Canada: Marxist Winter School 2019 – reclaiming the heritage of Rosa Luxemburg

Once again this year, the Montreal Marxist Winter School was a smashing success. We had a record 235 registrations, the largest number ever to attend! Participants came not just from Quebec and Ontario, but also from Western Canada, the United States, France, Switzerland, Belgium, Haiti and Algeria.

100 years after the death of Rosa Luxemburg, this year’s school was dedicated to her life and her ideas. The International Marxist Tendency claims the heritage of this great revolutionary Marxist against those who try to portray her as anything less.

The life and ideas of Rosa Luxemburg

Jessica Cassell, member of the editorial board of Fightback magazine, kicked off the school with a presentation on the life and ideas of Rosa Luxemburg. Jessica spoke about how from an early age Rosa was drawn to Marxist ideas. Rosa demonstrated a strong understanding of the Marxist method and became known for ruffling feathers, taking to task leading theoreticians of the socialist movement who had begun moving in an opportunist direction. In particular, her scathing rebuttal of Eduard Bernstein, Reform or Revolution, remains a classic defense of Marxism to this day. Polemicizing against the tops of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) who had a bureaucratic approach to the class struggle, Rosa masterfully underlined the fundamental importance of the spontaneous movement of the masses to socialist revolution in her work The Mass Strike.

Montreal school 2019 2 Image FightbackJessica Cassell kicked off the school with a presentation on the life and ideas of Rosa Luxemburg / Image: Fightback

Rosa, along with Karl Liebknecht, were leading figures of the 1918-1919 German revolution. Tragically, both paid for this with their lives after the defeat of the “Spartacist uprising” of January 1919. Jessica quoted the end of her last known writing, Order Prevails in Berlin, written the day before her assassination. In spite of the betrayal of the SPD and the crushing of the movement, Rosa demonstrated her absolute confidence in the revolution: “‘Order prevails in Berlin!’ You foolish lackeys! Your ‘order’ is built on sand. Tomorrow the revolution will ‘rise up again, clashing its weapons,’ and to your horror it will proclaim with trumpets blazing: I was, I am, I shall be!”

Jessica finished by calling on comrades to defend Rosa’s true revolutionary legacy and carry her torch forward to the victory of international socialism!

You can watch Jessica’s presentation here:

Reform or Revolution

The second session of the school was a presentation by La Riposte socialiste activist Vincent Beaudoin on Rosa’s most famous work, Reform or Revolution. Vincent began by explaining the context in which it was written. The lengthy period of economic boom across Europe, and particularly in Germany, had its effects on the workers’ movement, fostering the development of a strong opportunist tendency. The main leading figure of this tendency was Eduard Bernstein who, in his Problems of Socialism and Evolutionary Socialism, attempted to revise Marxism.

Montreal school 2019 3 Image FightbackVincent explained that Luxemburg's Reform or Revolution is not simply of historical interest but maintains all its relevance today when the very same arguments it attacks are being resurrected / Image: Fightback

Vincent explained that the whole thrust of Bernstein’s arguments are that capitalism can be gradually reformed and therefore there is no need for socialist revolution. He famously stated that, “The final goal, no matter what it is, is nothing; the movement is everything.” Bernstein argued that due to credit, capitalism had adapted itself and that economic crisis was less and less likely. He argued that with trade unions and cooperatives, we can gradually reform capitalism until we achieve a socialist paradise! Vincent meticulously demonstrated that Bernstein’s arguments are a utopia, which were so clearly shown to be incorrect by subsequent developments. Although he claims to want to achieve socialism, Bernstein's ideas lead, concretely, to defending reformism and abandoning the struggle for socialism.

Vincent explained that Reform or Revolution is not simply of historical interest but maintains all its relevance today when these very same arguments are being resurrected. In fact, the majority of the left, including many so-called Marxists, have fully accepted Bernstein’s arguments in practice, focusing on building the movement and limiting themselves to fighting for small reforms. Vincent explained that Marxists must be part of the fight for each and every reform that improves the lives of working people, while always linking these struggles to the fight against the capitalist system. He ended his presentation by calling on comrades to revisit Rosa’s arguments against reformism, and to build the organization that will link up the struggles of workers to the fight for socialist revolution today.

You can watch Vincent’s presentation here:

Free Rawal Asad!

Montreal school 2019 4 Image FightbackComrades gathered together to take a picture to express their solidarity with comrade Rawal / Image: Fightback

During the Saturday afternoon session, comrade Marco La Grotta took a moment to update the comrades on the arrest of a comrade of the Pakistani section of the IMT. He explained that on February 11, the Pakistani state police – known for their extreme brutality – arrested Progressive Youth Alliance students and activists in Multan during a protest called by the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM). They were all released, but one: Rawal Asad.

Rawal is now in prison on the charge of “sedition”. He could be held for a long time, and may even be tortured, as is quite often the case. The Pakistani state is afraid of this Marxist activist, and wants to prevent him from organising students and workers against injustices perpetrated by university officials, employers and state institutions. In Pakistan, protesting against injustice is now “sedition”.

Marco explained the need for an international solidarity campaign to force the Pakistani state to free our comrade. Last year, the IMT launched a successful campaign for the liberation of seven comrades who had been kidnapped by state forces. We must do this again. Marco called on comrades to send letters of protest to Pakistani state authorities and to organize protests outside of consulates and embassies. Comrades then gathered together to take a picture to express their solidarity with comrade Rawal.

The fight against fascism

On Sunday morning, Jules Legendre, editor of the French Marxist journal Révolution, presented on the struggle against fascism. Over the past few years we have seen a sharp rise in right wing populism, far right parties and even small fascist groups. In order to fight the the far right and these fascist groups, Jules underlined the importance of having a scientific Marxist understanding of fascism.

Montreal school 2019 5 Image FightbackJules Legendre, editor of the French Marxist journal Révolution, presented on the struggle against fascism / Image: Fightback

Today we often hear politicians like Trump of Marine Le Pen labeled as fascist. While we sympathize with this hatred of these reactionary politicians, it is inaccurate and misleading to label them as fascist. Jules underlined that fascism is not simple racism or organized violence, as these are present in any capitalist state. He explained that fascism is a mass social phenomenon which can appear in times of acute capitalist crisis. While the crisis forces the working class to organize collectively and fight back against the attacks of the capitalists, the petty bourgeoisie, who have an entirely different relationship to the means of production, do not react in the same way. Ruined by the crisis of capitalism, the petty bourgeoisie can be whipped into a frenzy and mobilized into a mass fascist movement. Fascism appears as a mass movement of enraged petty bourgeois and lumpen elements, used as a battering ram against the organizations of the working class.

Jules used the historic examples of the rise of fascism in Italy and Germany in the 20s and 30s to draw out the common lessons. He quoted German Marxist Clara Zetkin who said that fascism is the, “punishment of the proletariat for failing to carry out the revolution.” With capitalist society in crisis, the workers in Germany rose up again and again, attempting to take power and transform society. But each time they were betrayed and blocked by their own leaders. In this situation, the petty bourgeoisie, driven mad by the situation, were used by the ruling class to destroy the workers’ movement, liquidating the organizations of the working class.

Today, however, the class balance of forces is massively on the side of the working class – and more than ever before. The historical base of fascism, the petty bourgeoisie and the peasantry, has been reduced massively, while the working class has grown by hundreds of millions. As a result, even though fascist groups are more and more prominently making themselves seen, they remain tiny and unable to garner a mass base as in the past. This means that people claiming that fascism is close to taking power are crying wolf.

However, the fact that fascist groups are small and unlikely to gain a mass following doesn’t mean that these groups are not a threat. Jules stated that these groups are violent and dangerous, and must be fought with mass mobilizations of workers and oppressed peoples using class struggle methods like mass demonstrations and strikes. The slogan of Marxists is simple: “An injury to one is an injury to all!” The unity of the working class is our strongest weapon. Jules ended his presentation by saying that the task of revolutionaries is to link the struggle against fascism to the general struggle against capitalism which produces nothing but misery and fuels the violence of the far right.

You can watch Jules’ presentation here:

Hands off Venezuela!

The original program of the Marxist School contained a presentation on the Vietnam Won the Sunday afternoon. However, due to the ongoing coup attempt in Venezuela, we decided to instead hold a special session open to the public on the theme of “Hands off Venezuela!” The presentation was given by Alex Grant, Fightback ( editor and organiser with the Hands Off Venezuela campaign.

Montreal school 2019 6 Image FightbackAlex Grant explained the coup in Venezuela has been cooked up by American imperialists and their Canadian allies. Its goal is not only to re-take control of Venezuelan oil but to crush the Bolivarian revolution / Image: Fightback

A large part of the presentation was dedicated to revisiting the history of the Bolivarian revolution, to help us get a better understanding of how the current situation developed. This served to expose the hypocrisy of the Venezuelan opposition and the oligarchs who support them. Alex recalled that the oligarchs who are now labeling Nicolas Maduro a “dictator” are the same people who carried out the bloody repression of the mass movement of the Caracazo in 1989, when between 2000 and 5000 people lost their lives. These same people organized the coup d’etat in 2002 which attempted to overthrow the democratically elected government of Hugo Chavez. They also sabotaged the economy in order to undermine the government, with no regards for the effects on the Venezuelan poor. They organized violent riots in 2017. The Venezuelan opposition have absolutely nothing to teach anyone about “democracy”.

Alex underlined that the coup d’etat has been entirely cooked up by American imperialists and their Canadian allies. He explained that the goal of the imperialists is not only to re-take control of Venezuelan oil but also to crush the Bolivarian revolution once and for all, to send a clear message to Latin American workers: if you rise up, we will crush you.

Montreal school 2019 7 Image FightbackA deep hatred of oppression and exploitation is ingrained within all the activists of the International Marxist Tendency, along with an unshakable faith in the victory of the socialist revolution / Image: Fightback

We must fight against this new imperialist offensive with all of our might. At the same time, as Alex reminded us, it is necessary to complete the revolution. The economic situation in Venezuela is truly catastrophic. With the majority of the economy still in private hands, the capitalists have the ability to sabotage the economy. The conciliatory measures and compromises that Maduro has taken with the oligarchs only reinforces their determination to overthrow the regime. Rather than compromises, the revolution needs to take the economy out of the hands of the oligarchy and move forward with the expropriation of the main levers of the economy. The economy must be placed under democratic workers control in order to begin a genuine transition to socialism and exit this crisis.

Alex concluded his inspiring presentation by affirming that it is the duty of socialists all over the world to oppose this coup d’etat led by American and Canadian imperialism. He recalled the words of Hugo Chavez, who said that the best way to aide the revolution was to make a revolution in your country!

You can watch Alex’s presentation here:

At the end of the school, Alex gave an interview with Telesur on the subject of the situation in Venezuela. You can watch the interview here (it starts at 8:25):

Our thoughts are with comrade Kadour

The school ended with a truly upsetting event. A comrade at the school, Kadour, suffered a cardiac arrest while he was speaking during the discussion on Venezuela. The latest information that we have is that comrade Kadour is in the hospital in critical condition.

We met Kadour at a demonstration against the Venezuelan coup in January. He and his wife came from Algeria to visit their daughter in Montreal. Upon meeting us they decided to register for the Marxist Winter School. He also attended our recent conference on “Quebec solidaire, secularism and the fight against racism”. He expressed on Sunday how much he appreciated the Marxist School and that he had learned a lot over the weekend.

The comrades of the International Marxist Tendency send their most sincere thoughts to the family and friends of Kadour. We hope they can find the courage necessary to get through these tough times.

In his closing remarks, Alex Grant explained that life is very fragile. We don’t know how long we have on this planet. But the time we have must be used properly. The fight against capitalism is one that is worth devoting ourselves to, to the best of our ability. A deep hatred of oppression and exploitation is ingrained within all the activists of the International Marxist Tendency, along with an unshakable faith in the victory of the socialist revolution. This is what gives us the strength to overcome all hardships, even the most difficult and unjust ones.