Why Strike?

To Undergraduate Students of the University of Ottawa,

Last year UOttawa made history when we became the first campus in Ontario to have General Assemblies as the highest decision making body of our Student Federation. We achieved this victory with a referendum that ended in 1968 students voting YES to GA’s. This clearly showed us that students not only wanted but embraced new structures and methods, but that students are also willing to get engaged in ways that the SFUO has previously not presented them. In light of this fact, among many others, the Revolutionary Student Movement is calling for a strike in spring 2015 to challenge both our ridiculously high tuition fees and the new code of conduct that the University is quietly introducing this year. This letter will further expand on these issues and hopefully answer a lot of questions many students may have about the strike.

1) Is Tuition really that big of a deal?
Yes, our tuition has risen every year for the past 9 years. This year tuition fees went up 3% for domestic undergraduate students, 5% for domestic graduate students and those in “professional programs”, and 10% for international students. Despite rising fees, we have not seen a significant improvement in our quality of education. In fact, our quality of education has decreased. We have extremely large class sizes, many of the buildings on campus are inaccessible, and courses and programs such as journalism are being cut. Students do not have access to adequate study space and are paying way too much for residence. Many students work part-time or full-time jobs (sometimes more than one) to put themselves through school. Tuition is a significant burden for many students, and potential students.

2) Don’t we have student representation at the Board of Governors?
In theory yes. However, students have only 3 out of 31 seats on the Board of Governors. In the past, students have been prevent from voting on measures regarding tuition fees due to a supposed “conflict of interest”. The other 28 seats on the Board of Governors are filled by the university’s upper administration and representatives from large corporations. To quote from an SFUO Membership Advisory that was released earlier this year: “Undergraduate student representative Vincent Mousseau motioned to include a tuition freeze in the budget for the upcoming 2014-15 fiscal year. Undergraduate student representative Myriam Whalen proposed a motion for the Treasury Committee to draft alternative budgets next year, including one that considers a tuition fee freeze. Both motions were overwhelmingly defeated. This disheartening defeat solidified the reality that the Board of Governors will not consider alternatives and refuses to work with students.” This quote shows overwhelmingly that the university is unwilling to work with students and that the structures which supposedly give us input in actual fact do not. The SFUO has used the same tactics of presenting motions and protesting student fees year after year with no successes. Ultimately, these measures have been exhausted. On the other hand Quebec has the lowest tuition fees in the country and a consistent history of winning those victories in strikes. If we want to successfully lower tuition and create an education system that is open to working-class students, we need to consider striking: a strike is our greatest asset.

3) Striking seems extreme, why not use other tactics like demonstrations or petitions?
Striking is a last resort. Other tactics and actions have failed on their own in the past. However, if they were to take place in the context of a strike they might be more effective. Striking necessarily has to incorporate a variety of actions in order to be effective. These actions can be marches, sit-ins, artistic events, vigils; no tactic should be overlooked but all should be in service of the strike demands and agreed upon by the students. The actions should also escalate over the course of the strike to be most effective.

4) But aren’t strikes just a thing that Quebec does? We don’t have that culture here…
We don’t have that culture yet. The strike culture in Quebec is not something that arose spontaneously. It has been continuously building since 1968 when a series of strikes took place in support of giving working class people access to post-secondary education. There have been a series of strikes in Quebec throughout the past 50 years, and this trend continues to this day with preparations for a strike in Quebec in the spring of 2015. Unlike Quebec, we have the history of Quebec strikes to look to for guidance, and in turn our struggles will help students in Quebec and across Canada win victories.

5) Will the strike go on forever?
The strike lasts as long as students decide for it continue. Ultimately strikes only work when the masses of students are mobilized and standing in solidarity. Students can vote to end a strike at any time or vote to extend the strike for a particular length of time. Ultimately we as students control when it stops, not the university.

6) Won’t this make it harder for me to finish my degree?
Yes, this can delay you finishing your courses and getting your diploma. However, so can debt and rising tuition fees. Many students drop out of school several times before finishing a degree in order to work to pay for tuition. Striking is a way for us to fight back against rising fees and mounting debt.

7) What does this mean for graduate students?
Since graduate students are organized under a different student union (GSAED), they are not bound by our strike vote. However, we should strongly urge GSAED to strike alongside us. A campus united can never be defeated.

8) Aren’t we just being selfish and greedy?
No, none of the students on this campus have had a say in any of the tuition fee increases we’ve faced. Most of us would rather be saving up for the future since, let’s face it, there are not many jobs waiting for us. This is not about greed: it’s about survival. Accumulating debt hurts students; many will never pay off their student loans despite hard work and perseverance. Furthermore, if tuition fees continue to increase at this alarming rate, our generation will not be able to afford to send our children to post-secondary education. This is not about saving a few bucks or haggling for a good deal, it’s about the fact that this is not a sustainable model of education. We are not only fighting for ourselves, but for all students across Canada and for the future.

9) I can afford tuition, why should I care?
Your generation’s children may not be able to say the same; even your younger siblings are going to have a tougher time paying if we don’t start lowering fees. Furthermore, you are letting down your classmates and anyone else who may want to come to university but cannot afford tuition.

10) What happens if the strike fails?
Failure is always a possibility, but there is also the possibility of victory. If the strike fails we will keep trying until we have eliminated tuition fees and have achieved open access to education for everyone. We will keep trying until we win.

Today we have the opportunity to make history and become the first school in English Canada to strike against tuition fees. Let’s not miss the opportunity. Vote yes to investigate the possibility of a strike in the spring of 2015. We have nothing to lose but our fees, we have a world to win.

In Solidarity,
The Revolutionary Student Movement (MER-RSM)

RSM-UOTTAWA CONDEMNS ISRAEL’S RENEWED ASSAULT ON PALESTINE

University of Ottawa Revolutionary Student Movement in association with OPIRG denounces the unceasing attack on the people of Gaza perpetrated by the State of Israel that to this hour has resulted in more than a thousand Palestinians killed, thousands wounded, overwhelming majority of them civilians – children, women, the elderly and men not affiliated with any armed group.

As we write this statement, we want to reach out to the Palestinian people to express our solidarity with their struggle for freedom in their own homeland, liberation from colonial oppression and an end to ethnic cleansing. We express our condolences and deep sorrow to the families of victims of this horrifying bloodshed initiated and carried out by Israel.

For more than three weeks the State of Israel has indiscriminately massacred Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. Israel historically has been a force at the service of Western and particularly American imperialism, therefore U.S., Canadian and European governments shamelessly provide diplomatic, military and financial backing for these atrocities.

The international community too stands idly while Israel violates international law and continues the massacre of Palestinians in Gaza. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon can only express the institutional timid position: “The people of Gaza have nowhere to run. They are trapped and besieged on a speck of land. Every area is a civilian area…” he announces, but an international action led by the UN is nowhere to be found; the UN shines for its ineffectiveness and lack of real commitment.

The Israeli government has cynically used the kidnapping and killing of three Jewish teenagers in the occupied West Bank in order to launch a devastating attack on the people of Gaza, while no connection to Hamas or Gaza has been established by the Israeli Investigators. The actual reason behind the attack is the outrageous refusal of Israel to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians. This attack is aimed at breaking the recently established unity government between Hamas in Gaza and Fatah in the occupied West Bank and it once again demonstrates that the current Israeli establishment is only interested in continuation of oppression of the Palestinian people.

In the mean time, the bourgeois media has been working hard to justify the genocidal acts of Israel by appealing to Israel’s “right to self-defense”, a right not equally granted to the historically oppressed Palestinian people. This “right”, however, is used by Israel as a justification for bombing hospitals, schools, residential buildings and even UN shelters in Gaza, killing innocent civilians who seek refuge from the carnage. This latest assault is just one more chapter in the mission of the Israeli state to enforce apartheid and complete ethnic cleansing on the Palestinian people. The ruling class in Canada and other Western countries, through its media, has expressed its support for these bloody ambitions. For them, the war on the Palestinians is just another good business opportunity.

By supporting Israel, the Canadian and other Western governments support one of the most backwards and violent elements in the Middle East. Palestinians in the occupied West Bank suffer daily humiliation of military checkpoints on every road, Israeli violation of basic human rights and unaccountable violence. Palestinian workers are exploited by the Israeli bourgeoisie that operates industrial plants on the occupied land, paying the Palestinians extremely low wages and not providing any rights to them. Not only is support given to the State of Israel perpetuating the decades-long brutal oppression of Palestinians, it also deprives most of ordinary people in Israel of peace, security and hope in the better future.

Israel must immediately cease its attacks on the people in Gaza, lift the illegal blockade, stop the apartheid in the occupied West Bank and recognize the right of the Palestinian people for their homeland, from which they are being relentlessly expelled by Israel since 1948.

Stop the massacre of the Palestinian people! Stop the Israeli occupation and oppression!

CHAIRPERSON OF UOTTAWA SECTION OF THE RSM ON THE MEN’S RIGHTS FASCISTS

After the uOttawa RSM was successful at shutting down a men’s rights fascist event in Ottawa, the organizers of the action were approached by The Fulcrum, uOttawa’s English language newspaper, for an interview (available here). Given the increased interest of this event in recent days, and that The Fulcrum’s article omitted much of the political content contained in the interview, we are reproducing the interview in full below.

How and why did the Revolutionary Student Movement come to the decision to protest the event on Friday?

A number of Equality Canada’s posters had been deliberately posted over Proletarian Feminist Front posters, a community organization our club is informally associated with and a number of our members and friends of the club felt that the event was misrepresenting feminism and would make our campus less safe. We are not the only campus that has rejected this type of event, it is clear that other campuses also feel the ideas being put forward by Men’s Rights Activists are dangerous and hateful. An example of the type of hatred these groups promote is of course the recent assault on a feminist at Queen’s University. Although equality Canada denies any connection, it is clear she was assaulted for standing up to a MRA group on her campus and we do not want that type of group here. It was brought to a vote at our general meeting the day before and we decided to attend the event.

Why did the RSM decide to protest in the way they did? In other words, why enter the room and make noise as opposed to protesting with signs at the door or some other form of protest?

We feel that these ideas have no place on our campus and refuse to legitimize them by allowing MRA’s space to organize. As was demonstrated, campus security will not protect our community from events that are harmful to men, women and transpeople in the community so we decided to stand up for what we feel is right.

The term “hate speech” was used a lot by both sides on Friday night. What is your definition of hate speech and do you think either side engaged in it at the event? In what way?

We define hate speech as comments, ideas or opinions, which incite or legitimize further violence against an oppressed group.  We do believe there was hate speech coming from Professor Fiamengo as she made it clear that she did not feel the recent threats made against Anna-Marie Roy were a big deal, stating there was a difference between fantasizing about rape and committing it. This legitimizes rape whether the threat was carried through or not.

Organizers of the event accused members of your group of censoring them. Do you think this is true? Why or why not?

As students of the campus and community members we have a right to decide what does and does not happen here.

Any other comments you’d like to add?

We support gender equality between all genders, not just cis-gendered men and women and believe that an essential part of this struggle for equality is recognizing the systemic oppression of women and transpeople. The liberation of all genders ultimately includes fighting for an end to the capitalist system.

 

RSM-UofT Expands to the Scarborough Campus!

RSM-UofT Expands to the Scarborough Campus!

WHEN: Every Monday 6-8PM, starting on January 19th, 2014

WHERE: University of Toronto Scarborough Library, Room 253A

We’re pleased to announce we now have two chapters at the University of Toronto!
Those who were unable to make it out to St. George now have the opportunity to meet and discuss revolutionary theory with us in Scarborough. Join us for the first weekly discussion group!

Make sure to ‘Like’ us on our new Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/RSMUTSC

The discussion group will include discussions about the struggles of proletarian students in Canada, class struggle, imperialism, settler colonialism and the need to organize youth and students towards the revolution!

For this session, we will be reading out-loud and discussing a document from the Revolutionary Communist Party, titled “What is Canada”, in which we outline the capitalist, imperialist and colonialist contradictions of the Canadian State.

We will have copies of the document for everyone during the discussion group.

Together, let’s make our campus a site of class struggle!!

The Mass Line and Student Organizing

The Mass Line and Student Organizing

This is an adaptation of a presentation given by a member of the RSM at the Montreal Student Movement Convention in the Summer of 2014.

I. Introduction

This section of the workshop is titled “The Mass Line and Student Organizing”. As the name implies, I’m going to be talking about the relevance of the mass line to work that we do among students, based in the strong class analysis advanced by my comrade beforehand. First I’ll talk a bit about myself to give you an idea of where I’m coming from, and then I’ll talk about the mass line in the abstract, the concrete application of the mass line in our work, why the mass line is important, and finally I’ll draw some conclusions about the mass line’s role in student organizing.

So a bit about me. I’m an organizer with the Revolutionary Student Movement; I currently sit on the coordinating committee of the RSM. I’ve been doing student organizing at various levels since 2007 when I started doing anti-military recruitment work at my high school in London, Ontario. I was very involved with my student union at uOttawa, even sitting on the council at one point. I was initially very supportive of the bureaucratic student unions, but my experiences and disillusionment with that approach to organizing led me to help found the Revolutionary Student Movement. I’ve also done some union organizing with food service workers, working as an in-shop organizer in the industrial cafeteria at Carleton University. All this is to say, what I’m talking about today isn’t borne out of abstract principles or simply from reading interesting articles, but instead is an attempt by me to pick out and synthesize some universal lessons from the work that I’ve spent the last 7 years doing.

 

II. What is the Mass Line?

What do I mean when I say “the mass line”? The mass line is the communist method of doing work among the masses; all successful communist organizers use it, but it was first synthesized by Mao. Communists aren’t the only ones who use the mass line; I’d go as far as saying it’s a necessary method of work to employ when doing any sort of political organizing, but communists are generally the only ones that conceptualize it in these terms. It is a radically democratic method of doing work, when applied correctly.

And who are the masses we’re talking about when we talk about the mass line? Well, quite frankly, everyone with the exception of the ruling class – in capitalist society capitalists and their stooges. The masses are people with all sorts of ideas and political consciousnesses, good and bad: your family, neighbours, co-workers, friends, etc. . So the mass line is first and foremost a way of doing work that connects us, as communists, with the working class.

The mass line can be broadly summed up in two principles. The first principle is “from the masses, to the masses”. To explain what I mean by this, as communists (or socialists or anarchists or whatever else) we have a certain set of ideas, both about how the world works but also about the type of society we want to live in. The masses don’t necessarily agree with us on these points yet, but rather have a set of very legitimate and real grievances with society as it’s currently structured: rent is too high, tuition fees are increasing, lack of access to services, etc. . And so it’s the job of any organizers to go among the masses, listen to their grievances, synthesize their issues with our understanding of reality, and carry that back to the masses in the form of demands or a political program. It’s an almost metabolic process of constant investigation and dialogue, and it’s a means of not only bringing up the political level of the masses by relating our politics to their struggles, but also of grounding ourselves in the masses. This is the most important aspect of the mass line.

The second principle is summed up in one of two ways. The first says to “unite the advanced, bring up the intermediate, and isolate the backwards” whereas the second is to “unite the advanced, raise the level of the intermediate, win over the backwards”. Whichever one applies depends on the context.[1] So what do we mean by this? At the most basic level politics is knowing who our friends and enemies are: what forces can be mobilized in favour of something we want to achieve, and what forces will be mobilized against us. When we’re talking about the masses, we can generally divide them into three categories: the advanced (those with progressive, revolutionary, and democratic ideas who are willing to act on them), the intermediate (those with confused ideas but who are inactive), and the backwards (those with regressive ideas). This second principle of the mass line instructs us to know who constitutes various sections of the masses, and what these political actors are doing and thinking, in order to allow us to properly respond and orient ourselves effectively toward them.

These two principles “from the masses, to the masses” and “unite the advanced, bring up the intermediate, and isolate the backwards” are the two basic principles of mass line.

 

III. The Mass Line is a Process

To get a little bit less abstract, the mass line, when put into practice, is a continuous process.

1) First, any organizer has to begin with social investigation: figuring out what the issues or grievances of the masses are, and then figuring out who the advanced, intermediate, and backwards are. This can take the form of surveys, reactions to lived experiences, and so on and so forth. Coming out of this process there should be a seemingly winnable campaign or goal identified, with a basic plan of action.

2) Once these questions have been answered (not in full; you’ll only be able to truly know the world through struggling to change it), one must gather all those forces which are capable and willing to struggle and fight for the campaign that has been initiated. This can take the form of meetings, a campaign call-out, etc.. This is the means by which the advanced are united.

3) Following the gathering of forces, it’s incumbent on organizers to put people into action, to intervene in the world in a political way and actually carry out the campaign that you’re trying to organize. Through the process of going to people and talking to them about the proposed campaign, you’re able to increase their political level; this is the process of “bringing up the intermediate”.

4) After initiating any sort of political action, there will inevitably be some sort of reaction to the work that you’re engaging in. An organizer should use this as an opportunity to see what results have been obtained through the political action, and re-evaluate the initial plan. Maybe you’ve won, maybe you haven’t, but either way there needs to be some form of accounting for and systematizing the effort that you’ve engaged in.

5) Every struggle that isn’t the final struggle against capitalism will inevitably die down at some point. It’s the job of organizers to consolidate the gains made during the campaign, either in the form of ensuring the reform you’ve fought for is successful or, more importantly, organizing new people that have been brought into political life through the work that you’ve initiated. At the end of the day, winning or losing the specific reform is not what’s important: advancing the class struggle, and increasing the level of struggle among the masses as well as the capacities of revolutionary organizers, is what matters. Consolidation should serve this end. In order for consolidation to happen, formal organizations are necessary; there needs to be something for people to be consolidated into.

6) Once new forces are consolidated, a new round of investigation should begin, and the cycle begins anew.

Mass line is not simply a set of static principles, but when applied, is a radically democratic and vibrant way of organizing.

 

IV. Concrete Application of the Mass Line: General Assemblies at uOttawa

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Moving completely away from the abstract at this point, I’d like to talk about how the RSM has concretely applied the mass line in the various struggles we’ve undertaken. The RSM is relatively new, insofar as we began the process of forming the RSM in December of 2012. Despite having engaged in a number of different activities and campaigns, I’ll be focusing on our most involved campaign: the campaign for General Assemblies at the University of Ottawa.

For us at uOttawa, our experience organizing students through the student union constituted the social investigation we undertook. We knew that students at uOttawa were incredibly disillusioned with the student union and had virtually no confidence in the executives of our student federation; they correctly understood the student federation to be bureaucratic, ineffective, etc. . And so in the process of figuring out what to do, we identified those forces willing to struggle for democratic decision making structures as being part of the advanced in this given context. In turn –and this really set us apart I think from other attempts, of which there were many, to get GAs at uOttawa-  we identified CFS aligned student union bureaucrats as being part of the backwards, insofar as they didn’t fully support the democratic program we were putting forward.

We began the campaign by doing basic promotion (postering, social networks, etc.) for a campaign launch event. This was in February of 2013. The launch event gathered all those who were interested in working towards GAs at uOttawa, uniting the advanced around democratic politics. We came up with a series of 10 essential features that a GA had to include, which consisted of basic things like: all students have a vote, all students can call GAs, all students can put forward motions, etc. but also included more radically democratic demands such as: the GA must be the highest decision making body of the student federation, and the GA should have the ability to impeach student union executives.

We then launched the campaign. We decided that for a GA to have any sort of democratic legitimacy, it would have to be voted in by students, and not pushed through the council of the student union. At uOttawa, in order to get a referendum question on the ballot during the student union elections, it is necessary to submit a petition containing 1500 signatures of undergrad students. Given our size at the time this was a fairly daunting task, but we mobilized and were able to accomplish it. When we relaunched the campaign in September of 2013 we had only a few hundred signatures; by mid-October 2013, we had managed to collect over 1700. Two things are worth noting here: first, collecting petition signatures made it necessary to engage with the student population as a whole, and this engagement necessarily involved political discussion and debate with students, thus “bringing up the intermediate”. Second, as we campaigned more people became interested in the work we were doing, and either got involved with the GA campaign or joined the RSM; the process of consolidation began during the campaign itself.

Afraid to lose the momentum we had built over the 2013 Fall semester, we insisted on holding a referendum as soon as possible. The only date that worked with the exam schedule and within the constraints of the student union’s constitution was the end of November. This was likely a tactical mistake on our part; the poor timing of the referendum combined with a referendum boycott campaign promoted by the campus reactionaries resulted in us missing quorum by a few hundred votes, which was fairly heartbreaking. However, the response was overwhelmingly in favour of GAs, with 86% of students that voted voting in favour. We were able to leverage this support and force the student union executives and council (the more progressive bureaucrats were split between forcing GAs through the council, which we opposed, and holding a second referendum) to hold a second referendum during the student union general elections in February of 2014.

The second referendum was much more successful. The campus reactionaries decided to organize a “NO” side to the referendum, but did so quite poorly. In the end voter turnout was higher than normal for a student election, with over 60% voting in favour of GAs. In the process, the RSM at uOttawa had transformed from being primarily a reading group into an organization that engaged in both theory and practice. Through the process of consolidation –bringing new people in on the basis of GAs, being open with our communist politics, and activating supporters who until then had not had a reason to get involved- our membership tripled; far greater than the 40% growth we were aiming for when we launched the campaign. And now, as we prepare for the new school year, we are beginning our second round of social investigation, looking into how best to mobilize for GAs and what initiatives we will bring forward there.

In conclusion, there are two things worth emphasizing. The first is that when we started the GA campaign, we were unsure if we had the capacity to win. It was only in the process of engaging in that struggle that we built capacity, both by improving the skills of our organizers, and engaging new members. Revolutionaries should adopt a dialectical view of organizing: had we simply looked at the balance of forces in February of 2013, adopting an empiricist view of organizing, we wouldn’t have launched the campaign. But, by understanding that through action there is consolidation and growth, we decided to launch the campaign anyway. The second point is that the GA was never the end goal in-and-of-itself. Yes, there is something to be said for direct democracy and the emancipatory politics behind direct democracy. But direct democracy can also be a platform for reactionary politics; the GA as a decision making model is not particularly special. We understood the GA to be a step in the direction of our final goal, which is the mobilization of all proletarian students towards the destruction of capitalism and the university: GAs are another forum in which to engage in class struggle. And so, I’d like to emphasize, the specific reform was not particularly important: what was important was the campaign’s capacity, and the capacity of GAs, to raise the level of class struggle on the campus.

 

V. What the Mass Line Isn’t

Up until now, I have only talked about what the mass line is. Before talking about why, abstractly, the mass line is important to communists, I will highlight a few things the mass line isn’t.

The mass-line is not tailism. Tailism is a type of practice by which revolutionaries only allow themselves to follow the most advanced ideas of the masses, never moving beyond these ideas or putting forward any revolutionary politics. Some use the mass line as a means of excusing this type of practice, saying that according to the mass line we have to go to the masses and meet the masses where they are at politically. While this is true, it is only half of the mass line: revolutionaries are also supposed to raise the political level of the masses in the process of struggle, and this can only be done if revolutionaries openly put forward revolutionary politics. The mass line is intended to raise the level of the masses and connect them with revolutionary struggle, not serve as an excuse for revolutionaries to hide their politics.

The mass line is not econonism. Economism can be characterized as a type of practice in which economic demands are raised to a primary place of importance, while political demands are sidelined or ignored. For instance, fighting for increased minimum wage without connecting that fight with the struggle to end the wage system and capitalism, is an example of economism. While the mass line is concerned with specific demands and grievances of the masses, it does not stop there: it is a means by which revolutionaries can connect these specific demands with the broader revolutionary struggle, and pull the masses into that struggle.

The mass line is not bureaucratism. This should be fairly obvious but it is not. In many of our organizing experiences, we have seen otherwise democratic structures perverted by power-hungry bureaucrats, even when the stakes are relatively low –this is especially common within student unions, as I’m sure everyone here can attest to. There are some people, who without saying it openly, but through their actions, conceive of the mass line not as a radically democratic way of connecting the masses with revolutionaries, but as a means by which the masses can be controlled. Revolutionaries should use the mass line to awaken the potential of the masses.

The mass line is not commandism. The mass-line is necessary because revolutionaries hold a different set of ideas from the masses about how the world operates and how it should operate; we are revolutionaries, the masses are not. An organizer must be conscious of this difference. If, for instance, we were to insist that the masses become revolutionaries in order to work with us, we will very quickly find ourselves isolated. Commandism is the practice of standing ahead of the masses politically and effectively commanding them to “catch-up”. It is a self-isolating practice, but one that is practiced by much of the “left” in Canada. While the mass-line involves raising the political level of the masses, this is done through struggle, not through condescension, sloganeering, or demanding the masses politicize.

Finally, the mass line is not mass fetishism. There is a tendency, predominately but not exclusively among white male communists in the first world, to fetishize the masses. Everything that the masses do, according to these people, is somehow sacred and shouldn’t be questioned or criticized. This phenomenon is closely linked to workerism, or the extension of identity-politic type concepts to class: to be a worker is considered another aspect of one’s identity. This approach to the masses is usually rooted in a romanticized view of the masses and class struggle, and is usually found within people that have very little connection to the masses or class struggle. Revolutionaries can and must criticize backwards practices found within the masses, practices like, but not limited to: racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. . The mass line is a means by which these incorrect ideas can be systematically abolished, not encouraged simply because the masses hold them.

 

VI. Why Does the Mass Line Matter?

As anti-capitalists, our goal is revolution. All of Marxism can be summed up under the question “How should the working class go about making revolution?” Why then, as anti-capitalists, is it important to engage in mass work –fighting for reforms, or for struggles that on the surface don’t appear to be revolutionary- rather than simply “revolutionary” work? How does the mass line fit into the broader plan of advancing the class struggle in Canada?

Broadly, there are two large “crises” within the left in North America. First, there is the crisis of organization: there is not, at this time, a revolutionary vanguard or revolutionary mass organizations (or even mass movements!) in Canada or the United States. As such, there is no central organization to which the experiences of class struggle can be systematically summed up as a means of moving the class struggle forward. And as the masses themselves are disorganized, engaging in any sort of sustained political action is difficult.

Second, there is a crisis of confidence. If you were to talk to nearly any worker today, most of them would acknowledge that the present way that society is organized is fundamentally unjust. They wouldn’t be able to articulate precisely what is wrong with society in scientific or Marxist terms, but they would have some idea as to how society could be run better. They may even concede that socialism and communism sound like ideal solutions: Cold War anti-communism is largely a thing of the past. However, almost universally, the masses (and even some of the “left”!) do not believe that any positive change is possible. And how could they be expected to, after nearly 40 years of constant defeats for the working class in North America?

The mass line solves both of these issues. First, the mass line organizes the masses, and builds the capacity of revolutionary organizations. It builds the fighting capacity of the masses and revolutionaries. The proper application of the mass line –I should add this has yet to be figured out by any revolutionary organization in North America- solves the problem of organization. Second, the mass line shows the masses that small victories are possible, and builds their fighting spirit. It unleashes the potential of the masses in the direction of the revolutionary transformation of society. It causes the masses to think “If small victories are possible, then perhaps large victories (like socialism) are too!”. The mass line, if applied in a consciously revolutionary manner, solves the problem of confidence.

More concretely, there are a number of other reasons why revolutionaries need to adopt the mass line as their method of practice. First, organization is absolutely necessary if we are to overthrow capitalism and build socialism. As mentioned above, the masses need to be organized. However, we should go further and say that even if the task of overthrowing capitalism without organizing the masses was possible (it isn’t), the task of building socialism without organizing the masses is impossible. Mass organizations by necessity must form the democratic basis of socialism; if they don’t exist, socialism is impossible.

Second, in a very direct way through the achievement of small victories, the mass line allows us to improve the conditions of the masses. We must not lapse into economism; at the end of the day the specific reform or victory is not important, but rather any mass line activity must serve to raise the level of the class struggle. However, small victories will inevitably be won, and improving the conditions of the masses should be something close to the heart of every revolutionary.

Third, the mass line keeps us grounded in the masses. Everyone is familiar with the stereotyped armchair revolutionary that is well versed in theory, but is totally disconnected from practice and regular people. Many of us know people like this. The mass line forces even the most removed of us out of our comfort zones and forces us to ground our practice in the people themselves, ensuring that our politics are also grounded in the lived experiences of the masses.

Fourth, as we mentioned earlier, ending capitalism and building socialism without the participation of the masses as a leading force is impossible. The only way for the masses to realize that capitalism is their enemy and take up the fight for socialism is to raise the political level of the masses, to show them that their specific grievances relate back to the broader revolutionary struggle. The mass line is the means by which revolutionaries raise the political level of the masses.

Fifth, and perhaps this is a bit crass, but the mass line is the only means by which revolutionaries can build their own forces in a sustainable and effective way. When we consider what a revolutionary vanguard organization should be, we ultimately think that it should be a collection of the most advanced elements of the working class that have united for the purposes of overthrowing capitalism. The only way to figure out who the most advanced elements of the masses are –politically, and in terms of leadership capacity and ability to struggle- is to actively engage with the masses, and build new proletarian leadership within the masses. In this sense, the mass line is not only necessary to solve the problem of organization within the masses, but also to solve the problem of organization within the vanguard as well.

So, with this being said, why should revolutionaries care about mass line methods of practice? Because without the mass line there can be no revolution, and a revolutionary that isn’t working towards building revolution isn’t much of a revolutionary at all.

 

VII. Students and the Mass Line

In conclusion, it’s perhaps useful to state explicitly why the mass line as a method of work is important for revolutionaries doing work with students. First, the mass line provides a framework that allows for revolutionaries to engage in effective methods of work: to win victories, it is necessary to use the mass line. Second, basing ourselves in a strong class analysis of the conditions on our campuses allows us to identify the advanced and backwards elements, and to correctly orient ourselves and our struggles towards these divergent forces. And finally, the mass line is important insofar as we recognize that in English Canada, proletarian students do not make up the majority of students within universities (though possibly colleges and high schools are majority proletarian, depending on program and neighborhood). The mass line, which is a revolutionary method of work –in other words, sets its sights on the transformation of society and not on a more narrow “student power”, “socialism-on-one-campus” based agenda-, allows us to orient our actions towards the minority of students with revolutionary potential and organize them in the service of the broader working class and revolutionary movement. Without the mass line, student organizing is a dead-end for revolutionaries. With the mass line, and with accurately understanding the role of proletarian students in the broader revolutionary struggle, we can effectively coordinate our on-campus efforts with the struggle that is unfolding in the rest of Canadian society: we can positively contribute to the struggle to end this rotten system and build a better world.

 

[1] The original quote by Mao stated “win over the backwards”, but for some reason that is beyond me, “isolate the backwards” begins to show up in reflections on the mass line in the 1970s and early 1980s. Generally the two forms are applicable to different situations: “isolate the backwards” works well when doing initial political activities in contexts where there is an establishment left, when dealing with cadre level people of different political tendencies where it is necessary to isolate counter-revolutionary elements from the masses. However, when doing political work in apolitical situations –in places where the masses aren’t coming into contact with an establishment left- “winning over the backwards” is a more possible goal.

SOME NEWS FROM COMRADES AT UNIVERSITY OF OTTAWA

The uOttawa Marxist Students’ Association has been actively involved in the creation of the Revolutionary Student Movement (RSM) since the RSM’s initial conception. Over the past year our movement has grown in ways that we did not expect, both in Ottawa and across Canada. We’ve expanded the RSM to new provinces, seeded organizations on new campuses, and have built our own capacity at uOttawa by an incredible amount. It’s been a good year.
However, given that the Marxist Students’ Association has a different name than other sections of the RSM, as we begin to look at the concrete steps necessary to formalize the RSM as an organization (i.e. move away from a series of independent and autonomous organizations towards a more overarching structure, politics, and approach to work), we are continually asked about the nature of our relationship to the broader RSM. While the uOttawa Marxist Students’ Associaton has consistently been in favour of building a formal RSM, our own organization has existed since before the effort to establish an RSM was underway; hence the difference in naming conventions between the two organizations. Also, the name “Marxist Students’ Association” reflected a different tactical approach to student organizing than is now practiced by our organization; at the time of the Marxist Students’ Association’s creation, we were far less focused on action and far more focused on study. This line has been corrected through our engagement with the building of a Canada-wide RSM.
       The Marxist Students’ Association wishes to end all ambiguity as to the nature of our relationship with the broader RSM. As such, we are formally re-naming our organization the Revolutionary Student Movement: uOttawa Chapter. We do this to reflect our better approach to organizing. We do this to stand united with other RSM sections in Montreal, Quebec City, Guelph, Toronto, and even here in Ottawa at Carleton University and Algonquin College. But most of all we do this to show that we are unequivocally in favour of the construction of a pan-Canadian united revolutionary student movement, and that we have full confidence in the process already underway.
We invite everyone that wishes to be part of these efforts to organize themselves and attend the Third National Conference of Revolutionary Youth and Students, to be held on March 1-2 in Montreal.
See you in March!
Revolutionary Students of Canada and Quebec: Get Involved with the RSM!

Revolutionary Students of Canada and Quebec: Get Involved with the RSM!

In December 2012 a loose collection of anti-capitalist student organizations, inspired by the experience of the Maple Spring, came together with the goal of building a Canada-wide anti-capitalist student organization. Between December 2012 and now, we have experienced many successes. We succeeded in unifying around a political line that emphasized class struggle within the student movement. We spread that perspective across all of Canada. We built new sections of our organization, and expanded existing ones. We initiated, and won, political campaigns. We synthesized our experiences.

We are now prepared to announce the completion of this project – the establishment of the pan-Canadian Revolutionary Student Movement!

We know based on our experiences that the militant, revolutionary movement we need won’t be built by bureaucrats in student unions tied to the capitalist political parties, or by staying within the bounds of what the ruling class deems to be “acceptable”. We should not be afraid to break with tired, old models of activism. These are the very forces that have worked against building the student movement for years now, and it’s time to leave them behind! We need to unite together around a political line that emphasizes direct action, militancy, democracy, and combative unionism.

Capitalism cannot be fixed or improved. Far from being a ticket into middle class comfort, education under capitalism is increasingly just the means by which massive debt is yoked around the necks of working class youth. At best, under capitalism the education system either trains workers with the skills needed by capitalists, or consolidates the children of the capitalist class – the ruling class of tomorrow. Education, which should be liberating, is not. To be blunt, we can’t afford to fuck around any longer. We need a movement that is not afraid to organize, mobilize, and fight. This is the movement we’re building.

But what does the RSM actually do? RSM organizers were very active during the 2012 strike across Quebec, including within our student associations and in the demonstration at Victoriaville. We unified anti-capitalist students in both Quebec and the rest of Canada in order to spread the lessons of the 2012 strike across the country; our members in the rest of Canada were active in building solidarity for the 2012 strike. We organized across the province of Ontario to boycott the sham provincial elections. This summer, at the Montreal Student Movement Convention, we led the charge among radical students and succeeded in having the convention denounce the bureaucratic lobbyists in the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations (CASA) the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec (FEUQ) and the Fédération étudiante collégiale du Québec (FECQ). At Algonquin College we have successfully campaigned for affordable public transit for students. These are just a few of the successes that have informed our experiences.

More recently, with the spectre of a Spring 2015 strike hanging over our heads, in Quebec our forces are pushing harder than ever to make the upcoming student strike as large and as militant as possible. In English Canada we’re fighting to make truly democratic General Assemblies a reality on as many campuses as possible. In fact, the RSM at uOttawa has already been successful in this effort, and is forging ahead with a plan for a one-day strike in the Spring of 2015 – the first of its kind in English Canada!

At our most recent Conference we successfully unified our political perspective on a solid foundation which is revolutionary and anti-capitalist. Furthermore, we ratified an organizational constitution for the pan-Canadian RSM. These milestones represent a convergence of the last two years’ work as well as a jumping-off point for the years to come. In the two years leading up to this milestone, the RSM has emerged as the most militant, most active, and largest organization of anti-capitalist students and youth in the country. We have been able to engage in work and build contacts with radical students in every single region in Canada. In the years to come we will continue on this path, advancing the class struggle, winning fights for working-class students on campuses, and putting those struggles in the service of the broader working-class movement.

But we can’t do this alone. While our perspective and activities have advanced significantly over the past two years, we are far from perfect. We seek to unite with all anti-capitalist students across the country, either individual or groups, and build an organization that can truly shake society to its foundations – an organization that can make revolution. We call on all revolutionary students from across Canada to take part in this effort by joining their local RSM chapters, or by organizing chapters in schools or cities where they don’t yet exist. We call on all revolutionary student and youth organizations across Canada to engage with the RSM in building the Spring 2015 strike movement. You can get in contact with us by emailing info@mer-rsm.com . We look forward to hearing from you!

Either we will destroy capitalism or capitalism will destroy us. Living conditions for workers are continuing to deteriorate. Unemployment is rising, while good jobs are disappearing. Austerity is an ever-present reality for increasing numbers of people. Another round of imperialist wars has been launched against Iraq, Syria, the Ukraine, and Afghanistan. Colonialism continues to ravage indigenous populations across Canada. The environmental crisis worsens. Now more than ever we have a chance, and the responsibility, to make history. Let’s not miss our chance.

About Our Methods of Work

About Our Methods of Work

The MER-RSM is still a fairly new organization. It was conceived of as a result of several years’ worth of experience within the student movement in the Montreal area and in the student strikes that took place there, the critique of the social-democratic student movement in Ottawa from militants located there, as well as the initiation of communist student work in Ontario following the 2nd Canadian Revolutionary Congress which was held in Toronto in 2010. The MER-RSM has been an attempt at building a revolutionary mass organization in Canada, particularly since the first Conference of Revolutionary Youth and Students in 2012. On some campuses we have a solid basis, on others we are trying to build in places where, for whatever reason, there has been no concerted struggle for some time. Given this, we understand that some people may be curious about our intentions, our practice, and our methods. We are gladly taking this opportunity to more precisely articulate our fundamental approach and positions.

We consider one basis of our movement to be an acknowledgement of the multi-class nature of the student movement. To consider students a homogeneous social group is a serious error. Just as Canada is a capitalist society in which there is a class struggle between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat in all areas of social and ideological life, students from colleges and universities come from various class backgrounds and continue to belong to different, fundamentally antagonistic social classes even while they study.

While high schools function almost as prisons for young people, with the majority of students coming from the working class, universities are the ideological bastions of the current system. Over the last thirty years, components of various critical theories – some of which are at times very incisive, relevant and effective in that criticism – have been integrated into the curricula of Canadian universities. From the creation of whole programmes of study relating to gender or race, the hiring of certain activist ‘celebrities’ as professors, or the acceptance of a certain type of “activist” groups like the PIRGs and student unions, this has been an effective strategy for co-optation of these ‘critical’ approaches by the bourgeoisie.

However, proletarian students are disproportionately impacted by the austerity programmes that followed the economic crisis of 2008 and which are being pursued by every bourgeois political party, in power or not. Consequently, the struggle for the access to education should not be fought because of vague liberal humanist notions of a “right” to education, but rather because it is in the interest of working class students to have access to education. Furthermore, we must also tackle the fact that universities are the means by which the bourgeoisie maintains its monopoly over knowledge: i.e. how knowledge is developed, what is studied, how the results are used, and who may access it. The class perspective should be advanced and discussed beyond some vague notion of social justice; to maintain this confusion is holding the proletariat – whether student or not – back in its class consciousness.

We believe that the revolutionary strategy applicable to Canada includes building mass organizations of a new type, which do not hesitate to break with the old ideas and old conceptions that have failed time and again. To do so, we are trying to build a new movement with humility, by putting politics in command. Here are some elements from our document “Limits of the current student movement”, which was a pillar for the First Conference of Revolutionary Youth and Students. We oppose what could be described as the theory of gradual radicalization. Gradual radicalization means essentially a process of slow, incremental radicalization of the masses through struggles until the cataclysmic revolutionary uprising. It is clear that this gradual radicalization leads to an essentially reformist and economist practice with a professed adhesion to a revolutionary horizon by those that take this approach. This strategic perspective expresses itself concretely in the student sphere as the channelling of all militancy into the framework of student union bureaucracy (the winning of executive and council positions), the proposed tool for this incremental radicalization on campuses.

The struggle for reforms – or immediate demands – and the struggle for revolution and socialism are not opposed or mutually exclusive. The two can be linked, addressing the pressing needs of the masses without slipping into opportunism, without compromising on our fundamental objectives. However, the dominant strategy pursued in even the most radical circles of the student movement does not manage to link demands for reforms with revolutionary organization. Struggling to transform a social system also creates the need to organize differently. To have a qualitatively different movement from what already exists is not a question of creating a new organization, but rather it is a quest of uniting consciously on a basis of common principles and objectives, from a revolutionary point of view and with aspirations to revolution. For too long the political activity of youth and students in Canada has been limited by the dominant major trends of the student movement: reformism – whether ‘radical’ or otherwise – and class conciliation. Revolutionary students do not seek to eliminate student unions. Revolutionary students struggle against reformist currents that trap the student movement and seek to organize, to promote and develop honestly and openly a broad movement of ideological struggle within the student movement and from this starting point, promote a new way of involvement for students, in their forms of organization and struggle.

We therefore orient our work toward proletarian students directly rather than through the false proxy of the student federations. In places where these bodies serve as meaningful sites of political struggle and organization of proletarian students – as in Quebec – we engage with them in order to popularize the revolutionary, communist approaches to the pressing political questions of the day and to organize those proletarian students as part of a class for itself.

Where these structures are alienated from their membership, bureaucratized and ossified beyond repair – as in English Canada – we make clear our opposition to the methods of work and political orientation of these student unions (CASA and the CFS) but ensure that this same alienated bureaucracy does not become the axis around which our work is oriented. We see this error manifest as two distinct strategies – on the one hand are the futile attempts by some organizations to ingratiate and integrate themselves into this bureaucracy in order to change its character “from the inside”, into a genuine and solid organ of class power. On the other there are public campaigns which attempt to organize the masses of students and youth on the basis of critiques of these bureaucracies. Both these strategies are ultimately doomed because of the alienation of the student unions from their membership. Due to the multi-class character of student populations, a student union with mandatory membership can only be proletarian in its outlook insofar as it is undemocratic in its methods. Moreover, orienting one’s work purely toward critiques-from-the-left of these alienated – and largely unknown – student unions is necessarily limited in its potential to reach masses of proletarian students by precisely because proletarian students are not engaged with the student unions to begin with. Instead, it is imperative that we organize proletarian students directly, voluntarily and democratically, on the bases of revolutionary politics and on demands which will advance the conditions and organization of proletarian students within a broader strategy for revolution.

In 1903, Lenin wrote:

When the [Socialist] student breaks with the revolutionaries and politically minded people of all other trends, this by no means implies the break-up of the general student and educational organisations. On the contrary, only on the basis of a perfectly definite programme can and should one work among the widest student circles to broaden their academic outlook and to propagate scientific socialism, i.e., Marxism. (Lenin: The Tasks of the Revolutionary Youth, 1903)

Thus, on campuses where there are groups or militants of the Revolutionary Student Movement, we support the most correct ideas and the most legitimate expressions of the anger of the masses. We called for the formation of general assemblies to replace the bureaucratic executive cliques, which are in effect just junior clubs of the bourgeois political parties. We try to support the most progressive proposals in student assemblies, activist groups, and popular gatherings, especially positions to expose imperialism and the necessary need to support the right to self-determination of Indigenous peoples in Canada. We support campus groups that resist the relentless attacks of the bourgeoisie for the control of academic institutions. We call for combative events on anti-capitalist bases, including May Day protests. These examples from the past few months may serve as a preliminary indication of the path we intend to take.

[Experience tells] us that the right task, policy and style of work invariably conform with the demands of the masses at a given time and place and invariably strengthen our ties with the masses, and the wrong task, policy and style of work invariably disagree with the demands of the masses at a given time and place and invariably alienate us from the masses. The reason why such evils as dogmatism, empiricism, commandism, tailism, sectarianism, bureaucracy and an arrogant attitude in work are definitely harmful and intolerable, and why anyone suffering from these maladies must overcome them, is that they alienate us from the masses. (Mao, On coalition government, April 1945)

The concerted, coherent and organized action of revolutionaries in Canada is necessary for the development of the class struggle, including among students. This action must be done on a coherent basis with the goal of communist revolution in mind in a way that enables us to see progress, modest as it may be. This task is of immense importance; far from being a struggle for the control of established organizations (placing a person in an elected position without revealing their political opinions, boasting and exaggerating achievements, competing in popularity contests, etc.), it is rather the masses living in Canada – among them a large number of youth and students as well as Indigenous peoples – who must position themselves, to start to move. Militants of the MER-RSM wish to be part of a process in which we humbly serve the people, discuss the most relevant revolutionary ideas, and learn to fight the capitalist system on a daily basis. To help guide our work in doing so, militants of the MER-RSM adopted the following principles during the second Conference of Revolutionary Youth and Students. Let us mention them here:

 

1) To continue to build the RSM by

  1. Forming new groups where they don’t exist;
  2. Working with existing organisations, where they exist;
  3. Rallying new groups to the next conference.

2) To work towards a new movement in theory and practice in serving the people with the revolutionary principles of:

  1. Anti-capitalism;
  2. Radicalism;
  3. Militancy;
  4. Internationalism;
  5. Independence from the state;
  6. Against reformism;
  7. And struggling for a broad based education which is scientific and proletarian in nature.

3) To develop a proletarian line on feminism, anti-racism and struggles against other forms of oppression.

4) To hold a 3rd conference in early 2014 in Montreal.

5) To hold a speaking tour in late 2013, visiting various locales, to promote the RSM and the 3rd conference.

6) To hold an event in the fall in Vancouver to promote the RSM.

7) Each city/campus/organisation will name someone responsible for maintaining links with the RSM and to mobilise for the next conference.

8) Each city/campus/organisation will, in the spirit of anti-imperialism:

  1. Mobilise for the July 1st day of action in support of the people’s war in India;
  2. Stand in solidarity with the people of Syria against imperialist aggression;
  3. Oppose Canadian imperialism in all of its manifestations.

9) To integrate new traditions of revolutionary struggle.

Consequently, these principles serve as an illumination for our work, yet find their formal expressions very differently in different regions. They serve as key pillars to advance the political organization of revolutionary and proletarian students in Canada. But of course, our work does not stop here. We therefore call for a third Conference of Revolutionary Youth and Students.

True to our principles, the very principles that have guided Communists since the publication of the Communist Manifesto, we will disdain to hide our aims. May all individuals, groups, or organizations that wish to debate, discuss and unite with us do it openly, without any fear of being judged or considered ignorant, with no insults or hypocrisy.

At the same time, we call everyone that recognizes the necessity of organizing youth and students as part of the broader class struggle, of the necessity of overcoming reformism, inaction, and bureaucracy, to participate in the next Conference of Revolutionary Youth and Students, to be held March 1 and 2, 2014 in Montreal.

May all those interested in combining their forces and their voices in the collective struggle for the abolition of capitalism, a system based on universal injustice and incessant repression, crushing exploitation and oppression, daily alienation, war and imperialism which takes the lives of our brothers and sisters, join us as well.

The MER-RSM is here to stay. Let’s break this rotten system once and for all.

Call-out for the Fourth Conference of the RSM – Quebec City, November 2014

Call-out for the Fourth Conference of the RSM – Quebec City, November 2014

In the two years since the inaugural Conference of Revolutionary Youth and Students, held in December 2012 in Toronto, the Revolutionary Student Movement has made leaps and bounds in its development, reshaping the terrain of the student movement in Canada by building a viable revolutionary force which is advancing class struggle on campuses.  Growing from a small collection of more-or-less affiliated local groups in Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa and Quebec City, the Revolutionary Student Movement has grown into an organization with presence in 10 cities and an ever-deepening unity on the pressing political and strategic questions facing the revolutionary movement today: namely, the task of building revolution in Canada.

This unity was most recently demonstrated in Ontario during the provincial election campaign, when RSM members joined with revolutionaries from across the province in launching the Boycott the Elections campaign, which saw events in eight cities denounce the phony democracy of the Ontario legislature.

It was also seen at the Montreal Student Movement Conference, where the RSM played a leading role among radical students, correctly identifying the Canadian Federation of Students as an obstacle to the emergence of a militant student movement, undermining the ability of social democracy to co-opt the revolutionary impulse of today’s youth and students. This position, almost entirely new in English Canada, was successfully argued for and adopted by the entire convention.

The clearest victory of this united, strategic approach came from uOttawa, where the RSM initiated and led the campaign for General Assemblies, organizing wider sections of the masses and winning the campaign with 69% of the final vote – and doing it openly as communists!

From these examples, one common theme emerges: We are advancing, and we have the initiative . More than ever, the Revolutionary Student Movement is poised to constitute the pan-Canadian organization of revolutionary students. This demonstrates two things: first, that the conditions for the emergence of a revolutionary movement in Canada exist, and second, that the political perspective of the Revolutionary Student Movement is best-suited to take advantage of those conditions.

Last spring, at the 3rd Conference of Revolutionary Youth and Students in Montreal, we adopted a number of proposals to guide our work, proposals that outlined the preconditions for the establishment of the RSM as a truly pan-Canadian revolutionary student organizaton . From drafting a constitution to expansion into Vancouver to an expansion of our propaganda work to many others, the majority of the goals  we set have been or are in the process of being met. It is necessary that we meet again to track the progress made since then and to chart the course we will follow in the months to come.

It is with this purpose in mind that the Revolutionary Student Movement proudly announces the 4th Conference of Revolutionary Youth and Students, held this time in Quebec City, on November 15-16, 2014.

With invitees from coast to coast, this is shaping up to be another historic leap forward in building the revolutionary movement in Canada! We will witness and shape the transformation of the political landscape of the country and forge ahead toward revolution!

Interested comrades are encouraged to register for participation either with their local RSM chapter or using the online registration form, available here. We are currently soliciting proposals to guide our ideological, political and organizational work for debate at the Conference, and these should be submitted by November 5, 2014.

Assistance with accommodation and transportation are available – No comrade left behind!

With a growing wealth of experience and momentum behind us, the future looks brighter than ever. Now more than ever, we are living the slogan: dare to struggle, dare to win!

Class Struggle or Democratic Struggle? : Message to the YCL on the ‘Main Political Report’ to the YCL’s 26th Central Convention

Class Struggle or Democratic Struggle? : Message to the YCL on the ‘Main Political Report’ to the YCL’s 26th Central Convention

First and foremost, the Revolutionary Student Movement (MER-RSM) would like to congratulate the Young Communist League (YCL) on launching the call for the YCL’s 26th Central Convention. The MER-RSM is a new attempt to build a Canada-wide revolutionary, combative, militant, and anti-capitalist student movement. We aim to organise students in the service of the broader working-class movement, towards communism. We are an initiative of the Revolutionary Communist Party (PCR-RCP). Since launching in December of 2012 we have quickly grown and now have active chapters across Canada in BC, Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec. Insofar as we are in favour of disseminating communist politics throughout the student milieu, we see the achievement of your 26th Central Convention to be a positive development in the class struggle in Canada.

As part of building the MER-RSM, we have consistently sought principled unity with other revolutionary forces throughout Canada. To this end, the MER-RSM has for some time now requested that a series of debates on “The Role of Revolutionaries in the Student Movement” be organized between the MER-RSM and the YCL, as a means of presenting and reconciling the two distinct communist approaches to student organizing in Canada. In the absence of any movement on that front, below we have presented a critique of the Main Political Report that was prepared by your Central Committee in preparation for your 26th Central Convention. We hope that this will lead towards a line struggle between our two organizations, and ultimately towards the unity of communist student activists in Canada.

Our critique focuses on three areas of the report with which we disagree. First, the MER-RSM does not believe that the YCL’s Central Committee has an accurate handle on the current world situation. Notably absent from the Report is any mention of the rise of Russian and Chinese imperialisms, and most importantly, there is no mention of the revolutionary processes currently underway in Turkey, the Philippines, India, Afghanistan, and Nepal. Second, we believe that the distinction between revolution and reform is misrepresented within the report; we will present a mass-line solution to this problem. Third, we believe that the understanding of the student movement as a democratic mass movement focused on democratic rights –and by extension an arena in which class struggle is inappropriate and detrimental – is a flawed and fundamentally social-democratic understanding of the student movement.

The World Situation

Given that the job of revolutionaries in Canada is to make revolution in Canada, we will not spend much time dealing with a misunderstanding of the world situation by the YCL Central Committee. Indeed, disagreements over this-or-that international event are likely in any organization; a precondition for unity between communist students in Canada should not be total agreement on international affairs. This being said, there are two important areas to which we wish to draw our comrade’s attentions that are not included in the Main Political Report’s section on the world situation. They are: the rise of other imperialisms (specifically Russian and Chinese imperialism), as well as a lack of any mention of the People’s Wars currently being fought in India, the Philippines, and Turkey, or the revolutionary processes in Peru, Afghanistan, and Nepal.

In the Main Political Report, section #45 specifically mentions imperialism’s renewed interest in Africa. The Report is correct to state that European and American imperialisms are attempting to re-divide the continent amongst themselves, in a process reminiscent of the ‘Scramble for Africa’ of the 1880s. However, the report does not mention that American and European imperialisms are not the only imperialisms intervening on the African continent. Since capitalist restoration in China in the 1980s, Chinese imperialism has also sought the African continent as a new source of super-profits. In the 1990s alone trade between China and Africa increased by 700%; today China is Africa’s biggest trading partner, with over 800 Chinese firms (most of them private) doing business in Africa, predominately in infrastructural development projects and banking. Chinese finance capital bank-rolls the export of Chinese capital into Africa; China has become an imperialist power. Indeed, even aside from expansion in Africa, how else can we understand China’s recent acquisition of the right to exploit 1/3 of the Ecuadorian rainforest in a search for oil other than as an imperialist venture on the part of the Chinese ruling class?

In Section #52, the Main Political Report mentions that the encirclement of Russia and China is the key geo-political objective of US imperialism. However, the Report does not specify that this attempt at encirclement is inter-imperialist rivalry; the implication within the Report suggests that China and Russia are at the very least not imperialist countries.

Given that it is always the job of communists to defeat their own bourgeoisie, why does an understanding of Chinese and Russian imperialisms matter at this specific historical juncture? As Russian and Chinese imperialisms continue to rise, and as American imperialism continues to decline, inter-imperialist rivalry will increasingly become more and more heated. A look at major international headlines over the past several years is all that it takes to confirm this observation; yesterday a crisis in Syria, today a crisis in the South China Sea and Ukraine, each more volatile than the last. As inter-imperialist rivalry increases and becomes more volatile, so too increases the danger of another World War. The current situation in Ukraine, where NATO and Russia posture for supremacy in the region, is a perfect example of such a phenomenon; indeed, the talking heads of the bourgeois media now speak of the approach of a second Cold War. It is only through a proper understanding of inter-imperialist rivalry that communists can equip themselves to combat the war danger as it arises, and organize to prevent a third World War within our lifetimes. That the Main Political Report is silent about this necessity, on the eve of a potential proxy-war in the Ukraine between Russia and NATO, is troublesome.

The lack of mention of Russian or Chinese imperialism is not the only aspect of the current world situation that is missing from the Main Political Report. Most importantly, the report lacks any mention of the People’s Wars being fought in India, Turkey, or the Philippines, or the revolutionary processes in Peru, Nepal, and Afghanistan. These revolutions and revolutionary processes are the most important international events in the world today, from a communist perspective. For instance, the Communist Party of India (Maoist), which is in the process of fighting an armed struggle across large swaths of the Indian countryside, has been labelled the most significant internal security threat to India by the Indian state. In regions where the Indian state has been effectively liquidated, it is beginning the construction of a new state at the service of the oppressed classes. Because this is taking place in the second most populous country in the world, when our Indian comrades are successful at seizing state power throughout the entire territory of India, such an act will have a world-historical significance not unlike the Russian and Chinese revolutions. Our critique cannot contain detailed information on all of these People’s Wars or revolutionary processes, and so we invite comrades to investigate for themselves these exciting events. However, we do find it disappointing that the Main Political Report would spend so much time on the Bolivarian process, for instance, while ignoring the very real and exciting revolutions in South-Asia and elsewhere. These events provide inspiration for billions of proletarians worldwide; while the methods are not totally transferable to Canada, the struggles of comrades in India, Nepal, Turkey, and elsewhere are a great source of excitement and inspiration for comrades here. Defence of the revolutionary processes in these countries should form a central part of the international solidarity work of communists in Canada; instead the Main Political Report is silent.

Revolution or Reform?

The Main Political Report makes frequent reference to both revolutionary struggle and immediate reforms. Three sections stand out as examples of the way that the relation between these two types of struggle, or two sets of political demands, is conceived of by the YCL’s Central Committee. Section #299 of the Report says that “The YCL is a unique group in the youth and student movement because it ‘gets’ this unity of reform and revolution.”, in section #203b the Report says “There is no contradiction, in our view, between advancing socialism as the only genuine alternative to the current capitalist system, and our principled commitment to work to further the immediate and basic interests of students.”, and in section #166, one finds text reading “This view also has an expression in the ultra-left which sees mass organizations as backward or “inherently reformist” and sees the solution as the formation of small revolutionary groups, whether in labour or the student movement.”. While these sections can be understood as veiled critiques of the MER-RSM, they also point to a base misunderstanding of the role of revolution and reform in the broader revolutionary struggle, and the MER-RSM’s stance on this issue.

On the surface, the MER-RSM agrees with these statements; there does not have to be an antagonism between revolution and reform, and mass organizations –even those that raise reformist demands- have a key role to play in the broader revolutionary process. However, we wish to remind comrades here that socialism and communism are not simply a series of reforms, but rather the conquest of political power by the working class. Thus, while it is correct to say that there is a unity between revolution and reform, it is not wholly correct to say that such a unity exists; it is only a specific type of reformism, or reformism undertaken in a specific context, which advances the revolutionary struggle.

What is the role of the struggle for reforms in the broader revolutionary struggle, according to the MER-RSM? Let us start from the assumption that our goal is communism, and the conditions in which we are working are conditions as they currently exist; that is to say, we have abstract goals (communism) and concrete conditions (reality) as the two poles which must be mediated. Our job is to figure out how to get to communism from here; how to turn concrete conditions into our abstract goal. Being Marxists, we understand that the motor-force of this process is class struggle. Thus, any action that is taken should be evaluated on the basis of whether or not that action advances the class struggle, or, whether or not it concretely advances concrete conditions towards the abstract goal of communism. Specific reforms that are fought for need to be subordinated –and consciously and openly subordinated- to this broader revolutionary process.. Fighting for reforms as part of the broader revolutionary struggle, and having the fight for reforms subordinated to the goal of revolution, is the true unity of revolution and reform.

This is the qualification and method that the MER-RSM uses to decide what sorts of reformist struggles to engage in. And we do partake in reformist struggles, be it the 2012 Quebec Student Strike, the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa General Assembly Campaign (which one can also find a veiled critique against in section #201b and #201c of the Main Political Report, though one wonders why such a mass based democratic campaign wouldn’t be supported by the YCL Central Committee…), the University of Toronto Transitional Year Program Preservation Alliance, the fight against Men’s Rights Activists, and so on and so forth. What is important in each of these struggles is that while reformist work is engaged in, a revolutionary line is put forward by the MER-RSM. By applying the mass line –the principles of “from the masses, to the masses” and “unite the advanced, bring up the intermediate, and isolate the backwards”- we are able to use reformist work, subordinated to a broader revolutionary program and line, to produce new communists and advance the class struggle, rather than simply tailing social-democratic campaigns or groups.

In this vein we think it is a mistake to bring up the question of creating or not creating separate groups within the context of the question of immediate reforms. First, the YCL is itself a small group that is organizationally separate from the mass movements into which it intervenes; we are left to conclude from the Report that according to the YCL’s Central Committee, the YCL alone has the right to exist. But, different demands also necessitate different organizations, tailored to different sections of the masses. For instance, when the uOttawa section of the MER-RSM undertook the General Assembly campaign, it struck a separate organization –separate from both the student union and the MER-RSM – to form the organizational basis of the campaign. This was necessary as the student union bureaucrats could not be trusted to carry the campaign to its proper conclusions, and the level of unity required to fight for a general assembly was much lower than is required for membership in the MER-RSM. Such an organization –an organization of the intermediate- was far more successful in organizing the intermediate section of the masses than we would have been had we subordinated ourselves to the student union (as anger against the bureaucrats was a pull factor for the campaign), or dictated that only those that form the advanced section of the masses of students could involve themselves in the campaign through membership in the MER-RSM. At the end of the day the campaign was successful and the MER-RSM at uOttawa grew three-fold, vindicating our understanding of how to engage in struggles for specific reforms and the mass-line. We understand the creation or destruction of organizations to be a question of tactics at any given point, and not a question of principle; the latter is a sectarian position.

This methodology stands in stark contrast to the approach outlined by the YCL’s Central Committee in the Main Political Report. Starting at section #175, titled “Mass Action”, and after advancing a critique of more militant direct action approaches, the Report outlines the key strategy being put forward by the YCL: “The litmus test for evaluating tactics is to identify what tactics move the greatest number of masses into the struggle, in the strategic direction.” While on the surface this seems obvious, there is a populist current that runs through this statement: it is not simply a matter of moving the largest number of people, but of advancing the class struggle. And advancing the class struggle can only happen by moving an increasingly larger number of workers to the correct politics, to communist politics. The decisive necessity of advancing the political level of the masses is lost in the YCL’s argument; instead we get references to uniting various strata of the working class. While unity is important, it must be a principled unity around a correct political line and practice; it is far better for the class struggle to produce ten communists than to produce one hundred social-democrats.

Aside from overtures toward the unity of revolution and reform, it is unclear how the YCL puts this unity into practice. Indeed, it seems that the majority of work that the YCL has undertaken –be it the “Raise the Minimum Wage Campaign”, the Charter of Youth Rights, supporting the Canadian Federation of Students, etc. – lacks any sort of revolutionary aspect. For instance, while the Main Political Report spends some time criticising the right-wing labour bureaucracy (section #169), at the end of the day it re-affirms the centrality of the same labour bureaucracy to the student movement (section #178), in effect defaulting to social-democratic reformism. The same can be found in the Report’s approach toward the CFS. And while the same Report argues for extra-parliamentary struggle, we are left to equate mass-action with “mass political action outside parliament” (section #178) ultimately showing the focus –unconscious or not – of the YCL’s mass work. We do not doubt that there are sincere revolutionaries within the YCL, and perhaps even on the Central Committee of the YCL; however, the political perspectives put forward by the YCL’s leadership are decidedly reformist and lack any sort of unity between revolution and reform in practice.

Class Struggle or Democratic Struggle?

Up until the release of the Main Political Report, we had incorrectly conceived that the main difference between the MER-RSM and the YCL was the role of the CFS within the broader student movement, with our position being to largely ignore the CFS and the YCL position being to support the CFS. While this disagreement remains the main practical difference between our two organizations, there is a theoretical difference that lies at the root: the conception of the nature of the student movement itself.

The YCL conceives of the student movement as a democratic movement (as opposed to a class movement) engaged in a struggle for democratic rights. In section #19 of the Main Political Report, the YCL Central Committee writes “The youth and students’ struggle is not identical to the class struggle of working people because it is also a democratic struggle, a multi-class struggle.” And in turn, the “right” to education is conceived of as a “democratic right of the people” (section #197b). In turn, the main task that the YCL sets itself is to align the student movement with the labour movement as “the progressive, democratic outlook recognizes that the students have interests that align with the interests of the people.”

The YCL is decidedly against applying class struggle politics to the student movement; in section #202, the Report states (and here we quote at length because the perspective is significant):

It is also very easy to write-off an inactive campus as rancid with apathetic, privileged, or ‘bourgeoisified’ youth. Some ‘left’ critics go further than this ‘blame the victim’ approach and announce that there are ‘proletarian’ and ‘bourgeois’ students and, throwing unity to the wind, advocate an internal struggle within the movement. This might appear to be a logical application of Marxist analysis: identify the working class forces within a movement, and propose that they be pitted against the non working class elements. The mistake, however, is to confuse the class with the movement. Today, it is difficult to find a people’s struggle, other than the labour movement, which is not in some way a class mix. As big business dominates all aspects of social life, and attacks even basic democratic rights, many social strata is [sic] drawn into action. Extending the “class war” into the student movement would be disastrous, undermining the fighting unity of student forces, orienting the struggle inward instead of against the main enemy. This amounts to, unfortunately, empty stentorian posturing about the pure revolutionary student line and helps the right-wing agenda, including defederation.

This section is also a thinly veiled critique of the MER-RSM, directly referencing our position that students can be considered either proletarian or bourgeois. However, the YCL Central Committee completely misses the point of the MER-RSM’s line, and in so doing not only obfuscates issues more than solving them, but advances a social-democratic approach to the question of student organizing in the process.

First, we should take issue with the YCL’s use of the term “student movement”. The YCL implies that there is some sort of vibrant living movement that the MER-RSM has decided to isolate itself from. The YCL locates the student movement in English Canada within the CFS. The reality couldn’t be further from the truth; while the CFS claims to represent over 500 000 students, we would hazard that upwards of 90% of its members don’t even know that the CFS exists. Instead of the leading body of a movement or a mass organization, the CFS is best understood of as a social-democratic lobby organization that sometimes fights for the right to free education; indeed, as the Report itself suggests, the CFS has failed to do even basic membership mobilizations for the past several years. While the Report critiques some aspects of the CFS, the YCL Central Committee does not understand that the bureaucratic nature of the CFS’ activism is itself a result of a politics that subordinates electoral victory –be it at the union or parliamentary level – to all other actions. Thus, the Report implores us to not make structural critiques (even though we advance a critique on the level of politics and practice, not exclusively structure) of the CFS in the name of unity. But, the MER-RSM has to question the content of such a unity that sees a revolutionary organization tied to a defunct social-democratic lobby organization that is only able to retain its membership through lawsuits.

With this in mind, the MER-RSM absolutely recognizes that what passes for the student movement is in fact a multi-class movement. This is perhaps a more appropriate statement in Quebec where there actually is a movement to speak of. We recognize the multi-class nature of the student movement both in terms of objective class composition –i.e. there are students that come from a multitude of class backgrounds –as well as the class horizons of the politics advanced by student organizations themselves. The recognition of the multi-class nature of the student movement is central to our understanding of student struggles. Where we differ from the YCL is that instead of advocating the unity of students from all classes under an innocuous bourgeois-democratic movement and politics (imagining that democratic demands exist apart from the class struggle; more on this later), we advocate that proletarian students organize themselves on the basis of proletarian politics, and in the service of the broader working class movement. This in turn implies recognition that revolution in Canada will not be based on campuses (indeed, proletarian students are likely in the minority on university campuses in English Canada), and instead proletarian students should direct their activities towards the broader class struggle rather than this or that campus issue.

We do not necessarily advocate orienting the “struggle inward”, but we are not against such an orientation either. In fact, we disagree that the “main enemy” is solely the big bourgeoisie; insofar as social-democratic reformist bureaucrats within the labour and student movements also inhibit the development of the class struggle in Canada, these forces constitute a “main enemy” that must be struggled against. However, given that bureaucratic elements are often unable to organize around their political line, they tend to be self-isolating and thus largely ignorable; the majority of our efforts are indeed “outward looking”.

The acknowledgement of the multi-class nature of the student movement and a call to organize students along proletarian lines has no connection, for the MER-RSM at least, to any analysis which sees campuses as “inactive” or students as “apolitical” or “apathetic”. Our insistence on organizing along explicitly radical, militant, and communist (proletarian) political lines suggests that our understanding of the current historical conjecture is quite the opposite! Across Canada the working class is increasingly questioning capitalism; as the Main Political Report correctly mentions, for the vast majority of Canadians there has been no recovery from the 2008 crisis. Our understanding of the current conjecture is that there is a real material basis –possibly for the first time since the Great Depression – for the mass radicalization of large sections of workers, proletarian students included. Thus, it is necessary for communists to advance the radical politics and solutions for which workers will increasingly be looking. Our own experience and success with launching what the YCL Central Committee characterizes as an “ultra-left” student organization requires us to abandon any notions of “apathetic” or “apolitical” students; our organization would not have been possible in such conditions. It is disappointing to see the YCL Central Committee obscure this central point of debate between our two organizations.

We suggest that a central aspect to the YCL’s misunderstanding of the nature of the student movement is a lack of understanding on the fundamental role of education within capitalist society. In section #148, the Report says that education should be thought of as “a right and a tool of emancipation” and not as “a commodity which is integral to the production of a trained modern workforce”. This is in line with the YCL’s conception of education as being a democratic demand, and the student movement as being solely a movement engaged in democratic struggles. But just as we are reminded that the labour movement doesn’t exist in a vacuum (section #161), neither does the student movement or education. Education under capitalism is either a means by which the ruling class produces and reproduces itself, or precisely “a commodity which is integral to the production of a trained modern workforce”, depending on which class position one occupies. Insofar as production is mediated by the logic of capital, so too will education be mediated by this logic. Capital requires labour for its self-valorization, and therefore requires a workforce capable of doing the type of labour necessary according to the law of value for valorization to occur. Education under capitalism, for the vast majority, has the role of producing those specific types of labour that capitalism deems necessary at any given point.

Education under capitalism, and access to education under capital, are not democratic rights or a tools of emancipation, but simply a means by which class position is enforced and by which class distinctions are produced and reproduced. Thus, the slogan “Education is a right!” is not only misleading (it isn’t a right because rights don’t exist), but also falls short of critiquing the nature and role of education under capitalism. For education to be liberating, it must not be subordinated to the needs of capital. This is why the MER-RSM makes a point of calling for a “broad based education which is scientific and proletarian in nature”; it is not simply enough for the working class to have unfettered access to the university, but rather the working class must destroy the university-as-university and destroy education as it exists under capitalism. This is precisely the political or revolutionary demand that must be put forward by communists, rather than the economistic demand that the YCL puts forward by tailing social-democratic lobby organizations like the CFS.

Throughout all of this, what the YCL Central Committee misses is that there already is a class struggle going on within the student movement. For instance, in the context of the 2012 Quebec Student Strike, how else can we understand the split of the student movement into “greens” (those favouring an end to the strike and tuition hikes) and “reds” (those favouring reduced tuition or an end to tuition)? While it might be easy to dismiss the “greens” as not legitimately part of the student movement, this leads to a debate based on semantics of who can or can’t be considered part of the student movement. We think that a better means of understanding this split is to look at the class forces at play, and understand that this was in fact a manifestation of struggle between students advancing a proletarian political line and a bourgeois political line. And indeed, the absence of any such open struggle except at very low levels in English Canada points to the total domination of the petty-bourgeois or professional “Education is a right!” political line, one that the YCL enthusiastically tails. It is only the incumbent student union bureaucracy that benefits from not bringing class struggle out into the open; supporting the student union bureaucracy is the effect of these calls for unity.

Even if we examine the social-democratic slogan of “Education is a right!” –which suggests that we fight for free tuition and the removal barriers to access to education – we can see a class divide within the student milieu in English Canada. For those students from bourgeois backgrounds, education is a means by which they reinforce their class positions. Thus, bourgeois students benefit from restricting access to education as it is a way of restricting access to their class position. We see this political line manifest itself when bourgeois students complain that increased access to education would make their degrees worth less than they are under the current conditions of restricted access to education. However, for working class students, education is often a means of transcending their class position; thus they benefit, or at least have the potential to benefit, from increased access to education. Even with an incorrect slogan such as “Education is a right!” we can see that the idea that there is a commonality of interests between all students, or that the category of ‘student’ can exist as an all-encompassing identity, does not make sense and is not a scientific understanding of the class forces at play within the student movement. A “democratic demand” such as access to education is actually tied directly in to the class struggle and is a class demand; a “democratic movement” is thus also a class movement, with the class nature of the movement determined by what politics are in command.

At the end of the day, the position put forward by the YCL in the Main Political Report –the conception of education under capitalism as being potentially liberating, support for student union bureaucracy, and against class-struggle – is not a communist political line but rather a social-democratic line. It is not advancing a proletarian agenda within the student movement, but rather advancing a petty-bourgeois agenda disguised by calls of unity. We hope that comrades in the YCL will correct their approach.

The MER-RSM hopes that this critique gives members of the YCL points to consider as the communist movement in Canada continues to grow and re-orient itself towards a proletarian and revolutionary politics. We urge revolutionary minded comrades within the YCL to either vote down or amend the Main Political Resolution to bring it in line with the communist approach advanced by the MER-RSM as a means of moving towards greater unity between our two organizations. The path to communism in this country will not be easy to traverse, but it will be only possible to achieve communism with the correct political approach to the pressing questions of our day. “Unity and Militancy”, as the Report is titled, are both important: but it must be a real proletarian militancy, and a unity around correct politics. We look forward to hearing the results of your Central Convention, and make ourselves available to answer any questions about our line or practice you may have.

 

Solidarity!

(PDF version available here)