The return of the Montreal Marxist Winter School in person after a three-year absence did not disappoint. Four-hundred and sixty people gathered for a weekend of Marxist education in an electric atmosphere. Held under the theme “The Revolutionary Party”, we came away more confident than ever that we will succeed in building the revolutionary organization needed to overthrow capitalism!
The 2020 edition attracted nearly 260 people. After two online editions with over 1100 participants each, we set a goal of 400 people in person. Not only did we exceed this goal, but we have never had participants from this many different places.
Comrades came all the way from Switzerland, Belgium, Great Britain, France, and a record delegation of 30 comrades came from the United States. Sherbrooke, Quebec City, Gatineau, Rivière-Rouge, Rimouski, Chicoutimi, Sudbury, Barrie, Guelph, Ottawa, Hamilton, Waterloo, Toronto, Kingston, Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, Victoria, and Halifax; for all of these cities, without exception, we had our largest delegation in the history of the school. Over 160 participants from Montreal were there, another record. This has been the largest Marxist gathering in Canada in a generation!
Thirst for ideas
At a time when millions of people are questioning capitalism and looking for solutions, there is a real thirst for Marxist ideas. It was noticeable throughout the weekend, with participants taking extensive notes in all the sessions, and discussions continued in the hallways during breaks and in the evening over drinks.
The theme “The Revolutionary Party” was wide-ranging. We opened the School with a plenary on the lessons of the Bolshevik-Menshevik split of 1903 and Lenin’s seminal work What is to be done?. Participants also learned about the first attempt to build an International with the presentation on the conflict between Marx and the anarchist Bakunin.
The school closed with a presentation by Fred Weston of the International Secretariat of the International Marxist Tendency on “Ted Grant and the Fourth International”. This presentation covered in particular the period immediately after the death of Leon Trotsky in 1940, and the great role played by Marxist Ted Grant in saving Trotsky’s legacy and passing it on to future generations of Marxists. It is on the shoulders of these giants that the comrades of the IMT are building today.
We can even put a number on the thirst for ideas demonstrated at the School: over two days we sold $17,000 worth of Marxist literature! In his talk, Fred Weston, cataloging the mistakes of the leaders of the Fourth International in the postwar period, explained that “with the wrong ideas, you can destroy an organization.” The impressive book sales testify to the seriousness of the participants, who understood the need to raise their level of understanding. As Lenin said, “without revolutionary theory, there can be no revolutionary movement.”
The need for a revolutionary press
A key element of party building is the revolutionary press. We proudly defend this tradition, which has largely been lost within the left. Our newspapers Fightback and La Riposte socialiste have made tremendous steps forward in the recent past—we are the only left-wing organization in the country with a bi-weekly paper in English and a monthly paper in French. But we do not intend to stop there!
The role of the revolutionary press was the subject of one of the eight workshops, and we took advantage of the momentum around the School to launch our subscription drive in full force. Over the weekend, we sold no fewer than 84 subscriptions to our newspapers, including 53 to La Riposte socialiste.
Our subscription campaign is also an opportunity to politically educate our members and supporters about the role of the paper for Marxists. That’s why we’ve also taken advantage of the school to publish a new booklet on the revolutionary press containing an excellent selection of Lenin’s texts on the subject. Order it here without delay!
The Winter School was a showcase of revolutionary optimism. Our optimism is based on an unshakable confidence in the working class, on the correctness of Marxist ideas, and the decline of the capitalist system which is radicalizing growing layers of youth and workers.
But to win in the future, we must study our past. Three sessions in the school focused on significant defeats in our history: the Spanish revolution of 1936, the Indonesian revolution and counter-revolution, and the fall of the USSR. But as the comrade who gave the talk on the Indonesian tragedy explained, “I don’t want anyone to leave here demoralized. On the contrary, this defeat should inspire us to never repeat the same mistakes.”
Thus, no one came out of these three sessions feeling down. We are learning from the past to prepare for the victories of the future.
The enthusiasm and optimism of the participants was palpable. But as Alex Grant of the Fightback editorial board pointed out in his closing remarks, this mood stands in massive contrast to the demoralization and cynicism in the left and the labour movement. Many on the left have simply given up on the idea of building a revolutionary party, or building anything at all.
And yet, there has never been a better time to be a Marxist. Capitalism is in a complete dead end. Millions of workers will be pushed into struggle in the next period. What is sorely lacking at this time is a revolutionary party that can lead the working class to power. And every individual can play a role in building it. Comrade Alex concluded the School by appealing on all participants to join the International Marxist Tendency, leaving the last word to Leon Trotsky:
“Yes, our party takes each one of us wholly. But in return it gives to every one of us the highest happiness: the consciousness that one participates in the building of a better future, that one carries on his shoulders a particle of the fate of mankind, and that one’s life will not have been lived in vain.”