Marco La Grotta sits at a table set up along Gould Street on Clubs Day on Ryerson University’s campus in Toronto. Each club from the university is represented along either side of the curb. The pulse of techno music runs through the street as energetic club members encourage students to join their organizations. La Grotta’s table stands among the row, covered in red cloth with “Fightback ” printed in bold letters across the front. “Join the fight against capitalism” is written beneath. A student approaches him – “Are you guys Marxists? I’ve been looking to join a revolutionary group!”
That student wasn’t the only one interested that day.
This new interest coincides with the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution and some major shifts to the political rights over the past two years.
Last November, Americans elected Donald Trump and this year, far-right German party, Alternative for Germany (AfD), received 13 per cent of the vote and 94 seats in the German federal election, making it the third largest party and the first time they’ve ever won seats.
With these shifts, Western political climates have become unsteady once more. The anniversary and instability in global politics has allowed Fightback to gain momentum and popularity on campuses and workplaces across Canada. Although they’re framed by Marxist ideals, Fightback is first looking to act as a resistance to the political climate. They may not be trying to take over Canada just yet, but their recognition is growing among the students and working class. From La Grotta’s perspective, the political unrest is “a wake-up call.”
La Grotta’s involvement with Fightback is a departure from his childhood, which was heavily influenced by his family’s right-wing traditions. He began to notice his rebellion when his parents told him about his great-grandfather who was shot and wounded by a partisan in Yugoslavia while serving in Benito Mussolini’s Italian army in the Second World War.
La Grotta’s response was, “I agreed with the guy that shot gramps.” La Grotta’s inclination towards the left continued growing in high school when he became more aware of the society that surrounded him and started thinking, “Something’s up, something’s not working here.” He’s been involved with Fightback for four years, first as a volunteer, now as an organizer. His position entails running the Ryerson and George Brown chapters and co-ordinating events in downtown Toronto.
The northeastern suburbs of Toronto are home to a large community of immigrants from the former Soviet Union, many of whom were only allowed to leave when the political system collapsed in 1991. For most, including Elena Korotaeva, the Revolution does not bring happy memories.
She references her family’s history when describing the terrors of the Revolution. In the early 20th century, her great-grandfather emigrated from Germany to Moscow and established a successful silk production company. However, like many Russians, the Revolution robbed them of their wealth and left family members in prison. “They took everything away from him.”
In addition to not believing a political revolution is possible in Canada, Korotaeva doesn’t understand why anyone would want to recur the struggles her family and many other Russians lived through in the Soviet Union. “The Russian Revolution was a terrible thing and is an example to the world to see what may happen.”
La Grotta says these comments are not uncommon but counters with pointing out flaws in the Canadian political system.
“Yes, we have political democracy in a sense that you vote every four years for someone to go to Parliament, never speak to you again and misrepresent you.”
Fightback was established 10 years ago as a Canadian organization by a young British activist from the Socialist Appeal. Both organizations exist under an overarching chapter, the International Marxist Tendency. Fightback also publishes an annual self-titled magazine, featuring editorials and news about the organization’s progress.
La Grotta recalls a co-organized counter demonstration with the Coalition Against White Supremacy and Islamophobia as one of his biggest accomplishments. They protested the ‘Stifling of Free Speech on University Campuses’ event scheduled for Aug. 22, which was set to host Jordan Peterson, a U of T professor in the news last year for refusing to use students’ preferred pronouns, and Faith Goldy, former journalist for the alt-right news publication, Rebel Media. Once La Grotta heard of the scheduled roster he said, “No way are we giving a platform to these people.” The panel was later cancelled.
Education is at the core of Fightback’s movement and they dedicate much of their focus on teaching the ideas and origins of Marxism, economics, and past revolutions.
“Ultimately, if you’re going to change the world, you need ideas to back it up,” says La Grotta. “It’s not enough just to attend a protest or demonstration every now and again, you must also have an idea to what it is you’re building towards, and not just what you’re against.”
And they’re all for a revolution.
Much of Fightback’s support stems from the younger generation, which explains their prominent presence in post-secondary campuses. But they aren’t the only communist organization that experiences positive feedback amongst this generation. In a BBC article, the chairman of the U.S. Communist party, Sam Webb, says in addition to not receiving negative reactions when sharing his Communist representation, many young people actually tell him it’s “cool.”
With Toronto having the highest percentage of immigrants in Canada, the word “revolution” is rarely heard in the city. And for Toronto immigrants, it’s a word they thought was left behind in their native countries.
University of Toronto Prof. Anna Shternshis, grew up in Moscow during the Soviet era and now teaches the history of her homeland. She draws on a memory when she studied at Oxford University, as being shocked when she walked past a few students selling a Communist magazine on campus. “I remember thinking, ‘my God, I wish they knew what I knew.’”
Although Shternshis believes people who advocate for communism don’t fully understand what they’re supporting, she is not unsympathetic to these Marxist groups. For her, people with differing opinions stimulate change.
“I like romantic ideas and I like people being unsatisfied with situations you can change,” she says, referencing that without outspoken ideas, social problems such as racism and gender inequality would exist much more prominently.
Although the road for Fightback is still long, they’re ready to commit to the obstacles that may come.
“What we’re fighting for is a revolution. It’s not to say it’ll happen tomorrow, it’s a process. Fightback is still a small organization. We don’t want to get big heads and we need a sense of proportion but, if you think about it, the Bolsheviks started the same way.”