Neither Trade Talks nor Peace Talks: III & IV

Macdonald Stainsby mstainsby at
Fri Jul 4 03:32:57 MDT 2003

III: Nationalism: Canada and North America

If you haven't already heard, there was a massive turnout-yet again-in
Europe for an event that could not be termed anything other than "Anti
Globalization". For the last almost two years, that is since somebody flew
planes into the World Trade Center buildings, the 'anti-globalization'
movement in North America has seemed to be a caricature of the movement that
shut down the WTO in Seattle and ripped down the Wall of Shame in Quebec
City. There are a multitude of reasons for this, but the obvious one is that
this continent has been home to the new goliath of worldwide war mongering,
and the need to build an anti-war movement has, as a matter of necessity,
been elevated to the forefront. This is still very much the case, but it is
also still true (in both word and deed) throughout Europe, and yet Lausanne,
Switzerland has seen crowds of "tens of thousands" protesting the G8
according to the bourgeois press-over 120 thousand to many of the protest
organizers. How is it that the antiwar movement swallowed the anti-corporate
globalization movement here (both Canada and the United States) but hasn't
produced the same effect in Europe? Or, indeed, has that happened?

            I will begin with part of what I believe has been partially the
cause of this paralysis in Canada. An "anti free trade" movement began here
in the late 1980's, a movement that was opposed to the FTA-Free Trade
Agreement-with the United States. Right from the beginning the Canadian
variant of this movement included a severe streak of nationalism that runs
very much counter to the spirit of what became the movement later on. And as
the "anti-free-trade" lobbying movement shifted rapidly to the
supra-national impulses of the better part of the "anti-globalization"
movement, throughout the imperialist world an analysis of the role of the
state was lacking in a manner that still hasn't been fully addressed. The
prism of nationalism combined with the decline of analytical thinking on the
effect of nationalism has seen a growth of all manner of the more repulsive
racist, paranoid and fascistic nationalists on the margins of "social
justice organizing" (loosely defined). As "corporate domination and the
dissolution of states" was the primary target of the anger of activists
against corporate globalization, the impact of the 'reaction' of the United
States to the events of 9-11 left, and still leaves, many confused. If we
are 'against' the disappearance of the role of the state, when the state
comes out in the most powerful manner ever in the history of humanity, we
are all at a bit of a loss for what all of this means. Yet, across both
Canada and the US bills were passed that allow citizens, for vaguely defined
'terror', to be 'de-naturalized'. They have set up 'departments of security'
that hunt down 'illegal people' across North America. There are 'third safe
country agreements' that have both countries working with the same
imperialist goals of creating scapegoats and using retrograde and
subliminally racist 'definition of citizenry' discourse that removes even
more mobility for those who fall outside of the fortress and claim refugee
status. It also dehumanizes in a manner that only a nationalist frenzy can.
Academic circles within the 'Canadian left', unfortunately, responded to the
criticism of this very definition of Canadian sovereignty by stating

"[The Canadian nation-building project] has been a failure: it has failed to
develop a Canadian economy that is anything but an extension of the U.S.
economy; it has failed to defend Canadian culture; [...][11]", ominous signs
that we are drifting in our analysis into a nationalism that has more in
common with David Orchard of the Conservative Party or ex-Prime Minister
Lester Pearson than it does any radical critique of imperialism emanating
from the Canadian State. While imperialism by name is criticized, the
definition we are asked to see is that in Canada, the manner of resisting
'imperialism' is by building a wall of sovereignty between this nation-state
and the US, despite the fact that Canada is overwhelmingly a member of the
imperialist camp. Though we on the radical left in North America, regardless
of which side of the 49th parallel we sit, are living inside the countries
whose basic relation to the world is the exploitation of peoples and the
maintenance of a super-exploitation-based imperialist-client relation with
Africa, Asia and Latin America, one is supposed to be guided by a notion
that the 'imperialism' Canadian leftists should resist is that on the
Canadian economy and 'culture' by the US. We must return to our roots and
recognize where this is all headed. As a hockey fan, I can attest to how the
late imperialist existence is ruining the sport and how that is mostly due
to American hegemony. But I am far more concerned with how Canadian banks
have destroyed entire communities in the Caribbean, Canadian corporations
have plundered mines and local peasant societies in Indonesia, and Canadian
imperialism continues to be a party to the rape of Mexico. Canadian
sovereignty has created federal bodies that pass motions against the
possibility of real independence for sovereign indigenous nations. These
have been accelerated through the methods of the Acronyms of Death: through
the WTO, NAFTA and the proposed FTAA and- for our cross-the-pond friends-
the EU. Imperialism uses these for the strong, rich countries at the expense
of the Third World colonies with even more poverty in real terms than in the
time after WWI. Yes, late entropic imperialism hurts "nation building"-but
trying to 'defend' such a nation building project in Canada weakens and
divides our ranks, not strengthens our activity. It is impossible to push
for recognizing the "rights" of an imperialist nation.

Canada was a creation of imperialism and the destroyer of hundreds of
nations, including even the murderer of rival settler-colonists, through
conquering and then subjugating the French. **Wherever "our rights too"
demands from "pan Canada" crop up, the recognition of "our" primary global
position as imperialist subjugators withers slowly on the vine. Another yes
also: the concept of "nation" in Canada is wholly shot through with
whiteness so thick it could be used on a chalkboard, that of a white settler
colony even more exterminist than today's Zionists.** Our future lies with
recapturing the essence of the project ahead for imperialist country
revolutionaries: a rejection of all that is imperialist in the name of

Now is for resisting the enemy on the home front. Many of the more
academically inclined among us want a term for the relation between Canada
and the United States. For those who want it, Gramscian notions of hegemony
will have to suffice: The American presence is omnipresent, but it doesn't
subject all peoples inside Canada to living in shantytowns and mass murder
as intimidation. It doesn't pour raw sewage down the main streets nor does
it pay people in pennies a day, seven days a week. Canadian capitalism, in
particular the neo-liberal version brought about by provincial Premiers
Gordon Campbell, Ralph Klein and Ernie Eves, is driving more people into
homelessness, unemployment and poverty for the benefit of both Canadian and
American corporations. Canadian capitalist policies have de-unionized large
swaths of the workforce and destroyed schools. Local provincial governments
are trying to privatize health care and create the same two-tier system that
the rest of North America enjoys. American Health companies are not suing
Canada or appealing to the WTO for this. Such things are not due to a lack
of sovereignty, but because Canada is a capitalist country and entering a
recession. The deregulation of public services in Canada is not a part of an
American imperialist conspiracy against Canadian sovereignty, but standard
bourgeois attacks against the working class and the public sector to help
maintain profits during a crisis of over production and falling profit
rates. Canada is subjected to a neighbouring hegemonic imperialism testing
weapons on Canadian territory. The rest of the world is subjected to
Americans and indeed Canadians testing weapons (such as depleted uranium) on
their populations. This is the basic relation to the people of the world for
Canadian imperialism: Not that of subject to American imperialist
super-exploitation but a continued repressor, mass murderer and accomplice
in protection of a system of imperialist plunder-whether the project is
bombing Afghan Villages, "peacekeeping" in the re-conquested Balkans and
Africa or as one of the world's highest proliferators of weapons in support
of the new arms race- Canada is a G7 imperialist country from the British
Commonwealth and in present form a basic enemy of all peoples.

Canadian nationalist policies cannot address Canadian imperialism in any
real way. 'American hegemony' is unrealistic at best as a target for
mobilizing our struggle, and inherently racist at worst. Canadian
revolutionaries will simply be unable to resist imperialism effectively if
focused on sovereignty here. Our future is now, more than ever, intimately
tied to the future of any real revolutionary challenge to imperialism across
North America: 'we' oppose American imperialism not to make room for
"Canadian culture" but because in attacking American imperialism we help
mobilize against our own. We are internationalists. 'Anti-globalization' and
the new antiwar consciousness both have their great strength in coming up
with common cause across borders. We are a unit to defeat the monster, not
fighting one head of the Hydra over the other.

The anti-globalization movement in North America, formerly with a premium
placed on escalating stakes on the streets (but within 'understood'
parameters between participants and authorities) as a galvanizing strategy,
had a deep wound stuck inside it in two places:

1.     In the wake of 9-11, North American governments were able to take
liberties with our rights to demonstrate, and

2.     Many of our ranks were disillusioned by either 9-11 itself or the
dwindling possibility of immediate returns on activism because of the
shrinking attendance and the willingness of authorities to attack our ranks.

This culminated in what for both North America in general and Canada in
particular was a major defeat, even more clearly a defeat in hindsight than
at the time: The unmolested, only symbolically and barely contested G8
meetings in Kananaskis, Alberta at the end of June, 2002. The events in
Calgary left many disillusioned and wondering how to pick back up where we
once were. Therein some went about determining we needed to embrace a fight
for sovereignty. And this is correct: We need to re-establish not the
sovereignty of the state, but of the whole people. We are not fighting to
empower one bourgeois class at the expense of another, we are empowering
human beings who are angry and desperate about the track of the entire
planet into what more and more of us identify as fascism (including the
Communist Party of Cuba). We need inspiration not from Canadian health care
history, but from the practices of governments such as Bolivarian Venezuela
and popular movements like the Al Aqsa Intifada: true sovereignty rests with
the people. It cannot be negotiated away through either trade or peace
'talks'. If the state is imperialist, imperialist sovereignty is anti-people

Nationalism and the protection of sovereignty-say many Canadian left
academics-are the areas that we must see as 'areas for struggle' and where
'the Canadian Left' needs to spend time involved in struggle. It must be
stated now, and stated loudly at that: this is death to real revolutionary
politics in Canada. It is not only a false target, it is alienation from the
movement that has become a fused whole in the continent of Europe (that of
anti-corporate globalization and anti-imperialist war) and it is not
something that is even realistically reformist in Canada.

            It is quite easy for people to explain the difference between
what happened to the anti-globalization movement in Europe after September
the 11th and what happened in the United States by saying "Well, nobody
attacked Europe." However, if Canadian nationalism isn't utterly useless, it
needs to be pointed out that nobody attacked Canada on 09-11-01. If Canadian
nationalism has a role to play, there is no excuse for the fact there has
been a wholesale retreat on the 'anti-globalization' front in this country.
Yet, while several hundred thousand people can still be mobilized to target
the institutions of the Acronyms of Death throughout Europe, in North
America if one thousand people go to a city almost one hundred kilometers
from the meeting place of the G8-almost a full year before Little Bush
invaded Iraq-the 'Canadian left' debates endlessly whether or not such a
mobilization constitutes a 'victory'! Clearly, the role of Canada is tied to
the point of being conjoined to the fate of all of North America. When we
start to deny that reality, evidently a million other little fantasies can
take hold as well. It is also abundantly clear that the Junta that controls
Washington wants to breed a vicious narrow nationalism-while such an
isolationist position is the one being brought forth, the only thing that
can counter-balance such a notion will be the internationalist catchwords of
yesterday, but brought into a relevance for today. Yet, the whole project of
a "revitalized Canadian sovereignty" seeks to combat Bushite nationalism
with national isolationist appeals of our own.

The Bush Junta has even recently started articulating that it has its own
'anti-globalization' agenda. Not of protecting itself from the ravages of
some new Kautskyite ultra-imperialism, but in taking away the evening
leverage for other junior countries provided by international trade
agreements and substitute immigration treaties in their place. Canadian
nationalism without anti-imperialism is currently trying to use the World
Trade Organization to resist the Junta's ongoing imposition of tariffs on
softwood lumber. The WTO as savior for the nation-building project! All this
while Canada has never been more involved in joint imperial projects,
exercising sovereignty by protecting Fortress North America from third world
workers who would attempt to follow their money to this continent. Any
political space created where an anti-capitalist movement can mature and
grow will be created throughout all of North America or it will not happen
to self-identified Canadians at all.

For these reasons and more, the recently proposed ideas of George
Monbiot[12], so often an eloquent spokesman for the burgeoning young
movements, to reform the WTO into a "fair trade" body must be resisted
ideologically. Such would be to ask a cat to come to the defense of
mice.[13]Such a program is to blunt our creativity, and discard the vision
of a new world we seek to build. Further, such a demand, even if embraced
globally by activists, is not tenable. Unfortunately, Monbiot sounds more
like the left-wing opposition of imperialism in this case and less like the
spokesman of a new world he has been many times before. His proposal happens
to overlap a narrow nationalist appeal (not to mention utopian beyond
belief) while obscuring the class content of the institutions that the WTO
is only one of. We might as well ask the International Monetary Fund to give
straight-up grants with no strings attached; the problem with these demands
is that they are the opposite of the mandate of the organizations in
question. If something is built to serve and protect imperialist interests,
it cannot be used to undermine the same, whether the UN, the WTO or the

If we are to continue the ongoing fight against the slide into her majesty's
loyal global opposition, we need to reinvigorate our understanding of the
primary class contradiction of the day: Between the imperialist states and
the people of the world who are crushed by imperialism- through invasions
and bombings, property-owner lockouts and also through paper agreements like
the FTAA. In a small country but from the most powerful imperialist bloc in
the history of humankind, internationalism and a lack of country (no matter
how painful) are required as _the_ main arena for struggle and for the
entirety of humanity. And sovereignty not in imperialist states but in the
people as a guiding principle for our North American movement, as it grows
in the imperial heartland. I am a cynic about the ability of imperialism to
allow debate about the existence of imperialism. I am more cynical about the
narrow economism put forth by so many of the modern day Trade Union
Bureaucrats. This, too, inevitably drifts into narrow nationalist appeals,
ones that thinly disguise a veneer of pro-imperialism that merely wants a
better slice of the spoils. This has been the dead end of almost all
imperialist country radicalism since WWII, and it will choke and defeat our
movement today. Unfortunately, it is likely no accident that this
essentially imperialist formation-the North American trade union
leaderships, by and large-are both politically and personally closely allied
with the sectors of the 'Canadian left' that currently want a retreat into
the nation building project. In other words, their orientation wants another
try at the old failing game. Let us start to learn what solidarity means.
What solidarity means is seeing the struggles against the G8 in Evian as
part of our own. However, it also means recognizing that the struggles for
sovereignty separate from imperialism as our own, whether in Cuba, Venezuela
or Palestine. In Canada, there is no 'sovereignty' battle that is not fully
'for' the Canadian ruling class and divorced from the people of the US and
the rest of the world. Such 'sovereignty' is not a popular sovereignty-it is
popular oblivion. There are state sovereignties that do not rest on the
stealing of sovereignty from the people: Cuba and Bolivarian Venezuela to
name but two of the most stark and heroic. There are few absolutes, but one
exists: Canadian nationalism is backward, harking towards yesterday, and is
promoting a sort of 'isolationism within isolationism' approach. It is
absolutely poison to the development of the kind of supra-national
consciousness we need today, more badly than ever before.

 In the nearly two years between the actions in Seattle and the 9-11 WTC
bombing, there had been a movement towards limited mobilizing by trade union
leaders in North America. This is vastly more significant than what had
occurred parallel in Europe; the dormancy of labour in North America has
been written about in so many column inches it needs no repeating. However,
if we identify this as something other than a historical phenomenon, we
begin to lose the ball.

 IV: Trade Unions, Imperialism and Revolution

There is not going to be any direct challenge to the legitimacy of the
imperialist project as such emanating from within the Trade Union
Bureaucracies (TUB's). This reality is perhaps the most important 'heresy'
to the orthodox of the day that needs to be understood. Yes, Trade Union
leaderships will take up activism- but in response to only that part of late
entropic capitalism which hurts the interests of TUBs. When the rank and
file starts to come under assault by the impacts of neo-liberal capitalism
'too much' TUBs are forced into action. When the very union they control
becomes unstable and at immediate risk, TUBs will belatedly move. This is
almost always after other sectors of society have been pulverized, from
immigrants to non-union workers, etc. The same logic of resistance goes for
small business owners: as a last resort, and only to restore that comfort
that was lost. The question is how they choose to resist their siege
conditions. Only when pushed so far to the wall do you get any kind of
resistance to ruling class attacks-and then it stops after minor concessions
or personal deals are cut (such as workers in Air Canada recently
surrendering wages "in exchange for job security" that is now less secure).

 Last Summer in Calgary provided a microcosm of both how trade union class
struggle develops and why, as well as how we misidentify it. By the weeks
leading up to the G8 summit, Calgary had become more of an armed camp than
anything ever seen at a Canadian location for primarily white activists. The
convergence for the 'dangerous' and 'militant' demonstration on June 26,
2002 was being repressed and it looked almost certain that, only a year
after Quebec City's FTAA protests had drawn 70 000 people (over 40 000 of
them trade union members being marched to a parking lot), Calgary would see
a demonstration fall to the mere tally of three digit figures. At this
juncture, Albertan Trade Unions-who have been almost wiped off the face of
the earth by the triple whammy of the reactionary political climate, the
timid nature of resistance strategies adopted and by the far-right economics
adopted by the provincial government of Premier Ralph Klein-demonstrated a
level of solidarity that must be seen as principled. With two days to go
until the summit and with no real indication from the participants-simply
because of painfully low numbers- that any manifestation of 'spontaneous
resistance' would be forthcoming on said march, the trade unions endorsed it
and came on board. It didn't put the TUB leadership in a risky situation,
but instead provided for breathing room that might help establish leverage
in a fight for survival in the Albertan political landscape. In other words,
going to the march was adopted by many of these people as a tactic. It must
be seen in relation to the historical position of the TUB's in imperialist
countries: that their tactics vacillate sometimes, and this historical
conjuncture practically dictated these actions on J26, 2002. However, this
instead has been seen as occurring because a new level of real solidarity
was founded that day. It would be wonderful (and if genuine, revolutionary
on any scale) but that's not what happened. It's not what will, either.
Marxists speak well of material interest: The material interests of a tiny
grouping that lives ensconced within the bureaucracy of trade unions was
protected that day, just as it was when John Sweeney ordered the AFL-CIO
march to abandon allies in the tear gas stained streets of Seattle for a
private meeting with Bill Clinton. Modern unions exist as a ship-sailing
bureaucracy inside the wealth of an imperialist state: they must not be
allowed to crash on the rocks of either out-and-out entropic capitalism, nor
on the shoreline of confrontational class struggle or worse: revolution.

TUB's ignore the existence of imperialism in order that they might extract
more economic concessions from it to spread to the home constituency. To
oppose imperialism would ultimately undermine their own existence as the top
of the 'house slaves', to borrow from Malcolm X. Yet the bureaucracies of
labour can be temporary allies when a revolution is not on the order of the
day and this must not be discounted simply because we identify their class
allegiance as not the same as our own. There are some unions that mobilize
the membership to come out to the marches against the war. The problem lies
not when TUB's take on organizer roles, but instead the meddling benefactor
role. Much as the Soviet Union once acted as lord and steward over fraternal
parties through wielding the financial contribution that the Soviet worker
was putting into the satellite party, so are the modern benefactors from
Trade Union coffers often quickly transformed into little dictators,
threatening to rescind their participation in and financial backing of a
coalition in order to secure that their conciliatory politics are adhered
to. Sometimes short-term projects are very appropriate for building
extremely cordial relations with TUB's, and when independent politics are
respected or when the short-term goal is the same, then allegiances on what
amount to a 'popular front' can be made. The question isn't one of
denouncing the TUB's for being TUB's, but rather of how we orient our
long-term planning and of recognizing whom these short-term allies are. We
must neither now nor later on orient our movement to the class interests of
the Trade Union Bureaucrats-we can build temporary alliances when time makes
it sensical for us to do so. That time is never always.

Hostility makes no sense for the simple reason that there is nothing to be
upset about when TUB's are TUB's. I will, however, promote the notion of
upset with our own people-that is, with self-described anti-capitalists and
revolutionaries-deciding to wallow in nationalism and reducing our ability
to collectively work on an international level. Working people and their
families need a Hell of a lot more than a raise.


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