More than 160 revolutionaries gathered in Toronto, May 18-20 for the 19th congress of Fightback and La Riposte Socialiste, the supporters of the International Marxist Tendency in Canada. The three-day congress brought attendees from Toronto, Montreal, Edmonton, Victoria, Waterloo, Hamilton, Ottawa, Oshawa, as well as international guests from Britain, Sweden and the United States.
The energy during the weekend was electric as the congress marked impressive advances for the Marxist movement in Canada and Quebec. On the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Third Communist International, the forces of Marxism are on the march and putting revolutionary socialism back on the agenda.
The increase in attendance from last year was combined with a high level of political discussion. New areas of work have developed, most notably in Alberta with preparations for an Edmonton Marxist Summer School at the end of June. More and more university campuses are forming Socialist Fightback Student clubs. Most notably, Labour Fightback is making serious inroads among the working class, flying in the face of those who try to present Marxism as something purely for students.
Social polarisation worldwide
The first session on Saturday morning was led by Fred Weston, editor of In Defense of Marxism, on the world economic and political situation. Weston highlighted the pessimism of the ruling class, from the head of the IMF to top global economists, who continually produce dire warnings about the coming of a deeper and more prolonged global recession than in 2008. Weston explained how historic global debt and the rise of protectionism are the logical consequence of the shrinking world market. With European countries entering economic and social crises, as well as the growing indignation of workers in the United States, the traditional pillars of Western capitalism can no longer be relied upon to save the system. China’s role in cushioning the crisis of 2008 cannot be repeated, since China itself is experiencing a dramatic slowdown in growth and buildup of debt. All the typical schemes used to jumpstart the system, from quantitative easing to deficit financing, have been exhausted.
Weston explained how social polarisation has spread through countries like France, Spain, Brazil, South Africa, the United States and even “boring old Britain,” with mass shifts towards formations on the left and the right. He explained how many of the traditional establishment parties, including many social democratic parties, have lost clout as their leaders desperately cling to a “middle ground” that no longer exists. This is an expression of the hatred billions of people have towards the status quo. The recent revolutions in Sudan and Algeria, involving millions of people in the streets, offer hope for the future, as well as the massive shift to the left in the Labour Party in Britain under Jeremy Corbyn.
The second session was held on Canadian Perspectives and presented by Fightback editor Alex Grant. Grant explained that with oil prices at historic lows, household debt at a record 170% of income, and a growing housing bubble, the contradictions in the Canadian economy are coming to a head. While Canada may have been less affected than other countries after the 2008 collapse, weak internal foundations make Canada more susceptible to the coming world slump.
The international process of polarisation is hitting Canada with the victories of right-populist figures like Francois Legault in Quebec, Doug Ford in Ontario, and Jason Kenney in Alberta. But these reactionaries have a very weak base and are already sparking off a left-wing backlash. Doug Ford especially has no mandate for his austerity and this has led to mass demonstrations and opposition. Some on the left previously said that Fightback’s call to “strike to bring down Ford” was unrealistic, but now we see that thousands are calling for a general strike in Ontario. This shows the advantage of Marxist foresight, which is based on confidence in the potential of the working class to struggle.
Unfortunately the union leadership is doing everything possible to put the brakes on that struggle. The Unifor leadership called off the fight to save GM Oshawa for a measly 300 jobs. On the political front the federal NDP under Jagmeet Singh constantly disappoints, such as by failing to pick a side in important disputes like the LNG pipeline in BC, thereby alienating both sides. There is growing anger in society which is desperately looking for an expression. It is the task of Marxists to intervene in the movements of the workers, youth, and oppressed, pointing the way forward to socialist revolution.
On Sunday morning, an important discussion was held on the Indigenous struggle in Canada led by Fightback activist Rob Lyon. Lyon started by explaining the origins of Indigenous peoples in North America, dating back over 18,000 years. He outlined the rich cultures, economies and ways of life developed by the peoples of that period, before it was cut across by the brutal, genocidal interference of the European colonisers. This brutal treatment of Indigenous people was then continued by the Canadian capitalist state, taking on new forms over time, but never subsiding.
The horrific living conditions for Indigenous people today is reflected in shocking statistics, with suicide rates, incarceration and police brutality all at alarmingly high levels. Trudeau’s talk of “reconciliation” between Indigenous peoples and the Canadian state has proven to be a sham. Despite making token gestures, Trudeau recently sent in the RCMP to brutalise Indigenous land defenders in northern BC at the behest of a large gas corporation. The response from the NDP has been tepid. When Jagmeet Singh was asked on his opinion of the RCMP clampdown against the Wet’suwet’en, he couldn’t offer a clear answer.
The cruel oppression of Indigenous people is a defining feature of Canadian capitalism, and is therefore of burning importance to Marxists in Canada. It is preposterous to suggest, as Trudeau does, that there can be “reconciliation” between Indigenous people and the capitalist state that has held them down for centuries. For many on the academic the left, the solution has been “decolonisation,” not in the sense of overthrowing the state, but by “decolonising” language and attitudes, as well as making tokenistic gestures. Numerous activists, including Indigenous members of Fightback/La Riposte socialiste, addressed these “solutions,” pointing out similarities with Trudeau’s approach, as well as the disconnect between the academic left and the actual demands of Indigenous communities.
As Marxists, we advocate for the right of Indigenous people to decide their own fate, including the right to make decisions about where they live and how they govern themselves, as well as advocating for an economic program that can provide Indigenous communities with clean water, good jobs and ample protection of their lands. However, this can only be accomplished with the overthrow of the Canadian state in alliance with non-Indigenous workers. While recognising that Indigenous people suffer a far worse level of oppression than others in Canada, Marxists disagree with the academic notion that non-Indigenous workers somehow benefit from this oppression. Both have a common enemy in the capitalist state, and only through joint revolutionary action can this powerful enemy be taken down.
A draft discussion document on the fight against Indigenous oppression was approved, as part of an ongoing plan to produce a booklet or small book on the question in consultation with Indigenous revolutionaries. The involvement of an increasing number of Indigenous activists with Fightback will help to develop our approach from this historic starting point. We hope to publish this work by the end of 2019, if not sooner, and expect it to be an important addition to the wealth of Marxist theory.
Building the IMT in Canada
On Sunday afternoon, Fightback editor Joel Bergman gave a presentation on how to build the revolutionary organisation. With labour struggles erupting across the country, like at Oshawa GM and with the CUPW postal workers, the post-war social contract has met its end, and the need to organise towards a general strike against Tory leaders like Doug Ford and Jason Kenny is becoming ever clearer. With labour leaders currently failing to lead a decisive fight, there is a growing demand for militant, revolutionary methods. Bergman explained the crucial role that Fightback has played in the fight against Doug Ford’s anti-protest law and the role of revolutionary students in sparking off campus walkouts against education cuts. Fightback’s worker and student activists intervened in Oshawa GM and on the CUPW picket lines in November, helping with blockades and other actions on the front lines. GM Oshawa workers recently passed a resolution, spearheaded by Fightback activists, to nationalise GM under workers’ control, demonstrating that Marxist methods are becoming popular and practical for many workers facing austerity. This is in contrast to sceptics in the labour movement, who have lost hope in the working class.
On Monday morning, Fightback activist Marissa Olanick presented on revolutionary finances and the press. She spoke about the importance of financial independence to maintaining political independence from the reformist organisations and social-democratic parties. She highlighted the significant advances made by Fightback recently, having hired new organisers, rented a Montreal office, and moved La Riposte Socialiste to a monthly publication, all in the last year!
The capitalists view finances from a profit-driven perspective, whereas the Marxists view it as a political question, building an apparatus for the purpose of overthrowing capitalism. Workers and youth are willing to contribute and make sacrifices for any worthwhile struggle, and those who are not willing to engage in the difficult task of revolutionary financing will never be able to defeat the bosses and their state.
Very successful socials were organised on both the Saturday and Sunday evenings. On Saturday evening, a financial collection was taken which blasted through the target and raised over 50 per cent more than the 2018 collection. This highlights the determination of our activists to do what is necessary to build the revolutionary organisation that the working class needs to overthrow capitalism. Optimism and commitment like this cannot be artificially generated, it comes from a political understanding of the need to build a new society.
On Sunday evening a talent show was arranged with various comrades entertaining the crowd with revolutionary songs, poetry and comedy skits. Songs in French, English, Spanish, Persian and other languages displayed the diverse backgrounds of the comrades. All had a great time sharing experiences and lessons from all areas of the struggle.
The last session of the congress was a report on the activities International Marxist Tendency throughout 41 countries around the world. Fred Weston also gave this presentation, speaking from the experience of having travelled to assist our sister organisations. Reports on the activity of Marxists from Pakistan to South Africa, from Brazil to France, from Australia to the United States were provided. There was a clear perspective that our struggles in Canada are intimately linked to the struggle to overthrow capitalism across the globe.
The comrades marked the end of the congress with a rendition of the Internationale, with Francophone and Anglophone comrades singing together, followed by the Italian revolutionary song, Bandiera Rossa. Attendees left feeling energetic and hopeful about the very real possibilities opening up for the Marxist movement in 2019 and beyond. At a time when the left in Canada and internationally is in confusion and decline, the IMT is growing and gaining historic achievements. Aside from being the most-organised and largest revolutionary organisation in the country, we are laying solid foundations for theoretical advancements on Indigenous oppression and the fight in the labour movement.
As the late Marxist Ted Grant used to say, revolutionaries must have a sense of proportion and a sense of humour. We understand that the movement is still in the early stages and our forces are still modest. Class struggle is beginning to boil to the surface in Canada. A global recession is looming which will bring forward all the contradictions in the Canadian economy. But we have built a strong, youthful and energetic organisation with the most effective ideas in the struggle to end oppression and emancipate humanity - Marxist ideas. The task of all those who attended the congress is to take the ideas, methods and traditions of Marxism to the picket lines, protest movements and campuses. Our aim in the coming years is to make revolutionary Marxism the decisive point of reference in every mass struggle of the working class and youth in Canada. This congress points the way forward to make that a reality.