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Maurice Spector 1898-1968

Workers Vanguard, August 26, 1968

by Ross Dowson

In New York City, on August 1, Maurice Spector died of cancer. He was 70 years old. His name is not now known by many but it already has an imperishable place and is certain to have a pre-eminent one when the true history of the working class struggles in Canada and indeed the rest of the world is written.

Maurice Spector was a founding leader of the Communist Party of Canada, and when that party succumbed to Stalinism he became the pioneer of its continuator, the Trotskyist movement, organized today in the League for Socialist Action/Ligue Socialiste Ouvričre. Further, he played a key role at a crucial period in the international socialist movement by helping to make available to the world the ideas of Leon Trotsky and the Russian Left Opposition, whose efforts to uphold the principles of proletarian democracy and international socialism were being foully maligned and murderously crushed by the bureaucratic forces that had fastened themselves on the first workers state in the USSR.

As the early Communist Party's outstanding theoretician, orator and publicist, Spector accompanied the party's founding secretary Jack MacDonald to the Sixth Congress of the Communist International in 1928. There he was elected to the Executive Committee of the Comintern—the first Canadian to achieve that position. As a member of the program commission, he and James P. Cannon, a leader of the Communist Party of the United. States, accidentally secured a copy of Leon Trotsky's Criticism of the Draft Program of the Communist International. Trotsky had already been expelled from the CPSU and this document was kept from most of the delegates. Aware of the great significance of Trotsky's views, Spector and Cannon decided to smuggle the document out of the Soviet Union and conduct a common struggle for its ideas in their respective parties.

Shortly after returning to America, they and their first handful of supporters were expelled without debate. At first they functioned as a left opposition attempting to reform the Communist party. In 1934, following the destruction of the German CP without any serious resistance, they began, in alliance with widening forces around the world, to rebuild the revolutionary socialist movement from scratch.

Spector's identity with Trotsky's struggle was by no means accidental. He was always profoundly worldwide in his outlook. While at high school he developed an intense interest in socialism. He quickly found his way to those socialists in the Toronto area who adhered to an internationalist position and opposed World War I. The news of the Russian Revolution was having a stirring effect on an important group of socialists with whom in 1920 he helped found the Plebs League of Ontario. Despite his youth he was on the executive and quickly became known as a leading speaker.

With the encouragement of the Comintern, the Plebs League, together with the Toronto Workers Educational College headed by Jack MacDonald and some Ukrainian and Finnish language organizations, formed the main forces that came together in Guelph in 1921 to found the Communist Party of Canada.

While only 23 years of age Spector was elected to the executive committee and appointed to a three-man press committee. He edited the first issue of the party's underground paper, The Communist. With the emergence of the open Workers Party the following year, he was made the party's chairman and attended the Fourth World Congress of the Communist International as its delegate.

While the horizon of the majority of his comrades tended to be limited to the immediate tasks at hand, Spector always retained an intense interest in the revolution unfolding across the globe. In 1923, at the height of a revolutionary rebirth in Germany, Spector decided that an experience there would be of great value to the Canadian movement when the revolutionary wave advanced to North America.

Spector's experience in Germany led him to anticipate the identical thesis as to the cause of the defeat that was put forward by Trotsky in his introduction to Lessons of October.

Before returning to Canada in the spring of 1924, Spector went to Moscow to attend the Second All Union Congress of Soviets, where he became acquainted to some degree with the struggle that had been raging in the CPSU. Spector's acquaintance with some of the issues at stake and his authority amongst his comrades resulted in the Canadian party being the only one in the world to oppose the attacks being made on Trotsky and the Left Opposition. When its delegate to the Fifth plenum of the ECCI asked for instructions as to the position he should take on the question, of Trotskyism, the Canadian central executive committee wired its opposition to the attacks on Trotsky.

When Tim Buck at the Seventh plenum of the ECCI committed the Canadian party to Stalin's position, Spector offered to resign. But with the support of MacDonald he retained his position as party chairman and editor of The Worker.

Soon after the New Year, 1926, Spector had an opportunity to attend a plenum of the U.S. party, where he learned of James P. Cannon's uneasiness about events in the USSR. He singled him out to express his support of Trotsky. They parted with no commitments as to what to do but with a certain bond of understanding. Their unity was cemented when, at the Sixth Congress, they were able to acquaint themselves with Trotsky's rounded view.

The instant expulsion of Cannon and his supporters from the U.S. party was used to force a sudden showdown with Spector, who was summarily expelled. Immediately a massive campaign was launched to isolate him, but Spector responded with an aggressive campaign of a public character. Within a short while the former chairman of the party and its leading theoretician was joined by its founding national secretary. Together Spector and MacDonald commenced the colossal task of rebuilding the movement.

In 1936 Spector went to New York to participate more closely with the leaders of the American Trotskyist movement. The constant harassment and the enormous difficulties of the work, together with the monstrous murder of the entire Bolshevik leadership through the Moscow frame-up trials, disheartened him and he quietly withdrew from political activity.

Although Spector left its ranks over thirty years ago, his contribution to the development, the defence and the regeneration of revolutionary Marxism was a monumental one.

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