Table of Contents
A. The Education Sector in Canada 2
B. The Student Movement in Canada 12
C. The Work of the Revolutionary Student Movement 21
This report represents the current understanding of the Coordinating Committee of the Revolutionary Student Movement on the state of the class struggle in the education sector. We proceed by examining the state of the education sector itself, then on to its foil, the student movement. Finally, we conclude with a critical appraisal of our organization’s history.
Our analysis, while far from complete, represents the summation of three years of work in forming the RSM and bringing the class struggle to campuses across Canada. The analysis represents the knowledge we have gained through the process of social investigation through trying to change our conditions, as well as the experience of leading and engaging in several large movements: TransformUS at the University of Saskatchewan, the Maple Spring, the Spring 2015 movement, the CUPE 3902/3903 strikes, and the GA campaign at uOttawa. We hope that the analysis contained here proves useful for all revolutionary students in Canada, and serves to guide our work in the years to come.
A. The Education Sector in Canada
A1. Though the development of capital and austerity measures have had incredible effects across all parts of society, their influences upon education are of particular interest as they define the situation that the Revolutionary Student Movement works within.
A2. Universities were initially developed as labour organizations, designed to protect the interests of academics and students from broader social pressure and power systems that would undermine the value of principled enquiry and knowledge dissemination. In time, universities developed into a means by which certain classes –sometimes ruling and sometimes subordinate- would produce and reproduce themselves. Under capitalism, the university was first a tool for the reproduction of the bourgeoisie and those tasked with the ideological defence of the bourgeoisie. It was only in the post-war period that university educations in Canada were extended to a large portion of the white-settler population, including the working class, as a means of building a mass of skilled workers to work in an advanced industrial economy. Over the past fifty years, the internally democratic functioning of universities in Canada has substantively withered away as a result of increased influence by governments in the functioning of institutions. More recently, universities have been fully subsumed under the logic of capital, which has incited joint-action between universities and capital such as the prioritization of certain programs, corporate partnerships, and the introduction of bureaucratic managerial measures to run Post-Secondary Education (PSE) institutions.
A3. The restructuring of PSE across Canada has been part of a decades long shift to redefine the purpose of education, away from what was a highly subsidized institution to train people to work as well as provide them with a liberal education, towards one that focuses its abilities towards job training, the reproduction of capitalist culture, and sells its education as a commodity intended to promote the future financial position of buyers.
A4. This commodification of education has led to expanding the market of consumers to include larger elements of the proletariat and oppressed nations, largely through an increase in available credit towards them and inflating the need for education in the labour force. This however has coincided with a rapid trend of increasing tuition costs and exploitative amounts of debt that students have to take on to pay their fees.
A5. A major shift that has occurred to overcome funding shortfalls from austerity is increasing the burden that students must take on in enrolling in University. The proportion of tuition fees that are currently collected for university revenues has more than doubled in the past three decades. Over the past 30 years we have seen a rapid reduction in the amount of funding that PSE receives from both the federal provincial governments, where in many places across Canada these institutions were receiving near to 80% of their total resources from public funding. Now most institutions receive roughly 55-65%, most of which comes from provincial sources. This has forced institutions to seek other sources of revenue and cost cutting measures to ensure the viability of their programs.
A6. Currently across Canada, graduates of university with student loans are expected to leave with nearly $27 000 in debt, and the overall average debt of recent graduates is roughly $15 000. This debt has an overwhelming impact on the life choices of graduate who will be forced to focus on paying off their debts rather than other goals. Given current work opportunities, 1 in 4 graduates will have to enter into an entry level job, likely one which does not apply to their area of study, just to pay off their student debts. This leads nearly 15% of graduates to default on their loans each year, while filing bankruptcy in most circumstances will not affect student debt until 7 years have after they have graduated. In this way, debt disproportionately effects students from proletarian class backgrounds, and ensures that despite education supposedly acting as an equalizer, students that are not “independently wealthy” will be forced to take on proletarian jobs. Thus, the university is consciously structured to enforce and reproduce class divisions within Canadian society.
Furthermore, on some campuses ancillary levies disadvantage proletarian students by making essential aspects of the student community opt out which leads to a difficult position making proletarian students choose between trying to save money through opting out and getting access to services such as rent advocacy, or child care. It also means that these essential services are placed on students as opposed to being ensured funding without necessarily ensuring any independence.
A7. This continues to inform why poor and proletarian youth are poorly represented in universities, while these debts will disproportionately burden women, Transgendered, and Indigenous peoples and other oppressed peoples who systemically face marginalized incomes.
A8. Graduate retention programs that aim to keep graduates within the province or country are being cut or reformed to save money in provincial budgets. This increases the burden of education upon students and extenuates the issues of student debt. While similarly, government provided grants are being reformed to either reduce the costs, or in certain situations incentivise certain topics of education or research in a manner that is more covert than direct funding. As a result, students are subsidized to enter programs of importance to industry, reproducing and hegemonizing capitalist-colonial ideology by offering avenues for proletarian and oppressed nation students to be upwardly mobile.
A9. Austerity measures have exacerbated the capitalist alignment of institutions by further developing pressure to seek alternative funding methods in the private sector. Though traditional post-secondary institution formally maintain collegial structures, power has largely concentrated into a growing bureaucratic and managerial tier of administrators and overseeing Board of Governors that are predominantly representatives of local governments and industry. Their modus operandi is to function as an arm of capital which will faithfully shift the burdens of austerity onto students, faculty and staff.
A10. This change has to do with a shift in the Canadian economy which has seen service and management jobs increase at the expense of industrial jobs. This means that people are being educated to manage workers, rather than rising through the ranks as was traditionally done, and workplaces are becoming increasingly bureaucratized. Thus the bureaucratization of education mirrors the bureaucratization of most sectors of Canadian society, and in turn, the university is changing to provide the new means by which the bourgeoisie maintains control over the Canadian economy.
A11. Austere conditions have further been capitalized upon by university administrations to redirect funding away from the education of students and towards corporate research and infrastructure. In effect, helping stabilize corporate profits in a receding economy by employing public post-secondary institute resources and assets to subsidize research and projects. Notably we have seen the administrators at Dalhousie University, Guelph University, and seemingly the University of Saskatchewan fabricate deficits based upon rhetorical distinctions between particular “academic funding” and the university’s total budget. This has allowed them to deceive students, staff and faculty into accepting highly reactionary and ‘urgently needed’ cuts and help further entrench bureaucratic management models onto the workings of universities. Almost universally, this has negatively affected programs and spaces that have fostered social critique and radical thought, and undermined the quality of educational spaces.
A12. To overcome funding inadequacies, class sizes have grown greatly and the practice is destined to exceed the physical limitations on campuses as online classes increasingly become viable and designed for excessively large amounts of students. This distances those enrolled from their teachers and causes inadequately guided study, as larger classes dissuade critical discussion. For professors, marking a larger number of students has required revolutionizing testing procedures, away from more nuanced and hands-on manners of expressing proficiency and understanding, to highly standardized and mechanized forms, such as standardized testing and online quizzes. This robs students of being able to demonstrate the quality of their knowledge or skills, and often reduces education to a game. This helps foster disengagement from relevant material, and ultimately transforms education into a passive rather than engaged process. This overall process represents the ultimate goal of commodified education, in which the production of the education commodity has become rationalized. The university becomes a factory for producing standardized, low-quality education, a veritable ‘degree-mill’.
A13. Outside of the classroom, lack of funding leads to necessary and practical spaces such as libraries and labs being liquidated or devoted away from students so that their upkeep costs can better be returned to the institution.
A14. Across institutions, the scholarship of academics and students is also taking a hit as research increasingly requires external funding. Many of these come from private sources, so that professors and students have to cater their work to industry at the expense of interesting or socially beneficial work. Though public funding for independent research has previously been accessible, these sources have made major shifts in the last five years to change their priorities. Both the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), the two of the largest public funding pools for academic research in Canada, in this time have made explicit changes in terms of their representation and mandate to specifically fund research that will promote Canadian business interests. It is also worth pointing out that state-funded scholarships, as well as many of the leading scholarships from charitable foundations, attempt to ideologically guide Canadian scholarship by privileging certain areas of study over others. Currently, resource extraction, aboriginal policy, and public policy are areas that seem to concern the Canadian bourgeoisie.
A15. The internal institutional shift of power away from academics and staff towards a bureaucratic managerial administration has changed the state of academic labour in Universities. This has given rise to new relations with tenuous sessional teaching staff at the mercy of their employers. They are not granted the labour protection of tenure, are poorly paid, and are rarely granted meaning length of terms or job security. This creates a barrier for teachers to develop strong teaching skills due to a lack of exposure, makes it difficult for them to more heavily involve themselves PSE communities, carry out effective research, while the ease of hiring and dismissal means that students are not receiving the quality of education that they could from educators who had gone through more strenuous hiring practices. But most importantly, their lack of security functions as a means of disciplining intellectual labour whereby outspoken or radical academics can be punished for opposing the policies or invested capital interests within their institution.
A16. To further reduce the costs of academic work, increased demands upon faculty is often mitigated by deferring it to undervalued student labour. While many graduate students depend on employment as teaching or research assistants, they are not given a livable wage. This is all despite their full time workload as students as well as restrictions on the amount of work these students are allowed to take on. While universities are looking further to even lesser valued undergraduate students to fulfill duties previously allocated to graduate students, which in appearance puts them at odds with each other especially where undergraduates teaching and research assistants are not members of their local unions. And, in many situations International Students lack the documentation to even allow off-campus work. The result is that foreign graduate students are generally required to be “independently wealthy”, either through money from their class-background, or from scholarships which are ideologically geared towards certain types of “respectable” study.
A17. Often neglected, the non-academic staff are one of the biggest targets of cuts within institutions, with thousands of people losing their jobs on campuses across Canada due to cost saving measures. This has resulted in a lack of support for academic workers and students, by secretaries and other workers, and a lack of upkeep and services. As unions atrophy across Canada, these workers are often unable to fight back against the assault on their working conditions.
A18. Decreases to public funding have progressively motivated the increasing proportion of International Students enrolled in PSE. Many institutions create policies that are presented as a means of increasing cultural diversity and forging international connections amongst students, while the underlying material advantage is that these students tuition is not subject to the same government subsidization and control that Canadian residents receive. As a result, international students are utilized as cash cows and targeted by predatory policies because they are legitimated by the evocation of a xenophobic attitude of otherness that divides them from residents. In turn, the financial restrictions imposed on international students by exorbitant tuition fees generally restricts access to Canadian education to those international students coming from higher class backgrounds.
A19. In another attempt to recoup lost revenue, PSE institutions with campus residences have been investing in the development of housing properties and residences. By this, they can put money towards capital projects that provide tangible returns to the institution, and exploit, for many universities at least, their abundance of land. To increase revenues, institutions have been overturning policies of rent control or price deflation so that costs to their students are increased. In some instances these have been raised to market value, or even higher where institutions are capable of monopolizing on the difficulty that international student might have finding residences.
The Provincial Situation
A20. British Columbian PSE institutions have faced a strong attempt to shift the cost of education directly to students, though in indirect manners. In particular, the administration at UBC increased the financial burden on students by increasing the fees of International Students by 10% and raising the cost of residence housing contracts by 20%. This change in housing costs brought the cost of campus housing to nearly the market value of housing in Vancouver, which currently has the highest property prices of any major city in Canada. The response from the #iamstudent movement must be commended for its ability to mobilize hundreds of students over the issue outside of their student association and acting in solidarity with often overlooked and divided international students.
A21. The Prairies have seen only modest tuition increases. However, there has been more predominant attempts at restructuring and prioritizing money towards corporate investors – predominantly resource extractors. In Saskatchewan, PSE institutions faced modest reductions to funding resulting in massive cost-cutting measures and restructuring. The focus of administration is the dismantling of critical programming and bureaucratic restructuring, both of which entrench the elite nature of these institutions. The University of Alberta has evoked strong responses from staff and students against the concentration of institutional power among their head administrators. While Universities in Manitoba have seen hikes to the tuition fees of their International Students.
A22. PSE students in Ontario continue to both receive the lowest amount of public funding per capita and pay the highest tuition across all of Canada. Due to the great diversity in institutions (urban VS rural, north VS south, etc.) there are a number of different challenges across the province. However, broad issues include: increasing tuition fees, corporatization of education, the elimination of tenure, and bureaucratic restructuring of institutional administrations.
A23. The Quebec government has been handed down a budget that calls for austerity across all sectors. As a result the universities across the province are faced with a funding decrease of $20-40 million dollars, which will be aimed at cuts rather than tuition increases. CEGEPs are threatened by potential privatization. As it stands, the universities are being primarily targeted by the government at this time as their students are seen as less responsive than those from CEGEPs, and this is being done to potentially divide a joint-coalition and mitigate action between students on the streets.
A24. Newfoundland and Labrador has the lowest tuition in the country due to a decade and a half of a tuition freeze. The strong sympathy from bourgeois parties to help maintain this relatively low price is seemingly due to the predominantly working class makeup of the province and the necessity of building an educated work force to develop the nascent resource extraction sector. Despite this, austerity measures have been directed at privatizing adult learning programs and making cuts to education funding.
A25. Nova Scotia has seen strong austerity measures that have motivated their largest university, Dalhousie, to involve itself in an in depth prioritization and restructuring process over the past few years. The government recently deregulated tuition caps so that tuition can “market regulate” and out-of-province students can be targeted for higher fees. Though P-12 schooling is expected to receive an increase of funding, much of this is prefaced on corporate reformed programming, aimed at employing public education as a tool for capital.
A26. PEI has seen large assaults upon primary and secondary school teachers, with over 100 jobs being cut in the last three years. This has occurred alongside consistent cuts to PSE funding and raises to tuition. In 2010 UPEI raised tuition by 3.2%. In 2012 UPEI & Holland College had their funding cut by 3% by the provincial government. In 2013, UPEI laid off 39 employees, most of whom were CUPE members. That year, the cost of tuition was raised by 4%. In 2015, UPEI tuition was raised by 3.1%. So we have seen regular increases in tuition of between 3% and 4%. UPEI’s budget cuts & tuition increases have negatively affected both students and UPEI workers alike. All of this coincides with the construction of a new Sustainable Design Engineering Building. With budget cuts & unrelenting tuition increases, the construction of this new building hardly seems “sustainable”. It appears as though UPEI students are simultaneously paying for this new building and suffering from the effects of dwindling resources & quality of education.
A27. New Brunswick is currently facing intense austerity measures, motivated by an illogical deficit maximum. This will have an astounding impact across all public services as each sector has been informed that they will have to cut about 10% of their budget. This will ring through all levels of education. Notably, the tax rebate for staying in province after graduation from post-secondary is going to be cut, greatly increasing the burden of debt on students.
A28. The conditions within high schools across Canada continue to deteriorate due to austerity measures, both due to its effects on education as well as a lack of infrastructure that depends upon cheaper and less inhabitable temporary buildings. This has led to teachers raising issues about excessive class sizes and the lack of attention that can be devoted to each student. This is further problematized as many schools are cutting back on the resources required for special needs students, and placing them into normal programming that is both detrimental to their development and requires more one-on-one attention. This results in more work for teachers at the detriment of the attention and quality that each student receives. Similarly, cutting programs continues to be a way in which schools and school boards save money. As a result, the quality of education degrades quicker for proletarian students, who not only have to rely on public institutions, but who generally do not have extra resources to subsidize their own education.
A29. Outside of the classroom, public schools are being forced to save money by allowing the wages of teachers to stagnate, and streamlining governance of education away from community or municipal school boards to larger and less responsive organizations. Similarly to PSE, school boards are also seeking unsubsidized tuition from international students in order to increase revenue. As a result, we have seen large response from teachers across Canada striking to oppose austerity measures imposed upon them and their classrooms. Granted, teachers often because of their status as an entrenched unionized workforce experience relatively high wages and security among their ranks, potentially placing them as part of the labour aristocracy. This means that the struggles that their interests and the struggles that they engage in may be at odds with those of proletarian students who they teach, and that they themselves may not be subjected to the material conditions that would incite revolutionary tendencies.
A30. Beyond the degradation of high school funding, elementary and secondary education continues to function as an ideological disciplinary tool. It does this to socialize children and youth to subordinate to authority, have externally disciplined work habits, and to fit into a systemic, or industrial ordering. The primary goal of this behaviour management and social control, rather than education itself, often to become workers.
A31. Alternatively, this means of social control forges an alternative route for people that are demonized as problematic within society, creating the general tendency for neglected, struggling or problem students to be on a trajectory towards prison. This process overwhelmingly effects proletarian students, with students from working-class backgrounds identified early-on as being supposedly unintelligent, “problem students”, in need of easier classes, and streamlined towards applied or vocational education streams. Often these students are responding to the degrading quality of education, the dependence on systematic and uncreative forms of education and testing, and usually it is the students who most often need help to overcome these barriers that are designated as problems. With education structured in order to reproduce a loyal working class, it is unsurprising that drop-out rates at all levels are higher for proletarian students.
A32. There is a dramatic and increasingly troubling tendency of schools responding to the problems of “difficult youth” with police intervention resulting in the criminalization of youth. Some schools have begun to use the presence of police as a deterrent, rather than transformative or educational measures. This directly involves students within the criminal system, and puts them into even more marginalizing institutions. For many students caught in the school-to-prison pipeline, the school becomes a repressive state apparatus in-and-of-itself.
A33. Overwhelmingly the determination of problem students falls along racialized lines, whereby prejudices and cultural differences are motivations for othering and disciplining students. An assumption that plays out in both internalizing a position of antagonism within Indigenous or other racialized youth, and educating other students to assume them as problems. This racial dynamic also helps to inform as to why nearly 17% of the prison population in Canada is Indigenous, despite Indigenous people making up roughly 4% of the country’s population, and why a young Aboriginal man in Canada is more likely to enter prison than finish high school. Schools, at all levels, become mechanisms by which white-supremacy is upheld, and capitalism is reinforced. Under capitalism, education is not liberating, nor can it be.
A34. This racialization of the proletariat in schools is extended to immigrant students in Canada, in which undocumented students are denied access within education institutions. Despite the Education Act outlining a right to education for those under 18 regardless of their “immigration status” or that of their parents, this privilege is often denied to undocumented youth. As it is, there is still discrimination within schools, fear of deportation for migrant students, which culminates in the parents of students and their own potential futures in Canada being determined by exploitative working conditions without access to essential services. While undocumented students in high school are still subject to arrests by customs enforcement authorities within their schools, notably in 2006 in Toronto a pair of siblings, 14 and 15, were apprehended while at school and taken to a detention centre for deportation, outlining another form of police presence within schools.
It’s important to note that the state’s surveillance and enforcement of “immigration status” is, in the last instance, a means of managing a reserve army of extremely exploitable labour that can be deported whenever the ruling class finds it convenient to do so. Defining the conditions of membership as it pleases is also a means of managing the labour aristocratic character of the “citizen” working class over and against a racialized non-citizen proletariat from the global south. Through this, denying education to undocumented students is a means of maintaining the cost their labour-power by keeping undocumented communities uneducated and unskilled, as well as preventing them to state services.
First Nations Education
A35. The education of First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples within Canada suffers from systemic negligence that disadvantages Indigenous youth from the outset of their public education. Because on-reserve primary and secondary schools are publicly funded by the federal government, rather than the provincial funding received by off-reserve schools, there is a discrepancy between the resources received by on-reserve and off-reserve schools. This amounts to each on-reserve student receiving, on average across Canada, $2000 less than off-reserve counterparts. This lack of funding is further exacerbated by relative detriment to buying power that rural communities have compared to developed municipalities when it comes to buying educational resources. This has negatively affected the performance of First Nations students, who are approximately 20% more likely to not reach provincial standards in education than non-Indigenous students. As a result, nearly half of the Indigenous youth in Canada who live on reserve receive less adequate education, leaving more than 60% of them without a high school equivalent diploma – more than four times the national average. This leaves many First Nations youth less employable and less likely to enter or succeed in PSE. Métis and Inuit students tend to perform more favourably than First Nations students, though still far worse than settler students.
A36. In Canada, Inuits are offered support for PSE while First Nations people are supposed to be offered access to PSE as a treaty right, which is carried out through the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development. However, this leaves the over 45% of non-status Indigenous identified people ineligible to attend PSE. Further, with over 26 000 people a year applying to this Post-Secondary Student Support Program, Canada rejects over 5000 people due to a lack of overall funding. Often this leads to a prioritization for funding prospective Indigenous students seeking cheaper programs. This can lead to an overabundance of indigenous students entering programs with poorer economic opportunities, and prevents the development of exceptional Indigenous scholarship.
A37. The corporate nature of universities causes many to have a close relationship with, or even investment in, resource extractors. Universities have historically been tasked with developing the ruling classes of society. In Canada, the bourgeoisie is predominantly white and settler. Also produced by the universities are the lower privileged classes, such as the petty-bourgeois and comprador bourgeois. The university education and connections these classes forge while at school ensures their placement by the Crown as managers of large tracts of stolen land, heads of Crown corporations, and most leading posts within Canadian white-supremacist settler-colonial capitalism. As such, PSE institutions have and continue the development of colonialism within Canada. This places them in contradiction with the liberation of Indigenous people within Canada. Despite this, many education institutions are vouching for increased Indigenous enrolment as a means of developing a reserve army of labour and the Indigenous comprador elements that facilitate resource extraction. Often they recruit Aboriginal youth to work for companies that directly assault Indigenous communities. In many institutions, these companies will even be notified by the school of students with bad or failing marks who then can be targeted for employment on reserves, if they are incapable of succeeding in school.
A38. Beyond these material disadvantages, Indigenous people continue to have to overcome prejudices that infantilize them as dependents and undermine their social value, which has the effect of making it difficult for many of them to socially break into traditionally white educational institutions. One of the primary factors in the reproduction of these prejudices is the lack of Indigenous content within Canadian education, and the continued propagation of ignorance towards Canada’s colonialism.
A39. Due to these barriers to Indigenous people being accepted within PSE, we have seen a rise of Indigenous pedagogical approaches implanted into these institutions that is focused on community engagement in Indigenous urban centres and in rural communities where education is based upon land-based practices. These programs succeed by resisting the colonial logic of inclusion within a Western academy that obviously has no interest in centering Indigenous methodologies, let alone epistemologies. While remedying student’s being separated from their traditional territories or needing to navigate inclusion in European capitalist-colonial institutions that are situated on unceded Indigenous land.
A40. As PSE institutions are shifting back towards being institutions aimed primarily at the ruling class and other privileged classes, proletarian students resist these shifts. As such, PSE becomes a site of class struggle. One of the aspects of this class struggle is the fight to be able to produce subversive knowledge along proletarian lines, which is of use to the revolutionary movement. As universities become increasingly bureaucratized by undemocratic managerial administrations, revolutionary students must organize against their structures with calls for greater democracy. As PSE institutions continue to become centres of capitalist development in research, we must organize against the restricted use of university resources for capital. Insofar as proletarian students are poorly represented in PSE, we must also organize to remove barriers to access to education for proletarian students. In short, while we fight for a series of reforms in the current context of education in Canada, we must smash the bourgeois education system in order for education to become liberating for all. And because education is a means of producing the working class, it is also a place where we can intervene and disrupt that production to create the future anti-capitalist revolutionaries who will overthrow this rotten system once and for all. In order to engage in a proper revolutionary practice, we must have a proper understanding of the contours of the student movement.
B. The Student Movement
The Student Movement in Quebec
B1. The current Quebec student movement was born in the 1960’s. It is a product of this epoch, of the rise of worker and union struggles, of the adaptation of the education system to the then new needs of the capitalist system and of the entry of new petty-bourgeois and proletarian people in PSE (CEGEPs and universities). Students in Quebec decided to base their mode of organisation on the union model (general assemblies, delegates, executive committees), to take the same ideology (combative syndicalism (syndicalisme de combat)) and the same forms of struggle: protests, occupations, strikes.
B2. The Quebec student movement has constituted a pole of politicization for many militants in launching its critique on a large spectre of issues, from the Vietnam war, the liberalization of markets, police repression, and sexism. However, it is on the questions linked to financial accessibility to post-secondary education – tuition and financial aid – that it has organised real mass struggles. From 1968 to 2015, no less than 8 general strikes have been waged on one or the other of those themes, the majority of them having succeeded. Those great movements of struggle have always been organized by a national (Québécois) organisation that federated local associations: the UGEQ in the 60’s, the ANEEQ from the mid-70’s to the 90’s, the MDE in the mid-90’s and from the 2000’s to today, ASSÉ.
B3. Even though the student movement in Quebec has always had a militant tradition which was sometimes very combative and that some extreme-left currents – Marxism-Leninism, Trotskyism, anarchism and Marxism-Leninism-Maoism – have played a more or less important role depending on the epoch, the Quebec student movement of the union type has always articulated its demands as part of capitalist society and has put forward a politics in accordance with social-democracy. This is not surprising considering that the bourgeois and petty-bourgeois youth have always constituted the majority of its social base, particularly in universities.
B4. The Quebec Student Strike in 2012 was a massive mobilization which came about after the Quebec government announced a yearly tuition hike of 1625$ over 5 years. This mobilization was one of the greatest, if not the greatest, mobilization that ever happened in Canada. The campaign was put forth by a campaign in which CLASSE, FECQ and FEUQ participated.
B5. CLASSE (Coalition large de l’Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante) was a coalition led by ASSÉ, which is the hard core of the student movement, and which basically advocates for greater accessibility to education (including free tuition at all levels of education). They base their principles on combative syndicalism and direct democracy in student associations. The supreme instance of ASSÉ is their congress. In 2012, the militant base of ASSÉ was more or less composed of anarchists and radical social-democrats (the latter being mostly close to Québec Solidaire).
B6. FECQ and FEUQ are mainly lobby groups that claim to represent respectively the CEGEP and university student associations. They are bureaucratic organizations which operate on the principle of representative democracies. They are also well known to try to present themselves as the more “pragmatic” organizations, the ones most eager to dilute the messages of the masses. They are also well known to be the political schools for the Parti Québécois.
B7. The 2012 strike was predominantly led by CLASSE, who had the most leadership in terms of actions and ideas. FECQ and FEUQ didn’t obstruct the actions as much as expected (due to their selling out of the 2005 strike), but they mostly tried to benefit from the cover that CLASSE led. CLASSE called the shots and was able to fully channel the anger of students. However, the FECQ and FEUQ still had most of the striking students in terms of membership numbers, though some FECQ and FEUQ associations had a double membership with CLASSE for the time of the strike.
B8. The government of Quebec attempted to end the strike by threatening to cancel the semester. This argument didn’t convince the students to stop the strike. On the contrary, the arrogance of the government and the successful media representation of the leadership of the CLASSE actually brought more people in the street. Negotiations were held between the CLASSE, FECQ and FEUQ, and the government. At first the government wouldn’t let CLASSE negotiate, but FECQ and FEUQ refused to hold negotiations if their stronger ally-in-the-moment wasn’t there. When the negotiations failed, the movement on the ground was stronger than ever. Economic disruptions were done very effectively and the government started to be afraid.
B9. We must underline that the big workers’ unions (CSN and FTQ) campaigned outright against the student strike by ordering the lower layers of the bureaucracy to not encourage the student strike. This fact will prove essential in understanding the Spring 2015 movement.
B10. The Quebec Liberal Party put forward a special law (Bill 78) putting the students in lock-out for three months, while making it so that the student associations would be held responsible if any blockade of schools happened until proven that they were not involved, and mandating that any march of more than 10 people would have to be declared to the police. This brought massive protests from the population who joined the students to make a popular movement against the repressive actions of the state.
B11. However this movement, being mostly spontaneous, lacked a direction. To kill that movement, the government held elections, in which the PQ was elected by a weak margin as a protest against the arrogance of the previous government. Though the special law was defeated and the tuition hike had been reduced to an indexation, while a large proportion of the students decided they had won the strike, the most radical elements took this as a half-defeat yet were too exhausted to be able to continue the strike.
However, there was something that was changed forever after the strike. More students had been radicalized and introduced to more radical politics, thanks mostly to the anarchist section of CLASSE. Hundreds of thousands of people, mostly ordinary folks, knowingly defied Bill 78 and screamed openly that they would break the law (la loi spéciale on s’en calisse).
B11. It was thought that the militants would regain strength after some well-earned vacation (and the time to catch up with their studies!), and that soon after, another offensive would be made by ASSÉ (CLASSE had dissolved after the strike). However, things turned out differently. Quebec Solidaire had gained ground since 2011 and the QS faction in ASSÉ was less restricted than before. The political and ideological leadership came to be more and more social-democratic. It was proposed now 2 years ago that ASSÉ would prepare a campaign to prepare a Spring 2015 strike, however, outright obstruction was done by the QS faction who was the majority faction in the ASSÉ congress. Class struggle politics were abandoned for an arguably more combative reformism than the FECQ and FEUQ, based upon a class collaborative fight for education.
B12. By that time, the Liberals (PLQ) came back to power and started an outright attack against the population in many aspects. This included: cuts to healthcare, education and social welfare with increased daycare tariffs. Many of these cuts were miserly decisions to fuel the economy, while the government promised hundreds of millions in money and electricity subsidies for businesses that will directly go in the pockets of the capitalists.
B13. The anarchist faction (especially from UQAM) decided in 2014 that this was enough, that it was necessary to get out of ASSÉ to organize the next struggle against the government. They called to organize Spring 2015 Committees that were to be a space of solidarity between students and workers, which was lacking in the Student Strike in 2012. The goal of the Spring 2015 movement was to make a common front against the government austerity measures. The modus operandi of the Spring 2015 was overtly to push propaganda in the base of the unions in the public sectors to push their union bureaucracies to vote for illegal strikes. In that time, the student associations would vote to go on strike by the start of Spring. The summit of the strike would be reached on May 1st.
B14. The political leadership was monopolized by a small group that we still call the Invisible Committee (in reference to other French Invisible Committee that has a political line somewhat close to this Invisible Committee). Their ideology, briefly summarized, is based in a total lack of confidence in organisations and in total confidence in affinity groups or literally, groups of friends. The French Invisible Committee calls itself communist, but it should more be classified as anarcho-insurectionnalist. The Invisible Committee was a group of 10ish people from UQAM mostly based around the AFESH (Human Sciences Faculty Student Association). They were also anarchists involved with ASSÉ in 2005 and 2012. The Invisible Committee tried to have a list of political demands for the Spring 2015 movement (for example, the government day care system should be spared from cuts), however the demands were rejected, mostly by some anarchists, on the principle that forcing these political demands on the entire group would be too authoritarian.
B15. As part of the Pan-Canadian Day of Action called for by the MER-RSM, a series of large demonstrations were organized in Montreal and Quebec City on March 24, 2015. Both demonstrations were heavily repressed; in Quebec City militants were shot with “non-lethal” weaponry at close-range. The night demonstration in Montreal, which numbered 10 000 people, was heavily repressed by the police but managed to continue after initial confrontations were won by protests. One of our militants was sent to hospital as a result of injuries sustained in the march.
B16. The protests that came after the Pan-Canadian Day of Action were less and less successful with time. Less people came: casualties and fear of casualties being a major deterrent. Nevertheless, specific protests that were particularly worthy of mention were the feminist protests and the May 1st protest organized by CLAC (Convergence des Luttes Anti-Capitalistes; Anti-Capitalist Convergence). Two big feminist protests were held. The second protest faced especially heavy police repression. The May 1st protest organized by CLAC was overall a very big success. Some CEGEPs teachers unions decided to go on an illegal strike on May 1st. Though participation for this was less than expected, it was still an action that had not been seen for decades.
B17. Most of the student strikes were over two weeks after they started in the beginning of the spring. Only the student associations with the most entrenched militant culture, mainly in UQAM, were on strike after that. The police and administrative repression endured there was terrible.
B18. ASSÉ’s implication in the struggle against the government was dismal. At every step, the ASSÉ executive only entered the conflict because they were pressured by the student associations, and when they did enter the conflict, they tried to obstruct the deployment of the forces by systematically calling for a retreat. ASSÉ did its 2nd of April annual march but had called for an end to the strike in order to prepare for a strike on Fall 2015 with the help of the union bureaucracy. However, the bad faith of the union bureaucracy was well known at the moment, and the logistical concern of mobilizing a popular conflict with an incoming winter proved unpopular. Spring 2015 sent an incendiary pamphlet called L’ASSÉ ne fait pas le printemps (ASSÉ Doesn’t Make the Spring) which directly denounced the executive of ASSÉ. After having rocks thrown at them by participants in their own protest, the ASSÉ executive resigned. However, for the ASSÉ cadres who were close to Printemps 2015, it was not enough. The ASSÉ executive was impeached after having already resigned.
B19. For the MER-RSM, it was easy to work with the Invisible Committee, far easier than it would have been to work inside ASSÉ. The fact that the MER-RSM is, by definition, anti-capitalist and revolutionary led to some sympathy in the Invisible Committee. The Spring 2015 Committees were totally unstructured, which meant that anybody could start a committee and attach themselves to the movement. Applying the mass line, MER-Montréal started a daycare project, where the meetings and events of Spring 2015 would have a daycare to allow parents to involve themselves in politics. This was meant to answer to a feminist critique of activism in general and also a way to bring in new and more resilient elements to the struggle. The daycare committee was the last one to function and still functions on demand. We have to note that even though most of the members of the MER-Montréal had an anarchist past and were thus raised in feminist politics by anarchists, no men outside the MER-RSM came on the daycare project.
B20. The strike, however, was not as successful as some had hoped. It was very difficult to mobilize students on such propositions as the end of austerity and the end of extractivism. Those propositions were vague, and left no opportunity for a small victory. All had to be won or lost. The most eager students were disrespectful with the masses who sometimes had legitimate concerns about the possibility of success of this fight. After all, strikes are expensive, especially for proletarian students and those with children. Virtually no support structures were prepared for them. What killed the Spring 2015 movement was left-opportunism. This problem wasn’t understood by us before the strike had peaked.
B21. Under these circumstances, it was therefore impossible to make a mass movement with any direction except being against something the most vaguely possible or to produce any discourse or arguments. It is also impossible to fight the various oppressions inside the movement. It is thus finally impossible to bring new people in the struggle. Those are the dangers of left-opportunism, that were present in the Spring 2015 movement.
The Student Movement in the Rest of Canada
B22. The student movement in Quebec has a unique and more developed history than the student movement in the rest of Canada. As such, it is worthwhile to examine these two processes separately.
B23. The Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) is the main student organization in English Canada. It is a lobby group that fronts as a national coordinating body of student unions. It seeks to unite student unions across Canada, offer services to its membership and protect students’ rights. It arose at a time when the campus left in English Canada was desperate for organization. The CFS was founded in 1981 by a grouping of 61 student unions and has since grown to be the largest mainstream student organization in English Canada representing approximately 500,000 students, of which the majority are not even aware of the existence of the CFS. It is made up of a national organization, composed of numerous provincial organizations (such as CFS-Ontario, CFS-BC, etc.).
B24. Since 1981 the CFS has claimed to be at the forefront of the student movement in English Canada, and yet have very little to show for it. The CFS’s main political drive is against tuition fees, either through fee eliminations, reductions, or increase freezes. The CFS also takes on secondary campaigns such as the “No to Anti-Semitism, No to Islamophobia” campaign, the “No Means No!” campaign, and others. While there is nothing objectionable on the surface of many of the CFS’s campaigns, they do not go far enough, and their methods (predominately lobbying and maintaining bureaucratic control of student unions) are totally inimical to struggle. As noted in the first section, the situation of education in Canada is dire, and only getting worse. The CFS has been unable to answer the challenge history has presented to it, largely due to its reformist political approach and bureaucratic methods of leadership.
B25. The RSM holds that there are limits to the current student movement; these limits are best observed in the CFS’s incorrect assessment of the current conditions in Canada and in the CFS’s failed practice.
B26. First, the CFS lacks a class analysis of the education system in Canada. Therefore, being unable to scientifically and accurately assess the class basis and interests of their own membership, the CFS insists that students are a homogenous group. Because of this failure to recognize the multi-class character of students, the CFS constantly has to renegotiate its politics to accommodate the will of proletarian and bourgeois students. However, since bourgeois, petit-bourgeois, and middle class students make up an overwhelming majority in Canadian universities, their interests tend to win out.
B26. Thus, the CFS is forced into a difficult situation. Like all social-democratic groupings (unions, parties, etc.) the structural role of the CFS is to front left in order to reign-in potential revolutionaries. As such, the CFS fronts radical to varying degrees when convenient. However, because the majority of the CFS’s membership is not proletarian, there exists no objective basis for even social-democratic politics within their organization. Thus the CFS leadership is forced to simultaneously moderate its political approach, and resort to bureaucratic and anti-democratic measures to maintain control of the organization. Ironically, this leads to the CFS’s influence among its members decreasing, undermining the necessity of controlling the organization in the first place.
B27. Second, the CFS also has an incorrect conception of the role of the government and school administrations. Instead of understanding governments and administrations as apparatuses of the bourgeois state, they think that achieving the CFS’s policy goals is simply a matter of making cogent arguments to the party or individual in power at a given time. The CFS does not understand that proletarian students have divergent interests with the Canadian state and university administrations, and thus need to adopt a confrontational approach to ensure their interests are met. This misconception on the role of the state is why the CFS focuses so intensely on lobbying the government.
B28. Their third failure of conception and assessment is their misunderstanding of the trade-union movement. The CFS sees the trade-union movement as a resounding success in Canada. Their approach which mirrors that of the big unions is based upon the belief that the existence of unions is a victory in and of itself. They also see unions as de facto lobby groups (whether they are lobbying to an employer or the government), rather than as organizations for exercising the political power of workers. The CFS thus emulates the worst aspects of the trade union movement.
B29. The ideological underpinnings that the CFS bases its practice on, summed up in the points above, dictates the type of practical work engaged in by the CFS. The CFS’s main political work is lobbying, which generally happens during “lobby week”, and to which all other efforts are subordinate to. Lobby week is supposed to be a time for student representatives to sit down with members of parliament and government officials, express concerns about the education system, and hopefully convince politicians to make positive changes for students. While on the surface this is an ineffective approach, the CFS is not even able to engage in an earnest and honest social-democratic practice. What actually happens during lobby week is a series of meetings where empty promises are made, and young student leaders have a chance to make an impression on the Canadian political elite in hopes of impressing the right person and one day going to work as a party staffer or in a government agency. Lobby week winds up being more about the personal career advancement of the CFS representatives (and the reproduction of the ruling class!) than about actually lobbying for the interests of students; it is a mockery of itself. Lobby week is a prime example of the fact that not only is lobbying an empty process but that the CFS leadership lacks both the means and the will to go beyond attempting to stave off the effects of capitalism on campuses.
B30. The CFS is currently crumbling. Many locals have attempted to defederate from the CFS, a problem that the CFS regularly combats by taking their locals to court, and sometimes even bankrupting their locals with legal fees. Indeed, in the past 10 years, the CFS has passed resolution after resolution aiming to make it more difficult to defederate from the CFS, contravening basic democratic principles. However, some locals have been successful at disaffiliating. The CFS response to these democratic processes proves that the CFS leadership holds a flagrant disregard for internal democracy. Defederation attempts will likely become more and more frequent as the contradictions between proletarian and bourgeois students intensify, tuition fees skyrocket, and the CFS fails to listen to its membership and keep up with the times. In 2009 Maclean’s Magazine reported that as many as 13 student associations were holding votes to defederate from the CFS. Ultimately, these defederations, though sometimes orchestrated by right wing forces, are the fault of the CFS and the CFS alone. While we understand why students want to defederate from the CFS, we feel that this is a largely ineffective tactic, insofar as the majority of the CFS’s membership does not even know about the CFS’s existence. Defederation is good; building combative anti-capitalist revolutionary student organizations is better.
B31. Given the limitations of the CFS’s approach to political work, it has been unable to copy the organizational forms of the Quebec student movement and bring them to the rest of Canada. In 2012 there were minor solidarity actions organized with the Maple Spring by the CFS, though they were entirely toothless. The CFS leadership did not seriously contemplate organizing towards a strike in English Canada. In 2015, the CFS was completely silent about the Spring 2015 movement. Increasingly, as the CFS is forced to moderate itself further to appease bourgeois student interests, even the veneer of progressivism fades.
B32. The CFS is not a possible avenue for advancing the anti-capitalist and revolutionary movement on campuses. At best, the structures of the CFS are firmly entrenched in bourgeois forms of representation, making it impossible to use them for anti-capitalist or revolutionary ends. The CFS is also a registered corporation, meaning that its assets can be seized if it engages in any sort of illegal activity (strikes, etc.). This structural limitation necessarily excludes any politics that veer away from maintaining the status quo. This is why we often find many individuals within the CFS professing to be communists, anarchists, or some other form of leftist who are forced to curtail their own politics to hold positions in the institution. At worst, the CFS abandons any pretenses to democracy, and cracks down –through legal or bureaucratic measures- against any internal dissent.
B33. Currently the only institutionalized alternative to the CFS is The Canadian Alliance of Student Associations (CASA). CASA was founded in 1995. CASA’s is linked to student union alliances such as Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA) which is an affiliated organization of some CASA locals. While CASA organizationally is quite similar to the CFS, it is more liberal in its political orientation, often parroting the federal or local provincial Liberal Party’s educational policy. As contradictions tighten and more student unions pull out of the CFS, those without a strong revolutionary left presence may very well be absorbed by CASA. Arguably, CASA was founded in reaction to the CFS and its efforts to lobby the government in favour of education changes. This being said there is very little fundamental difference between the CFS and CASA aside from the front-end politics and the fact that the CFS has been more successful in acquiring a seat at the ruling-class table due to its size. Revolutionaries should oppose the CFS, CASA and their affiliated organizations.
Independent Student Organizations
B34. The Young Communist League (YCL) was founded in 1922 and is closely connected to the Communist Party of Canada. After disappearing during the Cold War, the current incarnation of the YCL was reconstituted in 2004. Their work in recent years has been comprised of: work on CFS campaigns, youth conferences, running candidates in student union elections, campaign for a charter of youth rights, and participation in the Che Guevara Volunteer Work Brigade in Cuba. Geographically, the YCL appears to be confined to BC, Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec.
B35. The YCL recognizes that the student movement is a multi-class movement. However, instead of aligning with proletarian elements in that movement, it commits the same mistake as the CFS, and attempts to organize all students as students, and more broadly, all youth as youth. The YCL sees the student movement as a “democratic” movement, and thinks it would be “disastrous” to extend class struggle politics to the student milieu. Because of this mistaken conception, the YCL aligns itself with the CFS, which it sees as a mass organization, arguing that “unity” within the student movement is more important than politics.
B36. The YCL’s focus on the CFS has led to the increasing irrelevance of the organization in recent years. The YCL has adopted a style of work reminiscent of the ultra-bureaucratic methods of CFS organizers. It has oriented its recruitment efforts towards CFS and student union bureaucrats. In running candidates for student union elections under broadly “progressive” pro-CFS slates, the YCL has been forced to convey a certain level of bourgeois respectability which has alienated them from potential new recruits. Here we can think of Zidane Mohamed (elected YCL central organizer in 2014) whose anti-police comments were dredged up by the media during the 2015 Ryerson Student Union elections. Zidane later retracted the comments condemning all forms of violence against innocent people, lapsing into liberalism to maintain a particular public image.
B37. The YCL advocates that young workers get involved in their union locals while ignoring the reality that the majority of proletarian youth are working precarious un-unionized positions. Furthermore, much like their focus on the CFS, they are not critical of the current labour movement in Canada; they have no program for pushing for revolutionary politics or waging class struggle within existing unions. In practice, this means they are asking young workers and students to back institutions that are not struggling for them or in their interests.
B38. The International Socialists (IS) are a Trotskyist organization. While they were quite large and pervasive during the hey-day of the anti-globalization movement, in recent years their influence has retracted significantly, confined now to only Toronto and Vancouver. This is largely due to their undefined and liberal politics; they had a large membership turnover, that was only further complicated when the NDP became the official opposition. The IS used to run student groups on various campuses as student wings of their party-organization. They had no real practice aside from tailing student union initiatives, and the CFS. As a result, with the collapse of the IS across Canada, and the weakness of the IS’s political line, the student sections of the IS have also all-but disappeared.
B39. Fightback is another Trotskyist organization. It is renowned for its entryist practice. There are multiple levels to this approach; on the surface, it argues that the NDP will be where most workers turn in a time of crisis, and as such, revolutionaries should be present within the NDP. Underneath this justification is an understanding that the NDP will not be able to shift to the left, and so will split during a time of crisis, with Fightback hopefully taking a substantial section of the NDP’s membership with it. Fightback has had very little intervention into the student movement. In Toronto they organized the Toronto Young New Democrats (a city-wide rather than riding-based organization), which allowed them to seize control of the Ontario Young New Democrats, from which they were promptly expelled. Fightback also entered the YCL in Toronto, and using dishonest tactics, destroyed that organization. Fightback’s approach is fundamentally limited by a misunderstanding of the state and illusions in social democracy, as well as an incredibly dishonest practice.
B40. The Revolutionary Student Movement emerged in a context of stagnation and institutionalization of a large amount of the left in Canada. Based on our experience as organizers, we rejected the mistakes of the existing student movement, and attempted to chart a new path. We internalized the successes –notably the Maple Spring of 2012- while maintaining a critical distance. Most importantly, we sought to extend class struggle politics to campuses, as a means of consciously strengthening the emergent revolutionary movement across Canada and Quebec. Very quickly our politics moved beyond rejection and critique; the next section is an evaluation of our short history, as a means of moving forward.
C. The Work of the Revolutionary Student Movement
The First Conference and the Idea of the MER-RSM
C1. Three years ago, in December 2012, the First Conference of Revolutionary Youth and Students, initiated by the PCR-RCP, brought together anti-capitalist student organizers from Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and Quebec City. Inspired by the Maple Spring, the goal of the conference was for the student organizations to come together and share perspectives and experiences. Some of the organizations, like the RSM Toronto, were new, whereas others, like the Marxist Students Association at the University of Ottawa, had existed for some time.
C2. At this time, while there was certainly talk of forming a defined organization, there was no movement towards consolidation. The conference was preceded by the release of Seize the Time! Blaze a Revolutionary Path!, a document which built on the experience of the 2012 Quebec Student Strike and set forward a more scientific analysis of the student milieu and the student movement. The analysis contained therein suggested that students were not an abstract group in and of itself, but rather were cleaved into social classes with contradicting interests. This document would go on to form the core political approach of what would become the RSM.
C3. The conference produced little in terms of immediate results. Broadly, in place of reformist politics, conference participants agreed to carry out open and independent anti-capitalist work on all campuses in order to unite newly radicalized students, as opposed to the approaches of the establishment left. This work was to be carried out amongst working class students and connected with the goals of the proletariat in general, rather than around “student interests”. The conference also agreed to hold a second conference, and elected a “Conference Committee”, to oversee the planning of the next conference.
C4. The first conference proved fruitful for the comrades from Ontario, and allowed them to correct their approach to work. The experience of the Maple Spring underlined the necessity of reaching out to the masses. Shortly after the first conference, the Marxist Students Association at uOttawa launched their General Assemblies Campaign, and the RSM at the University of Toronto launched their initiative to save the Transitional Year Program.
The General Assembly Campaign at uOttawa
C5. Coming out of the 2012 Quebec Student Strike, one of the most inspiring and notable facets of the months-long struggle was the culture of direct democracy through general assemblies. These general assemblies saw hundreds of thousands of students come together in order to democratically govern their student unions; something that the RSM saw was sorely lacking within English Canada.
C6. In February of 2013 a campaign was launched by the uOttawa chapter of the RSM to make General Assemblies the highest decision making body of the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO). The uOttawa RSM (then known still as the Marxist Students Association) was able to make this political demand a reality during the 2013-2014 school year after a second referendum and months of hard campaigning. This represented not only a historic success for comrades at uOttawa, but also a successful example of the practice of the pan-Canadian RSM and a victory for working class students fighting for a voice on campuses across English Canada.
C7. The GA campaign is of particular importance to the history of the RSM for a number of reasons.
First, it was a campaign where the method of the mass line was proven an effective tool on campuses.
Second, it proved that class struggle not only happens on campus but that communists can successfully integrate with working class students by putting forward demands that benefit them- in essence it disproved the long peddled myth that students are a homogenous group with similar interests.
Third, it forced the RSM to break with the bureaucratic and social-democratic student movement, who attempted to hold back these types of structures in favour of bureaucratic and reformist methods of organizing students. It also forced the student bureaucrats to expose themselves as undemocratic in the eyes of the student body as a whole.
C8. Aside from these important lessons the chapter at uOttawa also saw a spike in membership and gained a reputation of being a group that isn’t afraid to engage in hard work, a reputation that had a ripple effect into the rest of the pan-Canadian organization. No longer was the RSM simply a fringe group or another leftist sect- the RSM had proven itself in action.
C9. In many ways the GA campaign laid much of the ground work (especially in Ontario) for the logistical and political planning of March 24 Day of Action. Locally it also opened up the possibility for the uOttawa chapter to put forward a strike motion at the GA. Unfortunately this motion has not been taken up yet due to the GAs not making quorum and direct interference from CFS backed executives in the SFUO.
C10. While the GAs have yet to be successful, we remain optimistic. Ultimately what we was achieved with GAs at uOttawa is not a perfect solution to the problems of the mainstream student movement in English Canada, but rather we built a space in which agitation and class struggle can take place. This can only be a positive thing for the RSM and other left groups hoping to change the course of the struggle on campuses- it’s now up to us to continue to win GAs on other campuses, be leaders within those spaces and through this, form a strong revolutionary culture among working-class students.
The Second, Third, and Fourth Conferences and the Consolidation of the RSM
C11. The Second Conference of Revolutionary Youth and Students was held in June, 2013 in Ottawa. It brought together a wider variety of anti-capitalist organizers from across Canada who had been consolidated around the perspectives outlined at the first congress. This included comrades from Saskatoon, Kamloops, as well as a number of locations across Ontario and Quebec.
C12. The Ottawa conference made explicit the now nascent RSM’s desire to expand itself. Particular emphasis was placed on the West Coast, where the RSM at this time had no presence. It also helped consolidate the RSM’s political approach (as seen in the conference resolutions), which has carried through to this day. The second conference was the first to insist on some sort of standardized structure among conference participants, insofar as it mandated each “section” (loosely) to appoint someone responsible for maintaining contact with the broader RSM.
C13. Following the second conference, a concerted outreach strategy began. A speaking tour was conducted, somewhat unsuccessfully, across Ontario and Quebec. The RSM also sent organizers to BC where they were successful in launching a Vancouver section of the RSM.
C14. Between the second and third conference, the conference committee, building on the successes of the organization and its now expanded presence, issued a call for the creation of a defined organization. The conference committee called on all participants to submit motions outlining what would be necessary to create a real anti-capitalist student movement, rather than just a paper organization. It was this perspective –towards organizational consolidation- that influenced the Third Conference of Revolutionary Youth and Students.
C15. The Third Conference of Revolutionary Youth and Students was held in Montreal in February of 2014. In addition to the existing sections, the conference was attended by new contacts from Vancouver, Kamloops, Kitchener-Waterloo, and Guelph. The Young Communist League also sent observers, who were generally disruptive, sectarian, and unhelpful during the conference.
C16. Participants at the conference discussed the necessary points that needed to be met in order to form a real pan-Canadian organization. They agreed that there needed to be some sort of activity in all major regions of the country for the RSM to truly be a pan-Canadian organization. They voted to form a committee tasked with preparing a draft constitution. The RSM was to create a basic study guide for its sections. The third conference also saw the creation of the Coordinating Committee, which was to not just prepare the next conference, but rather was to be the leading body of the organization. Last, in the spirit of unity the RSM sought to enter a series of debates on the role of revolutionaries in the student movement with the YCL; the YCL has yet to agree to this process. The participants endeavoured to meet again before the end of 2014 to evaluate the work of the RSM.
C17. In the summer of 2014 the main goal –that of Canada-wide activity- was fulfilled with the first RSM events taking place in Eastern Canada, Halifax specifically. In addition the RSM was now active across Ontario and Quebec, had a section in Vancouver, and had rallied some contacts (Saskatoon and Winnipeg) on the prairies. The reality of a pan-Canadian RSM was coming to fruition.
C18. The Fourth Conference of Revolutionary Youth and Students was held in Quebec City in November of 2014. While the RSM was at this point the largest left-wing student organization in Canada, our section in Vancouver had unfortunately liquidated itself due to mistaken conceptions of the possibility of organizing among students. Despite this, the participants at the conference decided to forge ahead and formally declare the formation of the pan-Canadian RSM. A constitution was adopted, and a plan of action for the following year was agreed upon. Specifically, the RSM endeavoured to support the Spring 2015 movement, and plan a day of action across Canada in solidarity with the anti-austerity struggle in Quebec. In many ways, the adoption of the constitution and the formal declaration of the RSM was a watershed moment for the process that had begun two years earlier in Toronto.
C19. The first four conferences of the RSM –the process by which the RSM moved from being an approach to being an organization – represents a single period in the history of the RSM. During this period the organization consolidated its political perspectives, tested them through engaging in mass work, and expanded its presence. While the process was largely a success –the numbers speak for themselves – it was not an unmitigated success. The RSM had difficulty developing new leadership and cementing our political perspectives across some chapters, which ultimately resulted in the loss of our section in Winnipeg. Though we abstractly maintained an anti-colonial position, we still have difficulty in building lasting links with indigenous students. RSM sections also began to face difficulties as older leaders moved out of the student milieu, with new leaders struggling to fill their shoes. The Infoprop committee, which had been created at many of the conferences, never fulfilled its mandate. Despite these difficulties, we consider the process of our formation to have been successful, with minor self-criticisms noted.
C20. With the structure of the pan-Canadian RSM formalized, the RSM set about the undertake its first major cross-Canada action – the March 24th pan-Canadian Day of Action, in solidarity with the 2015 Quebec Student Strike. The conference called on RSM organizers in Quebec to join in with the mobilization committees, and for such committees to be created throughout English Canada in solidarity with the student strike. This coordinated cross-Canada action, which was hitherto the most complex action the MER-RSM had taken upon itself, would not have been possible without the struggle-unity process that had occurred through all four of the conferences. The methods of work, political lines and working bodies of the MER-RSM that had been established through the first four conferences were all a necessary precondition for the development of a range of disparate anti-capitalist student clubs into a truly pan-Canadian Revolutionary Student Movement.
The March 24th Day of Action
C21. The Fourth Conference also passed a resolution for a pan-Canadian Day of Action across English Canada. RSM chapters were to establish mobilization committees on their campuses to campaign around a series of demands that had been decided on by the RSM Coordinating Committee. The mobilization committees were to organize students for a day of action on March 24th, with the specifics of that action being up to the committee’s preference. These committees would provide MER-RSM members the opportunity to struggle alongside a broader section of the student base. In the process of struggle, the hope was that the mobilization committees would pull people closer to the RSM ideologically and organizationally.
C22. In Quebec, the March 24th Day of Action saw an incredible turnout. Montreal organized 10 000 participants into a march led by the Revolutionary Communist Party, and Quebec City saw a turnout of 350-450 people.
C23. English Canada saw a good turnout to some the actions and a more moderate turnout for others. The Saskatoon Socialist Students Association pulled 250 people into the March 24th Day of Action. However, RSM uOttawa, originally aiming for a student strike, held a demonstration of only around 35 people. The action in Toronto brought together all Toronto campus chapters into one small flying squad action at York University with a number of around 12 people. In total, actions were carried out in 16 cities across Canada.
C24. RSM consistently encountered wrecking behaviour on the part of the CFS across English chapters leading up to March 24th. In Winnipeg, the CFS privately discouraged other student organizations from participating in the March 24th Day of Action. In Halifax, the CFS tried to hijack the mobilization committee’s efforts and strangle militant action by discouraging occupation of the President’s office, and by demanding the Maritime Anarchist Initiative sign onto various CFS initiatives. Elsewhere, the CFS ignored the mobilization committees, such as in UTSC, York, Ottawa and Algonquin.
C25. We consider the March 24th Day of Action to have been a success with room for improvement. In total, we mobilized over 11 000 students across Canada. We were able to mobilize around a consistent set of demands, with coordinated propaganda across all sections. The Day of Action provided a relaunch platform for our section in Montreal, and spread the reputation of the RSM even further than before. However, disorganization and a failure to actualize the mass line resulted in poor mobilizations of some sections. And in Toronto, Toronto-centrism resulted in a lack of importance put on the Day of Action as opposed to local events. There is much room for improvement for our next coordinated action.
The CUPE 3902/3903 Academic Workers’ Strike
C24. Simultaneously with the Spring 2015 movement, a bitter strike among education workers developed in Toronto. In the months leading up to the strike at U of T, no one, including no one in the RSM, believed that the membership of CUPE 3902 (teaching assistants at the University of Toronto) would reject the tentative agreement reached by the bargaining team in February. While the local had been able to secure a very high strike vote going into bargaining, the CUPE 3902 executive had thoroughly undermined any genuine pro-strike sentiment and had no plans for a possible strike. When CUPE 3902 membership voted to reject the tentative agreement reached by the bargaining team, members of the RSM, and the campus left in general, were caught by complete surprise.
C25. At this point in late February and early March, CUPE 3902 was alone in the strike. The executive had, in typical capitulationist fashion, completely forgone any preparation for an actual strike during bargaining, and thus CUPE 3902 was sorely unprepared and disorganized in every way possible going into the strike.
C26. The RSM at U of T was quite small. The RSM issued a letter of support of the strike, and denounced the executives who at this time were well known traitors. The RSM, rather than haphazardly sending out members onto the picket lines with little to no plan in mind, was slow to enter into the strike, and instead continued carrying on its usual work towards the March 24th Day of Action.
C27. After one week of the strike at the University of Toronto, CUPE 3903 (education workers at York University), voted to go on strike. CUPE 3903 was also plagued with a collaborationist leadership, largely composed of members of the International Socialists, who did everything they could to run the strike into the ground. In lieu of two poor strike leaderships, the RSM (including RSM York, now entering into the fray) met with radicalized members of CUPE 3902 and 3903, as well as the Proletarian Revolutionary Action Committee (PRAC) in early March in order to draft a coordinated plan for support of the strike. At this meeting, people voted to found the Joint Strike Committee (which later became the Education Workers Action Committee). The RSM’s role in this coordinated plan of action was to organize undergraduates and non-member students to support the picket lines.
C28. At UofT Scarborough, these strike support actions were crucial to introducing both undergrad students and strikers to the RSM. Strike support proved useful in helping pull attention to the mobilization committee, and the mobilization committee served as a useful operating base for undergraduate strike support. The RSM was able to gain membership during this struggle.
C29. At UofT St. George campus, efforts by the RSM to organize undergraduate students gave way to focus by RSM organizers on organizing on the picket lines for the Joint Strike Committee. Continued efforts at organizing the March 24th Day of Action gathered no attention, and several events catered towards the strike were not well attended. Most of the remaining RSM member’s work was for the Joint Strike Committee. While the Joint Strike Committee would be very successful during the strike, the RSM St. George collapsed during this period.
C30. The RSM at York was able to gain membership and form connections with other progressive student groups on campus, including the York United Black Students Alliance.
C31. The strike support efforts ultimately culminated with the decision by the Joint Strike Committee to hold a “long march” from York to UofT in support of both strikes. Both the leaderships of CUPE 3902 and 3903 did everything they could to quash the effort, but ultimately failed. In a last desperate move, the leadership of CUPE 3902 advised their members to agree to arbitration, which ultimately passed. Despite this, the long march went ahead and gathered around 1000 people on March 25th, 2015. The following week the York administration agreed to the demands of the strikers, and the strike was over. The long march, organized by the Joint Strike Committee, played an important role in winning the strike.
C32. Following the strikes, the collaborationist leadership of CUPE 3903 was defeated, and an anti-capitalist slate (with members of the Joint Strike Committee included) was brought to power.
C33. Why then, despite the success of the strike at York, and the modest success of the RSM sections at York and UofT Scarborough campus, did the RSM St. George collapse? The RSM at UofT St George campus largely put all its efforts behind building the Joint Strike Committee, and both RSM St. George and the Joint Strike Committee fell into total inactivity after the strike. The RSM was unable to consolidate politically any of the contacts made during the strike, or demonstrate why an organization like the RSM was useful or necessary. This demonstrates the danger of “ambulance chasing”; the RSM liquidated itself into a movementist practice, and so fell apart when the movement was over.
C34. In the aftermath of the March 24th Day of Action, the RSM again rapidly expanded. We were joined by comrades in Woodstock NB, Fredericton, Hamilton, St. Catharines, PEI, and a renewed section in Vancouver. As of September 2015, we have 20 sections either currently existing or in formation. We are active in every major region of the country, and we are unquestionably the largest and most wide-spread revolutionary mass organization in Canada.
C35. Our expansion has been largely due to our political perspectives, and our willingness to fight. We were present in leading roles in both of the major student/education sector conflagrations of 2015, indicating the relevancy of our politics. We have experienced organizers, many coming from the social-democratic student movement, that bring with them a wealth of experiences.
C36. Despite our successes, we have much work to do. While our pan-Canadian organization is strong, many of our sections are weak. The first generation of leadership –those that built the RSM- will have left the organization as of the fifth congress. We have to broaden and deepen our political perspectives, and build concrete links with more sections of the masses. We need to actualize a revolutionary politics that speaks to the needs of proletarian students across Canada. Our political approach, and our willingness to fight will allow us to rise and meet the challenges presented to us. We will continue to train communist organizers, and organize working class students in the interests of our entire class and the revolutionary movement. We have a world to win; let’s get to it.
RSM Coordinating Committee, December 2015