On Wednesday, May 30th a night march in solidarity with the Quebec Student Strike sparked a glimmer of militancy that has been missing in the Toronto activist milieu for quite some time. For nearly a decade, we in the Toronto left have degenerated into a pattern of reformist agitation, the worst form of movementism, where we have tailed social democrats, hidden ourselves in trade unionism and advocacy work. This produced boring and predictable demonstrations where the same “usual suspect” speakers, cult of personalities, and flavor of the month academics preach to the converted before we all embark on marching around the same four city blocks. Whatever militancy we used to possess evaporated in these parades with radical trappings––grand affairs that were radical in form but reformist in content and orientation.
But now, due to the student rebellions in Quebec, the Toronto movement is slowly coming alive with new forces reinvigorating the older forces. And though this revitalization might be more significant than the failed revitalization attempted by #occupy, it is still barely significant. Like #occupy, the Quebec Student Strike is also imported––on Wednesday we were marching in solidarity with a movement that had its organic roots elsewhere rather than in the midst of a rebellion springing from the precise contradictions of Toronto’s class struggle. But in the midst of this solidarity march there was a glimmer of radicalism that produced an initiative to prolong the march, to reject the simple around-the-block concessionary route.
Of course, those of us who participated in this initiative were attacked by the organizers for ruining their plans. They claimed that they had worked hard to organize the march, despite the fact that this organization seemed only to consist of an email call-out (where everyone involved organized their own contingents to attend with their own reasons for attending), and a planned route––a route that was being rejected by the people at the moment of the so-called “split”. To be sure, they might have worked hard amongst their own organizational networks to figure out this route and what to write in the email, but the march’s attendance was not the product of any agitation amongst the masses––the majority arrived in response to an email that was forwarded everywhere with little idea of who the organizers were or what they were organizing aside from a march. This, of course, speaks to another failing of the Toronto left: we rely on spontaneity, on public branding and postering, and then hope that the people who show up, because of word of mouth and informational routes that we have nothing do with, will follow our lead. Yet if we want a movement to survive its initial momentum, we require structure. Those who organized the internet call and the route, along with the non-organizers, need to think about building such a structure.
Still, we were accused of being wreckers when the only thing we helped wreck was a planned route. Even worse, because the Toronto left, like much of the petty bourgeois North American left, is entrenched in a not-for-profit model of organizing––anchored in crude identity politics and privilege theory––an appeal to one’s marginalization or oppression on identity grounds can often be employed to enforce the authority of tiny privileged cabals of student and post-student activists. The PRAC was accused of being a small group of “manarchists” who were undermining the authority of the women organizers. Although it is true that one group of PRAC men accused of being responsible for planning the “split” simply endorsed the initiative, it is also true that this “split” was initiated by one male PRAC comrade along with a female anarchist. In addition, most of the march of all genders wanted to keep marching. But despite the fact that the PRAC is not an organization composed of macho anti-feminist “dudes”, the accusation brings up the question of our relation to identity politics and the way anti-oppression and “safe-space” discourses are deployed in the “movement” to sometimes obscure other political perspectives and actions.
To be fair, those comrades involved in initiating and supporting the “split” should have behaved in a more disciplined and humble manner––the behaviour of some of us, admittedly, did not help matters and demands our self-criticism and rectification. There are some who did act macho and we have criticized them for their behaviour, just as they have self-criticized. There will be continuous rectification and transformation through our practice in the class struggle. In the PRAC, we recognize that the vast majority of oppressed workers in the service and productive industries, who are often recent immigrants, proletarian women, and poor men may not be abreast of the current “intersectional” analysis or how to therefore “check their privileges.” The process of transforming people requires a violent and revolutionary rupture with the prevailing repressive social order, but also a rupture with an identity politics that is not in the service of abolishing the root of exploitation and oppression. Regardless of our own lapses in discipline and behaviour, as an organization we supported the “split”. We are also mindful, though, of how women can be used as “optical support” in order to mask political content: if the women PRAC members were in the centre of the break-off would that have made our decision to “split” politically righteous, should we have tried to have our women comrades gather around our male comrades so that we looked “properly feminist” and thus used them as little more than a deflection for criticism? And by the same token, could those launching the supposedly feminist criticisms not be accused of playing the same optical identity politics game that in some ways mocks a feminist politics, at least a proletarian feminist politics, by hoping that the appearance of identity somehow equals the precise political approach?
Whatever the case, when the masses were presented with the opportunity to disperse in Dufferin Grove Park, they rejected this opportunity and continued onwards. People wanted to keep marching because they were angry, excited, and tired of marches with pre-ordained, ritualized beginnings, middles, and endings. And we followed the masses, marching with them, quite happy that we weren’t shutting down the street disruption before the people were ready to stop. As a comrade from another organization said to us several blocks past the initial end point: “there are times to hold the people back, but this isn’t one of them.” Eventually things ended as spontaneously as they had continued, around midnight at the centre of Queen and Spadina, in the midst of the dull stirrings of militancy––an excitement that we were reclaiming something we had lost seven years ago when the established Toronto Left cannibalized itself. [Edit: due to the confusion of this statement, we decided it was best to provide a brief explanation of what we meant. We were not speaking of any single event, sectarian fight, etc., but simply indicating that somehow, after a period of militancy, the Toronto left turned inwards, focused primarily on reformist goals, burnt out, and began to use up its resources and disintegrate. This was a process, not some controversial moment.]
To be sure, it would be a mistake on our part to imagine that the tiny fraction of militancy reclaimed in Wednesday’s moment of creative spontaneity was tantamount to revolution. Just as the march organizers organized little more than a route, an email call-out, and some posters, ALL of us in attendance failed to organize more than fractions of our own forces. We also need to reclaim the tradition of doing revolutionary mass work, building ourselves into militant organizations outside of spontaneous demonstrations of the peoples’ justified anger: when the Quebec Student Strike ends Canadian capitalism will still exist, and our solidarity marches in Toronto are just an echo of this general problematic.
We also need to think about our goals in these marches. It is one thing to reject the stagnant boundaries of Toronto’s demonstration dogma, but it is quite another to build a revolutionary movement that produces its own demonstrations, can embed itself in moments of mass creative spontaneity, and do something more than simply encourage militancy amongst a bunch of disparate and angry protestors. If we are to build something like a student strike in Toronto, then we need to think about doing mass work in proletarian high schools rather than simply universities––which is why the PRAC and its student front, the RSM, is gearing up to launch its 100 Schools Campaign, aimed at building a revolutionary movement among high school students. And if we want to build something beyond a student movement then we have to think about a revolutionary organization unified in theory and practice, rather than the same old movementist models.
What we have also tried to do ever since our founding in December 2010 at the Second Canadian Revolutionary Congress (an initiative of the PCR-RCP) is draw lines of demarcation in the militant left. We began with a boycott of the federal elections, shaking the Toronto left from its torpor and discovering that some organizations and individuals possessed a near religious devotion to a bourgeois convention. Now we are putting forward the suggestion that the Toronto left cannot continue with business-as-usual. In these spaces, bourgeois legality is another dividing line, a polarizing issue.
The crisis and its climate of austerity is upon us and we are caught unprepared, organizationally, ideologically, and especially, politically for its storm. People are rising up, decades of rebellions and repressions are upon us, and we need to figure out how to transform this rebellious anger into something sustainable and committed for a protracted fight against capitalism. In Mao’s words: “there is a great storm under heaven… the situation is excellent.”
To get involved with the PRAC in the next solidarity rally, please email:
To get involved with the 100 Schools Campaign, please email: