International Socialists (Canada) - Early History

Early History

The initial members consisted of activists involved in the Movement for an Independent Socialist Canada (better known as the Waffle), which had been forced to leave the social democratic New Democratic Party in 1972. A group of students at York University in Toronto formed a Marxist study group, and came into contact with left-Shachtmanites in the International Socialists (USA), an American group founded by Hal Draper.

After the collapse of the Waffle in late 1974, the group organized itself as the Independent Socialists in February 1975. This reflected the roots of the I.S. in the Waffle, which had a "left-nationalist" analysis of Canada's place in the world economy. But the name was in contradiction to the internationalist approach of the I.S., and by 1976, the group voted to rename itself the International Socialists. From 1975, the I.S. published a monthly paper called Workers Action. In 1985, the paper was renamed Socialist Worker.

The I.S. is often identified as the "state-capitalist" group—reflecting the position of the I.S. that, from 1928 on, Russia was no longer a workers' state, but state capitalist. This is in contrast to Leon Trotsky's position that the Soviet Union was a degenerated workers state. The state capitalist position was not actually central to the group's founding in 1975. Several prominent members adhered to the "bureaucratic collectivist" position associated with Max Shachtman, but by the late 1970s, the majority position in the group was clearly "state capitalist", outlined most clearly in Abbie Bakan's pamphlet, The Great Lie.

During the 1980s, the group was heavily involved in women's struggles, playing an important role in mobilizing support for a woman's right to choose in Canada, largely as a participant in the broader Ontario Coalition for Abortion Clinics. Early in the decade, it was prominent as a defender of the new trade union movement in Poland, Solidarity.

From 1985 to 86, when the I.S. was no more than 80 members, a crisis led to the division of the Toronto branch. The Toronto Central branch represented the majority and was led by David McNally. The Toronto East branch represented the minority faction and was led by Abbie Bakan and supported by the Montreal branch. The crisis caused leading members of the Socialist Workers Party in the UK to write an open letter of concern, urging the unity of the Toronto branch. Some attributed the dispute to personal animosities between leading members. But there was also a tension between a tendency towards propaganda by the majority, and an emphasis on an interventionist perspective by the minority.

A united steering committee slate was put forward and elected at the 1987 convention of the I.S., addressed by Alex Callinicos, leading member of the SWP. The two Toronto branches fused into a single branch. That year, for the first time, the I.S. counted more than 100 members, and continued to grow through the late 1980s and into the early 1990s – intervening into the campaign to defend abortion clinics in Toronto, helping to build the movement against the war in the Gulf, and building in the student movement across the country. It is in this period that the I.S. also began to flesh out its position on the national question in Quebec, even not being able to operate to any degree in French in Quebec. Background information on this period is available in Origins of the International Socialists by Abbie Bakan and Philip Murton.

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