Class Collaboration and Independent Working Class
Some Fundamental Aspects of
Our Policy Towards the NDP (1974)
Presented by Gary Porter to the January 1974 Plenum of
the Central Committee of the League for Socialist Action/Ligue
Socialiste Ouvričre. It was adopted by the plenum and published in the
LSA/LSO Internal Information Bulletin, Vol. 2, No. 4, February
Political Committee Report
presented by Gary Porter
Aim of the Report
Three different reports at this plenum will deal with
the questions of the labor party, class collaboration, and independent
labor political action in Canada.
This report will outline our general concepts and
principles, and show how they apply to the New Democratic Party.
Tomorrow morning Colleen Levis will report on Quebec, and will examine
how we should develop our demand for a labor party, given the new
openings we see today. Then tomorrow evening, John Steele will report on
our New Democratic Party work, and will give special attention to the
challenges we have faced in British Columbia since the election of the
Barrett NDP government there.
But this report is a discussion of fundamentals. It aims
to restate a number of the basic concepts which underlie our tactical
approach to the NDP and to the labor party demand in Quebec. It
describes how these tactics are built on our general positions in
support of independent working class political action and against class
collaboration, in support of a revolutionary course and against
reformism, for the building of a revolutionary party and against all
obstacles to this task.
The report will not attempt to restate all we know
about our tactical approach to the NDP. It does not aim to be
"balanced." It aims to reconfirm and strengthen our basic understanding
on the points I have referred to.
There are three reasons for having such a discussion at
this time. First, a general consideration. In the NDP and in Quebec, we
are engaged in a complicated tactic, complicated maneuvers, on the labor
party question. This kind of work demands periodic discussion of the
principles and goals these tactics aim to achieve — to prevent possible
disorientation in our work. In the past, our documents have given
greater attention to the tactical problems in the NDP than to the
foundations for our policy. This report aims to even the balance.
Second, important questions are arising in the class
struggle in Canada which call on us to apply our policy in slightly
different circumstances. The NDP is the government in three provinces
now; we have branches in two of them. In Ottawa, the NDP is engaged in a
disastrous coalitionist maneuver with the Liberal party. Inside the
party, the Waffle's demise poses new challenges. Meanwhile, in Quebec,
the question of the labor party is being discussed more broadly, and
moves are afoot to engage the unions in political action. Meeting new
challenges adroitly demands clarity on the basic concepts. This report
thus provides a basis for discussion of our response to these
challenges, a discussion which will develop around the reports by John
Steele and Colleen Levis.
Third, we have seen indications of unclarity on some
basic questions in the Political Committee in recent months. This has
developed around three documents. Let me discuss each case in turn.
The Political Resolution of our April convention
contained extensive passages on the NDP. These replied to the attacks of
the RCT [Revolutionary Communist Tendency] on our policy, attacks which
focused on two points: that the NDP was losing its working class base,
and that we should orient our work inside the NDP to a smash-and-grab
maneuver with the "new revolutionary vanguard."
Our policy also came under attack from members of the
United Tendency, who charged, among other things, that we had been
excessively critical of the Waffle for its decision to quit the NDP.
Six months later, the Labor Party Tendency was declared.
It said that our long-standing policy on the NDP has been secretly
dumped by the leadership, and it points to articles in Labor
Challenge as evidence. But it has not yet said anything about the
Political Resolution which lays down our line and determines our policy
on the NDP.
This is unusual. If we've dumped our established NDP
policy, then this should be reflected in our Political Resolution — at
least in embryonic form. If not, if the Political Resolution correctly
presents our long established policy, then the LPT will be able to show
how our practice violates the line of the resolution we adopted. If new
problems have arisen since the convention; if the resolution is
insufficient to meet them — then the LPT will be able to tell us what
the new problems are and what needs to be added to the resolution to
make it an adequate definition of our line.
To find out what the differences might be, we have to
rediscuss the NDP portion of the Political Resolution at this plenum.
The LPT members here must tell us where they stand on this document. The
Political Committee has therefore placed before the plenum a motion to
reaffirm the line of sections of the Political Resolution dealing with
Comrades Riddell and Young wrote a reply for the
international discussion to refute comrade Germain's attack on the
Canadian section. Most PC comrades felt that this reply was a good
defence, written within the framework of our established line. Comrade
Ross Dowson however told the PC he believed that the portions of this
document on the NDP "codified the change of line" on the NDP which he
thinks the leadership has carried out. In oral discussion he has given
different reasons for his view: I’ll list a few.
(a) that the section on "Starting Points for an NDP
Debate" begins with our opposition to the NDP; comrade Ross explained
that we always began with our support.
(b) that the document talks of critical support but does
not use the term "unconditional support."
(c) that the document refers to our NDP policy as a
"tactic" rather than as a "strategy."
(d) that the document does not use our "traditional
terminology"; does not use concepts like the idea that the NDP is both
"on the road and in the road" to workers power.
(e) that in summarizing our practical work in the NDP,
the document does not correctly describe our fraction work. It does not
explain that all our comrades belong to the NDP and that we have a
In order to come to grips with these criticisms, the
Political Committee discussed the section of the document entitled
"Starting Points for an NDP Debate." It adopted the line of this section
by a divided vote, and it proposes the adoption of the line of this
section, as a second motion placed before the plenum.
3) We have a dearly established position on how to apply
our concept of the popular front. The leadership of the LSA/LSO
supported the United Secretariat's unanimous statement on Chile of
December 1971 which defined the Chilean Popular Unity as a popular
front, and took a clear stand against support for this coalition.
Recently however, the IEC [International Executive Committee] Majority
Tendency, and a current in our leadership, has moved away from this
This came to light after the coup in Chile, when several
comrades, including a member of the Political Committee, spoke in the
Toronto branch meetings, arguing against the concept that the Popular
Unity was a popular front. The difference soon extended to France. Many
comrades, including comrade Ross, argued against the position expressed
by the Socialist Workers Party to the ex-Ligue Communiste of France (see
International Internal Discussion Bulletin, vol. X, no.14). The
SWP considers the Union of the Left to be a popular-front type
coalition. It holds that support of the Union of the Left is a violation
of principle. Some comrades in the LSA/LSO believed the SWP was
mistaken, and argued in defense of the view of the ex-Ligue Communiste,
and of supporters of Rouge in France today.
[SHP Note: The Ligue Communiste had
been outlawed by the government of France, so this presentation
refers to its supporters as the "ex-Ligue Communiste" or as
supporters of the newspaper Rouge.]
The Political Committee therefore adopted a statement,
to define its position on the question. This statement, published in our
discussion bulletin in November, is based on the United Secretariat's
1971 position that the Chilean UP was a popular front, and on the SWP's
position on popular frontism in France. There was a division on this
vote, with comrade Ross abstaining.
The comrades who oppose the PC’s view have not yet said
what their position is. Some say they agree with the ex-Ligue
Communiste's position on the Union of the Left in France, and thus
presumably agree with the document of the leadership of the ex-Ligue:
"The Mote and the Beam." Ross should tell us if this is his view.
But none have explained where they stand on the question
of support to the Chilean Popular Unity, or how they believe their
positions on France and Chile affect the question of popular frontism in
A central purpose of this discussion is to enable
comrades who disagree with the Political Committee position to tell us
what their view is, and permit the discussion on this question to get
underway. The PC has therefore proposed adoption of the line of its
statement on popular frontism as the third motion before this plenum.
What is the Labor Party Tendency’s View?
This report is not an attempt to reply to the criticisms
of the Labor Party Tendency (LPT) on the NDP, or to criticize the
positions of the LPT; it cannot do these things because we do not know
what the positions of the LPT are. Several months of intensive efforts
in the PC to find out what the LPT had to say yielded nothing.
A few minutes before my report began, a document of the
LPT was brought here for submission to the Political Committee. The LPT
had previously mimeographed this document for circulation to its own
members. It printed extra copies, and brought enough copies for
distribution to those attending the plenum.
The submission of this document is a positive step; we
all welcome it. The document comes too late to be read by Central
Committee members before the plenum, or to be discussed in any serious
way by the plenum. It should be referred to the PC. Then, we'll see what
the PC thinks of its criticisms.
However, comrade Ross, on behalf of the LPT, is making
an oral presentation of the main ideas of this document today. His
presentation will form part of today’s discussion.
Our NDP Policy Excludes Support to Popular Fronts
Now a word on why these themes have been joined in this
report. A difference on what is a popular front directly affects our
policy on the NDP. Our view of the NDP is based on its character as a
party in the workers movement. Our support for it aims to draw the class
line between the working class and the bourgeoisie, in the electoral
arena and in daily struggle. Support of popular front type formations
like the Union of the Left is contrary to this method. Such a position
is incompatible with our long-standing orientation to the NDP.
Time after time we have confronted problems in Canadian
politics in which the issues were posed in just this way. During the
formative period of the NDP, a large debate opened up as to what the
class character of this new formation would be. The leading sectors of
the trade union and CCF brass presented the coming party as a
liberal-labor alliance, and did what they could to realize their aim.
The Stalinists also eagerly tried to make the NDP a multi-class
alliance, with their concept of an "anti-monopoly coalition," a kind of
popular front. We rejected these concepts, and waged a vigorous campaign
for a class party, a labor party with a class struggle program.
In Vancouver we have long fought the Committee of
Progressive Electors (COPE), a municipal formation with many of the
characteristics of popular fronts. We called on the NDP to run under its
own banner in the civic arena with a full slate and on a class struggle
program. We succeeded in forcing the NDP to run a full slate against
COPE after a big educational discussion.
In Montreal, when the FRAP was formed for the 1970 civic
elections, the key question for us was whether or not it was moving
towards becoming a clearly working class formation, or a kind of peoples
front like the COPE. And today in Quebec the biggest single obstacle to
independent working class political action is the support of the trade
union bureaucracy for the bourgeois Parti Quebecois. To this class
collaborationism, and to popular front proposals, we counterpose class
independence in the political arena, through the formation of a labor
party in Quebec based on the trade unions.
We have often met this question, and we often will in
the future. Our NDP line has been forged in the battle against popular
frontist conceptions advanced by both the Stalinists and Social
Democrats in the labor movement.
For that reason, we must look at these questions
together, as this report does.
In this context, we can examine other questions such as
the role of the federal NDP caucus in the present parliament, and the
nature of the NDP governments in the west.
What is at Issue?
1) No one advocates supporting popular fronts. But we
been unable to agree in concrete situations (France, Chile) on what is a
popular front, and what kind of fronts we can support.
2) No one denies that the NDP is a labor party. But we
differ at various times on whether it is social-democratic in character,
on the weight and the degree of consolidation of its leadership, and on
the role played by its program in the overall development of class
3) No one thinks we should reject our long-standing
policy on the NDP. But in describing this policy, differences have
appeared, such as on whether this policy is "strategical" or "tactical"
and whether our policy is one of "unconditional" support,
"unconditional, but critical" support or "critical" support. The PC has
not yet located any basic political line differences on these points.
But the matter is worth further discussion, particularly in view of the
stress laid by the LPT on these terminological points.
What the Documents Say
Let's look, more closely at the three documents I
mentioned, the Political Resolution, the Riddell/Young contribution and
the PC statement on popular frontism. Let's see what they say, and
whether they are correct.
In doing so, we will not look at everything we've said
recently in Labor Challenge or discuss every tactical question.
The purpose of this report is to look at our basic views on popular
fronts and mass reformist workers parties and see how our present
policies stand up in that light.
I do not intend to go through the documents one at a
time. Each one deals with the questions of our analysis and policy in a
different way, to meet different purposes. I want to look at the three
documents together and develop a number of central concepts in these
documents in a more systematic way.
Why We Oppose Class-Collaborationist Coalitions
I'll begin with the question around which the most
significant difference has emerged in the PC. Why do we critically
support the NDP, a reformist party with a class collaborationist
program, but deny any form of support to reformist and class
collaborationist alliances like the Union of the Left in France?
The Political Resolution says: "Revolutionary Marxists
give critical support to the NDP as the elemental alternative to the
parties of the bourgeoisie, while giving no support to its reformist
program and leadership."
The Riddell/Young document puts it this way: "The
analysis of the NDP as a party of the working class is the principled
basis for critical support of the NDP." It continues:
"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."
These statements illustrate our starting point. We do
not lend support, critical or otherwise, to bourgeois or petty bourgeois
parties or groupings. We do not vote for their candidates.
Some confusion has arisen among Rouge supporters
in France, precisely around this point. Their support for the Union of
the Left meant voting for the Left Radicals, a bourgeois formation.
Further, they supported the Union of the Left even though they did not
consider the Socialist Party to be a working class formation. They said
the SP could be defined neither as a bourgeois party nor as a working
class party. Yet they thought this didn’t matter because the Communist
Party was the leading force in the Union of the Left.
This is exactly the wrong approach. We cannot vote for
candidates of bourgeois parties just because they form an alliance with
the Stalinists. Just the opposite: their presence in the alliance makes
any form of support for that alliance definitively impossible and
contrary to principle.
The French comrades said after the election that they
were wrong to have called for a vote for the Left Radical candidates.
This doesn’t solve the question. The key question remains whether you
advocate a vote for the Union of the Left, a multiclass electoral
coalition, or for the Socialist and Communist parties, mass
parties within the labor movement. The second course draws the class
line; the first blurs and obscures it.
For us, support to the NDP in any form is only possible
after we analyse it to be a party of the working class. By these same
criteria, we oppose the Parti Quebecois, a thoroughly bourgeois party,
despite its wide support from workers. And if Barrett's dreams come true,
and the NDP forms an electoral bloc with the Parti Quebecois, we would
unconditionally oppose that alliance. Support to the NDP, as party of
the working class, would still be permissible, but support to an
alliance with bourgeois parties is out of the question.
The Example of Chile and France
If the example of an NDP-PQ alliance seems improbable,
the examples of Chile and France prove that popular front alliances are
an active and pernicious danger in working class politics today.
The Political Committee statement on popular frontism
characterizes the Chilean Unidad Popular (Popular Unity) as a popular
front. It reads:
"The Chilean Popular Unity was a programmatic
electoral alliance formed to nominate a single candidate of the
‘left’ in the 1970 presidential election. While its electoral
strength rested on the mass base of the Communist and Socialist
parties, the UP also included smaller parties which were not working
class in character. While paying lip-service to the long-range goal
of socialism, the Unidad Popular’s concrete program was class
collaborationist, limited to reforms which would not break Chile
from the grip of capitalism. In order to win Christian democratic
support in the Congress for his election as president, Allende
pledged not to change the armed forces, the judiciary, the
bureaucracy or the educational system. Allende’s cabinet included,
as well as leaders of working class parties, politicians from
bourgeois parties, and, during certain crucial periods,
representatives of the armed forces."
And later it characterizes the Union of the Left in
France along the same lines:
"The Union of the Left in France was a programmatic
electoral alliance launched by the Socialist and Communist parties
which later embraced a grouping of politicians who had broken from
the bourgeois Radical Party. It ran a common slate of candidates in
the 1973 French legislative elections. Like the Chilean Unidad
Popular, the Union of the Left had a reformist and class
collaborationist program, although it proclaimed socialism to be its
The statement goes on to draw the conclusion from this
factual assessment: "In our view, critical support for either one of
these coalitions would have represented a fundamental violation of
Such coalitions between parties of the exploited and
parties of the exploiters are necessarily limited, as the statement
explains, to a reformist bourgeois program — a program not based on the
needs of the workers and their allies, but on the preservation of the
bourgeois state and capitalist property relations. This is a
precondition for including bourgeois forces in the first place. Such
alliances confuse the workers and cut across their class independence
and self confidence as an independent class force; derailing the
struggles of workers and placing them in tow behind a bourgeois program
and a bourgeois alliance. Whether they are called unions of the left,
coalitions, popular unities, or just plain popular fronts – we can never
support them. We oppose them and demand that the workers parties break
from these alliances and contest for power in their own name. We demand
that the workers parties adopt our program. We counterpose the policy of
the united front — unity for action for specific class struggle
Some argue for support of the Union of the Left on the
grounds that the bourgeois political formation in it, the Left Radicals,
is small and uninfluential. In fact, even before the entry of the Left
Radicals, the program and purpose of the Union of the Left was to form
an alliance with bourgeois formations, as the SWP letter explains. The
PC statement outlines our long-standing position on this point:
"What is crucial is the essential purpose of these
alliances, which is to form a coalition government with a sector of
the bourgeoisie. There is nothing new in the fact that such
alliances contain only very weak bourgeois parties — or, for
periods, no bourgeois parties at all. In Spain in 1936 the
Stalinists and Social Democrats very rapidly became the leadership
of the Popular Front. The policies of the Popular Front were
Stalinist and Social Democratic policies. The bourgeois parties in
the coalition lacked any social base — they were, as Trotsky wrote,
only a phantom of the bourgeoisie. Despite this the coalition was
based on subservience to the bourgeoisie. Trotsky considered that a
vote for the Popular Front, or a vote in the parliament for a
Popular Front budget would be treachery."
Popular Fronts — Reactionary to the Core
We deny that popular front coalitions are capable of
representing workers' interests in any way. They represent the interest
of the workers' petty bourgeois leaderships, who see the task as winning
reforms compatible with capitalism, and see collaboration with sectors
of the ruling class as the best means to this end. Popular fronts are
therefore designed to seize upon the developing militancy and political
class consciousness of the workers, and to redirect them back into the
dead-end of class collaboration.
Where such formations are elected to office, they serve
to defend the capitalist system in stormy times. No verbiage about
socialism alters this essential fact. In Chile and France the popular
fronts clearly advocated and worked within the Menshevik stages theory,
which promises limited and temporary reforms now, and the relegation of
the socialist "second stage" to a far-distant future time.
Even without being elected, such formations play a very
pernicious role. They serve as a brake on the workers' inclination
towards proletarian means of struggle for anticapitalist demands; they
redirect the struggle back into the electoralist dead-end. They
refurbish in the minds of the masses the delusion that they can
eliminate their oppression through the ballot box, and through
compromises with the capitalist class.
Far from being organized to mobilize the workers as an
independent class to struggle for their own interests, popular front
coalitions are organized to advance the program of class collaboration.
Opposition to popular frontism has been a fundamental tenet of
Trotskyism since its inception.
What if the working class is clearly going through an
experience with popular frontism? Should we not go through this
experience along with them, in order to point out most effectively the
error of this course? Is this not what we are doing in supporting the
NDP and calling for NDP governments: going through the experience of a
reformist labor party along with the workers?
James P. Cannon spoke on this question in his 1948
plenum report on our opposition to the Wallace campaign. In this report
he had occasion to review some basic fundamentals about our approach to
mass reformist workers parties, and I shall refer to it at several points
in this report. Comrades can find it in the Education for Socialists
series entitled Aspects of Socialist Election Policy.
"It has been argued here that ‘we must go through
the experiences with the workers.' That is a very good formula,
provided you do not make it universal. We go with the workers only
through those experiences which have a class nature. We go with them
through the experiences of strikes, even though we may think a given
strike untimely. We may even go with the workers through the
experience of putting a reformist labor party in office, provided it
is a real labor party and subject to certain pressures of the
workers, in order that they may learn from their experience that
reformism is not the correct program for the working class.
"But we do not go through the experience of class
collaboration with the workers. There we draw the line. We did not
go through the experience of the workers when they supported the
imperialist war. We drew back when they went through the experience
of people's fronts in Europe. We stood on the side and we told them
they were wrong. We did not compromise ourselves. If another man
takes poison, you do not have to join him in the experiment. Just
tell him it is no good. But don't offer to prove it by your personal
Our Policy on COPE in Vancouver
What is our policy towards popular front type
formations? Our experience in Vancouver provides an example. When the
Stalinists launched their class collaborationist project called the
Committee of Progressive Electors (COPE), the NDP did not at first run
candidates against COPE in the municipal elections.
Instead they gave it tacit support and so did the
Vancouver and District Labor Council. Many NDP members and unionists
worked for COPE's campaign — a campaign for momentary and
inconsequential reforms for an alliance of all progressives, workers and
We denounced COPE, ran our own candidates against it and
explained why the NDP should break from COPE and run against it. We won
that battle. In the last Vancouver civic election, the NDP did break
with COPE and fielded a full slate on a clear NDP ticket. Our policy was
correct. It isolated us at first, but it gained us considerably more
influence among NDP workers in the longer run, because we were seen to
Unfortunately the French comrades did not follow this
course. They supported the Union of the Left. How will this help
workers find a class alternative to the Union of the Left? How will it
help the comrades in the CGT (General Confederation of Labor) to teach
workers the principle of independent political organization and struggle
by the workers in their own interests? Their policy contributed to the
confusion and disorientation of workers in France on these questions. In
Vancouver we contributed to clarity and class independence.
What We Do Not Support in the NDP
Some have asked how then we can support the NDP, whose
program is also class collaborationist to the core. The answer is
clear. We have the same approach to the program of the NDP as we
have to the program of the Union of the Left. Our policy is
irreconcilable opposition. But there is something in the NDP we can
support — its class character as a political party of the labor
movement; even more, its character in English Canada as a labor party.
But the Union of the Left is not a party or movement; it
is a program and an alliance to take office on that program. It
has no progressive aspect or working class character.
Some have asked how we can call for NDP governments.
Don't they turn out to be just as class collaborationist as the Allende
regime? They certainly do. And our attitude to the NDP government in
British Columbia is fundamentally similar to our attitude to the Allende
government. Both are essentially coalition governments with the
bourgeoisie; both are bourgeois governments. We will defend both against
attacks from the right, but we will not give an ounce of political
support to Allende's government, or to Barrett's.
Of course we call for an NDP government in Ottawa and
the provinces. We call on the leaders of the working class to take the
power and carry out measures in the interests of the working class. We
hail the election of the labor party to office, and challenge its
leadership to carry out socialist policies. We challenge all those who
claim to act on behalf of the workers — Barrett or Allende — who claim
to be the workers' leadership, to lead, to act in the
interests of the workers and their allies. We support any measures they
take in this direction. But when they betray the working class, as they
do when they form a bourgeois government and defend capitalism — we do
not support that betrayal. We do not support a bourgeois government.
The NDP in Office — A Bourgeois Government
Why do we call the NDP governments "bourgeois?" They are
administering sectors of the bourgeois state. They work within the
framework of the bourgeois power incorporated in this state. They accept
the authority of the bourgeois constitution, courts, legal structure,
governmental bureaucracy, and repressive apparatus. They accept the
financial limitations imposed on these governments by the bourgeoisie.
They accept the bourgeoisie's rules for the parliamentary game.
These governments come into office with the consent of
the bourgeoisie, and act as instruments of bourgeois rule. They defend
the bourgeois profit system, capitalist property relations.
The class character of these governments is bourgeois.
We project the need for a workers and farmers government, one which is
independent of the bourgeoisie, independent of its state apparatus, and
which can take far-reaching measures against capitalist property.
These bourgeois governments have a special weakness
which permits us to adopt a special tactical approach to them. The
bourgeoisie rules, not through one of its own parties, a party shaped,
led and directly controlled by the bourgeoisie, but through a government
composed of leaders of a party of the labor movement. The NDP ministers
are subject to the pressures of the rank-and-file of the party which
they lead, and which thrust them into office. The contradiction between
the leadership and the rank-and-file of the NDP becomes more acute,
because the leadership is now administering the state of the class
Our tactical approach focuses on this contradiction, and
seeks to rally the ranks of the NDP and labor movement against the
pro-capitalist policies of the NDP government. This approach is
described in the Political Resolution as follows:
"Where the NDP is in office, we must seek to
mobilize broad campaigns and actions encompassing rank and file
forces from the party and the trade unions aimed at the NDP cabinet;
initial steps would include campaigns for the new government to
implement the more radical aspects of the NDP program which usually
comprises some far-reaching demands adopted by the rank and file in
convention. Provincial NDP governments should be pressured by mass
actions to use their wide constitutional powers to carry out
far-reaching social innovations and reforms...Demands to this effect
can serve to polarize the ranks of the party in opposition to the
reformist misleadership in office, and thereby present important
opportunities to the socialist wing to intervene around a class
The Role of Stalinism and Social Democracy
We are not only opposed to bourgeois parties, and to
alliances with them. We are opposed to Social Democracy and Stalinism,
which are petty bourgeois tendencies in the workers movement. Cannon
took this up in his 1948 report, with reference to the social democratic
Labour Party in Britain, which was in office at that time:
"But then the question is raised — the fact that the
question is raised shows some confusion on the question of the labor
party —comrades ask; ‘Well, what is the British Labor Party?’ If we
judge it by composition alone, we must say it is a ‘workers' party’
for it is squarely based on the trade union movement of Great
Britain. But this designation ‘worker's' party’ must be put in
quotation marks as soon as we examine the program and practice of
the party. To be sure, the formal program and the holiday speeches
of the leaders mutter something about socialism, but in practice
the British Labor Party is the governing party of British
imperialism. It is the strongest pillar holding up this shaky
edifice. That makes it a bourgeois party in the essence of the
matter, doesn't it? And since 1914, haven't we always considered the
Social Democratic parties of Europe as bourgeois parties? And
haven't we characterized Stalinism as an agency of world
"Our fundamental attitude towards such
parties is the same as our attitude toward a bourgeois party of the
classical type —that is, an attitude of irreconcilable opposition."
We oppose the programs of Social Democracy and
Stalinism and we oppose their parties. We view their parties as the
agencies of the bourgeois class in the workers movement. We consider
their programs, based on preserving the status quo, which means
preserving the capitalist system, to be thoroughly counter-revolutionary
and in no sense progressive. These programs act to divert and frustrate
the workers in their struggles for their class needs — needs which
cannot be met by capitalism. The reformist and class-collaborationist
nature of Social Democracy and Stalinism makes it theoretically
impossible, and we have seen this in practice, for these currents and
parties to adequately defend even the immediate interests of the class.
We do not believe that these parties reflect the
"spontaneous consciousness" of the workers, or that they defend the
immediate interests of the workers. We do not regard them as some
necessary and progressive stage in the development of working class
political action. They betray the workers' most immediate interests, and
stand as giant obstacles to the building of a revolutionary party.
Our Tactical Approach to Reformist Workers' Parties
If our attitude to Social Democratic and Stalinist
parties is one of principled opposition, based on their
counter-revolutionary program and practice, our tactical approach
towards expressing that opposition is different than with pure and
simple bourgeois parties. This flows from a very important fact that
although these are petty bourgeois tendencies, they are tendencies
within the workers' movement, at least in the imperialist countries.
Comrade Cannon, speaking of parties like the Labour Party in Britain,
has this to say:
"But the composition of such parties gives them a
certain distinctive character which enables, and even requires, us
to make a different tactical approach to them. If they are composed
of workers, and even more, if they are based on the trade unions and
subject to their control, we offer to make a united front with them
for a concrete struggle against the capitalists, or even join them
under certain conditions, with the aim of promoting our program
'class against class.'"
Cannon goes on to define what our approach would be to
such a party if it developed in the U.S.:
"We would oppose such a 'bourgeois workers' party'
as ruthlessly as any other bourgeois party, but our tactical
approach would be different. We would most likely join such a party
— if we have strength in the unions they couldn't keep us out — and
under certain conditions we would give its candidates critical
support in the elections. But ‘critical support’ of a reformist
labor party must be correctly understood. It does not mean
reconciliation with reformism. Critical support means opposition. It
does not mean support with criticism in quotation marks, but rather
criticism with support in quotation marks."
We never cease our public criticism of their leadership
and program. We never cease to counterpose our program to theirs. Only
under strict conditions and for very short terms do we ever give up our
own public organization. Normally we pose our party as well.
But the fundamental fact that these are parties in the
workers' movement is the necessary precondition even to lend critical
support to these parties or their candidates. And even then, critical
support is a tactic. Our basic attitude is one of opposition.
The Contradictory Character of the NDP
Let's look more closely at the NDP. What is the NDP? How
have we analyzed it and what is the nature of our attitude and tactical
policy towards it?
We have described the NDP as a Social Democratic labor
party. This formulation describes its contradictory character, a party
based on the unions, but saddled with a petty bourgeois leadership and a
social democratic program.
The Riddell-Young document explains the NDP's character
"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
leadership 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-aout 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
"The analysis of the NDP as a party of the working
class is the principled basis for critical support of the NDP."
But we do not just say that the NDP is a Social
Democratic party. We add that it is a labor party — a workers' party
with special features. Riddell and Young explain the term:
"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."
A Social Democratic Party
Both the Political resolution and the Riddell-Young
document refer to the NDP as a Social Democratic party. Now this is new.
Previously we had not described the NDP this way, nor had we been
careful to educate our party in this concept. We had referred to the
program and leadership as Social Democratic, but when speaking of the
party, we would usually call it a "labor party" and let it go at that,
Calling the NDP a "labor party". says a great deal
about its internal dynamics. It points to the contradiction in the
NDP between bureaucracy and rank-and-file, the contradiction which
characterizes the labor movement in which the NDP is rooted. But it
does not say anything about who controls the party's program,
structures, and activity. It, therefore, tells us nothing about the role
the NDP plays in the class struggle.
When the NDP was being formed, and before the leadership
consolidated its grip, we refused to concede in advance that the "New
Party" would be an opportunist, Social Democratic party. We sought to
win the "New Party" to a different course, to our program. But that
period ended many years ago. The Social Democrats firmly grasped the
leadership of the party, shaping its structures and program, and by and
large controlling its activity.
The NDP is Social Democratic to the core. Its program is
one of loyalty to Canadian capitalism, to the Canadian state. It thus
opposes the right of the Quebecois to break from that state. Its defense
of "democracy" against "totalitarianism" is a euphemism for defense of
the interests of the imperialist powers against the workers' states, and
against proletarian revolution. It views the bourgeois state as being
above classes, as a neutral arbiter, as an empty vessel which can serve
good purposes, even "build socialism," once the NDP is in office.
The NDP leadership is a petty bourgeois layer whose
interests conflict with those of its worker base. This layer is rooted
in the petty bourgeois bureaucracy in the trade unions. The trade union
leadership's perspective is determined by their materially privileged
position, and their role as mediators between the opposed classes. Their
position as a privileged social layer depends on the maintenance of
capitalism, without which their function and their privileges would
They are imbued with lack of confidence and even disdain
for the workers they lead. They are ignorant of, or fear the
independently mobilized power of the working class fighting for its
needs. They are overawed with respect for the bourgeois state and its
institutions, and for the legal, orderly and parliamentary path. They
see the road to gains for labor not through independent class
mobilization, but through class collaboration, and in the political
field, through capturing the government and using the capitalist state
to improve the lot of the workers. From this flows their parliamentarist
and electoralist strategy.
The trade union bureaucracy, the decisive element in the
NDP leadership, draws around it an assortment of professionals,
ideologues, and preachers, whose social outlook is fundamentally the
same as theirs.
The structure and organization of the NDP are also
Social Democratic to the core. The NDP is an all-inclusive party, whose
membership has an extremely low level of political activity. Its
membership structures are designed not to intervene in the class
struggle or to determine party policy but as parts of a vote-getting
apparatus. The superficially democratic structure of the NDP veils a
bureaucratic reality: the party leadership frees itself from membership
control; the parliamentary caucus establishes its independence from the
party convention; when the NDP is in office, the NDP ministry
establishes its independence of any democratic party control. But the
leadership bears down heavily and brutally on challenges from the left,
even a left reformist opposition such as the Waffle. The LSA/LSO is
banned, and revolutionists are expelled.
All of these features are longstanding characteristics
of a Social Democratic party.
A Program that Betrays Workers' Immediate Interests
The NDP may take a correct stand on many questions — it
may take stands which we support. We applauded Stephen Lewis's role in
the teachers' struggle, for example. while recognizing its limitations.
But the NDP's program as a whole is counter-revolutionary. It does not
represent the interests of the workers in any sense — long-term, or
short-term. The NDP and the union leadership are presently failing even
to defend the workers' standard of living —the most elementary and
immediate task of workers' organizations.
We need only look at B.C., where the NDP is in office.
This party's program is bankrupt. It fails to defend B.C. workers from
inflation, speed-up, or unemployment. Instead it proposes, through Bill
11, to attack workers' rights. We have worked out a clear position in
opposition to the Social Democratic leadership and program of the NDP.
We stand in clear opposition to the government it forms. Thus we were
able to play an important role in building a big struggle within the NDP
itself against this bill. Comrade John Steele will report on that later.
The Political Resolution summarizes this point extremely
"But the reformist program of the NDP stands in
constant contradiction to the fundamental needs of the class, which
demand mass anti-capitalist action, guided by a class struggle
perspective and a socialist program, aimed not at the reform of
capitalism but at its overthrow.
"This contradiction finds daily expression in the
NDP's inability to defend adequately the immediate interests of the
class. In this period, effective defense of the trade unions and the
workers' interests can only be conducted around a class struggle
program of democratic and transitional demands which together
mobilize and unite the working class in struggle directed against
the very basis of capitalist privilege and class rule. The central
contradiction of the NDP is that its program and leadership are
reformist, while the tasks before the class are revolutionary."
This contradiction has led the NDP to take a major step
backwards in the federal political arena. Its role since the last
federal election has been to strive to make parliament function more
efficiently, and win marginal concessions, by supporting the Liberal
government as a "lesser evil." This policy involves direct collaboration
with the Liberal party to arrange a mutually acceptable legislative
program. The latest literature of the federal NDP promotes this concept
of the NDP, not as the "real opposition," but as the left-wing partners
of the Liberals, by boasting of the NDP's accomplishments in terms of
Trudeau's legislation. This policy is a long step back from the line of
calling for election of an NDP government, which clearly poses the NDP
against all the big business parties, and which can help workers to
understand more readily our concept of class versus class, and a workers
government. The federal NDP's "critical support" of the Trudeau
government has clear elements of coalitionism, of popular frontism, if
The NDP as a Detour
The Riddell/Young document calls the NDP "a detour for
the English-Canadian working class." It continues: "While the formation
of a mass labor party was an 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
The move of the Canadian Labor Congress towards
independent political action; its move to launch a political party
directly based on the union movement; the affiliation of hundreds of
thousands of unionists to this party — this process was a great
historical conquest of the Canadian working class.
But there was nothing progressive or inevitable about
the fact that this process led to the establishment of a party which was
Social Democratic in character. This was a result in large measure of
the default of the Stalinized Communist Party. The CP had a historic
opportunity in the 1930's and 1940's to lead the workers towards class
independence on a revolutionary program. This opportunity was lost
because the CP itself had been derailed by Stalinism from the
revolutionary path, the path of the class struggle. Far from leading the
constitution of a labor party, it opposed this process from the right,
and leaving the road clear for the Social Democrats to win political
hegemony in the labor movement.
The formation of the NDP, clearly based on the Canadian
Labor Congress, was a step forward, irrespective of its program and
leadership. The lengthy process of formation of the NDP represented
labor's break with the bourgeois parties and its establishment of its
own political party. Individual workers, and segments of the labor
movement continue to make that break today by joining or affiliating to
the NDP. The teachers struggle in Ontario and B.C. provides recent
examples. This is a progressive process.
But the hegemony of reformism in the labor movement and
the CCF shaped the NDP as a Social Democratic party. There is nothing
progressive about that. There is nothing inevitable or desirable about
Social Democracy as an experience for the workers movement. It is not a
'necessary' or 'progressive' stage on the road to building a
revolutionary party. It is a massive and dangerous obstacle.
From these considerations flows our fundamental position
on the NDP. As a Social Democratic party, it betrays the workers,
historically and in relation to the immediate day-to-day needs of the
class. It cannot be reformed; it cannot become an adequate instrument
for revolutionary struggle. It is a massive obstacle to the building of
a revolutionary party. Our aim is to remove that obstacle. This
bourgeois workers party is not our party. Our fundamental attitude is as
Cannon outlined it: one of irreconcilable opposition.
Unconditional Support and Critical Support
To say that the NDP is an obstacle to building the
revolutionary party, an obstacle which we aim to remove, only poses the
problem. It does not provide an answer to the problem. To say that our
attitude to the NDP is one of fundamental opposition describes our
purpose, our goal. It doesn't describe how we get there. I spoke before
of how we have developed a variety of tactical tools to overcome the
obstacle of mass reformist workers parties. They include the tactic of
support of the NDP. They include campaigning to help win the affiliation
of trade unions to the NDP. They include joining the NDP, selling
memberships to the NDP, fighting to win the NDP to a class struggle
program. We're familiar with these tactics and have been applying them
with considerable success since the NDP was founded. They all form part
of our long-standing and proven policy towards the NDP.
It's not the aim of this report to recapitulate or
develop these concepts. It aims to single out some fundamental topics of
importance. One of these is the dispute over "unconditional support of
the NDP" which seems to be brewing in the leadership. How should we
describe the nature of our support of the NDP? I'd like to take a few
minutes to discuss this question.
First, let me read a passage from Cannon's report in
1948. It indicates how he viewed this question, when speaking of the
labor party whose foundation we posed as a key task before the U.S.
"I mentioned before the well-known fact that our
support of a labor party, leaving its program undetermined for the
moment, is not unconditional. It is critical. Under the heading of
our labor party policy we have certain minimum demands. There are
two. One, we demand that the unions launch their own independent
party under their own control. That is the first demand. Second, we
propose that this party adopt our revolutionary transitional
program. But even under these conditions we will maintain our own
party with its full program.
"So we are not fanatical labor partyites at all.
There are very serious limitations and conditions that we put when
we say we want and will support a labor party. Now, what will we
accept, at the present state of development, as a minimum condition
for our critical support of a labor party or labor ticket? The
minimum condition is that the party must be really based on the
unions and dependent upon them, and at least ultimately subject to
their control as to program and candidates. Under that condition, as
a rule, and as things stand now, we will give critical support to
the candidates in the election, even though the party does not in
its first appearance accept a program that we advocate for it.
"Under that limited minimum condition — that it
really represents the unions engaging in independent political
action, and not some variation of bourgeois political action
supported by the workers, we will give critical support to the
candidates in the election. But we heavily emphasize the critical
nature of our support, and we don't obligate ourselves in advance to
give that in every case. It usually depends on the relationship of
forces. You can easily conceive of a situation where our strength
would be such, or the conditions or the issue would be such, that we
find it more advisable to run a candidate of our own against a
candidate of even a 'genuine' labor party."
What has been our practice in Canada? We have viewed
both the CCF (since the late 1940's) and the NDP as labor party
formations, and we have used different terms to describe our approach to
them. In the late 1940s and 1950s we termed our attitude to the CCF one
of "critical support." We explained that this meant that we supported
the CCF, even though we opposed its leadership and program. When the NDP
was formed in 1961, we used a different term to describe our attitude:
"unconditional support." We usually defined this meaning that we
supported the NDP as a labor party, even though we opposed its
leadership and program — we did not lay down "conditions" with regard to
leadership or program.
In the 1970 document on Our NDP Orientation
comrade Ross Dowson stressed the concept of unconditional support, and
wrote several paragraphs to explain its meaning.
The 1973 Political Resolution used the term "critical
support" to describe the idea of support independent of program and
Since last year, comrade Dowson and some other comrades
have been using a third term to describe our approach: "unconditional
but critical support." The founding statement of the Labor Party Tendency
indicates that it views the Political Committee's failure to use this
term as strong evidence of its abandonment of our long-standing policies
on the NDP.
What real political differences, if any, are contained
in this terminological dispute?
At first glance, it would seem that both when we used
the words "critical support" and when we used the words "unconditional
support" we were trying to say the same thing. We were trying to explain
that we do not lay down conditions to the NDP with respect to its
program and leadership — conditions which must be fulfilled or we will
not support it. We do not say, for example, that we will support the NDP
only if it ceases to vote for the budget of the Trudeau government.
Rather we say that we support the NDP despite such betrayals, despite
its bankrupt leadership and program. This is the concept which has
formed part of our "longstanding orientation to the NDP", and which we
put forward today. The fact that we express this concept through the
term "critical support" is no grounds for claiming that "the orientation
has been dumped."
I think there are several reasons why "unconditional
support" is not a good way to describe our approach to the NDP. First,
our support is really very conditional. The 1970 document on Our NDP
Orientation has a section entitled "Unconditional Support" which
states a whole series of conditions for our support. I would state the
conditions differently. The differences which may exist on this section
are worth further discussion. But what is important is that we all agree
that our support of the NDP is a tactical question, which depends on the
state of the class struggle, and the relationship of forces between
ourselves and the NDP’s reformist leadership.
There is a second objection. We use the word
unconditional to mean "all the way," "without reservations." This is the
way the YS/LJS supports the Canadian section — unconditionally. They
identify with the LSA/LSO — with all its aspects. Unconditional support
is what we give to revolutionary organizations. The same term should not
be used to describe a tactical approach to a reformist workers party.
Describing our policy on the NDP as one of
"unconditional support" creates confusion and can miseducate cadres. Our
policy on the NDP is one of "critical support," of "support as a labor
party," of "support despite program and leadership." Formulations like
these contain the concept that we do not lay down conditions to the NDP
which must be fulfilled or we will not support it. Further, they are
balanced formulations, which do not pose the problems contained in the
ambiguous formula, "unconditional support."
Our Policy in Practice
We lend critical support to the NDP and its candidates
as a means of fighting the Social Democratic leadership and the trade
union bureaucracy and their sell-out programs. In the same way, we call
for the election of an NDP government. As Cannon said:
"It would be a good thing to read over again Lenin's
advice to the British communists back in 1920. He explained that
they ought to support the labor party candidates for Parliament. But
he said 'Support them in order to force them to take office so that
the masses will learn by experience the futility and treachery of
their program, and get through with them.' It was not solidarity
with the labor reformists but hostility which dictated the tactic
that Lenin recommended. I think his advice still holds good. The
labor party is not our party and will not be our party unless it
adopts our program. Otherwise it is an arena in which we work for
We know that it will take massive and deep-going
political experiences to fundamentally alter the relationship in the
class between us and the NDP. We know too that this will take a little
time. Therefore we do not see our tactic of critical support as a
fleeting or temporary policy, but more long term.
This tactic is designed to exploit to our advantage and
to the bureaucrats' detriment, the fundamental contradiction in the NDP
— the contradiction between the reformist and class collaborationist
program sustained by the petty bourgeois leadership and the needs of the
worker base of the party which requires revolutionary solutions.
We join the party, all of our comrades who can, and we
do fraction work in the party attempting to win support for our demands
and to organize that support against the program of social democracy and
the NDP leadership. We point to the contradictory aspects of this party,
that it is a break from capitalist parties towards independent working
class political action, but a party with a bourgeois program and
petty-bourgeois leadership, a party which cannot lead a fight to meet
the needs of the class.
We explain that it is correct to join this party, but
that workers and other oppressed layers should fight for a program that
meets their needs, that is, our program, and we call for NDP
governments, and pose their task as implementing our program.
We work to build a class struggle opposition in the NDP
on a platform of key democratic and transitional demands. As the
Political Resolution states:
"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 experiences of struggle against reformism in the NDP
along with the working class, to participate in the battles and
political differentiation which take 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 quarrelling 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."
We counterpose this longstanding concept to the concept
put forward in the preconvention discussion last spring by the RCT —
that we should set up revolutionary fronts oriented to the concerns of
the vanguard. That is not our view. We aim to initiate and lead a class
struggle left wing based on a platform which expresses the burning needs
of the masses.
The difference is that we aim, in the future, to lead
the workers, and they don't have confidence that they ever will. The
nature of the application of our tactical policy is outlined in the
"‘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
"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 civic elections."
John Steele’s report is precisely on how, today, we are
applying our tactical policy of critical support to the NDP and what the
perspectives are in the coming period.
I have presented a series of the key ideas on the NDP
and our policy towards it contained in the three documents, (1) the
Political Resolution sections contained in your kits, (2) the Political
Committee statement on Popular Frontism, and (3) the "Starting Points for
a NDP Discussion" section of the Riddell/Young contribution.
I have presented what the Political Committee's
subcommittee assigned to prepare this report, considered to be the key
ideas of these three documents and basic ideas underpinning our NDP
policy more generally, looking particularly to Cannon and Trotsky.
There will now be a counter-report by the Labor Party
Tendency; hopefully it will spell out whatever differences may exist, so
that we can discuss them. After the discussion, you will not be asked to
vote for my report. You will be asked to vote for three motions,
adopting the line of the three documents before you.