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Canada’s rulers unite around newly aggressive and militaristic course

August 18, 2011

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:

6 Comments
  1. Anon permalink

    You mention “relative decline in U.S. world hegemony” and “momentous decline of U.S. power” but nowhere is it explained or examples given that this is the case. Canada spends about $22-billion and the US spends about $700-billion (more than the rest of the world combined!).
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_military_expenditures

    Yes, Canada want’s to diversify its trade, but it is also true that “Canada and the United States have the world’s largest trading relationship” see WikiPedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canada_%E2%80%93_United_States_relations#Trade

  2. Glad to have questions regarding these two points. The issues of US decline and US militarism are counter-intuitive, and need empirical verification which isn’t possible in a short report (and thanks to John Riddell for this report). When i get a chance, I will write up the talk into an article.
    But the evidence on U.S. decline is pretty stark. One indicator is the location of top corporations in the world. In the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s there were far more located in the US than anywhere else in the world. But for some years now, there have been more located in Europe than in the U.S. — and the number located in China is rising rapidly.
    Another indicator is in terms of the share of manufacturing. After World War II, the U.S. share of world manufacturing was over 50% — now it is less than 20% (according to figures from the United Nations).
    The question of the military is more complicated. The point that “Anon” makes above is true — the US arms budget is by far the biggest in the world (almost half of world arms spending). But — is this sustainable? I don’t think it is. I think one of the reasons for U.S. decline is the drag on the “civilian economy” created by the addiction to militarism, less acute than the similar problem which revealed itself in the Soviet Union in the 1980s, but otherwise very similar.
    All of these are subjects for longer discussions.

    • Kellogg: “Another indicator is in terms of the share of manufacturing. After World War II, the U.S. share of world manufacturing was over 50% — now it is less than 20% (according to figures from the United Nations).”

      This is true but highly misleading. All of Europe and Asia was reduced to rubble at that point. The U.S. share of world manufacturing was bound to decline relative to where it was right after it had physically wiped its rivals off the map.

      In my view, most of those who argue that U.S. imperialism’s power has declined overstate the case. The dollar remains the world’s reserve currency; every dip in the world economy causes investors to flee to U.S. Treasuries; the debt/deleveraging crisis in Europe is even worse than it is for the U.S. because the Euro is a currency without a state (or rather, it’s a currency with a multitude of states). The American, European, and Chinese economies all have major underlying problems that will cause recessions in the near future; it’s a race to see whose unsustainable recovery/expansion collapses first, in a sense. And when one of them runs into big trouble, they will probably drag their rivals down with them.

      The U.S. position is sustainable so long as our side isn’t able to stop them at home. The ruling class is getting ready to gut Social Security, something that was unthinkable a decade ago even for the most psychotic Reaganite neanderthal politician.

  3. mpkellogg permalink

    We will see. I think the decline is real, and based on a generations-long, atypical (relative to its competitors) arms budget. In the 1980s we saw the long-term impacts of unsustainable arms spending in the spectacular collapse of the Soviet Union. We are, I think, in the middle of a similar phenomenon today viz. the United States and its role as the centre of empire – similar but, if you will, in slow motion. The U.S. is better situated than the old USSR to manage its decline — one of the key factors being the role of the dollar as world money (a point you highlight). But — that is not necessarily a permanent feature. We might want to take seriously the now regular musings by China, Russia and others about the need to move away from the dollar. It might take a decade or more, but my bet is that this will happen.

    In any case — the key point is not this or that prediction (always a difficult thing with something as complex as the world economy). The key point is the emergence of a multi-polar world, and the way in which this changes the gravitational pulls on the Canadian economy. Canada used to orbit around one star — the United States. But now it is feeling the attraction of other stars — still smaller than the U.S., but much more visible than they were even ten years ago.

    Those are my thoughts. Thanks for your thoughtful response to this analysis.

    • One major difference between the U.S. today and the ailing U.S.S.R. is that it was structurally unable to take advantage of the internationalization of the productive process (globalization) that American capital exploited to the hilt to smash our unions, lower wages, and increase profits by moving production/assembly offshore. The U.S.S.R. was boxed in economically and became uncompetitive because it had to choose between guns and butter, so to speak.

      America is in a radically different situation, and yes, there will be moves to replace the dollar as the world’s single reserve currency. I don’t think the central weakness of U.S. imperialism is/will be unsustainable arms spending, I think it’s the internal economic and political contradictions within the U.S. The U.S. is not able to pass a single law or reform that would even slightly impinge on the interests of any sectors of the capitalist class. In many ways it’s reminiscent of the Polish Diet of the 17th century. Financial reform did nothing to reform the financial system in even a pro-capitalist way; immigration reform is stalled at the federal level and has been for years, creating the space for racist laws to be passed on the local/state level which undermine the interests of local farms, hotels, restaurants, and other sectors that rely on cheap undocumented labor; health care reform created a captive market of 30 million+ government-mandated customers for the murderous, greedy insurance companies; education reform is lining the pockets of corporations via privatization meanwhile growing numbers of Americans are functionally illiterate (the majority of Detroit’s population does not even read at a high school level). Contrast this to China, where the state owns/controls roughly 80% of the economy. Their education system is not locked in permanent crisis and neither is their economy nor their political system. The standard of living for their working and middle classes only has one direction to go: up. Ditto for their military power.

      America’s power is being undermined from within by its own insoluble contradictions, not by unsustainable military spending. Either way, your conclusions about the U.S.-Canada relationship and the increasingly independent leanings of your ruling class are sound.

  4. Relevant to the American dimension of this discussion: http://nationalinterest.org/article/the-end-the-american-era-6037

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