16th Canadian Marxist Congress: Enthusiasm and Determination After Challenging Year

One year after the passing of their leading comrade Camilo Cahis, Canadian supporters of the International Marxist Tendency gathered for their 16th annual congress. Facing such a blow, it would have been understandable for the group to stagnate or even decline. However, the exact opposite happened. In the face of adversity, the Marxists fighting the Canadian State did not just hold their ground but advanced impressively. The group grew to over 100 activists, increased their impact on a number of campuses, began to develop work in the unions, and have launched a campaign to hire Farshad Azadian as their 4th full-time organizer. Challenging times forced the comrades to rally together and build as a tribute to their fallen comrade.

Over 70 were able to attend this congress, with the largest delegation so far from comrades in Quebec. The fully bilingual congress was held between May 21-23rd in Toronto, and it started off with inspiring greetings from sections of the IMT around the world. Revolutionaries from Indonesia, Italy, Belgium, New Zealand, USA, Britain, Morocco, Denmark, Sweden, Greece, amongst others, sent warm regards. These messages really set the tone of socialist internationalism right from the opening of proceedings.

World Perspectives: The Anti-Establishment Mood is Rising

Every year, the comrades bring over a prominent figure from the IMT to provide an international perspective. This year the Canadian comrades were lucky enough to host Rob Sewell, editor of the Socialist Appeal Magazine in the UK. Sewell led off the first political session on World Perspectives by putting into context the world situation we are now facing. Eight years after the 2008 financial crisis, the global economy has not been able to maintain sustainable levels of recovery and growth. And now we are facing the prospect of a new global slump. Sewell made it clear that while booms and slumps will continue, the overall tendency will be downward. This is a period of prolonged austerity which in turn is a recipe for an explosive class struggle.

The essential theme underlying this session was the anti-establishment mood that has shaken world politics to the core. US politics has entered a period of turmoil that was inconceivable only a few years ago. Both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders represent the right and left of the anti- establishment mood, respectively. The anti-establishment feeling in Scotland has manifested in the growth in the Scottish National Party (SNP), while in England left-wing Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn has channelled the discontent of workers and youth. We have also witnessed the rise of new parties such as SYRIZA in Greece, and Podemos in Spain.

delegates-of-2016-Fightback CanadaPhoto: FighbackSewell highlighted the heightened crisis facing the European Union. The upcoming Brexit vote in June is symptomatic of this and could potentially lead to the disintegration of the EU. The refugee crisis has further strained the situation with the progressive rolling back of the Schengen Agreement. Sewell pointed out that the IMT has always explained that a united Europe could not be maintained on a capitalist basis. The only way to achieve genuine economic, monetary, and political union would be on the basis of a socialist society governed by the working class and not the competing capitalists of various nations.

Sewell highlighted that there are many indicative signs of the revolutionary period we are living in. The birth of new parties, like Syriza in Greece and Podemos in Spain, and corruption scandals like the Panama Papers, all create a world situation where turbulence and sharp changes are to be expected. Reformism can no longer achieve reforms, resulting in a new period of protracted class struggle and instability. In the past, a revolutionary situation would rise and fall within a relatively short period of time. But the working class is now far stronger than it was before WW2, meaning that the ruling class cannot so easily move towards bonapartism or fascism. Conversely, the genuinely revolutionary forces are far weaker now than in the pre-war period - meaning that the workers do not have the leadership necessary to overthrow capitalism. This impasse will exist until the workers can solve the crisis of revolutionary leadership. It is vital to build the forces of Marxism to solve this contradiction. A revolution in a single country would change the entire world situation.

Canadian Perspectives - Preparing for the Next Stage of Struggle

alex-canadian-perspectives1-Fightback CanadaAlex Grant - Photo: FighbackAfter Rob Sewell set the stage with an international context, the discussion moved on to Canadian politics. Fightback editor Alex Grant led off the session on Canadian perspectives. Grant explained how the election of the Trudeau Liberals marks a new stage in the Canadian class struggle. After the fake-left “anti-austerity” Liberal election campaign, there are massive illusions in Trudeau, who is enjoying a significant honeymoon period. But eventually, economic reality will overcome “sunny ways”, as there are significant weaknesses in the Canadian economy. Low oil, high consumer debt, the housing bubble and “dead money” all serve to make Canada far more susceptible to the next global downturn. Trudeau will eventually be forced to take the road of austerity, or face unsustainable debt and deficits.

The session included a discussion about the processes that led to the dethroning of NDP leader Tom Mulcair. Fightback comrades who attended the Federal NDP convention reported back on the revolt against Mulcair and the discussion of the Leap Manifesto. It is amazing that the rank- and-file was able to defeat the leading bureaucracy despite the fact that no significant figure gave an organized lead to the revolt. Grant explained that the role of Leap was contradictory. On the one side, the manifesto clearly played a progressive role in turning the ideological tide away from Blairism and opening up space for discussing politics in the NDP. But on the other side, the document itself is very vague. However, it is important to defend the Leap Manifesto from the right-wing who label it as “far-left”, “radical”, and “anti-capitalist”. It is the job of Marxists to put forward concrete solutions to the problems posed by Leap. At the end of the day, you cannot save jobs while industry remains in private hands, and you cannot save the environment while industry is privately owned and controlled. Only a socialist approach can unite workers and the environment.

The federal NDP leadership race opens up the opportunity for radical socialist politics in the NDP, similar to that of Bernie Sanders or Jeremy Corbyn, but only if a figure of sufficient prominence is brave enough to unapologetically promote such ideas. Fightback comrades will fully participate in such a movement.

comrade-intervention-2016 Fightback CanadaPhoto: FighbackThe discussion period was packed with interventions from comrades who were eager to share and comment on the Canadian situation. The discussion period also included a very important point about marxism and oppression. The Canadian perspectives document was expanded to include a section on the rising inequality and oppression that aboriginal youth, black youth, other visible minorities, working class women and LGBTQ workers and youth, feel in Canada. Marxists are at the forefront of fighting all forms of oppression in the here and now. However, to fundamentally end the unbearable suffering under capitalism we require class unity to fight for a socialist society. As it says in the discussion document:

“It is the duty of all revolutionaries to fight against discriminatory attitudes and behaviors in the movement whenever they occur. We must be in the forefront of this struggle. But, in the final analysis, we have to recognize that the only way to change these attitudes on a mass scale is precisely through united struggle. In common struggle, people begin to view each other based on what they have in common instead of what divides them. It also happens to be the case that it is only through such a united struggle of all workers and layers of the oppressed, that we can transform society and end the social conditions that breed the different forms of oppression which movements seek to address.”

The most important lesson from the discussion was how thousands upon thousands of youth are being radicalized and are open to revolutionary ideas. World events, the global economic crisis, Corbyn, Sanders, and movements such as Black Lives Matter, Idle No More and Occupy, are having the effect of individually politicizing people. Due to the lack of leadership, this molecular, atomized, process of radicalization has not yet resulted in a mass struggle in Canada. In Quebec, four years of mass struggle has faced a temporary defeat, and the workers and youth are looking for answers. More and more workers, but especially youth, are open to revolutionary socialism and the comrades set themselves the task of reaching and training these people in Marxist ideas. Sooner or later a mass movement will come, and now is the time to prepare for the next stage of the struggle if we are to achieve victory.

Growing the Forces of Marxism

farshad-can-perspective-intervention-2016-Fightback CanadaFarshad Azadian - Photo: FighbackWhat was particularly striking throughout the weekend, was the enthusiasm and determination of the predominantly young comrades to build and promote the ideas of Marxism. Farshad Azadian, who recently started work as a full-time organizer, led the discussion on how to build the forces of Marxism. Comrades learned from each other’s experiences of the successful work on many university campuses in both English and French Canada, and shared best practices to take the movement to the next level in the coming academic year. Comrades also reported on the exciting new work in the labour movement, with a growing presence in labour councils and the plan to use the Marxist youth to support trade unionists on picket lines. There was also discussion and enthusiasm around developing the political understanding of comrades through reading groups and publishing theoretical literature - especially heading into the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution.

The development of the forces of Marxism in Quebec in the last year has been incredibly impressive. As the movement has entered a temporary impasse, young people are seeking out Marxist ideas. The influence of ultra-left anarchist ideas burned out many of the students, while opportunist reformism has failed trade unionists. The comrades of the IMT have been able to give people the answers they are looking for. Reflecting this, the number and quality of contributions in French throughout the congress was noted by all attending. Building a united revolutionary organization across French and English Canada is a real conquest that was hard won. The comrades in Quebec made the decision to change the name of the French language paper to “La Riposte Socialiste” in order to sharpen the political impact of the paper while retaining the link to her sister publication Fightback.

The real test of the comrades’ determination was during the finance appeal. Marco LaGrotta and Julien Arseneau in turn explained the need to raise funds to build the revolutionary forces, while treating the audience to a series of jokes that elicited a loud response. A report on the campaign to find the funds to sustain Farshad as a full-time organizer detailed the successes of the appeal so far - but highlighted that there are still more supporters to be approached about donating. The donation target was surpassed by $5000, a new record for the organization! Furthermore, many hundreds of additional dollars, from dozens and dozens of people, were raised in monthly solidarity subscriptions. This showed the commitment of the comrades to do what needs to be done to put Marxism on the map in Canada.

Comrades rallied together with great passion and spirit. On the second evening an impromptu open mic night broke out with renditions of revolutionary working class songs, in French and English, plus poems, stories, and comedy.

sewell-world-perspectives-Fightback CanadaPhoto: FighbackThe congress was concluded by Alex Grant with inspiring encouragement for comrades to be proud of the work that has been done considering our sad loss of Camilo, which could have set us back immensely. Honouring Camilo’s memory and dedication, comrades have pushed forward, taking ownership of the revolutionary tasks that must be completed. As Grant stated, we should be proud of ourselves while always looking forward. Following this appeal to continue to advance our work, the comrades gathered and sung the Internationale with passion. The sense of sacrifice and enthusiasm was clear throughout the weekend and will only grow stronger against the barbarity, misery and war that continues to plague this world under capitalism. Comrades will carry the torch of Marxist ideas forward and fight to build an international socialist society.

For all those who wish to join us, or start up a Marxist discussion club, please contact: fightback@marxist.ca