The seventh annual Montreal Marxist Winter School, held this past weekend (February 18-19), was a resounding success! Attendance at this year’s school was almost double that of last year, with some 200 people from countries such as Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, France and Mexico attending and participating. In fact, this was one of the largest revolutionary Marxist meetings held in Canada for many, many years.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the October Revolution and to mark the event this years’ school was dedicated to the subject of the Russian Revolution. Before the first session even started on Saturday morning, there was a palpable mood of excitement and anticipation amongst participants as the opening remarks and international greetings were delivered to start the weekend.
The Lessons of October
Alan Woods, editor of the In Defence of Marxism website, gave the first presentation of the school on the lessons of the Russian Revolution. Alan explained that from the point of view of Marxism, the Russian Revolution was the greatest event in history. As the first successful socialist revolution, it was the first time in history that the working class, the poor and the oppressed took up arms, fought back against their oppressors, took power and won.
The victory of the working class in the October Revolution is something that the bourgeoisie can never forgive, and this explains the torrent of lies and hatred they unload on the actual history of the Revolution and the Bolshevik party. In this regard, Alan explained that the volume of water flowing over Niagara Falls could not possibly match the volume of lies about the Russian Revolution spewed by the ruling class.
The October Revolution stands as a beacon of light and hope for the working class and oppressed of the whole world, and for this reason the capitalists are forced to besmirch the true history of the revolution. Marx explained long ago that the dominant ideas in any society are the ideas of the ruling class. Through their agents in the universities and the media, the ruling class try to paint the events of October as a coup d’état led by the “bloodthirsty Bolsheviks”.
The reality is that nothing could be further from the truth. The October Revolution was not a coup d’état plotted by the Bolsheviks, but was in fact the most democratic, mass revolutionary action in history. The vehicle through which the Russian working class conquered power was not a coup d’état by a small minority but through the soviets, the most democratic mass organizations in history, organized and developed by the working masses themselves. The soviets began as extended strike committees, organs of proletarian struggle and democracy, and were extremely flexible and democratic, and were organized from the factory floor and neighbourhoods and linked up into all-Russian soviets, representing the democratic will of the working class as a whole.
The argument that the October Revolution was a conspiracy of the Bolshevik party does not hold any water. At the beginning of the February Revolution, the Bolsheviks only had some 8,000 members. How could such a tiny minority not only “mislead” the entire country, overthrow the Provisional Government with its “armed bodies of men” in the form of the army and the police, and then hold on to power in the face of armed imperialist intervention and civil war?
The most striking aspect of the 1917 revolution was in fact the active participation of the masses in politics. This in fact is one of the key elements of any revolution, and is in fact the essence of a revolution. The key to the success of the October Revolution and the reason the soviets could hold on to power in the face of armed counterrevolution, was the active support of the masses who fought for and defended the gains of the revolution. The Soviet government was their government and they fought to defend it against the Whites.
All of this is not to say that the Bolshevik party played no role in the revolution. In fact, when looking at subsequent revolutions that were defeated in Germany and elsewhere for example, a key reason for these defeats was precisely the absence of a well-organized revolutionary party that could win over the decisive majority of the working class to a revolutionary programme and direct the revolutionary energy of the masses to power.
The Bolsheviks were able to win the confidence of the working masses and oppressed in Russia because their program was the only one that consistently reflected the interests of the masses. On this basis they were able to connect with the masses through the timely use of slogans such as “Peace, Land and Bread” and “All Power to the Soviets” as well as tireless agitation and organizing in the factories, the army and on the streets.
Global capitalism finds itself in profound crisis. The parties of the establishment, both right and left, cannot offer a way out of the situation. Workers and youth can no longer stand the status quo, and are everywhere seeking an alternative that can actually solve the problems they face. This has led to a collapse of the traditional centre, and a polarization in society to the right and the left.
People everywhere are rapidly losing confidence in the establishment in particular and capitalism in general, especially the youth. Alan finished by explaining that it is our task today to reclaim the banner of October, cleanse it of all the lies of the ruling class and the crimes of Stalinism and raise it as the only banner the working class can support. We must fight for the socialist future of humanity, and this can only be done on the basis of a revolutionary programme and party, based on the ideas of Marxism and the October Revolution.
The Revolution Betrayed
Julien Arseneau, a member of the La Riposte socialiste editorial board, introduced the afternoon session on Trotsky’s Revolution Betrayed and the question of Stalinism. Julien explained that anyone interested in revolutionary ideas today will inevitably be confronted with the question of Stalinism and what happened in the Soviet Union.
Julien explained that socialism isn’t merely a good idea that can be implemented at any time, outside of all historical or socioeconomic context. According to Marxism, there are certain material conditions that are necessary for the establishment of socialism. Viewed in isolation, Russia did not meet these conditions. However, internationally speaking, the conditions had developed under capitalism whereby socialism could be established. It was therefore precisely because of the defeats of the revolutions in Germany and elsewhere that Stalin, on the basis of a bureaucratic counterrevolution, was able to rise to power.
Marx once explained that the development of the productive forces was a necessary premise for socialism and communism, because without it “want is generalized and with want the struggle for necessities begins again, and that means that all the old crap must revive”. Because of the ruination of years of war, revolution and civil war, and because of the isolation of the revolution, one could not talk about socialism in Russia. This meant inevitably that, “all the old crap revived”.
In relation to the rise of the Stalinist bureaucracy, Trotsky once explained that “The basis of bureaucratic rule is the poverty of society in objects of consumption, with the resulting struggle of each against all. When there is enough goods in a store, the purchasers can come whenever they want to. When there is little goods, the purchasers are compelled to stand in line. When the lines are very long, it is necessary to appoint a policeman to keep order. Such is the starting point of the power of the Soviet bureaucracy.” Julien explained that from this, we can understand the concrete reasons for the growth of the Stalinist bureaucracy in the Soviet Union.
Julien finished by explaining how Lenin had spent the last few years of his life fighting against the rise of this bureaucracy, and the struggle of the Left Opposition against Stalinism. Julien answered one of the main lies peddled by the ruling class - that Stalinism and Bolshevism are the same thing, or at least that Stalinism was the logical consequence of the October Revolution. As Julien pointed out, if this were true, why in order to consolidate power was Stalin compelled to murder all the old Bolsheviks and destroy the Bolshevik party? The fact that Stalin had to exterminate the Bolshevik party, the old revolutionary guard, demonstrates that Stalinism and Bolshevism are entirely incompatible, separated by a river of blood.
Julien finished by explaining that the historic context that conditioned the rise of Stalinism does not really exist anymore, or at least not to the same extent. In Russia, as in many other countries, there has been a massive development and expansion of the productive forces, which also means a massive development in the strength of the proletariat. The conditions in which future revolutions will take place will therefore be much more favourable to the development of socialism, and for this reason we can be confident in our victory in the class struggle.
Revolutionary youth and students
The final session of the day was on the topic of student organizing in Canada and was presented by Farshad Azadian of the Fightback editorial board. He introduced some of the members of the various Fightback/La Riposte socialiste student clubs from around the country, including from Toronto, Montreal, Edmonton and Victoria, highlighting the recent success in student work.
Farshad noted that there are Fightback/La Riposte socialiste student clubs present on a dozen campuses across the country. The remarkable growth and success of revolutionary student work was a reflection of the fact that the youth and students are often a barometer for the level of discontent in society and this is why students and youth are often at the forefront of revolutionary struggle. There are numerous examples from history that demonstrate this, from France 1968 to more recent events in the Arab Spring.
Farshad finished by appealing to those present to set up revolutionary student clubs on their campuses throughout the country. We appeal to all students interested in socialism to unite with Socialist Fightback Students and join in the struggle for socialism. To that end, we will soon be producing a welcoming package to help those interested. Please get in touch if you would like to know more!
The Impact of the Russian Revolution
The second day of the school started with a presentation by Alex Grant, editor of Fightback, who explained the impact of the Russian Revolution in North America by highlighting the fact that revolutions do not know or respect borders. He began by explaining just how deeply the Russian Revolution influenced workers and farmers in Quebec, English Canada and the United States, the history of which is little known.
The Russian Revolution was greeted enthusiastically by the workers of North America and many workers’ organizations, such as the Industrial Workers of the World, looked towards the Russian Revolution as a victory for the working class and as a way forward for the working class in North America.
The Russian Revolution terrified the ruling class in North America, because of the enthusiasm the workers in felt for the October Revolution. This resulted in a vicious Red Scare campaign, where meetings of socialists and radical newspapers were banned and thousands were arrested.
The workers and youth in North America at that time stood in solidarity with the Russian Revolution, and there are many examples of strikes and work stoppages to stop the shipment of arms to the counterrevolutionaries in Russia. There were massive and radical strikes in Toronto and Montreal, along with a massive May Day rally in Toronto in 1919 as well as general strike in Seattle. There was also the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919, which spread across western North America like wildfire, and included the formation of extended strike committees and workers’ councils in places such as Edmonton and Vancouver.
The impact of the Russian Revolution and the impact of international solidarity could also be seen in the mutiny of troops sent to Russia to aid the counterrevolutionaries in their war on Soviet Russia. The mutiny of many of these troops and their refusal to fight played a large role in forcing the American and Canadian imperialists from withdrawing from Soviet Russia. This goes to show that Canadian and American workers and soldiers played a direct role in saving the Russian Revolution and the young Soviet state.
Alex used these historic examples to demonstrate how revolutions can spread from one country to another, and quickly. This is because as a general rule, the workers of all countries face the same problems, and will seek out similar solutions. Such examples of international solidarity will be seen again, and on the basis of solid revolutionary organization, we can utilise the momentum of this solidarity to further revolutionary struggles at home and ensure the victory of the world socialist revolution.
The crisis of capitalism and the class struggle
The final session of the Marxist Winter School was presented by Hubert Prévaud, editor of the French Marxist journal Révolution, who spoke about world perspectives and the developing crisis of capitalism. He described the profound stagnation in economic growth, the various crises of overproduction that have erupted or threaten to erupt as well as the unprecedented levels of debt across all layers of society.
Hubert pointed out that the protectionist measures being taken and planned by the Trump government in the United States and in the European Union, could result in something similar to the Wall Street Crash of 1929. To the delight of the capitalists everywhere, the financial crisis of 2008-2009 did not seem to provoke a response on the part of the reformist parties and trade unions, or the working class in general. Though fearing a revolutionary response on the part of the workers and youth, in its apparent absence the ruling became overconfident following the 2008-2009 recession and arrogantly pressed on with their attacks on workers and youth.
As Hubert explained, beneath the apparent calm on the surface of things, changes were taking place at the depths of society. Deep discontent and anger was stirring amongst the masses, and we are now beginning to see this discontent reflected in the collapse of the traditional centre, along with a sharp polarization to the left and the right in society. This is a reflection of the accumulated anger the masses feel towards the traditional establishment parties, politicians and institutions as well as the economic and political elites. This can be seen in the rise of support in socialism and Marxism, as the masses are beginning to seek alternatives and find a way out of the crisis.
Hubert explained that the rise of Trump is in reality a crisis of the regime. A section of the ruling class is deeply worried. Above all, the capitalists desire stability to govern and make profits. But Trump is a perpetual source of great instability, with American society being shaken to the core. The old consensus that had been in place since the end of the Second World War, lies in ruins, and this is a cause of concern for the ruling class. Trump has promised a lot, and a result the people now have great expectations – expectations that he cannot meet. This will only result in the increasing anger of the masses, and the increasing polarization of society. This terrifies the ruling class because they are acutely aware that their hand is no longer firmly on the wheel.
We cannot only look at the rise of Trump and despair. This is a one-sided view of things. We also have to look at the unprecedented mobilization of workers and youth against Trump and his right-wing and racist policies. The marvellous mobilization of workers and youth around the world against the Trump regime is a source of inspiration and confidence in the future battles of the class struggle.
Hubert also explained the crisis in the European Union, discussing the Greek crisis and the rise of Syriza, the collapse of the left in Italy, the rise of Podemos in Spain, the rise of Le Pen and the question of Mélenchon and the changes taking place in the Socialist Party in France, and of course the Corbyn phenomenon and the question of Brexit.
Capitalism has entered into the greatest crisis in its history. Economic stagnation, political instability and the sharp rise of the class struggle reign on all continents and in all lands. Hubert explained that the capitalists and the reformist organizations will not be able to find a way out of this crisis. They cannot govern and rule as they used to. The centre is collapsing and society polarizing increasingly sharply to the right and the left. This will mean that we will continue to see a sharpening of the class struggle, a rise in the number and intensity of strikes and a turn to the left of the workers and youth. The masses of workers and youth are seeking an alternative. The key task now is to get organized and patiently explain the ideas of Marxism and a revolutionary socialist program as the only way forward.
Build the International Marxist Tendency
Joel Bergman, editor of La Riposte socialiste, wrapped up the school and offered some concluding remarks. He expressed his immense pride in the school, which has grown remarkably over the past few years. He thanked everyone involved in organizing the school and all those who attended for coming.
He finished by explaining that Trotsky once spoke of the molecular process of revolution. For many years this process may have seemed invisible, but was developing nonetheless. Today, this process has broken through the surface and is quite visible and easy to see and was reflected in the growing radicalization of young workers and students.
He finished by explaining that our goal was to rise to the tasks posed by history, to provide the ideas necessary to ensure the socialist future of humanity, and to be worthy of that role and the struggles to come. To close the school, the participants all stood and with raised fists enthusiastically sang The Internationale and the Bandiera Rossa to great cheer.
The seventh annual Montreal Marxist Winter School was a fantastic event and marvellous success. The sharp rise in attendance year-on-year is a reflection of the sharp break and development in the class consciousness of workers and youth. As capitalist society stagnates and stumbles from crisis to crisis, dashing all hopes for the future, workers and youth are forced to seek alternatives and a way out of the crisis. Increasingly, people are turning to the ideas of Marxism, Bolshevism and the October Revolution and are coming to one inescapable conclusion: the only solution is socialist revolution.
These are exciting times to be a revolutionary. While many on the left wallow in despair and hopelessness, the revolutionary Marxists look forward to the future with a brilliant optimism. We have confidence in the working class and youth, and faith that they can and will change society and cleanse the world of all exploitation. All those interested in learning more should join the International Marxist Tendency, and join in the struggle for the socialist future of humanity!