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The Anti-War Candidate

As big three are hushed over Saudi deal, one man cries shame

by Miles Howe

"It's not in workers' interests to be building weapons of mass destruction to kill workers in another country.” - Allan Bezanson [Photo: M. Howe]
"It's not in workers' interests to be building weapons of mass destruction to kill workers in another country.” - Allan Bezanson [Photo: M. Howe]

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) -- In these heady days of heightened electioneering, it becomes increasingly difficult to differentiate between the 'big three' political parties, most especially as it relates to our nation's militaristic course. The future doubtful morality of this country – and the lack of vision towards anything other than silently peddling arms with a forced smile - was perhaps best highlighted by the recent shut down of political discussion over the $15 billion dollar sale of armoured vehicles to the kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

As highlighted by the CBC's Neil MacDonald and others, we have indeed reached the unenviable low point where Canada's largest union – Unifor – is requesting that Canada's so-called worker's party – the NDP – keep their mouth shut about the Saudi arms deal, in consideration of the jobs at stake in making said armoured vehicles. For the sake of jobs, we are witnessing the shutting down of vital democratic discussion on jobs at what price. Without the hope of any candidate offering a meaningful alternative to the Conservative regime, polls now begin to suggest that Canadians are simply satisfied with the devil they know.

Allan Bezanson, lifelong anti-war activist and Marxist Leninist Party of Canada (MLPC) candidate for Halifax, Nova Scotia, isn't, however, the devil you know. And while he likely won't win the Halifax riding, there's something very much refreshing about listening to one speak from the heart, especially when it comes to war mongering.

The alternative is, of course, the un-silent silence that comes with trading job security for war production. In Halifax, where real estate speculation lives and dies on the upcoming Irving Shipyards warship contract, and where even the ever-popular NDP candidate Megan Leslie has pressed palms with the Irvings outside of their dockyard facilities, such a trade-off happened long ago.

That the communist dream still flickers in Benzanson is clear. But this isn't the bastardized, paranoiac, dictatorial, Stalinist or Maoist version. Instead, think of the vision of international worker solidarity where we all cast off the shackles of the global elite and realize that the working class, no matter their country of origin, have so much more in common than they do with their respective task masters.

If it's all but a dreamer's dream, then the whole MLPC party platform is the stuff of visions. A new constitution. An end to colonial injustice. A withdrawal of Canada from all neo-liberal trade agreements. A total redirection of the economy to uphold public rights, not monopoly rights.

If anything, the party platform reads like the wish list that folks on 'the left' mourn for now, and will likely yearn for over the next four years, no matter who wins the upcoming election. But the MLPC is somehow too old, too grey or too stodgy to capture 'the left's' popular imagination. And so they remain as also-rans, and will probably consider their national campaign a success if they capture one percent of the popular vote.

“There is this problem facing the Canadian working class, particularly workers in war production,” says the New Glasgow born Bezanson. “I've talked to many shipyard workers at Irving. They would much prefer building some kind of civilian ships. But what do you do when you're a worker and Irving gets a contract to build warships or General Electric gets a contract to build Armoured Personnel Carriers?

“It's very difficult. But when you have an economy that's built for the elite, you get contracts like this. When you have an economy built for workers, they would not be building components for war machines. It's not in workers' interests to be building weapons of mass destruction to kill workers in another country.”

As for Unifor's request that the NDP stay mum on the Saudi contract, human rights record, beheadings, and crucifixions be damned, Bezanson sees this as just one more trade-off that we all make in the elite-ruled economic system in which we live; the silent sufferings if you will, of a beaten and broken working class.

“It's a very difficult situation for Unifor, but that's the type of choices that Canadians are given day in and day out. It's not in their interest. It's about lining up one side against the other for the profit of the elite.

“As far as the NDP goes and Unifor pressuring them not to talk, shame on the NDP. It's very clear that the NDP have been watering down their social positions in order to pander to votes. I consider their geo-political stance every bit as reprehensible as the Conservatives or the Liberals. Basically they are going to lead us to war just like the Conservatives and the Liberals and I have no respect for that.”

Following the logic, when we find ourselves morally broken down, quietly assembling armoured personnel carriers that just might be used to smash the next democratic rally in Bahrain, we are far more likely to subscribe to the black and white narratives that somehow justifies our own day to day routine as being on the side of right. After all, nobody wants to feel shitty about their job, let alone complicit in murder, every day.

Rather, our elite-ruled economy lends to a wilful dumbing down of society at large, which in turn leads to the jingoism, nationalism, flag waving and drum-beating that drowns out analysis and discourse. Our memories and attention spans also begin to atrophy. Issues like the Syrian refugees crisis, or ISIS, are flashes in the pan, each existing as history-less agenda items on an election platform.

The only solution offered is more bombs, new fighter jets, new warships, NATO membership, and on and on and on. Whether or not anyone truly believes the notion that this is somehow about the restoration of democracy, or if it is all just salve to be applied to the troubled national consciousness, in the end isn't really important.

“We should open our arms to the Syrian refugees, we should take many more,” says Bezanson. “But if you want to stop the flow of refugees, stop the bombing. Harper says we have to have a two pronged attack, that we have to accept x number of refugees, but that we also have to attack ISIS.

“The refugees are coming from Canadian, American and allied bombings in Syria and Iraq. It's not the Assad government and it's not ISIS that are causing these problems. We have very strong views against ISIS. But voters don't even hear that this is a result of US imperialism, that it's the CIA, etc, that have established groups like ISIS.”

Whether Bezanson wins the upcoming election or not, the seasoned anti-war activist and co-founder of 'No Harbour For War' asserts that his stance isn't the stuff of politics and campaign promises. There are few activists in Halifax more committed to their cause; I've personally watched Bezanson stage weekly information pickets on the corner of Spring Garden and Barrington streets for several years now, often suffering the barbs and insults of folks directly employed by the war industry. Seeing the man offer anti-war newsletters outside of Halifax's Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo, arguably Canada's greatest display of military pomp, is to watch personal conviction directly face off against mass popularity.

To Bezanson, this is “three hundred and sixty five days a year, because the struggle of the people is three hundred and sixty five days a year.”

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To be fair, it turns out that it was a local Unifor staffer freelancing and using the name of union Pres. Jerry Dias. Unifor called him on it.



Great piece, Miles.  Kudos to Allan Bezanson as well. 

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