On Sep. 30, a group calling itself “All Out September 30th” held a “virtual strike” to raise awareness over issues of racism and barriers to education, among other topics.
The event, attended by Fightback and perhaps a few hundred students, could have been an opportunity for open discussion between faculty, students and their representatives on these issues and how to confront them. Instead, what participants got was a stage managed, politically moderate event in which Marxists and other students were prevented from speaking, denied basic questions, and vilified by the organizers.
The group responsible for the event describes itself as a “team consisting of Black, Indigenous Racialised and allied students, staff and Faculty from across [Ontario].” In truth, the event featured heavy involvement from the Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario (CFS-O) leadership, with many speakers being current or former union officials, as well as their allies. Many have until recently been publicly opposed to the idea of student strikes, while others have stymied efforts by students to organize them.
Unsurprisingly, the #AOS30“Strike” was no such thing. If it was, it was certainly a peculiar one: a “strike” involving little participation from ordinary students, no vote, no mass withdrawal from lectures, and no picket lines to reinforce it—that is, the basic elements of a strike. Instead, what participants got was a series of lectures; lectures decided behind closed doors and which provided little room for involvement of ordinary students.
In truth, Ontario’s student leadership has not abandoned its hesitation towards (actual) strikes. However, the demand for action from below has compelled them to shift left, at least in words, to placate their membership. In postmodernist fashion, they hope that by changing the word used, they change the actual thing. Reality, unfortunately, is forced to disagree—as are thinking students.
Identity politics v. free discussion
#AOS30Strike was not a strike. However, it did have the opportunity to be an open discussion between participants on the issue of racism and how best to combat it. The organizers had little interest in that, either.
Instead, students were treated to often highly academic lectures, ones that traversed the full spectrum of identity politics: from “Indigenizing our minds,” to “radical self care,” to “carcerality” and other unintelligible topics. For those who wish to view it for themselves, the livestream can be viewed here.
The topics of capitalism and socialism were rarely mentioned, despite many speakers referring to themselves as “revolutionaries,” and despite them describing the event as a “space for Black and Indigenous revolution.”
Perhaps more importantly, there was little talk of concrete actions like mass mobilizations or strikes, despite the event itself sharing the name.
Of course, every person is entitled to their opinion. However, the student movement, as well as the fight against racism, are made powerful through unity, and unity through open discussion and debate on the best way forward.
But this too was avoided.
The event started with participants being limited to text discussion only. No time was allotted for audio contributions or questions, as is typical in most other meetings, including Fightback’s own online events. Given this, students including Fightback members made use of the chat function to raise points related to the lecture, many of which drew links between capitalism and racism.
Fightback members also shared a link to a socialist “fringe meeting,” a common feature in politics and the labour movement, where interested students could raise points about the lectures in between sessions.
This, however, was too much for the organizers. Participants were lambasted for “promoting external events,” while text discussion was banned for “speaking over the speakers.” How students with no ability to speak could do so was not explained.
The crime of asking questions
During the second session, two of the speakers launched into an almost 10-minute tirade, in which some participants were accused, in order, of the following: “talking over” the speakers, engaging in “disgusting” behaviour, “not listening,” “minimizing” the speakers, “silencing” the speakers, “devaluing” the speakers and both “re-triggering” and “re-traumatizing” those listening. They were also told to “shut the f*ck up.”
In particular, they singled out the participants “enmeshed so deep in socialism” and the “folks around Fightback,” despite the fact that only some of those targeted were Fightback members, and despite the fact that many of those members are themselves racialized.
What could have prompted this vitriolic reply? The answer: roughly eight written questions (which was allowed), some of which included:
Do you think we can abolish the police without fighting to abolish capitalism?
How do we make sure the police stay abolished?
What would a community defence look like?
If these questions were too traumatic, one can only wonder: what interaction would be acceptable? The organizers pointed to their guidelines, which included the following advice:
Give caring feedback (we love prop ups and emojis in the chat)
In other words: give praise or “shut the f*ck up.”
In fairness, participants were allowed to speak at the end of the final session. However, this section was, remarkably, segregated by race, with white participants being required to join a separate group. Incredibly, this put the organizers into the absurd position of having to decide who was a racial minority and who wasn’t, leading to at least one uncomfortable interaction.
Marxists are sometimes accused of “misrepresenting” and “making a mockery” of identity politics and its adherents. These shenanigans prove they require no help from us.
A reactionary philosophy
Ontario’s student leaders face a dilemma. On the one hand, they have no apparent interest in taking serious action to defend students, including marginalized ones. On the other, society is shifting leftwards, leaving those leaders at risk of being left behind by those they represent.
How to solve it? Here, identity politics finds its purpose.
Instead of action, student bureaucrats employ radical-sounding language to present themselves as more militant than they actually are. Inaction (“down time”) becomes the most revolutionary act (“radical self care”)—as if it were an act of Jesus himself. Terms like “revolution” and “strike” are used often, described rarely (and if they are, often incorrectly), and practiced never at all. In truth, the policies of these individuals remain reformist at best, and reactionary at worst. Words lose all meaning.
Furthermore, identity politics provides student officials with the tools to silence those calling for more. The simple act of posing a question becomes oppressive. Individuals become immune from judgement because of which group they belong to. Critics are met, not with political arguments, but with hysteria, the purpose of which is to silence dissent. Marxists in particular are targeted, because they alone demand resolute action on behalf of students.
Identity politics, while sounding radical, is in fact the farthest thing from. Moreover, it is anti-revolutionary in practice, and thus a weapon in the hands of bureaucracy, #S30 being just one example.
Marxists oppose these methods, not only because they target us, but because they weaken the movement as a whole, including the fight against racism. Class unity, free discussion and mass actions are our best weapons in achieving racial justice, and have been historically. Identity politics, and its agents in office, are the antithesis to these proven methods.
These ideas must be driven out so the movement can advance.