At the 2017 annual general meeting of the University of Winnipeg Students’ Association (UWSA), the Revolutionary Student Movement-UWinnipeg (RSM-UW) brought forward three motions: a motion to hold a second general meeting each fall, a motion in support of anti-tuition activism, and a motion to denounce Israeli apartheid and support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement in opposition to the State of Israel.
These motions were brought forward as part of the pan-Canadian General Assemblies campaign of the Mouvement Étudiant Révolutionnaire – Revolutionary Student Movement (MER-RSM) to promote campus democracy and advance the agenda of working class and marginalized students. The fall general meeting motion passed, upholding student voices as the highest decision-making power in the union. The anti-tuition activism motion was significantly weakened by amendment before being adopted, and BDS was not voted on as the meeting had lost quorum by the time it was brought forward for a vote. The latter two motions were heavily debated and criticized largely due to misinformation, needless sectarianism, and reactionary scare tactics that we will highlight and correct.
Although the RSM-UW celebrates the adoption of provisions including funding for direct action training and the consideration of allocating funds for legal charges that student may incur through anti-tuition activism, one of the provisions supporting an upcoming April 18 rally organized by both RSM sections in the city was eliminated. The rally has already garnered a wide range of support from student groups, unions, and revolutionary organizations, which we hoped the UWSA would join.
The amendment to eliminate the provision supporting the rally was brought forward by the recently re-elected UWSA Status of Women Director, and seconded by the incoming Vice President External Affairs (VPEA). In moving the amendment, the Director put forward several factually incorrect statements that would ultimately jeopardize student organizing with the MER-RSM. The statements are as follows: that the rally should not be supported due to its affiliation with the RSM; that the RSM is a communist organization; that the MER-RSM is affiliated with the Parti Communiste Revolutionnaire – Revolutionary Communist Party (PCR-RCP); and that either organization encourages violent revolution. Another argument for the amendment was put forward by the outgoing VPEA and Local 08 Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) representative, that the rally should not be supported as it was not led by the CFS, with which the UWSA is affiliated. It should also be mentioned that this individual has since expressed a desire for increased solidarity among student organizations to achieve common goals, and is also known for their consistent commitment to anti-oppression and students’ struggles. We hope that all tendencies which divide progressive students can be rectified so as to build a unified movement of proletarian students capable of smashing the bourgeois education system.
We respond to the first argument by clarifying that we are a broadly-based student organization led by communist principles and open to anyone who upholds anti-capitalism, anti-imperialism, and anti-oppressive principles. This includes maintaining a strong anti-racist, anti-fascist, anti-ableist, LGBTQ2SIA+ inclusive and upholding proletarian feminism. There are many members of our organization across a variety of tendencies, including many non-communists. We would also clarify that while the MER-RSM was an initiative of the PCR-RCP, we are not an organ of the party. We are completely independent, have our own democratic structure, and do not advocate for any specific ideology or strategy for revolution. Finally, in response to negative connotations of violent revolutions, while the RSM does not advocate for a specific revolutionary strategy, we certainly do not condemn the successful liberation struggles that have been won through violent means.
Furthermore, the argument against supporting the April 18th rally because it is not led by the CFS is completely sectarian, and is merely for the purpose of maintaining subservience to the bourgeois monopoly of the student movement. Unprincipled sectarianism should always be opposed; however, choosing to work outside the CFS is not sectarianism. In fact the liberalism, bureaucracy and opportunism which is universal within the CFS, along with the continuing marginalization of any message other than its own, was a significant factor in the formation of the RSM itself.
The amendment in question and the poorly researched arguments for it were more about red-baiting and perpetuating misconceptions that undermine radical organizing than they were about supporting the fight of working class students against attacks on access to education. These comments, whether intentionally or not, are part of a reactionary and reformist trend within student organizing across Canada which reared its ugly head at the AGM. This resulted in a rejection of crucial support for the April 18th rally, which would have greatly strengthened our ability to reach out to students at the U of W, a campus with a long history of radical activism. It is particularly alarming that the more problematic of these arguments was supported by the incoming and VPEA, as they will oversee all of the UWSA’s campaign work in the coming year. Holding sectarian views on student organizing and incorrect ideas on the RSM and in turn delegitimizing the necessity of a radical student organization for the working class and marginalized students creates extremely problematic barriers, suppressing radical expression and student organizing. We find this to be completely unacceptable coming from those in positions of power in our student association, and we believe that all students and their organizations should stand together against tuition fees.
The BDS and anti-Israeli apartheid motion was opposed by some students who attempted to portray criticism of Israel and the BDS movement as anti-Semitic. This tactic is a common attempt to delegitimize any opposition to Israel. BDS is not anti-Semitism; it is a vibrant and diverse global movement made up of unions, academic associations, churches and grassroots groups from all faiths and backgrounds, including many Jewish people, who are dedicated to challenging international support for Israeli apartheid and settler-colonialism. These students also repeated misinformation about Students Against Israeli Apartheid (SAIA), a student group at the University of Manitoba which was unjustly banned by the University of Manitoba Students’ Union (UMSU) in a gross violation of freedom of speech and belief. The students at the AGM alleged that SAIA and its activities put Jewish students at risk, and that a BDS endorsement by the UWSA would do the same, all of which is patently false.
Another argument put forward by students in response to the BDS motion was that it is not the place of the UWSA to take a position on political issues. However the UWSA is at its core a political organization, which historically and presently has taken many stances and undertaken many campaigns on social justice and equality issues within our country and around the world. The UWSA was constructed and is maintained by UW students as a tool for struggle as we decide. Its purpose is whatever UW students decide it is. If the UWSA membership holds a vote on an issue, then that issue is within the mandate of the UWSA, and BDS is no different.
Furthermore, globally, student organizations are a key part of the BDS movement, as they were in the divestment movement against South African Apartheid in the 1970s and 1980s, and we believe the UWSA must be a part of this. As the discussion was derailed by those apologists for settler-colonialism, the AGM lost quorum, and the meeting was adjourned without a vote being held. The BDS motion will be revisited at the UWSA general meeting in the fall, and we encourage all UW students to attend the meeting to ensure the passage of this crucial motion.
In summary, the results of the AGM were mixed. While it was a partial victory for working class and marginalized students, there were also some setbacks. In sharing this statement we hope to highlight some of the reasons for these setbacks, as a way to clarify our politics, prevent future needless sectarianism at UW, and encourage students to support similar motions in the future.
We see the need for students to be united against symptoms of capitalism, colonialism, and imperialism. In bringing forward motions pertaining to the fight against tuition, BDS, and the necessity for increased campus democracy, the RSM-UW was able to illuminate the reactionary trends within the UWSA. As such, we hope that the aforementioned individuals can internalize our criticisms and work with us in the future. Through struggle, we hope to establish ourselves as a legitimate organization for mobilizing students at the UW, contributing to a broader revolutionary movement across Canada and internationally.
Revolutionary Student Movement – UWinnipeg