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Marxism 2018: join the resistance

Kevin Taghabon

May 10, 2018

“Capitalism is equal to cannibalism, I was taught,” said Indigenous leader Crystal Sinclair of Idle No More to a packed Saturday morning panel titled, “Indigenous sovereignty and Trudeau’s fake reconciliation”. The talk was a powerful start to a second day full of dialogue covering anti-racism and the far right, reproductive justice, climate change, and a broad swath of urgent political issues. An energetic conversation about building workers’ power around the Fight for 15 and Fairness, food service workers, and the Ontario college strike kicked off the weekend just twelve hours earlier.

Held in the University of Toronto’s Multi-Faith Centre, the annual Marxism conference brings together activists, civil society groups, trade unionists, and the broader community in an effort to sew harmony among various struggles and amplify their messages. While large political conferences often fly in ultra-high-profile guests to draw numbers, Marxism 2018 includes as many voices as possible from actual struggles happening today in Canada and overseas.

Workers rising

Reflecting the diversity of the city, country, and movements within, the program drew on knowledge from numerous racialized activists deeply involved in their communities. This was highlighted best in the opening “Workers Rising!” panel by Deena Ladd from the Workers' Action Centre, who said that if your movement is not majority racialized in an immigrant-majority city like Toronto, you’re doing something wrong. “I don’t have time for that,” she doubled down to raucous applause from the audience.

When Doug Ford, now leading Ontario’s Progressive Conservatives, cryptically say that they are going to find $5 billion dollars in “efficiencies,” then as Kevin Brice-Lall, a member of the International Socialists and organizer with 15 and Fairness, said, “another way of putting that is cuts. We are going to have less.” As Pam Frache, provincial coordinator of Ontario’s Fight for 15 and Fairness, explained, “Fragmentation is also a part of neoliberalism. How they fragment movements. We are taught that we’re all the same, that we all have the same interests. Me and Bill Gates? We’re the same!?”

The flipside of this is outlining of the ways that the movement has benefited all but the richest in Ontario. “Raising the minimum wage to $15 [moving] $5 billion from corporations and putting it directly in workers’ hands,” said Frache. This type of measurable benefit to working people, coupled with a dedicated anti-racist component, has meant that the labour reforms and the movement enjoy a plurality of support among Ontarians.

Racism feeds capitalism

“[We must dismantle racial] biases that capitalism as a system benefits from,” explained Walied Khogali, leading organizer with Toronto’s Coalition Against White Supremacy and Islamophobia (CAWSI) on one of the anti-racism panels. This means undoing the biases in our day to day lives that prevent people from building solidarity across workplaces and cash registers.

Malka Paracha, who’s recent experiences at the York University food service workers strike forged her into an admired and dedicated labour leader, spoke eloquently to this reality. “After 9/11, we need to check your bag,” she was told at an airport on the way to see her daughter. Paracha, a Muslim woman, says that she was targeted because of her head covering—resulting in a delay that made Paracha miss her flight, and her daughter was forced to be without her mother during crucial surgery. Later, Paracha was asked by an executive at a workplace she was applying to if she “knows about ISIS” as the first question during an in-person job interview. These incidents and the hardships that reverberate from them can be multiplied thousands of times, daily.

These offenses are not simply part of the culture in a sheltered class of bigoted managers. The inequities and blind spots engulf the state and society. At a time where our photogenic faux-progressive Prime Minister has done little for immigrants beyond tweeting, the transgressions of the Canadian state must be named. “The largest mass arrests in Canadian history are happening now in Quebec [against Haitian and African migrants],” said Sandy Hudson, a long-time student activist, co-founder of Black Lives Matter - Toronto, and co-host of Sandy and Nora Talk Politics. “The media’s response? Not worth putting it on the news.” The idea that the oft-valorized police forces in this country could be carrying out this type of egregious action is surprising to many laypeople in Canada. But the police have never been a force for justice. “We can’t mold that into something good,” said Hudson about the Canadian justice system and police forces. “It was never meant to be good.”

Socialism from below

Marxism 2018’s theme “Join the Resistance” is apt. During a time of existential threats from nuclear war to catastrophic climate change (as well as the countless daily ails brought to us by capitalism), it is urgently necessary that ordinary people get together and push back. This thread ran through all the weekend’s panels and conversations in the Multi-Faith Centre. One of the most insidious ideas taught to people in our society—both through culture and formal education—is that “great men” direct history. Nothing could be further from the truth.

This was especially clear in the closing panel, “50 Years Since 1968”, which included panelists discussing the Japanese and Ethiopian student movements as well as the Black revolutionary organizations of the time in the US. The much-celebrated revolutionary year of 1968 was not an accident or an aberration. There is, of course, nothing essential in the year “1968” that assured the radical struggles within. Numbers should not be fetishized. The generation-defining revolts from Prague to Berkeley were the results of years of relentless organizing and coalition building by a minority of dedicated activists. From the legalization of trade unions in Canada in the 19th century to the current $15 and Fairness and anti-Kinder Morgan struggles, nothing of note has ever breached the political levees without a steadfast, confident, organized campaign from masses of ordinary people.

Recognizing these realities, it is crucial to build socialism from below. This means agitating in workplaces and one's own union. This means opposing fascistic speech which is explicitly against the physical safety and free speech of all others. This means dismantling the systems of rapacious capital expansion that consume human beings and the natural world itself. Now, more than ever, the future depends on those of us alive today to build it.

If you agree with these ideas, join the International Socialists

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