Supporters of Fightback and La Riposte gathered over the May long weekend for the 15th annual congress of the Canadian section of the International Marxist Tendency. It was the first year that the duration was extended from two days to three. This was done to make more room for the high level, impassioned discussion and translation which was limited in the past. Revolutionaries from Quebec, British Columbia, the United States and as far away as Great Britain travelled to Toronto to participate in the weekend’s discussions highlighting our dedication to internationalism.
This year’s event was held in memory of our fallen comrade Camilo Cahis, former editor of Fightback magazine and a lifelong revolutionary fighter. For many years, Camilo played a fundamental role at our annual congress, and though his absence was felt, the ideas of Marxism which he stood for were ever present and filled the room with strength. Camilo would have been proud to know that this year’s event was by far the most successful in our fifteen-year history. It was through his dedication to the struggle for socialism that we ever reached this point – and for that we are forever indebted to him.
The first day began with the reading of revolutionary greetings from different sections from across the world. Letters poured in from Mexico, Italy, Brazil, Belgium and more, written on behalf of national sections of the International Marxist Tendency. It has since become a tradition for us Marxists, in the spirit of internationalism, to celebrate the opening of our national congresses in this way - but this year’s greetings took on a radically different tone. The international comrades not only offered their solidarity, but also their condolences and words of strength. Many of the comrades knew Camilo personally from meetings of the International Marxist Tendency in Europe and Latin America, and it was clear that a collective pain was felt for the loss of what was and what could have been.
The first presentation of the day was delivered by Fred Weston on World Perspectives for 2015 (watch on Youtube). Fred placed emphasis on the fact that profound changes have been occurring around the world, while significant alterations in the viewpoints of workers and youth have been transpiring in step with those changes. The consequences of the financial meltdown of 2008 have led many to ponder if the apparent “recovery” of the free market will ever provide the promises of eventual jobs and prosperity. Yet it is the youth in particular, who did not experience the post-war economic boom era, who are beginning to see the reality of these promises, which are nothing but vague illusions of the capitalist class. Indeed, the economic conditions have only become worse in recent years.
The recent collapse of oil prices propelled shock waves throughout the global economy, steering nations including Nigeria, Canada and Iran towards recession. The histrionic collapse propagated additional skepticism in the stability of the market worldwide, and bared frailties in an already exceedingly weak “recovery”. The accumulation of international debt has now reached absurdly unmanageable heights, with China for instance amassing four times the debt load it possessed prior to the crisis in 2007. The contradictions of capitalism might now be providing the way towards a new economic downturn, with the drop in oil prices being the prelude.
In addition, social instability has further deepened in these current conditions. Civil war, fundamentalism and imperialist intrusion has become more severe in the past year, from Ukraine, Yemen and Syria. The incapability of imperialist states to maintain stability has worsened their relationships. This has resulted in the weakening of longstanding alliances, as the ruling classes of imperialist nations seek to safeguard profits at any cost.
Workers and youth have been far from inactive in these brutal circumstances, with remarkable in protests in China and Europe, revolutions in several places Africa and a rise in the number of youth joining these movements. It seems that the word “revolution” is becoming more popular in the mounting mass movements around the world. In these circumstances, it is not appropriate for Marxists to simply follow normal routines. Only a bold sharing of the correct ideas will connect Marxists with the revolutionary masses, and help propel the movement to victory.
The presentation on World Perspectives was followed by a presentation on Canadian Perspectives by Fightback editor, Alex Grant. Comrade Camilo’s last written contribution was a draft of our political perspectives for 2015 which served as the foundation for the presentation. Alex began by reiterating much of what was established in the prior presentation, saying that society had entered into a “new normal of cuts, attacks and austerity.” Alex clarified that this “new normal” did not exclude Canada. Canada may have emerged relatively unscathed from the collapse of 2008, but as the documents states, “it is akin to being the least sick patient in a hospital ward.” The aspects which cushioned the Canadian economy in 2008 - namely oil and an expansion of credit - are rapidly evolving into its fetters.
The collapse in the price of oil has played an especially disastrous role in the slowdown of the resource-dependent Canadian economy, with oil producers projected to cut $23 billion in investment as a direct result. This has transformed Alberta, the “land of milk and honey” which was at one point responsible for 90% of job growth nationally, into the land of deficits, austerity and intensified class struggle. The growth in consumer debt, which recently reached an astonishing 163% of household income, has increased fears of a collapse of the overheated Canadian housing market. This could take an already fragile economy, marred with slow growth, declining full-time employment and a rapidly increasing cost of living, over the edge.
Far from remaining passive, the Canadian workers and youth have begun to fight back against this onslaught. That the attitude of workers has changed was shown in the dramatic collapse of the 43-year Conservative dynasty in Alberta, where the NDP has won an unprecedented majority government. This comes amid strikes of university workers in Toronto, teachers across Ontario, and the mass movement of students and workers in Quebec. At each juncture we’ve seen the militant response by the working class and youth, prepared even to defy their reformist leaderships if necessary.
The first day ended with the annual Congress Financial Appeal. Fightback/La Riposte has made incredible strides in recent years, including hiring a full-time organizer for Quebec and acquiring our first national office, but none of these things are free under capitalism. In fact, it is only through the support of our members and supporters that any of these advances have been possible. Farshad Azadian appealed to those in attendance to consider contributing to the fundraiser, highlighting the need for revolutionary organizing in Canada and the sturdy finances it entails. A staggering $14,000 was raised within the span of an hour, blowing past the expectations of many and setting a new record for our Congress Appeal. Finances for revolutionaries can only ever be secondary to ideas, and those in attendance left feeling energized by this show of commitment to revolutionary Marxism.
The second day opened with discussion on the political perspectives for Canada, with contributions building upon the presentation made the day before. Many found themselves eager to intervene, speaking on topics such as the demise of Canadian manufacturing, foreign policy under Stephen Harper and the crisis facing youth across the country. Participants from Quebec also spoke about their experience regarding the anti-austerity movement in Quebec, paying tribute to its developments while also emphasizing the misgivings of the leadership. Members of La Riposte have entered into the movement with the slogan “fight the cuts, fight capitalism, support the workers” and have found that this resonates among a broad layer of radicalized youth.
The main presentation for the second day was provided by Farshad Azadian on the direction of activity for the Canadian Marxists in the coming period. The death of Comrade Camilo presented a serious challenge to comrades of Fightback/La Riposte, who had come to rely on his organizational and intellectual capabilities to help direct the daily activity. Farshad repeatedly pointed out that we had reached a turning point in the administration of Fightback/La Riposte, and that adaption to the new circumstances was vital to continue building on the ideas of Marxism in Canada.
As revolutionaries, we know that there is no better way to pay respects to our fallen comrades than to continue the struggle with determination, including taking on the many small and often unrewarding tasks that allow a revolutionary organization to function and grow. Farshad encouraged those in attendance to continue with the work they had been conducting on campuses in both Montreal and Toronto, emphasizing the importance of the turn to the revolutionary youth both nationally and internationally. He also commended the comrades for their involvement in the Toronto university faculty strikes, where Fightback emerged as the largest organized undergraduate delegation. As well, Farshad highlighted the work of the Quebec Marxists of La Riposte during the latest Quebec student strike.
Alex Grant began the third day with a presentation on the history of the Canadian section of the International Marxist Tendency. His talk traced the 15 year long development of Fightback/La Riposte, from three people, to a well-sized, growing and enthusiastic Marxist organization, with the strongest presence of any revolutionary organization in Toronto. Our increasing presence in Canada has been a result of our turn to the radical youth, particularly on the campuses, as well as our ongoing campaigns and interventions in various movements. These include the Hands off Venezuela campaign, our presence in the Occupy movement and our work fighting for socialist policies in the NDP.
That being said, no organization travels only in a straight, upward trajectory. The work of Fightback/La Riposte has been fraught with challenges time and time again, as would any young organization being built from scratch. The ability to reflect on the past is only useful insofar as lessons are drawn from successes as well as failures – and it was from these failures that the Canadian Marxists have learned how to further the struggle for socialism. Where we have found success, it was achieved through a flexible approach to tactics and, most importantly, a steadfast approach to the ideas of Marxism.
The congress was concluded with a rousing and deeply emotional singing of The Internationale. Camilo often joked in good humor about the youth, but it was those same young people who he had taken the time to share the ideas of Marxism with, who now sang the Internationale in his memory. Comrade Camilo has fallen, and the revolutionary workers and youth are now tasked with carrying the torch forward. This congress marked both an end and a new beginning. It was a farewell to our comrade, while taking the next stride towards advancing the cause he dedicated his life to – the international socialist revolution.
See more pictures of the Congress in our Flickr album