International Socialists (Canada)

From Academic Kids

The International Socialists is a Canadian Trotskyist group. It is part of the International Socialist Tendency, of which the British Socialist Workers Party (SWP) is the most prominent group. The IS publishes an English-language fortnightly paper, Socialist Worker, a French-language monthly, Résistance, and an annual theoretical journal Marxism. The organization also holds an annual Marxism conference every spring in Toronto, modelled on the much larger Marxism conference of the British SWP. The organization claims that it has a membership of 400.

Contents

Leadership

The IS is led by a steering committee of nine members elected annually at a National Convention, which is comprised of delegates elected from each branch. A broader leadership body, the National Committee, meets three times per year in Toronto, and is also comprised of delegates elected from each branch. Motions are voted on at National Committee meetings and the National Convention. Current members of the Steering Committee include Abigail Bakan, Paul Kellogg, Carolyn Egan, Pam Frache, Ontario campaigns coordinator for the Canadian Federation of Students, Benoit Renaud, Chantal Sundaram, Michelle Robidoux, Ritch Whyman and James Clark. Benoit Renaud is the only members of the steering committee based outside Toronto.

Early History

The initial cadres consisted of members of the Movement for an Independent Socialist Canada (better known as the Waffle), which had been forced to leave the social democratic New Democratic Party in 1972. A group of students at York University in Toronto formed a Marxist study group, and came into contact with left-Shachtmanites in the International Socialists (USA), an American group founded by Hal Draper.

After the collapse of the Waffle in late 1974, the group organized itself as the Independent Socialists in February 1975, soon renaming themselves the International Socialists, and began publishing a paper called Workers Action. In later years, this paper was renamed Socialist Worker. Through a process of faction fights and splits in its first two years, followers of Tony Cliff's theory of state capitalism gained control of the organization. A similar process occurred in the US group during this period.

During the 1980s, the group was heavily involved in women's struggles, playing an important role in mobilizing support for a woman's right to choose in Canada.

In 1985-6, the IS faced a crisis of factionalism the led to the division of the largest branch, located in Toronto. The crisis caused leading members of the Socialist Workers Party in the UK to write an open letter of concern, urging the unity of the Toronto branch. David McNally (Canadian Marxist), the group's founder, was ousted by Professor Abigail Bakan of Queen's University in Kingston and Paul Kellogg, editor of Socialist Worker.

The 1990s

The IS grew during the mid-1990s, especially in Ontario during the "Days of Action", a series of one day general strikes between late 1995 and 1998 against the ruling Ontario Progressive Conservative Party, led by Premier Mike Harris. During this period of growth, publication of the Socialist Worker - the organization's paper - became fortnightly rather than monthly.

The unexpected and rapid growth of the group during this period led to a split in the IS in 1996.

The struggle within the group resumed in November 1994. Bakan and Kellogg moved back to Toronto in the early 1990s built support among leading cadre in the group. After a period of co-editing, Kellogg eventually replaced McNally as editor of Socialist Worker. McNally and his supporters became increasingly marginalised and increasingly critical of the direction of the IS and of Bakan in particular. The conflict reached a climax when McNally proposed a slate for the group's main body, the steering committee, which would have added David Camfield to the body and removed Bakan. McNally's slate was defeated at the IS's national convention and he soon resigned from the steering committee. He and Camfield subsequently formed the Political Reorientation Faction (PRF) in January, 1996. The PRF produced a document rejecting the International Socialist Tendency's analysis of an upswing in class struggle during the mid-1990s, and the Leninist conception of the party. Within weeks, McNally, Camfield and several dozen supporters left the IS to form the New Socialist Group prompting criticism from the IS majority for quitting rather than engaging in a proper political debate. The departing minority, however, argued that their position in the IS had become untenable and that their right to debate and organize were not tolerated by the majority.

Recent history

The IS has participated in several important campaigns since the rise of the anti-capitalist movement following the Seattle Protests of late 1999. The IS participated in the large Quebec City Summit of the Americas protests in Quebec City, in April 2001 and, were also present in the smaller G8 Protests in Calgary, Alberta in June 2002.

Leading up to the March 2003 Iraq War, Canada's Liberal Party Prime Minister, Jean Chrétien, continually avoided revealing his government's position on the war -- it was later disclosed by the right-wing National Post newspaper, that upwards of 800 Canadian troops were on call for operations in Iraq. This status was called off in mid-February 2003, when Chretien announced to Parliament that the Canadian government would not support the war. His announcement came on February 18, three days after the largest anti-war protests in Canadian (and world) history.

The IS played a role in organizing the Canadian anti-war movement, through unions, student organizations and community activist organizations. Leading IS members remain involved in some of the larger anti-war groups across the country, notably in Toronto.

The International Socialists have also been involved in Project Threadbare, a campaign to defend Muslims and South Asians against the Canadian government's post-9/11 national security policy. This policy has been controversial. ISers and others believe that it is prone to abuse by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. The IS and other individuals stopped working in Project Threadbare in the spring of 2004 following the occupation of an MPs office by supporters of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty claiming, without permission, to act on behalf of Project Threadbare (read statements: Aftermath of Sgro Occupation (http://www.flora.org/nowar/forum/4512), Founding and Organizing Members Leave Threadbare (http://www.flora.org/nowar/forum/4517)).

Since the mid-1980s when the group took a political turn towards the student movement, much of the IS' work occurs on university campuses and most of their members are either university students or joined while in university. The group is particularly active at York University in Toronto, Carleton University in Ottawa, and the University of Victoria, though a member did become president of the Student Administrative Council at the University of Toronto as part of a broader left wing slate.

Political Stances

Unlike much of the mainstream left in Canada, the International Socialists oppose Left Nationalism, which argues that Canada is a colony or dependency of the United States. The IS maintains that Canada is a leading capitalist country with an independent ruling class that carries out its own acts of imperialism. At the same time, members of the IS, including members of its steering committee, were also members of the left nationalist Council of Canadians as recently as 2002.

The group supports international socialism and Québécois and First Nations struggles for self-determination, up to and including independence. In Quebec, the IS does not, however, support the separatist Parti Québécois. The IS is involved in the Union des forces progressistes, a coalition of the Parti communiste du Québec, the Parti de la démocratie socialiste (formerly the Quebec NDP) and Gauche socialiste, the Quebec section of the Fourth International.

The International Socialists argue for "critical support" of the New Democratic Party - Canada's labour party - on the federal and provincial levels. In 2003, members of the IS worked on Joe Comartin's NDP leadership campaign despite the fact that ISers generally do not join the NDP.

Criticism

The IS has been criticized by other left groups. These groups allege that, despite claiming to be in favour of rank-and-file militancy in unions, the IS has failed to attempt to build labour oppositions in unions where they have a limited presence, such as the United Steel Workers of America. (IS steering committee member Carolyn Egan is president of USWA Local 8300 and president of the Toronto Steelworkers Council. Other IS supporters hold positions in USWA Local 1998. Both locals are based in Toronto.) Further, critics claim that the IS prefers instead to cleave to the existing union leadership in order to obtain resources for various projects.

The IS is viewed with hostility by other groups on the left. Some in the NDP view the IS as a parasitical formation that attempts to recruit its members by feigning support for the NDP. Other groups and individual leftists are critical of the IS's orientation toward movements, claiming that, in Toronto, it tries to take over groups and dominates them in an undemocratic manner. According to some Palestinian rights activists, including supporters of Solidarity with Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR) at York University, the Toronto branch of SPHR does not have public meetings, and recruits only individuals who are friendly with the IS or do not challenge its dominance. Allegedly, if they do question the IS's role in the organization, they are quickly frozen out.

The IS has also had a controversial role in the peace movement in Toronto due to its dominant position in the Toronto Coalition Against the War. The June 30th Committee organized an anti-war march through Toronto's business district on June 30, 2004, the day designated for US transfer of power to the Iraqi transitional government. The Toronto Coalition Against the War had initially planned to only hold a protest outside of the United States consulate in Toronto, and the June 30th group planned to have its march at the end of the protest. It is alleged that when the IS learned of the group's plan, they announced that they would have their own march at the same time, going north from the protest while the other demo headed south. This resulted in a bizarre scene of competing organizers urging protesters to go in opposite directions. According to an account in Toronto's Now Magazine, "the final advertised event is a march through the financial district. But unless participants are privy to activist gossip, many don't know that a faction of the International Socialists within the TCSW has decided to organize a competing march northwards. Organizers try to tell people about the confusion while an ISer barks competing directions on the mike. Many protestors stand around looking from one line of marchers to the other," [1] (http://www.nowtoronto.com/issues/2004-07-08/news_story3.php). Similarly, in November 2004, the IS led coalition announced an "emergency rally" against the US offensive in Fallujah to be held at the exact same time as a previously announced action by OCAP.

Groups such as the International Bolshevik Tendency, the Spartacists, and various anarchists describe the IS as left social democrats who are insincere about militancy and revolution. A competing group, Socialist Action, says "The International Socialists abstain from campaigns where they perceive they cannot play a dominant role and recruit directly to their organization. To the very minor extent that IS militants are involved in the labour movement, they over-adapt to sections of the union bureaucracy." [2] (http://www.geocities.com/socialist_action/socialistcanada.html)

In Web of Hate, author Warren Kinsella alleges that the IS split an anti-racist demonstration in Ottawa in May 1993 by telling demonstrators to go home, falsely claiming that the Heritage Front concert they were protesting had been cancelled. As a result, a much smaller group of anti-racists was left outnumbered by the neo-Nazi group with a number of serious injuries ensuing. It's also claimed that the IS pointed out anti-racists to police for arrest.

According to rally participants writing in the the anarchist magazine Arm the Spirit:

"it was the I.S. contingent who actively collaborated with the police against militant demonstrators. I.S. marshals tipped off the cops to an attempt by ARA and other anti- racists to rush past police lines to get closer to the building where the nazi concert was being held. This tip off resulted in many of those demonstrators on the front lines being hit with pepper spray by police."
"Later the I.S. marshals purposefully split the demonstration by declaring "victory" because the cops told them that the concert was going to be shut down. This declaration over the megaphones, coupled with the herding of the participants by I.S. marshals, caused more than half of the demonstrators to leave the site. Many anti-racists refused to acknowledge that any such victory existed when the sounds of the nazi bands playing could clearly be heard even outside the building. This cowardly decision to split the demonstration (and the fact that the ARA contingent of 50 who had stayed behind at the site were forced to leave at 11:00pm to catch the bus back to Toronto) left the few dedicated Ottawa activists vulnerable to the brutal skinhead attack which followed."
"After the demonstration, in a move reminiscent of COINTELPRO-style tactics, the I.S. took part in drafting a letter condemning ARA for the "violence" of the June 11th action - a letter to which they signed the names of several organizations who, upon being contacted by ARA, had never heard of such a letter and who did not support the statements within it."[3] (http://www.etext.org/Politics/Arm.The.Spirit/ATS.Magazines/ats16-1-fall-1993.txt)

Members of the Spartacist League also observed the incident and produced a leaflet on the IS strategy entitled "Love the liberals, trust the cops, and be somewhere else".

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