The student movement in Canada is going through an important development that has been prepared over the last six years. Beginning in 2011, revolutionaries organized with Fightback/La Riposte socialiste magazines have been engaging in systematic organizing on university and college campuses across the country. These efforts have resulted in the establishment of active groups on over 15 campuses, with plans to expand further.
These advances have prepared the foundation of a country-wide movement for socialist revolution among students in Canada and Quebec. It is worth appreciating the challenges faced to get to the present point where the launch of a national student organization has become possible.
Fighting to defend and promote the ideas of class struggle, socialist revolution and Marxist theory in general was no easy task. The student movement outside of Quebec has been at a low point for the last two decades. Furthermore, the level of worker struggles has been very low with the exception of Quebec. This had an important impact on the kind of ideas present on the campuses.
It was common for academics to argue that the working class no longer existed and that Marxism was an outdated ideology. Many student activists accepted these theories. Activism became more liberal and reformist. Instead of united class struggle, the focus was placed on identities and bureaucratic representation. In Quebec, the ideas of syndicalism, anarchism, left-nationalism and academic Marxism were strong, including within the leadership of the mass student movements. There was a general hostility to the idea of a revolutionary organization and the requirement to overthrow capitalism on the basis of working class struggle.
The small forces of Marxism had to fight tooth-and-nail to defend our ideas. Patience was not the least of the traits needed by those who carried forward this work in the face of hostility of the university administrations as well as the “lefts”. Over the past two decades the ideas of Marxism only attracted a tiny minority of students. The situation is now changing with the deepening world crisis of capitalism.
The development of class struggle around the world, including in Canada, is revitalizing the Marxist movement and pushing radicalized students towards the class struggle. In Quebec, the mass movements from 2012-2015 (and even prior) have had a profound impact on the consciousness of the youth, and many lessons are being drawn from the advances and defeats faced during these struggles.
The situation is becoming more and more favourable for the growth of revolutionary ideas and organization. This was demonstrated this past February in Montreal where Fightback hosted its annual Marxist Winter School. This event brought 200 revolutionaries together, the vast majority of whom were students. This was the largest gathering of organized Marxists in Canada in recent years.
At this year’s Marxist Winter School, a session was held on the need to build a national student organization of Marxist students that could unite all of our activities under a single banner. A plan was proposed to launch Socialist Fightback Students/ La Riposte socialiste étudiante. This would serve as a united banner to appeal to more students and to get more campuses organized. A resounding show of hands and enthusiasm met the proposal once it was put to the floor.
This proposal is now being put into action. Socialist Fightback Students is being officially launched on May 1, 2017. This date is quite appropriate for two reasons - May 1st is International Workers’ Day (or “May Day”) which is a day marked by mass demonstrations across the world to advance workers struggles and assert the international unity of the working class.
The launch also coincides with an important centenary, the Russian Revolution of 1917, in which the working class for the first time in history was able to seize and hold power, by sweeping away the capitalists, the landlords and the Tsarist state. The international ruling class has never forgiven the Russian workers and the Bolshevik Party for this revolution and they constantly heap slander on it despite the fall of the Soviet Union twenty-five years ago. The hatred for the Russian Revolution isn’t simply because the workers and toiling masses had the audacity to fight – which has happened many times in history - but that they actually won.
The occasion is therefore quite appropriate for the launching of this new student organization. Socialist Fightback Students stand on the principles of May Day – that internationalism and working class struggle are the only means of overthrowing capitalism and fighting for a socialist society. The most important reference point for today’s revolutionary movement is the October Revolution of 1917 precisely because it was able to prevail over the counter-revolution. One hundred years later, the ideas, methods and traditions of the Bolshevik Party of Russia continue to provide a foundation upon which revolutionary organization must be built today.
What are our Principles?
The principles of the Socialist Fightback Students (the SFS) are a significant change and advance on the ideas that characterize most activism in the student movement in Canada and Quebec.
Firstly, we don’t believe that the solution to the problems of inequality, war, racism, sexism, poverty and environmental destruction can be resolved under capitalism. We do not believe that the solution is to reform capitalism or to create a ‘moral’ capitalism. In our view it is utopian to think that an economic system based on private ownership, the free market and the nation-state could resolve these problems. We believe that the only genuine solution is the overthrow of capitalism and the establishment of a socialist society. That doesn’t mean that the SFS ignores the fight for reforms. On the contrary, Marxists are the most consistent fighters for reforms that improve the standard of living of the working class and oppressed. We help connect various struggles around reforms to the necessity for the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism. In our view, it is precisely through the fight for reforms that workers and the poor develop class-consciousness and organization, which facilitates the development of the revolutionary movement.
Secondly, the SFS stands on the principles of internationalism and the unity of the working class and oppressed. The only way to fight the ruling class, exploitation and the various forms of oppression we face (racial, gender, national, sexual, etc.) is to unite in a common struggle. The ruling class tries to divide us and scapegoat certain groups as a means to maintain their dominant class position. Unfortunately, the prevalent ideas within the ‘campus left’ tends to be a reformist post-structuralist ideology that divides and separates people into groups and organizations on the basis of their identities.
Marxists understand that experience shapes consciousness and each person has a particular path coming into the revolutionary movement, but it is vital to unite people from different backgrounds and identities into a common struggle if we are going to be able to win. In this spirit, the SFS unites with Marxist and revolutionary student organizations from around the world to co-ordinate common campaigns, solidarity efforts and to learn from each other’s experiences.
Overcoming the national divide between Anglophones and Francophones is very important to the SFS. Student, worker and revolutionary movements have historically been unable to break through this divide, and the Anglophone ruling class (as well as the Quebecois ruling class) try to maintain this division to weaken our struggles. The fact that the SFS is being launched at a time where a solid base has been established in both French and English Canada is of great importance and cannot be overestimated.
The way to overcome artificial divisions and forge a united struggle against capitalism is by standing on the principles of genuine internationalism. This means waging a united struggle against national oppression, chauvinism and racism faced by the Quebecois. It also means fighting against the oppression of immigrants, indigenous peoples, the black population and other racial and religious minorities.
Thirdly, we commit ourselves to both theory and activism. The relationship between the two is vital to conducting effective struggle. Without theory, activists are fighting with a blindfold on, unable to understand the nature and origins of the problems that they are trying to resolve, nor determine solutions to those problems. Without activism, theory is stale, abstract, incorrect and frankly useless. Theory is sharpened through engagement with the real world, and its correctness is confirmed by being able to predict and transform social phenomenon. The one-sided focus on activism is common among student activists, while the one-sided focus on theory is typical among academics.
Finally, the SFS stands on the principle that the working class is the fundamental force that can transform society. Only the working class has the collective power – through its position in production, transportation, etc. - to paralyze capitalism and to overthrow the capitalist class. The conditions of life for the working class push its consciousness towards class struggle, socialism and internationalism. The students, in isolation, do not have the power to overthrow capitalism because they are separated from socialized production. This separation of the students from production also tends to lead to individualistic consciousness and methods of struggle.
The SFS is therefore committed to mobilizing students to support working class struggles, on and off campus. This means going to the picket lines, workplaces and neighbourhoods when struggles are developing. We must spread the radicalism of the youth to the broader working class. One of the main lessons of the Quebec student movement of 2012 was that it was necessary to spread the student strikes to the working class - if the movement was going to develop to the point where it could bring down the ruling class. A strike of 5,000 workers would cost the ruling class much more in a single week, than the strike of 200,000 students in Quebec cost them in a few months.
Plans Moving Forward
The SFS will be the banner of the umbrella network bringing together socialist students across the country. At a time of growing interest in radical politics, there is a pressing need for a grassroots vehicle for revolutionary activism. With the launch of a national banner, it should become easier to overcome the isolation that young people can often feel and assist them in developing local organizations more rapidly.
The SFS will also assist socialist-minded youth by connecting them more easily with more established groups, especially in Toronto and Montreal where organizing efforts have been occurring for a longer period of time. There are over 10 student clubs between these two cities. Furthermore, there are active clubs in Hamilton, Waterloo, Oshawa, Edmonton and Victoria. The members of these clubs will help new members of the SFS get organized and active.
We are appealing to individual or groups of students interested in socialism who attend colleges, universities or high schools where no club exists, to directly contact us. The SFS will do its best to provide assistance, advice and resources to help start a local chapter. We are in the process of developing a starter kit for new clubs to help with these initiatives.
We also aim to carry out more co-ordinated activities. For example, it is common for students in the different clubs in Toronto or Montreal to join forces in joint action for demonstrations, strikes and other protest actions. Often student clubs from neighbouring cities will send a delegation over as well! Discussions are also being held regarding hosting conferences or day schools of the SFS to ensure that political education is at the centre of our activities.
Additionally, there is much to be learned from the experiences of our different clubs. Drawing lessons from local initiatives and struggles, comparing tactics and ideas, sharing resources and designs, and sending activists from one campus to another are important ways to strengthen our collective efforts. We plan on using social media to highlight the activities and experiences of our different clubs, and as a first step, a national Facebook page will be launched for the SFS.
Resources available for public and internal distribution will also help each group of activists draw on the collective experience and analysis developed by the SFS. Finally, official statements of the SFS will be released in response to important events relevant to the student movement as a whole.
The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The fight against capitalism cannot be local. We cannot overthrow the capitalist class if we restrict our struggles to one campus or school. The efforts of revolutionary youth have to be organized and co-ordinated on a national scale and the launching of the SFS will be an important step in this direction.
Help Build Revolutionary Politics in Canada and Quebec!
Students interested in radical politics need to be aware of the significance of the historical conjuncture in which we find ourselves. Since 2008 capitalism has entered into a deep organic crisis that will be prolonged. This will mean declining living standards, rising unemployment, austerity measures, intensified regional wars, nationalism and xenophobia. The economic crisis has spread to the realm of politics and society. While the process is less developed in Canada, it is heading in the same direction.
This will mean that Canadian society will become polarized in a similar fashion to the process we have witnessed in countries such as Spain, Greece, Britain, France and the United States, and mass social, industrial and political movements will erupt as a result. This process has already developed in Quebec, which points the way forward for the rest of Canada.
This is an exciting time to be involved in the revolutionary movement. It also gives us a burning sense of urgency to the task we have set ourselves. The struggle will occur with or without us. However, without a revolutionary organization, history has shown that the struggle will not succeed in defeating the capitalist class. The willingness of the working class to struggle and make sacrifices to advance the movement is vital but, in itself, is not sufficient.
The relationship between the class struggle and revolutionary organization can be compared to steam and a piston box. Steam will dissipate, but if it is channeled into a piston box, it can propel a train forward. Revolutionary ideas, program, organization and leadership become decisive in a period of intensified class struggle, revolution and counter-revolution where time is of the essence as the ruling class moves to undermine and crush the struggle.
This is what the Socialist Fightback Students are building. We are enthusiastic, we are growing and we have the ideas and organization that can prepare the grounds for the defeat of the capitalist system. We need your involvement in the struggle to realize this potential. Our first task is to strengthen the existing student clubs and expand onto new campuses to solidify our national presence.
Young people are becoming more radicalized with each passing week. They desperately need a revolutionary vehicle through which they can learn and fight for the emancipation of the working class and the oppressed. Commit your mind and energy to the most pressing task facing our generation; that of burying a sick, dying capitalist society in order to give birth to the future socialist society!