Published: in On Unity of Marxist-Leninists,1976.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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The student movement at UQAM (Universite de Quebec a Montreal) is extremely lively; just in this term, the students have boldly engaged the government and administration in struggle on two issues: the fascist administrative restructuring known as the Reforme Despres, and the loans and bursaries policy of the Ministry of Education. With the deepening of the economic crisis, the monopoly capitalist class is forced to launch such attacks against the students more and more frequently, and the students find themselves more and more frequently in struggle to defend their living conditions and the quality of education they receive.
However, every time (he UQAM students rise up to fight the administration and the government, the same question comes up: how should we get organised? Who can lead us? Disorganised and isolated, the students form ad hoc or local committees to try to carry on the fight; or they look to various political groups for leadership. This creates great difficulties for the development of an effective movement of resistance to the attacks of the administration and government.
Ever since the beginning of the semester, the UQAM Student Movement has been working hard to try to create a trend towards the unity of the students in the face of their enemies and to go against the overall situation of disunity of the students in the face of their enemies and to go against the overall situation of disunity and fragmentation. What we found in the course of this work is that there is a small clique of students who seem to have a vested interest in the current situation and who actively oppose the efforts of the students to unite to develop their fighting organisations.
When the question of the Reforme Despres came up in the fall, the UQAM Student Movement took the position that it was essential that professors, employees and students make common cause in the fight against this attack. We enthusiastically supported the fighting position taken by the professor’s union (SPUQ), and for our part we did everthing we could to mobilise the students to take their place in the struggle. We published tracts and newspapers to inform the students about the Reforme and call on them to oppose it, held a series of four public meetings, encouraged and assisted various groups of students to organise in their departments or buildings, etc. At this stage, we did not think that anyone (except the administration and the government and their friends) would oppose us doing this. However we were wrong. One student political group, the Mouvement’ Revolutionaires des Etudiants du Quebec (MREQ), began openly opposing what we were doing and calling us “opportunists” and “revisionists” which is a new twist to their usual slander that we are “sectarian” and “dogmatists”. Another group of students, the Comite d’organisation provisoire des Etudiants (COPE), was very uneasy and nervous about what we were doing. They watched us carrying on our agitation against the Reforme Despres and they said, “That’s our job!” We replied, “If it’s your job, then do it! We’ll join you. Two hands are better than one.” So they dragged their feet for a while, and they published a leaflet opposing the Reforme Despres and began to organise in a few places. At first we were quite enthusiastic about this. But no sooner was their leaflet off the press than they began coming to our meetings and suggesting that students should only distribute this leaflet and no one should have anything to do with the newspaper we had produced on the same subject. They also began suggesting that no group of students had any right to organise anywhere in the university without having consulted them and got their permission. On the Tripartite Committee, which both COPE and UQAMSM had been seated as student representatives, they took the position that they were the only “legitimate” student delegates and they refused to sit together with us and participate in joint activities. We asked to meet with them to talk about forming a united front on the question of the Reforme Despres, because it was obvious that the movement needed unified leadership and direction. They sat down with us, but only to say that they couldn’t have any discussions with us, because they were a “mass organisation” and we were a “vanguard organisation”. The only conditions under which they would discuss anything was that we join their organisation and raise our points in its meetings. Finally, one of their leaders came to a UQAMSM political forum – to which COPE had been officially invited to speak but had refused – and said that anyone who wanted to oppose the Reforme Despres should simply join COPE. We pointed out to him the necessity for the revolutionaries to unite and not seek hegemony over one another. Other than trotting out the line about “mass organisation” vs. “political group”, this man was incapable of explaining himself, and simply left the meeting. We still hold the same view of their activity as we did then; and we still think that the now defunct COPE should have answered these questions. If we are all working in the same cause, why shouldn’t we unite? Why should we treat each other as enemies or competition and seek hegemony?
Not only does the method of work used by COPE block the unity of the revolutionary students, it also liquidates the actual struggles. COPE only entered into the movement against Reforme Depres when it was forced to by UQAMSM’s activity, and then its “contribution” had the effect of liquidating by suggesting that it was “illegal” for various groups of students to organise without their permission, and actually stopping them from organising.
COPE behaved in precisely the same way in regard to the loans and bursaries issue. A group of ordinary students who were affected by this question came up to fight on it They called themselves the Loans and Bursaries Committee. Instead of assisting and encouraging this committee to carry on a powerful agitation on these questions, COPE insisted on keeping the movement under its control and refused to give any mandate to the committee. It organised instead to try to turn the committee into its slave, by ordering it to organise study days without giving it the rest of its mandate. When the Committee refused to accept this, they “censured” it in a general assembly. Once having put down this committee and taken control over this question, COPE did nothing – absolutely nothing – to advance the struggle. In fact when some students in the Pavillion des Arts took the initiative in beginning an occupation and walkout, by that time defunct COPE launched a slander against the occupiers on the grounds that their action was “adventurist”. They totally ignored and refused to implement the call of the CEGEP Students’ National Congress.
But from our viewpoint, the most dangerous activities which COPE has engaged in this term is on the question of student organisations. It is on this point that they spread the maximum confusion and do the most harm to the student movement. Their line of “political” mass organisations confuses the students and contributes in preventing the students from uniting in their general defence organisations and the revolutionary students from uniting in their political organisations on the campus. They are opposed to having the broadest possible general student organisation to defend the interests of the students against government attacks, on the grounds that this would be merely “reformist”, whereas mass organisations should be “political”. This is fundamentally the same line as that given by MREQ on the Reforme Despres agitation. It is a line which conceives politics and the class struggle abstractly as taking place outside the day-to-day struggles of the people.
Thus, for MREQ, the class struggle on the Reformes Depres was not the struggle against the administration, part of the state machine of the bourgeoisie, but some kind of “ideological” struggle to split and divide the front of students, professors and employees against the administration and paralyse it. As far as waging a genuine ideological campaign against the enemy is concerned we are yet to see MREQ launching it anywhere in the form of agitation and resolute struggle. What we have experienced to date is that this organisation which is the result of a split in MEQ in 1971 has done nothing but launch one gossip and slander campaign after another against MEQ through their professors in the classrooms, in the social gatherings and behind alleys. This is neither an ideological campaign to clarify issues nor it is designed to oppose the enemy on the ideological front but it is a crude attempt to split and divide the Marxist-Leninist students, professors and employees in the university and elsewhere and divide and split the students at large. This amounts to splitting the masses of students, professors and employees in the face of the enemy.
MREQ is fond of saying that it wants to unite, but on a clear and unambiguous basis. We would suggest to MREQ that there is nothing more “clear and unambiguous” than the real world! Rather than concocting “ideological struggles” which merely serve to split and divide the mass movement in the face of the enemy, they should look at the real world, analyse what is the main contradiction and organise people to fight against the main enemy.
COPE’s line of having “political” mass organisations means that these organisations, in order to be tainted with reformism, have to proclaim themselves to be “anti-capitalist” or in support of workers’ struggles. But what difference does this make in the real world? If the students have a fighting mass organisation uniting them and leading them in defence of their living conditions and education against the attacks of the government, is not such an organisation in practice anti-capitalist (to use their terms) and in support of workers’ struggles? In which case, what can be accomplished by insisting on verbal declarations of “anti-capitalism”, etc., except to divide the students and prevent the building of a strong student organisation, i.e. of a genuine mass organisation? MREQ and COPE, by promoting this anti-Marxist and anti-materialist line of “political” mass organisations, and by doing widespread propaganda that any other mass organisation of students is necessarily “reformist” or “class-collaborationist”, are postponing the day when all students who can be united will be united in a general defence organisation to fight against the administration and the government, and thus is doing great harm to the student movement.
In order to lead the broadest sections of the students against our common enemies, it is extremely important to establish first and foremost a leading group in UQAM. UQAM Student Movement, the Party branch in UQAM is such a leading group. Furthermore, in order to lead the broadest sections of the students, it is necessary to organise a united front defence organisation of the students which is political in character and includes all progressive and revolutionary students and anyone who sympathises, with them. The UQAM student movement has started initial work to establish such an organisation. The founding of the Ad-Hoc Committee for a Popular Student Front is the first step in that direction. The Ad-Hoc Committee, founded at a meeting jointly organised by five student organisations, has already launched a vigorous recruitement campaign, published a bulletin stating its principles, and been tempered in the struggle on the loans and bursaries question. At the time the UQAM Student Movement began propaganda for the Ad-Hoc Committee, we publicly invited COPE to join us. Using some curious inversion of logic, COPE flatly refused the invitation and at the same time accused UQAMSM of “splitting”. They said that the question of student organisations was up to the “general assembly” to sort out. They then went into a frenzy to concoct a proposal for a set of “minimal structures” for a “new student organisation”. The only thing “new” about this organisation is the “new” complexity of the organisational flow-chart used to illustrate it. Other than that, it is just the old structures of COPE, rebaptised and crowned with a “coordinating committee” of delegates from various buildings. The “new”’organisation also preserves the “sovereignty of the general assembly” as being the most “democratic” form and as allowing for “participation of the masses”, etc. They denounced Ad-Hoc Committee as “bureaucratic” because it has a formal executive. However, we attended the general assemblies of December 4 and 6,1974. These meetings were run in a genuine bureaucratic manner where no ideological and political lines were clarified and all resolutions were railroaded through various tricks and manoeuvres. All proposals put forward by the conspiratorial COPE clique, in league with MREQ and others, were railroaded through using a two minute limit on speeches and closure. There was absolutely no possibility of clarifying anything or having serious discussion. The second meeting had been packed by COPE with its friends from the University of Montreal. Anyone with any concern for the “masses” and for “democracy” would not act in this way. It was obvious to any ordinary person who attended that these assemblies were being controlled by a small conspiratorial clique whose aim was to extend its hegemony over the student movement. From this and other activities of COPE, we find that it is they who are most underhanded, bureaucratic and are splitting the students, contributing to liquidating their struggle and undermining the unity of the leftists and the Marxist-Leninists at UQAM. We ask COPE and its friends (e.g. MREQ): Why are you so afraid of debates? Does your political line have so little support amongst the masses of students that you have to resort to such despicable methods to maintain your hegemony? It is clear that COPE’s line on the question of student organisations, like everything else about this conspiratorial clique, is designed to advance its sectarian, hegemony seeking politics.
In conclusion, UQAM Student Movement wishes to firmly state that we have always stood tor principles.
1. Let the Marxist-Leninist students unite! All Marxist-Leninist students should rally around and build CPC(M-L) and its student wing in Quebec, Mouvement Etudiant Quebecois. And with those Marxist-Leninists who at this time wish to remain outside the Party, we say that in any case, we should work together to advance forward under the banner of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tsetung Thougnt.
2. Let all revolutionary students, unite! Build the Popular Student Front as a broad anti-administration, anti-imperialist student organisation.
3. Let all students unite! Build voluntary general students’ associations uniting all students who can be united against our common enemies on the basis of their immediate interests.
4. Let all students, professors and employees unite!
If we continue to seek unity based on these four principles, we will definitely build a militant and fighting unity of the majority of students against our common ememies and make a contribution in the world-wide struggle against U.S. imperialism and Soviet social-imperialism and advance our own struggle against monopoly capitalism right here in Canada. We call upon progressive and revolutionary students and all Marxist-Leninist students, professors and employees at UQAM to examine our comments given in this article and in the chronology of events seriously, and see for yourselves who is splitting and liquidating and who is striving hard to organise and unify all those who can be organised and unified against our common enemies. We do not consider COPE or MREQ as enemies even though their objective activities of splitting and dividing the students lands them into the camp of the enemy. We call upon them to advance and make a break with their past and unite together with us and all anti-imperialist students, professors and employees against our common enemies.
(This article first appeared in People’s Canada Daily News, Vol. 4, No. 81, December 16, 1974.)