“[I]’m not going to apologize: We are a Marxist group.”
The phrase hardly warrants an apology—the website for Fightback’s socialist group (“The Marxist Voice of Labour and Youth”) is, after all, marxist.ca.
Camilo Cahis, the speaker of the (somewhat comedic, even) statement, sits in at a small, hard-to-locate, upper-level room of Oakham House at Ryerson, three floors above the vegan-friendly Oakham Cafe downstairs. The Riel Room, as it was called, had been booked for a discussion meeting of the Fightback Socialist union, a student socialist group between campuses (they hold events not just at Ryerson, but at York and the University of Toronto, too).
I’ve long been interested in socialism. When I first became “radicalized” in Grade 12, I was a raging communist—I did my senior politics project on the benefits of communism (partnered, sadly, with a jock who now has a Steelers tattoo; I did all the work and ignored his messages). But there were really no like-minded people for me to talk to, and in first year, though I knew Fightback existed, I was too busy getting drunk and going clubbing to think about the state of the world. It was only last week when I finally attend a group discussion.
Fightback is small—at least, the Mar. 19 discussion night at Ryerson was. Only about 15 people sat around four small tables: mostly boys, a few girls, a handful bespectacled.
The group exists for a lot of reasons, but the most obvious one is to promote and encourage socialist discussion. The people in this room are those who learned, through some radicalizing experience, of socialism—a political and economic system that relies heavily on common ownership and production. It’s a “mild” form of communism, if you will, but really, just a lower stage in Karl Marx’s ultimate path to pure, upper-level communism.
I know I’ve used the word “communism” twice in the last paragraph—I can feel your shudders and discomfort from here. If you grew up with a Western education—that is, American or Canadian—you’ve basically been taught, in every history class possible, that communism (and Russia, ha!) is the Worst, Most Evil Thing. Ever. Worse than murdering babies. Communists murder babies. But capitalists? Why, they kiss them!In a world based solely on capitalism—a consumer culture shrouded in making us feel bad about ourselves and then selling us products to mildly improve us—a logical (if not devoted) understanding of socialism is a must. Even if you’re a happy capitalist (as many will be), it’s necessary to at least understand the Other Side.
Though, I admit, discussions at Fightback can get lengthy. The room was booked for two hours, but as time was running out, words were spilling too, encouraging debate and conversation. We were provided with a document prior to the meeting, outlining what would be discussed, but the group also had copies available there for sale, to offset printing costs. Cahis, the “leader” of the talk attempted to steer the topics into several directions, into things he felt necessary to discuss— like the potential for a revolution. Is the world ready for a socialist revolution? And if so, why isn’t one happening?
A valid question, and one that really begs to be answered—capitalism, obviously, is not the answer. What might have seemed heavenly and golden in the post-war ‘50s can no longer be, as the class gaps grow bigger and bigger, and those at the bottom grow more and more impatient. Forgive what might read as socialist propaganda, but the world is slowly coming to tipping point, and we’re walking a tightrope on top of slowly boiling revolution, as people are starting to wake up, to see what’s really going on. The (admittedly, somewhat failed, but still attempted) Occupy movement is a perfect example.
Socialism and communism are often seen as a joke, and those who defend them as babbling radicals. But, perhaps, like the trope of the religious “crazy man” in the sandwich board poster scream-preaching the apocalypse, they are onto something. I want to invite both critics and open-minded people with a curious interest to come to Fightback meetings. The conversation, even if not to your liking, is stimulating and interesting, and sometimes, it’s nice to hear the Other Side—no matter what you’re preaching.