Over 80 people registered to participate in the annual Marxist Winter School on the weekend of February 15-16 in icy Montreal. This year’s school, held at Concordia University, broke the record for the highest attendance in the event’s history, and saw revolutionary activists visiting from Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Boston, New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia, and California.
Organizers from Fightback (Canada), La Riposte (Quebec), and the Workers’ International League (USA) were elated to have held yet another successful event, proven by the sense of enthusiasm which permeated the room. In the continuing tradition of revolutionary unity between workers and youth from both English and French Canada, discussion was held in both French and English and facilitated through consecutive translation.
The event kicked off Saturday morning with a presentation on “Perspectives for World Revolution 2015” by Fightback editor Camilo Cahis. Camilo outlined how dire the situation of world capitalism had become, and how rather than showing signs of recovery promised by the economists, the entire economic-political system was crumbling and locked into an unprecedented historical turmoil. He spoke of how, rather than just an economic slump, the world crisis of capitalism was having a profound impact on the uptick of proxy warfare, fundamentalism, and social malaise. In support of this last point, he highlighted the upsetting increase in suicide since the Great Recession of 2008-2009.
Camilo brought the spotlight on Greece, which had only a few weeks earlier brought to power SYRIZA. He noted how the election of a party from the Communist movement marked a profound shift in the consciousness of the Greek masses, and that they were prepared to turn to more radical-left solutions to reverse the crushing austerity imposed by the European capitalists. He noted, though, that the rise of the left in Greece only marked the most acute expression of a global pushback against austerity and the status quo. Camilo brought attention to the rapid rise of Podemos in Spain, which marked a radical departure in a political system which for decades had been dominated by two parties. As he noted, even the United Kingdom had not been exempted from this political hurricane, with the incredibly tight Scottish referendum last fall and the sharp decrease in support of both the Conservatives and Labour, the two parties which have dominated British politics since the 1920s.
Globally, Camilo described the economy as being perpetually unstable and in steep decline. He spoke of how the decline in commodity prices, particularly oil, has sent previously stable countries like Canada and Australia into a new period of crisis, opening the way for new social explosions down the road. China, as he noted, had spent three quarters of a trillion dollars to keep businesses afloat, potentially paving the way for a deep credit collapse in what had previously been the motor force of the world economy. In Mexico, which had recently seen major demonstrations against the narco-capitalist state of Enrique Peña Nieto, Camilo noted how 60% of working people are involved the black market, and how 30 families control nearly 70% of all GDP output. These were only specific examples of examples of what he highlighted as an international trend towards inequality, impoverishment, and instability. During the discussion, participants took the opportunity to elaborate on the worrying state of other countries, such as Canada, the United States, and India.
Later in the day, Joel Bergman of La Riposte spoke on the International Marxist Tendency’s newly produced manifesto against austerity for Quebec. He started off by describing the state of Quebec economy, which had seen 80,000 job cuts in recent years, a massive slowdown in GDP growth, and an unstable buildup in the public debt. It was these conditions, he said, which had provoked three massive demonstrations of workers and students in the past year, in addition to the immense student strike of 2012. With the state of the economy only growing more dire, Joel predicted there could be massive social explosions in Quebec in the coming months, with the previous movements serving as dress rehearsals. The goal of revolutionary Marxists, he argued, was to explain why the fight against austerity was inextricably linked to the fight against capitalism. Without fighting for socialism, he said, the fight against austerity would be powerless, predetermining a potential movement for eventual defeat. In the discussion, participants showed their eagerness in supporting the workers during the coming movement and bringing it towards victory. They also took the opportunity to share their experiences from the Quebec student strike of 2012.
Before the end of the day, Farshad Azadian of Fightback came up to thank those who had contributed to the Fightback/La Riposte Winter Appeal, which has allowed Fightback to gain its first office. Farshad emphasized the need for financial independence, which gives revolutionary activists the political independence necessary to carry on their work unencumbered. In a surprise final appeal, Farshad was able to commit participants to an additional increase of $75 per month, and donations totalling over $800. This was in addition to the incredible campaign that has raised over $8,000 in donations and over $550/month in regular contributions. This showed the dedication of the activists present, and the understanding that revolutionary commitment entails financial commitment as well.
As the first day came to a close, participants returned to the Auberge Bishop hostel, where they continued the discussion and let loose with other activists from across North America. This gave them ample opportunity to share experiences of the revolutionary work in their respective cities, providing activists with fruitful lessons with which they would take back home.
The second day opened up with a much anticipated presentation on “The History of the Black Panther Party” by John Peterson of the Workers’ International League. John provided some context surrounding the inception of the Black Panther Party, such as the history of African-Americans in the United States, the Jim Crow period, and the Civil Rights movement. It was in this context of extreme oppression of the black working class that the Black Panthers grew, growing to 10,000 members at their peak. John explained that, though admirably involved in the defence and service of local black communities, the leadership of the Black Panther Party was plagued by ideological confusion which resulted in immense and often violent splits or desertions. It was this, in conjunction with a ruthless campaign of murder, sabotage and infiltration on the part of the American state, which set the stage for the decline of the Black Panthers. Without a clear perspective of working class unity and internationalism, the Black Panther Party was never able to extend itself to the broader working class, and fell into obscurity as a result. Participants found themselves eager to intervene on this topic, frequently drawing parallels between the black power movement of the 1960’s and the “Black Lives Matter” campaign of the present.
The final presentation on “The Winnipeg General Strike of 1919” was led by Alex Grant, editor of Fightback. Alex found it important to highlight how the strike itself was an extension of the revolutionary fervour which captured much of the world in the wake of the Russian Revolution of 1917. It was no coincidence, he noted, that the radical workers of Western Canada sent their comradely greetings to the newly formed Soviet Union. Alex commended the bravery of the workers for conducting a general strike, but reinforced the perspective that a general strike was only a show of power by the working class. The general strike laid clear the question of which class holds the reigns, but only the seizure of power by the working class could fulfill the aspirations of the Winnipeg workers. Though the strike leaders referred to themselves as Marxists, their lack of a fully fleshed out class analysis prevented the strike committees from evolving into real organs of working class power, and allowed for the repression of the strike by pro-capitalist thugs and federal government during the infamous “Bloody Saturday”. Alex suggested that there were a great deal of lessons to be learned by revolutionaries from the Winnipeg General Strike — notably that the indefinite general strike is only a means towards working class power and not an end in itself.
As the event came to a close, a clear sense of enthusiasm prevailed among the room. As is tradition, participants rose to stand and sing the Internationale with their fists raised. The overwhelming feel throughout this sixth annual Winter School was one of success, and activists left feeling inspired to carry on the revolutionary ideas of Marxism in the labour and student movement with greater intensity. That more and more people are looking to revolutionary ideas has become clear with each successive school, each bigger and better than the last.
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