Maurice Spector

Art: Marcelo Guimarães Lima
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By SEAN PURDY, PEDRO ROCHA CURADO & ARGUS ABREU DE MORAIS*

Entry from the “Dictionary of Marxism in America”

Life and political praxis

Maurice Spector (1898-1968) was born in the western region of the Russian Empire, territory of present-day Ukraine. Son of a small businessman and a housewife, he immigrated with his family to Canada as a baby. As a teenager, he joined the socialist movement, joining the Social Democratic Party [Social Democratic Party] of Canada and starting to write articles for their newspaper, The Canadian Forward [The Canadian Vanguard].

At the age of twenty, he read the English translation of the text “The Bolsheviks and World Peace” (1914), by Leon Trotsky – later published with the title “War and the International”. During his law degree at Queen's university (Kingston, Canada), Spector was exposed to the works of Lenin and other Russian and European communists.

Between 1918 and 1921, together with socialist comrades – such as Florence Custance and Thomas J. Bell –, he organized a propaganda collective, the Plebs League [League of Plebeians], and a political formation group, the Toronto Workers Educational College [Workers' College of Toronto], the latter led by Jack MacDonald. These two associations, with the support of the Communist International (IC), were among the main political forces that met in the city of Guelph (Ontario) with the aim of forming the Communist Party of Canada/ Communist Party of Canada (CPC) [Communist Party of Canada], in 1921 – of which the young Maurice Spector was one of the founders.

As happened in many countries at the time, the Canadian intellectual and socialist, previously a member of a social democratic party with vague Marxist references, was greatly influenced by the Russian Revolution (1917). According to him, the conquest of power by the Bolsheviks had led to the creation of a new type of socialism, better based on the ideas of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels – and with the formation of revolutionary parties around the world as a priority.

Elected president of the newly born CPC, Spector wrote his first party program together with his comrades Custance and Tom Bell. Furthermore, he helped to establish the organizational, intellectual and political basis of the new communist entity that, until 1925, organized 5 thousand militants – having a decisive influence on important strikes and social mobilizations. He also had an important participation when he acted as an interlocutor for the party leadership with the “National Federations”, which were made up of immigrant members of the CPC, divided into their respective national groups, which constituted the majority of party members.

From 1921 to 1928, he was editor of the CPC's weekly newspaper, The worker [The Worker], and the party's monthly magazine, Canadian Labor Monthly [Canadian Labor Monthly], writing hundreds of articles on the current situation of the class struggle, the political economy and international events of the communist movement, in addition to promoting debates and rallies throughout the country. Throughout the 1920s, he became the central leader and political intellectual of the CPC, participating in the party's main debates and acting as its delegate at the IV Congress of the Communist International, in 1922.

In 1923, he traveled to several cities in Canada, giving seven lectures in two weeks and traveling more than three thousand kilometers by train. Regularly, he spoke at events for hundreds of workers, and accompanied pickets, strikes and other acts of the labor and communist movement. In his writings and public interventions during the period, Spector dedicated himself to transmitting to the Canadian people the most important debates and arguments of the Bolshevik revolutionaries, in addition to dealing with prominent international political news, such as the German Revolution.

From 1924 onwards, some members of the CPC began to oppose the positions of the Communist International against Trotsky and the Soviet Left Opposition. Spector then wrote a statement from his party to the International, arguing that there were not sufficient reasons to punish Trotsky.

In 1927, Maurice Spector received the most votes among eight candidates for the Central Executive Committee of the CPC – although the party also had many supporters of the Communist International, then led by Josef Stalin. The following year, he would be elected a member of the Executive Committee of the Communist International, participating in the organization's VI Congress, in Moscow (1928).

At the time, Maurice Spector and the United States delegate, James P. Cannon, did not align themselves with Trotskyism. Later, both would recognize that they still did not fully understand what was happening in the USSR and in the international communist movement. In fact, information about internal Soviet political debates was still scarce and even avoided by the leaders of the Third International and its member parties. However, the stance of the two communists would change after coming into contact with the document “Criticism of the provisional program of the Communist International”, written by Trotsky when he had already been expelled from the party and sent to live in Soviet Kazakhstan.

The text – which was circulated with the approval of the Communist International, in accordance with the current norms of “democratic centralism” – had been translated into English and distributed to the delegates present; In it, Trotsky directly criticized the positions of Stalin and Nikolai Bukharin, emphasizing the problems related to the defense of the idea of ​​“socialism in one country” and the abandonment, by the Soviet government, of the “united front” policy. Spector and Cannon kept copies of this translation and returned to their respective countries, where they began to discuss their disaffiliations from communist parties aligned with the Communist International. Together with communists from France, Germany and the United Kingdom, the International Left Opposition – influenced by Trotsky – began to form.

In November 1928, the Canadian Marxist, who had been suspected of being sympathetic to the Trotskyist opposition, wrote a letter to the Central Executive Committee of the CPC detailing his full support for Trotsky's criticism of the Third International. The following month, Maurice Spector and twelve other members, who sided with him, were expelled from the party.

Unlike the American James Cannon – more skilled in organizational work – Maurice Spector had difficulty consolidating the Left Opposition in Canada. Thus, in the early 1930s, he began to participate as a correspondent for a small party of Trotskyists in the USA, the Communist League of North America-Opposition (LCA-OP) [Communist League of North America-Opposition]. Soon, in 1932, with Jack MacDonald, he founded his Canadian section, the International Left Opposition of Canada (ILOC) [International Left Opposition of Canada], organizing political groups in several cities across the country and bringing together a few dozen members – of which a large part were immigrants from the nations of the former Russian Empire, personally aligned with it. During this time, Maurice Spector was also editor of the organization's newspaper, The Vanguard – starting monthly, then biweekly –, which he would manage until 1937.

In 1934, the Canadian opposition league (ILOC) gave up competing in the Communist Party (CPC) elections and renamed itself Workers Party of Canada (WPC) [Workers' Party of Canada]. Around this time, somewhat disillusioned with political defeats, Maurice Spector decided to also dedicate himself to working as a labor lawyer.

Two years later, he traveled illegally to the USA, with the aim of getting closer to James Cannon and other Marxists from the International Left Opposition. He settled in New York, where he would become a leading member of the Trotskyist movement. In this country, in 1938, during the founding convention of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) [Socialist Workers' Party] – a merger of Trotskyist groups, following a split from the Communist Party of the United States of America [Communist Party USA] –, Maurice Spector presented the International Report of the new organization. However, shortly afterwards, he left the party, joining in 1939 the Socialist Party of United States of America (SPA) [Socialist Party of the USA], of which he would be leader.

Due to his political activities, Maurice Spector had his citizenship revoked by the Canadian government. In 1941, he began to be persecuted in the USA, when the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) discovered that he was in the country illegally, and was then arrested and sent for deportation. However, the Civil Liberties Union [Union for Civil Liberties] defended him, claiming that, as he was an opposition member of the USSR, he should be allowed to remain in US territory.

Authorized to live in the United States, the Canadian Marxist fought for the SPA until 1958, when he resigned due to his break with Max Shachtman – who proposed merging his Independent Socialist League [Independent Socialist League] with the SPA.

In the last decade of his life, Maurice Spector worked as a lawyer and was active in socialist organizations in the USA, in addition to being the editor of a children's magazine published by a Jewish labor movement. He died at age 70, in August 1968, in a New York hospital.

Contributions to Marxism

Maurice Spector's main contribution to Marxism was his role as founder, propagandist, agitator and intellectual of the first Canadian communist party, the CPC. Furthermore, he stood out for launching the International Left Opposition movement in Canada in the 1930s.

Faithful to an internationalist line close to Trotsky's, Spector was interested in several of the social revolutions around the world. In his texts published in newspapers and magazines – such as Socialist Appeal, Socialist Alternative, The militant ou The New International – there are conjuncture analyzes on themes characteristic of the interwar period, such as the failed revolutions in China and Germany during the 1920s, the New Deal American party, the defeat of the English labor party (Labour Party) in the 1931 elections, the rise of Nazism, and British imperialism in the face of the Indian independence movement.

His greatest attention, however, was focused on the analysis of disputes between divergent groups within Soviet politics during the Stalinist period (1927-1953). Spector positioned himself as a strong critic of the Soviet bureaucracy and the orientation towards “communism in one country”, defended by Stalin and Zinoviev, understanding this to be a process of deterioration of the revolutionary forces internal and external to the USSR.

To justify this position, he developed a historical interpretation of the events; In his conception, expressed in articles from the early 1930s, the October Revolution can be divided into two separate phases: before and after Lenin's death. The first phase, according to the author, represented the stage of conquest of political power and the military and economic consolidation of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

The second, which began in 1924, would have been marked by the economic advances of the urban and rural petty bourgeoisie, by the subjection of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) to the party bureaucracy, and by the replacement of “communism” by what he called “ centrism” – that is, a political movement whose members defended, for their present time, only capitalist reforms, although they did not fail to position themselves in favor of a communist revolution at some point in the future.

It is during this second phase that he considers that the consolidation of the bloc of “centrists” in control of the bureaucracy of the Soviet State took place – a group that he associates with the right wing of the CPSU, which, in turn, maintained under its control the state machine to repress subversions and internal dissent. In this way, he understands that, for the Left Opposition (to which he had linked himself), the fight for revolution should seek the support of the masses to act against the control of the “centrist bureaucracy” under the direction of Stalin.

For Maurice Spector, the struggle for control of the Soviet State was also expressed in the politics of the Communist International – in the changes in objectives announced by this organization. He understands that the Third International was conceived after the First World War in the context of a revolutionary struggle against the social-democratic reformism of the Second International – or Socialist International (IS). Thus, the main pillar of the Communist International would be precisely “internationalism” – that is, politics oriented towards world revolution. He supports his perspective on two of Lenin's maxims, namely: that it would be possible to start the revolution in a single country, without depending on the rest of the world; that it would be impossible for a country to achieve revolutionary victory and the consolidation of socialism without advancing the frontiers of revolution in the West (rich, heavily armed and industrialized).

Maurice Spector further observed that the collapse of the Socialist International had demonstrated that “opportunistic adaptation” to the capitalist legality of the national state was not a feasible option. Furthermore, he saw the coexistence of the Soviet state with the imperialist states as something impossible in the long term. Therefore, he argued that the USSR and the Comintern (Communist International) encouraged and continued to help organize the World Revolution, criticizing the nationalist vision of Stalin's government – ​​that is, the policy of “communism in one country”.

According to him, this stance by the Soviet leader cooled the revolutionary spirit that was emerging in the vanguard of the working class in various parts of the planet. As a way out of what he understood to be a strong crisis in the Communist International, Spector supported the creation of a Fourth International – oppositionist, composed of followers of Trotsky – aimed at defending what would come to be called “revolutionary internationalism”.

Maurice Spector believed that there were two more urgent motivations for communists: to stop the provocations of war by the imperialist Western powers; and save the USSR from possible internal political degeneration or external attacks. The debates surrounding the strategies adopted opposed groups in Soviet politics, and the disputes between their divergent wings had repercussions on the various communist parties spread across the world. As a result, the CPC command promoted the expulsion of party members considered “Trotskyists” between 1928 and 1930 – the author himself was one of those expelled.

In addition to his criticism of the CPC's alignment with the Communist International, Maurice Spector denounced the Canadian government's judicial siege of the party. The 1930 election – shortly after the great Crisis of 1929 – had brought to power the conservative Richard Bedford, critical of labor demands. There were then arbitrary arrests of several communist leaders, and the party, in practice, was forced to survive clandestinely (although it formally maintained its legal registration). Unions also became targets of public authorities.

With this, the Marxist criticized the actions aimed at weakening these entities, highlighting the contradiction between the liberal discourse and its real policy. According to him, there was a clear hostility to freedom of association in the so-called “Canadian liberal society”, expressed in judicial actions aimed at the “capitalist reconstruction of society”; identified in the policies to combat Canadian unions an expression of the capture of the State by the interests of the capitalist dominant classes – formed in turn in the agrarian and industrial revolutions of the last decades of the XNUMXth century, when capitalist companies were able to free themselves from the shackles of mercantilism and feudalism in favor of freedom of competition and “free” wage labor.

For the author, the so-called “liberal democratic” State emerged as a product of this historical process, having been conceived in the image of an organization responsible for guaranteeing, through laws, the absolute and universal “natural right” of individuals – who would thus be singularly free and sovereigns to decide on their own actions and wills. In this way, in the eyes of the law – supposedly neutral –, salaried workers would have the same rights as any other citizen. However, as Maurice Spector observes, although universal suffrage ignores social classes, it does not make them disappear.

In reality, “sovereignty” had passed from “owners of the land” (in the feudal period) to “owners of money” (in the modern world). This “new freedom” brought great advantages, but only to the capitalist entrepreneur, owner of the means of production. For the proletariat, it brought the factory system, low wages, long working hours, unhealthy housing and fragile unemployment. Divorced from ownership of the means of production, the wage worker would have two choices: sell his labor power at prices set by the employer or perish. In these terms, the way in which labor relations were forged prevents the recognition of the so-called “freedom of salaried workers”.

In turn – continues Maurice Spector – unions emerged as an organized refusal by workers to submit, passively, to the rigors of wages and the so-called “law of supply and demand”, considered inexorable by liberals. This position is based on his understanding that both the value of labor power (transformed into merchandise) and the average standard of living of the population are defined within the scope of the class struggle. The widespread repression of unions, in countries like Canada, was alleged to be an inconsistency that allegedly existed on a theoretical level between “collective” demands and “individual” freedoms – as if there were a contradiction between the existence of entities that represent class interests and the ordering principles of a liberal society centered on the individual.

According to this assumption, so-called “democratic” states intended to legitimize their actions against the right to free association of workers, condemning unions, accusing them of conspiracy or acting to restrict trade. Therefore, he concludes that what was happening in Canada was the local expression of a phenomenon common to capitalist regimes in general.

Although he reduced his political activities in the 1940s, Maurice Spector kept the memory of “revolutionary socialism” alive against the bureaucratization process that occurred under Stalin's government. Furthermore, he directly contributed to the construction of a socialist movement that achieved some local victories, such as: the organization of workers; strengthening struggles for better wages through strikes; popular mobilization through demonstrations that pressed for the expansion of the rights of salaried workers – in which benefits such as unemployment insurance, health insurance, free education, minimum wage, regulation of working hours and holidays were demanded. Due to his reflections, trajectory and political actions, Maurice Spector is considered one of the most important names in the history of Canadian Marxism.

Comment on the work

Despite the relevance of his work as a party leader and intellectual, Maurice Spector's writings have not, until then, been collected and published in book format. Most of his texts are still dispersed in newspapers and magazines – from the CPC and the opposition league LCA-OP –, preserved in libraries and archives in Canada. These are articles that discuss topics such as Marxist theory, collective action programs, history and political circumstances. To guide the reader regarding his work, below we present some of his main writings, which can be found on portals or in secondary sources (such as publications by scholars of the author).

In 1916, at just 18 years old, Spector published three articles in the newspaper The Canadian Forward, which were republished on the Socialist History Project (www.socialisthistory.ca): “The divorce of principle and practice”, a middle-class critique of private property and the sanctity of the nuclear family; “Socialist influence on social progress”, analysis of the hypocrisy of capitalist political parties and the growing influence of the socialist agenda; and “Shakespeare's age and our own”, a detailed analysis of the English writer's contributions to thinking about the historical context of the XNUMXth century.

His texts published in the late 1920s and 1930s in LCA-OP bodies and in the theoretical magazine of the Socialist Workers Party of the USA (SWP), The New International, can be read on the portal marxists (www.marxists.org). Among the most important, we highlight: “Statement to the Canadian Party” [“Declaration to the Canadian Party”], a letter from Spector of November 1928 to his party (CPC), in which he defends Leninism, international socialism and refutes the accusations against Trotsky made by the Communist International; “Anti-communist arrests in Canada” [“Anti-Communist Prisons in Canada”] (Aug. 1931), in which he defends the CPC against repression by the Canadian state; “The State and the trade unions in Canada” [“The State and unions in Canada”] (Apr. 1932), in which he criticizes the policy of weakening unions promoted by the government of Richard Bedford.

Published on the network, there are also articles on historical topics such as the Paris Commune – “The tradition of the commoners” [“The tradition of communeiros”], 1936; the murder of Rosa Luxemburg – “Rosa Luxemburg: on the anniversary of her assassination by the German social democrats” [“Rosa Luxemburg: on the anniversary of her assassination by the German Social Democrats”], 1932; and also several texts about international events in the 1930s, such as “The crisis in fascism” [“The Crisis in Fascism”] (1934), about the emergence of fascism, and “The danger of war and the defense of the Soviet Union” [“The danger of war and the defense of the Soviet Union”] (1935).

In Portuguese, Maurice Spector has not yet had his writings translated, but the interesting essay “The collapse of the New Deal” – originally “The collapse of the New Deal"(The New International, v. 4, no. 6, Jun. 1938) –, translation of Center for Studies, Research and Publications 'León Trotsky' (https://ceip.org.ar), in which the Canadian Marxist analyzes the five years of the New Deal [New Deal]: the series of economic and social policies implemented in the USA between 1933 and 1937, under the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt, with the aim of recovering the country's economy shaken by the depression historically known as the Crisis 1929.

In the text, he considers that, after 5 years of the program, there is not much to “celebrate”: the “ephemeral recovery proved to be an illusion”; the level of industrial production “sank” to the precarious levels of between 1929 and 1933, with the value of shares on the New York Stock Exchange falling significantly in the last year; and even though Roosevelt arrived to try to “save capitalism”, spending a fortune to do so, the American “social crisis” is no longer “a mere critical fluctuation”, but a “state of decline that excludes all prospects of a new period of genuine expansion or lasting stability.”

It should be noted here that, with sagacity, Spector points out in his analysis the systemic (or structural) aspect of the crisis of the capitalist system, overexposed in 1929 (although later temporarily hidden by the capitalist heating obtained with the Second World War), an event that affected “ all classes” and “aspects of economic activity”. In his words: “the current depression is a stage in the development of this permanent crisis in the economic and social relations of capitalism”.

Articles by Maurice Spector have also been published in Marxist collections, but his book has not yet come to light. An important character in the history of his country – and of Marxism in America –, his memory and ideas deserve this organizational work, which I hope will be carried out by researchers and activists interested in his political and theoretical contributions, relevant above all to Canadian Marxism.

*Sean Purdy He is a professor of American history at USP. Author, among other books, of The general statesman: Douglas MacArthur (intermediate). [https://amzn.to/3ELP16Y]

*Pedro Rocha Curated is a professor at the Institute of International Relations and Defense at UFRJ.

*Argus Romero Abreu de Morais is a professor of linguistics, with a post-doctorate in Rhetoric at the University of Buenos Aires). Author, among other books, of Contemporary engagements: language, politics and education (Bridges).

Originally published on the Praxis Nucleus-USP.

References


ANGUS, Ian. Canadian Bolsheviks: the early years of the Communist Party of Canada. Bloomington-Indiana: Trafford Publishing, 2004.

CHÂTEAUNEUF, Lëa-Kim. “Maurice Spector.” Savoirs libres (Public domain calendar), ten. 2018. Disp: https://avent.savoirslibres.ca/maurice-spector.

DOWSON, Ross. “Maurice Spector, 1898-1968”. Workers Vanguard, Toronto, 26 Aug. 1968. Available: https://www.socialisthistory.ca.

MCKAY, Ian. Rebels, Reds, Radicals: Rethinking Canada's Left History. Toronto: Between the Lines, 2005.

O'BRIEN, Gary. “Maurice Spector and the Origins of Canadian Trotskyism”. Master's Thesis, Carleton University, 1974.

PALMER, Bryan D. “Maurice Spector, James P. Cannon, and the Origins of Canadian Trotskyism”, Labour/Le Travail, Peterborough, Canada, v. 56, 2005. Available: https://historycooperative.org.

______. James P. Cannon and the emergence of Trotskyism in the United States, 1928–38. Leiden/Boston: Brill, 2021.

PURDY, R. Sean. Radicals and revolutionaries: the history of Canadian communism from the Robert S. Kenny Collection. Toronto: Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library/University of Toronto, 1998.

THOMPSON, Mitchell. “Canada's communists played a vital role in the workers' movement”. Jacobin, may. 2021. Available: https://jacobin.com.

WEISLEDER, Barry. “Cannon's concept of the revolutionary party”. Socialist Action Canada, Toronto, May. 2018. Disp.: https://socialistaction.ca.


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