This weekend saw the twelfth edition of the Montreal Marxist Winter School. For the second year in a row, this must-attend event for North American Marxists had to be held online. Despite the more impersonal nature of the Zoom meetings, the tremendous enthusiasm of the participants was palpable.
In a contradictory way, being forced to meet online allowed us to reach many more people. This allowed people from all over the world to participate, including Zimbabwe, Haiti, India and Egypt, in addition to large contingents from Europe, the United States and of course Canada and Quebec. Demonstrating the thirst for revolutionary ideas, a record 1,191 people registered.
This year’s school was held under the theme “In Defense of Marxism”. The choice of this theme was no accident. These are interesting times. As Fred Weston, editor of Marxist.com, explained in the opening session, the capitalist system is in deep crisis, causing political instability and revolutionary upheaval around the world. In this context, Marxism, the “doctrine of class struggle”, as Fred explained, could not be more relevant.
To wage these crucial struggles, we need to understand the world. As Fred pointed out, Marxism is a crystallization of the experience of the working class. This experience was hard-won in past struggles, such as the 1972 Common Front general strike, which was the subject of one of the Sunday afternoon presentations, given by our activist Simon Berger. This pivotal moment in the history of Quebec is full of lessons for revolutionaries, the main one being that a revolution cannot be improvised. We must prepare for it right away.
This is why the International Marxist Tendency places such importance on the study of theory: to better educate us as revolutionaries. We also study economics, which allows us to understand exactly how the capitalists exploit the workers. This is what activist Vincent R. Beaudoin explained on Saturday afternoon. And for those whose thirst for learning about Marxist economics had not been satisfied, Alex Grant, editor of the journal Fightback, took a look at Marxist Theory of Rent on Sunday afternoon. This topic is particularly important in the context of the severe housing crisis we are experiencing.
And as Marxists, we also study philosophy. As Hamid Alizadeh, editor of the website In Defense of Marxism, explained, philosophy is crucial for political struggle, because philosophy is our method of understanding the world. In his presentation entitled “What is truth and is it possible to know it”, given on Sunday morning, Hamid defended Marxist philosophy against fashionable postmodern philosophy. He showed how the philosophical approach of denying the objectivity of the world, which is increasingly popular among scientists in both the natural and social sciences, is tantamount to denying the possibility of understanding the world and thus transforming it. The ultimate effect of this worldview is to defend the status quo.
The political consequences of this postmodern view are particularly evident in the struggle against various forms of oppression. As the Indigenous struggle has erupted over the past year, getting the right approach to this issue is absolutely essential for revolutionaries in Quebec and Canada. Laine Sheldon-Houle, an activist with Fightback in Alberta and a member of the Swan River First Nation, explained how Marxism, which advocates a united class struggle, is the best tool to help fight for Indigenous liberation. He denounced the postmodern view of identity politics, which pits Indigenous workers against non-Indigenous workers, and thus plays into the ruling class’ game of divide and rule.
Similarly, in the fight against racism in general, we cannot adopt the postmodern view in vogue in academia. This approach often takes the form of ‘critical race theory’ in the US. This was the subject of a presentation by Antonio Balmer of the American journal Socialist Revolution. He described how the struggle against racism and police brutality reached epic proportions in the summer of 2020. This has shaken the American ruling class, which is trying to undermine the fight against racism in every way possible. The right wing has therefore raised a hue and cry in the media against this so-called ‘critical race theory’. However, while we denounce the racist attacks of the right against this theory, Antonio also explained our disagreements with it, and in particular that we fight racism with other means: with class unity in the struggle for socialist revolution.
This class unity is more important than ever. The horrors of capitalism are innumerable and accumulating. They can be understood through the prism of the concept of alienation, well described by Karl Marx. This was the subject of the presentation by Erik Demeester of the Belgian Marxist papers Vonk and Revolution on Monday morning. He pointed out how under capitalism, humans are alienated in their work and social relations, alienated from themselves and others, and alienated from nature.
The horrors of capitalism are found even in the smallest things. Capitalism penetrates every pore of society and ruins everything that makes life enjoyable. Even art and culture wither away under capitalism. As Jérôme Métellus of the French newspaper Révolution explained in his presentation on Marxism and art, a socialist revolution would allow art to flourish again. Humans do not live on bread and water alone; we need art and culture to not only survive, but to live. The possibility of analyzing even the question of art through Marxism is a beautiful demonstration of the richness of this theory.
But theory in itself is not enough. As Marx said, philosophers have only interpreted the world, what matters is to change it. In the concluding plenary, Fightback activist Hélène Bissonnette explained the major economic, political and social processes taking place on the world stage. Rampant inflation, the inability of capitalist governments to deal with the health crisis, political polarization to the right and left, growing imperialist conflicts and increasingly frequent popular uprisings characterize our times. There is no longer any doubt that we are entering an era of revolutions and counter-revolutions. Increasingly frequent class conflicts are to be expected. It is for this class struggle that we are preparing ourselves by studying Marxism.
This is all the more important because while workers are looking for a way out of the crisis of capitalism, there is a serious lack of leadership to lead the working class in the right direction. The leaders of the trade union and the various left parties are unable to distinguish themselves from the hated establishment. The leaders of the labour movement have long ago accepted the capitalist system and therefore are unable to channel the growing anger of the workers towards the socialist transformation of society. It is up to us to rebuild the ideological traditions of struggle, the Marxist ideas that help the working class win in the struggle against capitalism. The Montreal Marxist Winter School of 2022 was a great step in this direction.