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The Debate on
Canadian Nationalism,1968-73


by Ian Angus

The 1973 pre-convention discussion in the League for Socialist Action / Ligue Socialiste Ouvrière (LSA/LSO) was the most extensive in the organization’s history. In addition to extended oral debates in all of the organization’s branches, dozens of articles were published in the LSA/LSO Internal Discussion Bulletin. The discussion not only established the LSA/LSO’s political positions on a wide range of important issues, it brought together and consolidated a new leadership team, drawn from the new generation of revolutionaries that had joined the Trotskyist movement in the 1950s and 1960s.

One of the most important debates was on the approach revolutionary socialists should take to the growth of Canadian nationalism within the left in the 1960s and 1970s. This debate both focused on an important political issue, and divided the organization’s leadership into a majority group of younger members who had come into the leadership in the 1960s, and a minority led by Ross Dowson, who had been the central leader of the Canadian Trotskyist movement since 1945.

The following pages contain key documents from that discussion. We hope to make more available in future.

The discussion actually began in 1968, with the League’s adoption of a resolution on  "Canada-U.S. Relations." While that resolution described Canadian nationalism as "a tool of the ruling class," it also contained some more open-ended formulations that were interpreted in various ways by members of the League's leadership, eventually leading to a wide-ranging debate.

In July 1972, on the initiative of the organization’s Executive-Secretary, Ross Dowson, the LSA/LSO Political Committee approved a Memorandum stating that Canadian nationalism should be viewed as anti-imperialist and progressive.

After objections from members of the Central Committee and a brief but intense discussion, the PC reversed itself and withdrew the Memorandum early in August. (Gary Porter, whose signature appeared on the original Memorandum, supported the reversal and was a leader of the majority in the subsequent discussion.)

In September, the Central Committee met and voted by a substantial majority to oppose  Canadian nationalism, and instructed the PC to draw up a new resolution to replace the 1968 document, for discussion inside the LSA/LSO prior to a convention scheduled for April 1973.

The new resolution, entitled "Canada and the Crisis of World Imperialism," was submitted to a Central Committee meeting early in January 1973. The CC approved it and submitted it to the membership for discussion.

John Riddell’s report on the new resolution at the Central Committee meeting was published in the LSA/LSO Discussion Bulletin in March 1973, under the title "What ARE the Key Issues in the Canadian Nationalism Debate?"

Two members of the Political Committee, Ross Dowson and Dennis Lomas, opposed the new resolution. They and their co-thinkers in the organization formed the United Tendency to argue their case to the membership at large. In early April, they proposed a counter-resolution, "A New Stage in Canada-U.S. Relations."

John Riddell’s response was entitled "Where the United Tendency Counter-resolution Goes Wrong."

All of these documents—and many, many, more—were thoroughly discussed in the branches of the LSA/LSO in the weeks leading up the convention, and delegates were elected proportionately, reflecting the support each major position had in each branch.

At the Convention itself, the Political Committee resolution was approved by a large majority, and the United Tendency Counter-resolution was rejected in a 48-5 vote. The UT received representation on the central Committee in proportion to its support.

In July 1973 Dennis Lomas, who co-authored many United Tendency documents, announced that he had reconsidered the issue and now agreed with the majority position on Canadian nationalism.

In February 1974, Ross Dowson and 17 other individuals resigned from the LSA/LSO, citing a variety of political differences, mainly related to the NDP and Canadian nationalism. They established the Socialist League, which published the newspaper Forward until the early 1980s.

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