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.

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)

Resolutions of the Third Pan-Canadian Conference of Revolutionary Youth and Students

Resolutions of the Third Pan-Canadian Conference of Revolutionary Youth and Students

1) A Constitutional Committee should be established, and tasked with creating a constitution for the MER-RSM. This committee should take into account the various recommendations made during the plenary session. All recommendations to this committee should be submitted no later than two months prior to the next conference of the MER-RSM. A draft constitution should be prepared and disseminated no later than one month prior to the next conference of the MER-RSM.

2) The MER-RSM is a group focused on youth and student issues, including economic rights and access to education.
3) An Information and Propaganda Committee should be established. This committee is responsible for:
-a) Preparing a history of the student movement in Canada as a means of understanding our current situation in light of this history;
-b) translation and online centralisation of all existing propaganda materials;
-c) the funding for and production of materials;
-d) engaging in some level of brand regulation across different sections of the MER-RSM;
-e) creating a consolidated media and social-media presence;
-f) engaging in an audit of the propaganda capacities of the different sections of the MER-RSM, and the coordination of those that can do different propaganda tasks across multiple sections;
-g) the creation of a pan-Canadian publication containing contributions from different sections of the MER-RSM which can act as a site for political debate and struggle as well as an organ for publicizing our views and keeping up to date on the issues and struggles of the day.
4) A Coordinating Committee for the entire MER-RSM, of no more than 7 people, should be established. The composition of this committee will not be based on geographical distribution, but this will be re-examined at the next conference. This committee is responsible for:
-a) ensuring that the Constitutional Committee and the Information and Propaganda Committee are kept on task;
-b) ensuring the spread of the MER-RSM (as outlined in Resolution #7);
-c) coordinating between various sections of the MER-RSM;
-d) coordination of yearly activities, including the next MER-RSM conference;
-e) ensuring the spread of the MER-RSM to universities, colleges, and high-schools;
-f) acting as the central leadership body of the MER-RSM, until a constituton outlining formal leadership is ratified at the next MER-RSM conference;
5) A fourth Conference of Revolutionary Youth and Students should be held in Quebec City in October of 2014.
6) That a procedural code be developed for the upcoming conference, and that the Coordinating Committee ensure that sections are given the appropriate materials to prepare for this procedure.
7) That the MER-RSM establish sections in Vancouver and Kamloops. That some sort of activity take place in Halifax between now and the next conference.
8) That a basic study guide be prepared to serve as a means of ideologically developing new members. This study guide should be prepared by the Information and Propaganda Committee. It should be modeled on the MLM Basic Course, but updated and refined for a Canadian audience.
9) The MER-RSM wishes to organize a series of debates with the Young Communist League (YCL) on the topic of “The Role of Revolutionaries in the Student Movement”. We extend a formal invitation to begin this process.
Call-out for the Third Pan-Canadian Conference of Revolutionary Youth and Students

Call-out for the Third Pan-Canadian Conference of Revolutionary Youth and Students

This is the best time in over a generation to be a revolutionary. The objective conditions for the emergence of a genuine revolutionary movement in Canada exist. The Revolutionary Student Movement is part of an attempt to build up the subjective conditions – the self-conscious self-organization of communists – to a point where we can face the challenges and capitalize on the opportunities history is presenting us with.

Right now, two interrelated phenomena have the potential to push the class struggle in Canada to a qualitatively higher level and we need to respond to both if we intend for this potential to be realized.

On the one hand is the increasing rate at which young workers and students are spontaneously reaching communist conclusions in relative isolation from one another – sometimes culminating in the formation of small, independent groups on one campus or in one city – and which is ever-more-quickly creating the core, though still in its infancy, of the next generation of communist and anti-capitalist leaders. These forces, who in general embrace militancy and revolution while rejecting the reformism and revisionism they’ve seen come to nothing but failure, are themselves beginning to rally toward one another where once they were scattered. This tendency toward unity needs to be fostered so that it can expand, manifesting itself as unity in theory and practice.

On the other hand is the perfusion among the masses generally of more advanced consciousness. Workers in record numbers are neglecting to participate in the bourgeoisie’s sham elections. Students in Quebec showed again the power of unity, activity and militancy. First Nations are resisting the colonial appropriation of their territory and exploitation of their resources at the hands of capitalist enterprise with a frequency and militancy not seen in well over a decade. Though none of them absolutely correct in vision or strategy, they represent a growing discontent with the current state of affairs and indicate an opportunity for us to condense the most advanced among these tendencies into a coherent political line that can galvanize people into action. The masses have not been so ready to be won over to a revolutionary line for some time.

Common to both these phenomena is their spontaneity. What we need now on the one hand is the ability to organize that spontaneity, to make it coherent, stable and permanent. On the other we need to provide revolutionary answers to the pressing questions of our day in order to make headway among proletarian students who are more and more staring down the barrel of graduation into an economy that has nothing to offer them but unemployment, debt, and a lifetime of barely getting by. This is not a matter we should leave to chance, it’s one we need to organize and prepare ourselves for. That preparation will require that we develop a robust theoretical approach, practical capacity, and organizational structure.

These phenomena are the impetus and impulse for the nation-wide, united, revolutionary students’ movement we’re building. Imagine: a national organization, united around explicitly-communist politics and active in building a revolutionary movement with the breadth and depth necessary to actually challenge capitalism. An organization with systematized propaganda, coordinated campaigns, and a clear political perspective. An organization that can draw from the experiences of revolutionary organizers across the country, synthesize those experiences into strategy, and develop the theory and practice capable of moving significant sections of the masses into action.

With this purpose in mind, the Revolutionary Students’ Movement is extending a call for all revolutionary youth and students to come together for the 3rd Conference of the Revolutionary Youth and Students! Scheduled for March, 2014 in Montéal, this conference aims to:

-Determine the necessary preconditions for founding a national organization
-Evaluate the current situation in light of those preconditions
-Outline the steps necessary for those preconditions to be met

Following the 1st and 2nd conferences in Toronto and Ottawa, our network has expanded substantially in size and scope. Our work over the past months, whether organizing conscious communists or bringing our politics to the masses where we join them in the struggles they initiate, has generated significant gains and valuable lessons that should be systematized and this conference is the perfect opportunity to do that.

Gone are the days where we content ourselves to hide our communist politics, sublimating them into one after another disjointed movement for social democratic reform. We have learned in the development of our respective struggles that, if we don’t make the case for communism, nobody will.

We request that local organizations and individuals develop contributions toward these questions and submit them six weeks in advance of the conference for compilation into a document that will be distributed to those in attendance.

Now is the time to push forward and create something that will change the political landscape on campus and beyond. It’s the time to move beyond the limitations of the world we were born into and start shaping that world for ourselves. It’s time to come into our own. It’s time to make history.

See you in March.

(PDF Version Available)

Revolutionary Frontlines: Speaking Tour

Revolutionary Frontlines: Speaking Tour

This speaking tour is the result of a proposal adopted by the 2nd National Conference of Revolutionary Youth, last June, in Ottawa, following a workshop on Anti-Imperialism.
Indignation and a rejection of capitalist power is on the rise everywhere in Canada. The masses are chomping at the bit for new ideas and strategies to launch a revolution that is capable of ending the cruel and unjust system that is poisoning our lives. Given the advanced state of revolutionary movements elsewhere, the Canadian masses have much to learn from foreign revolutionary struggles. This panel will present the experiences of various revolutionary groups -particularly from Venezuela, India, and the Phillipines- that have made significant headway in the struggle against capitalism and successfully established a democratic, socialist counter-power in their respective countries.

In Venezuela, the CRBZ is struggling autonomously, in a context made more favourable to anti-capitalist forces by former President Hugo Chávez. It has organized dozens of communes where the people are learning to govern themselves while being at the frontlines of the resistance against fascist paramilitary forces. Meanwhile, in India and the Philippines, revolutionary Maoist groups have been involved for decades in a protracted armed struggle against their respective states. In so doing, they have sown the seeds of people’s power among the most marginalized groups in their society and accumulated invaluable practical experience. All anti-capitalists are invited to come learn more from and discuss the experiences of these major revolutionary organizations and struggles.

Here is the link to the recording, from the Toronto presentation (note that depending on cities, the presentation could differ in some ways)

Resolutions from the Second Conference of Revolutionary Youth and Students

Resolutions from the Second Conference of Revolutionary Youth and Students

The Organizing committee of the Second Conference of Revolutionary Students and Youth wishes to thank all those who attended this conference. We also invite all activists interested in issues of revolutionary organization in Canada to take note of those proposals adopted to join themselves to the organization of the third conference to be held in early 2014 in Montreal.

In solidarity!


1) To continue to build the RSM by

a. Forming new groups where they don’t exist;
b. Working with existing organisations, where they exist;
c. 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:

a. Anti-capitalism;
b. Radicalism;
c. Militancy;
d. Internationalism;
e. Independence from the state;
f. Against reformism;
g. 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:

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

9) To integrate new traditions of revolutionary struggle.
To form a revolutionary core among students.
To lead the attack against the bourgeoisie and the capitalist state.
To make every struggle a problem for public order, a political problem that will trigger the struggle for socialism and proletarian power.

Limits of the Current Student Movement

Limits of the Current Student Movement

Limits of the Current Student Movement: 

Political Document from the Second Pan-Canadian Conference of Revolutionary Youth and Students, August 2013

For many, politics are essentially grasped in terms of the following categories: “left” or “right,” “radical” or “moderate.” Certainly useful categories, but they paint too broad a portrait, and merely approximate reality. These categories are essentially relative, lacking both content and precise political orientations; they change according to the ebb and flow of the class struggle. Does being on the “left” in Canada in 2013 mean the same thing as being on the “left” in Russia in 1917? Or in Spain in 1936? Or in France in 1968? Moreover, to be on the “left” of what?

In fleshing out a revolutionary project, we must equip ourselves with an infinitely more precise understanding of the social and political reality. In fact, we must ground ourselves in a scientific understanding of the world. To this end, the absence or weakness of a class analysis within the student movement is a serious obstacle to a more advanced, more ambitious political practice. If we fail to understand the “multi-class” character of the student movement, and continue to think of the student community in terms of a political subject, we will neither clearly define our objectives nor realize the class we must rely on in order to advance; in sum, it will thus be impossible to formulate a coherent revolutionary strategy. Otherwise, this existing confusion in matters of social transformation will always be recouped by the bourgeoisie, a bourgeoisie that knows very well what it wants to do with society.

A class analysis involves finding out how the different stakes in society, in the educational sphere just as in any other, contain the competing interests of the conflicting social classes; how their different struggles testify to a global problem: the emancipation of one class over another. To identify as a “leftist” and to plead for social justice will not suffice. What matters is to recognize the lines of demarcation of this contradiction and to clearly choose which side to stand on. Only on these grounds could we hope to grasp reality and to overcome the vain pursuit of an illusory “common good,” to use a term from the social democrats that is as prevalent as it is pernicious. We state plainly: Between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat there is no common good; there is only an irreducible relationship of domination and exploitation. To pretend otherwise is to maintain the confusion, and to hinder the proletariat in its class consciousness. For society to realize the common good, it will first be necessary to overthrow the bourgeoisie, to eradicate the bourgeoisie as the dominant class.

To think of struggles in terms of specific class interests, to rely first and foremost on this specific class, is to avoid useless appeals to the conscience of so-called “civil society,” yet another muddled concept of contemporary reformism. Civil society, a term referring to all classes in civil life, i.e. life outside the state, serves, more often than not, those organizations of the bourgeoisie that claim to speak of behalf of society as a whole. To reiterate, against this façade of unity, we must separate the camps in order to build a political project around the only class whose real interest is to abolish capitalism, the only class that is “revolutionary to the end.”

For militants in the student movement, it is precisely to go beyond the idea of building unity around “student interests.” Such a thing does not exist. We must choose between the interests of the proletariat and those of the bourgeoisie in matters of education. And we must defend proletarian interests as such. Whether we like it or not, to think about the balance of power in winning a demand as strategy is to raise an obvious necessity to the level of strategy; to create a sufficiently strong movement to attain established goals, this is the “abc” of struggle. However, this is also a convenient way of dismissing the necessity of developing  long term strategy for attaining specific goals and for accumulating new forces across the struggles. Instead, we rest content sailing from one strike to the next, with the occasional successes and too often, failures.  Rarely do we seek to understand the reasons which make our decisions, our means of struggle correct decisions.

 

The Student Movement and the Trade Union Movement

The theoretical weakness of the student movement can equally be seen in the relationship many activists hope to build with the workers and trade union movement. This hope betrays a poor understanding of the role played by the trade unions at this point in the history of capitalism. We must fully grasp the following conclusion: trade unions today are strong factors of adhesion to the capitalist order: they bind workers to capitalism and repress the combativity of the rank in file in the class struggle. This mistake takes the form of fetishizing the trade unions and conflating the workers movement to its union form.

How many times have we religiously declared our will to agitate in solidarity with the workers movement/trade union movement and social movements? It is a staple of all action plans, at least among the left. We hope to high heaven that the unions will struggle, and that they’ll vote for the social strike. We must in turn assess and evaluate this “solidarity.” When has this solidarity been expressed? Sometimes very timid statements of support by officials are made at the end of press releases; participation in fruitless coalitions where it’s necessary for us to make all the compromises; expressions of sympathy for the student struggle as individuals, but rarely voicing that sympathy loudly at a demonstration from the organization; often a simple public disavowal reeking of paternalism.

There has never been even a shadow of real struggle that was fought side by side with the workers. All the good intentions are dampened by the bureacratic buffer of the trade union organizations. Is it necessary to provide some examples? The impressive numbers of union cadres, from top to bottom, are the political vassals of the bosses’ parties: the Partis Québécois and the New Democratic Party, who bury the social question beneath the national question, whether Quebecois or Canadian. The integration of the unions to finance capital through intermediary investment funds, where workers interests are more than ever tied to the profitability of capital under the pretext of saving jobs. Cumulative examples of labour conflicts in which unionists force  workers to take a bad deal.

To connect the student movement and the workers movement is certainly laudable, even imperative. But this connection can’t be purely formal, a part of protocol. This connection must be grounded on correct politics, in other words, proletarian and revolutionary politics that do not transpire via the intermediary of trade unions.

We must go directly to the workers and build the organizations that allow us to make this connection to a true workers movement.

 

Breaking Down the Barriers

Among the heaviest ideological barriers weighing down the revolutionary potential of students and youth is a series of erroneous and limited concepts of tactics. At the strategic level–that is to say the fundamental objectives at a global level–many militants take the position of the vanguard, with revolutionary and anti-capitalist demands. However,  the path leading to these objectives, which materialize the strategy day after day, is made of tactical choices, stages, methods and detours.

The main tactical problems of the far and revolutionary left, and the anti-capitalists, are economism and opportunism. Opportunism, according to our purposes, is neither strictly nor essentially the dishonesty of the careerist or bureaucrat pursuing their personal interests above all else. Even if this kind of opportunism exists, it’s not the most problematic one. Opportunism refers to the erroneous political analysis shared by even the most sincere and honest militants: the substitution of immediate interests for the fundamental interests of the working class, the pursuit of immediate gains against the struggle for proletarian revolution and for socialism, giving up revolutionary strategy by focusing only on the short term tactics. We owe this concept of opportunism to the revolutionaries of the early 20th centurty, such as V.I. Lenin and Rosa Luxembourg. Objectively, opportunism is the betrayal of the revolutionary goal made in the name of immediate necessities of the revolutionary process.

The most widespread form of opportunism in the student movement is currently the theory of radical stageism, with sometimes libertarian, sometimes Marxist, and sometimes simply unionist characteristics. It is essentially a process of radicalizing the masses through struggles up until the outbreak of a revolutionary situation. Stoke the fire, but above all, don’t let it blow out! Don’t run ahead of the actual degree of consciousness of the masses, of radicalizing the masses!

We clearly see what is underlying this radical stageism: the reconciliation of reformist and economist practice and a commitment, in principle, to a revolutionary horizon. This is the cheap way of being on the “far-left:” revolutionary practice becomes less and less political and more and more subcultural, as evident in the songs, the micro-polemics, and very drunken evenings.

For now, we’ll completely absorb ourselves in the immediate struggles, we’ll immerse ourselves in spontaneity and movementism as a way to develop consciousness “step-by-step,” here and  now, without really worrying too much about the final destination. We never clarify the political questions that have to do with strategy and tactics in relation to the revolution, for these perspectives are far too ahead of where we are now and are too abstract to deal with now! Often, this way of organizing as described above takes the form of disdaining theoretical debate and reflections for the sake of dealing with the concrete realities here and now. This explains, to a large extent, the current student movement’s stagnation and political fallouts.

The materialization of this tactical idea is the containment of militantancy within the frame of student unionism, the instrument of radicalizing campus. Student associations and General Assemblies are thus the only horizon:  the next proposal for action, the next demonstration, the next congress. The task at hand is to gather as many votes while the long term political perspectives are lost. Worse yet is that we adopt the vocabulary of the bourgeoisie, that which already constitutes the dominant discourse, without being too preoccupied with the serious ideological limitation the predominant discourse represents in the (re)construction of class consciousness. In regard to this problem, we often choose the path of least resistance, a trait characteristic of opportunism. We operate without the tools that would help us develop a scientific understanding of the world, a world which we seek to transform.

Without independent revolutionary politics– by this we mean freeing ourselves from the multi-class associations that ignore the reality of social classes–and developing explicitly revolutionary bases for our practice, i.e. not merely practising student unionism, even “combative” student unionism, we will hit a ceiling in the process of radicalization. For its part, the student movement is marked by cycles, by ebbs and flows of mobilization and combativeness, by the renewal of the student movement membership. This is because student status is by definition a transitory status. On the one hand, those who pin their hopes on the trade union movement or in the grass-roots community movements realize it’s a little more complicated to be “radical” here in these milieus than in the bastions of the student left. On the other hand, others cede under pressure and join the ranks of ‘militant’ bureaucracy and class collaboration. Others eventually resign themselves to supporting the oppressed groups to the best of their capacities, resting content to dress the gaping wounds inflicted by capitalist society without real hope of eliminating the damages inflicted by this kind of social intervention. When we contain the struggle within the structure and discourse of student unionism, whether combative or not, we are wasting the great potential that is held back by the current movement. We fail to reap the fruits of radicalizing the student masses in accumulating the necessary forces for revolution.

However, the struggle for immediate reforms is rooted in the same struggle for socialism. The struggle for reforms or for immediate demands and the struggle for revolution and for socialism are not mutually exclusive. There are ways of articulating the two struggles, of addressing the pressing needs of the masses without sliding into opportunism, without compromising on fundamental objectives.  Otherwise, the predominant tactical ideas in the student movement will not come to fruition. Let’s approach the problem with a bit more dialectics and reverse the premises on which the theory and practice of radical stageism rests.

For too long, we pretend that if the struggle for immediate demands already has enough challenges–for example, the recent struggle against rising tuition fees–it’s because we haven’t sufficiently hit the nail on the head in preserving the gains, and that we haven’t sufficiently built a movement in its unionist and reformist forms, i.e. to band together in a large united front.  We’ve even scared off burgeoning consciousness by “extremist” proposals, like free tuition!

We in the MER-PCR believe, rather, that if the front of struggle for preserving social gains retreats, if the struggle for new reforms is weakened, the main factor for these problems is the lack of a significant revolutionary movement. What interest does the government have in satisfying, even partially, the current demands of the “radical reformist” wing of the student movement? Not a single one. For the government to take seriously these claims, they would have to see if satisfying them is the lesser of two evils, a way of escaping the worst. The bourgeoisie will engage social reforms out of fear of revolution. Over the past three decades, the offensives of the bourgeoisie on a global scale–often referred to as neo-liberalism–correspond to the ebb of revolution. There is the equation, and the tendency to reverse it.

The day there is a significant fringe of militants capable of deploying a revolutionary agitational propaganda inside the student movement, to build a radical opposition to the interests of the bourgeoisie, that is when the need for isolating this radical fringe presents itself to the bourgeois government, along with the need to cut off their support. And to the extent that repression alone is not enough, the government will have to offer a political response: The state will then turn to the reformist movement and will find support from this movement. And it is thus that new social gains will once again be snatched away.

 

Towards a New Movement

In advancing the idea that it is possible to transform the student movement, we believe it is very possible–and necessary–to deploy a revolutionary political activity at the heart of the student movement. To achieve this, we must overcome several obstacles at the ideological level. Student activism, even in it’s strictly unionist form, politicizes those who are involved. It acts like a wake-up call for social consciousness. Very soon, however, the ideological weapons (concepts, principles, strategies and tactical notions, etc) deployed by this militancy will turn up insufficient, lacking the ability to confront broader political tasks that are required to advance the path of revolution.

We must therefore address the relative poverty of the  political and theoretical benchmarks spontaneously transmitted by student activism. Indeed, there is a rich revolutionary tradition, where we’ve accumulated hard fought lessons acquired over  the past two centuries of non-stop class struggles against capitalist domination, and which synthesizes from that tradition the most advanced revolutionary experiences. To make an abstraction of this historical heritage is to make a spectacular retreat in the struggle against bourgeois domination as well as to liquidate the costly lessons paid by the exploited and oppressed the world over. It is imperative that we evaluate the student movement in light of these lessons.

Struggling to transform the social system also requires that we organize differently. To have a qualitatively different movement than the currently existing one, the question is not really about building a new organization, but rather to consciously unite on the bases of common principles and objectives from a revolutionary perspective and aspiration for revolution. For far too long, this movement has been trapped in the overwhelming ideological tendency of the current student movement, i.e. reformism (whether radical or not), and class reconciliation.

The aim of the revolutionary students is not to do away with student associations, etc. The aim of revolutionary students is to struggle against reformist currents that imprison the student movement and frankly, to organize and develop a vast movement engaged in ideological struggle within the student movement. It is from this starting point that we hope students develop a new way of understanding their involvement in student activism, in their manner of organizing, in their manner of struggling.

The traditional or “combative” unions that others wish to be large and democratic bring nothing if their foundations are based on reformism. In the name of strictly student interests, this ideological barrier of isolated practices and ideas particularizes students and confer on them a specificity of a group apart from others. There follows two movements in oppostion, two movement that do not wage the same struggle. The first, a reformist one, fixes as the objective more improvements for those already in a privileged position. The other, a revolutionary movement, fixes as its objective to lead the student movement into the most general struggle to abolish capitalism,  which means abolishing the very privileges confered by this system. Briefly, we must resolutely deploy the spirit of revolt that animates the exploited masses, specifically among the youth, as already demonstrated in several historical moments, in uniting with the general struggle of the proletariat to advance the revolutionary struggle. In organizing youth, we need to unite them around a revolutionary program, to ensure this movement bases itself on the conscious mobilization of the youth and students, to establish why we need to fight and how to fight.

The movement we want will be built in places where we find young proletarians: at the technical schools, high-schools, the CEGEPS and colleges, as well as universities; in the popular neighbourhoods; and in solidarity with the people. We affirm the necessary of working for a student movement that unites a diverse range of the existing student democratic and anti-imperialist organizations; not to unite hypocritically and without principles, but through discussion and practice in the determination of what is correct and what is wrong; to firmly place revolutionary politics in command. Ultimately, this will help build a student movement with correct politics that serves the people in its fight against the capitalist system.

We know very well that our stubborn commitment to revolution, our critique of the system will displease those who are used to accommodating the bourgeoisie. Only those politics that wage the class struggle will do. This is a basic idea that revolutionary students defend tooth and nail.

Against the the insufficient tactics of radicalization, we uphold the necessity of independent communist work. We uphold that it is not only about “heating up” the masses, radicalizing the struggles that will always be generated because of the contradictions of capitalism, but moreover, to concretely build the camp of revolution in the same breath. W must not only win militants over to the idea of revolution, but to encourage them to organize on this basis.

To revive the motive force that proletarian students need, it will first be necessary to find a direction, a rallying centre that opens the way for collective action. This rallying centre is the collection of practices, the Party, and its political line. Revolution is an organized political struggle where the objective is to destroy the existing society at its foundations and to build a new world. The first stage is to seize state power, which would give the proletariat the means to carry out this transformation. Revolution is of necessity an orientation, a program, a line of march toward communism in all its different stages.

Revolution can’t be achieved without the vanguard party.

While the spontaneous, generalised and eventually radical movement could view the transformation in a spontaneous way; not so for the revolutionaries. According to the former, this is because the overwhelming majority of exploited people could only imagine their future under capitalism. Hence their struggles are more oriented towards better distribution of wealth, better social organisation, without questioning exploitation and the role producers play in this society; They are spontaneously reformist.

The rage that exploitation provokes, the loss of jobs and unemployment, high rents and increasing poverty, these form the bases for developing revolutionary politics. From these movements, communists, by their activity, could lead workers to surpass limits, to break out from the rigid and narrow confines the immediate relations, to bring to consciousness the need for total social transformation, to the overthrow of the bourgeoisie. The revolutionary and the reformist orientations clash in all of these battles.

In order to make our political and practical action more effective, we need strategy and appropriate tactics. A strategy is more than simply having an organizational philosophy. For example, we divide the student movement into two. The first, and the most imposing at the moment, is led by the reformist currents in which the principal course of action is collaboration with the state. The other, which is smaller, claims to be the militant unionist movement and keeps some distance from the state. At first glance these two groups seem rather distinct, but upon closely examination we realise both movements have a similar function: preventing young people from developing a strong practice that breaks with bourgeois legality.

“Combative” or militant unionism is meaningless if we do not ask the question for what are we fighting? How are we leading this fight? How do we put our plans into action? Who are we defending? Whose interests are we placing at the forefront? To label ourselves leftists by simply adding the word militant in front of unionism is to forget that 9 times out of 10, it’s reformist unionism that prevails. While it is certainly positive to not want to engage in collaboration with the state, it also brings with it an obligation to develop a strategy to enforce this choice.

Revolutionary students set themselves the essential task of educating a large number of students in their schools, neighbourhoods or workplaces, regardless of their class background and on their revolutionary positions. The first step towards this movement is the effective participation of a significant portion of the student struggle and a long term struggle for the rebuilding of the student movement on proletarian and revolutionary bases.

For us, the construction of a new student movement or the deconstruction of the old movement must start with a more profound political and ideological reorganization of the movement and this reconstruction is itself subject to the construction of the Party. Without a strong party it is unrealistic to expect to create a movement different than the current one.

We must build a vast movement that, in theory and practice, relies on the oppressed masses and those who are exploited by the imperialist system, a movement that highlights and attacks the causes of exploitation and oppression, not only its symptoms. We need a movement that strengthens the existing trend among the youth who see that it is only through the complete elimination, here and elsewhere, of the capitalist system that it is thus possible to resolve the people’s problems. In short, we must resolutely deploy the spirit of revolt that leads the exploited masses, especially the youth as demonstrated by several important moments in history, uniting in the general struggle of the proletariat to advance the revolutionary struggle.

To arrive there, we must modify our approach to student militancy and activism in placing revolutionary principles at the forefront, which would enliven the student movement.

 

Anti-Capitalism

Each victory earned within the current order is nothing more than a temporary and partial gain, and while we must fight to for our demands, rights and freedoms, we must keep in mind that the goal is the overthrow of the capitalist system currently dominating our country. And we must fight against the bourgeois state in order to build a completely new society, where many of the current problems of the people can begin to be solved in a permanent and profound way.

 

Radicalism

We must seek to solve problems at their roots and this requires us to strengthen the level of organisation of students in opposition to the current economic and political system, as well as its apparatuses of repression and propaganda. We need to raise the economic and partial struggles to political struggles, that is to say, the struggle against the system which aims to restructure the society and the state in a radically new way. In other words, we should not seek to make small reforms to the current system, but to fight in order to build a completely new society led by workers for the benefit of the people.

 

Combat the System

It is not by integrating into capitalist system or by collaborating with it that we will acquire our rights and freedom, regardless of the good intentions held by some people, regardless of the government. This is a system that ensures that thousands of young people will be kept out of schools,  that we all must work to enrich a minority. It is a system that appeals to the armed forces and the police to suppress the people when they rise up. The real revolutionary changes take place only with the struggle of millions of people against the oppressive minority who will defend their system by any means. To accommodate the flaws of capitalism will only result in illusions.

 

Internationalism

Workers in different countries – who are the pillars of society in all four corners of the world – have many similarities and near equal living conditions.  Although there are features associated with imperialist domination and oppression in various parts of the world, they are minimal in comparison to common problems, as the oppressed have great differences with the exploiters of each country. In this sense, the oppressed of the world must unite their struggles against their common enemy, in alliance with the working masses and peasants in other parts of the world, regardless of whether they speak Spanish, English or Arabic. The aspirations of people around the world are already similar, but they must still unite to create the true function of the international proletariat: to be the gravediggers of the old order and the creators of a new society.

 

Independent from the State and Anti-Reformist

The state is a repressive machine of the ruling class that is used against the people. To move forward, we must be clear on this issue. We must clearly reject all proposals for dialogue and reconciliation between classes that the current state seeks to push down our throats, to force us to be participants in our own oppression. Similarly, reformism must be fought because it aims to convert student organizations into an appendage of the State and to make them totally useless for fighting and defending rights – in short, to  render them useless for the people, but very useful for the exploiting class.

 

Fighting for a Mass Scientific and Proletarian Education

Education must serve the vast majority of people in order to build a society independent of imperialism and to unite with the people of the entire world. Scientific, in the sense that it enables people to find the facts through research of society and nature, and allows for their transformation to benefit the majority of the population. Mass, in the sense that the masses have access to it and take ownership of this new type of education. This means fighting for a free education at all levels, but it also involves fighting for new content of education that is in line with the people’s liberation, and being aware that education that truly serves the people and the masses can only be achieved under a new society for which we must fight.

 

The Current Tasks of Communists in the Student Movement:

For communists in the student movement, there are two main areas of intervention:

1) The revolutionary struggle to ensure the organisation of revolutionary students, to prepare the conditions for students to connect with the masses, lead the class struggle and make revolution;

2) The struggle for immediate gains, based on the current demands of students

These two groups of tasks are inextricably linked, and neither should be neglected.

In their practical task, revolutionary student militants advance the necessity of revolution; explain to other students the current economic and social system; expose the foundations of capitalism and development in Canada; reveal the existence of social classes and class struggle; expose the role of the state, its institutions and its relationship with the bourgeoisie and imperialism, while demonstrating that improvements to the conditions of the masses are never given by our “generous leaders” but must instead be taken by force. In this same task, we must also raise the consciousness of students in higher education and ensure that the student struggles are linked to the interests of the proletariat and of the people; explain the historical role of the proletariat, the successes and failures of revolutionary movements around the world, the need for a revolutionary party, and conducting the ideological struggle against reformism, revisionism and opportunism in all its form in defence of the scientific ideology of the proletariat: Marxism-Leninism-Maoism.

The tasks set for the struggle for immediate demands include agitation around economic issues; those are at the forefront at the moment due to the level of development of the masses. Agitation between students consists of militant students participating in demonstrations, in confrontations between students and the state, which tries to slow down student movements, in struggles for deficient infrastructure or quality education and in denunciation of rising debt loads, etc. Militant students must learn to position themselves on these issues, direct attention to the most important abuses and formulate their demands concretely.

Many important struggles were put into motion with very little organisation or tools. We must now integrate new traditions of revolutionary struggle. The student movement demonstrated, under certain conditions, its capacity to fight hard for their democratic and economic demands. For these struggles, the student movement used one weapon in particular to demand improvements in the financial aid system, for free education: the strike weapon.

In general, the struggles of the students are spontaneous, i.e. the practical movement of the masses advances while the consciousness, organisation and direction of the student movement are set back and do meet the tasks at hand. One of the challenges of the present period is precisely for students to take into their own hands the ideological, political, practical struggles which would enable the emergence of a revolutionary political and proletarian orientation among the students. This struggle is now powered by militant revolutionaries, which will advance further by the emergence of a vast revolutionary student movement able to fight capitalism and lead the revolutionary struggle for communism. In any form under and under any circumstances, situations, etc..in everyday political decisions, as well as in the struggle, it is a matter of principle for all revolutionaries to never lose sight of the ultimate goal.

At the moment, the MER-PCR/ RSM-RCP intends to form a revolutionary core in the student movement. This core will promote a genuine class struggle among students. We consider ourselves to be, according to our current strength and conditions, at the very beginnings of a lengthy process. Our obligation for now is to distribute a large amount of revolutionary propaganda in the wider student movement.

Of course,  there are reformist or anarchist organizations all claiming to lead the fight against capitalism. Some among them are older, more established in the student movement, and possibly more influential as well. But none have so far shown a real will to form and organize the student movement qualitatively different from what already exists. Our task for the moment is fighting tendencies, groups, ideas and concepts related to the bourgeoisie and reformism by putting forward a revolutionary perspective. The means to accomplish this task are communist agitation, propaganda and independent communist intervention in just struggles.

We intervene in these struggles in underlining the importance of clear ideological direction and clear perspectives. In our participation in the student struggle, we will preserve our autonomy above all, vis a vis the various student associations, with the aim of going deeper and wider among the broader masses in the CEGEPS, technical high-schools, colleges and universities.

We systematically encourage students to organize and struggle on the basis of a communist and revolutionary point of view in the student movement while seeking to always demarcate the proletarian interest from the interest of the bourgeoisie. And, no matter what level of mobilisation we’re at, to always ensure the long term collective interest of the proletariat prevails over all short term sectoral interest by waging struggles that correspond to the interests of the proletariat and the popular masses; that unify the revolutionary camp and to divide the camp of the bourgeoisie. We intend to struggle in the student movement against all ideas and tendencies which are based on the liberties granted to us by the bourgeoisie. The accumulation of revolutionary forces cannot be consolidated on the procedures and liberties inscribed in the bourgeois constitution. These keep their worth according to the measure of their usefulness to the bourgeoisie in their aims of preserving its power, and of keeping the proletariat and popular masses in submission.

We seek to lead the attack against the bourgeoisie and the capitalist state, to make every struggle a problem for public order, a political problem that will trigger the struggle for socialism and for proletarian power.

We favour the widest diversity of struggles that rest on the widest mobilization. In general, aside from national demonstrations, student struggles remain too often limited to institutions on strike, which creates a situation whereby the movement ends up cutting itself off from the wider society. We oppose that it is necessary to aim for the most massive participation and work to expand and orient struggles externally, rather than to simply dwell in the confines of our CEGEPs, universities, and technical schools.

Here are reasons why the MER-RSM invites all students and youth activists who are in general agreement with these perspectives to help us build a revolutionary student movement, the answer of proletarian youth to the dominant reformism of the current student movement.