As the health crisis begins to subside, with the gradual lifting of the emergency measures and the proverbial “return to normal,” the time is right for a balance sheet of where we are at. As antifascists, what we have been focussed on the most throughout the pandemic, and more specifically since the summer of 2020, has been the convergence of certain far-right elements in Québec with some currents of the “alternative health” movement and a variety of proponents of different conspiracy theories, who together have formed a curious movement in opposition to public health measures.
This new development has raised a number of strategic questions. Should we be directly confronting this movement in the streets as we did with the national-populist movement in previous years, regardless of the health issues at play? Should we ignore them completely? Or should we do what we can to limit their influence by contributing to the work being done to expose and oppose conspiracy theories on social media? Or would it be better (and is this what we should be doing today) to directly address this movement on the basis of a relative sympathy for the hostility they are expressing toward the authorities and public institutions? And if so, how do we do that and to what purpose?
If not, then what should the orientation and priorities of the antifascist milieu in Montréal and Québec be in the months ahead, given the role the far-right has played in the movement against public health measures and the role it could foreseeably play in the way this movement reconfigures itself? We have every reason to believe that most of this movement’s base will quietly return to their regular lives once the emergency measures are lifted. Nonetheless, a section will certainly continue to embrace conspiracy theories that are directly influenced by the far-right. So what do we do?
Our objective here is to throw out some ideas we consider worthy of consideration, while stressing the need for the radical left to redouble its efforts, as some groups already have, to develop an independent grassroots movement outside of the orbit of reactionaries and without getting tripped up in populism.
(Word count: 7,314 ; Reading time: 20 minutes)
Down the Drain with COVID Conspiracy Theories
The COVID-19 pandemic created a whole whack of new problems, as well as exacerbating some already existing challenges.
We know full well that the pandemic gave rise to a context particularly favourable for the spread of a range of conspiracy theories and, more broadly speaking, a conspiratorial mindset, a mindset that provides a fertile terrain for the far-right. One of the challenges faced by the radical/antifascist left over the past year has been to find effective means to reverse, or at least counter, the movement against public health measures and its associated conspiracy theories.
As for us, to avoid contributing to the spread of the virus and potentially worsening the heath crisis, the Montréal Antifasciste collective decided early in the pandemic to not employ some of the tactics we had been using in previous years in the struggle against xenophobic and Islamophobic groups, such as counterdemonstrations. One need only imagine a “three-way fight” involving antifascists, the movement against public health measures, and the police, to see some of the messy complications that could potentially arise. We still think that pulling back from this approach was the right decision under the circumstances, and we doubt that any mobilizations of that sort would have managed to assemble a sufficient number of counterdemonstrators to have a meaningful impact. The current phase of the pandemic has us once again thinking about our tactical options, because sooner or later we will have to break this vicious cycle of inaction and constant setbacks.
Another complicating factor is the heterogeneous nature of the movement against public health measures. In the early days of spring and summer 2020, the core of this movement was clearly made up of people connected to the xenophobic and Islamophobic groups that had been active from 2016 to 2019 (La Meute, Storm Alliance, Citoyens au Pouvoir, Vague bleue, etc.). However, they never had a monopoly: the leadership also included (and this is true even today) individuals associated with the “alternative health” movement, including Mel Goyer and Amélie Paul. We were among the first to bring attention to this unprecedented convergence of some of the gurus of the populist far-right with “alternative lifestyle” hippies, who are generally perceived as left-leaning or basically “apolitical.” A whole constellation of people open to conspiracy theories joined this hardcore, including some had previously been active in online far-right networks and others whose skepticism about the pandemic had gradually taken the form of an open hostility toward any and all health measures as the crisis dragged on and worsened. Even if it is impossible to quantify the significance and scope of each of these elements within the whole (and it must be taken as a given that that their significance will fluctuate over time, in any case), the current opposition to the health measures encompasses a fair number of people who are simply hostile to anything authority figures, including scientists and journalists, tell them.
A multitude of pages and groups were created on Facebook and other platforms, where conspiracy theory gurus like Alexis Cossette-Trudel held forth, while other opportunists took advantage of this growing momentum to create cash cows and to instrumentalize the incipient movement (e.g., Stéphane Blais, from the Citoyens au pouvoir fringe party, and his Fondation pour la défense des droits et des libertés du peuple).
Beginning there and capitalizing on the enforced idleness of much of the population, the movement grew exponentially, and a host of influencers soon proliferated on social media, trotting out a plethora of conspiracy theories, each more outlandish than the last. Notably, they incorporated the absurdities of the QAnon movement, which has been around since 2017. Opponents of the health measures, under the leadership of people like Stéphane Blais, Mel Goyer, Dan Pilon, Mario Roy, and Steeve “l’Artiss” Charland and his “Farfadaas,” profiting from the signal boosting of other social media “personalities,” organized dozens of demonstrations in numerous locations throughout the province, which served in turn to raise their profile and expand their ranks.
Another milestone in Québec was the imposition of the curfew in January 2021, which many people considered an illegitimate powerplay on the part of the government, and which gave rise to opposition to the health measures among sectors of the population that had not been particularly responsive to the movement previously (the radical left also opposed the curfew from the outset and organized several demonstrations in Montréal under the banner of the ad hoc group “Pas de solution policière à la crise sanitaire”). Also worth noting is the quasi-riot that took place on April 11, 2021, in Montréal’s Old Port area. All signs point to this being the result of a spontaneous mobilization organized on social media by young people; at the same time, the presence of far-right elements in the crowd, e.g., the agitators connected to Rebel News, has led some to believe that they might have been involved in the mobilization. We might never know for sure.
All of this culminated in the May 1, 2021, demonstration in Montréal against the public health measures, held in in an area that encompassed both the Olympic Stadium and the Maisonneuve-Rosemont Hospital, with the slogan “Québec Debout!” An estimated 25,000 people participated in this demonstration that was explicitly called “against the health measures” and implicitly (given its chosen location) against the ongoing vaccination campaign. The event organizers, accountants Samuel Grenier and Dan Pilon, succeeded in attracting not just the hardcore conspiracy theorists (anti-mask, anti-lockdown, anti-vaxxers, etc.) and certain opportunist politicians like Maxime Bernier, but also a significant number of young people and families fed up with the pandemic, the emergency measures, and the health restrictions. Many were there to protest rules mandating masks for children, others were demanding the reopening of non-essential businesses, and still others were protesting the ongoing curfew. All of these were mixed in with the “nutters” rambling on nonsensically against “fascism” and the “health dictatorship” and a not insignificant number of people who were simply frustrated and who were calling for a “return to normal.”
As such, it would be a bit misleading to cast the entire movement against the public health measures (as it exists in the spring of 2021) as far-right, even if the far-right has had a fair amount of influence from the outset, most notably via disinformation projects like Cossette-Trudel’s Radio-Québec, André Pitre’s Stu-Dio, and Alexandre Cormier-Denis’s far-right Nomos.Tv platform and under the influence of figures like Steeve Charland and Mario Roy. We can, however, be pretty sure that the vast majority of participants at the May 1 demonstration – in fact, almost all of them, (unless they’ve been living under a rock for a year!) – knew whose bandwagon they were jumping onto that day. At a minimum, the hundreds of signs referring to various conspiracy theories and the hallucinatory speeches, the “Trump 2020” flags, the references to QAnon, and the strident “anti-everything” brigade should have provided a clue.
Two things are immediately clear. In spite of the heterogeneous composition of the anti–health measures crowd and the variable degrees to which they adhere to the more absurd conspiracy theories, what they all share in common is that they are fine prioritizing their own personal comfort, in the form of a “return to normal,” over the more broadly accepted common interest and the personal sacrifices it requires. Those opposed to the public health measures, whether or not they embrace conspiracy theories, have no scruples about publicly demonstrating their personal discontent, even if the way in which they do this may aggravate the crisis and prolong it for others, and regardless of the lives lost or seriously disrupted or the additional stress brought to bear on the health care system.
Second, if the participants at these demonstrations cannot be defined as far-right, it is, nonetheless, clear that they have no qualms about rubbing shoulders with the far-right in their shared cause, because the demonstrations have made perfectly clear the influence the far-right exercises in the conspiracy theory/anti–health measures movement.
There you have an outline of the mess we find ourselves in in the spring of 2021.
The “Anti–Conspiracy Theory” Approach and Its Blind Spots
Parallel and in reaction to the conspiracy theory and anti–health measures movement, a certain number of projects have arisen on social media that document its development and attempt to mount resistance in the digital arena. Les Illuminés du Québec, l’Observatoire des délires conspirationnistes, Ménage du dimanche, and the blogger Xavier Camus have all in their own way, often by means of ridicule but sometimes more seriously, attempted to marginalize and counter the influence of conspiracy theories on social media. The Montréal Antifasciste collective has made its own modest contribution in this regard by repeatedly stressing the confirmed links between the “Made in Québec” anti–health measures conspiracy theorists and the far right. Over the past year, we have noted the positive (and often entertaining) contributions of these projects, which are, however, not without their blind spots, the greatest of which, from our point of view, being the tendency to minimize the importance (one might even say, the legitimacy) of the distrust and hostility displayed by a not insignificant section of the population towards the authorities and the “public institutions” that exercise power over our lives.
As we’ve written elsewhere, the weakness of the majority of conspiracy theories is not so much that a section of the population distrusts the political, economic, and scientific elites, but that they incorrectly or only partially grasp the nature of the power structure and tend to put forth simplistic solutions to complex problems. This incorrect or partial understanding and the confusion it engenders constitutes a fertile terrain the far-right can take advantage of to implant its own toxic theories about the nature of history and the exercise of power and on which it can recruit new members.
As we wrote in our article Conspiracy Theories and the Far Right: An Enduring Romance (published in French in Idiot utile, autumn 2020):
Even if most of the ideas pushed by the conspiracy theorists appear irrational, believing that conspiracies exist is not itself irrational. Strictly speaking, the term “conspiracy” designates a secret agreement between people and, by extension, the concerted action of a number of people against something or someone. All of us are subject to the structural conditions of class society, with the respective interests of each class conflicting with those of the others, and the ruling class will naturally often act “in a concerted way” to safeguard its interests. As such, those in power conspire to ensure the reproduction of the existing social order and their concomitant privileges. So it’s no surprise that conspiracy theories often enjoy a favourable hearing among the oppressed (whether classes or nations), and that they sometimes serve to bridge the gap separating the right from the left. They have the merit of posing, implicitly or explicitly, the question of power (who “really” holds it?) and how it is used. They also express skepticism about the official version of the truth advanced by the state and can, in that way, contribute to a certain sort of democratic and grassroots vigilance.
In the same sense, we can easily think of other reasons to oppose the health measures besides an adherence to far-right political premises or QAnon’s nonsensical babble. Both the pandemic and the emergency measures (like everything else in our class society) have disproportionately affected those who already bear the brunt of different forms of oppression, specifically the working class and the poor, particularly racialized and other marginalized people. There is a quintessentially capitalist cruelty in requiring people to go to work all day in grocery stores and warehouses and then threatening them with fines if they go for a walk after 8pm. Telling people to stay home comes across differently if home has a balcony or a back yard than if it is a crowded apartment one shares with people one does not always get along with.
The unspoken contours and hidden value generated by “social reproduction” became a bit more clear when schools need to be re-opened to warehouse kids so that their parents can be forced back to their jobs – and let’s not forget the teachers who were forced to work in those classrooms, even when they themselves had pre-existing conditions putting them at risk of severe complications if they fell ill.
Everyone knows that the billionaire class has grown much wealthier as a result of the pandemic while globally the COVID economic meltdown has pushed over 100 million people (mostly in the Global South) into “extreme poverty” and has led to spectacular scenes of economic dislocation in the Global North. Just recently we learned that the accelerated international vaccination campaign has minted some new billionaires, which has done much to feed cynicism towards the pharmaceutical industry.
Politically speaking, it is clear that the paternalistic tone adopted by François Legault and his henchmen is reassuring for a significant part of the population. At the same time, this same tone also irritates a not negligible part of the population, which, as the months dragged on, couldn’t help but notice the growing list of catastrophic decisions, blunders small and large, the flagrant lack of transparency, constant vacillation, and costly dithering and prevarication, such that the cynical spin never quite managed to assuage the suspicion that the government is little more than a rogue’s gallery of charlatans. Whatever the case may be, notwithstanding the arbitrary measures with no apparent logic and also notwithstanding any possible conspiracy theories about secret malevolent plots, the only consistent feature that we can see in the CAQ’s management of the crisis is its determination to prioritize the economy above all else.
For the most part, ruling class politicians lie through their teeth all the time, and particularly energetically during election season, blithely betraying their promises at the drop of a hat, changing policies like they change their socks, imposing programs today that they criticized yesterday, and are generally dishonest and ill-intentioned. Even when a policy is motivated by the best of intentions, sooner or later the workings of the antisocial cogs in the wheels of the bourgeois machine will set it against the public interest, one way or another.
Given the antisocial policies that they generally institute and their chronic hypocrisy, it is little wonder that we distrust politicians, that we judge them unforgivingly, and we feel certain that they are “conspiring” against the common interest. But would we go as far as to consider it credible, as the COVID deniers do, that all of the politicians in all of the governments on earth laid aside their complicated conflicts to secretly band together to stage a fake pandemic? Obviously not. While we see François Legault and Justin Trudeau as manipulative, hypocritical, and incompetent, we don’t think that they fail to take the pandemic seriously or to understand the need to contain it.
In short, if we are going to accuse the political class of conspiring, that conspiracy aims to secure general support for the neoliberal consensus and a willingness to sink ever lower to protect the economy and the capitalist system, whatever the cost.
We could go on about the infantilization of the population by public health authorities, about the active complicity and selective indignation of the major media, about police conduct and the repression of dissidence, about the international disparities in the vaccine rollout, and about any and all of the numerous other aspects of the management of the crisis that are just begging for a radical critique.
There is no shortage of legitimate reasons for antagonism toward the capitalist management of the pandemic, and there are numerous reasons that make sense on a basic human level, reasons that even sometimes accord with our own values and the ways that we experience life in this society. This makes it all the more glaring that no part of the movement against the public health measures has ever actually addressed these critical aspects of the pandemic, not even, for example, the fact that it is being managed by the ruling class at the expense of all those who generally bear the brunt of capital’s dictates. Instead, this movement is rooted in an implicitly pro-capitalist ideology of individual freedom, up to and including indifference to the well-being of others, adorned with bizarre stories of 5G microchips and a Satanic pedophile network headquartered in the basement of a pizzeria.
This poses a tricky problem. If we are unable to get through to the hardcore of conspiracy theory true believers (or until, with a little luck, life itself brings them back to reality), how are we to counter the spread of conspiracy theories amongst those in their milieus and/or who are susceptible to adopting their worldview? More specifically, from the perspective of the radical/antifascist left, how are we to prevent these people from falling under the sway of the far-right? Finally, we need to ask ourselves if there are individuals in this movement who are open to our critique of capitalism, racism, patriarchy, and colonialism?
One thing is perfectly clear: an approach based on systematically ridiculing people who believe in conspiracy theories, often by reducing the phenomenon to its most absurd expression, has not stopped the movement’s growth. At most, by increasing a certain sort of polarization, it might have contributed to marginalizing the conspiracy theory milieu and, in so doing, slowed its growth. It is impossible to say for sure. One thing, however, is certain: the radical left, which doesn’t just aspire to stop people from embracing far-right conspiracy theories, but which also aims to argue in favour of its own alternatives and solutions, cannot content itself with playing the meme game, endlessly giggling over the same nonsensical conspiracy theories, and repeatedly railing about the foolishness of the covidiots in its own echo chambers.
It is absolutely imperative that we work together to find a way to break out of this circular situation.
How Do We Break Through This Impasse?
In the days and weeks before the May 1 demonstration against the public health measures, and taking into consideration the symbolic significance of it being held in Montréal on International Workers’ Day, different perspectives arose on the antifascist left about the best approach to take. While the option of provoking a confrontation was rapidly dispensed with for obvious reasons, many questions remained and, speaking broadly, three positions took shape:
- The opposition to the health measures is an authentic and organic grassroots movement, and it would be an error to completely distance ourselves from it and abandon the issue to the far-right. A distinction needs to be drawn between the sleazy and/or far-right leadership, on the one hand, and the movement’s base, which is not entirely far-right, on the other. Might it be possible to maneuver within the movement to create a rift between the leadership and the base?
- The distinction should instead/especially be made between the conspiracy theory true believers (seen as irrecuperable at this juncture) and people recently attracted by the opposition to the public health measures, who are not particularly aware of the far-right elements. For example, the youth who mobilized against the curfew on April 11 or people who are hostile to the police. Shouldn’t we be trying to win these people away from the conspiracy theory movement, specifically through targeted popular education?
- While the movement against the public health measures (in the form it took on May 1) attracts all kinds of people from different milieus, we need to recognize that, to a greater or lesser degree, what these people have in common is that they are prioritizing their personal interests over the common good. We need to remember that these people, even though they are not all on the same wavelength and regardless of the extent to which they do or do not believe various conspiracy theories, still only constitute a minority within Québec society. Given that fact, is it particularly useful for us to specifically address this movement? Would it not perhaps make more sense to direct our efforts elsewhere, whether more broadly or in a targeted way?
It seems to us that this conversation is both pertinent and opportune. Without claiming to have any final answers, we feel it is important to contribute to this discussion, if for no other reason than to move beyond what is being framed as a contradiction between a “hard line” opposed to any contact with the conspiracy theory/anti-health measures movement and a “populist” line that aims to interact with this movement in the hope of redirecting at least a part of it, even if this means temporarily putting some fundamental political principles on the back burner.
Avoiding the Pitfalls of Populism/Opportunism
This latter approach is part of a well-established and persistent tradition on the left, a tradition that has often resulted in opportunistic behaviour.
By “opportunism,” we mean sacrificing the fundamental interests of our movement, i.e., our political principles, to make rapid gains or win the favour of certain segments of the population. While opportunism might well arise in an organic way (e.g., when a movement lacks the courage confront its base and speak unpopular truths), it can also be the result of developing an idealized image of certain people with whom we do not have strong ties but whom we believe possess qualities lacking in our own ranks (they are more important, more “authentic,” more this or that), and that if we are not associated with them and their struggles we might “miss out.” We combine our lack of confidence in our own traditions with a sort of parasitical drive to compensate for our weaknesses by glomming on to others, because we take it as a given that doing so will make us stronger and more relevant (without us having to do the actual grunt work).
The left has a long history of flirting with opportunism, dating back to the support that social democrats around the world gave to “their” respective bourgeoisies during World War I. In North America, this opportunism is most often manifest in the left’s often anemic opposition to white supremacy and colonialism, out of fear of alienating white majorities. In Québec, the classic example is that of certain far-left individuals and groups who have tried to attach themselves to the nationalist movement, not because of any conviction that Québec’s independence would give rise to a better society (that is a separate issue) but to recruit from within the nationalist ranks. Opportunism is also sometimes expressed in the decision to downplay certain positions that are seen to be unpopular with the (white) majority, e.g., the decision to soft-pedal antiracist positions during the first “reasonable accommodations crisis” or, in a similar vein, to tone down opposition to Islamophobia in recent years.
The balance sheet is clear: in none of these situations did the refusal of certain elements on the left to “cede the terrain” weaken the right in any noticeable way. To the contrary, if a rapprochement between part of the left and the right had any effect, it was primarily to contribute to legitimizing the right.
There is a very large difference between adopting a political position shared by a section of the right because we deem it correct based on our own analysis and joining a movement dominated by the right because we hope to win over its base or because it seems to be popular with “the masses.” This approach, which amounts to joining right-wing or “mixed” movements in the hope of “making new friends” or to avoid “ceding terrain,” is nothing new. It has, in fact, been tried numerous times, always to our detriment.
As an anti-capitalist, anti-patriarchal, and anti-colonialist left, should we aim to win over the base of the conspiracy theory milieu (or even one or another section of the mixed base that we think, for one reason or another, might be receptive to our positions) or should we aim to put forth our positions more broadly and effectively to an audience that is much larger than this base, without compromising our fundamental principles?
Obviously, in order to communicate and make connections with various segments of the population we need to be able to reach out to them. In the current circumstances, however, that undertaking cannot and should not be limited to the margins of the conspiracy theory milieu.
As a starting point, even if we acknowledge that not everyone in the movement against public health measures believes in conspiracy theories, it is not realistic (at least in the short term) to hope to win over the true believers with rational arguments and established facts. That kind of challenge requires a psychological approach that is beyond our capacity. Even if it is not completely impossible to bring a true believer in conspiracy theories back to reality, it’s obvious that after a year of this exercise, most attempts of that sort have generally caught everyone in a downward spiral. “Deprogramming” those who are thoroughly enmeshed in this mindset requires a massive amount of energy, with no guarantee of success. As such, we believe that for the time being that energy is better applied elsewhere.
When it comes to reaching out to those people who may be gravitating around the movement against health measures but who have not totally bought into the conspiracy theories, it’s important to note that it’s not a question of “all or nothing.” It is not a question of either joining the movement or leaving the entire terrain to the right. To the degree that we are active on the social terrain, not only as antifascists but also as anarchists, communists, feminists, etc., we are likely to encounter these people in other contexts, such as at the rental board, on picket lines, at various demonstrations against police brutality, neoliberal cutbacks, or environmental devastation, or even at our workplaces, at the schools we attend, and in the neighbourhoods we live in.
Looking specifically at the movement against public health measures, we need to keep in mind that the fundamental principle that unites and motivates those involved is “individual freedom,” meaning their freedom not to wear masks, not to respect the recommended minimal distancing, and to socialize and consume as they always have, never mind the risks to public health.
It must be stressed, “the people,” whatever we may mean by that, are not automatically receptive to the principle of social solidarity, and it’s not like there’s a magic formula or a shortcut for changing people’s thinking that nobody has thought of yet. It is only through patient, consistent political work in society and in our communities, at work, in our schools, in our cultural milieus, and in our daily lives in general, that we can establish the principles of solidarity that will lay the basis for the kind of world we want to live in. This work began long before we arrived on the scene and will never end, but must be constantly developed, just as it must be frequently begun anew. It is work that many of us are active doing on different fronts, as best we can, and that many of us had to slow down on due to the pandemic. But it is absolutely vital that that we step up as soon as we can, not just to counter the toxic influence of conspiracy theory thinking but also to effectively address the coming crises that we can already see looming on the horizon.
People can shift their political positions very quickly, and it is in periods of political crisis that such shifts are most widespread, and, historically, it is also during such periods that fundamental social change is most likely to occur. Even if we are not in a position to trigger that sort of process on our own, we nonetheless believe that we have an important role to play both before and during such periods. In a situation in which people are open to ideas that they might have rejected in the past, things can change quickly, moving either to the left or the right, generally with moments of extreme polarization often marked by a good deal of confusion. We certainly should not contribute to this confusion by downplaying our political positions and joining mobilisations dominated by the right just to be “where the action is.” We are in a period of cascading crises (economic, climate, health, etc.), and we can anticipate that there will be lots of “action” in lots of places, driven by numerous different communities at different junctures. While remaining open to people coming over to us from the other side, our priority needs to be consolidating our links with communities and struggles that are in line with and sharpen our political positions, to confront systemic oppression and clear the way for a liberated, antiracist, anti-patriarchal, anti-colonial, and anti-capitalist future.
Building a Grassroots Movement of Our Own
The challenge we face, as such, is not how to win the support of the base of the conspiracy theory scene and the movement against public health measures, but how to develop the separate pole of attraction required to build an autonomous grassroots alternative with its own base. One that is appealing in both its form and its content.
It’s a massive undertaking, obviously, and it will doubtless require important reappraisals. “Outsiders” often criticize the radical left for being stuck in its (often alienating) ways, rigidly attached to its tactics and approaches, doctrinaire and endlessly riven with ideological conflict. The disinterest that a large majority of the population has in the radical left doubtless results as much from its moralizing character as it does from neoliberal hegemony and the petty bourgeois aspirations that result from it. We would be well advised to not dismiss these criticisms and to take them into account if we are to build an appealing and compelling alternative.
Soon it will be possible for us to begin to meet again in person. We will have no time to lose if we are really committed to not only countering the toxic influence of the conspiracy theory milieu and the far-right elements that have made it their Trojan Horse but also the neoliberal regime and its institutions which perpetuate the dominant social order and its various forms of oppression. In this regard, certain issues can be key rallying points, such as salaries and working conditions in the health care and social services sectors, in food production, and in other areas that have proven to be much more essential to collective life than the parasites who govern our society or who speculate on the real estate or financial markets. These salaries and working conditions have become an even more pressing issue, as the pandemic has made perfectly clear the unquestionable need to invest in these sectors not just to retain the workforce but also to stave off the deadly effects of neoliberalism. We can anticipate that, with its promised tunnel under the river that will cost $10 billion and its stubborn denial of the housing crisis, the CAQ government will soon get back to talking about the need to cut social spending and spending on education and the arts—because it’s the “responsible” thing to do and all that noise – except, of course, if you are the CEO of Bombardier or a real estate speculator. What good is a right-wing government if it doesn’t let capitalists get richer!? The government didn’t even bother waiting until the end of the pandemic to make cuts in the absolutely key sector, the hospitals! We learned on May 25 that the Treasury Board ordered Québec health authorities and hospitals to cut $150 million from their operating budgets: $150 million!!! In case there was ever any doubt, the government has shown us once again that the return to “normal” will be a return to the tyranny of financial imperatives and profit margins.
Let’s not forget that while the Legault government is not a “dictatorship,” it is certainly not committed to equality or terribly concerned with the common good. Furthermore, the recent statement by CAQ minister of health and social services Christian Dubé, suggesting the state of emergency (which the government says could last until the end of summer!) means that, among other things, public sector collective agreements can be overridden or constrained, clearly shows the way in which the CAQ intends to use the pandemic to impose its own political agenda at the expense of the middle and working classes.
To these social questions must be added the issue of migration. The CAQ in constantly expanding and galvanizing its electoral base by copying the Parti Québécois’s identitarian nationalist rhetoric and stigmatizing immigrant populations, particularly Muslims and/or those who earn less than $56,000 a year. We have the “laicity” bill, reduced immigration, the precarious conditions of non-status people and those awaiting residency, etc. The CAQ’s political sabotage has even scared off francophone immigrants, including French nurses, amid ceaseless whining about an egregious shortage of labour power. In short, the Legault government mistreats the working class and immigrants and betrays public confidence.
In this context, building a genuinely antiracist, anti-sexist, and anti-colonial common social front is a necessity, and no matter what anyone says, the radical left has a central role to play. The good news is that we aren’t starting from scratch. We all have a broad range of experiences to draw upon and many examples from which to draw inspiration.
Think, for example, of initiatives of collectives like Hoodstock, which adapted to the risks and demands of the pandemic to provide support to the population in Montréal Nord. This particular combination of pragmatic adaptation and consistent engagement is worth learning from and deserves to be applauded. Hoodstock spontaneously expanded its militant work in the summer of 2020 to be able to contribute to the Black Lives Matter mobilizations during the weeks following the assassination of George Floyd by the Minneapolis police. Another initiative deserving mention is the creation of the Defund the Police Coalition (of which Montréal Antifasciste is a member). Being in it for the long haul, focussing on the needs of people in working class and poor neighbourhoods, combining tangible objectives, ambitious demands, and expanding the range of struggle – without suggesting anything is a “model” to be copied, we nonetheless draw great inspiration from such examples.
There are similar projects among our neighbours to the south, in the United States. For example, one important reference point is the PopMob collective in Portland, Oregon, which has been very involved in mutual aid projects during the pandemic and whose methods of actively resisting the far right have called into question the traditional practices of the radical antifascist milieu, developing various festive forms of grassroots mobilization, without in any way compromising their fundamental principles.
PopMob has worked with the antifascist Spencer Sunshine over the past year to produce a revised edition of the remarkable little pamphlet 40 Ways to Fight Fascists: Street-Legal Tactics for Community Activists. We encourage you to check it out!
The militant tradition that Montréal Antifasciste is part of—radical antifascism—provides a basis for various initiatives. Given that far-right groups have converged with the anti–health measures movement, and that a number of their xenophobic, Islamophobic, and identitarian demands are now being met by the CAQ, the antiracist and antifascist movement must increase its mobilizing efforts and develop new alliances to confront François Legault’s retrograde government.
We propose three fronts for a renewed mobilization: popular culture, popular education, and direct action.
To respond to the “culture war” declared and advocated by reactionary polemicists and the far-right, we need to reintegrate music, the arts, festivities, sports, etc. into our mobilizing strategies. After the long months of confinement, let’s take advantage of the summer to occupy and make use of the city’s parks and squares! For the less sporty among us, a bocce tournament could be fun, even more so if it is lubricated with a pleasant libation! Whatever the initiative, what’s important is that it be festive and inclusive. As Donald says, “Make the antiracist left fun again!”
Next, we need to develop a multi-pronged popular education programme suitable for people outside of militant scenes, which doesn’t just preach to the choir. To do this, we think that, beyond the traditional information tables and workshops, we need to make use of the full potential offered by social media to reach a younger and more diverse public—TikTok, Instagram, podcasts, videos, etc. In this regard the far-right is way ahead of us, and we need to make up for lost ground.
We invite antiracists and antifascists in Montréal and throughout Québec to join us in developing the necessary tools and materials and in making them available in numerous languages. Obviously, French is important, but there are also 101 reasons (or at least 96) to translate some of this material not only into English but also into Spanish, Arabic, Cantonese, and Urdu. Translation work of this sort is itself a simple and concrete way to begin building bridges with the various communities that contribute so much to the richness of life in Montréal and throughout Québec.
Finally, along with this cultural mobilization and educational work, we must maintain our tradition of direct action by continuing to poster, leaflet, and counterdemonstrate when the need arises. To set things in motion, we are proposing a mass demonstration against hate and racism in autumn 2021, modeled after those held in 2017 and 2018—as it happens, on October 1, 2021, it will be three years since the CAQ gained a majority in the National Assembly. It seems likely that we are approaching the end of the pandemic, and the CAQ is just itching to make further cuts to social programmes and to help their friends in the oil, mining, real estate, and finance sectors, among others, fill their pockets, making it even more necessary that we work together to construct a grassroots counterforce that can remind the government of the central importance of the common good.
 Note in passing, as our CLAC comrades did on May 1, that the “normal,” which in fact is “abnormal,” has nothing desirable to offer most people.
 More broadly, despite a certain number of inspiring community projects and solidarity efforts like that spearheaded by the Hoodstock collective in Montréal-Nord, the Resilience Montreal project, and the various self-organized mutual aid groups active on social media, the left—both the moderate left and the radical left—in many cases failed to keep its head above water and did not formulate or offer any viable and appropriate mass alternatives in the Québec context. Speaking truthfully, even if the left overall managed to maintain its activities at a reduced level and occasionally made a real difference in some communities, it did not manage to extend its reach beyond its usual sphere of influence.
 This is all the more the case because a number of Montréal Antifasciste members, in both their daily lives and in the work they have chosen, are invested in supporting these sorts of initiatives and mutual aid networks. Given the health crisis, it was obvious to us that the priority had to be solidarity and concern for the well-being of others.
 In recent years, this particular approach to resisting conspiracy theories has been criticized by so-called “radicalisation” experts, who believe that it only serves to exacerbate conspiracy theory believers’ sense of persecution, which leads to their further isolation and descent into a spiral of irrationality. A key proponent of this critique is Martin Geoffroy of the Centre d’expertise et de formation sur les intégrismes religieux, les idéologies politiques et la radicalisation (CEFIR), who addressed this subject in a conversation with Jonathan Le Prof (Jonathan St-Pierre) last January. These analysts also assert that it is almost impossible to reason with someone who has adopted a conspiracy theory mindset, which is imbued with a spirit of “sectarianism.” Besides talking about experts and admonishing us to lend conspiracy theory believers a friendly ear, we’re still hoping these people will eventually have something concrete to offer for countering this ever-growing phenomenon that goes beyond telling us to deal with it one person at a time.
 The fortunate son with an imbecile’s smile and a rough bilingualism, a reasonable facsimile of a Liberal prime minister and a worthy successor from the Canadian upper class (whose competence for holding the position was never proven by any real evidence), will, for better or worse, continue to play the role of the “friendly young fellow who has done a pretty good job so far.” The Québec conspiracy theory milieu, influenced as it is by the far-right, focuses on his pedigree, his multiculturalism, and his “progressive” values as proof of his role in the “globalist” plot. We have different reasons for considering Justin Trudeau worthy of suspicion. The Liberal Party is the left wing of the Canadian big bourgeoisie, and whatever else one might say, Justin is nothing more than their puppet representing their interests on the political scene. The shady dealings of the Liberal Party, and of Justin Trudeau in particular, around pipelines confirm that this big bourgeois clique is driven to protect capital’s interests, even at the cost of its own stated objectives in the struggle against climate change, and is more than prepared to betray any and all of the promises of reconciliation it made to Indigenous people over the years.