Canadian Liberation Movement

The Canadian Liberation Movement (CLM) was an organization founded in 1969 dedicated to liberating Canada from U.S. control and domination. It fought for the independence of Canadian unions from U.S.-controlled “international” unions and stood for Canadian unions for Canadian workers. CLM adopted a nationalist perspective rooted in a variety of ‘Marxist-Leninist’ thinking, and drew inspiration especially from Maoist China and from Chinese leader Mao Zedong’s advising broad fronts to oppose imperialism. CLM’s headquarters were in Toronto, but there were branches all across the country.

Numerous activists and political thinkers contributed to the rise and creation of CLM, including Jack Scott, Bill Johnson, Abe Mannheim, Joe Hensby, Don Roebuck, Norman Endicott, James Laxer, and Phil Taylor – who became CLM’s first chairman. Its next chairman was Gary Perly who, with his wife Caroline Walker Perly, had long been active in Canadian nationalist circles.

CLM made some significant advances in union organizing, including assisting workers who had no union at all to meet and work with Canadian unions.

In 1972, the CLM worked with student organizations at the University of Toronto, Carleton University, and Lakehead University to oppose a student surcharge being imposed by their administrations. This campaign, called the Stop the Student Surcharge Committee, also called for no layoffs of workers, an end to contracting cuts, no firings of Canadian professors, and no cuts to administration spending. While the campaign was not able to stop the $100 student surcharge fee, it was able to prevent some U of T layoffs and win some job security demands in the contract negotiations at the other universities.

In 1972 the CLM supported the month-long occupation of the main Ryerson administration building by laid-off workers and their children, Ryerson students and faculty members. This was the first occupation of a school by workers and their families in Canadian labour history.

In 1973, the CLM advanced a major campaign called the 85% Canadian Quota Campaign, which demanded that 85% of the teaching staff in Canadian post-secondary schools be Canadian citizens. The CLM’s official slogan by 1973 was “Yankee go home!” At Ryerson Polytechnical Institute in Toronto, the CLM led a struggle to rehire 40 maintenance workers laid off by the administration.

CLM in Toronto annually celebrated the anniversary of the Rebellion of 1837, with an Anti-Imperialist Day March to the Necropolis cemetery to the graves of Canadian revolutionaries Samuel Lount, Peter Matthews, and William Lyon MacKenzie.

CLM published a newspaper called New Canada, which covered a range of issues central to the struggle of Canadian workers, unions, farmers, and students. Its focus was national independence and socialism. CLM also created a book publishing arm called New Canada Publications (NC Press), which specialized in anti-imperialist books and progressive non-fiction. NC Press also became the exclusive distributor in English Canada for Quebec publishers such as Parti Pris, Editions Quebecois, and Re-edition Quebec. The aim was to build greater understanding between the people of English Canada and Quebec. CLM also helped NC Press place Quebec books into public and school libraries across Canada. Often, these libraries had not previously contained any Quebec literature.

Canadian poet Milton Acorn (often called “the people’s poet”) was associated with CLM, and NC Press published his work, along with other books that made significant contributions to Canadian culture, such as the work of art critic Barry Lord focusing on Canadian art movements and individual Canadian artists.

CLM’s internal structure was based on a top-down ‘vanguardist’ model in which the organization’s leadership, and especially CLM Chairman Gary Perly, exercised authoritarian control over the organization and its membership. The resulting internal culture led to a continuous turnover of membership. By 1976, tensions in the organization came to a head, and members voted to expel Perly from the organization, but it proved to be too late, and the group ceased functioning by the end of the year.

Related Reading
Radical Ambition: The New Left in Toronto

Related Topics
Canadian NationalismCanadian CultureU.S. Imperialism