Complete with secret barnyard meetings, repressive government agents and heroic marches on the capital, its roots are in the populace, the working class, the poor, the meek and the repressed. And finally, its history is one of the great Canadian tales seldom told outside the small circle of supporters and history buffs.
If you don’t count Marx, Engels or the October Revolution, it all began in May 1921 in a barn outside of Guelph. The Communist Party of Canada was founded under conditions of illegality and since then it has been persecuted, disregarded, repressed, laughed at, ignored and patronized. The reasons for the mistreatment of the CPC changed over the years. There was the fear of the ’20s and ’30s, the hate of the ’50s and ’60s, but most recently there has been the misunderstanding of the ’90s.
The fall of the Soviet Union led to the strongest attack on the communist ideology’s credibility since its creation--an attack it still withstands. Already weakened by the reality of corrupt party officials, inefficient economics and repressive autocrats, the fall of the Bolshevik Revolution to the populist masses of Moscow hurt communism.
"But that was socialism in its infancy," argued CPC Leader Miguel Figueroa sitting in the comfortable confines of a student newspaper. "Socialism suffered a grave setback. [The Soviet case] was an attempt to develop an entirely different socio-economic system. The first wave of socialism founded some serious departures from the ideology, it led to alienation and bred careerism. Capitalism in its first incarnation wasn’t perfect either. It’s still far from perfect."
Figueroa toured Western Canada in November of 2001 to raise awareness of Bill C-36 and its ramifications on the civil liberties of Canadians. But before he spoke about the bill, or about terrorism or world affairs, he defended his party’s socialist ideology. And therein lies the problem facing the CPC--their identity is tied solely with the world communist movement which blinds anyone who speaks to Figueroa. The first ‘C’ in the CPC is a dirty word for politicians and the public alike. The leader of the party is under constant attack because of that word, regardless of the accomplishments or goals of the CPC--and there have been many of those.
"Our party was the first to raise the call for public health care," said Figueroa. "We opened a non-profit clinic in Montreal in 1925. We championed the rights of aboriginal people. Even though these were brought in by the Liberal government, these were never handed to the people.
"Smaller parties have a very important impact on the social development in this country. We take pride in the fact we’ve helped bring about this change."
Figueroa admitted his party faces an uphill battle for credibility in the Canadian political arena. The recent shift to the right in the policies of the federal and provincial governments was coupled with the decline in the popularity of Marxism on a global scale. This dealt a double blow to leftist parties--the further left the greater the impact. The CPC only put eight candidates in the 1993 federal elections. This meant the party lost its official party status because it fell below the 50 candidate threshold required to hold onto the status. Since then the CPC has been fighting in court to get its status back and succeeded in 1998 with an Ontario Supreme Court decision that struck down several sections of the Canada Elections Act as unconstitutional. For example, the threshold was lowered to 12 candidates for the purposes of putting the party name on the ballot next to the candidates name. Before the amendment to the Act, the party name was not allowed to figure next to the candidates name unless the party ran 50 candidates.
"We’re not a big party," smiled Figueroa. "We have somewhere in the order of 500 members but we have party organizations in virtually every part of the country. We have offices, we have clubs and branches of the party."
The court victory cleared the latest roadblock for the CPC. With that out of the way, Figueroa was ready to tackle other challenges like bill C-36, increasing grassroots support for his party and the never-ending fight for credibility. Of course, that last fight is without a doubt the hardest. The Communist Party of Canada is a tough sell in a prosperous, right-leaning country though perhaps not for the right reasons. Once you look past that first ‘C’ there’s a worthwhile voice of dissent just waiting to be heard and Figueroa is quite unlike any politician in the mainstream.
History has shown that there are no easy victories for the communists and in proud Marxist tradition, Figueroa’s struggles are no different.