The latest drama in the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS)
Oh there's a lot of history here, sure. There's the formation of CASA, there's unpleasant lawsuits, there's a bunch of stuff I have no idea about. But here's the latest controversy just in time to celebrate Frosh Week (and a lot of it is playing out on rabble.ca).
It all begins when a loose grouping of students issued a press release announcing that 15 schools were planning to defederate from the CFS:
College and University students across the country are beginning the process to end their membership with national lobby group, the Canadian Federation of Students. This initiative to “defederate” includes petitions among students at Dawson College (Local 108), as well as the largest schools remaining in the Federation: the University of Toronto, York University, and Ryerson University. Over 15 student associations are currently taking part and this number may grow throughout the fall. Their aim is to end the Canadian Federation of Students’ control over local campus affairs, but also to begin discussions about alternatives for provincial and national organizing that keep decision-making power in the hands of students.
“Many of us are longtime student organizers and have seen students attempt to reform the CFS from within for decades, but to no avail. We are taking these steps to defederate because of our dedication to students and to the student movement,” said Ashleigh Ingle, a graduate student at the University of Toronto. “Students are realizing that their interests are not served by the Canadian Federation of Students. We are not walking away from organizing at the national and provincial level; we are creating the space for that to happen effectively.”
Ethan Cox posted this press release on his blog and then launched the first shot across the bow:
Whenever anyone tries to leave the CFS, the organization inevitably bleats that it is under attack by the right/Conservative Party and tries to rally progressives to defend it against this "union-busting."
Don't be fooled. In my experience the CFS is a top-down, bureaucratic institution which spends most of its time viciously attacking critics, and fighting off any attempt to reform its own anti-democratic processes. In this defederation, as in all of them, it is the architect of its own misfortune.
In Quebec, we saw first hand the lengths the CFS would go to to maintain their hold on power. We also saw, last year, what a truly democratic and open student movement looks like. Far from advancing the cause of students, the CFS occupies space needed to organize, and does nothing with it.
Then another rabble blogger and long-time staff member of CFS, Nora Loreto, responded with words not easily minced:
Advocating for the mass exodus of membership in the CFS does only two things. Spoiler alert: neither of those things is to build the communist, revolutionary organization that some claim they want.
The first result is that it will open a space for the most resourced campus activists to fill it. While it can be hard for anarchists or socialists to accept, these activists will not be progressive. They will be funded by the Liberal and Conservative parties. They will hide behind the veneer of the left until the left falls apart because it divides itself even further and they will win.
While the dissenters' press release says that some of the students who are mobilizing to leave the CFS want to create an ASSE-like alternative, they idiotically state: "But even if students have no desire to join a new organizing body, they should still consider terminating their membership in the CFS."
Real progressive, folks. Damn the CFS and, in its place, we'll take nothing.
Nothing comes of nothing and nothing isn't an alternative.
Another rabble blogger, David Bush, posted another defence of the CFS on a different website.
What was clear to anyone reading this is that the disaffiliation campaign purposes to craft a united front of sorts of the far-left and the right (anybody and everybody who wants to leave the CFS). This is a dangerous strategy that can only benefit reactionary forces on campus. The idea that somehow the far-left can work with forces that are in complete opposition to student power in order to empower students is absolute folly. A campaign such as this is based on a fundamental misreading of the broader political climate on most campuses in English Canada. The CFS has problems, but to work with campus conservatives and liberals to do away with the CFS and institute an ASSE-like structure out of thin air with reactionary allies is beyond ridiculous. This will split the left and benefit the right. I cannot think of an historical example where the far-left advanced struggle by working with the right. It is an elementary political calculation. Those refusing to accept this are more concerned about their own political identities as radicals than they are about the balance of political force that enables radical struggle to occur.
A rabble reader, responding to Nora's blog, wrote this on our facebook page:
The CFS has massive governance issues. Its locals suffer from incredibly low voter turnout. It is a highly litigious organization that happily sues students if they deviate from the party line. But I'm not afraid to say any of this, because they can sue all they want! I'm broke, because their ineffectual, out of the box campaign on tuition prices failed and now I'm swimming in student debt.
CFS is an obstacle to social change, not just an imperfect institution. It obstructs, co-opts and bureaucratizes. If you're not looking for a career as a bureaucrat, it's your enemy....[H]owever sincere the motives of individuals defending the status quo, it has done nothing to help students. An article about all the bold "stands" the CFS has taken by lines it has drawn in the sand fails to address that the tide is coming in on this particular beach full of lines in the sand, and CFS will drown with one finger of righteous indignation raised uselessly in the air. Let's not let student radicalism drown with it.