First Published: Alive Magazine: Literature & Ideology No. 45, November 1975
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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A glorious part of the advancement of the Canadian people has been, and will continue to be, the drive to build and maintain a progressive and independent Canadian culture. A definite, healthy page in the history of the movement for literature and art, and an overall culture which truly serves the majority of the people comes from southern Ontario and much of this can be traced to Guelph. Guelph’s progressive cultural history includes Alive magazine (now Alive magazine: Literature & Ideology) which has been based in Guelph for five and a half years. Also included are: the activist Cultural Activities Committee of the local branch of CPC(M-L) in 1971; the Guelph Cultural Workers Community Unit, which evolved from the editorial collective of the alternate community newspaper. Guelph News Service, in late 1972 and early 1973; Guelph News Service, itself, in the summer of 1972; an Academic Activities Committee of the Canadian Student Movement branch at the University of Guelph, during 1972-73. Added to all this were independent programs of poetry readings, film showings, speakers, etc. both on the university campus and in the city, for many years. More recently, the Wellington County Canada-China Friendship Society (founded Sept. 10, 1975) and its predecessor, the Waterloo-Wellington Canada-China Friendship Society (founded Jan. I5, 1975), both largely cultural organisations, have carried on active programs in the area.
The Progressive Cultural Club of the University of Guelph is at once, both a strong addition to this history and a logical progression of much of it. The Progressive Cultural Club was founded on January 31, 1975. The founding was the result of friendly interactions and consultation between the Alive Production Collective and progressive people on the Guelph university campus with a concern for culture. An on-going program centering the distribution of Alive had been carried out at the University of Guelph since November, 1970. This and similar programs on other campuses and in various city cores throughout southern Ontario gave the Alive Production Collective a wealth of experience to sum up into valuable knowledge for moving the activity of the cultural workers forward, especially for “university, college and high school students, faculty and staff.” This knowledge was presented prepared speech from the Alive Production Collective entitled “Revolutionary Culture is a Practical Struggle”. The speech was read by representatives of the Collective at public meetings on the Guelph campus as well as at three other major southern Ontario campuses during January and February 1975. The speech, also printed in Alive magazine: Literature & Ideology, number 42, gave an important call.
Alive feels that the conditions are suitable for actual organizations being formed in the cultural superstructure all over southern Ontario. Alive is now calling for the formation of distribution – editorial collectives in the cities – AND the formation of progressive cultural clubs on the campuses.
These various collectives and clubs will not be formed to as random, bourgeois sops for their members individual sentiments. These collectives and clubs will be formed to carry out programs which serve to strengthen the blows which progressive writers, artists and intellectuals must aim at the main enemy.
The Alive Production Collective, in calling for the formation of these collectives and clubs, suggests that they be formed on the basis of the following general policy: ’The collective or club will work in the cultural superstructure to build and maintain an independent and progressive Canadian literature and culture, serving the interests of the majority of the Canadian people. Working in unity with other progressive individuals and organizations, the collective or club will carry out various programs designed to identify the main enemy of the Canadian and world’s peoples, clarify the nature of the capitalist culture, oppose the superpowers, and build the fighting unity of progressive writers, artists and intellectuals against the main enemy.
These collectives and clubs should immediately take up some concrete tasks on the cultural front. The monopoly capitalists do not cooperate with cultural activities which are aimed at assisting in the overthrow of monopoly capitalism. Work should be taken up which will actually assist in taking progressive ideas to the people.
The title of this speech is Revolutionary Culture is a Practical Struggle. The monopoly capitalists and the two superpowers have developed a cultural superstructure which reflects and maintains their interests. A substantial part of that culture is designed to remove progressive leadership from the people and replace that with confusion, diversion and defeatism. Intellectuals are trained by the bourgeoisie to be abstract, disconnected and as strange to the people as toothless dragons.
Progressive writers, artists and intellectuals must grasp that the bourgeoisie needs intellectuals who are not connected to the practical struggles of the real world. Hard work can definitely bring up pockets of actual progressive culture. Only proletarian revolution can open the way for the actual building of an overall progressive people’s cultural superstructure. Progressive writers, artists and intellectuals who grasp that they must serve the interests of the majority of the Canadian people must now grasp the simple fact that revolutionary culture is very definitely a practical struggle.
The Progressive Cultural Club of the University of Guelph embraced the general policy proposed in the call as its basic guideline: this general policy is the major part of the PCCs constitution (adopted Feb. 14).
The PCC also used the suggestions “take up some concrete tasks an the cultural front” and “actually assist in taking progressive ideas to the people” as the real base for building its programs.
In March the PCC cooperated in the Guelph activities in support of Cambodia. The PCC was one of fifteen sponsoring organisations listed in a document mobilising support for the March 22, 1975 demonstration in Toronto and other events in support of the Cambodian people’s struggle.
The PCC held an all-day literature table giving information on Cambodia on March 18. The literature table was well received by the students, many of whom were happy to obtain information on Cambodia, which had to that point been mainly ignored by the bourgeois information outlets. In the evening of March 18 the PCC co-sponsored a public meeting on Cambodia with the Ad-Hoc Committee in Support of the Struggle of the Cambodian People and with the local Student Christian Movement. The film “Norodom Sihanouk’s Visit to the Liberated Areas of Cambodia” was shown at the meeting, then, a background to the situation in Cambodia at that time was given and the role of the two superpowers in the Cambodian war was detailed. Afterwards the people attending joined in vigorous formal and informal discussion on Cambodia.
The discussion at this meeting gave some PCC members their first experience in dealing with a disruptor. A representative of a pure-Canadian national-chauvinist organisation tried to divert the discussion with suggestions that Canadian working class problems should be discussed rather than those of the Cambodian people. He further stated that Canadian trade unions should be organised rather than organising support for the Cambodian people. This disruptor was defeated when a PCC member restated the scheduled content of the meeting and suggested that if anyone wanted to speak on trade unions or any other topic they should do the organisational footwork involved in holding a meeting rather than attempting to parasitise on the work done by others to mobilise people to a meeting. The PCC person also pledged that if the disrupter did manage to organise a meeting on Canadian trade unions the PCC would certainly attend it. The disrupter left the meeting.
On March 22, PCC members participated in the demonstration in Toronto to give support to the Cambodian people and protest the two superpowers (U.S. imperialists and Soviet social-imperialists) interference in Cambodia.
On April 8, the PCC held the first of its regular literature tables. (These have been held at least once a week, when the university is in session, ever since.) Progressive literature newspapers and books from a large number of countries throughout the world were displayed on and sold from the table. The literature table was a great success. It showed the PCC the absolute falsity of the line that students are apathetic and uninterested in progressive literature. The first day heralded high sales of the literature, lively response from all those visiting the table and much discussion of PCC and its program, as well as many, many other ideas. The PCC summed up the day by saying, “The students are starving for this forum!”
The literature table, which besides being a weekly event on its own, is also set up at ail the other PCC functions, has become stronger and more popular since it was first instituted. Besides being an information centre simply by its content, and for advertising upcoming meetings, etc. the literature table is well-known as the regular contact spot for the PCC. The table has been one of the main tools for establishing the PCC as a serious and dedicated club in the eyes of the students and other people on campus.
On April 10, the PCC received notice that it had official authorisation as an on-campus club. The University of Guelph Department of Student Affairs sent a letter acknowledging PCC as a “Student Recognised Organisation”.
May 2 was the registration day for a new semester at the University of Guelph and PCC passed out 3,000 copies of an informational document on the PCC (one to each student registering). The PCC also conducted sales of Alive magazine: Literature & Ideology throughout the campus, very successfully.
In May the PCC began a three month long series of regular film showings on campus. The film showings were once a week and in all 23 films were shown. There was discussion following each of the showings. Several of the films were received with extra enthusiasm and much of the discussion following the films proved outstanding.
“Salt of the Earth” was one of the very well received films in the series. The film is about a Chicano miners’ struggle in New Mexico in the 1950’s. The film clearly portrays the theme that the struggle for the emancipation of women is part and parcel of the struggle for the liberation of the people. The discussion after this film was especially lively with a rich contention of ideas – some people putting forward that liberation was an individual matter to be dealt with by the individual and a large number of people developing the line of the film, both men and women have a common oppressor: monopoly capitalism and imperialism.
“Revolution Until Victory” was the last film shown in the series and it was clearly the climax. Long discussion raged after this film. The PLO, the role of Zionism in the world, the UN criminology conference debacle, Zionist collaboration with Hitler’s nazis, the culture of the Palestinians, the current situation throughout the Arab countries and the history of the Middle East, were all topics for deep and spirited discussion. The film was highly informative and during the informal discussion over coffee near the end of the meeting, people from the audience commented on the good historical background it presented. People also commented on the film’s competent destruction of the idea that Zionism is “good” and the Zionists “the underdogs” by detailing such historical facts as the Zionist collaboration with the nazis. Also well received was the film’s emphasis that the struggle of the Palestinian people is the struggle against Zionism and not against the Jewish people. The response of the audience to “Revolution Until Victory” was so enthusiastic that it was shown a second time before the meeting adjourned, on request of the audience. The film runs for less than an hour yet this meeting went on for over five hours!
The PCC sponsored a public meeting entitled “Who Should Literature Serve? ” on May 8. A regular contributor to Alive, Nancy Doyle, read two of her short stories and two other supporters of Alive read poetry at this meeting. The literature read was discussed by the authors and the audience. The discussion also went deeply into the two views on art: “art for art’s sake” and that there is no art which stands above class. The tone of the meeting was to completely reject the former as nonsense and to approve the latter as correctly reflecting reality.
On June 1, the PCC issued a Statement of Support to the Founding Meeting of the East Indian Defence Committee (Toronto Branch) saying in part:
The Progressive Cultural Club of the University of Guelph vigorously hails the formation of the Toronto branch of the E.I.D.C. The experience of the East Indian and other immigrant communities clearly shows that active self defence is the only way to fight racism. This is also the experience of the Native peoples and the whole of the Canadian people. All Canadians have the basic and inalienable right to defend themselves, their property and each other from attack. The E.I.D.C. is a great model of unity in the face of common enemies.
The monopoly capitalist class in Canada unite with racist gangsters and use the media and the police to sow physical and psychological fear amongst immigrants. These monopoly capitalists hope to clear the way so they can shift the blame for the problems they themselves create onto the shoulders of the immigrants. These attempts are doomed to fail as long as the immigrant communities follow the example of the East Indian community and unite with the rest of the Canadian people to oppose racism and all the manoeuvres of the Canadian monopoly capitalist class and the U.S. imperialists.
On June 8 the PCC issued a statement to a rally in Toronto to oppose the “Green Paper” on immigration. The statement was titled “Oppose the racist and fascist ’Green Paper’” and said:
The PCC of the U of G sees with crystal clarity that Canada is a country of immigrants; every person in this country is either an immigrant or is descended from an immigrant. The exceptions to this, of course, are the glorious Native peoples. The monopoly capitalist class in Canada has a wild dream that it can weaken the majority of the Canadian people by splitting them on a racial basis. The ’Green Paper’ is their attempt to practically implement this dream. The Canadian people, though, are historically anti-racist and anti-fascist. The recent upsurge of opposition to the racist and fascist ’Green Paper’ and every other manoeuvre to split the ranks of the majority of the people prove beyond any doubt that the last thing Canadians are going to do is betray this history!
The PCC of the U of G denounces the ’Green Paper’ and all its promoters as racist and fascist. We join with the whole of the Canadian people in active opposition to racism and fascism.
We particularly denounce the despicable overtures of the Canadian government to the nazi, Hitlerite thugs of the ’Western Guard’. These fascists have no right to speak! The Canadian people will never allow a platform to be given to these slimy anti-people snakes! Death to fascism! Death to racism! Down with the racist and fascist ’Green Paper’! Long live the unity in action of the immigrant communities, the Native peoples and the whole of the Canadian people! Long live the anti-fascist and anti-racist spirit of the Canadian people! Long live the struggle to build the new and truly democratic society!
On June 9, 10, 11 and 12 the PCC participated in demonstrations and actions against the “Green Paper” on immigration of the Canadian government during the Senate-Commons Joint Committee Hearings on Immigration in Toronto and Hamilton. These four days of activity illustrated beyond any doubt the unity of the Canadian people in face of the attacks of the Canadian government; at every meeting which the Joint Committee held, the overwhelming majority of the people attending opposed their idea of having “debates” on the “Green Paper”, which was itself denounced as racist and fascist.
When the Joint Committee, on June 11, attempted to provide the Hitlerite thugs from the nazi “Western Guard” with a platform to spew their anti-people slanderous venom, members of the PCC joined with the rest of the crowd in militant shouting of democratic slogans to drown the fascists out.
Throughout the month of June the PCC waged a hard struggle against the University of Guelph University Centre Administration (an arm of the administration of the University itself, rather than student-controlled). The University Centre is the site of the weekly literature table and the UC administration, after two full months of PCC activity on this front, put forward that it was illegal to “solicit” money in the building and that no more than three activities involving selling could be allowed each club each semester. The PCC usually holds literature tables on a daily basis during the first days of each semester, called “orientation days”, and this was claimed to be its limit.
The administration side of this battle was mainly bureaucratic harassment of club members, petty bureaucrats disrupting the actual activity of the table when it was set up and arranging complaints from on-campus small businessmen to legitimize their stand, after the fact. Hacks from the administration threatened to have the Guelph city police dismantle the the table at the height of this struggle. Also, at the height of this struggle, a straight-forward thug approached the literature table to menace the person running it – and threatened to upend the table. This thug ran off when the person behind the table was not intimidated and offered response in kind. People from the campus community who witnessed this incident came forward immediately to congratulate the PCC person for the just stand taken. Other people who heard of the incident and knew about the struggle against the administration stated that the thug must have been paid by the administration to take the action.
The PCC took a many-sided approach to the struggle. The basic line was to carry the objective literature table program forward regularly, as scheduled, in spite of all the manoeuvrings of the administration. This was completely successful not one scheduled day of the literature table program was missed.
The PCC also carried out a program of informing the students’ association on campus of the stand of both the administration and of the PCC. As well, any other students club, or organisation which could be mobilised against the arbitrary and reactionary actions of the administration were informed.
The legalistic path the administration advocated was also followed up by the PCC, always bearing in mind that the table was going to carry on no matter what opposition developed on this front.
At the beginning of the struggle a petty bureaucrat from the administration tried to trick a PCC member at the literature table into “soliciting”. (Petty bureaucrats were sent to spy around corners to see if “money changes hands” a number of different times throughout this struggle, was amusing to the PCC who fought the entire battle on the basis of their right to sell progressive literature and were entirely open in selling at the table, which was very busy.). After lively exchange with the PCC member this petty bureaucrat stated that if the PCC didn’t fill out a “solicitation form” the University Centre administration would dismantle the tables.
The PCC attempted to obtain the necessary signatures on the necessary form the next time the table was set up, as part of the program on the legalistic front. One person signed the form but another two threw up opposition when one wouldn’t sign until the other had done so, and third was reported to be “home sick” when his office was approached. So, the PCC abandoned this course and were “surprised” ten minutes later when the “sick” administrator, having experienced a miraculous recovery no doubt, appeared at the literature table with the fully signed form. However, permission was given for one day only; no literature table would be allowed the following week.
The following week the literature table was set up by the PCC and nothing was done by the petty bureaucrats. The weeks after that, though, saw significant activity.
The bureaucrats held a number of secret meetings among themselves and with the small businessmen on campus. In these meetings they passed resolutions and rules to back their stand.
The PCC openly informed the students’ associations clubs and organisations, and many individual students that they thought it was not “soliciting” or even simply “the right to sell” which were being attacked by the administration; it was the persistent appearance and the progressive content of the PCC literature table which were the administration’s real problem.
The students’ association (UGCSA) and a large number of other clubs and organisations supported the PCC against the administration on the democratic basis that an attack on one student club’s freedom constituted an attack on all the student organisations.
UGCSA pushed for a public meeting of the administration body of the University Centre to discuss the problem. The administration agreed to this meeting. Then, they insisted that that PCC suspend its literature table program until after its meeting was held. PCC held to its line that the table should carry on no matter what manoeuvres the administration carried out. At the next PCC literature table the manager of the University Centre showed up and exposed himself by ranting and raving in front of a small crowd of students and staff. When some of his undemocratic mouthings about this struggle were challenged by a member of the PCC he got so upset he had to be sent away from the scene on the order of another bureaucrat. This whole incident was reported the university student newspaper, which added to then manager’s exposure.
The public administration meeting was held. A number of clubs and organizations as well as the UGCSA itself made presentations in favour of the PCCs stand and the administration was forced to back down, changing its rulings. Everyone involved characterised the outcome as a victory for all the students.
The PCC summed up the literature table struggle as an educational experience and as encouraging and inspiring, but affirmed for itself that its guard would not be dropped. The situation was still the same as the Alive Production Collective had characterised it in January; “The monopoly capitalists do not cooperate with cultural activities which are aimed at assisting in the overthrow of monopoly capitalism.”