Social Revolution Party

"Philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways: The point, however, is to change it."

Open Letter to Denis Rancourt: Harsh Words for the Ex-Professor

Posted by sorev on 30/08/2009

Dear Denis Rancourt,

Your coalition is dead. Or, human agency taken into consideration, you have destroyed your coalition. Both statements are true; take to heart whichever one feels better. Through your individualistic tactics you have turned a vibrant campaign for greater academic freedom into a moribund joke-of-a-personality cult. And all this would have been fine; until, that is, you blamed your former denisquote1supporters.

The Social Revolution Party is putting forward this letter as a response to the article you wrote entitled “Activist Wars”. In it, you not only managed to beat a dead horse by reviving month-old debates and fractures within the University of Ottawa activist community, but you also managed to very directly insult a good number of our membership. You mischaracterized the nature of the debates that occurred in the course of the struggle, you insulted many of the people who put themselves on the line for you, and yet you failed to properly analyse or learn from the past. It is in response to this that we feel the need to set the record straight.

Let us start when the fractures within your coalition began to show. To pre-empt a counter-argument this early in the game, we concede that there was never an official coalition dedicated to your case with official membership. To pretend though, that there wasn’t a core of individuals that were primarily involved in your case would be to spit on the efforts of those that spent their valuable time to try and rectify your situation; we would hope you would not do that.

Fractures began to show after several successful Senate actions. When the question “What now?” was proposed, two main lines arose. The first sought to keep-on-keeping-on, so to speak, and continue shutting down Senate meetings. The second realised that without building a mass base dedicated to academic freedom, we would continue to be isolated and our actions would continue to be inneffective. We were stonewalled with empty rhetoric of “diversity of tactics”. We were told that every individual had no responsibility to the group as a whole, and could do what they wanted. In short, the hidden leadership clique of the fledgling movement did not agree with the mass-line demands of many of your core supporters, and instead of calling them out honestly, you retreated into individualism.

And what was the result? We failed. We were not able to build a mass base. You were not reinstated as a tenured professor, or a professor at all, at the University of Ottawa. The charges were not dropped against Marc Kelly. And yet this debate simmerred under the surface for months. Despite the fact that time had vindicated the mass-line, you did not let up. You did not attempt to apply a “diversity of tactics”. The scientific method was shucked off for narrow ideological dogmatism. Attending senate meetings became harder and harder as the university cracked down and showed its true colours. And we failed. You failed.

But all of this was fine, and many of us still continued to support you. We understood that the issues at hand, that the University of Ottawa administration was becoming more and more Draconian, came before most internal debates. It was then that either you, or people speaking for you, decided on an even more infantile and inneffective action than the ones taken before: you decided to co-opt a pro-Palestinian poster and use it to advertise for your cause.

You appealed to the community for assistance in postering, and the community responded in disgust. Many former members of your coalition took issue with the comparison between the genocide of the Palestinians and your dismissal. From the perspective of some of our membership, it seemed to be a last-ditch attempt to stay relevant: you realised that your case was no longer the most important issue on campus, and therefore you attempted to create controversy by copying controversy. We took issue with a dishonest co-option of the buzz another movement had managed to create for itself. You received a clear mandate not to go forward with the action, and yet you did not take heed. And as a result your coalition essentially dissolved before you, leaving you only with individualists; that “hidden leadership clique” that had stonewalled us before.

And what was the response to the action? Just as we expected, it only served to alienate people. Once again a mass base wasn’t created, albeit the mass-line members had ceased to be involved at this point. You weren’t reinstated as a professor at the University of Ottawa. The charges against Marc Kelly were not dropped. This time the failure lay completely on the shoulders of you and those that continued to follow you throughout this insanity.

And what did you take from all of this? You blamed the failures on “majority middle class weekend and after-work low-risk consensus-seeking hobby activists”. You denigrated them as liberals. You mocked their arguments denisquote2instead of dealing with them. These were the same people that had stood by you time and time again; the same people who had put themselves on the line for you (one would do well to recall an office occupation where several members of the Social Revolution Party had to be whisked away for fear of arrest). And you spit on their actions as though they had been the ones that had betrayed you!

Where was the self-criticism? Why was there no critical analysis of why we had failed? Why did you choose to blame individuals that experience had vindicated, instead of looking at why the tactics you chose didn’t work? You promised a re-examination and critical analysis and all you delivered was slander. And it was shameful, hurtful, and embarassing.

Personal critiques, however satisfying and necessary at times, do not amount to political criticisms. So to strike at the heart of the matter at hand, it is worthwhile to look deeper into the denisquote3content of your re-examination. The main thesis of “Activist Wars” is that differences of opinion on tactics tend to drive groups of activists apart. On one side, we have the “independant minded” who embrace the “anarchic spirit of exploration”, the “vital impulse” and “diversity of tactics”. On the other hand there are those of us that seek “critical mass leverage”, force others to “show solidarity”, and seek “low risk cooperative behaviour mainly aimed at guilt alleviation and mutual comforting”. Quite lofty criticisms.

What becomes immediately clear is that what you understand to be a debate about tactics in fact goes to the very root of what we are trying to achieve. When you criticize others for seeking “critical mass leverage” you are essentially correct; we did seek a mass-line approach to the problems at hand. But the goal was never to pat ourselves on the back and head home after a good, hard-day’s struggle as you seem to suggest! Instead, the Social Revolution Party seeks a world where the masses are directly involved in making the decisions that effect their daily lives. We seek a world where the community is able to come together harmoniously, without exploitation, oppression, or alienation, to make decisions democratically. We believe that human beings are inherently responsible to those around them. The point is not to avoid struggle or not have someone to fight (indeed, you will find we are incredibly clear on who our ‘enemies’ are), but rather not to make enemies out of natural human drives, like the communitarian spirit.

Conversely, you put forward the vile individualist notion of “millennial traditions of celebrating the bravest and supporting those who elect to push harder”. Your program, if one can call it that, amounts to the supreme and unshakable triumph of the will of the individual over that of the community. You fail to recognize that the community always supersedes the individual, if only because the individual can not survive without the community. What you put forward is nothing more than liberal individualism, bordering on fascistic interpretations of the individual. And yet you have the gall to call out those that struggled for you in the communitarian spirit as being liberals.

And it is from these opposing worldviews (one a perspective, the other liberal ideological dogmatism) that the debate on tactics emerge. The Social Revolution Party loves the masses, and believes that only they can truly liberate themselves. As such we knew the necessity of building a mass-based campaign. You on the other hand hate the masses. You attempted, and somewhat succeeded, at forming a personality cult around yourself. All mass-line approaches were shut out. And the masses responded accordingly. You put forward a liberal call-to-arms, and as such were mired in fighting within the liberal system: going after the administration on their ground as opposed to organising our own democratic institutions, and becoming entangled within the bourgeois liberal legal system as opposed to surpassing it. And your tactics failed.

So when you ask: “What are the circumstances of the most widespread and vicious fights between white First World activists (of all colours) who are supposedly against the same injustices and supposedly fighting the same system of exploitation?” and “If the activists are all fighting the same oppressor, all pushing in the same direction, then why should they have such visceral confrontations about methods?”, the answers become immediately clear in light of careful political investigation. Differences arose because we were not fighting against the same injustices and the same system of exploitation; you were fighting against your individual will being stifled, while the Social Revolution Party was fighting against attacks on our community. You were fighting specific individual oppressors whereas the Social Revolution Party was fighting against the ruling class manifesting itself through the University of Ottawa administration. While circumstances arose in which we fought the same enemy, our respective reasons for doing so were different.

And what has become incredibly clear throughout all of this is that in the final analysis, we are not on the same side.

Sincerely,
-Comrade Rosso of the Social Revolution Party

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4 Responses to “Open Letter to Denis Rancourt: Harsh Words for the Ex-Professor”

  1. Your readers may appreciate a link to the original article that you criticize:
    http://activistteacher.blogspot.com/2009/08/activist-wars.html

  2. Rosso said

    Thanks Denis; in the print version the original article is linked in the header, but the headers weren’t copied over for the online editions.

  3. Michael said

    We warned the activist community months ago that ‘Denis Rancourt’ is nothing but a opportunistic egomaniac. He has done enormous damage to activism in Ottawa and the community is well rid of him. Glad to see we’re on the same side again, Comrade Rosso.

  4. PocketRevolution said

    I always thought the point of the exercise was neither to get Denis reinstated nor to build a cult of personality, but to teach a “hands-on workshop” on activism. You know, to use the university to educate a new wave of rabble rousers.

    Usually egomaniacs are recognizable by their desire to turn the topic of conversation to themselves and their accomplishments. Denis on the other hand has an almost pathological fixation on the topics of risk, and direct action in the workplace, and will never miss an opportunity to bring up those subjects.

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