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Spartacist Canada No. 164

Spring 2010

Parliamentary Cretinism and Class Collaboration

A Prorogue's Gallery

On January 23, more than 20,000 people in many Canadian cities protested against the suspension (prorogation) of parliament by governor-general Michaëlle Jean at the behest of Tory prime minister Stephen Harper. These protests, called in the name of “Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament” (CAPP), were backed by the capitalist Liberal Party of Canada, the NDP social democrats and a variety of reformist left groups. Prominent among the latter were the International Socialists (I.S.). They helped organize and build the Toronto demo and one of their leading members made CAPP’s money pitch from the platform. While Liberal heavies like Bob Rae worked the Liberal/NDP crowd in Toronto, the Ottawa rally was addressed by both Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff and NDP leader Jack Layton.

A central demand of these protests was that parliament “get back to work.” But the “work” of parliament is to ensure the continued exploitation of the working class and the supremacy of private property. Job one when parliament does “get back to work” will be to continue making the working class pay for the capitalist economic crisis; the Tories are planning massive spending cuts, including an expected assault on the pensions of government workers.

Unlike our reformist opponents, we Marxists do not uphold the “sanctity” of parliament, though we certainly oppose its arbitrary curtailment by the executive power of the capitalist state. We also call for the immediate abolition of the monarchy, the governor-general and the unelected Senate—no mere relics but rallying points for social reaction.

The fake left’s embrace of this “movement” to recall parliament reflects their deeply reformist view that the capitalist state can be administered in the interests of the workers and oppressed, especially if the NDP is helping to run it. In contrast, we recognize that the capitalist state must be smashed through proletarian revolution and replaced with workers councils (soviets), organs of working-class power.

Our defense of bourgeois-democratic rights is closely linked to combatting illusions in the “democratic” trappings of this unjust social system. V.I. Lenin, leader of the 1917 Russian Revolution, captured the essence of capitalist democracy in a scathing attack on the reformist enemies of Soviet Russia, the world’s first workers state: “The working people are barred from participation in bourgeois parliaments (they never decide important questions under bourgeois democracy, which are decided by the stock exchange and the banks) by thousands of obstacles” (The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky [1918]).

We thus do not, on principle, run for or accept executive offices, from mayor to president. In parliaments and other legislative bodies, communist deputies can, as oppositionists, serve as revolutionary tribunes of the working class. But assuming executive office or gaining control of a bourgeois legislative or municipal council, either independently or in coalition, requires taking responsibility for the administration of the machinery of the capitalist state, including its corrupt, violent, racist police forces (see “Down With Executive Offices of the Capitalist State! Marxist Principles and Electoral Tactics,” Spartacist [English-language edition] No. 61, Spring 2009).

The Harper government’s latest suspension of parliament is a very real violation of bourgeois-democratic norms. But consider the history of the parliamentary parties that paraded in the streets. It was the Liberal government of Mackenzie King that interned Japanese Canadians during World War II, a racist atrocity backed by the NDP’s predecessors, the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation. Pierre Trudeau’s Liberals imposed martial law in Quebec in 1970 and Jean Chrétien’s Liberals, backed by the NDP, imposed the Clarity Act, which effectively bans Quebec from exercising its democratic right to self-determination. Federally or provincially; Tory, Liberal or NDP: the bosses’ parliamentary governments wage incessant attacks on workers and the oppressed on behalf of the exploiters.

When Chrétien prorogued parliament (four times), the fake left raised no hue and cry. Now, mired in their typical “fight the right” opportunism, the reformist Communist Party (CP) declared that “this movement to ‘get Parliament back to work’ can help spark a powerful campaign to block and defeat the Harper Tories” (January 7 statement). The CP’s “anybody but Harper” sentiment—shared, if expressed less crudely, by the entire reformist left—can only be read as an endorsement of the bourgeois Liberals or at best the NDP.

In that same “fight the right” spirit, the I.S. begged the NDP to “step it up” so as “to make a difference to the outcome of this fight.” Blaring “Make Harper Pay,” the I.S. pleaded that “the union movement, social justice organizations, anti-war activists, environmentalists and socialists must go all-out to make this movement as big and as militant as possible” (Socialist Worker, January 2010). This is a blatant call on workers to join hands with their capitalist exploiters for the purpose of running the capitalist state. In this the I.S. repeats their bowing to the Liberal-NDP coalition a year earlier. We said that this class-collaborationist alliance was an enemy of the interests of the working class.

Also agonizing over the role of their cherished NDP was Fightback, the Canadian group of Alan Woods’ International Marxist Tendency. Noting the presence of the bourgeois Liberals at the anti-prorogation rallies, Fightback worried that “if the movement continues in its present class collaborationist formation, with demands acceptable to the Liberals, then it will go nowhere.” They recommended fighting “against the dictatorship of the bosses and for a genuine socialist workers’ democracy” (, 26 January). Yet what they mean by this is to call on the NDP, in which they are buried, to take power “on a socialist program.” But the Canadian state is a bourgeois state. Putting the NDP at the helm of this state is the antithesis of a genuine socialist program, i.e., workers revolution to smash the capitalist state and replace it with the dictatorship of the proletariat, the necessary foundation for any regime based on workers democracy.

According to Fightback, “the NDP and the unions need to put themselves at the head of this movement and extend it beyond the issue of prorogation.” The NDP is a bourgeois workers party, based in part on affiliation with workers unions but committed to a thoroughly pro-capitalist program. Contrary to Fightback, the only reason the NDP social democrats “put themselves at the head” of any social struggle is to derail and confine it to what is acceptable to the capitalist rulers.

The “Marxist” pretensions of the I.S., Fightback, et al. are an utter fraud. This is best illustrated by their cheering on (and in some cases participating in) the capitalist-restorationist movements which destroyed the bureaucratically deformed/degenerated workers states of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Under cover of defending the same classless (i.e., bourgeois) “democracy” they tout today, they joined in the imperialists’ “human rights” crusade, the sole aim of which was capitalist counterrevolution. They have the same attitude towards China, by far the strongest of the remaining bureaucratically deformed workers states, where the return of capitalism would be a gigantic defeat for China’s worker and peasant masses for whom the 1949 Chinese Revolution has brought tremendous social gains. In contrast, we Trotskyists stand for the unconditional military defense of China, as well as the other deformed workers states—Cuba, North Korea and Vietnam—against imperialism and internal counterrevolution, while calling for the overthrow of the bureaucratic Stalinist misrulers through workers political revolution.

Down With Anglo Chauvinism! For Quebec Independence!

The recent suspension of parliament has its immediate origins in the Tories’ attempts to deflect anger over the well-established fact that the Canadian military in Afghanistan has been routinely handing over prisoners to their Afghan puppet allies for torture. At a more fundamental level, however, the inability of the ruling class to “solve” the Quebec national question has produced a structurally dysfunctional parliamentary system. Variously using military repression and threats, economic blackmail, compromises, cajoling, insults and more threats, the Anglo-chauvinist rulers are dead set on maintaining the French-speaking Québécois as an oppressed nation within a unitary Canadian state. This is the fundamental fault line of the reactionary “Canadian confederation.”

Following the collapse of the 1987 Meech Lake accord and the 1995 referendum which came close to victory for the side of Quebec sovereignty, the Québécois have repeatedly voted for a majority of bourgeois-nationalist Bloc Québécois MPs. Since 2004, this has produced a series of weak minority governments in Ottawa, which worries the anglophone ruling class. Outside Canada, even that haughty mouthpiece of British capital, the Economist, has brooded about Canada’s “deadlocked politics.”

What is decisive for Marxists, though, is the fact that Canada’s protracted split along national lines has created a deep divide within the working class, pitting working people of English Canada and Quebec against one another instead of the capitalist rulers. As we recognized prior to the 1995 referendum, the only foreseeable way forward is for revolutionaries to advocate Quebec independence. By getting the national question off the agenda, workers of both nations will see more clearly that their true enemies are their “own” capitalist bosses, and not one another.

The English Canadian union tops and NDP have long been virulently hostile to Quebec’s national rights. They have lined up behind the Canadian ruling class whenever the Québécois seriously tried to assert their right to self-determination, including in the 1995 referendum. Such Anglo chauvinism has served to drive the once-militant Québécois working class into the arms of their “own” national exploiters, represented by the Bloc and Parti Québécois.

The reformist left capitulates to the Anglo chauvinists of the NDP in English Canada and, in some cases, to the bourgeois nationalists in Quebec, depending on where their immediate opportunist appetites lie. The Communist Party and Fightback oppose independence outright and cover their straight capitulation to Anglo chauvinism with empty “unite-and-fight” rhetoric (see “‘Fightback’ and the Quebec National Question,” SC No. 162, Fall 2009). Others, such as Socialist Action, favour Quebec independence, but only as a means to ingratiate themselves with “left” Québécois bourgeois nationalists. Today their chosen vehicle for this is the left-nationalist Québec Solidaire, a petty-bourgeois formation that does not even pay lip service to socialism.

Along with Fightback and the CP, the grotesquely misnamed Bolshevik Tendency is another staunch “left” defender of “Canadian unity.” In line with their sneering contempt for all forms of special oppression, the BT openly opposes independence for Quebec. Notoriously, the BT has the dubious distinction of being the “socialists” officially invited to a Montreal “Canadian unity” rally organized by business groups on the eve of the 1995 referendum on Quebec sovereignty! More recently, a BT contingent blended right into the flag-waving January prorogation protest in Toronto—none of their placards breathed a word of criticism against the ruling-class Liberal Party, let alone the social-democratic NDP. The BT is an integral part of the syphilitic chain of pro-capitalist reformism.

While workers and the oppressed must oppose ruling class attacks on bourgeois-democratic rights, they must do so by their own methods and under their own independent banner. As we said in our 22 December 2008 supplement, “Liberal-NDP Coalition: Tool of the Bosses” (SC No. 160, Spring 2009):

“The Trotskyist League/Ligue trotskyste is fighting to build the nucleus of a revolutionary Marxist party that can root itself in the working class. Taking up the cause of all the oppressed, such a party would give conscious leadership to the struggles of the workers not only to improve their present conditions but to do away with the entire system of capitalist wage slavery. ‘Unity’ with the oppressors, or with their social-democratic political agents, is the road to defeat. The only way to smash the all-sided assault on social programs, to assure free quality medical care, childcare and jobs and decent living standards for all, to end the neocolonial pillage of the Third World, is by ripping the productive forces from the hands of the capitalist class through socialist revolution and putting them in the hands of those whose labour makes society run.”

Spartacist Canada No. 164

SC 164

Spring 2010


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Parliamentary Cretinism and Class Collaboration

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Third World Cheerleading and Cynical Phrasemongering

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The "October Crisis" in Quebec


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