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Description found in Archives

Canadian Trotskyist Movement fonds [multiple media]. 



Place of creation


44.15 m of textual records.
459 audio reels (459 h).
5 film reels (32 min, 21 s).
523 photographs 493 b&w, 10 coul, 20 b&w negs.
37 prints reproductions, offset lithographs.

Scope and content

Fonds consists of textual records, sound recordings, film footage, photographs and art material that document the activities of the main Trotskyist current (the Workers Party of Canada and its successor organizations) in Canada during the 1934-1979 period. The records, which largely originated in the organization's central office in Toronto, relate primarily to the activities -- particularly during the years 1961 to 1972 -- of the League for Socialist Action / Ligue Socialiste Ourvrière and its youth organization, the Young Socialists / Ligue des Jeunes Socialistes, including their interventions within the New Democratic Party, the student movement, the women's movement, and the anti-war movement. In addition to documenting the activities of the main Trotskyist movement in Canada, the records shed light on the Canadian Trotskyists' role within the worldwide Trotskyist movement and the contributions of Trotskyist leaders, particularly Ross Dowson. As well, the records contain considerable documentation relating to rival Trotskyist groupings and other far-left organizations in Canada, especially during the New Left period and its immediate aftermath. Textual records comprise correspondence, minutes, financial statements, memoranda, ephemera, grey literature, and other records relating to the Trotskyist movement in Canada. The records have been arranged in twelve sub-series: Workers Party of Canada, Socialist Workers League, Revolutionary Workers Party, Socialist Educational League, League for Socialist Action / Ligue Socialiste Ouvrière, Young Socialists / Ligue des Jeune Socialistes, Revolutionary Marxist Group, Vietnam Mobilization Committee, Leninist-Trotskyist Faction, Revolutionary Workers League / Ligue Ouvriére Révolutionnaire, Canadian Women's Coalition to Repeal the Abortion Laws, and Bulletins and Discussion Documents. Sound recordings include proceedings from several conventions and conferences; classes on the history of the movement; CBC programs; talks, speeches, reports and interviews with Ross Dowson and other activists. Moving image material includes one documentary film and unedited and silent documentary footage dealing with Canada's abortion laws, anti-abortionists, the Vietnam War and anti-Vietnam war demonstrations Photographs depict the activities of the Trotskyist movement in Canada.. Graphic material includes posters and broadsides from various socialist groups, dealing with issues such as labour struggles, the Quebec crisis, revolutionary groups in Canada, and Canada's abortion laws.

Textual records
96: Restrictions vary
Vols. 209-222 are closed.

Sound recordings
90: Open
Moving images (film)
90: Open
Graphic (photo)
96: Restrictions vary
Photographs: Documents must be consulted
under close supervision for conservation reasons. Photographs in Vols. 212-213 are currently closed.
Graphic (art)
90: Open
Artistic material: Documents must be con
sulted under close supervision for conservation reasons.
Graphic (art)
90: Open
030171 Item no. assigned by LAC 1 -- 7; 10; 12; 14 -- 18; 25; 28
Item no. assigned by LAC 8 -- 9; 11; 13; 26 -- 27; 29 -- 37
90: Open
Archival reference no.
Former archival reference no.

Terms of use

Sound recordings: Reproduction and use in any form requires the written permission of the copyright holders and of the donor.
Moving images: Reproduction and use in any form requires the written permission of the copyright holders and of the donor.
Photographs: No restrictions on use. Copyright varies. Copyright held by Globe and Mail for some material. Credit: National Archive of Canada. Photos in Vols. 212-213 are currently closed.
Art material: No restrictions on use. Copyright varies. Credit: National Arvhive of Canada.

Sound recordings and moving images See MISACS for item-level descriptions. (Electronic)

Sound recordings and moving images See AV collection files for item-level descriptions. (Paper)

Graphic material Consult art and photo accession files for item level descriptions. (Paper)

Textual records MSS2084 90 (Electronic)

Biography / Administrative history

The Canadian Trotskyist movement emerged from profound conflicts that split the international Communist movement in the late 1920s, centring on the struggle between, on the one hand, Joseph Stalin and his allies in the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), and, on the other, the Left Opposition forces allied with Leon Trotsky.

The key figure in the early history of Canadian Trotskyism was Maurice Spector, a member of the Communist Party of Canada's (CPC) executive committee and the fledgling party's chief theoretician and propagandist. As the struggle within the CPSU intensified, Spector became increasingly sympathetic to the positions of the Left Opposition. In 1928, while attending the Sixth Congress of the Comintern in Moscow, Spector, together with James P. Cannon, the founder of the American Trotskyist movement, obtained a copy of a major critique of the Communist International by Trotsky, who had, by that time, been expelled from the CPSU. Spector decided to smuggle the document back to Canada and to publicize Trotsky's ideas within the CPC. Not long after, Spector was expelled by the Canadian party, which was quickly coming under the control of party activists and functionaries sympathetic to Stalin and willing, if not eager, to accept direction from the Comintern and the CPSU. In 1929, Spector and a small group of Toronto-based followers founded the Canadian Left Opposition, which functioned as a branch of the chief Opposition group in the United States (US), the Communist League of America. Three years later, the Canadian Left Oppositionists were joined by Jack MacDonald, the former national secretary of the CPC, who had been expelled from the party in 1930 as a "Rightist". Soon a small nucleus of activists formed and spread from Toronto to Montreal, Winnipeg, and Vancouver. The latter group was organized by Earle Birney, who would later make his mark as one of Canada's leading poets. (Birney and Spector would be among the very few Canadian Trotskyists who would actually meet with Trotsky.) The Canadian Trotskyists, like other leftists in the Depression era, became active among both the unemployed and students and in the trade-union movement. During this early period they were also active in the Ukranian community. In 1934, the Canadian Trotskyists were recognized as a separate section of the international Trotskyist movement, establishing the Worker's Party of Canada, organizing the Spartacus Youth League, and publishing the periodical Vanguard. The year 1934 also marked the first major split in the Canadian Trotskyist movement, when Canadian followers of the expelled US Trotskyist B.J. Field left to form the League for a Revolutionary Workers Party. (A marked propensity for splitting and factionalism would continue to characterize the Canadian movement.)

Although the Canadian movement now had a separate organizational identity, it remained closely linked with the US movement. These ties were further cemented in 1936, when Maurice Spector, the leading Canadian Trotskyist, moved to New York to work in the US movement.

By the mid-1930s the international Trotskyist forces remained very weak. For this reason, Trotsky urged some sections to adopt an "entrist" tactic, which would see them enter social-democratic and labour parties, where they could recruit the most advanced workers and push for more revolutionary policies. "Entrism" was envisaged as a short-term tactical action. Trotskyist revolutionaries would eventually split from the social democrats, taking with them new cadres and gaining invaluable experience. In Canada, entrism was an extremely controversial and divisive issue. Spector and many other veteran members opposed the tactic. However, the Canadians eventually submitted to the will of Trotsky and the international movement and liquidated the Worker's Party and its youth group into the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), which had been founded in 1932. Due to resistance on the part of many members, the entry took place over two years, with the BC group and the youth joining in 1936 and Ontario locals and activists in other provinces joining in 1937. Once in the CCF, the Trotskyists formed the Socialist Policy Group, publishing a newsletter entitled Socialist Action.

Disillusioned with the entrist experience, many activists left the Trotskyist movement during this period. Other problems emerged late in 1938, when the Ontario CCF expelled the Trotskyists, forcing the movement to divide itself, in effect, into two sections: the Western group, which remained in the CCF, and the Ontario group, which, in 1939, was forced to form a new organization, the Socialist Workers League (SWL). With the outbreak of war in 1939, the Trotskyists experienced further difficulties, including the departure of many members who objected to Trotsky's continuing defence of the Soviet Union, which the dissidents viewed as an aggressor in the war. Among those who left over this issue was Earle Birney By 1940, the decimated Trotskyist movement consisted of a handful of activists scattered across the country, many of them seeking refuge in the CCF. The rebuilding of the movement fell to a few young members centred in Toronto. The leading figure in this second generation of leaders was Ross Dowson, who had joined the Trotskyist movement in 1935. In 1941 Dowson embarked on a Western tour to communicate with scattered SWL members and sympathizers. In 1944, he and other activists organized a national conference at Montreal, where Dowson was elected national secretary. He would serve as the principal leader of the Canadian Trotskyists for most of the next three decades.

Encouraged by the wave of radicalism and social upheaval that coincided with the war's end, the Trotskyists launched a new periodical, Labor Challenge, in 1945, and a new party, the Revolutionary Workers Party (RWP), in 1946. Centred mostly in Vancouver and Toronto, the RWP established a base in the labour movement and participated in the Toronto civic elections of 1948. However, the revolutionary promise of the post-war era was short-lived, soon giving way to the harsh realities of the Cold War. As was the case in 1936, the Trotskyists began to consider the need for entrism. Encouraged by the International Secretariat (IS) of the Trotskyist Fourth International (FI), the RWP was dissolved in 1952 and its members re-entered the CCF. As the Canadians were engaging in their second entry into the CCF, a bitter split developed in the international Trotskyist movement between the followers of Michel Pablo, who supported sustained, "deep" entrism into Communist and other left-wing parties, and those who opposed the strategy. Despite their liquidation into the CCF, most Canadian Trotskyists sided with the Socialist Workers Party in the US, which rejected so-called Pabloism. Within the FI, the pro-Pablo forces were identified with the IS, while the anti-Pabloists were organized in the International Committee. The Pabloists within Canada, known as the Fitzgerald and McAlpine faction, eventually left the RWP, attracting some other dissatisfied RWP members who had previously belonged to the so-called Rose faction, a minority within the ranks of the Toronto Trotskyists.

A further complication relating to entrism arose in 1955, when the CCF expelled the Toronto-area Trotskyists, who soon formed a new organization, the Socialist Educational League, and launched a new paper, Workers Vanguard. They also contested the mayoralty election in Toronto in 1959, but with much less success than their previous electoral efforts. During this period, the movement also had to deal with another instance of divisive factionalism: the Batten split.

As was the case in 1938, the BC Trotskyists avoided the CCF purge, and were able to remain in the party. This caused considerable East-West tension within the Canadian Trotskyist movement. In fact, protected by a sizeable left-wing in the BC CCF, the Vancouver Trotskyists resisted an end to their entrism until 1959, when they too were thrown out. Upon their expulsion, the Vancouver Trotskyists formed the Socialist Information Center (SIC). In 1961, as the CCF joined with the Canadian labour movement to form the New Democratic Party (NDP), the Trotskyist forces in Canada were prompted to unite in a new organization of their own, the League for Socialist Action (LSA ) / Ligue Socialiste Ouvrière (LSO), which published the newspaper Labor Challenge. Just as entrism into the CCF had figured prominently in the Canadian Trotskyist strategies of the 1930s and 1950s, the LSA/LSO was determined to work within the new social-democratic party. However, the leadership of the NDP was just as determined to bar Trotskyists from its ranks, leading to an ongoing cycle of entry efforts and expulsions. For a time, the Trotskyists were active in an internal NDP group called the Socialist Caucus. Later, they played a significant role in the "Waffle" group within the NDP.

In addition to its efforts to push the NDP leftward, the LSA/LSO continued to intervene in various union struggles. It also played an instrumental role in the establishment and operation of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee in Canada. As well, its activists were increasingly active in two currents that would contribute significantly to the creation of a Canadian New Left, namely, the student movement and the anti-war movement. Consequently, as a new wave of student radicalism began to sweep campuses across Canada in the late 1960s, the LSA/LSO and its youth group, the Young Socialists (YS) / Ligue des Jeunes Socialistes (LJS), were very well positioned to play a leadership role. Contributing to this positioning was the fact that the YS/LJS was nominally independent from the LSA/LSO and published a lively and accessible youth newspaper, Young Socialist.

Whereas the Trotskyist movement had previously been confined, for the most part, to three cities -- Toronto, Vancouver, and, to a lesser degree, Montreal -- starting in the mid-1960s, the YS/LJS and LSA/LSO began to experience unprecedented national growth, particularly on university campuses. Soon locals sprang up in a number of new centres, including Halifax, Fredericton, Ottawa, Peterborough, London, Kitchener-Waterloo, Winnipeg, Saskatoon, and Edmonton. In fact, during the sixties, membership in the Trotskyist movement doubled about every three years.

For a time, the Trotskyist leadership, based in the central office in Toronto, was extremely successful in adapting to the new radicalism evident across Canada, quickly responding to the many opportunities for growth and expansion. Although the Trotskyists embraced virtually all the left-wing causes of the late 1960s and 1970s, they were particularly effective in their interventions in the anti-war movement, the student movement, and the women's movement (especially the struggle for abortion rights). As well, they were the first Marxist organization in Canada to support gay liberation.

However, while the emergence of the New Left represented an unprecedented opportunity for the Trotskyists, the incorporation of New Left elements eventually contributed to major ruptures within the movement and, ultimately, its splintering.

Many of the student radicals who joined the movement in the late 1960s began to challenge some of the key positions of the LSA/LSO and YS/LJS. Much of this opposition focused on three issues: NDP entrism, the response to Quebec nationalism, and the nature of Canadian nationalism. In part, these oppositional activities developed in response to divisions within the FI between European and North American Trotskyists. Although the LSA/LSO leadership sided with their American counterparts and the minority in the International, known as the Leninist Trotskyist Faction (LTF), a growing number of new LSA/LSO and YS/LJS members came to identify with the majority forces in the FI, grouped in the International Majority Tendency (IMT ). For a time, the Trotskyist leadership was able to contend with dissident factions or tendencies, such as the Rand-Engler group in Vancouver and a grouping led by Michel Mill in Montreal. However, as opposition to the leadership's positions intensified and became more widespread, serious fractures began to appear in the LSA/LSO and YS/LJS in 1969-1970. Initially the main opposition centres were in Montreal (the increasingly influential Michel Mill group) and the Maritimes. Eventually these groups came together to form the Unified Minority Tendency. With the encouragement of IMT leaders from Europe, the Canadian minority connected with opposition forces in Winnipeg, Peterborough, and Toronto. In 1972 the minority forces in English Canada coalesced into the Revolutionary Communist Tendency (RCT). As these factional disputes intensified, they began to take their toll on the LSA/LSO. In 1972 the Quebec group, led by Mill, split from the LSA/LSO to form the Groupe Marxiste Révolutionnaire (GMR). That same year, Ross Dowson stepped down as LSA/LSO leader. In 1973 a major rupture occurred when the RCT was expelled from the LSA/LSO and soon thereafter joined with two other groups to create a rival organization, the Revolutionary Marxist Group (RMG). In 1974, a group led by Dowson left the LSA/LSO to form the Socialist League (later the Forward Group). Also in 1974, the Bolshevist-Leninist Tendency within the RMG was expelled, thereafter merging with another Trotskyist grouping, the Spartacus League, to establish the Trotskyist League. Never a very large force on the Canadian far left, the Trotskyists were now deeply divided and fragmented. The disintegration of the Canadian Trotskyist movement became a growing concern for many activists and eventually led to unity discussions between the three main groups. In 1977, these talks culminated in the unification of the RMG, LSA, and GMR within a new organization, the Revolutionary Workers League / Ligue Ouvriére Révolutionnaire (RWL/LOR). However, unity was short-lived, as the RWL/LWR was soon beset by further debilitating factionalism, much of it prompted by the new group's efforts to transform itself into a thoroughly proletarian organization. Inevitably, these factional struggles resulted in the loss of members and a series of splits, which, in turn, led to the formation of several rival organizations, including Combat Socialiste / Socialist Challenge (1980), Gauche Socialiste (1983), Socialist Workers Collective (1984), and the Alliance for Socialist Action (1984). Furthermore, the RWL/LOR itself subsequently evolved into the Montreal-based Communist League / Ligue Communiste (CL/LC).

Since the mid-1980s the decline of the Trotskyist movement in Canada has continued. The CL/LC is now one of a handful of small, marginal groupings claiming the mantle of Trotskyism in Canada.

Additional information

Material was acquired by the Archives of Ontario between 1979 and 1985. The Archives of Ontario then transferred the material to the National Archives in 1994 and 1997.

Custodial history
The Trotskyist movement records, which were largely accumulated in the movement's central office in Toronto, were originally donated, under the direction of the Trotskyist activist and historian Ian Angus, to the Archives of Ontario in 1979-1981 and 1985. (The original title for the records was the MacDonald-Spector Collection.) In 1994 and 1997, the records were transferred to the National Archives of Canada. The records relating to the Communist League / Ligue Communiste (and its predecessor organization the Revolutionary Workers League / Ligue Ouvrière Révolutionnaire) were donated in 2006 by the Trotskyist activist Michel Prairie.

Varying form of title

Subject heading

1. Communism History Canada
2. Communisme Histoire Canada
3. Workers' Party of Canada


Related control no.

1. 1994-454 DAP
2. 1997-0394 MISA
3. 2006-0147 (VSA)
4. 121-020296-4
5. 122-020044-1
6. 2006-00471-9
7. MG28-IV11