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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Towards Socialism & on the dangers of Occupy, 99% and "Entryism"

The Occupy movement accomplished one tremendous thing; it put the issue of inequality back into daily political discourse, and this was a remarkably important accomplishment to which all on the left owe its activists a debt of gratitude.

However, as a way to start a real discussion as to its methods, tactics and primary slogan, I begin by reposting this (name deleted) from the "Occupy Toronto" wall on Facebook.

"Who's in charge of the donations? $40,000 ..this budget is enough to have real demonstrations and banner drops against back to work legislation and protect the wheat board and tuition freeze ... "

To me this is an important discussion about the limitations of so-called "direct democracy". As hard as it may be to believe, things like voting, "Robert's Rules" and constitutions were created to PROTECT the powerless and less powerful against those with wealth and power, as well as those who would assume power. They exist as a barrier against the social power of the wealthy as well as those who would seek to rule by decree, and that is why the radical right is doing whatever it can to destroy these protections.

So, who are "we"? Who is in charge of donations to the "Occupy" movement and who has oversight over their decisions? Who opens the credit union accounts and decides what the money should be spent on? Who is accountable if these funds are not used appropriately, and what governing body decides what is appropriate? What rules govern the discussions and dictate when people are being out-of-order or working in counter-productive ways? Who, now that the movement has been shut down has control over that money, which was in the tens-of-thousands, and who dictates its distribution? Was this not money of working people donated through the OFL? So where exactly is it now and who has control over the bank accounts? What are their names? Where did it go after the end of the "Occupation"? Was it given back?

Without rules or constitutions do you really trust millions of people, if we were to win, to not make decisions that are arbitrary or dangerous? Or is it a non-issue because "democracy" will only be extended to the "enlightened"?

Rules and law protect regular and innocent people. They are safeguards against arbitrary actions by corporations, governments or self-appointed vanguards and we should not get rid of them. Our forebears on the left died to create the context in which we now work and joining the right in trying to rip it down will help no one.

There are three obvious things wrong with so-called "direct" democracy:

1) It is not direct at all. Voting is direct. Open discussion around motions is direct. Actually coming to a resolution as a group is direct. Nebulous personality conflicts and discussions around immediate day-to-day aims or factional disagreements is not direct.

2) In a "direct" democracy who actually decides? When you have a collective vote, an idea that millions of women and men on the left have and continue to fight and die for, everyone plays a part. Should there be more of them and in more areas of life? Yes. But with no votes decisions will end up being made by a very small group of the same handful of individuals over-and-over again. Voting has faith in and empowers everyone, "consensus" disempowers everyone other than a central few figures willing and able to commit to dominating the group. It is charismatic despotism.

3) Rules are not bourgeois. They are not capitalist. Safeguards, constitutions, rules-of-order, voting, rights, formats, were all created to AID the working class and the people not to hinder them. Prior to their existence power, violence, despotism, were the norm. Feudalism and slave based misogynist "Republics" were all based on the "direct" model. The "direct" power of the boot to your face if you were not part of the ruling clique.

Rules, constitutions, voting and democratic norms are all that the Left and civil society has. Discard them at your own peril.

But, beyond that, the Occupy slogans are based on false and bourgeois premises.

The basic problem with the 99% slogan is that it is false. The idea that you can distill the complexities of modern global capitalism and class conflict down to the notion that all the courts, laws, governments, bureaucracy, etc all function with the exclusive purpose of doing the bidding of 1% of the population over the interests of the other 99% of the population is not merely reductionist, it is absurd. It is also dangerously conspiratorial in its world view.

While it may be effective as a slogan, it is profoundly ineffective as an ideological vision or a social analysis and the negative aspects of its use outweigh by a large margin any benefits.

On the most basic level it is wrong because it asserts that what is left of the traditional working-class, the white collar lower middle class and the new retail working class, among others, share essentially common interests with parts of the middle managerial class, less successful or lower level entrepreneurs, many, if not most, professionals, police officers, academics, small business owners, many stock brokers, bank branch managers or loan officers, etc, who are all a part of the "99%".

They do not.

In fact, the simplistic message of this idea has far more in common as an ideological perspective with crank theories about "Bilderbergers" and plots to create "One World Government" than it does with traditional socialism and Marxism. It presents our society as if it is akin to the Russia of Ivan the Terrible in the nature of its power structures; a notion that is at best simple-minded. This in large part explains why Occupy was more about the airing of grievances than it was about the attaining of solutions. What solution to such a world view is possible? There are only two. Either you capitulate to liberalism and try to wrest "concessions" of some type or another from the "1%" or you seek for a rapture in revolution whereby you remove the "1%" in some way-or-another (though one would have to think that, if you actually believe our society is constructed this way that this would have to be through enormous violence...if 1% of the population has society in thrall to it they will not give up without a hell of a fight) and then presumably everything will be better.

I have written at greater length about this here:

Given that Occupy refuses rules, constitutions or votes of anykind one can only suppose that this result would be more akin to the Khmer Rouge than it would to the New Jerusalem.

Ultimately it is something of a moot point as the very tactics of false consensus, the "human mic" and the notion of "Occupying" a specific space doom it to failure from the start. For one thing it certainly makes it easier for the authorities to find exactly who they need to when the crackdown comes. And once it has, what then?

And then the futility of "entryism"

Entrysim, originally, was an idea that one would, for a short period, infiltrate "mainstream" left-wing parties so as to agitate for the creation of a more radical political formation. The intent was, in fact, to be expelled. The hope was that this would draw others out with you.

While some, correctly perhaps, have questioned the basic morality of this entryist concept, it, at least, had some connection to reality. It accepted the obvious fact that the parties in our system were not actually revolutionary nor were they radical. The entryists never hid their goals nor did they subsume themselves in the rhetoric of the right Social Democrats they opposed.

The "entryists" in Canada of are a somewhat different breed.

They, and there are several variations and factions of them, now make the mainstream social democratic party, in this case the NDP, their permanent home.

Because they perceive themselves to be sharks in a small pond of leftist minnows they accept, for years-and-years, that they will actively advocate for what are pathetic and Neo-Liberal platforms in the entirely delusional idea that this will aid their ultimate objectives.

They do this to avoid expulsion, of course, as if they actually were to advocate for their ideas in any meaningful sense the NDP would, in fact, expel them. (And they have invalidated everyone of their victories...and they will continue to do so).

These entryists lack the stomach for a real fight.

Instead they campaign for, canvass for, applaud and seek to ideologically justify programmes that, election after election become more and more right wing.

To a very large degree they justify their existence through the refracted glory of having been involved in outright "Third Way" campaigns and they claim "success" when these campaigns "succeed".

But it is a very hollow "success".

Despite the efforts of the entryists, the NDP has gone nowhere but to the right. With no threat, in any electoral way, the NDP has no need to heed the efforts of its left-wing as it knows they do not pose a threat to their electoral objectives. And that is all they care about.

The Entryists have aided this by making the most Faustian of bargains: claiming to represent a truly Socialist viewpoint while actually running on the opposite; being unwilling to truly criticize farcially liberal campaign platforms and then having the nerve to claim a moral high ground on these same platforms that are no challenge to the neo-liberal order and that embrace its very underpinnings.

They, by accepting that this is the framework, have lent it their moral and political endorsement. And the inane idea that one has to be in the "mass party of labour" both misrepresents the actual NDP and is pseudo-vanguardist.

In the end these Entryist "Leftists", like the Now Magazine or Labour Council types, are basically unwilling to admit, as they all know, that the NDP platform, on any level, is a sad joke, in so far as it even exists. And yet they remain its most stalwart defenders by their absurd and exaggerated rhetoric in defence of a party that long abandoned what they have fought for and they show themselves up by trying to actively fight against real alternatives that actually advocate for what they claim they represent.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Ten Pat Martin Rants of the Holiday Season. F' You Capitalism or...I am Mad as Hell and I am NOT Going to Take it Anymore!!!

Written and posted originally on Facebook over 13 left wing ode to the Holiday Season...Thanks Pat!

In honour of the 45 minutes that Pat Martin actually used to say what I suspect he and much of of his caucus actually think but are terrified to normally say...I have instituted my countdown of ten Fuck Offs over ten days to the system that are inspired by Martin's outburst...and Pat...let me say to you that if you are really mad, maybe you should cut the Rusty Anchor of has been far more harmful to democracy and society than the socialism you ranted about at the convention!

FUCK OFF#10 Child Poverty is a Fucking National Disgrace!

Quoting (loosely!!!) the suddenly angry Pat Martin...Fuck you Conservative assholes and eat my shorts. Say what you want about the supposed laziness of the poor (what a joke given the golf course circle jerks of the rich) but even if you buy into this total horseshit how does this morally or ethically include children? How is it morally right to condemn over a million Canadian children to poverty through no fault of their own. How can this human disgrace  be justified?

How can you say we have experienced "economic growth" between 1995 and now when child poverty has INCREASED in this period? What kind of "growth" is that?

What form of eugenics, quasi-Social Darwinist bullshit or simple self-centred nonsense leads you to think that it is OK for your kid to freeload off of whatever little you did to succeed while you condemn or look down on those on welfare, social assistance and working people? Why should your kid be given, through no effort of their own, whatever you have, while the children of others have no such starting point? How is this equality of opportunity?

I guess your kids must be superior.

Well, I say it is time for all kids to be on an equal footing and I say that what exists now, unopposed by any major party in a real way is neo-feudalism and is a total fucking mockery of what equality of opportunity was meant to be!

And I think it is time that all the parties in Canada, including the NDP in its provincial governments, actually live up to the 1989 farce that we would end child poverty by was a social democratic lie then and it is a hollow joke now.

Fuck Off #9: Really...union workers are overpaid?

Hardly a day goes by that I don't hear someone complaining about... "overpaid" union workers. "I wish I made that kind of money!". "Why should they get well paid for driving a bus?" Well you can make that kind of money...try to form a UNION... or at least support them! And why the fuck shouldn't they be "well-paid"? Unions benefit you, even if you are not in one. It is not the fault of mail workers, bus drivers, teachers, auto workers, or other unionists that your salary sucks and you have no is the fault of YOUR BOSS!

Then you get the absurd musings of the sociopath Hudak that he is going to somehow impose a public sector wage freeze in a province where he lost the election. How are you going to pull that off Tim? Are you and your buddies from the Sun newsroom going to reenact the March on Rome?

So is the person who drives your bus or cleans city toilets overpaid if they get, say, $25 an hour + benefits assuming a 40 hour work week? Well if you think so, why not first direct your anger at the assholes in the link below...the top of which made $11,642.81 an hour... your anger at union workers does nothing but pad his fucking bank account!

FUCK OFF #8 We ARE the 15%

Our culture, as the First World, is the most rapacious and predatory culture in the history of the world. We are literally destroying it to subsidize unsustainable and self-indulgent lifestyles. 15% percent of the world's population consumes 80% of its resources. The electronic "toys" we take for granted, including the one I am writing this on, are made in the most appaling conditions in the Third World. Think Steve Jobs was a great man...check out where Apple products are made and how the workers are might leave a bad taste in the mouth.

We have gotten very used to drawing a line between work and home...we have gotten good at thinking only in our own context as if the global community does not exist...we have gotten very good at justifying anti-environmental stupidity (such as, I hate to say, lifting the HST on the home energy bills in Rosedale...or even Parkdale...don't lift the CONSUMPTION) and thinking that because we are not part of the 1% here in Canada we are not part of the problem.

But we ARE part of the problem. It may be hard to avoid but is essential to recognize. The way we live, the way we play, the way we heat our homes and drive alone in our cars, the way we buy cheap products at Wall Mart, McDonalds, Starbucks..or even at our own local small businesses, is all done on the backs of the workers of the Third World and is an unacceptable system that cannot and will not last.

We have to start thinking differently now...and realizing that we cannot expect the rest of the world to prop us up forever.

Fuck Off#7: Update to terrified suburban people who watch local news too much...THERE IS NO CRIME CRISIS IN CANADA...!!!!

You know sometimes I can wake up, turn on the news to hear some conservative idiot ranting about crime and the new horseshit legislation the Tories are bringing in to help build the police state that they long for, and I think, holy shit...time travel is possible and I am back in Miami in 1984 and Crockett & Tubbs are about to fucking walk in in white suits, smoking Lucky Strikes to "take out the trash" and lecture some sub-committee about the need for bigger guns!

News bulletin assholes...the CRIME RATE HAS GONE DOWN! It is lower than it has been since 1973. The Crime Severity Index, which measures (amazingly) the severity of crime, has reached its lowest point since 1998.

But reality doesn't matter when you have an agenda...what was it Hitler said about the bigger the lie? This all started in earnest with the stampede that led even those on the so-called left to join in on the crime fighting bully pulpit and buy into the media distortion of the "year of the gun" in Toronto and it was more than slightly alarming to see "left" politicians echoing what was a right-wing war cry with a very strong racial undercurrent...but its votes that matter, right?

And when you give a little you get the Tory omnibus is a direct line...talking macho tough on crime only ever helps the right.

But...even worse...when confronted with actual crime statistics the Tories and their media defenders simply say the stats are wrong...that crime is actually, despite all evidence, much higher than that...but why be surprised...this is the same group of idiots that have caucus members who have denied evolution and have insisted that climate change isn't happening because it would hurt Alberta's economy if it was.

They are obviously trustworthy!

Crime is well down without these expensive and cruel laws. They have been done & they have FAILED...US programmes show that tougher laws and bigger jails do no good and much harm, that mandatory minimums are ridiculous and have terrible unintended consequences, including judge & jury nullification, and that fighting poverty is the way to fight crime. And as to harsher drug sentences...really? Now, could we move on to real issues.

Fuck Off #6 Being a Creationist, and a bunch of other silly things, is not a legitimate is JUST FUCKING STUPID!

Democracy is a forum in which all expressions of non-hate based opinion are allowed. This does not, however, mean that they are legitimate...a distinction that our media and others have trouble mastering.

Creationism is NOT a legitimate point of view. It is fucking idiotic. It is exactly as stupid as believing in a flat-Earth or a Ptolemaic solar system. There is NO evidence for it and a MOUNTAIN of evidence against it. Even the former Hitler Youther atop the great fossil that is the Catholic Church acknowledges evolution. You know who doesn't? Morons.

The Creationists have used the media's supposed objectivity to get attention where none is deserved. Why are members of the Flat Earth Society not allowed on the mainstream news...we all know why, because what they are saying is as dumb as the conversation at a Rob Ford family dinner. As is creationism. That a bunch of evangelical fascists purport to believe in it does not change how fucking stupid it is.

Could I pause to point out that they do not deny that dinosaurs, for example, existed...they claim they lived with people and became extinct...4,000 years ago! They even give pictures to their kids of humans using dinosaurs to pull carts. Why? Because obviously the evidence shows they are full of shit...but they have to explain their theory somehow...right? The whole consruct is so ridiculous that it is truly hard to imagine what level of intellectual denial you have to be on to adhere to this.

But I don't want to only call out these anti-social jackasses...also dangerous are other science denying delusions like...those opposed to inoculations of children, crystal healers, ghost believers, climate change deniers, psychics, tarot card users, diviners, people who think the world is ending in December 2012....and so many more. It is all a bunch of bullshit...and the anti-science basis...even the outright anger towards science, plays into a profoundly reactionary anti-modernism.

But whatever, they have a right to their "opinion" such as it is...but remember that most of the time there is someone making lots of money off of this nonsense or who is using it for a political purpose. It is complete rubbish ...and on some level I suspect everyone involved knows that.

However, if, for whatever reason, going to someone down the street in a dimly lit room to be told, after handing over your $50, that someone still loves you from "beyond" is your thing...fine...but let's leave superstition for personal lives and not public policy or real political discourse...

Fuck Off #5: There is no such thing as "sexism" against men and there is no such thing as "racism" against white people.

This is one of my favourites. Men & white people, and their sycophants claiming reverse discrimination. "Ads make fun of men but they would never make fun of women", "white people are discriminated against for certain jobs", "Why is it ok to make jokes about white people but not Blacks/Asians/Natives/Jews...", etc...

BULLSHIT. This is PURE AND UTTER, TOTAL AND ABSOLUTE BULLSHIT. It is completely false on every level.

I could point out that everyone of the above statements is false already. Ads constantly demean, objectify and make women look stupid. So do TV shows, comedians, magazines, right-wing politicians, etc. The notion that "only" white males are "targets" anymore is a fucking farce. The people complaining about "white people" jokes...and I have yet to hear any that were actually nasty in any meaningful way, know full well that REALLY offensive and racist water cooler jokes are a dime a dozen. And white people are NOT discriminated against for any jobs. They just seem to often think they are entitled to them.

But that is not the key point. The key point is that sexism against men and racism against whites in the present social and political context is NOT POSSIBLE in anything other than an entirely incidental way.

Racism and sexism are SYSTEMIC problems that have existed for centuries and that represent a fundamental and encompassing oppression against which millions have sacrificed to fight for justice and equality. These oppressions have claimed literally hundreds-of-millions of victims and continue to degrade and demean and condemn people globally and in Canada to lives of injustice. They are manifested every single day in the ways in which women and people-of-colour continue to endure SYSTEMIC discrimination and SYSTEMIC inequality. The occasional joke that makes fun of white people (if these jokes even exist) or the occasional instance where, in one isolated case, the opposite of the norm may have been true changes nothing.

In many cases where men do suffer, and they do, it is as a result of patriarchy itself. Patriarchy does, indeed, oppress men in a certain sense as a result of its relentless and very narrow definition of what a "man" is and what "male" sexuality should be, and these views are deeply tied to homophobia. But that oppression and suffering is a corollary of patriarchy itself and can only be overcome by accepting its root causes and realizing that the way forward is its ultimate defeat.

As a civilization where racism and sexism were part of the founding principles of North America, and were, indeed, built into its initial laws and constitutions, to deny the breadth and depth of their reach is simply a convenient lie. The continuing stains of racism and sexism taint our discourse now and will, sadly, for a long time. The idea that whites or men in Canada face reverse sexism and racism that inhibits their ability to succeed is ridiculous, manifestly and provably false and just plain offensive and pathetic. And it is a part of the broader assault and propaganda campaign to make the dis-empowered, and many men and white people are, think that it is not a result of capitalism, but rather it is the fault of fellow workers, of women or of people-of-colour, and that fighting against the rights of these groups will preserve what little are left of their own.

It won't.

Fuck Off #4 Tax "Relief" is NO Relief at All

You have to hand it to those clever neo-liberal ideologues...they have managed to get all political parties, the media and most people on board the "tax relief" train. To one degree or another, they all kneel at the alter of this ultimate false god.

Unless you are in a very small tax bracket at the very pinnacle of our very steep income pyramid, tax relief is no relief at all. 100% the opposite in fact. Know why we can't "afford" universal day care: tax relief. Know why the frauds at city hall can claim a fiscal crisis where none exists and cut your programmes to the bone: tax relief. Know why our school programmes are not as good as they used to be, why our roads and bridges are falling apart, why all those kids programmes that used to be free are now either gone or charge fees, why public transit exists at levels way below what is required, why if you lose your job you can't count on any real long term government help, why health care is in "crisis", why it seems, despite unprecedented economic "growth" over the last 25 years, we are asked OVER-AND-OVER again to make sacrifices to keep the wealthy wealthy and big business afloat...TAX RELIEF. That is why...period full stop!

The massive income tax cuts of the 90's are the chickens that have come home to roost and they are DIRECTLY why our governments cannot "afford" to do the things that need to be done. For the VAST majority of citizens the money that they have received through this "relief" does not even remotely compare to the services and social cohesion and opportunity that they have lost as a result of it.

Lets point to an obvious example of the idiocy of the "tax relief" mantra and how it has coloured the thinking of all the parties; the ONDP's programme to benefit the "pocketbooks" of "working families" through tax breaks to small business and lifting the HST on home heating. Hey, just a thought, but don't you think free daycare and free pharmacare, for example, would help their stretched pocket books a whole lot more? Maybe just a little bit more?

And how would we pay for such things...maybe by reversing all this so-called tax relief!!! And not just on the wealthy alone. Like collective insurance programmes at work, middle-class and working-class citizens will get more out when needed than they pay in, never mind all the other social benefits, such as not having the stress of being a paycheck away from destitution hanging over your head. Tax cuts for most income brackets must be stopped and, indeed, in many cases reversed.

Tax relief is the greatest snake oil salesperson political trick of all promised to deliver financial aid and stability and, for virtually everyone it delivered the EXACT opposite.

So, while so many on the so-called left appear mystified at the causes of the remarkable growth of social inequality and social insecurity since the 1980's, they should get their heads out the of the basic reasons is simple, that is when Tax Relief began!

Fuck Off #3: Our Banks are "A" Fucking OK

Remember when Occupy Toronto started and the media had all the strutting...... imbecilic peacocks of the business commentary community (the worst form of life on Earth, they are not actually rich...they just make a living kissing the asses of the guys, why not cheer for the fucking Yankees or applaud the Death Star as a necessary step to profitability for the Empire) spouting off with a bunch of horseshit about "The people in New York may have a point but our banking sector is just fine. It is not like the USA"

Fucking right! Our banking sector is indeed just fine. While YOU are being asked to take cuts to your transit, social programmes, reason to live, union job security, etc...the banks in Canada are DOING JUST FUCKING FINE. A++++ in fact!!! :)

Lets take a look at the latest Stats from our friends at the Glib and Stale (a review of the ten most profitable companies in Canada):

1) RBC $5 Billion plus in profits...up 35%

2) TD Bank $4.5 Billion plus...up 49%

3) Bank of Nova Scotia $4 Billion plus...up 20%

7) BMO $2.5 Billion plus...up 57%

8) CIBC $2 Billion plus...up 109%

Hey, don't you feel better now! The banks are in Canada ARE DOING GREAT!!!!

They have made so much profit off of you that they have more money than most provincial governments. That is WONDERFUL!!! The system is working perfectly here. No need for protests.

How did they do this...well off of your savings and farcically lax Canadian bank fee laws...but why need to fret if the banks are making billions. Stay home, content with no daycare, no transit, no job security, no rights as workers, no real hope of a socially just future...and be happy as yet again you are asked to "sacrifice" is all OK because OUR BANKS ARE DOING JUST FINE!!!!

Fuck Off#2 Last Night I Had the Strangest Socialist Dream

So, last night I had the strangest was just like those bank ads about how "if you don't want to pay bank fees..." or something. Anyway I was, in my dream, lying in bed, heart racing, the weight of one terrible question pressing down on me..."How, given all of the media bias and the overwhelming power of the forces of capital, can we fight for socialism?"...and then appearing at the door with a near heavenly glow behind was my daughter and she said "hey old man...if you want to fight for socialism...fight for socialism."

Let's cut the bullshit. Capitalism is not working. It has survived only due to massive government intervention and the creation of socialism for the wealthy. It cannot survive in any other way. All of the rubbish from Milton Friedman or Ayn Rand is a proven total pile of crap.

But, with capitalism clearly bankrupt and its very logic obviously shown to be false after 2008, where are the socialists? While I admire Occupy it highlighted problems not solutions. And the NDP...really? Has anyone bothered to check out its provincial governments lately...never mind the farcical programmes they ran on in Ontario and federally?

The greatest crisis to hit capitalism since the 1930's came and the NDP proposed tax cuts for small business and talked a lot about fiscal responsibility. Fuckin' A!!!! can we fight for a socialist platform and a socialist vision of society? Well we could start by actually doing it! Sometimes the journey from point A to B is really that simple. If capitalism is not working...say so. If we need a new socialist economy and vision...say so. Don't campaign or work for a platform where the best they can do is eliminating ambulance fees...or hold endless discussions about how to best fight for what you want to fight for or how best to campaign and run candidates for socialism while not actually campaigning or running candidates for socialism.

The NDP is not a socialist party. Over the last forty years, from the Waffle to the NPI to the utter futility of "entryist" groups today, these efforts have seen the NDP go further and further to the RIGHT, no more so than under the leadership of Jack Layton, Andrea Horwath and the basically Liberal governments in Manitoba and Nova Scotia. The "real" Liberals have lost any trace, other than as an echo, of Social Democracy and the Just Society and are little more than the last stand quasi-progressive rump of the upper middle class, and the Greens have no coherent vision of any meaning at all.

Frankly, fighting for a "platform" that you do not really believe in, advocating for it on the doorstep, running for it in elections, and trying to use it in the hope that somehow by doing this you will advance socialism is just plain stupid. The essential logic is not at all different than the old Liberal refrain that you will get "real results" by voting Liberal instead of "wasting" your vote. In a sense they were right. Once you accept the premises of capitalism why not vote Liberal? They are obviously better than the Tories and if the NDP is not even remotely advocating for a socialist society, why not back the winning horse if winning is what it is all about? And now that the NDP has risen why not vote NDP? If what you want is reformist capitalism then they are the best of the "progressive" lot, federally, no doubt. (provincially in Ontario and elsewhere, I am not so sure.) The CAW has bought into this, and NOW Magazine and the Toronto Star buy the logic, so why not you? The advocates for Capitalism with a Human Face can't all be wrong.

BUT...if you want to vote for a socialist agenda and political platform, if you want to advocate and run in elections in opposition to capitalism itself, then DO SO and try to build a party in your area and federally that will. Otherwise, just admit that that is not what you are interested in at all because you will never build a socialist electoral agenda advocating for any of the mainstream "progressive" parties that exist today, and while you may get to booze it up over "victories" they will be victories that will not fundamentally change anything in a socialist sense and that are a tacit or outright endorsement of the basic ideas and logics of the capitalist system. Kaiser Soze...socialism as an idea will simply disappear from popular discourse other than as an insult.

Updated ending:

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Seeking the Democratic Socialist in Canadian Political Life

Originally written as an open letter and published on the Ginger Blog, this piece, co-authored by Andrew Klochek, was picked up by and published on Babble in January of 2011.

Open Letter for a "NEW" Democratic Socialist Party

Sisters and Brothers,

In his Oct. 9th, 2010 column, titled "The NDP: Not your father's socialism," John Ivison of The National Post wrote about the NDP's "metamorphosis of an old 20th-century socialist party into a vibrant 21st-century social democratic party." What exactly a "21-st century social democratic party" looks like is hard to discern though a few clues were provided by Ivison in a lower paragraph in the story:

"Under former leader Alexa McDonough, the party proposed an excess profit tax on financial institutions, which would then finance a National Investment Bank managed by ‘business, labour, government and the community.' There was much talk of ending privatization and increasing public ownership; of raising corporate tax rates and imposing a ‘Millionaire's Tax' on inheritances over $1-million. On foreign policy, the party proposed dissenting from NATO over the use of nuclear weapons.

"The image presented today is very different. The ‘squeeze the rich' rhetoric has been abandoned, in favour of moderate language that tries to reconcile equality and economic well-being. ‘These goals.... are not in conflict, rather they depend on each other,' according to the party's current website."

The Post's track record on virtually every other major issue from the environment to the Middle East notwithstanding, the article's description of the NDP's current political stance is accurate. Indeed, it was proudly embraced by the NDP. A similar quote in a different article, this time in The Toronto Star about the Ontario NDP, was even reproduced on "beta" posters portraying Andrea Horwath standing in front of the slogan "Not Your Grandfather's NDP."

The coincidence is so profound it would almost lead one to wonder if the idea was planted in the heads of the journalists by the party itself. The political party, whose forerunner, the CCF, once held the label "Farmer, Labour, Socialist" above its symbol, no longer uses the word Socialist at all.

Why does this matter?

It matters because over the last 40 years, the ideology of neo-liberalism has won every battle in its attempts to reshape our society. It matters because its defeat of the very idea of activist government has emboldened those on the right, and shifted the thinking of those on the left. In short, the NDP is no longer your grandfather's NDP. It is, in fact, your grandfather's Progressive Conservative Party.

Welcome to the new capitalism, unopposed by any meaningful political challenge.

The political consensus that has emerged out of Washington and Ottawa's governing classes is that interventionist government is wrong, except when government intervention is needed to save their friends on Wall Street and Bay Street. It is clear that capitalism is unable to save itself under anything approaching a "free-market" system and the Depression that began in 2008 proves this. With the willing complicity of our self-proclaimed voices of the left, we have instituted a system of socialism and welfare for the rich.

The effect of this political order is to prop up the failures of our societies' wealthiest while abandoning everyone else, including our societies' most vulnerable, by stealing tens of millions of their dollars to fund CEO slush funds and salaries.

While workers were forced to make concessions and millions of them lost their jobs, CEO's salaries went nowhere but up, all subsidized by your tax dollars. Instead of using the power of government to declare war on poverty, we have declared war on the poor and the middle class.

The issue is not that the NDP supported stimulus spending in order to save jobs. The issue is that in supporting these measures, they did so without actively calling for fundamental changes to the system that required bailouts in the first place. As a result, in the final analysis they basically called for the government to back up the tremendous social inequality that is represented by these same CEOs who forced this bailout and yet are now making over 150 times what the average worker does.

This is the problem with operating within the current economic system.

We have become a nation so often obsessed with stories of crime and the fear of the other. Our nightly news and daily front pages focus inordinately on the pornography of crime and individual misery. Meanwhile we ignore the "mundane" suffering perpetuated on so many of our citizens and their children by poverty or the fear of poverty. Is the terror felt by millions of Canadians facing destitution by being one paycheque away from impoverishment not also a genuine crime?

Poverty and hunger is bullying and violence. Only on a mass scale. Want a crime, how about the crime of the outright injustice perpetrated by the government and its accomplices on the daily lives of workers and the middle class? How about the crime of hundreds of thousands of Canadian children living in poverty every day? So many of our politicians have pontificated on the issue of crime. They have stated that there will be zero tolerance for even the average 8-year-old schoolyard bully.

And yet where are those who will say that our society's and government's bullying and violence against poor children is also a crime? If you stand by while a child goes hungry, you are no different than those that would watch a child beaten. Some of our biggest criminals, who leave whole communities destroyed in the wake of their crime spree, go unpunished, and even celebrated. They, through their corporate actions, have harmed more children than any schoolyard bully ever will.

In the face of this system, the NDP, which once articulated a vision for an alternative economic order, now merely argues for changes that are cosmetic, not structural. Rather than help organize citizens at grassroots levels to fight this assault in their communities, they offer band-aid solutions while editing their language and image in the vain hope that they can marginally increase their seat total in an election which, even if they won, would do nothing to alter the political-economy of the country. The NDP is so goal driven in its single-minded obsession to win a few extra seats that it has disempowered its own membership and riding associations from having any meaningful democratic voice within the party at all. Virtually every significant campaign and policy decision is made by the party's central offices and dissident candidates and riding associations are routinely overruled or sidelined. The party does not even have a standing platform!

The time has come to fight, not individual aspects of the state-capitalist system, but rather State Capitalism itself. The time has come to fight against the corporations that have moved our jobs to China, impoverishing workers there while destroying jobs at home. The time has come to fight against the system that has ensured that many of our fellow citizens work most of their lives in temporary labour without health insurance or retirement benefits. The time has come to stand up against the neo-feudalism that creates a society where individual debt is at an all time high while CEOs, "movie stars" and entertainers earn more in a day than most hard-working Canadians will in a year or even a decade, and where they get totally different treatment by the legal system. Rest assured, if the person who stole the $50 TV out of your house is caught they will likely go to jail as opposed to an investment banker who screwed people out of their entire livelihoods.

The time has come to stand up against the daily violence of the system with its destruction of good jobs in Canada and its entrenchment of poverty in the third world, all designed to satisfy an unsustainable consumerism.

Most important of all, the time has come to organize a political movement that will oppose this state-capitalist system and to give voice to this sentiment within parliamentary democracy, as well as within our communities.

The question of whether or not such a new socialist movement will succeed in winning this or that riding in the next election is not of significant importance. The Reform Party, as well as the NDP in their more radical days, demonstrated that a grassroots movement can affect the nature of the political debate without winning even a minority government. It is this victory, the altering of the political discourse in the country, that is the most important victory to win.

The process of altering the political discourse is by no means easy. The forces of the political right have shifted the debate such that, even when they are not in office their policies are still enacted.

One should note that Conservatives were seen as a spent force intellectually in the mid-20th century. Yet within a few years, they had succeeded in destroying the New Deal and Great Society programs in the United States. In Canada, they enacted Free Trade, NAFTA while handing over public wealth to private interests. Those on the left should draw lessons from their victories. The most important lesson is that an organized grassroots movement can alter the political landscape more effectively than a political party that won an election on a platform patched together from focus groups and pollsters.

Focusing on short-term electoral victory may bring more immediate gratification compared with the hard work of building a grassroots movement that will reawaken opposition to the existing socio-economic order. But where has this led us? The left has done focused on short-termism for 30 years and we have only lost.

There is an alternative.

This alternative is:

• A vision of a political movement that will fight for workers' rights;

• A political movement that will fight to prevent the destitution of the middle class;

• A political movement that will stand up against corporate crime and its consequences in your community;

• A political movement that will work to empower employees so that they can take over enterprises when their managers have failed them;

• A political movement that will implement Pharmacare and Public Dental Insurance so that hundreds of thousands of Canadians don't have to decide between things like Asthma medication and their rent;

• A political movement that won't tell you that it will manage state-capitalism better, that won't tell you that it knows how to balance a budget in heels or how to implement a "fairer" austerity.

It could be a political movement that will challenge the very basis of the social order that made these false choices "necessary" at all.

It is an alternative that embraces the idea that a different and better Ontario is possible. That does not accept that poverty and suffering need to be a part of this Ontario. That sees that hope is better than fear and that inspiration is a more powerful force than good management. A movement, that will fight for a future based on democracy, social equality and justice.

This is the Democratic Socialist alternative.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Peculiar Case of Ruth Ellen Brosseau

First published just after the election this year. This one is totally unmodified and remains exactly how I feel about the subject.

There is not much to happy about in this election.

Stephen Harper got his long coveted majority and the damage that this will do to the country may take many years to repair. The NDP won political opposition on a sudden Orange Surge but did so on an entirely leader driven imagery and a policy platform not only bereft of anything meaningful in terms of transformative social policy, but actually to the right of the Liberal platform in certain key areas. While the obliteration of the Liberal Party by a more left-wing electoral force is of tremendous significance, in that no one can any longer doubt or deny that it is possible to do this, only the most partisan New Democrat incapable of distinguishing what is good for the party and what is good for the people, can think that this election result will have anything other than a catastrophic impact on the lives of working and middle class Canadians, and that it is, in a key way, a real defeat for the forces left, not a victory.

In a non-minority parliament the NDP will now have less influence than before, not more, on the actual governance of the nation and the nature of the system gives the forces of capital and reaction plenty of time to retrench and attempt to reverse NDP gains. This is especially true given that the party will not attempt the popular mobilization needed to stop Harper's agenda and the very high probability that having seen its strategy to squeeze the Liberals out by pushing to the centre of the spectrum bear fruit, the party brass will intensify this process, not lessen or reverse it.

But, as always in the great human endeavour that is democracy, there is a silver lining to all of this.

It is, of course, true that unexpected sweeps bring people into parliament that no one expected to see there. It is a great thing that Canada elected its first Tamil MP. It also very positive to see young people, students, and workers get elected. This makes the complexion of parliament more democratic and inspiring even if it does not result in its legislation being this way.

But to me, one of the most misinterpreted moments of the election is of even greater significance. It points to a very real democratic and popular yearning that lies just beneath the surface of our era's popular mood of discontent with our institutions of governance.

And it is the victory of Ruth Ellen Brosseau.

There can be little doubt that Canadians are broadly tired of our existing political culture and contemptuous of its entirely scripted and facile content. This culture, driven by the pollsters and spin doctors of the parties, celebrates the vacuous and places great emphasis on soaring but empty rhetoric meant to inspire without the need to really say much. The Obamaesque qualities of Harper's "Canada" ad, or, frankly, of Layton's entire campaign, is the high point of what are tightly managed sound bites centred around targeted messaging seeking to hammer home two-or-three points that have been chosen from minuscule election "platforms" for a variety of demographic reasons. People are being sold a bill of goods, a branded commodity. And they know it.

The parties even, when it succeeds, sometimes openly celebrate it, as in this rather odious little quote:

"We've been absolutely fixated on making sure that we run a first-rate campaign with a strong message, and we knew that message out there was, 'Ottawa is broken, it's time to fix it. It's time that it works for families to get things done,'" NDP national director Brad Lavigne told CBC Monday night.

"We attached that to the right demographics in the right ridings across the country, and the great thing about tonight is that the growth is everywhere. It's in Atlantic Canada. New seats in Newfoundland and Nova Scotia. Throughout Ontario and the West."-CBC News May 3rd 2011

Yes, Brad, it is great, but only for the NDP itself.

They justify such a philosophy with rubbish about "getting results", that getting elected is the "purpose" of political parties, etc., that this is the "job" of parties, without the slightest sense that this type of politics is exactly what is fuelling the long-term cynicism and anger of disenfranchisement that all too often finds expression in the campaigns of wealthy populists like Rob Ford.

The days of renegade MPs, serious discourse and visions for change in society and government that go beyond the merely cosmetic or managerial, to the extent that they ever existed, are gone.

Parties are terrified of moments going "off message" and they are mortified of independently minded candidates who might "say" or "do" "something" that might divert the media's attention away from whatever sound bite the leader is about to deliver. This is just as true, if not in some ways more so, in the NDP which has developed a new and repugnant tactic of blocking people that they feel might be worrisome and independent from seeking nomination at all!

Campaigns, even such fatuous ones, when they catch fire can still stir citizens up in entirely unanticipated political moments of democratic outburst as happened with Rae in Ontario, or the ADQ and now the NDP in Quebec. These moments, when they happen, show that it is still possible for people to actually change things and assert their power, even if it does not always deliver what drove them to do it. In fact, the very failure of the banal rhetoric to produce meaningful results in their actual lives is entirely why the democratic outbursts so often do not last.

And this in turn leads even more citizens to feel that they have heard it all before, that nothing will change anyway, and that the "politicians" are all the same, power driven and plastic.

Then there is the peculiar case of Ruth Ellen Brosseau.

Brosseau, as you are no doubt aware, is the assistant pub manager and single mother in Ottawa who ran for the NDP in the Quebec riding of Berthier - Maskinongé and won. She did so despite the widespread PRE-election publicity that she not only did not live in the riding but may never have even set foot in it, that she barely spoke French and that she went to Las Vegas for the last two weeks of the campaign.

The insults were fast and furious. She was described as a "bimbo", "white trash", a "joke", and much worse. I read many comments about her, including one that stated "Now we know who will be serving the drinks at Jack's dinner parties". The inherent ignorance, elitism and sexism of the comments is a disgrace and exposes the dark underbelly of patriarchal condescension that lingers in the attitudes of all too many.

(I for one, think that the life experiences of a hard working single mother who quite rightly did not lose the opportunity to take a planned trip to Vegas because of an election no one thought she could win, have more bearing on the ACTUAL essence of why the NDP is supposed to be fighting for social justice than the life experiences of many in the party, including her leader's, but I digress).

This was a media moment, when revealed, that was certainly "off message"!

And what happened? She, despite these revelations, went on to win over her closest rival by 10% of the vote!

The cynics will say that these were votes for the party and Jack. There is, no doubt, a lot of truth to that. They will further say that this is actually what is "wrong" with our system, that people would vote this way in spite of these facts and that it reveals the average voter's lack of political sophistication.

I disagree.

I think that many political commentators and many of the politically minded grossly underestimate the sophistication of the average voter. They do so because this helps explain things when they don't turn out as they anticipated or as they wanted. Sometimes, as in the totally bankrupt visions of neo- vanguardists and others, it helps to justify their own "duty" to lead the masses out of the morass of their own ignorance.

When the citizens of her riding found out about their NDP candidate prior to voting, they had more than enough time to digest this and...they didn't care! Not because of a lack of sophistication or a blind impulse to vote NDP, but because, I suspect, many of them actually liked what they heard. And, in an entirely sophisticated way, they knew that she was, without doubt, a change!

Here, undeniably, was a "politician" who was not one at all. A bartender, a single-mother, and a person with the good sense to know that a vacation she had no doubt long saved for was important to her.

I have little doubt that, in reality, these facts helped to solidify the resolve of those who were going out to vote for her, not weaken it. That it fed into the overall sense that they were repudiating the politics that had dominated Quebec on the federal level for so long and that Brousseau was also a repudiation of this.

I suspect that many actually rather relished voting for her because of these "revelations" , not in spite of them. And rightfully so, in this case.

All too often when this happens people will express this anger through backing freeloaders from the upper classes like Rob Ford who mould themselves to appear as "men-of-the-people" despite lives handed to them by wealth and privilege. I don't think that those who support such figures are ignorant. I think they are angry. And justifiably.

But here they have elected a genuine working person who is like their neighbours. Who works at a real job, who has to pay the bills as a single mom, and who faces the same challenges they do.

And I for one, suspect she will be a breath of fresh air on parliament hill.

But even if not, her victory was a real victory for democracy. For all the reasons above, and if for no other reason than it proves the Brad Lavignes wrong. What it proves is that if an idea is strong enough, if a popular feeling has enough depth, our neighbours and fellow citizens will not have their desire for change stopped by straying "off message".

And one can only speculate what a real platform, full of real off-message ideas and built by real, open and honest debate might inspire in people.

And who might come forward to represent that platform.

Welcome to Canada's Parliament Ms. Brosseau. No matter how anything turns out, it was the better for you having been elected to it.

Apathy & Cynicism: Diseases Whose Victims are Other People

First written & published in 2008, this is a slightly modified version.

Those on both the right and in the centrist parties that support the present economic system have won many victories over the last 25 years of capitalist retrenchment. They have convinced a large portion of the population that the expansion of the economy is the sole measure of our economic growth as a society despite the fact that it has resulted in virtually no increase in real wages for the bulk of citizens and a dramatic decline for those at the lower end of the income scale. They have managed to create the myth that labour unions are somehow akin in influence and power to the companies that the workers they represent work for. They have created broad resentment against the paltry sums handed out in social solidarity to those who have lost their jobs or who due to addiction, illness or other difficulties are unable to work. They have fundamentally realigned the power balance in our society between workers, the middle class and capital.

But perhaps the biggest victory they have won, the single greatest of their ideological achievements has been their creation of widespread feelings of apathy and cynicism among the population as a whole and youth in particular. This singular triumph is one of long-term consequence and significance and its effects have even yet to be fully felt. But their one true and clear result is the profoundly and dangerously anti-democratic idea that government does not matter and that despite who you elect or support the end result will always be the same.

The last two elections shows just how entrenched these views have become among our fellow citizens, fully 40% of whom stayed home and couldn't even be bothered to exercise a right that countless generations fought, suffered and died for.

It is very clear how this victory was achieved, both here and abroad. Governments of the left and centre-left were elected on broad mandates of social change (even if gradualist) and were felt by wide sectors of the population to be representative of them in either a class or a personalized way. These governments then went on, in varying degrees, to betray these promises and to turn against those who had elected them. In Canada the two clearest examples are the 1993 Liberal government (whose Red Book had to be the largest pack of lies to be put to press in Canadian political history ) and the Bob Rae NDP government of 1990 (though not to the same extent).

Now both parties largely run on nothing platforms that offer little other than good stewardship and the true, and yet uninspiring fact that they are better than the Tories. The NDP no longer offers programmes of vision to challange the system, (or even, like medicare, to make the lives of people fundamentally better) rather they offer tax cuts and claim that they will be slightly "fairer" yet very fiscally responsible managers of the capitalist economy.

This, and the accompanying capitulation of the press and the media pundits to the idea that history had ended in the inevitable and inexorable triumph of the unfettered market place, led to an intended and welcomed sense of apathy and cynicism among many. Both of these forces played into the forward march of the culture of selfishness and "individualism" that is the hallmark of the technological era. Self-gratification became the pulse of the materialist epoch.

"I'm Alright Jack" became a guiding principle and was reflected in the utter banality of the political maturity of many, such as a young man heard not long ago on the CBC bemoaning having to help pay for a universal health care system as he himself had never needed it! Others made self-interest a fine art, drawing a line between themselves, their home, their work and their cottages or places of leisure and caring little for those outside of this Ptolemaic universe except the privileged few that they deigned to shower attention upon.

Why bother? They are all the same. Nothing matters anyway. What difference does it make who I vote for? Why not just stay home and watch CSI or hockey instead?

The fallacy of this is manifest, to even the dimmest who seek to examine it and even within the limited options of our democracy at present. Take, as an interesting example, just two immediate results of the fall of the 2006 Martin government, a very centrist government at that, and its replacement by Harper. One was the end of the terribly important and significant day care programme proposed by the Liberals, the other the demise of the historic accord with Canada's native peoples. This is not a defence of Paul Martin per se. It is a fact.

Those who stayed home were in every respect just as responsible for this outcome as those who actually voted for Harper.

There is a direct path between apathy and cynicism and its victims; a straight line from the indifference that is at their root and the human suffering that results. On terrible occasion the results are cataclysmic, as when the people of the world and Canada turned their backs on Rwanda. More often the outcomes are more personalized as in the deaths in Walkerton, the increase in child poverty and its incumbent infliction of the violence of hunger and neglect upon our most innocent citizens, the demise of the broader sense of community and so many other, smaller and yet still truly sad human failures.

Beyond simply pointing out the error of these views, however, it is also important to attack their underpinnings.

The apathetic just don't care. The absolute elevation of the imbecility that stems from a pure love of self. Outraged at any slight that befalls them or those they chose to care about, oblivious to all else. Theirs is a world that might as well be ruled by Greek Gods in that events just seem to swirl around them as if forces of nature over which they chose not to exert control. It is the ultimate impotence; the death of yourself as an individual with free will and power, at least over your own actions, and your rebirth as some shadow of a person. The irony of those with the greatest sense of self-importance turning themselves into irrelevancies in the broader scheme.

In a way worse is the cynic. The cynic often feels above the fray, as if somehow their detachment makes theirs a philosophical position as opposed to the base rejection of solidarity with others bred of their own personal selfishness. Far from the world weary wisdom of those who "understand" the "real world" and how it supposedly works, cynicism is a sorry state of mental self-isolation that is, in reality, the easiest of choices to make. Unlike the apathetic, the cynic attempts some sense of justification. They feel they have made a choice, and they have...they have chosen to scorn those who seek a better future for others.

Apathy and cynicism must be confronted head on. They must be confronted as a personal philosophy by exposing the craven idiocy of seeking self-actualization by embracing a view that renders you a footnote in the margins of your own society. They must also be confronted by putting forward a vision of a better future that inspires and gives hope. And they must be confronted by exposing the lie that individualism and selfishness are synonymous.

This is important not only if we wish to put forward a new socialist vision, but also if we wish to preserve our democracy.

There can be no greater threat to our freedoms, as Canadians, men and women, gays and lesbians, people of colour and natives, regardless even of class, than the sense in 40% of the population that it isn't even worth voting and that the democratic process is irrelevant to their lives.

This is often the stuff that fascism is made of. And, now as we head into troubled times we must take heed.

Monday, December 19, 2011

On Psuedo-Leftist Intolerance

Written last year. And now we have a federal government that will deny the very right of citizenship to women, WOMEN, not their male oppressors or the folks who drove them to come to Canada, for this. As usual these cowardly bullies will target the alleged victim, as this is easier than attempting to understand them. They will do so in the usually self-satisfied way that pretends that this is their contribution to the struggle for women's equality.

This is such a disgrace that it is hard to fathom fully. Really racist and wrong-headed. And yet such laws have a surprising number of defenders on the left.

They are wrong.

On Pseudo-Leftist Intolerance.

There is little that is more simplistic or beneficial to the hard right racists than those in the left who would accept the violation of fundamental and basic freedoms under the guise of promoting women's rights or social order.

Yet another government on the continent that brought us not only democracy and liberalism, but fascism, racism and colonialism, has chosen to force women, under threat of imprisonment, to violate their own beliefs and be "liberated" by parliaments led almost entirely by a white social elite that had no problem with letting Islamics in as long as they shut up and did the jobs that Europeans were "too good for".

Never mind the obvious and vital fact that these laws threaten the very people they are alleged to liberate, and the vile disgrace that it is the supposed victims of the Niqab who would be imprisoned. This is a simple reflection of the desire to bully the easy target. It is the effortless way out for the intellectual coward. "Liberate" Islamic women by threatening them with jail.


Whether it is Sikhs in the RCMP, Jews in the legion, various forms of religious daggers or dress, there are always calls from those afraid of the other for people to set aside deeply held beliefs and conform. When it comes to religious or political beliefs or how a person dresses one really must, after the crimes of all of our history, be a pure libertarian.

Laws like this always backfire, pushing those inclined that way even further towards isolation and extremism and they are wrong applied to any group.

They are also almost certainly unconstitutional in both Canada and the USA. And so they must be. If the government can regulate one form of dress, then why not others?

As for the absurd and racist argument that if they wanted to come here they should be like us, they should adopt "our" values, whatever that means in a nation of immigrants, well that argument has been used against Italians, Jews, Sikhs, Catholics...every group you can name. It was wrong then and is now.

Maybe we should outlaw wigs worn in public by Jewish orthodox women. I have never heard of any legal discussion around this obviously vile and backward practice, and the reason is plain. These women are not Islamic and need not be targeted for special treatment. The ideas are Islamaphobia, no matter which way you cut it.

Maybe we should outlaw the speech of those opposed to a woman's right to abortion, or imprison women who chose not to liberate themselves from the inane practice of being forced to wear a long dress to attend many Christian Orthodox churches, to play a certain and clearly backward role in Amish or Mennonite communities. Or maybe we should start to measure the length of skirts to ensure that we do not allow women to make the mistake of objectifying themselves.

I have long had issue with those who claim that such laws are for the benefit of women. ALL of the great monotheistic religions have sects, some more mainstream than others, that have disgraceful views of women and women's rights, and, as with the wigs of the Orthodox, are just as bizarre or outside of our alleged "cultural norms" as is a niqab.

Frankly, one will never liberate anyone by telling them what they are NOT allowed to do!

But, more importantly, it needs to be clear, the government of Quebec is stating that it will DENY government services to people who refuse to compromise what is, for better or worse, a part of their religious belief system. European governments are threatening these women with the oddly unliberating prison cell. The punishment for "not showing their face" is a denial of basic citizen access to government services or to free social mobility. This is every bit as bad as keeping people off beaches due to their race or out of certain clubs or areas. It is disturbingly similar to fascist race laws.

It is simply disgraceful and has no place in a constitutional democracy that claims religious freedom and that pretends to have equality of access before the law and government.

Opposing the Niqab is not racist. I do oppose it. I oppose the use of wigs by Orthodox women. I oppose the Catholic ban on women priests. I think circumcision is disgusting. I feel that little is more disgraceful than female genital mutilation, it is vile. I could go on and on about any number of human religious practices, certainly not limited to the Islamic community.

Frankly, most practices justified by tradition or religion, especially many involving women, are outright moronic and have no place in modern society. And yet they not only exist, they are often endorsed by the same people who claim to care about the women under the niqab.

What I think is outright discrimination, is the denial of government services or human freedoms, by law, to people for any of these religious reasons including the niqab. That is anti-democratic, period.

And anyone from any group that has suffered systemic discrimination historically, and all those who claim to stand by their side, should oppose every government attempt to deny religious freedom rights, most notably when they are clearly aimed at a specific group.

Beyond that, though, to those who feel that this is a women's rights issue, I would also say that of the many profound issues facing women in their struggle for equality, the desperate questions of poverty, reproductive freedoms, the increasing legal spread and imposition of evangelical christian perspectives, (who are a far greater threat, with their often successful and aggressive attempts to impose their religious views on North American women), and so many others, to me this is simply a diversionary tactic by the right that will do nothing to help women in Canada at all, including the handful of women who wear the Niqab.

In the end, I believe a secular society does not impose it values but rather extends them through the discourse of debate and example.

Using the force of government and the threat of imprisonment in a democratic society to propel people to conform to our cultural norms is an outright violation of everything we claim to stand for. There is just as much violence in forcibly ripping the veil off as there is in allegedly putting it on.

In the Wake of Occupy: Why Socialism?

I wrote this almost three years ago, after the start of the 2008 collapse and the beginnings of the bailouts. I am reposting it as an argument, in short form, that the solutions to the problems being raised by the "Occupy" movement lie in the attempt to create a socialist society and that the only way to do this is to fight, directly and forcefully, for socialism.

So, why Socialist?

Living, as we are alleged to be, in the post-ideological, post-political era, why should we continue, as a movement, to fight for socialism? Given the abject and apparent failures of supposed "socialist" regimes, given their appalling human rights abuses and their obvious inability to provide a comparable standard of living to that enjoyed in the capitalist bloc, why would one persist in the belief that a socialist society is not only possible but is necessary?

The left, as much as the right, has a past to account for. In our zeal to defeat inequality and injustice many on the left have supported governments that enforced the worst forms of inequity, through violence, denial of free speech and intimidation, that the working class can face. We have been willing to turn a blind eye to the reality that workers in many of these supposed "socialist" societies had (and in some cases have) less freedom and power than their brothers and sisters in capitalist countries. We have confused the power that flows from the idea and goal of worker self-government and worker ownership with the false god of state power and oppression. Millions of dead later it is enough to make one embrace the notion that the "triumph" of free enterprise is a positive thing and that the only alternative to the anarchy of unregulated capitalism is the unregulated anarchy envisioned by the post-modernist anti-globalisation crew who eschew government power altogether in the mystical hope that we can create a fair and equitable society for all without, presumably, a government of any kind.

And then there is apathy...the sad and sorry mind set of so many that draws a line from work to home to whatever shopping outlet they feel will fulfill the empty promise of a consumer driven lifestyle. Or, alternately, the many who feel that "politics" is somehow boring or facile and that their own personal devotion to sports, fashion, television, materialism, mysticism, or whatever else is presented as "individual" choice by the purveyors of the latest trend the supposedly individualistic herd is to embrace this week.

On the left are those who feel that devotion to the ends is enough. Given the supposed resistance of the public to socialism why bother? Why not just abandon the idea and fight for social justice in general, cause by cause, letting labels drop? Ideology is irrelevant if we can get get results!

But it is just not true.

Socialism is the idea that we can create a society whose primary objective is to generate economic and social justice for all by fostering conditions of equality in which each of us is allowed to thrive and pursue the dreams and personal objectives that they wish to, regardless of the fate of their birth, colour, gender, etc...It is the idea that every individual is entitled to the self-worth of personal actualization that is ONLY possible when we create conditions that allow for an equal starting point. It is the principle that we have the RIGHT to be who we are, to love who we want, to express ourselves as we wish, without the state, the church or the arbiters of community values having the power to stop us. It is the sense that we should, through the democratization of the economy, allow for workers to play a greater role in running their companies and that the government, OUR government, should represent the interests of the vast majority of citizens ahead of the corporate few.

It is, at its heart, when removed from the base detours of the dictatorial left, the strident affirmation of individual and personal freedom in the face of the oppressive emptiness of the hollow pseudo-individualism of the "free market".

Beyond this, though, socialism is not just another political label and it is not just another corrupted idea, supported by the usual crew of political junkies and wanna-bees who can't get a date on a Saturday night.

The great victory of the supporters of the capitalist system over the last quarter century has been their ability to create cynicism and apolitical attitudes in large segments of the population on the basis of the misguided and ultimately anti-democratic idea that politics is largely irrelevant and that the markets and inexorable economic interests of business will dictate social outcomes regardless of the will of the people. They have been aided in this by the actions of supposed left governments, such as Bob Rae's in the 1990s, that promised the world but delivered little, as well as by the willing accomplices in the destruction of the social solidarity net of the post-war compromise in the parties of the "centre-left" such as every single provincial NDP government in Manitoba & elsewhere, Clinton's Democrats, the Liberal Party of Canada and the Blair led Labour Party in the UK. They have also been aided by the clever promise of the dramatic economic growth of the post-socialist era which delivered record profits and wealth at the expense of any notion of fair or reasonable distribution.

Yet this same era of growth corresponded with a technological revolution that allowed the vast majority of the citizens of the developed world to at least adorn themselves with one or another of the various trinkets that we have come to associate with "living well" whether it be a Playstation, a cell phone, a digital camera, an ipod or whatever other device we all now desperately "need".

Having successfully conjoined the politically reactionary onslaught against the post-war gains of workers with the remarkably wide spread distribution of token items of apparent material success and the total defeat in the North American media of voices of dissent and representatives of labour, an entire generation of people has grown up thinking that politics is either irrelevant or has nothing to do with their day-to-day lives or desires.

What this apparent ideological victory has failed to do, however, is to eliminate the basic flaw in the engine of unregulated capitalist growth, that of inequality. Quite the opposite. This era of unprecedented economic vitality has seen ever greater income disparity and the increasingly immoral and repugnant expansion of child poverty and a lack of public services while the wealthy bask in the added personal surpluses brought on by disgraceful tax cuts. While the average worker sees their job security and income decline in ever more non-unionized environments the corporate elite can rest assured of massive government or business buyouts in the event that they do a bad job running their companies! While the bitter sections of the disenfranchised rant about immigrants or those on welfare, the wealthy exist and thrive on government backed bailouts or "development" handouts delivered to their already overburdened bank accounts without any requirement for them to fairly treat their employees or to even pledge to keep their businesses in the jurisdictions that gave them them the cash!

Socialism, it seems, is just fine for the well-to-do.

The real Socialist alternative, the actual dream for a better future, however, will never truly die for the very reason that, at heart, the human spirit cannot endure such appallingly unfair and egregious inequity without many millions of people feeling that there must be a better, a fairer and a more just way to create and distribute wealth. The human spirit cannot abide the disgrace of six-year olds going hungry or facing homelessness in nations that hand tens of billions of dollars out to corporate entities. The human spirit recoils at the violence inherent in the reality of our present state of social insecurity created by supposedly progressive liberals and democrats who, throughout the '90's, actively participated in the vile attacks of the political class on the the unemployed, unions, health care, welfare, public spending, education and more and who now stand rudderless and stunned in the face of the collapse of the very system that they engendered.

So why Socialism?

Because Socialism is the voice of the poor, the workers, the middle class, the disenfranchised, those who wish to express themselves without the oppressive weight of church or state, and those who stand against the terrible toll that economic instability takes on people and families. Socialism is an antidote to apathy and the irrelevance of a life that sacrifices security, justice and freedom for material reward. Socialism is not just an alternative, it is the only true alternative to our present course, it is a vision of a better world that does not rely on hate, fear or religion, but instead takes the needs of human beings as its starting and ending point. It is, at its best, as Samuel Gompers once said, a process that never reaches a conclusion because the human condition can and will always be made better by people themselves. It is a spirit of constant yearning to make a world with peace, equality and democracy for all, regardless of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or economic starting point.

It is a liberating and wonderful way to look at ourselves and other people.

And it is a way to say you not only care but that you truly want to do something about the terrible social and economic conditions faced by hundreds of millions of fellow citizens around this global community we live in. Something systemic, something total, something real.

This can only happen, will only happen, despite all the rhetoric of the free market devotees and the neo-anarchist anti-government "left", if we elect Socialist governments with a broad and coherent agenda for the creation of a Socialist economy. Governments that are willing to accept setbacks and defeats on our path forward, but who, even when out of power, never cease to fight for the overhaul and reinvention of our society. Governments that will place the interests of us all against those of capital.

These governments, that I truly believe we can and will create, are why I proudly call myself a Socialist.


Three years later!

While, predictably, the anti-electoral and political left, the neo-anarchists and psuedo-Marxists, see the Occupy movement as a triumph in and of itself, it can only be one if its supporters now seek to achieve actual results in a political and social context. Unless you believe that the revolution is at hand, and, frankly, it is not, then one has to think that a political agenda and coherent movement has to flow from this for it have anymore meaning than the countless similar moments that have come before.

At the time, when this was published in 2008, a month before the Ginger Project had its first meeting, I felt this could be done in the NDP, I no longer feel that this is the case. Especially after the last federal and provincial campaigns.

In the end, the only way to fight for a socialist government is to do just that. Fight for a socialist government. And this cannot be done in the context of the NDP. Nor can it be done with endless discussions about the need for a party or movement that will truly confront neo-liberalism. No kidding.

This can only be done by actually working to build this party and to fight directly for this ideology.

And it is the only way that any of the best aims of the Occupy movement, especially those of confronting inequality and corporate power, can ever be acheived.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

A Short Note on Political Violence

I am starting my own personal blog by reposting some of my writing on disparate sites over the last few years that I feel are still relevant to my thinking today. This is an adaptation of a note that I wrote in response to the comments of a fellow leftist in Nova Scotia in late 2009 in response to a debate over the efficacy of political/revolutionary violence.

This was originally written in response to a point about the overthrow of the Batista regime, which is often put forward as the violence of the Castro government against its own people, quite incorrectly,is seen as relatively benign ( a statement as to just how awful the other Communist regimes were). So let us begin by looking at this a little more closely.

Those who justify violence almost always do so on the seemingly moral basis that were it not for the use of violence an immoral regime of one type or another (the Czar, Batista, Saddam Hussein, etc...) would not have been overthrown and this, in-and-of itself, is the sole moral basis that is required for its use.

I think that there are several fundamental problems with this.

The first lies in the similarity between these ideas and Richard Taylor's theories on Fatalism in that those who defend force rely on its future outcome to retroactively provide the pillars of support for its necessity. The success of the overthrow is, by definition, the proof of the justice of their argument.

But their error is also akin to Taylor's in that outcome does NOT indicate necessity. Again using Batista as an example, while it is an undeniable fact that his overthrow was accomplished by the methods of Che and Castro, this in no way means that these were the only methods by which he could have been ousted and, as I will return to later, this by no means indicates that the consequences of these methods, as opposed to other methods that might have been used, resulted in a better outcome than they would have. Further, even if one accepts that the nature of the violence, in this specific context, makes the violence of a more (although, and this is very important, not strictly) defensive as opposed to aggressive nature, a fact that I think most would concede, does this then justify post-revolutionary violence and is this post-revolutionary violence inextricably linked to the basically immoral taking of life that has been deemed to have been acceptable in the pre-revolutionary context in that it has created a mindset in which the exercise of violence is used in order to attain political goals?

One might, as a final addition to the first point, note that similar regimes, in the region and around the world, have been defeated using different methods that now result in better outcomes for their citizens, in terms of both democratic freedoms and standards of living, than exist in Cuba. One might further note that, for as many cases of the success of these methods, such as in Cuba, there are many more cases of its failure. Is it also justified when it completely fails in its intended result, thereby not only killing people, but accomplishing little or even, as often happens, creating a backlash in which objective conditions worsen?

This blends into the second point which is that the outcome of the outcome of the violence needs to be taken into consideration when looking at its objective morality. In essence, did the violence lead not only to the ouster of the old regime, but did it then result in a demonstrably better outcome not only than that which would have resulted had the old regime remained in power, but also than that which might otherwise have been constructed? A crucial aspect of this is the question of whether the violence, both in the sense of killing and in the sense of the very real violence embodied in the denial of basic freedom to millions of people, ended or continued in the wake of the exercise of pre-revolutionary violence.

In the case of the exercise of violence by the Bolsheviks, their regime had little moral basis at its founding (not only not having actually overthrown the Czars, but also having immediately crushed the truly democratic victory of the Socialist Revolutionary Party in elections held in the wake of their November putsch) and it then descended into pure barbarity under Stalin when violence became one of the regime's basic ideological principles and when the victims of this disgraceful moment in history were almost all either entirely innocent or were, in fact, actually supporters of the revolution.

While the case of Cuba is less extreme, this is only in matter of degree, in much the same way that one can speak of relatively humane kings and their nastier counterparts. The lack of democratic rights, the disgusting inability of people to freely leave their country, the use of block committees to defend the revolution which become, in practice, methods of prying into the private and personal affairs of citizens, the banning of a wide array of writers, from Orwell to Trotsky, the use of the death penalty, which is always wrong, but especially in the context of a judicial system which will allow for conviction, appeal and the execution itself in as short a time as a week (as happened, in fact, not all that long ago), the fact that Cuba now ranks as one of the worst human rights offenders in the hemisphere, the fact that many of its accomplishments have now deteriorated or decayed due to ineptitude and lack of flexibility or civilian oversight, etc., etc., all lead one to question if, in the end, the violence, and the mass shooting in the period right after the revolution's victory (which were shootings of unarmed and defenceless people), now seem to be quite as clearly beneficent as they once did.

(One might also note that if our standard is to be solely that violence which results in the ouster of a tyrant and that makes the lives of some or all of those who that tyrant oppressed on some level better, is justified, then Michael Ignatieff's, Christopher Hitchens' or George Bush's justification of the invasion of Iraq on the basis of helping the Kurds is, in fact, completely correct. That it led to hundreds of thousands of deaths and to the rise of Islamic extremism in the rest of the country after the fact does not change the reality that, if you accept the idea of redemptive violence, then George Bush could be seen as a hero in the Kurdish or even the broader context. One cannot logically deny to one's enemies that which one morally excuses in one's self)

I would say that, in the end, the intent of those who exercise the violence, the reasons they do so and the goals they seek to achieve, the society they envision and the methods they are willing to use in its accomplishment, are all every bit as morally significant as the immediate reasoning that has led them to take up arms or to use force. This, again, leads one to the question of just what type of movement, and what type of people, are inclined to the use of political violence and whether or not that impacts on the way they govern when they do succeed.

The reality is that the supporters of violent methods always use the first outcome, the victory over tyranny, or the replacement of one oppressive economic system with something new, to endlessly justify all of the actions that then flow from that revolutionary moment. This initial violence, as well as the violent retributions of those once in power, are used as a support for the bloodbaths that follow.

Even now one stumbles on the deluded rantings of apologists for mass murder all of whose drivel is predicated on the completely false appeal to the notion that "well, after all, they were better than the old regime" or the inanity that killing is acceptable in one context because things were bad in a different context. Often the refrain goes something like "Yes, it is true that Stalin shot a million fellow Communists, after long torture sessions, on trumped up falsehoods presented at grotesque show trials in the few cases where the pretext of a trial was bothered with at all...but don't you realize that at the same time there were ghettos in New York City and blacks were killed and intimidated in the southern US". Statements such as these are paraded about as if the possibility that neither had to occur is unfathomable. It is an argument that seeks to justify that which cannot be justified by claiming an entirely false counterpoint in other completely unjustifiable acts or conditions.

These purveyors of such rot frequently have to resort to holding completely contradictory lines of reasoning on the same subject. They accept or excuse the shooting of unarmed people in one context but not another. They oppose the death penalty everywhere except when applied to completely innocent people in the countries, past-or-present, that they support ideologically. They will, quite correctly, state that the nature of today's capitalism is the underlying cause of famine or preventable death due to hunger, poor drinking water, poverty, etc., and hoist these examples as proof, again correctly, that the system is unjust, while claiming, often in the same breath and entirely incorrectly, that horrific occurrences, such as the aforementioned mass executions, other famines, or completely vile acts of cowardice such as the Tienanmen Square Massacre are NOT proof of the injustice that lies at the root the systems that they defend.

What this is leading to, and will be expanded upon later writings, is that it is the acceptance of violence, the willingness to use it as a political tool, that dooms these movements and revolutions to failure from the start. It is impossible to build a just, socialist, egalitarian society on an edifice of the dead. It is impossible for the very reason that only some will be allowed to determine when it is acceptable to use violence, and that, once the assumption of the necessity of violence has become ingrained in the revolutionary mindset, those who the party or movement endow with this privilege, with this power over life itself, will be morally corrupted from the start and will represent a new class of oppressors every bit as real as those who came before.

It is impossible because the moral compromise is too great.

The defenders of this grand injustice will always point, for example, to the union organizer who braved the threats of the bosses and the violence of their lackeys to unionize the poor miners of Sudbury. But if he or she also supported the shooting of Bukharin in a prison basement in the back of the neck, or the displacement of entire peoples due to the actions of a few, or the consignment of the children of "enemies-of-the-people" to orphanages until they came of age, whence they were sent themselves to the camps, just how moral were they? Is a person who turned the blind eye to Stalin's evil because the USSR had no private ownership of the means-of-production really any different from the German who supported Hitler because he, for a time, made Germany stable, prosperous and efficient?

One is tainted by the actions one supports. Any positive outcome of them is rendered putrid by the scent of blood.

I feel that we must move beyond those who feel that society and human beings can be remade overnight through some forceful revolutionary push by some elite cadre of vanguardists. I feel we must move beyond their obsession with power and its exercise, an exercise that is impossible without a high level of compulsion. The time for this elitist ideal of bourgeois dropouts and pseudo-intellectuals has come and gone.

And so, I think, has the time for defending the use of violence.

In the final analysis, and I again will expand upon this later, I feel we must re-examine our objectives as a transformative social movement. We must accept that complex societies and peoples, and they are all complex, will have to undergo a difficult and challenging process if we wish to attain a truly lasting socialist transformation.

Part of this transformation, if it is ever to occur, must flow from deep feelings of human fellowship. From a genuine and unforced desire to do what is right and to help our neighbours and fellow citizens. From a sense of understanding for human failing and a realization that we, as leftists may not always be correct and must accept the views of others and accept defeats as a way to keep us in balance and in check. Those who feel they have all the answers have been proven by history to be delusional. We must cease to act as if we have that right.

And we must turn away from violence not simply because it does not work but because, in every fundamental respect, it makes us less different from those we oppose. It compromises us. It violates our vision.

As hard as it may be, as long as the struggle will be, we will be made better and stronger if we chose to eschew political violence as a means to political end both here and elsewhere.