A recent documentary by the CBC’s The Fifth Estate revealed documentary proof about an anti-democratic plot that would have made Senator McCarthy proud. These facts sharply contradict those who believe that the Canadian state rests on a basis of “democracy and the rule of law.” However, as seen at the recent G20 demonstrations, this threat to democratic rights still persists. It is vital that the labour movement educates itself about these plans in order to prepare for future attacks.
At a secret gathering between senior officials of the RCMP and the federal government in August of 1950, a plan called “PROFUNC” was approved. PROFUNC, an abbreviation for “Prominent Functionaries of Groups with Communist Affiliation,” would see the mass and simultaneous pre-emptive arrest of tens of thousands of citizens that had committed no crime whatsoever. Kept tightly under wraps until recently, this plan was in place until the early 1980s.
According to the declassified documents, the names of more than 66,000 Canadians were on these secret lists. The lists included the names, addresses, personal information, and even possible escape routes of 16,000 suspected communists and more than 50,000 sympathizers. It should be noted that it didn’t take much to get on this list; being a member of a communist party or organization, being related to a member, or even being suspected of having left-wing or Marxist leanings was enough to get someone’s name on there.
On a day coded “M Day,” all these people would be “pre-emptively” interned for an unspecified period, with no trial. According to the plan, the men would be interned in camps and the women would be confined in other prison facilities, while their kids would be sent to live with relatives or with one of their parents. In case a rule was broken, the punishment regulations were draconian; they ranged from indefinite detention to being shot immediately, in case any detainee tried to escape. Whole families would be broken apart and thousands would be stripped of their constitutional rights. The basic human rights of freedom of conscience, thought, belief, opinion, and expression, stipulated by the Canadian constitution, would be ignored.
Furthermore, it should be mentioned that the declassified documents and security files on PROFUNC have many sections that are blackened out. There are many more aspects of this program, or who may have been targeted, that we still don’t know. For example, there are suspicions that Tommy Douglas was on the lists, but his security file is still off-limits. Another of his files has most of the details blackened out, while there is a file that approves his detention order.
Although the most shameful details of this plan are still hidden, the facts so far alone are enough to expose the nature of the Canadian state. Fearing that some day it might be threatened by social unrest, the state put this mechanism in place in order to cut the head off of the working class, by incarcerating the most militant workers. On the one hand, it would deprive the workers’ movement of its leadership; on the other, through fear and the threat of repression, it would try to stop the workers and youth from rising up. It is believed that the plan was partially enacted during the 1970 FLQ October Crisis when hundreds, with no link to the FLQ, were arrested from coast-to-coast under the auspices of the War Measures Act.
When the plan was revealed, some bourgeois commentators and politicians shed crocodile tears, talking about how they were appalled by this revelation. Yet, almost 30 years since PROFUNC ceased to exist, nothing has changed in terms of the nature of the Canadian state. Activists still get visited and harassed by CSIS, even though their beliefs and actions are formally legal.
The most recent case of state repression of dissent was around the G20 summit in Toronto. Draconian laws were passed and special powers were given to the police, who even abused those! Protesters and bystanders were searched, intimidated, beaten, arrested, and detained just because they exercised (or planned to exercise) their democratic right to protest. Hundreds were pre-emptively arrested and detained for days; many were beaten, abused, or sexually harassed by the police.
These incidents are neither accidental nor black pages on the “democratic” history of this country. When the ideas of socialism and those who express them pose no threat to the status quo, democratic rights are mostly respected. In periods when the socialist ideas resonate with the masses and the ruling class is threatened, then the democratic mask suddenly drops and capitalism shows it’s true face. The British Marxist Ted Grant was fond of saying that the capitalists could move from “democracy” to dictatorship with the ease of a man walking from a non-smoking to a smoking compartment of a train. After these revelations, these words ring true even in Canada, despite the efforts expended to give the state a democratic image.
The reality is that the state is not neutral as some envision, or as many labour leaders tell the working class. You cannot simply use the state machinery in order to better the living conditions of workers and youth. Workers’ leaders all over the world are obsessed with abiding by bourgeois legality while, for the bosses, bourgeois legality is a mere trifle; democracy doesn’t need to be respected when it doesn’t suit their interests. The state has been exposed, time and time again, to be the tool of the bourgeoisie in order to maintain its class rule; and they will go to great lengths, such as having a list of 66,000 names and a fairly sophisticated plan for simultaneous mass arrests and detention, in order to maintain their rule over the working class.
As Engels put it more than a hundred years ago, “The state arose from the need to hold class antagonisms in check, but because it arose, at the same time, in the midst of the conflict of these classes, it is, as a rule, the state of the most powerful, economically dominant class, which, through the medium of the state, becomes also the politically dominant class, and thus acquires new means of holding down and exploiting the oppressed class.” The ancient and feudal states were organs for the exploitation of the slaves and serfs; likewise, “the modern representative state is an instrument of exploitation of wage-labour by capital.”
The economic crisis and the coming austerity is putting the question of democratic rights back on the table. The capitalists caused the crisis and now they are forcing the workers of the world to pay for it. Commentators have pointed out that these measures, amounting up to a 40% cut in budgets and massive attacks on the social wage, cannot be implemented by any “democratic” government. There have already been mass movements in Greece, Italy, Spain, France, and even in Britain with the recent mass movement of the students. The capitalists understand that their policies will cause a backlash and are sure to be forming new PROFUNC plans, as we speak, in order to limit the right to assembly, association, free speech, and free thought that are essential to organize the fight back. The workers’ organizations need to have a clear understanding of this threat and unite against it now.