In Resistance is not violence (Commentary, April 28, Online), Mona Luxion describes why it is important for protesters to disregard the limits set by those who “profit from the status quo.” The timeline of the Quebec student movement has indicated that students have been doing exactly that. Instead of working in the prescribed political channels, students have stepped outside of them, putting a tremendous economic strain upon the government. Instead of writing letters, students took to the streets in countless direct action marches, attacking the material base of the government. Instead of dispersing when police indicated that protests were illegal, students stood their ground, ready for the physical attacks of the armed representatives of the state. And finally, instead of flashing peace signs at police, students brought shields, gas masks, and rocks. I commend them for doing so.
Yet, in the article, Luxion also attempts to distance what they describe as the “resistance of students” from what government and media alike have described as “violence.” I would certainly agree with Luxion when they claim that resistance from protesters is different from violent oppression of the police. I would also agree with the idea that the mainstream media has overwhelmingly focused on violence from students while ignoring the many cases of police brutality. Despite this, I don’t think one can state that the student movement has not been violent. And I don’t think it’s beneficial to the student cause to do so either.
The liberal democratic state depends upon militant pacifism: protesters are expected to remain entirely peaceful, and are even expected to use force to prevent violent protesters from doing what they wish. This is often the last rule of the liberal democratic state that protesters uphold. A couple of weeks ago in Victoriaville, which has become the most interesting incident of violence, the hold of militant pacifism upon the student movement was broken. As a police officer attempted to tackle and arrest a protester, he was attacked by four or five people, kicked, punched, and hit with a stick repeatedly. And with those blows, if it hadn’t become clear already, it would be hard to claim now that the protest is just about tuition fees; the complete disregard for the legitimacy of the police indicates a broader attack on the state.
“1,2,3,4 – this is fucking class war! 5,6,7,8 – organize and smash the state!” “A – Anti – Anticapitaliste!” The chants ring out at protests, not limiting themselves to the Charest government, but capitalism and the state at large. The accessible education movement has been radicalized as students have realized that the root of the problem is not the Charest government, but neo-liberalism and, more broadly, capitalism.
Government and citizens alike have blamed this radicalization, and the subsequent violence and property damage, on communists, anarchists, and anti-capitalists. In fact, “CSIS (Canadian Security Intelligence Service) is probing possible threats to national security posed by groups” that they believe are “infiltrating” the student movement, and are holding them responsible for the over “180 cases of violence” since the beginning of the general student strike on February 13th.
Communists, anarchists, and anti-capitalists certainly have been present in student demonstrations. But here’s the thing: they’re students too. And the arrests for supposedly violent crimes CSIS mentions? Most of them have been students. While commentators would love to pin the destruction on the usual suspects, the reality is much scarier for those who profit under the current status quo. Students have realized en masse that disruptive direct action tactics are often more effective than “accepted” tactics, as witnessed in the timing of Charest’s offer shortly after Victoriaville. As such, these sorts of tactics are becoming prominent, and have increasingly escalated, as evidenced by the smoke bombing of the metro, and the rise of the Force étudiante critique – which has criticized CLASSE, who have often been referred to as the most radical Quebec student association – for being too centrist.
So, while Luxion claims that resistance is not violent, I insist that it can be. And sometimes, it makes sense for it to be. The student strike has become one of these times, and thus, after the government bends, the students will learn a critical lesson. Change can come without adhering to the constraints of liberal democracy, including pacifism. The myth is shattered; the future is open for radical change.
Davide Mastracci is a U1 Joint Honours History and Political Science student and a 2011-2012 Daily columnist. The opinions expressed here are his own. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org