More than 140 revolutionaries gathered in Toronto, Canada on the May long weekend for the 18th annual congress of Fightback/La Riposte Socialiste, the supporters of the International Marxist Tendency (IMT) in Canada and Quebec. Fifty years since the May 1968 revolution in France, workers and youth from Toronto, Edmonton, Montreal, London, Waterloo, and Oshawa discussed the possibilities for a new revolution. The record turnout, up from 110 in 2017, marked yet another advance for the forces of Marxism. The rapid growth of Fightback in the last period was highlighted by the fact that when we asked which of our attendees had joined the movement in the past two years, more than half the room raised their hands.
Packing a large University of Toronto lecture hall, we began on Saturday with a discussion of world perspectives by the editor of the In Defence of Marxism website, Fred Weston. Every session was translated into French and English via consecutive translation. Fred noted capitalism has been in crisis for a decade and that the global economy remains incredibly unstable. Already, certain wings of the ruling class are asking, “Where will the next crisis occur?”
The deeply unpopular austerity policies, as well as the low interest rates and cheap credit that the ruling class have used to evade the crisis, have only set the stage for a larger economic disaster down the line.
What is worse for the ruling class is that more and more working class people are starting to express their anger with this sorry state of affairs. With polarization and radicalization on the rise, the capitalists are struggling to get their “responsible” representatives elected. From the defeat of the Democratic Party in Italy, to the rejection of the SPD/CDU coalition in Germany, to the drop in support for the Democrats in the United States, the mushy-middle status-quo parties are being thrown out or seriously challenged.
Ordinary people are not racing out to vote for parties that promise to “responsibly” cut their wages and worsen their livelihoods. But capitalism in crisis cannot provide the reforms to workers that it did during the economic boom that followed the Second World War. Any government, be it conservative, liberal, social democratic, or even “socialist”, that accepts the logic of capitalism is eventually compelled to attack the working class. Those governments are increasingly being met with resistance from that class.
Convergence of the struggle
In particular, Fred highlighted the recent railway strikes in France. There we have seen a “convergence of the struggle” between youth and militant workers. What started with university occupations at the start of the year attracted largely young workers, as well as the police who gave both workers and youth a severe beating. State violence only served to escalate the movement, which expressed itself more recently in railway strikes. Those strikes brought out significant solidarity efforts by militant youth that the state is struggling to contain. Such eruptions are a glimpse of what is to come in the rest of Europe and elsewhere.
Fred also talked about the crisis of capitalism in Latin America, where the tide of revolutions from the 1990s through the early 2000s seems to be entering an ebb. What we have seen in these countries, particularly in Venezuela, is that you cannot make half a revolution. A growing layer of workers and youth are very angry and see governments like that of Nicolas Maduro tripping over themselves to make concessions to the oligarchs and landlords. This opens up new opportunities for genuine revolutionary socialists to intervene and explain the need for expropriation and for a genuine socialist program.
Significant attention was also paid to the crisis of capitalism in Pakistan where thanks to a bold international solidarity effort, IMT comrades who had been captured by paramilitary forces infamous for “disappearing” activists and journalists were freed. Clearly, the comrades were targeted by the state because of the prominent role they played in the ongoing Pashtun movement in Pakistan. Their call for unity of the oppressed against capitalism is a threat to a state that uses religious and ethnic divisions to keep the oppressed fighting each other rather than the ruling class itself.
Fred concluded, “All of these situations have a common thread, which is the weight of the crisis of capitalism. In all countries, to one degree or another, the lives of ordinary working people are getting worse.” And likewise, Fred said, “You see everywhere a common pattern of big changes on the political front.” Not all countries are moving at the same speed, but they are moving in the same direction and, Fred added, “What you see in Greece is an indication of what you will see here.”
Following the world perspectives discussion, Alex Grant, editor of Fightback, presented on Canadian perspectives. Alex began by highlighting that there has been no mass movement in English Canada for some years now. While Quebec saw the 2012 student strike and the 2015 public sector strike, the last major movements in English Canada were the Days of Action in Ontario in 1997 and the anti-Campbell movement in British Columbia in 2001-2005.
Alex continued by asking: Is this because Canadian workers are satisfied with the status quo? While labour productivity has increased roughly 60 per cent since the end of the 1970s, wages, on average, have stayed flat. That wage stagnation has been combined with ballooning executive pay in a mass transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich. Clearly, people are not happy with the status quo, and want to change it. This is expressed in polls showing that a majority of Canadians are in favour of free education, affordable childcare, a $15/hr minimum wage, and think that the rich should pay more to fund social programs. But despite a mass desire to fight back expressed in numerous strike votes in excess of 80, 90 and even 95 per cent, the trade union bureaucracy has spent the past period tearing itself and the movement apart.
This crisis at the top comes from an inability to make gains for workers at the bottom. Union settlements since 2008 have trailed inflation. People don’t join unions to go backwards. Now, instead of campaigning to organize the unorganized workers, many union leaders spend much of their time raiding and fighting over existing members’ dues, further embarrassing themselves and the movement as a whole. However, workers are increasingly angry that the benefits of economic growth are being kept at the top. If the economy improves, then there is the possibility of offensive economic strikes as workers try and catch up with lost wages from the previous period. The dead hand of the union apparatus cannot stop this movement. As Alex said, “No bureaucracy is stronger than history, and no bureaucracy is stronger than the working class.”
Alex also detailed the precarious state of the Canadian economy, which has significant underlying weaknesses. The conditions that made Canada more stable in the 2008 slump have now turned into their opposite. High personal debt, low oil prices, and a housing bubble leave Canada in a precarious position in the event of a new global recession. Young people have no adult memory of capitalism providing meaningful reforms, and a new downturn could have the effect of radicalizing a wide layer of the population.
Following Alex’s presentation was a lively discussion that we had to extend to Sunday morning because so many in attendance wanted to participate. Comrades intervened on the Alberta-B.C. pipeline dispute, the fight against oppression, the youth movement, and the terrible role of Canadian imperialism. Particular emphasis was laid on the upcoming elections in Ontario and Quebec, and the dangers posed to working class people by a potential Doug Ford or CAQ government.
In his conclusion, Alex noted that although the political situation is calm in Canada on the surface, mass struggles are coming, and there is a sense of urgency for the Marxists in Canada.
Steps forward in Canada
On Sunday, Fightback editorial board member Jessica Cassell presented on the state of the Marxist forces in Canada and the proposed next steps. “All of the comrades have a sense of excitement at the period we are in. We are smashing target after target, and the tide is turning in our favour,” Jessica said.
The Canadian situation is marked by a layer that is turning to revolutionary ideas, especially amongst the youth. The IMT has grown because it has combined a tradition of good organizing with tried-and-true Marxist ideas. Others have capitulated to every latest fad from bourgeois academia, which has led them into a blind alley both organizationally and ideologically. Not abandoning Marxist methods and ideas has helped Fightback win some of the sharpest and most self-sacrificing layers of newly politicized workers and youth.
This persistence has also allowed Fightback and La Riposte Socialiste to sustain a new office in Montreal, making it the only serious Marxist organization with a strong base in both English Canada and Quebec.
In the discussion, there were many contributions from comrades discussing various areas of the work. It was explained that while we have been very successful organizing on the campuses, Fightback aims to be a workers’ organization and not a student organization. There was much enthusiasm around the launch of Labour Fightback, a new collective of unionized and non-unionized workers in Canada. It was reported that Fightback now has more than 100 activists in the workforce organized under the banner of class struggle unionism, workers’ democracy, and socialism. Fightback is implacably opposed to student elitism, and works to turn its student comrades to assist the workers’ struggles.
Jessica ended by explaining that “A mass organization can collapse if it is based on shoddy foundations and the wrong ideas, but a small organization can mushroom if it is based on the right foundations.”
Later that day, Donovan Ritch presented the session on finances and the press. He spoke about the importance of financial independence being necessary to maintain political independence from the reformist trade union and student union bureaucracies. Under capitalism, no serious organizing is possible without financial resources. We follow the tradition of Lenin’s Bolsheviks, who financed themselves with many small donations from “the kopeks of the workers”.
It was noted that Fightback has recently come under attack from petty-bourgeois academic elements for selling our newspaper. These people attack our press not because this method does not work, but because it works too well. Newly politicized workers and youth are more than happy to give a donation to read ideas that help explain the crisis of capitalism. This covers the cost of publication and helps build the movement. Anyone who isn’t relying on a parental trust fund understands this reality. What these “radical” intellectuals really oppose is the building of a revolutionary organization. Workers understand that without organization, the class is merely raw material for exploitation, and there is no organization without finances. Based upon this political appeal, Fightback has managed to raise the funds to become a serious force.
The comrades at the congress enthusiastically agreed with the need to build a revolutionary organization to help the workers overthrow capitalism. It has been said that “To be attacked by the enemy is not a bad thing, but a good thing”. Marxist methods are being attacked because they are an increasing threat. In defiance against these attacks, there was an historic collection that blew past the $30,000 target. This is a real measure of the growing support and desire to build a revolutionary Marxist organization that will not be distracted from fighting back.
Marxism and identity politics
On Monday, the congress moved to the United Steelworkers Hall, where we held a wide-ranging and sharp discussion on our differences with the ideas of intersectionality and identity politics that have infiltrated the movement, led once again by comrade Jessica.
Jessica explained that these ideas originate from the ivory tower of academia and are the result of previous ebbs in class struggle and pessimism towards the prospect of revolution. She reaffirmed the need to use class struggle methods to fight against all the forms of oppression that capitalism breeds. Intersectionality and identity politics have focused on changing individual thought and use of language instead of changing the social and economic conditions that give rise to discriminatory attitudes, and these ideas are actively promoted by the ruling capitalist class to keep us divided. Class unity is vital to win the battle against all oppression and to overthrow the capitalist system that perpetuates such oppression. The act of uniting in struggle also does much to cut across any discriminatory attitudes that the capitalists promote to divide the working class, as people come to realize their common interests through collective struggle.
In her concluding remarks, Jessica said that “At the end of the day, the root cause of all oppression is scarcity. This is what pits people against each other. But scarcity is entirely artificial under capitalism and it exists because a tiny, parasitic class controls the economy. The working class needs ideas that will help it unite and fight the ruling class, not those that turn it inwards and makes its members fight each other.”
Finally, the congress ended with our international guest speaker Fred Weston giving a report on the growth of the International Marxist Tendency over the past year.
Fred discussed our growing work in Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Honduras, Venezuela, Nigeria, El Salvador, Morocco, Liberia, France, Germany, Greece, Indonesia, the United States, Pakistan, and elsewhere. He highlighted our Italian comrades’ work in the latest elections in March, where we stood on an independent list. During the campaign one of our Italian activists expressed the need to expropriate the billionaires to a television audience of more than 600,000 on one of Italy’s main news programs. The campaign played a significant role in raising the profile of the organization, paving the way for further growth of the forces of Marxism.
Forward unto victory!
Fred ended by giving a detailed report on the international solidarity campaign we launched to free our abducted Pakistani comrades. He explained how this campaign played a vital role in forcing the paramilitary forces to release them. He expressed pride in the fact that with our international forces we were able to save the lives of these Pakistani revolutionaries, and specifically thanked figures in Canada such as Canadian Union of Postal Workers national president Mike Palecek and Quebec Solidaire MNA Amir Khadir, whose messages had a big impact in Pakistan.
The comrades marked the end of the congress with a rendition of “The Internationale” in English and in French and of the Italian revolutionary song, “Bandiera Rossa”.
Attendees left excited at the enormous possibilities that exist to build the Marxist movement. While much of the left in Canada is deeply pessimistic, the IMT has moved from major advance to major advance. The thirst for these ideas at the Congress was expressed in record book sales, which amounted to more than $5,000! Fightback is already the best organized and largest revolutionary organization in the country. Our methods have been proven correct. And there is much room to grow. For the first time in generations there is an opportunity to build a cross-Canadian Marxist organization that can unite all the best revolutionary elements from coast to coast to coast. We appeal to all to join us in this struggle!