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Why I Support the Revolutionary Communist Party Canada [Part 3]

This is the third and final entry of a series that explains my reasons for sympathizing with and supporting the Revolutionary Communist Party of Canada [PCR-RCP, as they have come to be short-handed by leftists in the blogosphere who want to differentiate them from the problematic RCP-USA].  For those readers coming late to this series, and who find the topic interesting, I would urge you to read the first and second parts.

This series of posts can also be seen as part of a larger set of posts that, in some ways, are crude political autobiographies––attempts to explain my left-wing background, both in my activist and academic life.

4: revolutionary versus activist mind-set

Despite the quality of its programme, I would still dismiss the PCR-RCP if it produced members who were the typical arrogant assholes one finds in most activist organizations.  After years of participation in the Toronto left, I was growing tired of self-righteous activism––the cliquishness, the holier-than-thou politicking, and the unquestioned tradition of sneering at older activists on the part of new activist heroes who, by virtue of being knew, think they know everything.  You walk away from an organization for even a year, drifting because these movementist groups encourage burn-out and impermanence, and you will return to discover new cliques, new people who think they are the smarter than everyone else.  This arrogance, combined with a general unwillingness to be self-critical, has always bothered me… maybe because it was also convicting: I eventually could not help but see my younger self reflected in the expressions and actions of the younger generations.  As I wrote in the post cited in this paragraph: "My jaded activist self is generally tired of encountering young activists (most often young men) who think they are god's-gift to the left.  The number of times I have encountered someone in their early 20s who believes his ideas are unique, that his actions are changing the world, and who wants to preach the revolution to me without knowing anything about my experience is astounding."  And I know that others will agree with this sentiment.

But when I first truly encountered a group of PCR-RCP members I was impressed.  (I write truly encountered because I met two of their members a year and a half earlier around the time I was first becoming interested in their organization, but this was not enough for me to understand how they behaved as an organization.)  When I attended the 2nd Canadian Revolutionary Congress I was half-expecting to deal with the same I-know-more-than-you-stupid bullshit that is unfortunately a hallmark of large sectors of the left––a petty-bourgeois ideology that does almost as much damage as anti-left propaganda.  On the one hand I was looking forward to this Congress, because by this time I knew enough of the PCR-RCP to respect them more than any other leftist group in Canada, but on the other hand I was worried that I would be met with a group of self-proclaimed saints who would dispense marxist revelations to their english-speaking-Canada counterparts.  I thought this because of my past experiences, because of conservations I had observed amongst supposed progressives, and because of all of the heart-ache that the left fosters amongst itself.  I entered the overpopulated room in which the congress gathered with feelings of trepidation, with an annoyance that those who had organized the conference would make outsiders feel unworthy, and simply assuming that this would be accepted as normal behaviour.

What I observed, however, was a meeting of disciplined and thoughtful comrades who did not act according to what I had taken were normative activist tropes of behaviour.  Here were people who were humble with each other, who acted as equals regardless of different social positions, who could debate without being disparaging, turning what would be terribly embarrassing fights in other activist contexts into progressive moments of education––whenever things appeared to get tense, the building tension was evaporated with good humour and humility.  I have to admit (and perhaps apologize to the generous Quebec comrades) that I did not speak at that congress; at that point in time I was too tired of listening to my own voice and was much more inclined to be passive.  I think in some ways I was taken aback by the manner of interaction which felt entirely alien to my previous activist experiences.

And maybe this is the point: I was not interacting with activists but with people who saw themselves as revolutionaries.  For if you see yourself as the latter, and refuse to accept that revolutionary politics are a dinner party, then you behave in a wholly different manner: in this context it cannot be about cliques, about identity politics versus identity politics, about who is more left than who, but about solidarity and the discipline and commitment required by this solidarity.  It is about self-awareness and understanding how your actions and attitudes influence others; it is about serving the people.

I have sat through innumerable long and contentious meetings and, because of this, was at a point where I was beginning to dread every political meeting I planned to attend.  Especially after my union local's strike, where I was exhausted by the most contentious and spiteful GMMs where bureaucracy had replaced progressive politics, I assumed that every political meeting I would ever attend in my entire life would be doomed to petty factionalism.  So I was extremely shocked to find myself actually enjoying the 2nd Canadian Revolutionary Congress.  This is not to say that there weren't differences between comrades present (there were), or that there weren't any arguments (of course there were debates), but just that the differences of opinion never became embittered, never transformed into tragic collisions of principle, and never appeared to detract from an overall solidarity and enjoyment of actually engaging with radical politics.  Not just talking about some singular issue for an over-specialized affinity group, but engaging with the root politics foundational to the Canadian context.  This was why I was actually excited to participate in the open coalition established at the Congress and to support, in my own small way, these people that had impressed me more than any of the activists I have known since… well, forever.

Nor was my experience at the the Congress isolated.  Since I became involved with a coalition organization that was doing things in tandem with the PCR-RCP, I would continue to encounter this organizations members.  Every encounter echoed what I had experienced at the congress.  Even when one of their members critiqued my talk at a public teach-in, it was done in a comradely manner (both supportive and insightfully critical) that I never felt I was dealing with the same sort of activist mentality that has bugged the shit out of me for a decade.  When activists criticize you, the critiques are generally self-serving because they are designed to shore up individual influence and power––these critiques are divisive.  But when people who properly understand themselves as revolutionaries criticize you, they do it because they want you to be a better organizer in the aims of something bigger than both of your individual selves––these critiques are designed to produce unity.  The former category, though quite skilled at producing criticism, can never accept the same criticism from the latter category.

In my above cited report about the 2nd Canadian Revolutionary Congress I wrote: "The lack of arrogance, the relaxed atmosphere, the unwillingness to make anyone feel unwelcome––all of this spoke to a practice that was serious about making manifest the politics [the PCR-RCP] preached."  I stand by this claim and think it is extremely important when it comes to assessing whether an organization has a right to refer to itself as a communist party.  The representatives of other organizations I have met in my Toronto experience––whether possible parties, political projects, disparate organizations, single-issue groups, or even those organizations who were anti-capitalist but not communist––have often failed to behave in this disciplined and considerate manner.  I would never accept a revolutionary leadership from an organization that treats its own members in a manner that undercuts the very politics they are supposed to represent; if you are as petty as the petty-bourgeoisie, then you're not worthy to place yourself at the forefront of Canadian radicalism.

5: practice and revolutionary "authority"

Back during the weeks where I was involved with the Elections Boycott Campaign, I ended up becoming involved in an exchange of polemics with one of my friends/comrades.  He wanted to know why the PCR-RCP had the right to call the boycott––what they had done to warrant their supposed authority in making such a call––and asked for details about their practical political actions.  At the time, and probably because of the heightened grumpiness caused by pursuing that campaign in the Toronto activist context, I was initially (and unfairly I admit) annoyed by his demands.  Since I was merely a supporter of the party, I couldn't really provide him with some insider's glimpse of the PCR-RCP; even if I was a member, I felt it would have been undisciplined (due to security reasons) to respond.

In retrospect, however, I have to admit that this question was fair and that, at the time, I was interpreting it in the wrong way: a party needs to prove itself in practice, it can't just be a small group of people with a "divine" revelation, otherwise it cannot claim to be a revolutionary party.  And though I probably could have argued that the party programme I already discussed could only have emerged through practice, that   would still not answer the concerns.  At the same time, however, this desire to know the precise details of a party in the making––to want an inventory of specifics that will convince us that a possible party is already engaged in great and earth-shaking things––can be used as an excuse to not involve oneself in an organization that might be a potential revolutionary force.  According to the maxim of one PCR-RCP member: "when you want something you will find a thousand ways; when you don't want something you will find a thousand reasons."

In any case, it is clear that the PCR-RCP's practice is accomplishing something considering that the Quebec police, as noted in my first entry, now appear to be treating them as a security threat.  And though the state views anyone who is even mildly left as a possible and future threat––and has attacked individuals and groups who we know will never accomplish the overthrow of capitalism––the fact that special security squads are being designated by the National Security Integrated Team as a threat, that the Maison Norman Bethune is under surveillance, and the rumour of special "red squads" being tasked to investigate the PCR-RCP is extremely significant.  But to be attacked by the enemy, as Mao argued, can also be a good thing; it demonstrates that they are taking your politics––politics that should be the annihilation of theirs––seriously.

So why are the capitalist security authorities possibly concerned with the Revolutionary Communist Party of Canada?  Perhaps it is the fact that the party is moving to the forefront of political struggle in Quebec: as the prime communist force in CLAC (Convergence des Luttes Anti-Capitalistes) it has been ubiquitous in rallies and anti-capitalist actions––so much so that the recent May 1st demonstrations in Montreal endorsed the PCR-RCP boycott slogan, as well as a quote from Mao ("it is right to rebel") as the prime slogans for their march.  Then there are the growing party fronts and coalitions such as the Revolutionary Workers Movement (an attempt at accumulating and organizing the disparate proletariat), the Feminist Front (an organization that pushes a revolutionary feminism in an attempt to organize working women against the capitalism behind patriarchy), and the Revolutionary Student Movement (a mass organization that treats students in working class highschools and CEGEPs as possible communist activists)––all of which are engaged, or will be engaged, in important work.

Then there was the formation of the Proletarian Revolutionary Action Committee [PRAC] at the the 2nd Canadian Revolutionary Congress, mentioned above, that was an attempt to start a coalition organization that would be able to implement a broader front-style politics in english-dominated Canada.  It was the PRAC, at least in Ontario, that helped launch the PCR-RCP's call to boycott the federal elections, the authority of which some might still find suspicious.

Therefore, perhaps we should treat this call for an elections boycott as a microcosm for the PCR-RCP's purported revolutionary authority.  Personally, if any other group aside from the PCR-RCP had made this call I probably would have reacted in the same manner as those friends/allies/comrades who were suspicious of a boycott campaign.  The only reason I accepted its logic was because I had prior knowledge of the PCR-RCP and had attended the 2nd Canadian Revolutionary Congress.  (So maybe this is a moment of self-criticism because maybe, if I hadn't paid attention to the PCR-RCP's emergence or attended its open congress I might have also denounced the call as "ultra-left" without examining the arguments.)

The question of authority, however, might be misplaced.  As a party that practices the mass-line, the PCR-RCP's call for a boycott had nothing to do with the Stalinist notion of the vanguard (typified, for example, in Stalin's Foundations of Leninism) where the party's role is to command and the masses role is simply to follow its authority––a notion of the vanguard that the Chinese Communists under Mao criticized as "metaphysical."  If the party is to also serve the masses, then its authority is a theoretical and revolutionary translation of the desire of the people: as noted in the previous post, the authority behind the boycott was the masses' rejection of parliamentarianism.  So what provided authority and substance to the boycott position was the fact that it was based on the practice of millions of workers and oppressed people who, in the words of Lenin, had to "experience [bourgeois democracy] themselves" in order to surpass it.

Therefore, a party that practices the mass-line, and thus in practice will represent the revolutionary desire of the masses, should be forced to ask two questions when it encounters something like an unwillingness to participate in federal elections: i) are the actions of the masses just; and ii) depending on the answer to the first question, what are the consequent politics?  The answer to these questions changes completely when a party practices the mass-line takes the position at the bottom with the exploited, rather than a position at the top with the bourgeoisie––or even rather than a position that imagines itself outside of the class struggle and speaks in the name of abstract principles such as democracy or rights.

Since revolution is not a question of "human resources"––not about exchanging the personnel of the ruling classes with the staff of the proletariat––but a complete transformation of the structure in which social categories, groups, classes, and relations are based, then a party that desires to become the revolutionary authority of the people has to pursue this understanding of revolution in practice.  Someone once described this understanding of revolutionary practice to be by using the analogy of a game.

If we play a game where the capitalist dictates the rules and boundaries of the game, deciding where we would put our pieces, and with-holding the right to change the rules of the game at any time.  What would we do to win such a game?  One option would be to play the game and continue to lose––this might be a learning experience but, at point or other, we would be forced to realize that the game itself is pointless.  So maybe we would approach the game with cunning, hoping to be sneakier than the capitalist by attempting to alter the ideas that define the game's confines.  Or maybe we would approach the game in the hope that the capitalist dies of a heart attack.  Or maybe, following the anarchists, we would just make up our own rules and pretend that the person who owns the game doesn't exist even though the capitalist is allowing us to play the bloody game in the first place.

Someone who practices a revolutionary notion of the party, however, would approach our metaphorical game in the following manner: s/he would analyze the game, recognize the cause of injustice, refuse to play and, in doing so, possibly force the capitalist to change the rules.  (Refusing to play will necessarily change the rules because the capitalist needs us to play in order for the game to exist.)  Most importantly, though, someone engaged in revolutionary practice would not be interested in simply change the rules because s/he wants an end to the game itself.  The point is to force the capitalist to defend itself and reveal to the other players what is at stake so that they understand that losing is not the only possibility and that, by following this example, the capitalist will be forced to implement more rules, against all of the players, isolating itself and losing its often unquestioned authority.

Therefore, the value of an initiative or proposal is measured by what we are seeking to achieve.  Proper communist practice, the kind of practice I believe the PCR-RCP is pursuing, is to pursue and then find answers to the needs demanded by revolutionary politics.  Returning to the analogy of the boycott campaign, the question we need to ask is the following: do we want to strengthen the revolutionary camp or strengthen the abstract notion of democracy by electing one part over another?  Too often we approach the important issues through ideological abstractions (my utopia is better than yours, my ideas look niftier on paper when opposed to yours, etc.) rather than resolving fundamental contradictions.  What distinguishes the concrete from this abstract approach, however, is what can be found in the real world through revolutionary practice.

If we want to prove something, we must implement this something in practice and this is called politics––this is also what distinguishes the PCR-RCP from the RCP-USA.  Moreover, and most importantly for the social context in which I live, this also distinguishes the PCR-RCP from the countless other leftist organizations that either resign themselves to cultic purity, hide their communism behind successive veils of social democracy, or openly practice entryism.

And it is because of this practice, the attitude and revolutionary mindset behind this practice, the theory that is bound up in this practice, and the politics I have observed the PCR-RCP attempting to build––a politics that prefigures socialism––that I have been sympathetic and supportive of this organization on my blog and in my active life.  This is not to say that I see the Revolutionary Communist Party of Canada as a "done deal", a static entity that will always be the only party authority no matter what, because I understand that organizations are always in transformation and can change for the worse just as easily as they can change for the better.  I can also imagine other organizations, perhaps organizations inspired by the example of the PCR-RCP, emerging as possible party entities in the future.

The thing is, the PCR-RCP, which has always seen its growth and development in terms of line struggle––as something that is always open to the future––would agree that it is not some absolutely and hermetically closed organization.  Maoists understand line struggle, after all, and how organizations can collapse.  They also understand how they can be renewed, how they can develop through revolutionary practice: parties are not static, and should never dogmatically purist, but at the same time they are not nebulous (and thus ultimately meaningless) organizations that drift aimlessly without theoretical and practical direction.

And so maybe this self-awareness––this understanding of a party that is always open to the future but that still must, despite its openness, pursue the revolutionary theory that was presented by the Russian and Chinese Revolutions but in this social context––is what most attracted me to the Revolutionary Communist Party of Canada.  As I mentioned at the beginning of this series, and as I have mentioned elsewhere, I used to be wary of the entire notion of a vanguard because there was a part of me that always found it unyielding, purist, closed off from the people it was supposed to represent.  And theoretically recognizing the need for a party was still different than accepting the existence of a possible party in my social context.  The fact that the PCR-RCP as a party attracted my sympathies, and is the only communist group in Canada to have done so, is something I still find significant.  My aim with this series of entries was simply to explain this significance.


  1. Oh, that's great! I like your point of view about RCP, it's definitely mine too. They seem to have a good political line, and a good class analysis; but has maoists, they have something mort important: they are real comrades, they take initiatives and act like good communists and not annoying bourgeois leftists (according to your text, we've the same problem in France with some "militants" acting like school teachers ;) ).
    Maybe we like the RCP because they've understood the dialectical link between theory and practice...

    Greetings from France from a regular reader!

  2. Glad you liked this series!

  3. Hello comrade, I would like to ask you again if it's ok for you if I translate the series of articles in French, because some comrades in Montreal would enjoy read it and publish some extracts. Thank you!

  4. Of course! It's always okay, but thanks for asking.

  5. Hello comrade

    I like your serie of articles about PCR-RCP. I will translate your posts in spanish and I will publish in my blog.

    I find interesting the topic of settler-colonialism and the national question.

    Red salutes


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