Historic Montreal May 25 Meeting of The Internationalists
Reminiscences of Hardial Bains
on the Reorganization of
The Internationalists, Montreal 1968
We arrived in Montreal May 1, 1968. Awkward, perhaps, is the word to describe a situation when coming to a city with a handicap, an obstruction in the form of a close collaborator who at the particular time was not totally dedicated to the aim for which we had arrived. This awkwardness over aim was to become a continuous source of irritation and disruption for years to come. It is important to choose with whom one goes into battle but history gave us no choice at the time.
The city appeared quite inhospitable during the afternoon bus ride from Dorval Airport downtown to the Queen Elizabeth Hotel and the slow walk to the McGill Ghetto. With our entire earthly belongings dangling from our bodies, it felt as if everyone were looking at us, wanting to know why we had come to Montreal. Some might consider me overly sensitive or self-conscious, but I hope never again to repeat such an experience. After a terrible night at the home of some émigrés transplanted from Vancouver, we set to work.
The same streets, which had looked so inhospitable the day before, now seemed inviting. A call echoed through the cavernous streets: “The Internationalists are here; The Internationalists are here.” Within days, the ranks of our organization began to swell. Individuals joined us from as far away as Vancouver but the greatest response came from the inhabitants of the City of Montreal.
When we held our first public meeting May 25, 1968, the old house on Jeanne Mance Street was bubbling with energy. The adjoining living and dining rooms and long hallway were so packed people had to be turned away at the door. The old cliché declares “nothing succeeds like success” and that certainly was the case May 25. Like most clichés, it fails to describe how our success was based and dependent, besides other factors, on our own serious, honest and conscious work. Success does not come about without serious planning in accordance with the actual conditions. The Jeanne Mance meeting was a crucial one; it would determine just how deep and successful our initial organizing work in Montreal and in Quebec would be. We were confident but one can never be sure when dealing with actual people in the heat of the moment. A feature of the meeting, besides so many unfamiliar faces, was the enthusiasm for The Internationalists and the many many questions participants wanted us to answer.
After the historic Montreal May 25 meeting, word swept the city that The Internationalists were everywhere, in their hundreds! The second meeting held just a week later was once again a resounding success. Inside, the meeting discussed the ideological offensive being waged through decadent culture, while outside a demonstration organized against us by some hippies defended that ideological offensive. Not by coincidence the main organizer of the demonstration was a transplant from Victoria, British Columbia, who was extremely upset that The Internationalists had stolen his thunder. He wanted to disrupt our meeting to show how “tough” he was but we did not want such altercations. After making some noise, they left without swaying the youth. The behaviour of the police at the time must be noted and emphasized because it became a general feature. The police did not intervene to stop the demonstration against us and from then on whenever our meetings were disrupted the police were nowhere to be seen unless we took action to end the disruption when the police would suddenly appear to attack us.
Revolutionary politics developed with great speed that summer and the ranks of The Internationalists grew rapidly. By the end of December 1968, close to seventy delegates attended our First National Conference, with organizations either established or in the process of being founded in all provinces except the Maritimes. Most healthy forces were uniting around The Internationalists with many more to follow later. This rapid advance had an objective basis. Those who joined us had emerged out of the same conditions as The Internationalists, and gravitated towards an organization that was stable and strong ideologically, organizationally and in political line. Furthermore, the organization beckoned everyone to embark on the revolutionary Marxist-Leninist road that belonged to us all. The Internationalists were not a sect but an organization of the working class dedicated to the victory of revolution and socialism.
The Internationalists were a national organization called a “Marxist-Leninist youth and student movement” but with all the attributes of a genuine Marxist-Leninist Communist Party. Marxism-Leninism was the ideological basis of the organization, democratic centralism the organizational principle with proletarian internationalism at the core of its practice. The Internationalists had not yet established ourselves as the Party because we wanted to win over some other groups who called themselves Marxist-Leninist to found one Party of the working class. We did not want to unilaterally declare a Party. Such a move would have been considered disruptive for the movement, and in retrospect, history has fully corroborated that opinion.
Those Montreal days of May are very dear to us. They were both delicate and tough. The Internationalists had to be circumspect. The situation demanded it. No straightforward Marxist-Leninist groups existed in Montreal. The practice of the leader of one of the better organizations reflected at best the ideological confusion he was suffering. We had to be careful with this group for we knew that most members had good sentiment but ideological confusion exerted a huge pressure. We had to lift this ideological confusion resolutely but by being extremely responsible and comradely towards them.
This group invited us to a meeting of one of its committees. We sat through the meeting quietly. The proceedings confirmed our opinion that this group suffered ideological confusion. This was very particular and came from mixing up one’s own interests with the aims of the movement in a manner where personal interests become the aim of the movement. At the conclusion of the meeting I was literally commanded to give my impressions and opinions of the gathering and their organization. I told them very nicely and in a cool-headed manner that they would have to excuse me because to give opinions about another organization is a very delicate matter and we would have an opportunity soon to exchange opinions at a meeting between delegations of the two organizations.
There was no stopping some of them. A very ugly atmosphere was created with a few members accusing me of cowardice for not wanting to speak in front of them. I was forced to say something. And of course, when you are in such exalted company, anything you do or say will be used against you. I began:
“You have very good sentiments, and your aim is very good…”
“Get to the point,” a real boor shouted from the back.
I had kept my cool so far. Very gently, I let them know that their ideology was liberal bourgeois but before I could finish my sentence someone shouted: “We will kill you if you repeat that.”
To myself I said, “Trotskyite, typical petty bourgeois” and drawing myself up to my full height sternly shot back at the man who had voiced the threat: “That would be quite a feat for a petty bourgeois like you!” I then worked hard to cool the situation down.
The person who was so bold and haughty at that time later became a real careerist, a professor in psychology or some similar field and soon disappeared from progressive politics. However, in the political heat of that Montreal summer, he along with all the others belonging to that organization joined The Internationalists.
Others in Montreal who called themselves Marxist-Leninists were connected with the Progressive Workers’ Movement from Vancouver. They spent all of 1968 trying without success to keep people away from The Internationalists and to cause a split in our ranks. Meanwhile the Front de Liberation du Québec (FLQ) had all but dissipated while the unilinguists were trying to whip up racist hysteria.
The main opposition to The Internationalists during the summer was centred at McGill University. The Students for a Democratic University (SDU) was decomposing after a period of sit-ins and occupations in the fall of 1967. Although nostalgia surrounded the SDU for the previous actions, there were also recriminations and the healthy elements gravitated towards us. From the death-throes of the SDU came a “socialist” group. The word “socialist” had become a cover for all those who did not want to really deal with the question of socialism and organize to bring it about through revolution. This anti-Leninist opposition culminated in a diversionary “McGill Français” campaign, the leader of which disappeared after the War Measures Act of October 1970.
Those days in Montreal were crucial for the building of the Party. One cannot imagine a Canadian Marxist-Leninist Communist Party without the workers from Quebec. To build the Party when we arrived in Montreal, besides uniting the various groups, the missing element was precisely the Quebec workers. The summer seemed to have an air of great events in the making and while time passed very slowly, events moved quickly. One day, one afternoon or even one hour could make the difference, could change things in a significant way. Barely six days passed from our arrival on May 1 to the reorganization of The Internationalists on May 7. A battle raged over the organizational principle of democratic centralism. The debate centred on the key point whether an individual is subordinate to the organization or not. We strongly upheld the view that the individual is subordinate to the collective, and we practised that principle. Even though we were a small organization at the time, we knew that it was crucial to stand on guard for our principles. That stand on principles would later be essential for building and expanding the organization.
The May 25 meeting took place just 24 days after our arrival. The Internationalists already had mass appeal. They were a topic of discussion in all circles, a focal point for the unity of all Marxist-Leninists across Canada to found the new Party. July 26 was another important date, a milestone when hundreds participated in our weekend conference held at Sir George Williams University (since merged with Loyola College to form Concordia University), where the broad masses approved our political and ideological program.
Many events followed in that tumultuous summer of ’68, and for those who directly experienced the period their fragrance is still so very fresh. If we were to ask what was so important about that particular summer, we would have to talk not just about one but all its varied aspects. The Internationalists were strengthened in every way — ideologically, organizationally, politically and in quantity. The Internationalists irresistibly attracted all those thinking about taking that decision to join the revolutionary Marxist-Leninists. It appeared as if they were just waiting for us. It was the mother liquid waiting for that one crystal, and there you are — everything is crystallized. Such was the freshness and purity of what transpired that summer. It strengthened our direction and gave us more confidence. It verified the path we had been working out for more than five years, a direction which was the summation of a period transformed into the form of a real advance, the reorganization and consolidation of The Internationalists as a Marxist-Leninist organization in every sense of the word.
The summer of ’68 had such a far-reaching impact that even today, if anyone becomes a traitor, they have to first violate the decisions and spirit of that period. It has been observed that the same individuals who became passive or betrayed the organization have tried to throw mud at that period and its predecessor and have become emotionally unstable as a result. It is not possible to purge one’s system of the truth and fill it with falsehoods without facing dire consequences to one’s emotional well-being.
(Extracts from unpublished manuscript written in 1989. Reprinted from TML Weekly, May 25, 2013.)