Thursday, February 02, 2017

Cops and LAM Go Hand in Hand (A Tale of State-Sponsored Antifascism, 1997)

stateantifascism_sThis article was written twenty years ago for the magazine Antifa Forum; the details are not going to be of any real significance today. Nonetheless, it is being uploaded simply because the issue of state-recuperation of antifascism, and its perils, is sadly likely to become very germane in the future. Plus, it provides a little bit of interesting history of antifascism in Quebec.

Across North America people of varying political persuasions are taking a stand against racism. As revolutionary anti-fascists we of course believe that racism must always be opposed, but this doesn’t mean that every opponent of the extreme right can be trusted. Our battle is with all oppressors and all oppression, and those who through some fluke of political expediency join us in opposing boneheads[1] and Klansmen may very well end up being on the other side of the barricades when our methods become too radical, or our targets too mainstream.

This was brought home to many activists in the summer of 1996, when the biggest riot to hit the province in thirty years broke out in Quebec City. Early on the morning of June 2th, following the official St-Jean Baptiste celebrations, more than two thousand people thoroughly trashed the provincial capitol, repeatedly routing the police and managing to enter and set fire to the National Assembly (where the provincial government meets). While by no means the first event of its kind – 1996 was the third year in a row that there had been riots on St-Jean Baptiste in Quebec City, and in 1997 there were riots in the capitol and the city of Montreal – it was by far the most severe. There was over a half a million dollars in damages; over $200,000 to the National Assembly alone, and eighty-one people were arrested and charged with assault, obstructing police and participating in a riot – some receiving jail sentences of over one year.

There is little mystery as to the causes of this violence. The Federal Liberal government’s austerity measures have trickled down to the provinces, adding frustration and anger to an already far from tranquil social situation. The police in Quebec City, like cops everywhere, seem to take pleasure in getting into people’s faces and exercising their power however they see fit. The past few years have seen an increasing tendency on the part of many people to stand up to this bullying, and police harassment has led to more than one evening of violence, of which June 24th 1996 was simply the most noteworthy because the most successful.

Rather than concentrate on the St–Jean riot, though, this article will focus on the repression in engendred. Of particular interest to radical anti-fascists in this story was the role played by “one of our own” (sic), the World Anti-Fascist League[2], in bringing down the heavy hand of the State on a section of the radical left.

Who’s to blame?

St-Jean Baptiste Day is a popular Québecois holiday associated in many people’s minds with wild partying and saying “up yours” to the police. In 1994, two police cars were set alight in Quebec City in a night of skirmishes in which 24 people were arrested. The next year 40 people were arrested in similar confrontations. When 1996 rolled around everyone expected a repeat performance. All of the signs were there: mounting tensions between police and young people, ever-increasing frustration amongst the ordinary people suffering the government’s neo-liberal restructuring… police harassment had already sparked two nights of rioting in the province, in Quebec City on May 3rd followed by Montreal exactly two weeks later. After the former, where 16 out of over 1,000 rioters were violently arrested, the Deputy Mayor of Quebec City explained his surprise by saying that “normally these events occur on St-Jean Baptiste.”

Despite the fact that many people thought they knew what would happen, the extent of the 1996 St-Jean riot caught everyone by surprise. Thousands of people looted stores and smashed up the city, repeatedly driving off the police. Perhaps anticipating accusations of “mindless violence”, some brave souls made their way to the National Assembly where so many decisions affecting, and harming, their lives are made and proceeded to trash it, too. Windows were broken, statues knocked over, and fires were set. The five-person security detail assigned to guard the buildings was helpless, and calls to the Quebec Provincial Police for backup went unanswered for hours.

Needless to say, the morning after this carnival everyone who might be held accountable was looking for someone else to hold the bag. The media spotlight was on the Quebec Municipal Police Department, which had clearly failed to maintain control. Comparisons were made with Montreal, where police managed to control a crowd several times as large without incident. Martin Forgues, a pretender to the Quebec Mayor’s office, laid the blame squarely at the cops’ feet, insisting that if better planning wouldn’t have prevented the riot it would have at least lessened its toll.

In the hopes of shifting the blame and saving some face, Quebec City Police Chief Normand Bergeron publicly declared that the riot was the result of a political conspiracy. An “extreme right wing group with international ramifications” had instigated it, he said.[3]

No one has ever offered any evidence to back up these allegations, and a year and a half after the fact it is clear that the police chief was either lying or repeating lies others had told him. Yet the accusation established the framework for scapegoating: political conspiracy. Never mind that vast the majority of those arrested had no known connection to any political organisation or movement. The first attempt to save face had been made, and now the fun could really begin!

Perhaps because of the nature of Bergeron’s accusation the media rushed off to the World Anti-Fascist League, the standard source reporters in Quebec consult for information about the far right. Yet the WAL’s researchers were not satisfied with refuting this hairbrained theory. Instead they offered a competing story of their own. While agreeing that the riot was the work of professional agitators, they accused Bergeron of being “out in left field” for blaming the extreme right.

According to the League, which at the time was still viewed by many as a progressive organisation, the agitators who had managed to get 2,000 people to trash the provincial capitol came from the extreme left. According to WAL spokesperson Peter Vorias, an anarchist organisation called Demanarchie was to blame for all the trouble[4]. Alain Dufour provided the scintillating details: Demanarchie was a “widely read” and “highly influential” radical left-wing newspaper whose “call to riot” had been obeyed on the 24th!

These accusations, while initially dismissed by the police, were quickly seized upon as the ideal alibi for those who feared being rebuked for neither preventing nor containing the St-Jean carnival. Not only that, but the spectre of left-wing insurrection, no matter how ridiculous, provided an excellent excuse to go “fishing”, to gather information on these would-be revolutionaries.

The day after the WAL broadcast its conspiracy theories a comrade was arrested for selling Demanarchie at the Place Youville, the popular youth hangout where the Quebec City riot had started. This activist’s house was then searched by police who seized his computer and several hundred copies of the newspaper.   Next, police raided the home of Food Not Bombs members who had signed for the post office box FNB shared with Demanarchie. (Food Not Bombs is a radical anti–poverty organisation.)

Three people were arrested when police found a few pot plants at the FNB activists’ home. Their subsequent trial was rife with political commentary. At their bail hearing the prosecutor described them as dangerous agitators and noted that even though they had not been in Quebec City the night of the riot they had distributed subversive propaganda in order to get “others to do the actual work” for them. The judge subsequently refused requests for bail, saying “It would make me feel ill to free anarchist philosophers” and, alluding to the marijuana plants claimed that they were conspiring to “make the people fall asleep to better be able to indoctrinate them”!

Although possession of such a small quantity of pot would normally bring only a small fine, the activists received sentences ranging from one to three months in jail, as well as two years probation and a one-year ban from the areas around Place Youville and the National Assembly.

Following these arrests, Quebec City and Quebec Provincial Police searched the apartment of a Demanarchie member in Montreal, seizing his computer and several boxes of documents. Although he was never charged with any crime, his computer was only returned three months later in a damaged condition.

Other activists known to work with Demanarchie noticed officers from various police forces keeping them under surveillance. QPP officers interviewed one Demanarchie member, presenting him with a list of names of militants from anti-poverty and anti-racist organisations, wanting to know which ones were members of the anarchist collective.

This wave of repression galvanised alliances between anarchist and other left-wing activists in Montreal and Quebec city. Soon anti-fascist militants and researchers from across North America were publicly denouncing the Quebec police and WAL for this clampdown on the radical left. An anti–racist youth group in Alberta, known as the “Edmonton Anti-Fascist League”, even went so far as to change its name to “Edmonton Anti-Racist Action”!

All of which brings us to the question this essay will examine: why did the WAL decide to finger a revolutionary left-wing group to the cops and media?

As will be detailed, such unprincipled behaviour is not at all out of character for this organisation. Most likely, these professional “anti-fascists” knew they were bullshitting, but decided to take advantage of police chief Bergeron’s penchant for conspiracy theories and the media’s post-riot hysteria to smear a group they certainly viewed as competition on the street. Demanarchie filled a need the WAL might have filled when it was first founded, and was trusted and respected by many of the young people who Dufour and Company have always treated as their target audience.

The World Anti-Fascist League

The WAL first appeared on the Montreal scene in early 1989. At the time, it was basically a bunch of friends in the skinhead and punk milieux who hoped to offer some protection from boneheads at shows. Although a small group, they managed to paint some graffiti, make some patches, and provide security at a number of gigs throughout the summer. Nevertheless, if not for an ill–fated bonehead attack they would probably have remained largely unknown outside of the hardcore music scene.

On the night of October 13th a group of boneheads associated with the GB Skins gang attacked a crowd outside a downtown Montreal nightclub where the French anti-fascist band Berurier Noir was playing. The band had invited the WAL to take care of security, and the club had its own bouncers working that evening as well. When the neo–nazis showed up and started smashing people’s heads in the club’s security responded by locking the doors, so that neither the boneheads nor their victims could get into the gig. Refusing to abandon their friends outside, however, people inside the club spontaneously rushed the doors, took to the street and chased the boneheads away.

This was one of the first times that people managed to repel such an attack at a Montreal gig since boneheads first became a problem in the city in the mid-eighties. The police showed up after the nazis had been chased off and waited outside, billy clubs in hand, to disperse the crowd as it left the show. Even so, the evening had been a political victory, one that was claimed by the WAL. Suddenly there were weekly meetings, membership soared to over one hundred, and an anti-fascist youth group was formed.

At first the WAL’s energies were concentrated on providing security at shows and patrolling the downtown strip around the Foufounes Electriques (a popular youth hangout at the time). As in many other cities, the prime victims of bonehead beatings at the time were youth in the punk and anti-racist skinhead milieux, and this area was their hangout, and thus the spot where boneheads were most likely to make trouble for them. WAL members played an important part in establishing a safe anti-racist scene. They opposed the neo-nazi United Skinheads of Montreal and helped drive its leader Alaric Jackson out of town.

For the most part the people who came to meetings did so out of a personal opposition to racism or, just as often, because the League offered a sensible response to the neo-nazi boneheads who had crashed their shows for years. There was some good gut-level politics but little real political experienc, so a kind of clubhouse atmosphere prevailed. While this is fine for a small group of friends, and may pass within an affinity group, in larger organisations such a situation is far from conducive to democratic decision-making or power sharing.

And so it was perhaps inevitable that within a short period of time power was centralised in an informal hierarchy. Alain Dufour quickly established himself as the uncontested leader, a turn of events that represented the beginning of a long and as-of-yet uninterrupted conservative trend within the organisation. Under pressure from police Dufour had the WAL repudiate street-level confrontation of fascists. By 1991 the group had reoriented itself once and for all towards simple research and public intervention in the form of occasionally co-sponsoring rallies, holding press conferences and releasing information in the form of bulletins and, more rarely, annual reports on developments within the far right. In the process it had disbanded a street gang of over 100 anti-fascist youth, many of whom went on oppose racism in other organisations.

In and of themselves, these developments would not indicate a slip into reactionary politics. Research is necessary in order to develop an analysis of the far right within society. Without such an analysis, the impact of anti-fascist activism remains severely limited, and instead of thinking strategically we are left stumbling around in the dark. But when a group lacks any coherent thoughts about the social relations that spawn  racist and fascist politics one’s perception of the far right is likely to be skewed. Such an absence of sound analysis led the WAL to adopt, more or less consciously, a liberal point of view whereby the extreme left is just a tad better that the extreme right, if even that.

While such “left equals right” nonsense does lead to regressive or at best confused politics, it is unfortunately common currency among mainstream anti-racist organisations. One can be forgiven for wondering whether they adopt this position as the result of debate and analysis, or simply because it is a convenient excuse to freeze out radical anti-fascists, something many would do anyway in order to ensure funding and eliminate competition. (The fact of the matter is that for such groups’ anti-racism is often little more than a specialized section of the service industry, in other words a business with a bottom line.)

A certain kind of revolutionary anti-Stalinism can also play into this liberal confusion, as hostility towards moribund left-wing organisations leads some to confuse Left and Right variants of authoritarianism. While there are no hard and fast rules and there may or may not be much essential difference between the two, strategically it is generally best for radicals to attack the latter by all means necessary and to resist the former through reasoned argument and debate.

In the WAL’s case, this liberal predilection was coupled with an utter lack of ethics and integrity on the part of core members. They repeatedly provided false information regarding their membership, finances and relations with other groups. They also lied about the activities of the far right, all the better to hype themselves as the anti-racist experts with the goods on what’s going down.

To return to our business analogy, if some anti-racists are professional swastika counters, this had become a swastika counting racket.

According to documents released by the Research Group on the Far-Right and Its Allies, the WAL went so far as to knowingly spread disinformation about a neo-nazi gathering in 1992, repeatedly telling journalists that it was to be held in the city of Sorel after having already communicated to other anti-racist organisations that this information was false[5]. A letter from the WAL to the English anti–fascist magazine Searchlight seems be bear this out.

WAL members have also misrepresented themselves as belonging to other organisations[6], and the group has repeatedly exaggerated its own influence, pretending to be a true world organisation with chapters in Europe and the United States. Around the time of the Gulf Massacre the WAL set up a front group called the Gathering for World Friendship which falsely claimed to have helped to organise a demonstration of over 150,000 people in Paris. The RAM, as the Gathering is known by its French acronym, claimed to have chapters around the world, while in fact only having a single address, in Montreal.

At other times the League has claimed to have been involved in organising conferences and gatherings, while in fact all this involvement amounted to was having one of their members take the microphone near the end of an event[7]

Perhaps not surprisingly, given the organisations hostility towards any radical social perspective, the personal lives of key members in the World Anti–Fascist League have also been fraught with unacceptable and reactionary conduct. As revealed on the French–language television programme Le Point[8], Antonio Lorte, the vice–president of the League, was found guilty of selling a half kilo of cocaine and sentenced to two years probation and banned for two years from carrying any weapons. As troubling as the sale of hard drugs like cocaine is, far worst is the testimony one of his live–in girlfriends gave at his trial. She testified that she had been physically and sexually abused by him between 1987 and 1994, describing being burnt with a blow torch and cut with knives after an “interrogation” by this misogynist.

While radical anti–fascists acknowledge the need to fight against capitalism, the State and the patriarchy, one would hope that even liberal anti-fascists, even people with whom we share nothing politically, would have enough human decency to condemn and repudiate such a man. Unfortunately, in the case at hand this seems to be too much to ask for.

Guarding Their Territory

Ever since 1991, when it rejected the role of radical street gang, the WAL’s relations with other organisations have been far from ideal. One group that was repeatedly smeared by Dufour and his pals was the Canadian Centre on Racism and Prejudice. Probably because it was based in Montreal, and thus threatened the WAL with competition on its home turf, the CCRP was repeatedly attacked as a “Marxist-Leninist”  and “violent” organisation.

It should be noted that the CCRP, far from being a Marxist–Leninist or revolutionary organisation, included religious ministers, community activists and mainstream anti-racists on its board. Whatever made it verboten in the WAL’s eyes, it is hard to believe that it was its non-existent revolutionary politics. At one point in time the Centre even received State funding, and according to its “Time for Action” brochure it “conducted workshops and seminars for journalists, government, and law enforcement agents.” Hardly a radical attitude, to say the least!

The battle lines between the CCRP and WAL seem to have been drawn in 1990, when they both participated in the same coalition, Montreal Debout. This was a broad-based alliance of community groups that wanted to respond to the apparent increase in racism in the Montreal area. The coalition’s main public activity was to hold a rally against the far right on a rainy September Sunday afternoon. As many nazi boneheads as anti-racists showed up, and while the latter were largely unprepared for combat the former were brimming the aggression and clearly would have enjoyed a good fight. If not for the timely appearance of the Montreal police (who couldn’t really let a bunch of kids with doc martens attack a coalition that included the likes of the YMCA) it might have got ugly.

As it was, the rally left many organisers severely pissed off with WAL members who, according to Martin Theriault, had agreed to provide security at the event. According to several witnesses the only act of “security” anyone from the WAL carried out was the identification of local KKK leader Michel Larocque, who was spotted taking pictures of anti-racists, and the removal of his camera by Alain Dufour. Yet despite the fact that this is what several people claim to have seen, Dufour subsequently denied this chain of events and the Klan leader ended up accusing Martin Theriault and community activist André Querry of stealing his camera. All of which led to a year of court appearances for Querry and Theriault, with Larocque testifying on the stand that Dufour had saved his life from the dangerous anti-racists! (This bizarre twist seems more ominous when one notes that two years later Dufour would claim that Larocque was his informer in the Klan.)[9]

Although Querry and Theriault were both found not guilty, their legal bills amounted to over $5,000. A Support Committee for the Montreal Debout Accused sent out an appeal for funds and planned a benefit evening at a local progressive bar. Far from collaborating with this effort, WAL research director Nic Pouliot contacted Daniel Levitas of the US-based Centre for Democratic Renewal and requested that the CDR not provide any assistance to the Committee![10] Then, just three days before the Support Committee’s planned benefit party, the WAL called for a public assembly against racism to be held the same evening at a different venue!

As we will see, this episode was just the beginning of the WAL’s work to undermine the Montreal left.

Down the dirty road to snitchdom…

The first indication that the WAL might actually choose to examine and investigate organisations other that the white racist right came in 1992. Just as Spike Lee’s movie Malcolm X was released, WAL published a document entitled “The Malcolm X Movement amongst young Blacks”, which attempted to paint a rough picture of the history of Black people and the Black liberation movement in North America. While certainly pretentious, this work did distinguish between the conservatism of the Nation of Islam and the anti-racist Afrocentrism of local Black community groups like A.K.A.X., and unambiguously declared that Black Liberation was a goal worthy of support.

Yet if at the time this interest in the Black Liberation movement may have seemed to some to be well intentioned or even positive, in retrospect it seems quite sinister. The report’s introduction explained that the reason the WAL was releasing a study on the Black Liberation movement was not out of any desire for an alliance with revolutionary Black organisations, but rather to meet its law and order responsibilities as a law and order anti-racist organisation. The authors claimed that the League had received many calls from white people claiming to have been stabbed or beaten up by Blacks wearing Malcolm X regalia (baseball caps, T-shirts, etc.), and that it was the WAL’s job to examine this as another version of racism.

Nowhere in the document was anything mentioned about contemporary State repression of Blacks in the USA or Canada, this despite the fact that plenty of information on the subject was made available to the WAL’s researchers. In an appendix to the document, Alain Dufour condemned “Black Supremacists” while remaining silent about the white supremacist State with the crazy line that “if we don’t denounce them, its the police who are going to denounce them, and we know that when the police gets mixed in its alot more dangerous than when its community groups doing the condemning.”

In other words, Dufour was offering his services as a soft cop seeing as the cops in uniform can be so unpleasant to deal with. Further evidence of the WAL’s perspective on relations between the “cultural communities” and the cultural majority can be gleaned from several public statements. In a promotional brochure for the WAL-front group “RAM” (see below), a list of “social problems” that provide fertile ground for racism is provided; along with unemployment the RAM lists “the creation of ethnic ghettos in certain neighbourhoods”.

Also in 1992, in an interview with a pacifist magazine, Dufour spelled out his perspective on the Montreal police. When asked his opinion of the force he answered that while there were problems and some cops were homophobic and racist, there were also good cops – he even cited the example of one “good cop” who wanted to join the WAL. When pressed on this point and asked is he felt there was systematic discrimination on the part of the police Dufour responded in the negative, adding that “there are progressive police officers who give an opportunity for us to sensitise people in that milieu. The WAL is there to sensitise them and even to help train them if they want.”[11]

Keep in mind that the Montreal police had been involved in the shooting deaths of four Black and two Hispanic men in the preceding five years, and not a single officer has ever been found guilty of any crime in connection with these murders. Montreal cops harassed and arrested (and continue to harass and arrest) Blacks more than whites on the street, while leaving clubs, every day of the week… and the one time that a police chief publicly admitted that his cops might have acted improperly it sparked a demonstration of several thousand police officers in uniform. (I am referring to police chief St-Germain’s admission in 1992 that his officers may have made some errors in the case of Marcellus Francois, who was murdered while sitting peacefully in his car. His assailants were plainclothes cops who had failed to identify themselves, and mistook him for another man who, apart from the colour of his skin, looked nothing like Francois.)

The WAL had certainly strayed from its origins. Such is, of course, to be expected: all groups develop politically, meaning that they change. Organisations formed to deal with specific concrete situations like boneheads at shows can develop in different ways: good things or bad things can happen. In the case of the WAL, the latter unfortunately outweighed the former by far.

The first public evidence of the WAL’s interest in the left came in 1993. Klan members and neo-nazis were holding a weekend gathering in the small community of La Plaine just north of Montreal. Reporters, cops and anti-racists were swarming over the town, looking for stories, troublemakers and information.

Members of the CCRP had met with members of the community, who with few exceptions were not too pleased with all the hubbub and commotion. On the Saturday evening there was a community meeting, and it was decided to have a public gathering against racism the next day. The idea was to give residents a chance to express their outrage at the presence of neo-nazis in their town, and nothing more.

As CCRP members were scouting out the site of the meeting the next morning Quebec Provincial Police officers approached Martin Theriault and requested that he accompany them to meet with their captain at city hall. According to Theriault, the police captain informed him at this meeting that he “knew” that the organizers planned to have the rally attack the nazis. The CCRP member denied that this was the case, and reassured the top cop that the rally would remain peaceful – and demanded to know where these allegations of violent plans had come from. At which point he was told that the Minister’s office had received a tip from Nic Pouliot of the World Anti-Fascist League.

While this story does raise some questions – like how often do police reveal their sources? the QPP was way pissed off at the WAL that weekend for renting a helicopter and doing low swoops over the Aryan Fest, and one might be tempted to think that this was all just an attempt to make trouble for Pouliot and company – subsequent events do lend credibility to the theory that Pouliot would engage in such behaviour.

When Alex Roslin, a journalist with a local weekly entertainment tabloid, reported Theriault’s allegations against Pouliot, the WAL research director denied snitching to the cops but explained that “I would do it if I knew of a case of direct confrontation. We don’t exactly have time to track left-wing groups but if I had the manpower and resources I would.” To justify his interest in the Left, Pouliot referred to the issue of “political correctness” on university campuses, claiming that “It’s frightening and I consider it to be the same as fascism.”

Shortly following this Pouliot allegedly left the WAL, but this did not end his relationship with the League. While apparently freelancing as an anti-fascist researcher he was repeatedly spotted with WAL activists, and more recently took responsibility for designing the League’s web site.

Nor did Pouliot’s distancing himself from the WAL do anything to temper the group’s leftphobia. In a letter to Voir, another weekly entertainment tabloid, the League explained that when “communists choose to support organisations such as the Shining Path (Peru) and use the same methods such as terrorism, we will take a stand”.[12]

Such redbaiting most likely represents only the tip of the iceberg. After all, if WAL officials are willing to make such statements in a public forum, imagine what they must say in private. There is some evidence that the group has smeared its anti-racist rivals in this way: according to Martin Theriault, Alain Dufour has told Steven Scheinberg of B’nai B’rith Canada that the former president of the CCRP was a former “secret leader” of the Communist Party of Canada. More recently, after the Research Group on the Far-Right and Its Allies published a report denouncing the WAL’s role in destabilizing the Left, Dufour charged the group with being “a front which its members use to promote their Maoist ideology… those people practice entrism.” Dufour defined entrism as “a method taught by Mao. It consists of infiltrating different organisations in order to use them to spread propaganda.”[13]

Shortly following the WAL’s declaration regarding Shining Path Maoists, Radio Canada reported that the group had shared information with both CSIS and the Quebec Provincial Police’s intelligence unit.[14] The WAL claimed at the time to have only shared information about neo-nazis, but in a letter he wrote in 1996 Pouliot claimed that his “work at LAM included working with police to stop a number of criminal activities. Although most of it was dealing with radical right wing groups, once in a while we dealt with those peace loving rock throwing anarchist (hahahaha).”

Trying to avoid real activism

The summer of 1993 saw a successful mobilisation of the Montreal left against a series of offensives by the far right. In August the neo-Nazi Heritage Front organised a concert in the suburb of Vaudreuil that attracted boneheads from throughout Quebec, Ontario and the Eastern United States. The concert was meant to kick off a recruitment drive of the Front’s Montreal section, a plan that happily fizzled.

In an unexpected and unprecedented success hundreds of people showed up at an anti-racist event in downtown Montreal that night, and subsequently took to the streets looking for boneheads. Unfortunately, the protesters were nowhere near the racists, and the site of the concert remained unknown to all but a few activists until the following morning.

This rally against the Heritage Front kicked off a better organised and more intensive campaign against the anticipated presence of members of the French National Front at a conference of municipal politicians held Montreal later that year. Yves Le Gallou and Jacques Dore, the FN delegates to conference, hoped to use this visit to Quebec to set up some kind of active FN chapter on this side of the Atlantic. Their plans came to naught as their own contacts’ ineptitude was exploited by the ad hoc anti-fascist coalition to not only ruin their plans of setting up some kind of Quebec National Front, but to also publicly humiliate the racist right – not a minor setback for a movement which depends on being seen as tough and triumphant in order to attract recruits.

The World Anti-Fascist League had nothing to do with either of these mobilisations. Instead, it tried to jealously guard “its” anti-racist terrain by denouncing the ad hoc Coalition against the National Front to the media as being “on the leftist side of thing”, adding that “we don’t side with the Left or the Right”,[15] and doing everything it could to sabotage its efforts. At a demonstration organised by the Coalition where over 1,000 people took to the streets Pouliot (who had allegedly left the WAL) was spotted hanging out with League members and taking photos of the anti-racist protesters.

If this demo against the National Front was to mark an exceptional success for anti-fascists in Montreal, local radicals were to outdo themselves two years later. That’s when a coalition of many of the same groups united with local feminist organisations and organised a spectacular 4,000-strong demonstration against the right-wing Catholic organisation Human Life International.

As with the mobilisation against the National Front in 1993, the WAL was completely absent from the campaign against HLI.

An Anti-Racist Business

From very early on, a conservative pole of attraction within the WAL seems to have been the hunger for respectability, grants and recognition as the local anti-racist watchdog group. This has led to the development of what I call the business model, a perspective that is not conducive to movement building.

As has already been mentioned, the WAL mutated into a research-and-press-conference style group in 1991, largely as a result of police pressure. That was also the year it first received government money, in the form of $2,048 from the Ministere de la Securite de la Revenu[16] (Minister of Income Security). This was the first of several grants from this MSR earmarked to pay people on welfare to work for the WAL. Such use of welfare job subsidies by community groups is quite common in Quebec, the rationale being that it allows organisations to pay something to people who might otherwise volunteer their services for free. It has however been criticized as exploitative, as the recipients of these welfare jobs end up doing shitwork and being treated like shitworkers by the organisation. It can be as alienating as any other dead-end job.

In 1992 the WAL began to receive funds from other government ministers, such as the Federal Secretary of State (over $36,000 over two years to operate a 1-800 line across Canada and translate some documents), the Ministere des Communautes Culturelles et de l’Immigration (almost $30,000 over the past five years, as well as over $60,000 between 1992 and 1996 in conjunction with the MSR in the form of EXTRA programmes, a better paying kind of welfare job), the Federal Minister for Human Resources (almost $57,000 in 1992-93 for a job creation program).[17]

Most grassroots activists who read the preceding figures will be impressed: the WAL had plenty of money to play with. Keeping this in mind, the group’s research and other activities don’t seem quite so impressive. Indeed, over five years the WAL received more than a quarter million dollars – enough money to do quite a bit with, one would hope. Unfortunately, the record of what was accomplished with this money speaks for itself. As detailed in the preceding section, in its quest for respectability the group cut its ties to the Left, and along with its new conservative outlook acquired an inability to be of any use to those of us who espouse activism over careerism.

All of this begs another question: what should be the attitude of militant anti-fascists towards government or foundation monies? As is so often the case, there is no clear answer. Occasionally activists find ways to get cash for their work through welfare jobs, school subsidies, working for organisations with an interest in opposing the radical right, etc. Seeing as we all have to eat, a good argument can be made that it is better to be paid for one’s political activities than for flipping burgers.

Problems arise when we start tailoring our activities to what we hope will get us money. At this point the bottom line replaces politics, radical organisations risk becoming inactive community groups, and revolutionaries start becoming comfortable in their armchairs. If people could be honest and admit they were now working for grants, not politics, this wouldn’t pose such a problem. Unfortunately for everyone involved, though, to do as much would mean forfeiting one’s credibility, which in turn would most likely lead to the termination of subsidies, all of which would defeat the purpose, no?

One thing should be clear to us all. Whether or not we admit it, the quest for funding represents a step down the road towards inactivism. It need not be more than just one step, but it’s a slippery slope. Groups that accept grants may do great work and it may be worth it to take the money and get that work done. It’s a judgement call. People should just be clear about why they’re doing it; and for those of us dealing with such subsidised groups, we must be very clear of their limitations.

In the case of the WAL the amount of money received was completely out of proportion with what was achieved. There was no gain for the movement. The World Anti-Fascist League had become a business, and as such it behoved it to discourage competitors (by accusing them of being Marxists or violent or whatnot?) and at times diversify (by keeping tabs on “Black supremacists” and “Shining Path Marxists”?).

All of which skirts the obvious issue of what happens when money arrives with strings attached. When an organisation depends on grants to get its work done, and members do feel that they’re carrying out important work, what is to be done when one’s benefactor explicitly requests that one smear or inform on some revolutionary organisation?

There is no “smoking gun” indicating that the WAL ever received such a precondition for continued State subsidies, although it is worth noting that the League received $7,250 from the Minister of Public Security (the office in charge of the police) in 1996,[18] the first such grant ever received by the organisation. It is also worth noting that by their own admission, WAL researchers have been asked by police to provide information on the left – the only point of disagreement is whether or not they acquiesced prior to 1996.

While it is certainly possible that the $7,250 received from the Minister for Public Security does represent payment for aid given to the police, there is another viable hypothesis, namely that this money was a sign of appreciation for Dufour’s political work on behalf of the Minister Robert Perreault himself.

Political Stooges

Besides being president of the WAL, Alain Dufour is also a card carrying member of the Parti Québecois, since 1994 the party constituting the provincial government of Quebec. Dufour is doubtless one of the many progressive nationalists who feel that the PQ is a social-democratic party worthy of support. This is not the place to refute this tendency, suffice to say that as with any support for a political party holding the reigns of power one must go through occasional ethical contortions in order to maintain one’s support while maintaining one’s principles (providing you have any, that is).

Dufour is also a long-time acquaintance of Robert Perreault, the current Minister of Public Security. He was Perreault’s press officer from the time of the latter’s campaign to become PQ candidate for the Mercier riding up until the 1994 provincial election.[19] It should be noted that Perreault waged a fierce battle against Giussepe Sciortino, a veteran of many progressive organisations, to become the PQ’s candidate in the Mercier riding. Sciortino was born in Italy and as such is an immigrant to Quebec, and members of Perreault’s team did all they could to exploit racist stereotypes and xenophobia to win.[20] In his boss’s defence Dufour claimed that any accusations of racism could not be true because he, a Perreault supporter, was president of the World Anti-Fascist League!

Militants can be forgiven for wondering if the $7,250 cheque was the Minister’s way of saying thank you.

Dufour’s association with Perreault is not the only tie that binds the WAL to the PQ/BQ national project. According to Commission magazine, both André Boulerice (a PQ deputy) and Gilles Duceppe (who recently led the Bloc Québecois in the 1997 Federal Elections) have allowed the WAL to use their offices’ photocopy and fax machines.[21] It was from Mr Boulerice’s office that the WAL faxed its denunciation of the 1993 ad hoc coalition against the Heritage Front.

While the actual cost of these services is certainly negligible compared to the $287,000 the WAL has received from the government since 1992, the fact of these politicians’ aid remains highly significant. It shows that the WAL is not only in bed with the State, but with a particular political party, and as such cannot be expected to represent anything better than the so-called left-wing of the PQ/BQ national project. The limitations of tying one’s political project to a political party should be obvious. It is no longer sufficient for one to do mental callisthenics to justify one’s support for a group of opportunists who want to wield State power, but now an entire political organisation must compromise itself in this way.

“Anti–fascist” Dufour’s work on behalf of the racist campaign of Robert Perreault in the Mercier riding is good evidence of the unsettling affects of such politicking. Above and beyond Perreault’s exploitation of xenophobia in the battle against Sciortino, it is worth mentioning that Raymond Villeneuve sits on the board of the PQ Mericer riding association where this contest took place.[22] Villeneuve is the head of the Movement for the National Liberation of Quebec, an anti-immigrant nationalist organisation that has made headlines for advocating violence against federalists and warning of possible reprisals against anglophone Jews who oppose Quebec sovereignty.

Politics, as the saying go, makes for strange bedfellows. It is an unfriendly terrain for moral individuals. It must indeed have been fortuitous for Dufour’s gang that they had little ethical baggage to jettison in order to hop onto the PQ/BQ bandwagon.

Conclusion

From street gang to stool pigeons, this sums up what most Quebec activists feel happened to the WAL. Taken in isolation, some elements of this story are all too familiar. The inertia that grips in-your-face anti-fascist organisations once they have driven boneheads off the streets, the attraction of liberal politics as an “inclusive” point of unity for anti-racist activities, the quick evolution from clubhouse atmosphere to Old Boys’ Club: these are pitfalls most anti-fascist groups, no matter how radical, must try hard to avoid.

Furthermore, when successes translate into funding and respectability, this must then be maintained by new successes, or at least by being more in the know than other anti-racists. This competitive reality leads to a “business model” whereby group activities are based less on building a movement than on looking after the company’s good name. None of this is specific to the anti-fascist/anti-racist movement, it has all happened before in other social movements (queer, feminist, environmental, etc.). The question is how to avoid this cycle.

Of course, “The WAL Affair” is a great example of how wrong things can go, mainly because the organisation combined the “business model” with unheard of scumminess, not to mention sloppiness. As has already been mentioned, WAL activists fed disinformation to the media after having already admitted to other anti-fascist organisations that their facts were wrong. The group adopted a dangerous “left=right” line and then trumpeted it in the local trendy media. It cozied up to politicians and accepted money from a variety of government Ministers. It tolerated spousal abuse and misogyny. And it went about this in such a transparent manner that many people were left unfazed by the fingering of Demanarchie after the 1996 riots. Because of this sloppiness, as well as the depths of unethical behaviour to which the group sank, the WAL is a good example of how far an anti-racist organisation can go towards becoming genuine anti-racists’ own worst enemy!

It would be tempting to offer up a checklist of “how not to be a sellout”. For better or for worse, though, it seems that the only way for militant anti-fascists to avoid having their organisations travel down this road is to think hard and think critically, two activities that checklists tend to short circuit. Radical politics requires a certain analysis – acting radically is a fine point of unity for an action, but is a lousy basis for long-term work. Even if the work people carry out is great, without some political perspective going beyond simple anti-fascism/anti-racism, activists will be at a disadvantage when challenged by people or groups espousing a liberal worldview. And when we fail to meet the challenge of such “respectable” folk, our organizations end up defanged and the days of radical action come to an early end.

Although sectarianism can be a poisonous weed, it should be clear that there are lines it is best not to cross. Anyone who informs on progressive organisations, spies on oppressed communities, or engages in abusive behaviour has no place in any movement for human liberation. We have enough to worry about without associating with scum like that.

Finally, it should be remembered that businesses and political projects are two very different things, and can become highly toxic when combined. It especially behoves us to remember this, we who decry the effects of corporate involvement around the world. Tying one’s fortunes to a political party may make sense for a lobbyist or kingmaker, but the dirty business of establishment politics is something militant anti-fascists should want no part of.

These are some of the reasons why, for ourselves and for our politics, it is important to learn the lessons offered by the World Anti–Fascist League.

 

 

Footnotes

[1] “Bonehead” refers to people with very short hair, or no hair at all, who hold racist, sexist, homophobic and similar beliefs, and are normally beholden to the ideas of the far–right. Some people call these fellows “skinheads”, but that term more properly describes anti–racist youth with short hair, or none at all.

[2] More commonly known in Quebec as the Ligue Anti-fasciste Mondiale, or LAM.

[3] “Un groupe d’extreme droite aurait fomenté l’émeute, estime la police,” La Presse 26-6-96.

[4] Ibid.

[5] “The Nature of the ‘World Anti–Fascist League’”, Research Group on the Far–Right and Its Allies, 1996.

[6] Ibid.

[7] “La ‘LAM’, une entreprise hasardeuse?”, Commission #2, fevrier–mars 1997.

[8] Le Point, May 28 1997.

[9] La Presse May 23 1992 p. A3

[10] “The Nature of the ‘World Anti–Fascist League’”

[11] “Pas de tolérance pour l’intolérance,” Option Paix, Été 1992.

[12] Letter, Voir 20 May 1993.

[13] “Guerre chez les antifascistes,” by Eric Grenier, Voir 25 July 1996.

[14] “La LAM en eaux troubles,” by François Doucet, Socialisme Maintenant! Juin–juillet 1993.

[15] Montreal Mirror September 9, 1993 p. 7

[16] “La ‘LAM’, une entreprise hasardeuse?”

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid.

[19] “The Nature of the ‘World Anti–Fascist League’” op cit.

[20] PQ de sac, Michel Brulé, les éditions des Intouchables 1997, pp. 71–111.

[21] “La ‘LAM’, une entreprise hasardeuse?”

[22] “The Nature of the ‘World Anti–Fascist League’” op cit.



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