May 22, 2012 marked the 100th day of student protests in Quebec, initiated around increases in tuition but adapting an overall anti-capitalist thrust, protests have escalated and gained momentum as the Quebec government installed draconian new laws --Loi78, basically banning public demonstrations and criminalizing the student movement. With such popular and diverse participation, this is a grave opportunity for the age old game Denounce & Destroy played by activists the world over. Through a brief media scan and my terrible French, I think I have a vague picture of a specific incident of this around a series of events at the end of April, that actually seems to have worked out well in the end.
Around the end of April, 2012, tensions had risen in negotiations between student groups and government as protests escalated in numbers and action. Quebec’s CÉGEP and university student federations ended negotiation talks because CLASSE, the most militant element, had been banned from the talks. They insist CLASSE be returned to the table. CLASSE represents 67 student organizations and 100,000 students, and is the largest of three negotiating student groups.
The Ministre of Education, Beauchamp blamed CLASSE for a demonstration that ‘turned violent’ on April 24th in Montreal during a truce that had been called between government and student groups during negotiations. A number of news sources report that CLASSE issued a statement condemning violence, including CBC, Montreal Gazette and La Press, attributing this quote to CLASS leadership;
“Over the last few weeks, unacceptable actions have taken place, whether by students or other people,” declared CLASSE co-leaders Jeanne Reynolds and Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois in a joint statement.
“We cannot allow the physical integrity of citizens to be put in danger, especially those going to work. The student movement desires to struggle together with the general population and not against it.”
But the actual statement by CLASSE insists on support of civil disobedience and defends physical violence in the case of self defence, and specifically condemns police violence. The student group FUEQ promises to bring along delegates from CLASSE with it’s own representatives to negotiations.
Contrary to the above misleading statements, Global Montreal quoted Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, co-spokesperson for the CLASSE:
“We had a debate that was clear, nuanced, intelligent,” he said referring to a weekend CLASSE meeting called in response to the government’s demand that it renounce violence…We do not renounce our principles. We admit that some acts have been unjustified. We have taken this step. Now it is up to Madame Beauchamp to discuss with everyone.”
Negotiating talks between student leadership and government have since completely broken down, while the overall movement continues to grow in the streets. It appears that Quebec’s student leadership has a very strong value around building a movement that can encompass all aspects of the student movement and the larger social movement it has blossomed into.
One of the questions that keeps getting asked by Anglophones out West is, what is it that is so different in Quebec that it’s so much more radicalized there? This unwillingness to participate in the state’s divide and conquer routine is both a product of Quebec’s specific complex history and social context and a reason for their ability to sustain much more popularized radical movements.
This situation with CLASSE, and the government’s command that it denounce violence, which inherently includes all social/economic disruption and equates property and commerce with human suffering and indignity is a common tactic across the board in all resistance movements. It’s a way to foment division and conflict internally. The state declares that the more radical elements are unacceptable, and will be punished severely. And everyone who associates with them will suffer consequences too. The more moderate elements of the group become afraid and intimidated thus begin to pressure the radical elements to clam down, or reign themselves in, leading to exclusion and eventually vilification. This is happening on a massive scale all across North America right now, and it’s terrifying as an anarchist to see how well it works.
“The goal has always been the same, with the approaches to it as different as mine and Dr. Martin Luther King's non-violent marching, that dramatizes the brutality and the evil of the white man against defenseless blacks. And in the racial climate of this country today, it is anybody's guess which of the "extremes" in approach to the black man's problems might personally meet a fatal catastrophe first -- "non-violent" Dr. King, or so-called "violent" me." ~The Autobiography of Malcom X
Martin Luther King Jr:
“…In your statement you assert that our actions, even though peaceful, must be condemned because they precipitate violence. But is this a logical assertion? Isn't this like condemning a robbed man because his possession of money precipitated the evil act of robbery? … We must come to see that, as the federal courts have consistently affirmed, it is wrong to urge an individual to cease his efforts to gain his basic constitutional rights because the quest may precipitate violence. Society must protect the robbed and punish the robber.” ~Letter from Birmingham
The tension and eventual affirmation between MLK and Malcolm X is a famous example, and should serve as a lesson learned for all future generations of resistance movements. But it hasn’t. It should be a common axiom in teachings and understanding around movement building that there is a spectrum of radicalness, and this spectrum is actually necessary for large scale and long term social change. But in the past decade social movements in Canada have practically disappeared this concept –in specific, labour leaders and leftist politicians bad mouthing and baiting anarchists and anti-capitalists, with pacifist activists chiming in along behind them.
This tension, is often couched in the contrast between ‘peaceful’ vs. ‘violent’ protesters, but is actually more about goals than tactics. There are the liberals and moderates, who push for conservative lawful means of action and there are the radicals and revolutionaries who push for immediate systemic changes often outside of or counter to the law. It’s the reformist/revolutionary spectrum. Both ends of the spectrum have overlapping goals but often come into conflict with each other over both the means and the ends of social struggles. Unfortunately, peaceful protest has become equated with lawfulness in ahistoric precedents. Somehow, moderates forget that the participants of the Civil Rights Movement, though devoutly pacifist, were considered radical extremists and menaces to society in their day. Lawfulness and peacefulness are not interchangeable words, and further, are often adversaries of each other.
There is a dismal failure of moderates to understand that the state responds to these goals accordingly –regardless of how many fingers with peace symbols are held up in the air. They will attack because they are threatened with massive wide sweeping social change, not because someone else, somewhere else, broke a window or threw a Molotov cocktail. The police don’t attack organizations that are already in complete collusion with the state. That’s why state sanctioned marches don’t get tear gassed, kettled and batoned. It’s because they are already under state control, not because they are peaceful.
Moderates also catastrophically fail to recognize that radicals not only play a critical role in the overall resistance, but in the development and sustenance of their own organizations.
Moderates need radicals because:
- Mainstream leftist organizations are naturally eroded over time by bargaining and making concessions and getting/losing funding. If unchecked, this inevitably leads to impotence and failure of the organization’s own original goals. The presence of radicals in moderate groups inoculates the organization against total cooptation. These larger established organizations need to be constantly infused with new ideas and energy to prevent the inertia and stagnation that leads their organizations to falling membership and irrelevancy.
- When shit hits the fan, they will definitely be calling on the radicals to show up to the front lines to show the bosses ‘they mean business.’
- In a representative democracy, just because the majority rules, doesn’t mean that everyone else can go to hell. Anyone who claims to be a democratist must place value on all citizens, not just the party in power.
- At the most vulgar level, to say, “look, if you don’t make these reforms, these crazy kids are going to go nuts, you have to concede something, or all hell’s going to break loose.”
And radicals also need to develop more intentional and productive relationships with moderates. Moderates do have significant roles to play in terms of aiding the overall goals of liberation -even total liberation.
Radicals need moderates because:
- Leftist institutions, unions and NGO’s have money and resources that self organized, grassroots communities are in dire lack of.
- Leftist moderate organizations have access to widespread networks and organizational capacity.
- It’s never a good thing when society gets so bad people are getting dragged out of bed in the middle of the night and carted of to the camps –reformists have the capacity to prevent this from happening. Things like ‘freedom of speech’ and ‘innocent until proven guilty’ and legal aid, welfare, workplace safety standards and labour laws, etc. are all just benevolent aspects of an overall malevolent government, but these are very convenient even for the most die hard anarchist.
- Radicals face the danger of veering into isolation, where ideas and reality seldom meet. Radicals need to interact with a wide variety of people to keep their ideas realistic. And by realistic I don’t mean toned down and restrained, I mean tested and practiced in multiple setting to expand and strengthen innovative ideas and practices.
-Also, internally, within every organization, group or local issue, the radical/moderate spectrum exists. When radicals participate in moderate dominated organizations, the radicals with in that localized struggle have the opportunity to feel more supported and step forward within their own ranks, even if the over all ‘face’ of the organization is conservative.
Some recent examples of leftist organizations denouncing, condemning and undermining radical actions both peaceful and ‘violent.’
In June of 2010, rioting broke out at the Anti-G20 summit in Toronto. Ken Georgetti, President of the Canadian Labour Congress issued this statement regarding one of the largest anti-capitalist direct action organizational manifestations in the history of the Canadian state, with anywhere between 100's to a thousand participants;
“The Canadian Labour Congress abhors the behaviour of a small group of people who have committed vandalism and destroyed property in activities related to the G20 summit in Toronto.”
In December of 2011, the Occupy Oakland, having become renown for it's anti-authoritarian and direct action oriented anti-capitalist fabric called for a shut down of Pacific ports. The Port of Oakland took out a full page ad in the Oakland Tribune asking protesters not to shut down the port stating it would harm workers and the economy. After which, International Longshore Workers Union (ILWU) communications director, Craig Merrilees, was quoted in the Guardian UK,
“[Occupy organizers] have been very disrespectful of the democratic decision-making process in the union and deliberately went around that process to call their own action without consulting workers … This is being promoted by a group of people who apparently think they can call general strikes and workplace shutdowns without talking to workers and without involving the unions.”
Occupy Vancouver initiated a solidarity blockade of Ports in Vancouver, The BC Federation of Labour issued a statement against the Port Action:
"The BCFL does not support this action, or any action by the Occupy Vancouver group at Vancouver area ports that seeks to prevent our members from carrying out their assigned duties and working safely, and notes that the demonstration will not constitute a picket line as defined in the B.C. Federation of Labour’s picket line policy.”
The president of the ILWU Canada, Tom Dufresne went the step further from ‘non-support’ to open antagonism after the action. Dufresne was quoted in the Tyee,
“But some of these people are not doing their cause any good. They should take their protest to Bay Street and Howe Street and leave the poor working stiff alone. I was down at the Clark Drive entrance around 3:30, and I saw demonstrators hitting cars with their picket signs. By then, I think, the people with legitimate concerns had left.”
The moral of this sad, sad tale, is "Shut the F! up!" --Moderates, union leaders, leftist politicians, liberal community groups, etc. don’t have to agree with everything radicals and revolutionaries do, but why do they have to open their big mouths about it to the police state and corporate media? They have all the opportunity in the world to just say nothing at all. Let the whole event slide by without saying a word … Instead they use their clout and media profile to condemn and vilify marginalized, criminalized, grassroots aspects of the anti-capitalist movement. It’s an undignified blow that only serves to shoot the overall movement in the foot. ……and make no mistake, anybody can be labelled an extremist, as out of touch with the will of the people or as criminals and degenerates. Moderates can disparage and undermine a peaceful non-violent assembly if it steps out of line just as easy as it condemns a rioting black block.
Moderates would do well to actually put some effort into movement building, instead of expecting everyone else just to join them. They could attend radical groups' events, or meetings, or invite a parlay, or make their own organizations more hospitable to outsiders so that lines of communication can remain open and clear. But they don’t because as much as they claim to be guardians of the people’s movement they lack a very basic understanding of what a ‘mass based’ social movement actually is. They have no respect for or understanding of the moderate/radical spectrum that is necessary for success, and further, to their shame, disrespect the radicals in their own history who made their jobs possible! Historically, revolutions, or even just really worthwhile reforms, work when everyone along the moderate/radical, reformist/revolutionary spectrum can place themselves as respectable allies working towards a larger common goal.
English translations of French media around the student strike:
Montreal student demonstration turns violent, Protesters smash bank windows, set car on fire
CBC News, Apr. 25, 2012
La ministre Beauchamp demande une trêve à la CLASSE, Avril 23, 2012
La CLASSE condamne la violence, Avril 22, 2010
CLASSE denounces violence by student strikers, police, April 23, 2012
FEUQ will bring CLASSE reps to meeting with Quebec government, April 23
Correctif - La CLASSE prend position sur la violence, Avril 22, 2012
Translated from CLASSE meeting minutes, April 22, 2012
referred proposal: The Congress resumed at 14:11
Proposed by the SOGEECOM
Supported by the AFELC-UQAM
(1) That the CLASS actively defend the principle of civil disobedience and the actions that is, without being separated;
(2) That the CLASS recalls that civil disobedience is not violence;
(3) That the CLASS publicly condemns acts of violence and intimidation, that is to say Actions endangering deliberately or through gross negligence, the physical integrity of persons, except in self defense;
(4) That the CLASS condemns police violence and institutional suffered systematically Students, including discrimination in access to Studies based on socio-economic, injunctions harassing the right to strike and freedom Association, humiliation, intimidation, violent repression by the police and government.
(5) That the CLASS deplores the current climate in Quebec now, but it indicates it results from the Charest government's intransigence;
(6) What sense CLASS demands to be included in any negotiation process with the Government as part of this strike, as well as other organizations students;
(7) That the CLASS consider ending public debate on this issue;
(8) That the Committee of the media CLASS be mandated to announce this position in most soon as possible.
Proposed by the Executive Council
Supported by the ACSSUM
18.104.22.168 Amendment: Add "or bullying" after "violence" in (2), and replace point (3) by "Let CLASS publicly condemns the deliberate physical violence against the persons except in self-defense "
Proposed by UQAM-AFESH
Supported by the AÉGUM
22.214.171.124.1 Sub-amendment: Delete "and replace (3)" What condemns the CLASS publicly deliberate physical violence against persons except in cases of self- defense ".
New Radical Alliances For A New Era, by North Star Admin on MAY 9, 2012
G20 Protests: Fighting Back Against the Police State, Alan Sears, July 2010
The Left, Labor and Occupy, the Internationalist, May 2010
Statement by Ken Georgetti, President of the Canadian Labour Congress on vandalism surrounding Toronto G20 meeting, June 26, 2010
Open Letter to Ken Georgettie, Many labour activist signers, July 2010
The BC Federation of Labour Statement on Vancouver Occupy Port Blockade, Dec 8 2011
The statement in full:
The BC Federation of Labour continues to support the desires of the Occupy Wall Street movement for a more fair and just society and an end to the growing gap between the extremely wealthy and everyone else.
In the past few days, the BC Federation of Labour has learned that an Occupy Vancouver group plans to obstruct the operations of one or more Vancouver area ports on Monday, December 12, as part of a coordinated west coast action.
The BC Federation of Labour does not support this action, or any action by the Occupy Vancouver group at Vancouver area ports that seeks to prevent our members from carrying out their assigned duties and working safely, and notes that the demonstration will not constitute a picket line as defined in the B.C. Federation of Labour’s picket line policy.
The BC Federation of Labour encourages Occupy Vancouver and its supporters to find a means of protesting that highlights the disparity in economic wealth without preventing our members from working safely and earning their incomes. --END
As Occupiers Block Port, Labour Questions Tactics, Tom Sandborn, Dec. 14 2011
ILWU clarifies position regarding third-party protests at ports, Nov. 22, 2011
Message from Pres. McEllrath: We share Occupy’s concerns about America, but EGT battle is complicated, ILWU International President Robert McEllrath Dec. 6, 2011
An Open Letter From America’s Port Truck Drivers On Occupy The Ports, Dec 12, 2011
Occupy aims to shut down west coast ports - as it happened, Multiple authors, Dec 12, 2011
Longshore Workers, Truckers: Shut the Ports, Coast to Coast!, Dec 2011
Keep Our Port Open, an open letter to our community from the Port of Oakland,