Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Spartacist Canada

Campus paper closed in anti-communist attack

Free speech and the Chevron affair

First Published: Spartacist Canada, No. 13, February 1977
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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JANUARY 29 – In a blatant violation of democratic rights, fake-socialist Student Federation president Shane Roberts shut down the University of Waterloo student paper, the Chevron, last September. Roberts, who is a member of the New Democratic Party, charged that the paper was dominated by a campus group known as the Anti-Imperialist Alliance (AIA). He proceeded to fire the news editor and production manager, two paid staffers who were both members of the AIA, and bureaucratically cut off all Federation funds to the newspaper.

The closing of the paper led to an outburst of clique warfare on the campus, with Roberts and his fellow student bureaucrats receiving administration backing in the dispute. The Student Federation organized a bizarre series of attacks on the Chevron’s right to continue publishing: at least two efforts (in collaboration with the administration) to change the locks on the Chevron office doors; an unsuccessful attempt by Roberts to remove typewriters from the offices; and the appearance of two new Federation-funded publications. Meanwhile, the Chevron staffers continued to produce their own paper, the Free Chevron, with some financial backing from the Canadian University Press.

Clearly, not only the AIA, but a majority of Waterloo students were annoyed by the bureaucratic stunts of Roberts and his cohorts. A petition calling for his recall as Federation president obtained 2,240 signatures. Mocking his own constitution, Roberts at first challenged the petition on technical grounds, then resigned to replace himself with his friend and co-thinker, Dave McLellan, without even considering holding a new election.

While some of the incidents involved may be humorous, there is an important political issue at stake in the Chevron affair. The Student Federation’s closure of the Chevron was obviously an undemocratic, anti-communist attack on the AIA and on freedom of the press, and must be reversed. The current attack on the AIA sees stooge Shane Roberts continuing a lengthy administration vendetta against the organization. However, despite its protestations about “defending democratic rights,” the AIA’s track record on this question is no better than that of budding careerist Roberts.

AIA Finds An Ideology

The AIA’s history on the Waterloo campus began in late 1974 (at first, it was called the Anti-Capitalist Alliance). At that time, it defined itself as an “independent left group...concentrating on practical activities rather than the elaboration of an ideology” (Chevron, 22 November 1974). As one of its first “practical activities,” the AIA brought Hardial Bains, leader of the Maoist Communist Party of Canada (Marxist-Leninist) (CPC [M-L]) onto the campus in November 1974, in order to commemorate the twenty-fifth anniversary of the People’s Republic of China and speak on “Superpower Politics.”

The AIA did not have to elaborate an ideology because it received one ready-made from CPC(M-L). While it initially attracted members who were not in or around CPC(M-L), it very rapidly consolidated under the political control of CPC(M-L) members and supporters, and pushed a version of that organization’s Maoist politics.

In October 1975, the campus administration moved to curtail the AIA’s activities by dismissing three professors, all AIA members, from their teaching posts at the university’s Renison College. In additi to firing Hugh Miller, Jeff Forest and Marsha Forest, the administration also charged a fourth professor, Marlene Webber, with “unprofessional behavior” and banned her from the college, and refused to renew the teaching contract of a fifth, Sami Gupta. These McCarthyite political firings, which should have been opposed by all socialists and defenders of democratic rights, set the stage for Roberts to take over the administration’s dirty work.

AIA Hooliganism

Roberts sought to exploit an incident that occurred in February 1975 to fuel the attack on the AIA. During that month, the Canadian Committee of the international Spartacist tendency (CCIST) – precursor of the Trotskyist League) gave a public forum on the Waterloo campus on the strategy for proletarian revolution. When the CCIST speaker began his presentation, AIA hooligans attempted to disrupt the meeting through heckling, catcalls and physical violence. This behavior continued for the duration of the forum. AIA members now parade their concern for democracy, yet, as one would suppose from their affiliation to CPC(M-L), this “democracy’ does not extend to any political organization standing to their left.

The appearance of Trotskyists on the campus had such an impact that CPC(M-L) was still writing about the incident nearly two years later. A slanderous article in the 4 October 1976 issue of People’s Canada Daily News (entitled, in CPC[M-L]’s inimitable Pekinglish, “Down With the Fascist Assault on the Anti-Imperialist Alliance and the Students at the University or Waterloo!”) alleges that the CCIST (which is referred to only as “a small trotskyite sect” of “microphone revolutionaries”) collaborated with Roberts in an attempt to bar the AIA from campus. This is a blatant falsehood: while Roberts did seek (unsuccessfully) to use the Maoists’ disruption to deny them the use of campus facilities, the Spartacist tendency has always stood forthrightly against student government and/or administration attacks on the democratic rights of campus groups.

Against Censorship – For Freedom Of The Press!

We have no reason to believe that the AIA would run a campus newspaper any more democratically than they run any of their other activities. The 20 December 1976 issue of PCDN boasts that “it [the Chevron] has refused to print any openly anti-people, openly fascist, openly racist propaganda.”

Denying free speech to fascist scum is certainly correct (and laudable) sentiment. However, since CPC(M-L) considers most anyone holding political views contrary to its own to be “fascist” and “anti-people,” we can be sure that any paper controlled by them would deny other campus groups the right to have their material published. All campus groups should have unrestricted access to campus facilities:’ – including the pages of a campus newspaper – in order to propagate their views and publicize their activities.

However political censorship by the Maoists (or even their control of the paper, which has never been conclusively demonstrated) is not the central issue at hand in the closing of the Chevron. Despite the AIA’s own sordid record on the questions of free speech and workers democracy, Roberts’ assault on the Chevron (conducted with the approval of his friends in the administration) must not go unanswered In a fit of anti-communism, the Student Federation shut down a campus newspaper – the Trotskyist League demands that it be reopened immediately, with the reinstatement of the fired staffers.