The Working Class: A Class for Capitalism or a Class for Itself?
CPS Election Analysis 2008 - Week 5
Don Currie – Chair, CPS

Canadian capitalism is a system in development and its greatest achievement has been to create the class that will ultimately replace it. Herewith a brief sketch of that class.
The Working Class
The spread of finance capitalism to all provinces, regions and territories of Canada is a historical process resulting in the creation of productive industries everywhere and with it, the spread and growth of the working class everywhere. The dominant socio-economic reality arising from the growth of the Canadian capitalist economy is the creation and re-creation of the Canadian working class.
The process is far from over. The growth of the working class continues. The process of the development of capitalism on the territory known as Canada has been and remains uneven, contradictory and competitive, incapable of according to the working people anything other than the uncertainty of boom and bust employment.
Economic development in Canada proceeds according to the fundamental law of capitalism, the quest for maximum profit. The quest for maximum profit results in anarchic, uneven growth and has stamped the Canadian working class with strong provincial and regional characteristics arising from the nature of the industries in which workers were traditionally employed.
As the capitalist class consolidated its grip on the home market and integrated the economy so better to exploit it, the result was the gradual diminishment of regional working class characteristics and the emergence of a Canadian working class view of the country and of the world. The tendency to working class unity is objective arising out of the concentration of labour in larger and larger industries, such as auto, steel, manufacturing, transportation, public and private utilities, public services, health and education and the most recent and fast growing entry, the hundreds of thousands employed in the oil, gas, and coal energy sectors, labouring to discover, extract, produce, refine and transport all forms of fossil fuels both for domestic and foreign consumption.
The growth and exploitation of the working class has necessitated its organization into labour unions uniting about 3.2 million workers that confront the capitalist class in the struggle for employment, wages and labour rights to organize, collective bargaining, strike and picket.
A contribution by Canadians for Peace and Socialism to the discussion of the composition of the working class was outlined in the essay “Part Two – Labour and the Nation: The Changes in the Composition of the Working Class and the Fight Back Against the Deindustrialization of Canada”. It can be read on the FOS website.
The Working Class and the Economy
Canada is a large country, still developing over a vast territory. Rich in resources, in particular energy, Canada is a destination for foreign investment capital and with it a growing demand for labour. The Canadian working class is characterized by its extreme mobility as it has been forced over the decades to move to wherever finance capital opened up new productive industries. That process continues today in the Alberta Tar Sands the most dramatic example.
The Canadian capitalist economy is advanced and productive, demanding highly skilled labour. The overall demand for labour has been met by the influx of women into the work force, the destruction of small farmers and farm labour arising from dominance of corporate agriculture and the inflow of immigrants decade over decade who overwhelming have become part of the working class with only a minority integrating in non-proletarian classes and a miniscule number entering the capitalist class. The inflow of immigrant labour has been both anarchic and planned.
The demand for labour has also been supplied from aboriginal youth, displaced and alienated from traditional lands and economies that have been destroyed by the development of capitalist economic relations. Youth as a whole enter the workforce as low wage, partially employed workers. The new entries into the working class are accorded the lowest and demeaning of occupations in the capitalist system. These processes of proletarianization continue unabated.
The Working Class and the State
Canada is one country comprising nations and people’s living and working in one integrated contradictory and uneven capitalist economy. The working class of Quebec confronts the same type of exploitation as workers everywhere in Canada. Because of the unresolved struggle for the right to self-determination for the Quebec nation, the employer classes for many long decades kept wages and working conditions of the workers of Quebec below those of English speaking Canada. During the decades of the sixties, seventies and eighties, the Quebec working class undertook struggles to win parity in wages and working conditions. In the course of those struggles, the workers of Quebec established standards in some areas of social programs that exceeded those in the country as a whole.
The form of the Canadian capitalist state is a federation of provinces and territories with an evolved capitalist constitution enshrining the dominance of private property in which political power is reserved for the ruling financial corporate elite overseeing the profit system, ensuring its dominance over the development of the whole country, all nations and all people’s.
The form of the state is federal but its function is the same as in all capitalist countries, an instrument of coercion assuring the dominance of finance capital, defined as the merger of industrial and banking capital, over all of the economic developments in the country. Finance capital, determines the fiscal and monetary, import-export regulations and the integration of Canadian finance capital in the global system of capitalism. As such, Canada is a state monopoly capitalist system, a merger of finance capital and the state. State monopoly capitalism is the form of capitalism in its final stage, imperialism.
State Monopoly Capitalism
Imperialism is a specific historical stage of capitalism. Imperialism is the result of the emergence of monopoly capitalism, the point at which capitalism reaches its highest stage. “Monopoly is the transition from capitalism to a higher system” said Lenin
Canada is a fully developed imperialist state. It is among those imperialist states in the orbit of US imperialism. In his seminal work, Lenin and Canada, Progress Books 1970 Tim Buck observed:
“The idea that a modern sovereign state, of fully developed state-monopoly capitalism, could lose its independence and become dependent upon and, in essentials subservient to another, and still remain an imperialist state, an active partner in the exploiting, oppressive, bellicose imperialist world system, seeking to preserve that reactionary system by wars of conquest, had never occurred to us until it happened to Canada.”
The modern Canadian state is the domination, control and merger of industrial and finance capital monopolies with the state. That is true for all advanced capitalist states. Nothing makes that more apparent than what is occurring in the USA today as the state moves swiftly to save a failing banking system at the expense of the working people. The fact that one or another faction among state monopoly has more influence over the state at particular periods of political development does not change its essence.
State monopoly capitalism is incapable of overcoming anarchic development in the economy, the resort to war and to militarism to project its power. Imperialism is the last and final stage of capitalism beyond which there is socialism. Between capitalism and socialism, there is no intervening historical stage of a reformed hybrid capitalist-socialist system, or as was postulated by Kautsky in Lenin’s day - “ultra-imperialism”.
In the period of the domination of state monopoly capitalism there arise sharp working class and people’s democratic struggles that can reduce the power of finance capital, curb it, create wider scope for democracy, and win concessions for working people. As these struggles unfold they become intense and at some point the issue of class power is confronted. It is either resolved in the overthrow of capitalist power, necessitating a new power, a worker’s state, a proletarian dictatorship as Marx and Lenin defined it, necessary to suppress the attempt of the overthrown exploiter classes to re-assert their power and to enable the workers and all working people to build a new socialist system.
Cuba is in the stage of the proletarian dictatorship and building socialism. Venezuela is in the process of struggling with corporate power and its US backers, for complete working class mastery of the state. Their goal is socialism but their struggle has not concluded. In Bolivia the progressive forces have challenged corporate power and are in the process of replacing it with public ownership and planning. Brazil is at a lower stage of this development but is experimenting with forms of public ownership and social policies that benefit the poor. One can move around the globe and given a close study describe the developmental stage of the struggle with imperialist power unfolding in countries and regions of the globe.
The Canadian Imperialist State - Stresses and Strains
In Canada the much vaunted “stability” of the Canadian capitalist state, is experiencing many stresses and strains. The Conservatives talk a great deal about “devolution of powers”, “ increasing provincial rights”, “reducing government interference in personal lives”, “reduction of federal bureaucracies”, “trimming government fat” “correcting the fiscal imbalance” “ 3P and privatization to shorten wait times” etc. These slogans have a hollow ring when in practice they inevitably result in downloading senior government social programs to lower levels of government and destroying the universality principal in federal social programs.
Marxism-Leninism has had a lot to say about the state. Karl Marx agreed with anarchists; Proudhon and Bakunin that the capitalist state had to be smashed before a new socialist state can be created, but disagreed with them that a federal state was to be preferred over a central state. “Marx was a centralist” Lenin observed;
“The really democratic centralized republic gave more freedom than the federal republic. In other words, the greatest amount of local, regional and other freedom known in history was accorded by a centralized and not by a federal republic.”
The Canadian Council of Chief Executives (CCCE) which represents 150 leading CEO’s of most of Canada’s major banks and corporations released a report February 2006 calling for an overhaul of the country’ “fiscal federation”. What the CCCE proposed was to hand over the $29 billion income from GST and increase the taxing powers of the provinces to get the federal government out of funding health care and other social programs. Council president Thomas d’Aquino wound up his pitch for a weakened federal state, by saying, “Those who oppose this proposal would be defending an agenda of centralized power.”
The weakening of the central functions of the federal state is a reactionary demand by corporate power to divest the state of its responsibility for people’s welfare. The neo-cons have taken power to tighten the grip of finance capital over the repressive functions of the state, the army, security, police, courts, the federal taxation system and fiscal policy, foreign policy and defence spending to consolidate their power to confront the opposition of the workers and democratic forces.
Corporate reaction, has abandoned state capitalist planning in the realm of the national economic development because it has no need of it in the era of continental free trade. A weakened role for the state in national economic development gives scope to the formation of regional capitalist power centres that are more vulnerable to US finance capital penetration and influence, such as Alberta and the tar sands. The Canadian capitalist state is finding it increasingly problematic to impose national unity because major corporate interests are opposed. Both the Liberals and the Conservatives are responsible for bringing our country into decline and disunity and they are responsible for the growing regional imbalances and threats to the jobs, wages and well being of Canadian workers and their families.
Mulroney’s Collaboration and the Sell Out of Canadian Independence.
The Mulroney Government, in collaboration with President Ronald Reagan began the process of destroying centralism in the federal state by enacting the Free Trade Agreement. A continental market has little need for sustaining a national east-west transportation system, a federal two price energy system, federal state governed marketing of agricultural products, state owned electrical generation, a National Energy Policy, a Foreign Investment Review Board, National Research and Development programs, federally administered Food and Health standards etc. And above all it certainly didn’t need a Trudeau National Energy Policy, that presented a direct federal challenge to the ownership and control and profiteering from energy production by a rising finance-capitalist class in Alberta.
Neo-cons supported the weakening of all state capitalist structures that impeded the importation of foreign capital and the export of resources and simultaneously attacked universality in social programs such as health care, unemployment insurance, old age and CPA pensions, public education, and low cost housing programs under CMHC, programs to redress women’s inequality in the work place and universal child care to drive them down to the lowest common denominator set by some racist US southern state. Mulroney did these things while actually strengthening central state power to increase taxes on wages and to reduce taxes on corporate profits and to cut federal transfers to underdeveloped provinces. Mulroney was the originator of the “fiscal imbalance.”
Mulroney garnered support for his policies among big eastern finance capital but what he failed to do was to provide the rising power of Alberta Big Oil a dominant presence at the federal government table. The much vaunted, “the west wants in” slogan that hornswoggled so many Albertans, including many workers, was a cynical demand by oil investors to set federal taxation and fiscal policy. They wanted the same or better treatment from government for oil investment as eastern industrial capital was receiving in the auto, steel, electrical generation and manufacturing sectors. That is why Stephen Harper was promoted by Tom Flanagan and the university brain trust as Alberta’s big oil man in Ottawa. It didn’t get much sweeter for big oil than to have a Klein-Stelmach Conservative running Alberta and an Alberta bred Prime Minister running Ottawa.
The Crisis of Liberalism
Neo-liberalism, under the leadership of Prime Minister Jean Chretien, continued the Mulroney policy of allowing the weakening of those central functions of the state that benefited the people but continued the Mulroney policy of centralizing the taxation and fiscal policies that fattened the federal treasury. Paul Martin used huge federal surpluses to reduce corporate taxes and reduce the federal deficit that saved Canadian capitalism from IMF receivership and kept big Canadian finance capital in the game of the imperialist re-division of markets. The Liberals preserved those elements of Canadian independence that served the profit interests of the corporate sector that kept them in power and abandoned the rest.
The History of Liberal Complicity and Deceit
The Liberal policy of campaigning from the “left” and governing from the rights is more than a cliché. The Liberal Party under Louis St. Laurent committed Canada to the US imperialist Korean War. In anticipation of an imperialist war against the Soviet Union, the St. Laurent Government used the Korean war to justify the sell-out of Canadian natural resources to the USA and the abandonment of such key sectors of the economy as Canadian ship building, commercial aircraft industries, machine tool building and key sectors of Canadian manufacturing, especially those that required research and development to survive and compete. Canadian capitalists settled for a junior partner role in the joint exploitation of Canadians minerals, timber and electrical power at the expense of Canadian jobs and wages.
The greatest Liberal betrayal was the failure to develop an east west power grid. Hydro power development in B.C, Quebec and Manitoba, geared to serve the US market assured the long term regional underdevelopment of the industrial and manufacturing sectors of those provinces and condemned the working class of those provinces to semi-skilled jobs in resource based economies. Only the intervention of the Canadian people in the 1950’s in a great national campaign compelled the Federal Government to facilitate the construction of east west natural gas pipelines on an all-Canadian route.
The supreme betrayal of the Liberal policy was the integration of Canadian defense policy with USA imperialism in anticipation of a nuclear war with the Soviet Union. The Pearson Government was complicit in the Viet Nam War but didn’t commit military forces. The policy of Prime Minister Pearson was to assure his corporate backers, that they could profiteer out of selling war material and natural resources to the US war machine, but not incur the wrath of the Canadian people by committing military forces as it had done in Korea. Paul Martin Senior was handpicked by Pearson to organize the profiteering out of the Viet Nam war but not get militarily involved.
A similar policy determined the Chretien Government’s refusal to join the USA in Iraq. Chretien believed the war could bring profits without committing troops. Chretien continued the Pearson policy.
With the rise of the financial power of the energy sector, with its close ties to the US market and in particular to US war industries that urgently required a vast amount of fossil fuel products, the pressures began to grow within the Canadian capitalist class for the Government to become more directly involved in imperialist wars of plunder and aggression. The Martin Liberals moved too slowly for their liking and the Harper Conservatives, intimately connected to the energy sector narrowly came to power.
Paul Martin broke the Pearson, Trudeau, Chretien mould and to stay in power Paul Martin capitulated and committed troops to a war of occupation in Kabul. Martin was too clever by far, believing he could be in a war, but only partly.
Martin gave Stephen Harper what he was looking for, the opportunity to prove to the energy investors and the Bush administration that he could turn a war of occupation in Kabul into a war of aggression in Kandahar. The Liberal policy of complicity, betrayal and deceit evolved to its logical conclusion, Canadian involvement in all out imperialist war.
The Harper Conservatives are aggressively committed to an imperial role for Canadian finance capital in the global market, backed up by a vastly increased military, interoperable with the US military forces.
Harper’s world view is steeped in imperial ambition and confronts the stubborn belief of a majority of Canadian people in the destiny of Canada as a force for peace not war.
The 40th Federal General Election unfolds in the midst of imperialist war and a global economic crisis of the capitalist credit system. Canadians who want peace, jobs and a future for the youth, must unite to defeat the neo-con Harper Conservatives on October 14th.
It is a step – but a giant one. Left turn Canada!

1. Tim Buck, Lenin and Canada – Progress Publishers - 1970
2. Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives - Fuelling Fortress America 2005
3. State and Revolution – Lenin 1917