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Dancing to a Different Drum

Bhaskar Sunkara

I’m no Josh Eidelson, but here’s some reporting. Not from a strike, but a bar.

Shortly after my return from Montreal, I met a few activists involved in solidarity work in support of the Quebec protesters. We discussed the situation there and a few recent local actions, like the May 25 solidarity march in Washington Square Park, over a hearty pint of pineapple juice and gin.

The discussion was lively and informative, but rather than glowingly rehash it along with the other embarrassing things I drink, the Trotsky (prune juice and vodka), for example, with their blessing I want to curmudgeonly harp on one thing that bugged me about it. There was an excessive, almost encyclopedic recitation of the tactics employed by the Quebec student demonstrators. Talk centered around the way in which these inspiring tactics could be employed in the American context.

Casseroles, pots, and pans — ingredients in a recipe for renewing Occupy Wall Street.

But there was little discussion of the climate in which the Quebec struggle formed and the way in which we are dealing with different conditions here. The fetish for tactics left little room for a discussion of strategy.

The people I talked to weren’t idiots. They were super-informed, several of them had lived in Montreal before, all had witnessed the protests there first hand and understood with subtle nuance the cultural factors that color politics there. Quebec represents an especially lively front in the anti-austerity movement. OWS, the narrative goes, is lagging behind mostly, because despite well-attended May Day actions, post-encampment resistance ideas haven’t caught on.

Is it really that simple? Of course, the neoliberal turn and assaults on the social safety net are universal. Conditions of indebtedness, unemployment, and a general feeling of shit is fucked up and bullshit” are shared across the world. In the broader sense, we’re students and workers in a capitalist economy.

But on the particulars, the situation in Quebec differs tremendously. For starters, the protests are drawing on a distinct and militant political culture. They’re fueled by a tradition of mass unionization, of student organization, and even Québécois nationalism that’s utterly alien to conditions here.

And though there have been solidarity actions across Canada, the protests in Quebec remain almost entirely Francophone. If a critical mass of English-speaking students in Montreal haven’t been spurred to action by the tactics, shouldn’t we be skeptical about their prospects for application in the Bronx? The Marxist broadstroke, so often criticized by the Left in the age of post-modernity, is replicated here in a way.

Again, criticism is easy. It was a certain set of creative tactics, largely spurred from those within the anarchist tradition, that we owed Occupy Wall Street’s success to. My point is simply that we should be aware of the context in which tactics emerge and remember that resistance in Quebec is drawing on something beyond it — strategy. And, even more so, organizations that took years to build.

No wonder I drink alone.

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Bhaskar Sunkara is the founding editor of Jacobin magazine. Follow him on Twitter: @sunraysunray.
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