The following is the text of a presentation to a meeting of OKDE-Spartacus, in Athens, on June 24 by Barry Weisleder. Weisleder is Federal Secretary of SA/LAS.
Kali spera, sintrofisses ke sintrofos (good evening, women and men comrades). We have been in Greece for 12 days, but I’m sorry that I still do not speak your ancient and beautiful language. Judy, Elizabeth and I bring warmest revolutionary greetings to you from Socialist Action/Ligue pour l’Action socialiste in the Canadian state, and from Socialist Action-USA National Secretary Jeff Mackler.
We have visited many places in Greece—Nafplio, Corinth, Sparta, Olympia, Delphi, and Kalambaka, but the time we spent in Athens is most memorable because we were with comrades of the OKDE (Organization of Communist Internationalists in Greece)–Spartacus.
We particularly wish to thank comrades Michael and Andreas, who have been so kind and generous. Thanks to them we were able to bring solidarity to the steelworkers’ strike at Elinika Halivourgia, we participated in the anti-fascist demonstration of over 1000 people in Perama, southwest of Athens, and we joined the pre-election rally for ANTARSYA, the revolutionary political coalition, at Nea Smyrna Park in south Athens.
As comrade Andreas has wisely written, “Greece is the future of Europe.” We take the meaning of that in a dual sense: both the severe capitalist austerity, and the working class resistance to it.
Due to our recent travels I am mindful of the slogan that was inscribed long ago above the entrance to the Temple of Apollo in Delphi: “Nothing in excess.” If only the capitalists would follow the advice of the ancients! We would have no crisis of overproduction, no huge debt burden, no wars, and no environmental plunder. But of course, we would have no capitalism!
As we watched the Greek election results with you on June 17, it was clear that the biggest social struggles are still to come. A weak bourgeois coalition government formed. Antonis Samaras of New Demoracy, and his shameless partners in crime, PASOK and the Democratic Left, have no popular mandate to continue to bleed the working class. But more attacks on the working class are the only way for the ND coalition to comply with the Troika (European Commission, EU Bank and the IMF) and the cruel Memorandum.
Ironically, it seems now that the major difference between the ND-led right-wing coalition government and the reformist SYRIZA-led opposition is that Samaras wants a delay of two years for implementation of the crippling debt payments, and Alexis Tsipras wants a four-year respite.
In any case, it was wonderful to see ANTARSYA election posters in many cities across Greece. Despite its reduced vote, ANTARSYA is known nationally as a revolutionary alternative to the capitalist agenda. Hopefully, it will play a larger and larger role as the crisis deepens and as the reformist mis-leaders of the working class are exposed. Our task as Fourth Internationalists in the Canadian state is clear as well, and that is to increase our active solidarity with OKDE, and with ANTARSYA, and with the workers and farmers of Greece who will be victorious in the coming battles.
In this presentation I will focus on two things: One is the situation in the Canadian state, including in Quebec, where a rebellious mass movement led by students has taken centre stage. The other topic is the Fourth International and our tasks in relation to it.
To begin, I should say to the OKDE comrades who last week asked me to arrange work visas to Canada for them: I’m sorry, I do not have the power to obtain visas. I also need to warn everyone that Canada is caught up in the global capitalist crisis. Canada is the world’s eleventh largest economy, with a population of 33 million, and is a member of the G8. Between October 2008 and October 2010, the Canadian labour market lost 162,000 full-time jobs. It lost a total of 224,000 permanent jobs.
Officially, unemployment is 7.3 per cent. For those 15 to 29 years of age, it is officially 15 per cent. It is higher for immigrant workers—who are often forced to work in low-wage, temporary jobs. When you add the number of workers who are discouraged, who have stopped looking for work, the real unemployment rate is double the official rate. In fact, it would be much worse if not for the high price of oil and natural gas.
Canada is a net exporter of energy fuels. That industry has generated thousands of jobs, especially in western Canada. At the same time, exploitation of the Alberta Tar Sands, which is an energy wasteful and foul process, is destroying the environment.
Now, if you think that’s bad enough, we have a government that has made things considerably worse. The Conservative government led by Stephen Harper, like many neo-liberal regimes around the world, has seized the opportunity to make workers pay for the crisis we did not create. The Harper regime is cutting public services. It is making unemployment insurance benefits less accessible. Federal and provincial governments are starving education, health care, public transportation, social housing, and municipalities.
To recover from the crisis, which means restoring private profits, the ruling rich say we must live within our means. That means, for us, higher taxes, fewer services and lower environmental standards. For the rich it means higher salaries, more investments abroad, and more government spending on wars of occupation. As you know, Canadian Forces are in Afghanistan, and Canadian police are part of the foreign occupation in Haiti. It also means billions of dollars in public bail-out money for domestic firms in trouble, until those firms decide to move abroad.
Canada and the United States have experienced a certain de-industrialization. This is happening to steelworks and diesel engine plants in southern Ontario. In the process, workers lose their jobs, lose their company pensions, and face a retirement in poverty. Where some jobs are kept, new hires are paid less, with fewer benefits.
Meanwhile, the rich fund political parties that form governments that break strikes. Three major strikes were broken by government in the past year: at Canada Post, at Air Canada, and at Canadian Pacific Railway. Sadly, the Canadian Labour Congress, and the leaders of the biggest unions, have failed to respond in a meaningful way. A one-hour rally of 20,000 workers, here or there, is not enough when a general strike is sorely needed, just for starters. Our labour leaders negotiate concessions to capital, and then they advise us to wait three or four years to elect a New Democratic Party (NDP) government.
The NDP is a social democratic party organically linked to the unions in English Canada. It is considerably to the right of SYRIZA. On May 2, 2011 the NDP became the Official Opposition, with 4.5 million votes, which was over 31 per cent of the total cast. The Conservatives won a majority of seats in Parliament, with only 39 per cent of the votes. The historic party of capitalist rule in Canada, the Liberal Party, fell to third place.
So, the political situation is polarizing. The hunger for change, for greater equality, for a cleaner, sustainable environment is growing. One sign of it was the Occupy movement, which emerged in dozens of cities across Canada last fall. But the proof of it is what is happening in Quebec today.
For the past 130 days, the streets of Quebec have been vibrant with protest. The Quebec provincial government imposed a 75 per cent increase in fees for students at colleges and universities. Three large federations of Quebec students’ unions, after more than a year of preparation, launched a strike. The strike closed most post-secondary institutions. Massive street demonstrations of 200,000-plus occurred monthly; also several thousand march each night.
The students enforced their democratic strike with mass pickets at the schools. The Jean Charest Liberal provincial government responded with repressive legislation, which includes heavy fines for those who picket schools or march without police permission. One result was a march of over 300,000 in Montreal to defy the law. Solidarity demos then began in Toronto, Vancouver, and other cities across English Canada.
The student rebellion in Quebec is an expression of the fight against national oppression. Access to inexpensive, quality university education is seen in Quebec as a right and a gain of the national liberation movement of the 1960s. The largest, most democratic and most radical student federation, La CLASSE, demands free post-secondary education and the removal of repressive Law 78. Our slogan across English Canada is “Spread the Quebec Strike.”
Socialist Action/Ligue pour l’Action socialiste, works openly and aggressively on many fronts. We have a strong working-class orientation. For that reason we are building a class-struggle opposition inside the NDP and inside the unions. The NDP Socialist Caucus, which we help to lead, has hundreds of members and supporters across Canada. SA itself has members in cities from Montreal to Vancouver, mostly concentrated in the Toronto region. SA events in Toronto regularly attract 50 to 100 people.
Up to 200 copies of Socialist Action newspaper are sold each month, and we just launched a new publication in English Canada.
The radical left in Canada is very small and very sectarian. We strive for cooperation on key issues, but collaboration is tough to achieve. We think the road to a mass revolutionary workers’ party will travel through big struggles in the existing unions and the NDP. Most of the radical left ignores those arenas, but that is where we are building our base.
This brings me to our relationship with the Fourth International. In 1994 we were expelled from the Canadian section of the FI, then called Socialist Challenge/Gauche socialiste. Why? Because we are committed to building a Leninist-Trotskyist party—not a loose network of Marxists, anarchists, and reformists. Socialist Challenge, the component of the section in English Canada, dissolved into such a network one year after we were expelled. The Quebec group remained intact, but it strongly opposed our collaboration with the FI.
At the FI World Congress in 1995 we appealed our expulsion. The delegates voted unanimously to adopt the recommendation of its Canada Commission, the body that investigated the split. The World Congress voted that Socialist Action in Canada be recognized as “a group of partisans of the FI,” and be invited to all FI meetings.
This decision was never implemented. Nevertheless, we continue to seek participation in the Fourth International, and we appeal for your support.
The FI contains the largest international grouping of revolutionary militants who identify with our historic programme and strategy. That is where to begin to re-build the revolutionary workers’ international needed to save humanity from economic and environmental catastrophe.
Together we must build a revolutionary international, build Leninist parties in every country, and strive for the world socialist revolution.
Capitalism has nothing to offer by poverty, war, environmental disaster, sexism, racism, and national oppression. We have a world to win.
Archimedes explained the principle of the lever. Our political lever is the party. With this lever we can move the world. And as Leon Trotsky famously said, “With this lever, we shall be all.”
> The article above was written by Barry Weisleder, and is reprinted from the July 2012 print edition of Socialist Action newspaper.