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Tim Buck’s 1930 Report to the Comintern

Tim Buck was Trade Union Director of the Communist Party of Canada in the 1920s. In 1929, the pro-Stalin faction led by Buck and Stewart Smith took over the party: Buck remained the party’s central leader until the 1960s, longer than any Stalinist party leader in the world.

Buck’s "Report to the Comintern," dated January 23,1930, was written as a defense of the Buck faction during the Finnish dispute. The following major excerpts were first published in Ian Angus’s Canadian Bolsheviks in 1981: they are particularly interesting because they contradict all of Buck’s later "histories" of the 1928-30 crisis and the process through which the Buck-Smith faction took control of the Communist Party.

This document contains many references to individuals and events that are discussed in Canadian Bolsheviks, chapters 12 and 13.

Report to the Comintern

Comrades, on account of the fact that the most important problems confronting our Party in Canada today are inner Party problems and on account of the fact that the fight against the Right Wing has resulted in an attempt on the part of the bureaucracy of the Finnish mass organizations to split the Party, this report will deal mainly with inner Party questions.

* * * *

I do not think it is correct to say we based all our possibilities for work upon the approach of an immediate economic crisis. Some of the fiercest arguments that took place in the CEC on this question were the debates whether the workers were becoming radicalized or not. During the [sixth] convention some of the sharpest struggles took place actually over this question, we fighting against the right wing attempts to minimize radicalization and the possibilities in revolutionary work. The leading right wingers accepted the Comintern letter unconditionally. MacDonald accepted the Comintern letter even before any discussion on it. It is true that on one question he declared the criticism of the Comintern letter was not fundamental, but he immediately corrected himself; he said he should not have said it. Buhay resisted it until the last day of the convention, but the last day of the convention he accepted it. His first position was that the Comintern letter was wrong because of false information.

Following the convention we came to the question of the CEC. It was finally settled on the proposal of Comrade Hathaway and Williamson that we should elect a nominating commission of nine to draw up a slate for the new Central Executive Committee. Unfortunately the minority had a minority representation on this commission. We had adopted a resolution. The Central Executive Committee fought over this resolution all of one week before going into the convention. The resolution as originally drafted categorically branded the right wingers and demanded organizational measures against them. Comrade Williamson, representative of the YCI, and Comrade Hathaway, representative of the American Party, endeavored to smooth over all possible difficulties existing between us, while completely accepting the CI letter, and finally succeeded in securing an arrangement whereby MacDonald and Buhay for the majority and Smith and myself for the minority, would sit in a small commission to go over the resolution. In this small commission certain changes were made in the resolution. The demand for organizational measures against individuals was dropped and the names of individuals (excepting in the case of MacDonald) were stricken out, which rendered this an expression of one group of the Central Executive Committee against the other. And to the rank and file delegates to this convention it became difficult to see what was the serious difference if we could all accept one resolution. In this respect while we have no complaint and no defence to make, I feel we were not the only people to blame. The pressure of Comrades Williamson and Hathaway was all to the effect of securing a political document upon which we could agree, rather than a political document which would differentiate between us. Their point was that we should adopt a political document which would lay the line and the real struggle would be the fight for the line. We therefore adopted the tactic of insisting in all our speeches that this marked only the beginning of the struggle against the Right wing. In each of our speeches we emphasized this point. Unfortunately we came out of the convention with very little of the forces of the party, faced with the necessity of immediate preparations for Red Day and carrying our policy into effect.

We settled down to routine work of the party waiting for the Party plenum. When the Plenum came the majority submitted a slate for the Polcom. We fought against this slate, we fought against Comrades Popovitch and Hill. Our position was that we had to make a sharp break with the past, we must bring to the centre the best and most aggressive Party elements of the various language groupings. To this end we objected categorically against Popovitch. We also protested categorically against Hill and nominated in his place Vaara, who always previously stood for an aggressive Party line, and just previously had come out of jail. In the enlarged executive there was quite a struggle over Vaara, Popovitch and Hill. MacDonald then faced us with the fact that he would not stand for the secretary’s position. We then made a very serious error. We resisted his resignation, and after an afternoon’s discussion, when it was impossible to arrive at any conclusion, it was unanimously agreed by the whole plenum to have an adjournment and to meet again the following day. In the meantime in the evening the various comrades gathered together and we concluded to accept MacDonald’s resignation. The following day we agreed to accept MacDonald’s resignation. Comrades, I realize now what a bitter mistake this was. During the Party convention we fought against the nomination of Buhay and nominated another comrade in his place. In the small commission for the nomination of the executive it was impossible for us to come to an agreement. Why did we agree to MacDonald and Popovitch? Because of the atmosphere that permeated our whole convention. The atmosphere of disintegration caused us to allow MacDonald and Popovitch to be elected onto the CEC with nothing but a statement from us. MacDonald also emphasized this "atmosphere" in a declaration defending the open caucusing of the Right Wing.

We were convinced at that time, that we must secure collective leadership, otherwise the language sections would withdraw from the Party. We made these mistakes and the mistake at the Plenum was made in the same sense and under the same pressure. The whole Party was in a state of suspended animation. It was a question of whether there was a Party or not. In a few months we paid a bitter price for the previous years of procrastination. During this time we were in the position where we had to choose between a measure of conciliation with MacDonald, or wrecking the Party. And we chose wrongly. We chose conciliation with MacDonald. The political committee we elected however, was undoubtedly the best political committee we had in our Party yet.

* * * *

The composition of the political committee is good and the work of the political committee is superior to any polcom we ever had in our Party before. Comrade Ewen was working in the railroad shops and if we wanted him to retain his status in the union it was necessary that he should continue until September 2nd and we considered that it was very important that he should retain his status, particularly owing to the fact that he was to be head of the TUUL. The result was that for sometime we had difficulty in securing a meeting of the Political Committee. This creates an impression that the Political Committee was unable to function. We decided also that MacDonald should continue in his office as temporary acting secretary. We made this decision under the same pressure and under the same circumstance that we agreed that he be on the Central Committee and on the Political Committee, and we accepted his resignation as secretary because of this atmosphere of disintegration. Because of the fact that we conceived of his withdrawal as an attempt to violate the new political committee from the membership. We knew that he was desirous to utilize his withdrawal for the consolidation of the language organization against us. These mistakes were all serious. Now when we look back upon it, it seems hard to imagine how comrades who have had 16-18 years experience could make such mistakes. But on the other hand while we suffered from these weaknesses and I myself was away from the office on account of sickness, at least our organizational policies and plans that we made during the Plenum have all been carried into effect.

* * * *

Now to the question of the general fight against the Right Wing. The line of our struggle was to be for complete re-orientation of the Party toward concrete struggles, organization of the unorganized, independent political action, abolition of all the federalistic remnants within the Party, and a sharper struggle against the Right tendencies of our language work. Also liquidation of the Labour Party and independent campaigns, etc. The policy of the leading comrades in the foreign language organizations has been to cling to the practise of Federalism, although formally the Federations were abolished in 1925. Utilizing the language difficulties and the strength of the mass organizations, they focus the attention of the rank and file upon language work. So, while the members of the language organizations who are members of the Party now pay their dues to the local Party secretaries, they generally continue to look to the language leadership for directives.

There is a very strong basis for the Right danger in Canada, and a very strong basis for Right tendencies in our Party. Particularly in the foreign language-speaking organizations. The Finnish and the Ukrainian language speaking organizations in Canada are not mere radical working class organizations, they are considerably more than this. They are centres for all kinds of assistance. Political, and also economic assistance. They are real centres to which they draw the workers, on the basis of language needs, and definite advantages to immigrants. In addition there has developed a "superiority complex" among the members of the Finnish and Ukrainian language organizations, in relation to other immigrant workers. This is partly a petty bourgeois attitude of superiority to those members who are not members of revolutionary organizations, and partly a certain cultural superiority. All this is in the hands of a very narrow leadership and a bureaucratic leadership, and this is more important in Canada than it is in some countries. I think this is more important to our Party in the sense that foreign language workers in America are much more Americanized than foreign workers in Canada are Canadianized. The foreign born workers in Canada are still living to a great extent (mentally) in their home countries. They still want to speak their own language, they cannot effectively participate in trade union meetings or Party meetings on the basis of their language, but in contradistinction to this, they are a decisive element in Canadian industry.

Previous to the war the foreign born worker was employed on railroad construction, on rough unskilled work of the steel industry, in agricultural work—during the war, they were taken out of the concentration camps and put in munition factories. During the war they were thrown into various productive processes and from that time onward, the percentage of foreign born workers in industry has increased rapidly. They are in every industry. Instead of having foreign born only in the Needle trades industry, and doing heavy unskilled work, you have them in every single industry, even in the printing trades, in the automobile industry, in the electric, in the mining, textile, etc. etc. And on the most highly skilled jobs. This also accentuates the class differentiation already advanced in their ranks. We have very little contact with these workers, except with the Ukrainians, Finnish and to some extent Hungarians. But the Ukrainians, due to the fact that they come from the oppressed provinces of Poland, Roumania and the Carpathian district of Czecho-Slovakia have contact with the best elements from all nationalities of Central Europe. They (the Ukrainians) are highly organized and most active. They have an effective press, and have strong general influence among foreign born workers.

Three years ago the bourgeoisie started with more than usual force an attack upon our Party. And naturally, in attacking our Party the bourgeoisie concentrated the attack upon the language organizations, which were close to our Party, and the main part of this attack was concentrated upon the Ukrainian Labour Temple. This attack took the form of speeches, articles in the capitalist press, interviews of capitalist politicians, Ukrainian priests, etc. The obviously correct policy for the leadership of the Ukrainian mass organizations of course, was to launch a counter-offensive, and to rally the masses of foreign born workers for defence. But instead of this, our comrades adopted a policy of systematic retreats.

The first sign of retreat was an article written by Comrade Popovitch in which he denied the relationship between the Ukrainian Labour Temple Association and the Communist Party and in which he over-emphasized the cultural aspect of the Ukrainian Labour Temple Association and excludes its political role. We criticized this article, but this was immediately followed by a whole series of very sharp deviations, such details as singing the national anthem at concerts, and even decorating the National headquarters with the National Colours of Canada. We did not know of all these things. In Canada owing to the long distances news is not always rapid in coming to the centre. This matter of the Union Jack I heard accidentally in a discussion at the City Central Committee of the Party. The same Comrade Popovitch opened an attack on the Party Polcom for Leftism, and in the discussion it came out about the digression of the Labour temple. No report had ever been sent by any comrades in Winnipeg to the Polcom. We started a fight on this. This started a fight all along the line on the question of Right Wing deviations in the Ukrainian organizations. Those comrades who have been for a long time in the Anglo-American Secretariat will remember the document sent demanding my removal from the Political Committee for alleged factional activity against the Ukrainian leadership. This document was circulated among the Ukrainian membership. The whole struggle was represented as a struggle to smash the language organizations. However, this to some extent was settled by a letter from the Anglo-American Secretariat to the Canadian Party in which was laid down a line for the work in our language sections. This letter established the line but this letter was not sufficiently specific. While it gave us a clear mandate for fighting against the Right wing tendencies it was so general that everybody accepted it. One thing to be done here is that we should have a clear and specific settlement on the whole question of work among the foreign born workers. At the present time it is almost impossible for us to break down the conception that these mass organizations are permanent organizations.

When Vaara first came to the centre, as I explained before, there were only two members of the Polcom in the Centre, Smith and myself. Vaara agreed with us absolutely, and it appeared to us that Vaara stood with us 100%. Nine days after Vaara appeared in Toronto the Executive of the Finnish organization of Canada sent a letter to the Polcom demanding that this decision be reversed. At a meeting of this executive—where Smith and myself were present—they finally agreed that we were correct. At least without admitting its correctness, they agreed that the decision should stand. I was then away on sick leave for almost two months. Two days previous to my return, the Finnish Organization Committee had again demanded reconsideration of this decision and the sending of Vaara back to Sudbury. Of course it was quite clear that insofar as the Finnish Organization Executive were concerned, they were interested in the political implications of Vaara being a member of the Polcom. This meant the transference of the centre of gravity for the Finnish movement from Sudbury to the Political Committee of the Party. The Polcom again decided against them. MacDonald supported their position. However the Political Committee decided against them. A few days after this we received word from the comrades in Sudbury that Vaara and Ahlqvist had appeared in Sudbury, walked into the editorial office, announced that Vaara was to be editor, and that any person who refused to accept the decision was summarily fired. They immediately fired three comrades who stood with the Polcom. We had a hurry up meeting and made a series of 16 decisions, which are on record in the files of the Anglo-American Secretariat.

To start this struggle we sent Smith to Sudbury to speak to the membership. The reply of the splitters was to throw him out of the hall. Following this—immediately, the next day—"Vapaus," the organ of the Finnish organization, came out with a long statement from the executive of the Finnish organization, that they had done this for the protection of the organization. They stated that the Communist International did not demand that their organization should be a 100% class struggle organization, and that they remained loyal to the CI but they would insist upon the right to decide who should be editor of the Vapaus. They opposed Vaara’s appointment as fraction bureau secretary, on the ground that he was not qualified for this work, he had a very poor command of English, etc. But they were very careful not to oppose the principle involved. They immediately sent out factional agents to various centres where we sent organizers. After one week, Vaara disappeared. We do not know where he is and what he is doing. He wrote a letter to the Political Committee explaining to us that if he has done wrong he must be subjected to the most severe discipline etc. From this letter, it appears that he does not know what it was all about. He refers to a meeting with the Secretariat in which he agreed with us, and he says that he changed his mind when we decided to send Smith away from the centre, as he considered this showed insincerity in the matter of strengthening the centre.

Certain mistakes were made by us also, for instance, on the purely concrete tactical side of the conflict, and we failed also to utilize it sufficient for political enlightenment. This also has to be understood from the viewpoint of the composition of the Finnish membership, their very low political level and the necessity of reaching them immediately with very concrete factual material. The statement that we issued on the Finnish question was issued under stress. They sent out some factional agents after throwing Comrade Smith from the meeting. We were having our paper published illegally in their plant. Type for this issue was almost all set and we decided we must get a statement into this issue. Comrade Smith sent a copy of this statement and asked if we would approve of it and we advised Smith to go ahead and publish it in the paper. MacDonald came into town and at the following meeting of the Polcom moved a motion condemning our action of putting this into the paper and endeavoring in the most naive way to separate the caucus in the convention, from the present split and the Right wing, and demanded the right to publish a statement in the paper. He sent this statement and the Polcom decided it should not be published. He then informed us that he had already sent copies to all language papers. We decided that we would wire the language papers not to publish it and he also should wire the editor of the Vapaus not to publish it. It did not appear in any of the other language papers, but it did appear in the Vapaus. Ahlqvist made a statement to the membership in the party that they did not have to worry about our Polcom and they did not have to worry about the statement, and that Buck and Smith were acting on behalf of the Polcom, because there should be an article in the Vapaus written by a leading member of the Polcom that these decisions were decisions of "the clique". The article appeared over the signature of MacDonald. We had a closed meeting on this account with the Finnish membership. During the discussion at this meeting it transpired that MacDonald had been in close association with them. We were discussing the whole question of the development of the split. One comrade very naively stated that on the evening of November 3, Comrade MacDonald came up there and had a conference with Wirta and the rest of the comrades of the Finnish Executive. This exposed his role. I immediately went back and challenged him with this and he did not deny it.

Fineberg raised the question personally about suspensions. In Canada suspension is definitely provided for in case of disciplinary action. It is a definitely different status than expulsion in the Party. To the present time we have not received any intimation that this should not be so. The idea of suspending some and expelling others was to differentiate between their political status. Our action on account of Vaara’s status among the Finns and his proletarian origin, the fact that before we had a party he was still one of our most active left wingers in the trade union movement, etc., our policy was to differentiate between him and the yellow journalists and the professional functionaries who were leading the split. We therefore expelled some and suspended others. When Ahlqvist refused to accept the statement we changed his suspension to expulsion. The idea was to help create a differentiation among the rank and file. That concludes the actual report of work and activity.

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