary movements during the war and demobilization period, the brutal measures that the State took to break the Winnipeg strike and gaol the strike leaders were still fresh in mind, and the Canadian Communist groups were still in the shadow of the terroristic means adopted by the American bourgeoisie to outlaw the American Communist Party. The underground character of the Party, however, combined with the inexperience of the leading elements, led to its isolation from the Canadian Labor movement. No matter how active certain Party members may have been, the Communist Party as such played a negligible role. It began to dawn more and more clearly on the Party comrades that unless the Party adopted a new orientation in the question of public activity, the Communist Party would be condemned to stagnation. The formation of mere legal workers' societies, as planned in a resolution at the Constituent Convention, was proving utterly insufficient. This feeling was clarified and organized when the decisions of the Third Congress on the American situation became known. Any lingering fears there may have been among some comrades of the Party that broad public activity was necessarily associated with the compromise of principles and would lead to Centrism, were rapidly dissipated. It became manifest to all that the essence of the policies of the Communist International was Communist activity rather than the pure and punctilious phrase. Consequently, the decisions of the Comintern were welcomed unanimously in Canada as being absolutely in accord with the demands and realities of the situation.
That situation, moreover, made it imperative that the Communist Party act quickly and assume the initiative or be wholly left behind in the organization of the left elements of the Canadian Labor movement which were beginning to stir. The left wing of the S.P. of C., growing tired of the interminable discussion on affiliation to the Third International carried on by their party organ, along with consistent sabotage of every effort to arrive at the decision, were leaving the S.P. of C. Various organizations, such as the Finnish Socialist Federation, were unattached but yet ripe for affiliation to an open Communist organization. The retrogression of the O.B.U. in the West was leaving great numbers of workers outside of any political or economic organization. The "labor parties" had met with disappointing results at the polls in the Federal election. Wage reductions and unemployment were the order of the day. And finally the labor bureaucracy were laying plans to canalize the mass movement, which is beginning to pick up again, by the organization of the "safe and sane" Labor Party.
A call was sent out for a preliminary conference to consider the question of establishing a Workers' Party of Canada on militant lines. At this preliminary conference a rough program and constitution were adopted and the Provisional Organization Committee was appointed to prepare plans for the Constituent Convention of the Workers' Party. The upshot was the recently held convention of February 17th-20th.
This convention was characterized chiefly by the spirit of fundamental unity and earnest desire for activity. The Communists did not direct this convention by virtue of any "mechanical control" but simply because they were best prepared, were aware of the issues most distinctly, did the most thinking, worked most energetically, and had in general the best organization. The independent elements like the Finnish organization accepted this Communist leadership without question. But the Western, former S.P. of C. elements, came with an original program calling for an open Communist Party with frank acceptance of the twenty-one points [Theses on the conditions of admission to the Communist International]. They suspected that the Eastern delegates were working for a moderate, milk-and-watery program, and since these S.P. of C. Left-wingers had split from their party on just this very issue of the twenty-one points, they felt that they would be placed in an impossible position if they went back West with any program short of their original conception. A frank explanation, however, that a Canadian Section of the Comintern already existed and that an open Communist Party would not at the present moment be opportune, along with the explanation of the Communist delegates that an open Communist Party was their objective also, after the experience, activity and mass contact of the Workers' Party for a year or so, enabled both sides to reach an accord. It was agreed, however, that the time was ripe for the Workers' Party to recognize more or less openly the spiritual leadership of the Communist International and the principle of proletarian dictatorship.
The only discordant moment at the convention, if it can be called discordant, in view of the fact that the delegates were almost unanimous in their rejection of his attitude, was the debate on Labor Union policy precipitated by R.B. Russell of Winnipeg strike fame and fraternal delegate of the O.B.U. As is perhaps generally known, the overwhelming majority of the Canadian workers belong to the "International" unions affiliated with the American Federation of Labor, and finding a national expression in the Canadian Trades and Labor Congress. Then there are various independent unions like the Canadian Federation of Labor, which bases itself upon the principles of national organization, refusing to send union moneys out of the country. There are French-Canadian Catholic unions of Quebec dominated by the clergy. There is the Lumber Workers Industrial Union, strong and radical, originally syndicalistic but now affiliated with the R.I.L.U. And then there is the "One Big Union" balloted upon by the Western workers at the time when the revolutionary wave in Europe was at its crest, and when syndicalism and Bolshevism were often confused, and actually formed after the Winnipeg general strike. Since its formation the O.B.U. movement in some way becomes isolated from the main body of the trade union movement, it becomes easier for the capitalist class to harry and destroy it. The O.B.U. movement did not arouse the enthusiasm of the workers of the industrial East, who remained attached to the A.F. of L.; the government's clubbing of the Winnipeg strike intimidated numbers of even the Western workers. Finally, the ideas of the Communist International and the Red Trade Union International, which make the consolidation and unity of the Trade Union movement the great revolutionary desideratum, have awakened a desire in the militant workers for a unification of all forces of the Canadian Trade Union movement, a healing of the splits of the past. Russell spent his time trying to demonstrate the superiority of the O.B.U. "structure" over the A.F. of L. structure, shirking the main issue which is the consolidation of the Trade Union movement and its re-organization from within the existing unions by amalgamating related crafts on an industrial union basis. The Western delegates, some of whom had been as prominent as Russell himself in the formation of the O.B.U., stood solidly with the Eastern delegates in repudiating his point of view.
What are the prospects of the Party? The Workers' Party should be regarded as the potential Communist Party of today, and the open Communist Party of the near future. It is the only militant political organization of the workers in the field. With the exception of the Maritime Provinces it has established nation-wide connection. The membership of the Party is thoroughly imbued with the necessity of striving to mould the Party into a party of action, a party of the masses. The Party recognizes the urgent necessity of wresting the control of the organized labor movement from out [of] the hands of the labor bureaucrats. It recognizes that the organized labor movement gives the political tone to the working-class of the country. It is therefore embarking on becoming an integral part of the labor movement without losing its own party integrity and identity. It will strive to swing the Canadian Labor movement into line with the revolutionary labor movement of the world. The Party has been organized but a very short time, yet it is already admitted even by the leaders of the Canadian Labor Party to be a potential force to be reckoned with. At the same time it is being watched by the workers of the whole country, those, that is, not yet of the militant vanguard, to see what the calibre of its activities and influence will be, and there is little doubt that if the Party continues to work in the spirit of the program and policies adopted by the Convention it will indeed not disappoint expectations and will become the leading political force of the workers generally.
Copyright South Branch Publishing. All