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
- Forming new groups where they don’t exist;
- Working with existing organisations, where they exist;
- 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:
- Independence from the state;
- Against reformism;
- 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:
- Mobilise for the July 1st day of action in support of the people’s war in India;
- Stand in solidarity with the people of Syria against imperialist aggression;
- 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.