Yesterday’s Socialism, Today’s Sexy
Fightback Concordia Attracts a New Wave of Socialists
On the evening of Sept. 14 in a Concordia classroom, Joel Bergman looked out into the crowd and saw a sea of snapbacks instead of the usual flat caps.
In place of the worn faces of the working class, he saw fresh-faced youths—more than 65 of them had come to learn. Bergman was there to teach.
The night’s lesson: Marxist theory. Tomorrow’s test: conquer capitalism.
“It’s like trying to push a massive boulder up a giant hill that you’re never going to push up. You’ve got to change the terrain,” said Bergman as he explained why capitalism needs to go. “Capitalists don’t invest for fun. They don’t invest to make people’s lives better. They invest for profit.”
Originally from the Yukon, the 34-year-old integrated himself in the socialist movement after learning about Fightback more than ten years ago. Fightback, a Canadian Marxist organization that publishes a journal under the same name, organized the discussion at Concordia.
“The word socialist is back in the mainstream,” said Bergman. “The amount of people interested in socialist ideas today is skyrocketing. I make the joke that it’s the only expanding market today.”
The classroom was so full that people had to sit in the aisles. “A couple of years ago, we probably would get a dozen, maybe twenty [people],” he said. The evening’s turnout shows just how powerful social movements have become around the world, said Bergman, especially as inequality continues to widen the gap between the rich and the poor.
In January, Oxfam reported that 62 billionaires—or about one per cent of the world population—owned more than half of the world’s combined wealth.
“We’ve seen the Occupy movement come up with this great idea—the one per cent and the 99 per cent,” said Bergman. “It’s almost Marxist terminology.”
Vermont senator Bernie Sanders touted the same terminology earlier this year as he fought to win the Democratic Party’s nomination. Despite eventually losing to Hillary Clinton, Bergman acknowledged Sanders’ popularity had soared along with resurging leftist thinking among young voters.
According to the Washington Post, by June 1, more than two million people under age 30 had cast ballots for Sanders across 21 states. Of that same demographic, less than 1.6 million had voted for Clinton and Donald Trump combined.
“If I was to tell you a few years ago that you were going to have a mainstream politician in the United States [today] call himself a ‘socialist’ and talk about a revolution against the billionaire class, you’d probably tell me I was crazy,” he said. “[The United States] is the anti-communist country.”
With Bergman’s 40-minute presentation nearing its end, 27-year-old Ahmad Zakaria waited outside the door, speaking with attendees as they left. Zakaria encouraged them to take a look at a nearby table covered with Marxist materials, Fightback journals and pamphlets.
The final-year political science student came to his first meeting three months ago and joined the Montreal arm of Fightback shortly afterwards.
“I went through four years of political science and I didn’t feel fulfilled. After four years, I still felt like I didn’t understand the world better,” he said. “Then I stumbled upon Marxism, and it just really clicked with me. It put everything into a theoretical framework of why things are this bad.”
Zakaria came to Montreal from Egypt in 2008, when the Egyptian political climate was in turmoil, and still operating under the Mubarak dictatorship. In 2011 Egypt had a revolution, but Zakaria still believes the country is subject to capitalist influences from the United States and other foreign interests.
Although Zakaria prefers Montreal’s political climate to Egypt’s, he still thinks there is work to be done.
“You see homeless people everywhere—and yet we have so many homes. We can give homes to everybody but we don’t,” he said. “Because [in a capitalist system] we can only connect the people to those homes if they can afford it.”