Skip to main content

Nathalie Moreau, Rest In Power

Although I have used the Maoist colloquialism about some deaths being "weightier than Mount Tai" in the past I have never truly and personally understood its significance until just recently upon hearing that Nathalie Moreau, a tireless organizer for the PCR-RCP who was also part of its traditional leadership, passed away after a long fight with cancer. She was in her fifties but more than half of her five decades were dedicated to making revolution in Canada. Despite the fact that I only knew her for six years, and the actual time I spent in her company was most probably less than a month, she possessed more influence on my theoretical and practical development as a communist than anyone in academia or the local activist scene. Her significance to the contemporary Canadian Maoist movement at this early stage is monumental; her loss will be viscerally felt, though this loss will have far less impact than the contributions she has made, the people who have been touched by her life, the movement that continues to grow because of foundations she helped struggle to build. Hence, when in the past I spoke of the weight of certain deaths I actually never experienced what this saying truly meant because I was not yet involved in a movement where the loss of tireless organizer could create such an existential burden.

Since I consider Nathalie's influence on my political development, despite only six years and less than a month of personal interaction, to be significant––because I don't know if I would be the kind of anti-capitalist I am today without being partially mentored by her example––I want to write a small obituary in her honour. Hopefully this obituary will be more than just a celebration of an individual, particularly since most of my readers won't know this individual, and will evince lessons for us all. This would be a fitting way to mourn her passing: above all Nathalie would want her life, I believe, to point to revolution.

My first encounter with Nathalie was at the Second Canadian Revolutionary Congress [CRC] in 2010 when representatives of the PCR-RCP came to Toronto to present to sympathizers about the proletarian movement Canada needed. Nathalie was one of the speakers and it was her presentation and engagement with questions that made the strongest impression upon me. She symbolized everything I felt a revolutionary should be: sharp, committed, strong, humble. Despite the fact that English was her second language she was able to simplify complex theoretical points, systematize and synthesize a variety of disparate statements, and focus all discussion upon the necessity to make communism.

In early 2011, during a joint tri-city workshop in Ottawa attended by Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal organizers about establishing the Partisan (a free revolutionary working class newspaper that, for a few years, was printed and passed out in multiple cities), Nathalie presented a short history on the emergence of the PCR-RCP in Québec and its roots in Action Socialiste––a bridge between the New Communist Movement and contemporary Maoism in Canada––and got the sense that she was extremely experienced in multiple sites of organizing though, as was her practice, she refused to highlight her own personal role in the movement, or even in the Québec Feminist movement, all of which I would learn later from other people in snippets and anecdotes.

Months later, after myself and a number of other Toronto activists had been agitating for the now defunct Proletarian Revolutionary Action Committee [PRAC], Nathalie and a few other Montreal comrades again visited Toronto. Nathalie spoke at a public event about boycotting the electoral circus that we organized and also provided a private training workshop for the PRAC. It was during this visit that I got to interact with her person to person (I particularly recall the post-talk lunch we all had at a nearby Vietnamese restaurant and her sitting beside me and listening patiently to my vague thoughts about Toronto activism), and one thing that really stood out for me was her warmth and complete lack of arrogance.

She was a living embodiment of serving the people: never one to sing her own praises, always focusing on how communists should act in the mass movement and towards the masses, but never failing to draw sharp and clear lines of demarcation. The way she could figure out the fault-lines of a theoretical debate so quickly and, within a few sentences, state a position that possessed significant conceptual depth was often awe-inspiring.

One thing that really stands out in my recollections of Nathalie is the time I travelled with her to Chicago, in early 2012, to present at a Platypus Forum. She was to give a workshop on the PCR-RCP and its conception of People's War and I, for some unfathomable reason, was to speak on the closing plenary panel about organizing in Canada in the context of movementism. Really, she would have been a far better speaker on this panel but, as was typical, she refused to take this lime light and instead supported me––and, thank goodness, went over my talk ahead of time and helped me edit it to make it better than the original draft. I learned so much from her during this experience, including details about her personal life, such as the fact that she was a single mother from a working class background that had never gone to university and was still fucking brilliant and more insightful than any Marxist professor I'd ever met. Of course, being the kind of person that she was Nathalie never seemed to notice the fact that despite all my academic training––despite the fact that I possessed a doctorate and she didn't even have a BA––she was a sharper theorist, a better read communist, and a comrade who remained my teacher. She was truly an organic intellectual.

During this foray into Chicago three things continue to stand out that testify to Nathalie's legacy. First of all, her intervention in the Kasama Project workshop where, responding to Kasama's claim that they were trying to initiate a process that would lead to the emergence of a revolutionary party, she argued in a few sentences that they had it backwards: a revolutionary party is itself a process, she stated, and that if you imagine that you can get a finished party product after a long process then you are rendering this product static when, in fact, it should be conceptualized from the get-go as a dynamic and unfinished formation. Indeed, I was referencing Nathalie when I wrote about the "party as process" in an old post, and her intervention in this regard has affected both The Communist Necessity and Continuity and Rupture. Secondly, her presentation on the history of the PCR-RCP, a longer historiography than the one I had heard her deliver in Ottawa a year earlier, was an invigorating workshop. She drew all the lessons that needed to be conveyed very quickly, she responded to critiques swiftly, pointedly, but also humbly––she was in complete command of the room––and I remember just wanting to keep listening to her because she was that fucking good. Thirdly, following the closing plenary when I met with Gabrielle in the dispersing audience, I was struck by what she said to both me and (as it happened) Mike Ely of the Kasama Project: "This was just the left watching the left talk about the left. The masses were not here; they're out there." The comment was not at all a criticism of my talk (which she had edited beforehand) but was instead an honest assessment of what the fuck we were doing at this conference in the first place. This criticism was in fact empowering and I've carried it with me whenever I think of left academic conferences and my participation therein.

I also remember Nathalie for her "whisper translations" at bilingual organizational events, all the time she spent translating quietly for English speakers in a context that was then primarily Francophone. Hell, I remember her translating for the talks I was invited to do at Maison Norman Bethune (along with Maria of the ILPS) without complaint, and always with a humble attitude, though active translation is exhausting. I remember the way she celebrated my first book, right after she was first diagnosed with Cancer, hugging me and telling me that she wanted to translate it into French without even once, as was her right, celebrating the fact that large portions of The Communist Necessity were influenced by her feedback. I want to emphasize this fact: The Communist Necessity would not exist as the way it exists without her influence and, when I look back on many of its arguments and claims, I cannot help but see her fingerprint at multiple points.

Although I knew that Nathalie was dying half a year ago I truly hoped that she would still be alive by the time Continuity and Rupture was released this upcoming December. The fact that I have just received advanced copies of the book now seems somewhat hollow: I see her referenced in the dedication and cannot help but feel that it is unfair she could not witness this dedication, that she is just an anonymous nom de guerre on a single page of a book she will never read. For there is so much of this book that would never exist had Nathalie not touched my life… and, more importantly, I really wanted to know what she would think about the book's argument, whether she had any criticisms regarding how I could have done better. In fact, all of the non-fiction book manuscripts I've currently drafted have been deeply imprinted, one way or another, by Nathalie… along with others, yes, but she is a significant common dominator. I really despise the fact that she's dead, that she was wrenched from us by cancer, and feel that there's a significant void in organizing due to her absence. At the same time, of course, I recognize that so much of our organizing is only possible because of Nathalie's work––that this void is only subjective, that her legacy is not a void but in fact in the opposite––but when you're mourning someone you cannot help but focus on what you've lost, because you have lost a comrade. And this is what I mean by a "weight" that I never truly felt until now.

Comments