Communists in Canada mark centenary of struggle as party eyes breakthrough

By Scott Costen

CANADA’s second-oldest political party is preparing to celebrate 100 years of working-class struggle next year.

The Communist Party of Canada (CPC), founded under conditions of illegality in May 1921, has ambitious plans to mark its centenary.

Federal leader Elizabeth Rowley told Redaction Politics she’s excited to be at the helm as the party enters its second century.

“I feel honoured to be the leader for this pretty auspicious occasion,” she said. “We’ll be celebrating our past, not just because it’s history, but because it gives us a good footing to make the case for socialism in Canada.”

The party played an important role in pushing for social programs such as public health care, unemployment insurance, public housing, and support for low-income Canadians.


It also led the organizing and staffing of the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion, which joined the International Brigades to fight fascism during the 1936-1939 Spanish Civil War.

Numerous party members, including Rowley, have been voted onto city councils and school boards over the years. A handful were even elected to the House of Commons and provincial legislatures in the party’s heyday in the 1930s and 1940s.

But electoral success has never been the CPC’s primary focus.

According to Rowley, the party is a revolutionary Marxist-Leninist organization that aspires to be “Canada’s party of Socialism.”

To that end, membership growth is a top priority heading into 2021, she said.

“Increasing (membership) by 50 per cent is our goal and we think we’re going to be able to do that, although the Coronavirus has not helped in the way of public events and public meetings.”

Rowley declined to provide current membership numbers, but admitted the CPC is “small” and looking to attract new members in what appear to be favourable conditions for left-wing political organizing.

“A lot of people are beginning to think that capitalism can’t be reformed,” she said. “There’s another way of building Canada that’s not in the interest of big corporations, but in the interests of the 95 per cent of the country that works for a living and is increasingly seeing their wages and pensions and living standards driven down.”

A party member for more than 50 years, Rowley has experienced some of the CPC’s highest highs and lowest lows.

For her, the darkest period came after the fall of the Soviet Union, when a group of CPC members, including then-leader George Hewison, pushed to have the party abandon Marxism-Leninism.

Rowley was part of an opposing group that defended Communist orthodoxy in a bitter dispute that split the party but guaranteed its survival as a Marxist-Leninist organization.

The CPC will publish a pamphlet about that split as part of its centenary activities next year, along with an updated party history and copies of its recently adopted political program.

Public events in many parts of the country are being looked at, but whether they go ahead as planned will depend on what happens with the COVID-19 pandemic.

One of the many outreach activities being contemplated is a series of walking tours, guided by CPC members, exploring the working-class history of Canadian cities such as Vancouver, Winnipeg, Hamilton and Toronto.

Featured Image: Jay Watts (Credit)

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