Over 60 attend historic Marxist conference in Canada

The 13th national conference of the Marxist journals, Fightback and La Riposte, reflected the growing appeal of Marxist ideas in Canadian society.

Supporters of the Marxist journals, Fightback and La Riposte, recently gathered in Toronto for the 13th national conference of the Marxists across the Canadian state.  The conference was a historic one for a number of reasons.  Over 60 people registered to attend the conference, making it the best attended conference in the history of the Canadian Marxists.  More importantly, this was the first national conference that was fully bilingual, with all sessions and discussions translated consecutively into English and French.  Finally, the conference was held in conjunction with the centennial celebrations of the birth of British Marxist, Ted Grant. Ted’s ideas featured quite prominently throughout the weekend, helping to arm a new generation of militants in the struggle against capitalism.

The growing appeal of Marxist ideas in the wider movement was clearly evident during the weekend; for over one-third of the attendees, this was the first time they had attended a national gathering like this. The intervention by La Riposte and Fightback supporters in last year’s student strike in Quebec was also obvious given the unprecedented delegation from Quebec, many of whom were francophone students who had become radicalized by the events of the “Maple Spring”. The conference was also lucky to have the presence of comrades of the Workers’ International League in Pittsburgh. In addition, Fred Weston, editor of the In Defence of Marxism website, was an invited guest speaker. Moreover, the political activities of the comrades had caught the eyes and ears of revolutionaries around the world; the conference was truly excited to get greetings from Marxists from France, Spain, Greece, Egypt, Hungary, Denmark, Argentina, Indonesia, and even New Zealand!

conference-2013-1More than 60 people attended the conference throughout the weekendThe entry of workers and young people into political activity is being witnessed all over the world. Fred Weston opened the conference with a session on World Perspectives. Fred’s introduction touched on the nature of the current economic crisis and the inability of capitalism to find a way out of the impasse. Nearly five years have passed since the financial crash of 2008 and there is no evidence of a recovery. In fact, the latest economic figures from the European Union show the economic crisis only deepening. In Spain, for instance, unemployment recently topped 6-million, a new historic high for the country. Even “stabler” economies, such as France and the UK, are set to once again enter into recession. Fred predicted that France and Italy, in particular, are in serious danger of a social explosion in the not-too-distant future.

The economic crisis has also led to a crisis of reformism. Fred explained how the leaders of the left parties in Europe will have no choice but to continue the austerity of the bosses if they refuse to break with the logic of capitalism. Fred highlighted the disappointing tour by Alexis Tsipras, the leader of SYRIZA in Greece, who has taken great pains to reassure foreign investors that a SYRIZA government would do nothing “crazy” in the event it came to power in Greece. In other words, Tsipras would accept the diktats of the big capitalists. However, this is not what the Greek masses had in mind when they voted for SYRIZA last year; Fred cited one opinion poll that showed that nearly 85% of Greeks were looking for a “drastic change” in the current situation, with a full third coming out in support of revolution! The wavering on the part of the left reformists only serves to disenchant the working class of Europe who are desperately looking for a way out of the misery of austerity.

conference-2013-5Alex Grant speaking about the Perspectives for the Class Struggle in CanadaThe perspectives laid out by Fred led neatly into the afternoon of the first day when Alex Grant led off a discussion on perspectives for the class struggle in Canada. (A discussion document on these perspectives from the conference will be published shortly by Fightback.) The predominant theme from the discussion was the fact that there is a burning anger in Canadian society, but no organized outlet for this anger. The leaders of the mass organizations of the working class — the trade unions and the NDP — have been incapable of providing a way forward for workers and youth. In many cases, the bureaucratic reformist leadership of these bodies are actively trying to contain any explosion by the workers, as evidenced most recently by the rightward shift at the NDP’s federal convention in Montreal and the betrayal of public school teachers in Ontario.

Despite these attempts to contain the workers’ movement, we are still seeing sporadic explosions of discontent across the country, primarily from the youth, including the Quebec student movement, #Occupy, and Idle No More. As militant and courageous as these movements are, they share a weakness where they lack a stable structure or recognized leadership that can re-group for future struggle.

conference-2013-4Alex also emphasized the point that despite the weakness of the current labour leadership, this situation was not going to continue forever. At some point, one spark could set the whole labour movement alight, and the Canadian ruling class must be very cautious how it proceeds. Evidence of this possibility could recently be seen in Alberta where a wildcat strike by prison wardens came close to bringing out most public sector workers in the province. The fact that this spark almost came from prison workers in Canada’s most conservative province speaks volumes to the fact that a working-class explosion in Canada could come from anywhere.

Following Alex’s presentation, there was an excellent discussion on the nature of leadership and its relations to the wider working class, with comrades offering their contributions in both English and French. The comrades came out of the discussion with a clearer understanding of the potential for struggle and the tasks at hand for revolutionaries fighting the Canadian state.

In what is an annual tradition, there was a spirited fundraising session after the dinner break. The comrades used the energy and dedication from the day’s sessions, combined with a little bit of good-natured competition, to raise a record collection at the conference. Over $10,000 was pledged by those present, and from others around the country who weren’t able to attend, more than twice the amount collected the year prior! This excellent display of sacrifice and commitment, from mainly students and part-time workers, demonstrated the comrades’ understanding about the urgency to build the revolutionary tendency at this time of crisis.

Camilo Cahis speakingCamilo Cahis speakingThe conference’s second day was dedicated to using the perspectives outlined the day before to build the Marxist forces across the Canadian state. Camilo Cahis and Joel Bergman introduced discussions on how to best spread the ideas of Marxism into the movement, and on building the financial resources of Fightback and La Riposte in order to achieve those aims. The historic collection from the previous evening would go a long way in being able to hire a regional organizer in Quebec, a desperately needed task to further spread Marxist ideas into that province. Furthermore, comrades set out ambitious targets for article writing, paper selling, and subscriptions, aiming to get Fightback and La Riposte into more hands.

The conference also coincided with the release of the new political biography of Ted Grant. Unfortunately, Ted’s ideas are not well known in North America. Comrades were enthusiastic about doing everything possible to redress this imbalance, especially as Ted’s ideas are particularly relevant to events today. After the conference, Fred Weston set out on book launch meetings in Toronto and Montreal. Those present at the conference eagerly picked up their copies of the new biography and committed to organize a series of discussions on Ted’s contributions to Marxist theory after the death of Trotsky.

As a reminder about the international character of the class struggle, Fred Weston returned to give one final presentation on the activities of Marxists from all over the world. Comrades were particularly enthused by the success of the Pakistani Marxists who had over 2,800 present at their recent conference, and their fight against the vote-rigging against comrade Ali Wazir, who defeated both pro-Taliban and pro-imperialist candidates in South Waziristan in the recent Pakistani election. This showed the gathered participants that their struggle against the bourgeoisie in Canada was not being done in isolation, and that the class struggle in Canada is part of the much larger struggle against capitalism being waged all over the world. To conclude the conference, the Canadian Marxists heartily belted out the “Internationale” in English and French, confident of returning home to continue the fight for socialism.

Source: Over 60 attend historic Marxist conference in Canada