Analysis: Standing Against the Far Right, Transphobes
On September 20, 2023, a hodgepodge of far-right forces organized hate fests under the “1 Million March 4 Children” banner in dozens of cities across so-called Canada. Organizing groups and individuals represented a who’s who of fascist, far-right, transphobic, anti-2SLGTBQIA+ operations in the country.
The so-called 1 million march brought together the by-now familiar mix of far-right rallying cries, from parental rights, to anti-vax, to Christian nationalism, to anti-critical race theory, and more—with specific issues stressed variously depending on locations and groups involved.
In Surrey the issue pushed to the forefront was a call to end social justice education in schools—specifically SOGI (Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity) inclusive learning and curricula, as offered in British Columbia schools. Thus, their march targeted the constituency office for the NDP Minister of Education, Rachna Singh.
Signage showed the mix of far-right talking points, including “Children Belong to Parents,” Leave Our Kids Alone,” and various anti-SOGI signs. There were also a range of religious condemnations of 2SLGTBQIA+ people, anti-Trudeau, and anti-vax signage, and, predictably, some Trumpist “Make Canada Great Again” signs and clothing. This being a fascist march, there were also numerous expressions of Canadian nationalism and Canadian flags flying throughout their side.
The march in Surrey was instigated by the Freedom Party of BC. They have been trying to build a base here and have been the driving force behind a number of far-right, transphobic actions in the city recently. The Freedom Party defines freedom as “Freedom of choice for childrens’ education free of indoctrination, Freedom of Canadian housing only for Canadians, Freedom from over taxing by government, Freedom of religious places out of government control, Freedom of media companies out of government control, Freedom of movement, Freedom from government surveillance, and Freedom of owning firearms.” I have previously described them and opposition actions against them.
An Injury to All
One significant development has been the explicit expression of opposition to the right wingers and shows of solidarity for 2SLGTBQIA+ people from unions and labour federations. The British Columbia Federation of Labour (BCFED) put out a statement that read, in part, “These rallies directly attack the 2SLGBTQIA+ community and the principles of equity and inclusion that are at the heart of labour solidarity. Trans bodies and lives are on the line, and it’s up to all of us to take a stand. An injury to one truly is an injury to all.”
This was echoed by a statement from the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL), affirming, “Contrary to their public messaging, the 'Million Person March for Children' is not focused on safeguarding children; rather, the true intent of organisers is to protest the inclusion of all 2SLGBTQIA+ content in schools, foment fear, and divide working people for their own political purposes.”
More important than statements, and more necessary, are participation in counterdemonstrations against the far right by unions mobilizing their members. And some unions, including Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), Steelworkers, Unifor, and the BC Teachers Federation, did just that in various locations.
In Surrey, there were significant contingents of Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) members, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) members, CUPE Hospital Employees Union (HEU) members, and of course the Teachers Federation.
This is significant because the far right have been trying to position themselves as working class and their views as expressions of real working-class values (against “woke” leftist elites or hipsters). It will need to be built upon.
Flying Squads for Community Defense
One very instructive example for doing so going forward came from CUPE 4600 (education workers at Carleton University in Ottawa) who mobilized their flying squad to participate in the local counterdemonstration. Flying squads are among the best examples of rank-and-file self-organizing. Rapid response networks that can be mobilized on short notice, flying squads are effective in doing direct actions and solidarity work within unions, with workers in other workplaces, and in communities. Flying squads that I have been active in have supported anti-poverty movements and Indigenous land reclamations in addition to doing picket line solidarity, putting people directly on the line and ready to act.
The OFL has been promoting the organizing of what they call Rapid Response Teams to attend counterdemonstrations and confront the hate groups. These are structured like flying squads—rapid response teams are what flying squads are. The OFL is encouraging unionized workers to recruit into Rapid Response Teams as the far-right mobilizations grow in frequency. This is an important way forward.
From Culture War to Class War?
The 1 million march is an attack on working-class children and youth, and working-class communities. Poor working-class children and youth, who already lack access to affordable health care, housing, and educational supports, will be disproportionately negatively impacted. We must also acknowledge the disproportionate numbers of trans youth who are unhoused.
The far right has shown little concern or regard for the material conditions of working-class children and youth, typically supporting political parties and movements that impose austerity and social service cuts that benefit working-class people, while at the same time supporting increased funding for police and criminal justice institutions and policies that target working-class people for repression.
As the BCFED argues, “It is outrageous that these organizations use the well-being of children as a pretext for hate. They are notoriously silent when it comes to the real needs of children, including decent, affordable childcare; a well-funded public education system; living wages and higher income and disability assistance rates for parents; affordable housing for families; and action to ensure a livable world for future generations. And they show no concern for the mental health of the trans kids and teenagers harmed by their hateful portrayal of trans people.”
As longtime socialist and queer liberation organizer Gary Kinsman has stressed, this is not about “culture war.” The far right transphobic mobilizations, and resistance to them are rooted also in class struggles--and the working class is structured through racism, xenophobia, gender, sexuality, migration, and colonialism. As Kinsman puts it, “the class war is always raced and gendered and this is about far more than 'culture!' We need to realize that class struggle must include fighting racism and sexism as central or it is only really about white, male workers and not a broader class war.” Or in the famous words of Stuart Hall, "Race is the modality in which class is lived the medium through which class relations are experienced." Not addressing these issues, or resorting to a base class reductionism, means class war will be so in name only. And certainly culture (variously conceived) will be wielded against class, as far rightists have always done..
This is central to struggles against fascism, always. Fighting fascism, as fighting class domination, means fighting the structures of dominance that seek to contain and capture within frameworks that divide to conquer. Working-class organizations need to face their failings in this--failings on a material level (not a symbolic one), that leave 2SLGTBQIA+, racialized people, migrants, Indigenous people precarious, more subject to systemic violence, and create spaces for fascists to manoeuvre and gain.
These are material struggles over the composition of the working class, working-class solidarity (or state capitalist favouring divisions), and the capacities of working-class people to survive. The very existence of sections of the working class is threatened and must be defended.
A Note on Fascism in the Suburbs
I have long, long, long hoped that activists in downtown Vancouver would understand the situation in Surrey and the great threat posed by fascists (and police) here. I have tried my best to explain it and stress the urgency of it. Surrey is not downtown Vancouver. Not only have fascists spent a lot of time and energy building bases in Surrey (including explicit fascists like the Soldiers of Odin), but anti-fascist (and anti-police, etc.) groups and movements lack the concentration of resources, organizational spaces, and organizational relationships.
Thus, it is no surprise that while folks in Vancouver were celebrating a party and proclaiming how badly outnumbered the transphobes were, we were outnumbered by upwards of 50 to 1 at the worst points and facing angry, aggressive charges against our line.
Do not get me wrong, I’m glad the far rightists were outnumbered in Vancouver, and people need to organize where they are. Fascists need to be beaten back wherever they emerge. I only want to mention that fascists are organizing significantly in suburbs, out of the spotlight, and where anti-fascists are under-resourced. There are structural issues of poverty, unemployment, racialization, religion, community isolation and anomie, and the very lack of social services, that play into this.
And make no mistake, the fascist anger, and foundations, being built in Surrey are not staying in Surrey. Unchecked, undefeated, they will spread and grow, reaching out across communities with their violence.
Jeff Shantz is a long-time anti-authoritarian organizer, researcher, and writer who lives and works in Surrey, British Columbia.
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