July 29, 2012

The youth struggle today: reform and revolution, local and general

Based on a greetings given by Drew Garvie on behalf of the Central Executive Committee to a meeting of YCLers in Vancouver, July 2012

Thank you to the Young Communist League British Columbia for having me here today, on behalf of the Central Executive Committee, for your provincial convention which also takes place on the same weekend as Moncada Day.

This is entirely appropriate. Moncada Day celebrates the movement that grew into the triumphant Cuban revolution, which was born on the 26th of July 1953 when Fidel and Raul Castro and around 160 other brave revolutionaries attacked the Moncada Barracks in Santiago de Cuba.

This meeting of the Young Communist League comes at a juncture in the youth and student movement when the forces of monopoly capitalism are instituting a strong offensive against the people and the environment through their reactionary, pro-war governments: the Harper Conservatives in Ottawa and their allies, the Clark Liberals in Victoria.

At the same time, the fight back is developing at an accelerating rate.

Signs of this can be seen especially in the youth and student movement. The development of Occupy successfully popularized the struggle of the “99%” against the 1%. There is some increased militancy from the student movement across English-speaking Canada, drawing inspiration from the ongoing historic and massive Qu├ębec student strike. The Charter of Youth Rights campaign is emerging.

Quebec, although on the other side of the country, is especially important. The bold unity and sheer numbers of the mobilization has scared the ruling class and sent a call-out for youth to rise-up.

Millions of people are also participating in general strikes and demonstrations in countries like Greece, Portugal, Britain and India.  Much of Latin America continues to advance as an anti-imperialist front.

The revolutionary uprisings across North Africa and the Middle East which started around 18 months ago have not faded away. In Egypt there are continued strikes by factory workers, and street demonstrations by students.


The growing youth resistance has borne-out what the YCL said almost two years ago at our Central Convention, that the youth should take courage at the weakness of capitalism and build the fight back.  We are in dynamic times, with many dangers and challenges but also the potential for a better future for British Colombia and Canada – and resurgent socialism.

We are being told by the corporate media that the economic crisis is to blame for aggressive budget cutbacks.  For example, the recent Harper Budget, the Omnibus Bill C-38.  We are again told that we can no longer afford the social programs that working people have won after generations of struggle.

Governments are broke and there’s nothing they can do about it, except make the working class pay the bill.

This is what people are hearing in British Colombia, in Ontario, in Quebec, but also internationally in Greece, in Spain, in Britain, in Chile, in India, and elsewhere.  It’s a refrain that the pro-capitalist governments, whether they are right-wing or social democratic, basically have in common around the world.

Is it true?

Young workers and student activists can clearly see the dangerous lie to the claims behind 'austerity' when we have a global perspective. Even in a provincial meeting like yours today, it is important that the international and the local are always dialectically connected.

Consider the global economic crisis; the question of war and peace; and environmental struggles. Or the campus struggles today, with the student uprising in Quebec and the challenges for the student movement here in BC.  How is the general connected with the specific?

First, the 'financial crash' or 'long rescission'  or 'slow recovery' or as we have been accurately calling it from the beginning  the capitalist economic crisis.

This crisis was not created by social programs, or by the people.  It was created by capitalism itself. In fact, because of the internal contradictions of the capitalist economy, it operates in cycles of boom, crisis, depression and recovery which is politely re-labeled by economists 'the business cycle'.

And whether in the form of the velvet glove of “welfare state” reformism or the iron fist of neoliberal reaction, the policies of finance capital and its state have merely created new contradictions.

Over the last 40 years, corporate profits have skyrocketed, and big business has paid less and less taxes to the State. By eroding the tax system, keeping wages down, speeding up the working day, busting unions, privatizing profitable parts of the public sector, and breaking into new markets through trade agreements and even war, the capitalists hoped to survive systemic contradictions -- especially falling rates of profit. Because while Capital has made larger and large profits, the rate of accumulation was not rising (as new technologies were introduced).

Capital put the bill in the hands of government and the people, forcing them to borrow from the capitalists. This debt itself became a commodity.  When the economic crisis hit, it was public money that went to try and resuscitate Capital through bailouts -- causing more debt. Who holds this debt? Well the capitalists, of course!

Now we are told it is our duty to feed the machine more.

As the crisis broke in 2007, debt spiked further.  Now, in Europe, they’re back to demand repayment on their loans, that were given to themselves.  This is called 'the Eurozone crisis' but it is really just another example of the global economic crisis of capitalism. Even Prime Minister Stephen Harper quietly said the last Greek election could effect the world -- including Canada.

The Harper Conservatives would like us to believe the economic crisis has really not effected Canada, but you here in BC know otherwise.

The youth movement understands its local struggles clearer and better when it has a 'big-picture' focus.

Capitalism is a system without democratic social planning, which as Engels said produces an “anarchy of capital” which is the cause of the crisis – of misery, exploitation, unemployment, poverty wages, and environmental devastation around the world. It is what the People are up against, but there are alternatives.

Communism and socialism are not words to be embarrassed of.

Capitalism is the real failed system.

And we putting socialism back onto the negotiation table!


At our most recent meeting of the YCL Central Committee we drew the connection between economic crisis and war.

The World Federation of Democratic Youth, the World Peace Council and the Canadian Peace Congress, and the international meeting of Communist and Worker’s Parties have all warned of the increased aggressiveness by imperialism.

As we report in the latest Rebel Youth magazine, a military intervention in Syria is being planned right now by imperialist alliances like the North Atlantic Treaty Organization or NATO.

As we have seen in Libya, Palestine, Afghanistan, Haiti, Colombia, Paraguay, and many other places: the people are not done any favors by imperialist intervention. ‘Regime change’ in Syria would led to a terrible blood-bath and provide a road for imperialism to hit at Iran.

On the way to BC, I saw the Economist magazine in the airport with an article entitled “Syria: the end game”.
How many millions of dollars will be spent on another war? Money that, as your meeting documents say, should go towards BC’s crisis of child poverty – and job creation with good union jobs.

We have called for all peace-loving youth in Canada to support a peaceful and political solution by the Syrian people themselves.

The question of peace is also a challenge for BC young workers and students to address as a movement, and find ways to mobilize opposition in the streets.

Even when these issues seem forgotten, the YCL has a duty to remember the importance of the struggle for peace. The YCL must never abandon the principle of working-class internationalism, the principle that working people of the world must stand united against capitalist wars and for the class struggle.

And so with the question of internationalism we return to the relationship between the specific and the general.

On the other side of the Pacific, there have been tremendous anti-nuclear protests in Japan. The March 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster has lead to the evacuation of close to 2,000 people and over 500 disaster-related deaths, as well as the release of radioactive material into the Pacific. We would like to take the occasion of this meeting to express our solidarity as the YCL with the environmental movement in Japan.

Turning our eyes to home, we also call for the evacuation of all US troops and the closure of the Nanose Military Base which is a weapons testing area for US nuclear submarines.

The environment is understandably of vital important to the youth, because it is a struggle for the future. Climate change, for example, shows clearly the link between the global and the local.

Just a few days ago, scientists announced a rapid and massive thaw of Greenland’s glaciers. After just a small rise in oceanic water temperatures, and this office could be threatened by tidal storm waters!

In this context, we also join with the people’s movements and shout out that militant solidarity can block the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline!

The YCL has a long and proud history of opposing project like this, exporting unprocessed raw materials, which strengthens U.S. imperialism and its Canadian cronies, but fails to create jobs.

It is great to see the youth and student resistance to the pipeline, here in BC!

The cynics and the disheartened progressives who thought that the working class and youth of North America were “hopeless” now have examples in Wisconsin, across the continent in the form of the Occupy movement, and the Quebec student uprising.

The Quebec student struggle is another case where a local struggle is framed in an international context of struggle for accessible education, and then becomes part of that international resistance.

Globally, accessible education is under dangerous attack with the Austerity agenda. Students in Britain and Spain been a part of that renewed militant fight back.

In Chile, students joined a general strike of the miners in the summer, and a political strike was launched to replace the Pinochet-era constitution with a new constitution that would enshrine guaranteed free and accessible education.  600 000 marchers hit the streets in a country of 15 million.  The Young Communists of Chile have been at the forefront of this struggle.

I would like to touch on the Quebec student uprising which is perhaps foremost in our minds in the discussion people`s resistance today.

It is also a topic where the CEC has devoted much attention to, in consultation with the YCL`s all-Canada student working group telephone meeting, which is growing and meets a couple times a month.

We would really like to see the call grow and develop, to include more participating from BC.

One way to get a good handle on how strong a movement is, is to see what the thinkers of the capitalist class are saying about it.  Former advisor to the US state Department on the Quebec student struggle, David Jones has spoken about the Quebec spring. This is not a man who is on our side of the class struggle.

What was David Jones greatest worry?

That "students elsewhere (may) determine Quebec has provided a ‘learning experience.’”

As the YCL, that is exactly what we want: for lessons of Quebec to be shared with other students – and young workers!

We can not simply say – oh, that’s those French speakers. They have a different, culture, history, language, territory and economy, etc.

That is what the corporate media is saying. Quebec is ‘special’ – so the student uprising can not come to BC.

It is striking that when Quebec demands its sovereignty -- which we broadly support, proposing a new constitution on an equal basis with English-speaking Canada, up to and including the right of separation – but when Quebec`s self-determination and the national question comes into question, these factors that make Quebec a nation are suddenly forgotten by the corporate media and Quebec is no longer ‘special.’

However, a communists we know that there is a common class struggle which unites the different nations in Canada.

The fight for accessible education is a class and democratic struggle.

I was in Montreal last May as part of a delegation of student journalists from Guelph, Ontario and we interviewed student leader Gabriel Nadeau Duboise of the CLASSE union. He told me about the repression they have been facing by the police and with Bill 78, but also the slogan – “Student Strike, People’s Struggle.”

The students in Quebec, through struggling for a freeze in tuition fees, have learned a great deal through their battles and are now advancing other people’s movement demands, as their new “Share Our Future” manifesto says. You can read it on our RY blog or in the latest People’s Voice. I would like to quote:

“This is the meaning of our vision, and the essence of our strike: it is a shared, collective action whose scope lies well beyond student interests. We are daring to call for a different world, one far removed from the blind submission our present commodity-based system requires”

This is an important political view for the YCL and also shows the strength of our analysis: that the quantitative struggle for reforms, like accessible education, are necessary because they help build towards a qualitative change in the people’s class consciousness, organization and unity; ultimately it is towards the realizing the necessity of fundamental social transformation and revolutionary change – socialist consciousness.

The struggle for immediate social progress, within the framework of capitalism, and the struggle for making a rupture, a sharp break overthrowing of the system, are objectively linked as a process.
This can be difficult to grasp in the youth and student movement not just because youth (as much as we hate to admit it!) can lack experience with struggle.

That’s true, but it is difficult because it gets at the question of how we understand, as revolutionaries, our basic reality. If reform and revolution are opposite tendencies – ideologically, politically and economically – how can they be a united process?

Reforms are won through the power of the movement. Any fundamental change depends on the mobilisation of the masses of people. Nevertheless, under capitalism reform gains will be temporary and precarious.

Let’s keep in mind Quebec here, which has the lowest tuition fees in the country – this is not the first student strike in Quebec, it is the eight strike. And still the capitalists keep trying to push up fees! While we haven’t seen a significant gain come out of the battle – yet! – the struggle has become a mass and social mobilization far beyond the campuses which maintains, albeit unclearly, a perspective of challenging corporate power.

If the movement, while thick in the action for immediate reform battles, can maintain a revolutionary qperspective of class struggle and overcoming capitalism it will intensify the militancy of the working class.

And that is the kind of position the youth and student movement needs to be in – militant and united.

Conditions are always changing. The earth spins around on its axis, marking each day. It may seem that day after day, or year after year, life is the same. But life proves Marxism`s claim that the capitalist system is unsustainable and crisis-ridden. The moment we are living in is making history. Political ‘ruptures’ have been breaking out around the world – take the Arab spring – and the strength of the movement and its leadership is often decisive.

Perhaps it is too early to judge the results of the Arab spring in Egypt and Tunisia, but we can see how true this strategic perspective is, by remembering the first successful socialist revolution in North America – in Cuba.

The Moncada day we are celebrating this weekend set the revolutionary process into action in Cuba.  But the main demands of the youth who stormed the barracks were free and fair elections. Just a year before, in 1952, US-supported dictator Fulgencio Batista had organized a coup and rigged the elections. And so, disguised as businessmen interested in Clay Pigeon shooting, a group of young radicals came together under the leadership of Fidel, Raul and others, training at the University of Havana.

In the short term, their raid was tremendously unsuccessful. It did not start an uprising. Instead, many of the youth and students died. Fidel, Raul and the rest of the rebels went to prison. But we know the rest of the story. A mass movement of the Cuban people against Batista developed with force, conditions changed and a crisis developed.

Facing armed insurrection that had liberated most of the island, as well as a mass uprising and a general strike, in January 1959 on New Years day Batista fled into exile (to eventually settle in fascist Portugal). And the revolutionaries lead by Fidel and Che marched into a celebratory Havana!

After the overthrow of Batista, the Cuban revolution kept advancing. It developed into a socialist revolution and the Cuban people built the first free territory in the Americas.

By celebrating Moncada, we remember that the Cuban revolution was made possible by the people’s struggles that came before, and took many hard years of organization and work. The small immediate battles and the big sweeping changes were not separate, but in a contradictory relationship together.

The YCL is a unique group in the youth and student movement because it ‘gets’ this unity of reform and revolution.

While we don’t try to impatiently impose our demands on the youth movement, we don’t sit on the sidelines or simply ‘go with the flow.’  We are not compliant or complacent with the situation today where many movements have adopted tepid demands without a common strategy (other than voting NDP).

The vanguard role of the YCL arises in action, working in the political direction of the Communist Party of Canada, and applying that strategic direction within the youth and student movement of unity and militancy.
What can be learned from the Quebec student movement by student activists in English speaking Canada and BC?

This is an important question for your meeting to discuss.

In our statement for the Feburary 1st “Education is a Right” cross-Canada day of action, the YCL made a criticism of the current tactics of the Canadian Federaton of Students or CFS, in a constructive and respectful way.  We called these protests an excellent step in the direction of developing into a truly broad and united fightback.

In other words, February 1st fell far short of being what was necessary but could have been a good start.

Afterwards, in People`s Voice, we said the poor turn-out was a ‘wake-up call’ exposing the ‘lack of an action plan’

We called for ramping‑up actions on campus. Sit ins. Occupations. More rallies. [and] bringing the struggle into the community and winning the moral support of the public which, at least in sentiment, is probably already there - but not yet in a visible way that cannot be ignored.

Our policy is for a united and militant student movement that moves the campuses into action and reaches out beyond, to stand with the struggles of labour and other people`s struggles.

Our current policy in the student movement is that:

1. The student movement and the CFS needs an escalating plan of action for a broad and united fight back;
2.  This struggle should open a broad democratic debate about free, accessible, quality, public, not-for-profit education;
3. That the political reason for the student movement’s struggle must be brought into the hands of the members themselves through democratic empowerment;
4. The student movement must urgently find unity with Quebec and Aboriginal students, and it must be on the basis of their rights to sovereignty and self-determination as nations;

Since the CFS Day of Action, Quebec has exploded. We must say that the solidarity movement in Canada has really been outstanding – but not with any help from Mulclair`s NDP! – but now each point on this list, which may have seemed abstract in January, is very concretely on the table.

The Charter of Youth Rights campaign compliments this perspective on unity.

In addition to free education from cradle to grave (including childcare) the YCL also demands abolishing student debt, grants not loans, kicking military recruitment and research of our campuses, restoring and expanding funding to education including Aboriginal education, and a living stipend for students.

Winning these demands is not a question of magic structures or magic leaders but finding the way to organize for a major battle, drawing hundreds of thousands if not millions of students into struggle.

In such a battle a student strike would be, as we said in January, the most effective way to put moral pressure on the government. It should therefore be part of the student`s arsenal.

But here is an important point.

Beyond the debate about tactics we think there is an ideological battle here, which is also observable in the Labour movement.

On the one side are the strategies of ‘lobby or wait until the Election and vote NDP’ and right-wing social democracy.

On the other side are the left and progressive forces that are calling out for action.

We are not in the arm chair on these questions, we are in action.

The CEC and the YCL student conference call helped support and organize the recent “Student Solidarity Tour”, bringing Quebec activists to 9 cities in Ontario, largely organized by our comrades on the ground and comrade Ryan from YCL Hamilton who is also a member of the Central Committee.

This was a very positive step forward for the League in Ontario as well as Centrally and had a significant impact on the situation in Ontario.  It was the first time that CLASSE leaders and the Canadian Federation of Students were connected on a project as large as this, from Ottawa to Windsor.

Turnout to the events were very good and CEC member and leader of the LJC-Q, comrade Marianne Breton Fontaine had a chance to address about a thousand Ontario student activists with our call for unity and militancy as the way forward.

This was built from other work including the “student activist conference” the YCL CEC and the LJC-Q convened in Montreal in January. Could we do the same thing with a YCL young workers conference?

This weekend, many of our activists are in Toronto at “student strike training workshops” which Marianne will be presenting at. Over lunch, the YCL is holding a special fraction meeting of all our members attending the conference , to coordinate our contribution.

To update you on other activities across the country, the YCL-Ontario just finished their convention a month ago.  14 delegates from 4 clubs were in attendance and dealt with over 60 amendments through thorough debate and we elected a renewed leadership with a PC of ten comrades, including young workers and student activists from our new clubs in Ottawa and Windsor. I was re-elected as the Ontario YCL organizer.

The YCL also had a visible presence through participation in the Toronto Pride parade which concluded the convention weekend.

Rebel Youth, after a delay in printing which some of you in this room will know about directly, has come out with a double issue, which features the Quebec student strike and is in colour.  It is being well received as the youth movement is eager to learn about what is really going on in the streets of Montreal and Quebec city.

I am happy to see that your meeting will be discussing contributions from British Colombia to our magazine and we do need help making sure that issues are produced more frequently.  Above all, we need participation and involvement in the commission, and building the magazine among young workers with new subscriptions.  Our magazine should be at the centre of our agitation, organizational and educational work of the League across Canada.

In Cuba solidarity – which we should draw extra attention to this weekend as it is the anniversary of the July 26th movement and the storming of the Moncada Barracks which marked the beginning of the Cuban revolution – we have sent two members of the YCL on this year’s Che Brigade, including Central Committe member Dan Mozarowski, and will be using this participation to strengthen our solidarity work.

We will be visiting Nova Scotia this Fall for a school, and have started organizing efforts to grow the League on the East Coast.

We need to prioritize more the work of young workers who are being hit hard by the economic crisis.
Where we are visible, active and working collectively as the YCL we are growing, sometimes significantly.

The current economic and political conditions have caused more and more young workers and students to look for alternatives to cut-backs, privatization and austerity.  We have answers to the questions that are now being raised.  The case against war, poverty, misery, environmental devastation, unemployment, exploitation and oppression is really the case for socialism.

With these thoughts, comrades, I think I will conclude.

I also should mention that next year will be a special occasion for the YCL, the 90th anniversary of the League and our founding in 1923.

Our 90th anniversary will be a special occasion that we will have to celebrate in some way as we mark 90 years of fighting history for young workers.

Again, good luck with your work today and we hope your debates are fruitful. As our slogan says:
The Youth are the Future, The Future is Socialism!

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