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Speak Now or Forever Renounce Peace

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.
Antoni Wysocki argues that having to decide amongst the Liberals, the New Democrats and the Conservatives is like being asked if it would be preferable to drink hemlock from a red, orange or blue cup.
Antoni Wysocki argues that having to decide amongst the Liberals, the New Democrats and the Conservatives is like being asked if it would be preferable to drink hemlock from a red, orange or blue cup.

Stephen Harper is odious; this much is obvious. His foreign policy is about running interference for Washington in internationals affairs; his economic policy is to export whatever can be extruded from the tar sands; his domestic policy is building prisons. Harper's determination to obstruct, divert or distort all streams of information that do not flow directly from his office suggests a man at war with the idea of independent thought as such. Harper's very countenance and manner are vaguely horrifying, giving the impression of some failed simulacrum of a human being -- a creepily imperfect copy whose uncanny presence is wont to induce horripilation. In short, Central Casting could scarcely have selected someone better suited to the role of bogeyman in the nightmares of Canada's left and liberals. No wonder editorial cartoonist Michael de Adder likes to depict Harper in the guise of Darth Vader.

It can be no surprise then that progressive Canadians are as one in their determination to see Harper's Conservatives driven from power in next year's federal election. That ousting Harper must be the primary objective of all is not treated as a matter for debate -- only questions about how to accomplish this end are at issue (as 2015 approaches, expect to hear truculent arguments for and against so-called strategic voting).

As for myself, I hold no brief for Stephen Harper; neither for the party he leads. The animadversions above express my own personal feelings about the man and I have no warmer regard for the Conservatives in general. All the same, I have no intention of backing either of the two main opposition parties in the upcoming election. For me, having to decide amongst the Liberals, the New Democrats and the Conservatives is like being asked if it would be preferable to drink hemlock from a red, orange or blue cup.

Most leftists that I talk to will readily admit that the federal New Democrats are bad and getting worse, so that little or no good can be expected of them; estimations of the Liberals tend to be lower yet. Typically, however, my left-wing interlocutors are quick to add that the NDP and even the Liberals are apt to do significantly less harm than the Conservatives, so that there is something to be said for voting for either in order to bring an end to Harper's rule.

To my mind this attitude is attributable to a dubious combination of personification and hysteresis. As to the former: far too many leftists leap from the valid observation that Harper is the most stridently right-wing prime minister in Canadian history to the unwarranted conclusion that removing him from office would automatically issue in less regressive governance.

This fallacy reduces politics to personalities. Harper has not hijacked the ship of state and, on a whim, set it on a course that suits no one but himself. Rather, he is acting as the agent of the vessel's owners (which is to say, of the capitalist class) and it is they who decide where and how the ship is to proceed. If the captain of the vessel should be replaced at the next election his successor will find himself subject to the same pressures currently being exerted on Harper. It is not politicians that determine the general direction of government but their masters, the capitalists. That Harper happens to have a strong personal inclination towards the policies enjoined on him by capital is essentially immaterial.

As to hysteresis: today's Liberals and New Democrats continue to get by on the political capital accrued by their forebears. Both parties benefit from -- or, in certain circles, are burdened with -- a public image of being vaguely progressive. Neither party has done anything in at least a quarter-century to warrant such a reputation but apparently rhetoric without corresponding action is all that is needed to retain the loyalty of most left-leaning voters.

This is especially evident in the case of the Liberals inasmuch as they have a long record of federal office. True, they can point out that Medicare and most other features of Canada's welfare state were enacted by Liberal administrations; but well over a decade ago Brian Mulroney could already note with rueful envy that Jean Chretien's government had been able to advance neoliberalism far beyond anything that was politically feasible for Mulroney himself.

Matters are perhaps slightly less clear with the NDP since the party has never formed government in Ottawa; but for two or three decades now wherever New Democrats have taken office provincially they have shown unswerving fidelity to neoliberalism. In any event, no party is going to adopt a more progressive program in government than it boasts in opposition, and neither the Liberals nor the New Democrats have ever offered a policy framework that provides any sort of meaningful alternative to Harper's agenda.

Since the advent of the neoliberal era in the 1970s capital has steadily escalated its depredations against the working class and the natural environment. Yet, far from countering these malign developments, since no later than the aftermath of the free trade election of 1988 the Liberals and New Democrats alike have steadfastly maintained that our economic and ecological problems can be solved only through the magic of the market's invisible hand. Apologists have justified this allegiance to the capitalist order by claiming that any perceived opposition to "free enterprise" would render progressive candidates unelectable. This, it is claimed, would leave the field open to office-seekers who are not only supportive of untrammelled capitalism but reactionary on social policy to boot.

This line of argument was always highly questionable. It has become ever less tenable as the uncritical support afforded capitalism by Canada's supposedly progressive political formations has expanded in lockstep with the escalating seriousness of the damage that capitalism inflicts on the world. As it happens, however, there is no need to resolve this issue, for recent developments have rendered it academic.

Over the past year, information has come to light that demonstrates apodeictically that, both de facto and de jure, liberal democracy is now all but a dead letter. How have the Liberals and NDP responded? By effectively signing off on the new dispensation with no more than a few inconsequential cavils. In the face of this trahison des clercs, providing any form of support to either party would be utterly unconscionable.

What changes took place in 2013 to so radically overthrow standard conceptions of the global political order? One was the release of an avalanche of top secret documents by Edward Snowden, who obtained them while working for the National Security Agency of the United States.

That the capitalist system is safeguarded the world over by a universal policing establishment under the direction of the United States was not news to those who had been paying attention, but it was only with Snowden's revelations that the regime's true dimensions finally hove into view. Thanks to Snowden we now know that the United States government commands a global spying operation that is invasive and ubiquitous beyond the most fervid longings of a Hitler or a Stalin; a totalitarian surveillance apparatus so monstrous as to have no parallels outside the realm of science fiction.

Nor -- and here we come to the other great thunderbolt of 2013 -- are the masters of the universe satisfied with merely being omniscient. One of God's attributes is that nothing is hidden from Him; another is that He alone decides who will live and who must die. Naturally then this is a regime that, in the person of the president of the United States, openly and explicitly reserves to itself the right to exterminate by fiat whomsoever it pleases, anywhere on the planet. In February of last year a white paper released by the administration of US President Barack Obama put the world on formal notice of this autotelic licence to kill.

There could be no more obscene insult to the most basic notions of justice, freedom and democracy than this world-spanning system of surveillance and repression. Yet the parliamentary opposition has neither denounced this unbounded tyranny nor called for Canada to cease its direct participation in it as a member of the "Five Eyes" network with the US, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand.

The Liberals, of course, have hardly been in a position to react more strongly. After all, it was their party that created the country's signals intelligence agency, the Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC), and kept its existence a secret for decades. Likewise it was a Liberal government that enrolled Canada in the Five Eyes network at its inception in 1947.

It might be supposed that the New Democrats, lacking the same sort of guilt by association as the Liberals, would show themselves less reluctant to take a firm stand. Yet as recently as February 3rd of this year the most the NDP could rouse itself to say on the matter was that "[r]ecent reports about CSEC's activities are extremely concerning." Here the catachrestical use of the preposition "concerning" as a verb is a telltale sign. Treating the word as if it meant "alarming" rather than "pertaining to" is the mark of a public relations hack. The deployment of such corporate argot is a sure indicator of bad intent.

Defenders of the NDP have always claimed that, given the public's broad support for capitalism, taking a principled stand against the prevailing political economic order would be a feckless form of electoral suicide. Be that as it may, no such justifications can be advanced for the party's junior partnership in the global police state. There can be no question that this regime flies in the face of all the values that liberal democracies claim to hold most dear. That this is widely recognized by ordinary people is demonstrated by the finding that the majority of US citizens approve of Edward Snowden's actions despite his vilification by the entire political establishment of the United States as well as the country's mainstream media. It is attested even more strongly by the grassroots organizations in the US whose pressure on elected officials has already resulted in a dozen state legislatures introducing bills aimed at thwarting the intrusions of the National Security Agency.

All of that aside, there comes a point when decency demands that one stand up for what is right, consequences be damned. In 1970 nearly all members of the parliamentary NDP caucus voted against imposition of the War Measures Act. At the time these parliamentarians were roundly condemned for this supposedly traitorous deed, but history has vindicated them.

The issue we face today is immeasurably more serious than that of 1970: not the temporary suppression of civil liberties in one country but the installation of a regime that is permanent and global and that openly asserts its unbounded right to murder any person on the planet. Canada not only implicitly supports this limitless tyranny by remaining uncritically allied to the United States but also actively and directly participates in it through the workings of the Five Eyes.

Yet, in contrast to the principled stand of their forebears in 1970, the epigones in today's NDP have contented themselves with requesting that government officials appear before a parliamentary committee "to answer questions about CSEC's intelligence-gathering policies and practices." Only a morally depraved individual would ask for an investigation into how apartheid or Jim Crow is being administered; any person with a functioning conscience would instead denounce such a regime in toto and demand that it be dismantled.

That the NDP has taken the former approach to the matter demonstrates conclusively that the party's leadership is utterly devoid of principle and is dedicated to a single aim: achieving power within the current rules of the political game. The New Democrats, like other neoliberal politicians the world over, regard the concerns of the electorate as secondary even from a purely instrumental standpoint. For example, Al Gore preferred to renounce his rightful claim to the US presidency rather than risk triggering an investigation that stood to reveal the full extent of bi-partisan corruption in US politics. Today's office-seekers are perfectly willing to accept defeat at the polls if in doing so they ingratiate themselves with their real constituency: the capitalist class.

What is required is not a parliamentary investigation -- not even one that takes as its mandate the entire Five Eyes network along with the US assassination program, never mind the milksop inquiry into certain CSEC activities that has been proposed by the NDP. The main reason we find ourselves at our present pass is that liberal democracy under capitalism is a system that grants various elite groups effective control over the polity under the delusive guise of rule by popular mandate. Any examination of the Five Eyes that was conducted by parliament would, of its very nature, be nothing but an exercise in stage management and damage control.

What the NDP can and should do is name this tyranny for what it is and proclaim without reservation that Canada must immediately cease its collaboration with this police state regime. No matter how much they might wish to, the mainstream media could not ignore such statements coming from the Official Opposition in the House of Commons. In addition the NDP could use its parliamentary privilege to contact voters directly through a mass mailing. The NDP could also prevail upon its allies in the labour movement to undertake a similar campaign.

The positive effect that such actions could have -- not only within Canada but abroad -- is incalculable. Equally, however, failure to act in this resolute manner would be tantamount to waving through the true Thousand Year Reich.

The theologian Martin Niemoller was initially supportive of Hitler but eventually fell foul of the Nazi regime and was sent to a concentration camp. Niemoller survived his incarceration and after the Second World War he famously reflected on his experience as follows: "First they came for the communists and I did not speak out because I was not a communist. Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist...Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak out."

It understates our plight to suggest that humanity now stands on the brink of the abyss; rather let us say that we have already gone over the edge of the precipice and are desperately clinging to the lip. Irreversible, runaway climate change is considered a certainty unless we drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions within the next two decades at the utmost. Yet, the current trend is up, not down -- and, what's more, this is only the most prominent of a host of catastrophic environmental developments that are in prospect. In the meantime, just as Marx predicted, a decreasing number of capitalist magnates usurp and monopolize all advantages while "the mass of misery, oppression, slavery, degradation and exploitation grows."

The ruling classes are well aware that this state of affairs is neither socially nor ecologically sustainable. As Rosa Luxemburg long ago foresaw, the choices that confront us are socialism and barbarism. Since the capitalists will never acquiesce to the former, they must perforce resort to ever greater extremes of violence to maintain their privileges. We see this in the increasing criminalization of dissent, in uncontrolled police brutality, in foreign adventurism under the banner of "humanitarian intervention." We see it in the proliferation of video surveillance and such "eyes in the sky" as the Hummingbird drone, which can monitor up to 65 individuals at the same time from a distance of 40 kilometres and the Reaper drone, which is capable of recording the motion imagery of an entire city.

Coming on the heels of all this, Edward Snowden's exposure of the activities of the Five Eyes, combined with Barack Obama's open declaration of his assumed right to murder anyone, anywhere, at will, show that now is the time to speak out...or there will be no one left to speak out. As it is, the governments of both the US and the UK are threatening to bring criminal charges against journalists who have assisted in the publication of Snowden's leaked materials while the government of Australia is menacing its public broadcaster in like manner for daring to report on the torture of refugees by the Australian military.

Harper is horrid -- this is not open to dispute. But to make getting rid of him such a priority that we would back the Liberals or the New Democrats while they continue to play their part in sustaining the global police state -- this would be a betrayal of ourselves and of all humanity, present and future. For so long as the Liberals and the NDP remain mumchance on the true enormities of this new Thousand Year Reich they are naught but quislings -- and we are no whit better if we choose to support them in any way.


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