Student Democracy Sprouts at the General Assembly! / La démocratie étudiante fleurit à l’assemblée générale!

Student Democracy Sprouts at the General Assembly! / La démocratie étudiante fleurit à l’assemblée générale!

[La version française suivra]

Tuesday night, we had our first General Assembly that met quorum, meaning it had the power to make decisions. Students could modify the agenda and propose a motion to strike down the executives’ 18% salary increase that was approved by the Board of Administration. This motion was adopted with an amendment limiting future salary increases to never exceed an amount equal or lower than a simultaneous increase for staff wages. Next came a period of clarifications on the decision-making power of the GA, since they were recently stripped of their status as highest decision making body of the SFUO by the BOA. They currently only hold political power, not legislative power. Dissent was palpable in the room, some people contested the legitimacy of the BOA’s decision (it had overturned a referendum result) and demanded that GAs regain their status as highest decision-making body. However, these statements were considered points of order and were set aside without a decision being made. There was a motion proposed already about the abolishment of the BOA where this would be further discussed. It was clear by the atmosphere in the room that despite the explanation about the GAs demotion, the executive and BOA bureaucrats’ authority was being put into question.

After this came the RSM’s first motion on the Vet’s tour. This motion demanded that the GA strike a committee tasked with investigating the event which would have access to all SFUO and federated body documentation about the Vet’s tour. Furthermore, this committee must be composed of students present at the GA and that would be elected during that time. Following our motivation of the motion a kind of unease was felt in the room and the question was immediately called. The motion was adopted by a majority.

Before the selection of the committee members could take place, many people left the room. Most of them SFUO and federated body staff and friends (people suspected of having participated in the event). After the walk-out, a recount of quorum was asked by a member of the BOA. The number had dropped from 287 to 221, 10 people under quorum. After quorum was lost, the executive began their reports and the room quickly emptied out, effectively ending the GA.

The Vet’s tour motion was only partly adopted. It was agreed that a committee would be created but it would not be chosen by the GA but by the BOA at their next meeting. However, the BOA had already formed a committee earlier in the year which had been inconclusive and that they would again be expected to investigate themselves is exasperating.

On a positive note, the first real General Assembly of the SFUO has given us an inspiring example of what a vibrant student democracy looks like. By mobilising students, it is possible to end corruption in the Student Federation and fight against rape culture on our campus. Without the sabotage orchestrated by bureaucrats, the March 14th General Assembly could have brought control of the SFUO back into student hands.

No more corruption in the SFUO!

End rape culture on campus!

Abolish the BOA!

 

//////////////

 

Mardi soir a eu lieu la première Assemblée générale avec quorum, c’est-à-dire que celle-ci a été en mesure de prendre des décisions. Ainsi, les étudiant.es présent.es ont été en mesure de mettre à l’ordre du jour et d’appliquer la révocation de la hausse salariale de 18% de l’exécutif qui avait été votée par le Conseil d’Administration. La motion  a passé par une grande majorité avec un amendement supplémentaire limitant les hausses salariales de l’exécutif à un taux égale ou inférieur à une hausse des salaires des employés. Ensuite est venue une clarification sur le pouvoir décisionnel des AGs, dont le CA avait remis en question le statut de plus haute instance décisionnelle de la FÉUO. Elles n’auraient désormais qu’un pouvoir politique, et non législatif. Un certain mécontentement s’est fait ressentir dans la salle, plusieurs membres ont contesté la légitimité de cette décision du CA (puisqu’elle renversait le résultat d’un référendum), et ont demandé à ce que les AGs regagnent leur statut de plus haute instance décisionnelle. Toutefois, ces prises de paroles n’étaient que des points d’ordre et furent rejetées, sans qu’une décision ne soit prise, car il y avait déjà une motion à l’ordre du jour proposant d’abolir le CA qui permettrait de traiter du sujet plus amplement. Toutefois, la grogne manifestée par l’assemblée lorsque le président a expliqué les limites du pouvoir des AGs, a grandement fait ressentir aux bureaucrates que sont l’exécutif et le CA que leur autorité était remise en question.

Suite à ceci est venue la première motion du MER portant sur le Vet’s tour, voulant que l’AG crée un comité pour faire une enquête de l’événement et que ce comité d’enquête ait accès à toute la documentation de la FÉUO et des corps fédérés, en papier ou numérique, qui porte sur le Vet’s Tour. De plus, ce comité d’enquête devait être composé d’étudiant.es présent.es et élu.es à l’assemblée même. Suite à la motivation de cette motion, un certain malaise a été ressenti dans la salle; la question préalable fut posée immédiatement, et la motion adoptée rapidement.

Toutefois, avant de pouvoir procéder à la sélection du comité, un grand nombre de personnes ont commencé à quitter la salle, principalement des employé.es de la FÉUO ou des personnes dans l’entourage du CA (personnes soupçonnées d’être relié au Vet’s Tour) et, à la suite de cet exode, un recomptage du quorum a été demandé par un membre du CA . Le nombre d’étudiant.es  ayant passé de 287 à 221, il en manquait 10 pour avoir le quorum. Suite à la perte du quorum, l’exécutif a procédé à son rapport administratif et la salle s’est vidée rapidement, l’AG a pris fin.

Pour ce qui en est de la motion sur le Vet’s Tour, celle-ci n’a été qu’adoptée partiellement. Il a été décidé de créer un comité d’enquête, mais celui-ci n’a pu être choisi par l’AG et sera donc sélectionné par le CA lors de sa prochaine rencontre. Toutefois, le CA a déjà formé un comité d’enquête qui n’a pas jamais produit de conclusion; laisser ces bureaucrates choisir les gens qui vont enquêter une seconde fois ne fait qu’exacerber les choses.

Sur une note positive, la première véritable assemblée générale de la FÉUO nous a donné un exemple inspirant de ce qu’est une démocratie étudiante dynamique. Par la mobilisation de la masse étudiante il est possible de mettre fin à la corruption de la FÉUO et de combattre la culture du viol sur notre campus. N’eût été du sabotage orchestré par les bureaucrates liés au Vet’s Tour, l’Assemblée générale du 14 mars aurait pu remettre le contrôle de la FÉUO dans les mains des étudiant.es.

Mettons fin à la corruption dans la FÉUO!

Combattons la culture du viol sur le campus!

Abolissons le CA!

Crisis in the SFUO and the way forward

There is a lot more than what appears on the surface concerning the financial crisis at the student federation (SFUO). As a militant anti-capitalist organization active on campus for 6 years now, we have been a part of, observed and struggled with the SFUO for some time and have noted what we have identified as structural weaknesses leading to an inevitable collapse as a center of power for students on campus. This is why the founders of our predecessor organization, the Marxist Student Association, broke with the politics of the core of left-wing militants who were struggling for power over the SFUO in the late 2000s and sought to lead a different way forward for the mass of students[1]. The current crisis is another sign that liberal politics are in decay at the SFUO and unfortunately it is afflicting students as well.

We’ll explain in this article how the crisis in the SFUO originated and how it’s negatively impacting us. We’ll also talk about how we can overcome this and organize ourselves to defend our interests not only as working-class students on campus but also to support the wider struggle for liberation from all exploitation and oppression.

The problem unfortunately runs deeper than this year’s budgetary situation. The current politics ruling over the SFUO are largely the result of a takeover by liberal, social-democratic student politicians with the support of radical militants in the late 2000s. The people who would later found the Marxist Student Association were then part of a wide coalition of militants organizing against tuition fees and in support of other progressive causes, such as opposing imperialist wars. One of the highlights of that time was when hundreds of students protested a planned talk by Ann Coulter in Marion Hall and forced her to abandon, in 2010. While never getting close to resisting the increase of tuition fees and other negative measures of the administration, the coalition did succeed in setting up a strong enough base to dominate student politics in campus over a number of years, and to get by referendum the SFUO to re-integrate the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), a liberal student union with locals (including many in dispute) across Canada but mainly centred on Ontario. The radical, combative movement that made this push would then gradually shift to reformist perspectives and bureaucratic tactics, forming a layer of cliquey student politicians. At the same time, through the connection with the CFS, the leading student bureaucrats placed the SFUO into a wide network of liberal organizations, chief of which were labour unions like CUPE, and the New Democrat Party (NDP), turning the SFUO into basically a revolving-door / escalator for aspiring politicians. To put it in other terms, the SFUO was sucked into a bureaucratic machine, and its resources were more and more preyed upon by bigger organizations.

In more details, a certain faction from the initial militant core set out to expand the organization’s bureaucracy rather than focus on building mass support and democracy on campus. From their elected position as executives, they built up a network of bureaucrats throughout the various departments and service centers of the SFUO, which would become their support base to engineer the re-orientation of the SFUO as a stepping stone for the bigger liberal organizations such as the labour unions and the NDP. By adding more and more positions and hiring their supporters, with the promise of further advancement as everyone graduating through the SFUO executive seemed to be moving on to fancy staffing jobs at the CFS, at CUPE locals and with NDP members of parliament, they established an effective support base that was constantly working to uphold the politics in power and direct the SFUO’s resources and the militancy on campus toward those ends.

But to keep things going, the mechanics had to be sheltered from oversight. What little transparency and accountability there existed in student politics at uOttawa at the time, it was thrown by the wayside; one of the ways this was done was to declaw the union of SFUO staffers, CUPE 4943, to render it unable to defend employees from the politics of management. Exec sympathisers were promoted to union leadership and gradually allowed their friends to strip the collective agreement of its power to resist management, paving the way for them to manipulate hiring for their political advantage. A toxic atmosphere of liberalism and opportunism set in the SFUO, causing lasting damage among people there. Another way bureaucratic control was installed was through the creation of the executive coordinator position; this un-elected, permanent, cushy and seemingly unsupervised job was designed to keep the CFS’  liberal politics in command at the SFUO in case some exec positions still ended up being lost to opponents, generally self-assuming conservatives, during elections. This is a common tactic employed by the CFS throughout its locals to ensure its hold over them. Needless to say, this position was consistently staffed with supporters who had carried the torch for the organization and subsequently went on to other bureaucratic positions in the movement. Through this kind of approach, the social-democrats were able to maintain their hold over quite some time in spite of consistent opposition from the anti-CFS right.

Energy was also sucked out of the combative left-wing elements on campus to sustain the machinery. Any legacy of combativeness as well as autonomy was drained away from the service centers for women, for queer people, for disabled people, for international students and others. Those centers came into existence as a result of intense struggle from oppressed people who wanted a center from which they could build resistance, but they were over time co-opted into the liberal SFUO politics. Similarly, the climate justice movement that was burgeoning in the early 2010s was diverted to make bureaucratic gains, and the more recent victories arising from intense mass work, such as the U-Pass and the healthcare insurance, were treated as mere services that only required an “apolitical” management, serving to justify the straight-up bureaucratization. This partly explains why the gap between the dues paid for the health insurance and its costs was allowed to increase since 2011; the health insurance was no longer being sustained as a material interest for the mass of students that needed to be fought for constantly. In this way, the SFUO began losing effectiveness even in its basic delivery of services, especially to students who needed them the most. Each scandal that made it into the news was another sign of cracks in the machine, from the fireworks debacle to Yogagate, from the sudden mass firings of last April to the unprecedented waiting lines for U-Pass this Fall.

Perhaps most sadly, the liberal direction over the SFUO failed to provide the leadership to tackle emerging problems arising on campus. The ills of rape culture, sexual harassment and the attempts by a tenured professor to organize students in an anti-feminist, misogynist and trans-phobic group for example require more mass action. There has been a lot of good work by many individuals from within student associations on campus, which has led to the issue of rape culture and specific acts of sexual harassment and violence to attain wide public attention, but it has so far been left to the initiative of the university administration. The mass of students, and especially gender-oppressed people, need be empowered to defend themselves against these threats. That is why we advocate organizing to fight the aforementioned anti-feminist group known as CAFE which actively denies the existence of rape culture and labels feminists as threats, while harbouring militant islamophobes and white supremacists. As well, the shameful loss by the administration of the personal information of hundreds of students who used accessibility services is another matter that should be met with more militant response. Under the democratic control of the mass of students, the SFUO could be brought more effectively to use in such campaigns.

Similarly, when it came to fighting tuition, which is most often used to justify the existence of the CFS, any expectations there were also fell flat. The CFS strategy on this issue amounts to nothing more than plain lobbying of politicians, cloaked in progressive discourse and assorted with stunt actions every 2 or 3 years. At the most crucial times in recent years, the CFS and the SFUO execs made little to no effort to express solidarity with and draw lessons from the student movement in Québec, the only movement that has had any success in Canada when it comes to fighting tuition fees. In 2015, when another attempt was made to launch a student strike in Québec and was facing heavy repression, and while the RSM was organizing a day of action of solidarity, the CFS and its local hacks were too busy networking on Parliament Hill to even pay attention. At best, the CFS will organize a “day of action” every 5 years or so to prove its combativeness, but these efforts do nothing to undermine the power of the bourgeois government and university administrations. The fact that for an 11th consecutive year now, the university has increased its fees, including an exponential growth over the year for international students, should lead everyone to reconsider the approach that has been taken.

From the beginning, as the Marxist Student Association and then as the RSM, we called for a different path to be taken, for attacking the roots of the system. We realized that fighting against tuition fees was part of a wider struggle against our exploitation and oppression as a class; the terms set out by the oppressing state and its academic institutions are only meant to disempower and manipulate us. As working-class students, we have to connect with the wider struggle for our liberation, and within our context, we have to build up a counter-power to defend our interests and win victories.

This is why in 2013 and 2014 we campaigned for GAs to be established, which was successful, in spite of opposition from such mainstream groups as the campus associations of both the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party. It has been a struggle since then however to make effective use of the GAs, but we will continue to encourage students to use them and this year, more than ever, working-class students have a chance to turn things around in their favour.

The liberal politicians who ruled over the SFUO for all those years and who fooled so many militants into their trap are at their core a clique of petty-bourgeois students, attempting to draw power from their bureaucratic positions to go up while building themselves a nice base of loyal supporters. What is also interesting to note is that the first wave of these student politicians were overwhelmingly from white, settler backgrounds, while the next wave that succeeded them are in majority from racialized, colonized-nations backgrounds, who are left to pick up the pieces while a good number among the former are safely installed in their staffer positions further up the chain. Those petty-bourgeois politicians have caused enough damage, and they must never be allowed again to have leadership over left-wing organizing. More than ever, it is time for working-class students to chart their own path and organize their own power.

The MER-RSM will continue its efforts to organize students in this direction. If you want to participate in our initiatives, come to our general meeting on October 20, where we will discuss openly our plans for the coming year. This will include motions to bring to the GA to improve the situation and empower students with regards to the SFUO, as well as the continuation of our campaign to root out MRAs on campus, and participation in the planned day of action against tuition fees. There will also be other meetings and activities over the course of the semester. Nothing is lost! With mass work and organization, we can not only turn things around, but turn our student union into a powerful weapon at the service of the people!

[1] On this topic, you can read an in-depth analysis written by one of those militants in 2010, titled “Whither the student movement in Ottawa”

CITY OF OTTAWA GIVES PUBLIC SPACE TO MISOGYNIST ORGANIZATIONS!

CITY OF OTTAWA GIVES PUBLIC SPACE TO MISOGYNIST ORGANIZATIONS!

14408318_10205561923127923_732197524_o

In February of this year, following public outrage, Ottawa mayor Jim Watson voiced his opposition to the misogynist “pick-up artist” Roosh V and the Return of Kings meet up in Ottawa that he has called for to happen across the world. People organizing to protest this unacceptable event has caused the predatory, women-hating “pick-up artist” organizers to cancel their public meeting and effectively drove them underground. Despite all this, today the city allows another misogynist organization to openly organize to promote their anti-women views, grow their movement and use the Ottawa city hall to do so. Not only does this make the city complicit in the misogynistic organizing taking place, and in the Men’s Rights Movement, but it also makes the so-called progressive mayor Jim Watson complicit. The city of Ottawa and the Men’s Rights Movement are working hand in hand and we need to stop it!

The Canadian Association for “Equality” (CAFE) is hosting its first conference on September 17th, 2016 at the Ottawa city hall. CAFE is a Men’s Rights Activist (MRA) group, their work consists of acting as a moderate front group for the wider MRA movement. CAFE founders and members have repeatedly voiced their misogynist, racist and homophobic views all under the pretense of “Men’s Rights” and free speech. These views ultimately harm the safety of women and other gender oppressed people as well as the safety of the men they claim to represent. Far from standing for “Men’s Rights”, they are exclusively an anti-feminist organization rallying angry and violent misogynists. CAFE uses legitimate issues in our society like murdered indigenous men, and men’s high rates of suicide and depression as a tool, using the hardships of men, often the result of oppression from other factors like race, class, indigeneity, or ability, to spread their hatred of women and other gender-oppressed people by blaming all these problems on feminism and women having too many rights.

14374762_10205561934608210_969976432_o

The Revolutionary Student Movement has repeatedly confronted CAFE when they attempted to hold meetings on the University of Ottawa campus. Janice Fiamengo, a leading member of CAFE Ottawa, is a tenured professor at the University of Ottawa, and has been using this position to try to give legitimacy to CAFE as an organization, which only thinly veils the hate-speech of its members, herself included. We recognize that MRA groups gaining a foothold on campuses puts women and gender-oppressed people in danger. This is equally true of a place as public as City Hall. We refused to let them organize on campus, and we oppose their organizing here.

The Revolutionary Student Movement denounces all anti-feminist and MRA movements, we stand in opposition to CAFE and all their organizing. We are outraged by the city of Ottawa and Mayor Jim Watson’s decision to allow this hate group to hold events at the city hall, a central public space.

We demand that CAFE and all other MRA groups be banned from using public spaces for their events!

We demand that CAFE have their charity license revoked!

We demand that the University of Ottawa bans CAFE and all other MRA organizations from booking rooms and organizing on campus!

We demand that the University of Ottawa fire Professor Janice Fiamengo for her leadership of CAFE and her racist reviews!

14393370_10205561922247901_1986758152_o

Join us on the ground wherever CAFE tries to organize, growing the strength in our numbers is the only way to stop them!

Let the mayor’s office know that you think hate groups such as CAFE cannot be allowed in our city

Email: Jim.Watson@ottawa.ca

Phone: 613-580-2496

The Revolutionary Student Movement is dedicated to the fight against misogyny and MRAs in Ottawa and all around the county. Join us in our campaign to stop CAFE from organizing Ottawa!

COME TO A DEBRIEFING MEETING TO GET INVOLVED IN THE CAMPAIGN

September 24, 2pm Room UCU 215 University of Ottawa

Find us on Facebook: MRAs Off Campus /// Masculinistes Hors Campus

Revolutionary Student Movement UOttawa

 

Dare to struggle!

Dare to win!

Police Rush to Defend MRAs! Statement on RSM-uO’s Protest of CAFE

Police Rush to Defend MRAs! Statement on RSM-uO’s Protest of CAFE

Ca5HgiYUAAAqxp3Last night, February 10th, the RSM participated in protesting a meeting of misogynists under the guise of “men’s rights activism” on uOttawa campus. As a result, this event, which was organized, led and attended almost entirely by retired and tenured professors and other non-students, turned into a totally inappropriate, disgusting, and illegitimate show of repressive force against students.

First, campus security threatened student protesters with expulsion, a criminal record, unhireability, and homelessness. When these transparent attempts at intimidation were rightly ignored, they called the police, who had planned and prepared to make arrests in collaboration with event organizers ahead of time. No fewer than seven police officers immediately brought a cruiser and a police van to campus and swarmed the Arts (Hamelin) building, forcing the protesters to scatter. These police forces continued to patrol and sweep campus until the event was over.

Why is our campus playing host to events like this, whose organizers are explicitly conspiring beforehand with cops to use repressive force against nonviolent student protesters?? How is it that, only days after Ottawa’s mayor and police force were basking in praise for their condemnation of the violent and reactionary misogyny and hate speech of Roosh V and the Return of Kings meetup planned in Ottawa, the same police force is aggressively defending CAFE’s “freedom” to misogyny and hate speech?

CAFE, the so-called Canadian Association for Equality, is a men’s rights activist (MRA) organization which preaches misogyny, antifeminism, and rape culture. Although it is registered as a charity under the Canadian government and presents itself as concerned about men, this is only a cover. CAFE is explicitly not interested in providing social services to men, or with equipping them with tools to deal with the real issues that they face in our capitalist, patriarchal, white-supremacist and colonial society. Instead, CAFE’s “charitable work” consists entirely in “public education” and “raising awareness.” This means, in practice, that they work to spread a misogynist, antifeminist ideology that despises the gains feminism has achieved through long and hard struggle for women and gender-oppressed people’s equal right to bodily autonomy and self-determination. CAFE is on record as denying the existence of rape culture, the importance of consent, and the ongoing oppression and exploitation of women, especially women of colour, Indigenous women, women with disabilities, trans women and transfeminine people, queer women, women involved in sex work, and all intersections thereof. It is a hate group that builds its base of support upon the bodies of these women, denying that they face oppression and in fact maintaining that they are the oppressors – of privileged white men. CAFE tries to convince men that feminism has brought about their oppression in modern society, and that men need “to take back their power and their pride,” to quote directly from a recent Youtube video by Janice Fiamengo, CAFE’s primary organizer on campus. Fiamengo, who is a tenured University of Ottawa professor, is also known for her viciously racist and Islamophobic co-publications with her partner David Solway. It is clear that although CAFE tries to distance itself from less “respectable” groups like Roosh V and Return of Kings, it represents the same thing – a toxic, hateful, violent, and reactionary force that has no place on any university campus.

The RSM-uOttawa stands with students in universities across Canada in opposing CAFE’s incitement of hate, ignorance, and misogyny. CAFE’s lectures have been protested across the country. At Ryerson, CAFE has been decertified as a group and banned from campus. This is an important precedent, as an expression of the collective will and political power of students. We understand that this same will and potential for political expression exists at our university. For hours prior to the event, we participated in leafletting around campus, engaging students about the issue. Many knew about the hate and violence of MRAs already, but were not aware that an organization like CAFE was hosting events on our campus with the apparent blessing of university administration and security and police forces. Some of the students we engaged wanted to take multiple leaflets with them, so that they could deal them out to even more students in their classes. It is clear that CAFE’s message and agenda are opposed to the values and interests of students at this university.

The RSM invites University of Ottawa students to organize with us in opposition to MRA misogyny and hatred on and off campus! In weeks to come, we will have an opportunity to clearly express our opposition by attending the upcoming General Assembly, the highest decision-making body of the students of uOttawa, to vote for a motion to decertify CAFE. We will demand that the SFUO push to have CAFE banned from campus, and challenge the unacceptable anti-student police presence in our halls that comes with hateful and reactionary events like MRA meetings. Together, we can make our voices heard in a clear and unified call:

Down with rape culture!! Down with the police presence that defends misogynists and reactionaries instead of students! NO COPS ON CAMPUS!! NO MRAs ON CAMPUS!!

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

yes-ga.ca_-650x240

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.