Canada’s rulers unite around newly aggressive and militaristic course
How are imperialist powers responding to the relative decline in U.S. world hegemony? For Canada, U.S. slippage has accentuated the “independent, aggressive, and increasingly militaristic” course of the Canadian capitalist class, says Toronto socialist Paul Kellogg. The Conservative victory in Canada’s May 2 federal elections signifies “the consolidation of a new hegemonic bloc in the Canadian capitalist class, the culmination of a 20-year trend.”
Kellogg presented his analysis of the May elections on August 7 to “Pape at the Lake,” a weekend vacation school held by the Pape-Danforth, Toronto, branch of the International Socialists.
The parliamentary majority won by the Conservative (Tory) Party was narrow, Kellogg pointed out. “The big story in the election results was the massive increase in votes for the NDP, and the sharp decline in Liberal Party support.”
The Conservative vote edged up to 40% from 38% in the previous election, held in 2008. Support for the labour-based NDP shot up to 31% from 18%, while the Liberal vote dropped to 19% from 26%. The Bloc Québécois and Green parties both lost ground, to 6% and 4% respectively.
Gains for the social-democratic NDP
“The NDP gains are mostly a Quebec story,” says Kellogg, “although its votes in English Canada also rose.” The NDP gained from statements by leaders of the Quebec pro-sovereignty working-class party Québec solidaire (QS) that a vote for the NDP was acceptable. In addition, NDP support in Quebec was boosted by its identification with the party’s 2006 “Sherbrooke Declaration,” which “endorses the right of the Quebec people to sovereignty by a vote of 50% plus one.”
“Yet the NDP is vulnerable on this point,” Kellogg adds. The party is on record in support of the federal government’s “Clarity Act,” which frontally denies Quebec’s right to self-determination.
(For a fuller discussion of this contradiction, see Richard Fidler’s “Layton chooses Supreme Court, Clarity Act over NDP’s Sherbrooke Declaration.” Fidler’s Life on the Left blog provides Canada’s most comprehensive English-language coverage of labour and national struggles in Quebec.)
The NDP’s appointment of interim leader Nycole Turmel, who has had links to Quebec sovereigntist movements in the past, has now come under sharp, sustained attack from Canada’s capitalist rulers. “The NDP is ill-equipped to deal with this,” Kellogg says. “It is unwilling to educate its base in English Canada that Quebec is an oppressed nation.”
“The new prominence of the NDP has major implications for the left,” Kellogg says. The failure of the 1990-1995 Ontario NDP government headed by Bob Rae discredited the social democratic NDP for the Canadian left. But now, NDP leader Jack Layton “has succeeded in renewing the credibility of social democracy in Canada.”
This exerts “a huge pull on left activists, simply in terms of career prospects. There are hundreds of new jobs in the NDP bureaucracy. Yet the party remains social-democratic, swinging to the right” in step with ruling-class politics as a whole.
A historic shift by Canadian capitalism
But for the Canadian capitalist class, even more significant than the NDP’s gains is the deep decline of the Liberal Party, its preferred instrument of rule over most of the last 115 years. “What we see is the consolidation of a new hegemonic bloc in the Canadian capitalist class – one that is better fitted to the needs of Canadian capital than the old Liberal Party,” Kellogg says. “This is the culmination of a 20-year trend.”
The Liberal Party exercised hegemony for two generations on the basis of five key planks, Kellogg says.
- Continentalism in economic policy, that is, a prioritization of trade with the United States.
- An accommodation with Quebec through bilingualism and biculturalism, aimed at heading off the threatening rise of mass Quebec nationalism while denying Quebec’s right to self-determination.
- Social welfare measures, like Canada’s public medical insurance system (“medicare”), funded essentially by Canada’s relatively low military expenditures, and introduced in a time of intensive, massive labour struggles.
- Multiculturalism, that is, policies claiming to encourage cultures of Canada’s ethnic minorities.
- Peacekeeping: a military establishment oriented to police duties rather than all-out war.
The Liberal Party, identified with all five planks, was the party best equipped to carry out this program of Canadian capitalism, Kellogg says. But all five planks have unravelled over the last two decades, including, between 1993 and 2006, under the Liberal Party rule.
- The “peacekeeping moment” has ended. In Afghanistan (2001-11) and Libya (2011), Canada has been engaged in full-scale imperialist wars. Canadian capitalism requires a more aggressive and prominent independent presence abroad.
- The campaign against supposed Muslim “terrorism” since 2001 has brought pervasive government-driven Islamophobia, completely undercutting ‘multiculturalism,’ and granting a new lease on life to old “white-settler” images of Canada.
- The welfare state is under sharp attack. The historic shift from welfare to warfare began in 1994/1995 under the Liberals and is now accelerating under the Tories.
- Continentalism – the orientation of production and trade to the U.S. market – was tied to the overwhelmingly dominant position of the U.S. in the world economy. It included military parasitism – restraining the growth of Canada’s armed forces and relying on the protective arm of U.S. military.With the momentous decline of U.S. power, continentalism makes less and less sense. Canada is diversifying its trade into Europe, China, Latin America, and Africa, while pursuing free trade agreements with the European Union and countries throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.
- For the first time in 90 years, Canada is ruled by a majority government without significant support in Quebec. This signifies a new, harder line by the capitalist class toward Quebec’s national aspirations.“We see today the return of the Quebec question,” says Kellogg. “We need more discussions on struggles and working-class politics in Quebec, such as the recent Greater Toronto Workers’ Assembly meeting on Québec solidaire.”
For more than a century before the Conservatives won in 2006, they were the second-string party of Canadian capitalism, brought into power for limited periods and ruling, in all, about a quarter of the time. “But to carry out the tasks before Canadian capitalism today,” says Kellogg, “the Tories are simply better positioned than the Liberals.” They gain credibility from their roots in the Reform Party and the more extreme right-wing forces it mobilized, as well as from their success in using anti-Quebec rhetoric to beat down the challenge of a Liberal-NDP coalition in 2008.
A need for discussion
“My analysis is not widely shared on the left,” Kellogg says. “The dominant view, advanced by Linda McCuaig and others, is that Canada’s rulers are bent on ‘deep integration’ with the U.S. This view holds that Canada is militarizing because it is more – not less – in the U.S. orbit.
“In my view, in challenging Stephen Harper we are not just up against a bigot in hiding who is pro-American,” Kellogg adds. “Our task is to study, learn, and counter the entire agenda of an aggressive, increasingly militaristic, increasingly chauvinist independent Canadian capitalist class.”
Other material on Canada’s elections
Paul Kellogg’s remarks at the Pape on the Lake weekend, reported here as a contribution to discussion, can be usefully supplemented by other articles on Canada’s May elections, including:
- Roger Annis, “Canada’s Election: NDP Gains Widen Space for Social Struggles,” in Links: A Journal of Socialist Renewal.
- Richard Fidler, “The Federal NDP’s Electoral Breakthrough in Quebec: A Challenge to Progressives in Canada,” in The Bullet (Socialist Project).
- Jesse McLaren, “Take the Surge to the Streets,” in Socialist Worker.
- Alan Sears and James Cairns, “After the Election 2011: Building Our Movements on Shifting Ground,” in New Socialist: Ideas for Radical Change.
- Barry Weisleder, “Build on Historic Gains for NDP,” in Socialist Action.