Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Know Your Fringe Parties V -- A Tale of Two Communist Parties

"Are you the Judean Peoples' Front?"

"F**k Off! We're the Peoples' Front of Judea. [huff] Judean Peoples' Front. SPLITTERS."

This is how I've long imagined the doctrinal schism between the old-guard Communist Party of Canada and the neo-vanguard Communist Party of Canada (Marxist-Leninist). But, of course, as with anything to do with Marxism, it's never really quite that simple. And yet, given how doctrinal rifts on the far left have always been over the most picayune of matters, it really should be that simple.

Anyway, if the two communist parties can't bury the sickle, good luck uniting the rest of the fractured left. "Old Growth Boreal Forest Eco-Terrorist Tree Spiker? I'd like you to meet Rosedale Radical Latte Liberal Silk Stocking Socialist. I'll leave you two to talk."

So anyway, here is a brief overview of the two Communist Parties.

1. The Communist Party of Canada

Easily, the Communist Party is the oldest of the currently extant fringe parties in Canada. Almost the stuff of folklore or legend, the Communist Party traces its origins to a secret meeting held in a barn outside of Guelph, Ontario, in 1921. Since that time, Communists have embarked on a number of 'below-the-radar' campaigns to command influence and shape policy -- mostly within the labour movement. Under the central leadership of Tim Buck, and through the agitprop of The Daily Worker, the Communist party quickly built a national organization in the 1920s, and continued to organize (mostly in secret) during the 1930s when the party was officially banned. From factories to coal mines to lumber camps to dock yards, the Communists often found enough receptive ears to establish a toe-hold, and frequently built their local organizations around immigrant labourers. Like other Communist parties worldwide, the Communist Party of Canada held membership in the Communist International.

While the old-time Communists generally tended to eschew electoral politics (particularly under their own banner) it is worthy of note that (unlike the Green Party to date) the Communists have actually succeeded in electing a member of Parliament -- a party functionary named Fred Rose, elected in the riding of York South in 1944. Of course, in 1946, Fred Rose was arrested by the RCMP for espionage. He was convicted as a Soviet spy and sentenced to 6 years. Released after serving 2/3 of his sentence, he moved to Czechoslovakia, and later to Poland. His Canadian citizenship was formally revoked in 1957. (But that's another story.)

The modern Communist party is but a shadow of its former self. The fall of the Soviet empire must have taken most of the wind out of its sails. Still, the Communist Party continues to run candidates in various ridings across the country. The party's plan in the current election, under the leadership of Miguel Figueroa, is to nominate at least "two dozen" candidates across five provinces (B.C. Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec). As sited in The View from Steeltown blog:

The policy centrepiece of the Communist campaign will be a "People's Energy Plan for Canada," based on public ownership of the oil and gas industry as the material basis for a radical shift in economic and environmental priorities for the country.

Oh great. Another variation on the National Energy Programme (or is it another variation on the Regina Manifesto). Well, good luck with that, guys. For their full programme, visit their internest site.

2. The Communist Party of Canada (Marxist-Leninist)

They are known as "The Marxist-Leninist Party of Canada" for the purposes of Elections Canada registration. The party dates back to 1963, and the Sino-Soviet split. The Communist party officially sided with the Soviets, and this did not sit well with some of young radicals at the time. The schism in Canadian communism began when Hardial Bains, siding with the Maoists, founded "the International" at the University of British Columbia. Initially just a Maoist student group, the International became a formal political party in 1970 as the Communist Party of Canada (Marxist-Leninist). Ah! There was the void in Canadian politics. We lacked a Maoist party. [Now we can sleep the sleep of the righteously ideological.]

In the current election, the Party leader Anna Di Carlo is running in the riding of Etobicoke North. As the Marxist-Leninist internest site informs us, Ms. Di Carlo is also the Marxist-Leninist representative on the Elections Canada Advisory Committee for Registered Political Parties.

By all appearances, the Marxist-Leninists seem much better organized and more coherent than their older cousin, the Communists. They even boast a daily newspaper (TML Daily). And between elections, the party remains active and frequently contributes briefs to parliamentary standing committees and senate committees on issues such as electoral reform and financing, social security, citizenship and immigration, foreign policy, national unity, and Canadian identity.

In this election, the MLPC is fielding 59 candidates across five provinces, 24 candidates in Ontario alone. Theirs is a programme rooted in a variation of the concept of popular sovereignty -- not so much the 'sovereign individual' of Enlightenment-era philosophy, but the 'sovereignty of the people' of (dare I say it) a more Bolshevik/Maoist vintage. But in a modern twist, Hardial Bains meets politically correct identity politics and post-colonial theory:

The principle that all people have claims on the society by virtue of being human must be held as the overriding principle of the society, along with gender equality and freedom of conscience and lifestyle. A new, modern, truly democratic society in which people are sovereign is the urgent requirement for Canadians to free themselves of the legacy of the country's 19th century colonial foundation.

In addition, the MLPC advocates the increased funding for social programmes, elimination of tax breaks for the wealthy, the right of Quebec to self-determination, the "hereditary rights of Aboriginal peoples", immediate withdrawal of Canada from NAFTA, immediate withdrawal from NATO and NORAD, and the democratization of the United Nations. They even share a couple of policies in common with conservative populists (i.e., "no election without selection" and the right of recall). The Marxist-Leninist also believe that all states should be free from the interference of others in their internal affairs -- a geo-political "prime directive" intended primarily to defend the rights of Cuba and North Korea.

And there you have it.

So, rounding the circle, we end off where we began ...


ken said...

While you do a great service by providing the general public with information about so-called fringe parties, you neglect to mention the big split that as you say took a great deal of wind out of the sails of the CPC (Communist Party of Canada the proper designation for the acronym) Both parties still claim to represent a Marxist Leninist perspective but the one with Marxist Leninist after the name is obviously a Maoist offshoot unlike the CPC.

After several months of negotiations between the Hewison group and the opposition "All-Canada Negotiating Committee", an out-of-court settlement resulted in the Hewison leadership agreeing to leave the CPC and relinquish any claim to the party's name, while taking most of the party's assets to the Cecil-Ross Society, a publishing and educational foundation previously associated with the party. This is from the Wikepedia entry on the CPC.

Following the departure of the Hewison-led group, a convention was held in December 1992 at which delegates agreed to continue the Communist Party (thus the meeting was titled the 30th CPC Convention). Delegates rejected the reformist policies instituted by the Hewison group and instead reaffirmed the CPC as a Marxist-Leninist organization. Since most of the old party's assets were now the property of the Hewison-led Cecil Ross Society, the CPC convention decided to launch a new newspaper, the People's Voice, to replace the old Canadian Tribune. The convention elected a new central committee with Figueroa as Party Leader. The convention also amended the party constitution to grant more membership control and lessen the arbitrary powers of the CC, while maintaining democratic centralism as its organizational principle.

Anonymous said...

This is cute but I think you are unfair to the CPC by saying the ML are more organized. Consider:

1. The CPC publishes a twice monthly print newspaper of about twelve pages, while the ML has an ebulitteen.

2. The CPC site has regular statements and updates on a range of issues, unlike the ML site

3. The CPC election platform has much greater detail than the ML, while their programme is almost 100 pages - vs. the ML at two.

4. The CPC ran fewer candidates, where they did run they consistently did better than the ML, perhaps because they actually ran campaigns.

As to the post above, it would appear the split group left with lots of cash, which is funny since do they have an "internest site"?