In what has become a May-long-weekend tradition, about 50 Marxist supporters travelled to Toronto for the 12th national conference of the Canadian Marxists of Fightback and La Riposte. As in previous years, the Marxists met to discuss the world situation and how to best intervene in the increasing number of movements against capitalism; but, what made this conference different from that of years past was the fact that it was being held at the same time as the largest mass movement in Canadian history.
The conference was also lucky to have Fred Weston, the managing editor of the In Defence of Marxism website, in attendance. Fred has written widely on the Arab revolutions, as well as the European crisis and its effects on the southern European countries. He was also in the middle of a very successful tour of Ontario and Quebec, explaining the roots of the European crisis and their effects on the world economy. (Reports and pictures from the events are available from Toronto and Montreal.)
Fred led off the conference with a discussion on world perspectives. Although his introduction went substantially over time, Fred lamented the fact that he was only able to cover a fraction of the tumultuous events that are occurring in every single corner of the planet. Most of Fred’s introduction focused on the crisis in Europe and the effect that this would have on the capitalist system around the world. As he repeatedly emphasized, the eurozone, as a whole, represents the largest single economic bloc on Earth. Moreover, unlike in previous years, we were now witnessing a mass movement against capitalism arising in several advanced capitalist countries. This fact meant that all Marxists need to be focused on what is happening in Europe as the repercussions of these conflicts will reverberate in every country.
In Greece, a pre-revolutionary situation has arisen. The May Greek elections have blown the old Greek two-party system to pieces with the defeat of the pro-austerity parties. Now that a new round of elections will need to take place, the situation for the European capitalists is going to be even more dire. But it is not just the economy which is currently being rocked; if SYRIZA wins the next election (as it currently looks likely to do so), Fred also explained how this will open up new convulsions within the Greek labour movement. The KKE (Greek Communist Party) was punished by voters for their sectarian attitude towards SYRIZA in the elections. But, even SYRIZA’s support could be shaken if SYRIZA does not break with capitalism. SYRIZA is going to be under tremendous pressure from the “troika” to cut social spending and further attack living standards for Greek workers. Under capitalism there is no other path except the implementation of harsh austerity.
But, even though conditions are most dire in Greece, what the ruling class is truly worried about is the Greek crisis spreading to the other weak economies within the euro-zone — especially Spain and Italy. Unlike Greece, Spain and Italy are “too big to fail” — in other words, there is not enough money to be able to bail them out. Fred re-emphasized that the break-up of the euro-zone, which the majority of the bourgeois never envisioned just a few years ago, was predicted by the Marxists a full decade ago. Fred stated that this was the importance of the Marxist method and the importance of regularly discussing perspectives — “It is the victory of foresight over astonishment.”
In the subsequent discussion, many of the comrades raised questions about the Arab revolutions. In significant part, this is due to Fightback’s consistent work with the Arab and Middle Eastern communities in Canada. There was some lively discussion on the nature of the Arab revolutionary movements and the contradictory elements that make up some of these movements. In his sum-up, Fred touched on the fact that due to the absence of mass revolutionary parties based on the workers, the Arab revolution has faced a series of setbacks. None of the regimes that have come into power will be able to actually address the underlying causes of the revolutions. It is only a matter of time before the Arab masses wake up once again, but this time armed with the experiences and lessons of 2011-12.
In the afternoon, Alex Grant introduced a discussion on Canadian Perspectives. Alex began by saying in years past, the gathered comrades would wonder at the struggles happening overseas. But, this year, many of our comrades in the room were involved in mass movements themselves. Not surprisingly, the Quebec student strike took up much of Alex’s talk. Alex pointed out that the Quebec student movement was only the latest manifestation of a series of convulsive events in Quebec over the past decade, revealing how Quebec society is in extreme turmoil and looking for a way out of the crisis of capitalism. Alex also reminded the conference that a year ago, in Fightback’s 2011 Canadian Perspectives, we had predicted the possibility of a mass student strike occurring in Quebec.
This was not the only prediction that has come to pass. Alex also pointed to the Occupy movement as another prediction from the 2011 perspectives document that had come to pass. A year ago, the Canadian Marxists spent a great deal of time discussing the growing inequality in Canada and how this must inevitably lead to an explosion. We now know how that played out! Similarly, contrary to the ultra-lefts who write off the mass organizations, the Canadian Marxists had understood (and explained) the growing tensions within society and that, eventually, led to the federal NDP’s “Orange Surge”.
In the discussion that followed, many of the comrades focused their attention to the interventions from the Marxists of La Riposte. The comrades described their own experiences of staffing the picket lines and blockades at schools like UQAM. Many had had numerous experiences of being tear-gassed by the brutal Montreal police. Others also described how the strike was beginning to have a resonance in the wider working class in Quebec, and spreading the movement to the workers in the form of strike actions would be key if the movement was to succeed in standing up to the Quebec Liberal government.
The movement in Quebec was not the sole area of discussion, however. Other comrades intervened on different areas of the country. One comrade, for instance, highlighted the precarious situation of the capitalist economy in Ontario, as illustrated by the Drummond Report in February. He mentioned how Drummond found great similarities between Ontario’s economy today, and that of Spain in December 2007. Another comrade spoke about his experience at the Ontario NDP convention, and how the capitalist crisis and austerity are beginning to have an effect within the party. At the convention, splits between the ONDP leadership and the trade unions emerged over whether the party’s parliamentary caucus should support the Liberals’ provincial budget, a budget that would unleash the worst attacks on labour since the Mike Harris years.
To sum-up the discussion, Alex pointed out to the comrades that the upheaval in the rest of the world has begun to arrive in Canada, and that Marxist ideas were now more important than ever in the Canadian student and labour movements. The important task is to build the Marxist tendency that can give the workers and youth the ideas and methods that can bring victory.
The last session of the first day was covered by Fred, where he described the activities of the different Marxists around the world. There was a great deal of excitement about the activity of the Greek Marxists, organized around Marxistiki Foni, and their intervention within SYRIZA and the Greek workers’ movement. As well, Fred also described the great successes that the British Marxists of Socialist Appeal (UK) have had on the university campuses in the UK. Four Pittsburgh comrades from Socialist Appeal (USA) were also present at the conference and described the success of the Campaign For a Mass Party of Labor, as well as the ambitious goals set out by the American Marxists, receiving great applause from the rest of the comrades.
Highlighting the fact that this conference was not just about analyzing the world but also trying to intervene in it, the second day was wholly dedicated to building the Marxist forces in Canada. Camilo Cahis and Farshad Azadian led-off these discussions on how to best promote Marxist ideas within the labour and student movements.
The qualitative growth of Marxist ideas in Canada was very evident at this year’s conference. The conference received greetings from Marxists all over the world — from France, to the UK, to Venezuela, to Mexico, to New Zealand, to Indonesia, and more! The conference also received special greetings from Denis Lemelin, the national president of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW), giving thanks for the work done by Fightback and La Riposte comrades to support CUPW members during last year’s lockout. During the conference itself, we also found out that the Montreal Gazette (the leading English-language newspaper in Quebec) had republished the “Open Letter to the Canadian Federation of Students” that was drafted by two Fightback comrades. (The letter would subsequently be mentioned, or re-published, in many other publications, including the Toronto Star, the Globe and Mail, the National Post, Rabble, as well as being shared hundreds of times over social media.)
The enthusiasm of the comrades was palpable throughout the entire weekend, with intense discussions during the sessions. The solidarity collection was especially successful with over $4,000 pledged to help continue to build the Marxist forces in Canada. For the first time, the conference also had its own revolutionary DJ and dance floor.
Coming out of this weekend, the Marxists of Fightback and La Riposte are more energized than ever to continue building the ideas of revolutionary Marxism in Canada. The past year has irrevocably shaken the notion that Canadian workers and youth are not open to revolutionary ideas. Canada is not immune to the waves that are shaking the rest of the world, or to the mass movements that are confronting the crisis of global capitalism. At every step of the way, Fightback and La Riposte will be there to give workers and youth the tools to build socialism.
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To see more pictures from our national conference, check out our Flickr site.