Montreal Calling: On the “Quebec Spring” & its Enemies

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Carrément dans le rouge.

Just a quick memo to Canada’s vocal, reactionary minority (with vast over-representation on online forums and comments sections): the students in Quebec do not care that you think they are: “spoiled brats,” “crazy,” “anarchists,” “communists,” and/or “French” (?!). Your moaning and complaining is absolutely and utterly vacuous. Why? Because the students, unlike you, are actually mobilized and organized and are standing up for their rights. You, on the other hand, are sitting down for plutocracy. They are expanding our conception of what democratic politics ought to entail. They are engaging in the fundamental practice of politics, in fact: if you want something, you have to fight for it. They are a representation of the society we could be, rather than the tepid, depoliticized, ethereal mass we currently exist as.

That Canada’s media establishment, the Liberal Party of Quebec and their sycophants in the general public do not understand this is merely a testament to how divorced in this country we are from anything remotely resembling democratic politics. As I have droned on about before, “elections” are not politics in any meaningful sense of the word and, at least in their current form, are barely democratic at all.

Take for instance what is, ostensibly, the central concern of these protests: the question of tuition. Many a sweaty commentator on the CBC, for example, has remarked how they have “no sympathy” for these kids on account of the fact that they “already have the lowest tuition in the country!” Indeed, they do. And why do they have the lowest tuition in the country? Because several generations of students in that Province have demonstrated that they could and would mobilize hundreds of thousands of their compatriots to prevent any attacks on their access to a decent public education. The students, not the government, have delineated the contours of their political and democratic rights. And this, in turn, is why they will continue to have the lowest tuition rates in the country: because “direct action gets the goods.”

Ta-da! The mysteries of the arcane world of politics, revealed! A substantive, meaningful, “deep” conception of democracy can only exist in an environment where the citizens are prepared and able to wrest rights and resources away from the state. We need to understand that the state, especially in the era of neoliberalism, does not serve to provide for us, it serves to take things away. Corporate tax breaks, the creeping privatization of public services, the destruction of our environment in the name of “economic progress,” the criminalization, marginalization and exploitation of migrant labour—all of these are but means of dispossession.

As such, the completely backwards (and inane) argument which holds that because they have the lowest tuition rates in the country, Quebec students should not complain fundamentally misunderstands what democracy is. It is a reactionary, indeed, anti-democratic position. It is also one frequently applied to organized labour, incidentally: why are the unions always on strike? They already have comparatively higher wages and better working conditions than non-unionized workers. I know: they’re just greedy!

What a truly bizarre inversion. In a society where the rich have systematically conspired in the dispossession of the rest of the population, organized forms of resistance to this process are the one barrier between us and indentured servitude. Rather than resenting the dominant, ruling, corporate elite who have led us into the largest global economic decline since the Great Depression—and got off with barely a murmur of complaint from their government sponsors—we’re supposed to blame teachers and students (to use but two recent examples) because they have the audacity to speak out against this process? Gee, I wonder who this benefits?

I’m tired of the logic that blames other working class women and men, as well as youth, for the conditions the owners of this country have created. Yes, unions and organized populations, in general, have better living and working conditions than their non-organized peers. This is not an argument against organized labour et al, however, it’s an argument against the non-organization of working people! Rather than asking why “they” have it so good, we ought to ask why we have it so bad. And this applies whether you’re working in a non-union industry or sector, or you’re a student anywhere in this country wondering why our friends in Quebec have lower education costs.

I am excited and hopeful about what’s happening in Montreal and across Quebec (and hopefully, the rest of the country, soon enough!): it’s showing us that mass mobilization is possible and effective in Canada. At a moment where the rumors of the death of the “Occupy” movement have been so grossly exaggerated (another free hint for the reactionaries: the protests will end when the inherent contradictions of capitalism resolve themselves—good luck!), this is precisely the reminder we have needed: the emergence of what they’re calling a “Quebec Spring.” Change is possible, it is necessary but it can only happen when we organize, when we mobilize and when we dictate our own futures. All that which we might accomplish and gain depends on our ability to fight for it. Free tuition would be only the beginning, then.

Every working person in this country ought to stand with the students in Quebec, every progressive,  everyone interested in a Canada that is not merely a subsidiary of oil conglomerates. Do not allow the media and the political establishment to deceive you with calls of “extremism” and “violence”; do not allow footage of Police brutality to be sold to you as evidence of domestic terrorism.

There’s hope for us yet but only if we look out for each other, if we defend each other, if we fight for each other. Solidarity means something: it means knowing who you’re with and what you’re against.

La barricade ferme la rue mais ouvre la voie.

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Jasmin Mujanović

Jasmin is a PhD candidate in Political Science from York University in Toronto. Originally from Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, he regularly blogs about the Balkans, international affairs and social movements in Canada and abroad. His commentary has appeared in the New York Times, Al Jazeera, openDemocracy, Balkanist Magazine, Balkan Insight and TransConflict among other platforms. You can contact him through Twitter or through his personal website.

18 thoughts on “Montreal Calling: On the “Quebec Spring” & its Enemies”

    1. You obviously do not understand the magnitude of the issues that are being addressed here. You should refrain from commenting until you understand what’s going on.

  1. Well said.
    And it’s quite clear from the stats that the lower tuition fees in Quebec have been accompanied by avoidance of various very bad outcomes. So the argument that the students shouldn’t struggle against those outcomes seems roughly like telling someone “Who do you think you are, not smoking? Too good to get lung cancer or emphysema? Everyone *else* is sucking it up and dying painfully, what makes you so special?”

  2. You know so much more than me.
    I defer to your superior knowledge and justification for violent action over tuition increases.
    Take my car . . please.

      1. Hyperbole is where you are at. That and zero sense of humor. I would go for free tuition though, as long as someone else is paying for it, I completely agree.

    1. Of course dialogue is always better but the students are being shut out from talks with the government. Therefore, the only arena where they can be heard is in the streets. The small fraction of people throwing rocks and breaking windows are mis-guided fools who are only using this as a pretext to be asses. The student groups that represent over 200,000 people have never endorsed anything other than peaceful gatherings. Are you able to make the distinction between the two camps – violent and non-violent?

  3. When the nurses were refusing to work overtime as a pressure tactic, Mde Marois had a word with the union negotiator, who soon left for a position with the government, leaving us to pay fines and face the legislation stating it was illegal to refuse to work overtime. Unluckily for us, our profession is seen as a calling so why pay us, and as conscientious care givers we do not have any leverage, unlike teachers whose absence forces all parents to find substitute care, or the police, who stop giving tickets and hurt them where it really hurts, in the wallet. When a 3 to 5 hr wait in a walk-in clinic is termed “pretty good”, you know there’s been enough behavior modification and low expectations drilled into the general public that they are compliant and accepting. And that’s when you have a minor complaint, imagine how much of a beggar you become when you are really desperate. Thank you Mde Marois, looking forward to you as the prime minister, Mr Harper is just making you look good.

  4. Hi Jas. Graduated also in IR in 2002, now Reg force army. Been to Afghanistan twice. Very frustrating, gratifying, and saddening on occasion. Very much hope the Afghan Army pulls together to protect their country and avoid once again becoming a satellite state of Pakistan. Feel quite bad the overstretched American army is fucking up and getting a lot of Americans and Afghans killed. Much more complicated than you probably think.

    Liked how you said “There’s hope for us yet but only if we look out for each other, if we defend each other, if we fight for each other.” Pretty much the attitude we inculcate in guys in infantry training (“everbody fights, nobody quits”). Kudos for that — but considering you know nothing about my experiences (to judge from your post on the military), and would probably cut my job without reflection in your new utopian society, how exactly do you stand with me?

    That’s ok though… I’m eventually planning to leave Canada anyway, to open some kind of eco-tourism place in the third world, while using the excess $$$ to help the local community with the confidence I’ve acquired through my life experiences in the military. I would not have done that when younger. (let’s face it, violence is scary). Also considered security work for NGOs doing development or disaster relief. Google Team Rubicon. You may not have considered how the military develops citizens (ironically like a university).

    What’s the point? Well, the “we” you’re using is fairly elitist in it’s own sense. The fact is, the “Quebec Spring” is full of radicals who define themselves in opposition to demonized enemies they don’t know very well — ESPECIALLY police. It’s defined by being against X, Y & Z — because it’s mostly an expression of generalized frustration about western youth life (media/social/sexual/intellectual/etc). NOBODY believes the nonsense about “educational access” which is why it’s quietly being dropped as a talking point. Google HESA – One thought.

    We have the right to decide what kind of society we all want to live in together, but it really is “all” — not just you and your politically-minded friends. Students were the nexus arab protests formed around — but it was not only the students! You cannot push your agenda as a splinter group.

    Get your degree, get a challenging job that exposes you to lots of different people you usually wouldn’t meet, keep your idealism, and temper it with experience. 2nd, the world isn’t in need of “revolutionary philopophies” — they are a dime a dozen — it’s in need of solid, capable people with personal integrity to balance out those without it. Be one of those people. I have no doubt the “Quebec Spring” will eventually fizzle out (hopefully before anyone gets hurt) but keep in mind it’s just a battle not the war… and your politics doesn’t usually determine who your real friends are.

    Good luck =D

    1. Hi Alex,

      Thanks for reading. Allow me to address a few of your points.

      One, I don’t appreciate the underlying arrogance of your post (“[much] more complicated than [I] probably think” etc). You are right–I don’t know very much about “your” experiences. But then again, I never claimed to. You and a number of other military personnel have challenged me on my views on the armed forces, and for the most part the objections have taken a highly personal tone. I understand that you likely feel frustrated by my critique of something you have devoted your life to but I never based my views on my personal perception of you as human beings. I critiqued the politics behind our armed forces. If I wanted to write a “personal critique” of the military, I likely would have made a much bigger deal about my having been a refugee and like many of you, having seen and tasted war on my own skin. As has most of my family, and most of my friends from the fromer Yugoslavia–as refugees, as combatants and as victims.

      But again, it’s not about that. So, the whole “angle” which you’re taking about me not knowing very much about “the world” is a bit presumptuous. I established my credentials in the article as being academic because I wanted to have a dialog about the subject that was based on facts–not personal experiences. Admittedly, my blog posts tend to be somewhat hyperbolic at times, but I make no secret of that fact and the vast majority of our readership still seems to get my message clear enough.

      In any case, as it pertains to my “Utopian” society–it saddens me that you think a country where we have affordable education & lower military spending constitutes an imaginary dream world. But you’re right that I do not stand with the proponents of further military spending. Just like I said in the article, “[solidarity] means something: it means knowing who you’re with and what you’re against.” I’m not sure what the confusion or objection here is. I do not believe that Canada having a large, aggressive military force is necessary or wise. I believe the majority of the men and women currently serving in those armed forces would be better of in a different line of work, one that would be more beneficial to them, to Canadians, and the wider population(s) around the world. Likewise, I am highly critical of the kind of “development” the military provides–both among its rank and file, and the “services” it provides overseas. Again, this something that I feel I established quite clearly in the earlier piece.

      Now, to your point that my conception of “we” is elitist–I’ll have to disagree, once more. If the “Quebec Spring” is “full of radicals” we’re going to have a hell of a time explaining the thousands upon thousands of people massing in the streets of Montreal and elsewhere for weeks now. Clearly, the “radicals” in question have made a case to a large segment of the population which views their demands as quite reasonable. As such, I’m not sure where this ideas comes from that “nobody believes the nonsense about ‘educational access.'” Considering the blog post is replete with links to several organizations dealing with exactly that question and more articles are published every day advocating for the same (e.g. there was a great piece in The Guardian today)–it seems pretty central.

      Likewise, had you read article more closely you would have noticed that the entire thesis of the piece is that students AND workers AND the wider society need to create linkages because the battle in Quebec is one, as I argue, which has implications for all of us. So, again, the critique of my piece representing the view from the margins seems to…fall a bit flat. It certainly draws a juxtaposition between the students and the government–but this opposition is hardly of my invention.

      I’ll pass on your, once again, rather condescending personal advice about “[exposing myself] to lots of different people” and tempering myself with “experience.” Again, my arguments have never been personal and since you know very, very, very little about me personally–who I am, where I’ve been, what I’ve done–that advice about “experience”, especially, rings quite hollow.

      Likewise, your “confidence” about the future of the Quebec movement is your own matter–but I’d urge you to base it on something other than self-satisfaction.

    2. business-” yeah but it gives them jobs” IF you think there was anything honourble about your adventure in Afghanistan you are sorely mistaken. 9/11 was used as a pretext from Imperialist invasion of Afghanistan and beyond. STAND TOGETHER? Your leaders left y ou in the field to die while they went chasing after oil money in Iraq. When are you going to get a clue?

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