By Justin Podur – Jan 15, 2024
Canada’s political leaders are morally compromised. Months of genocidal bombing, 30,000 killed (15,000 children), 50,000 injured, the destruction of nearly every home, agricultural field, hospital, and school, the murder of journalists and medical personnel, field executions including children are before the International Court of Justice, where South Africa is seeking urgent preventive measures.
How has Canada responded? Most political activity on the matter still consists of each party trying to score points against the others by showing more unconditional support for Israel. South Africa’s case has been dismissed by media figures and ignored at the official level. Canadian media figures have screamed for the deportation of anti-genocide protesters, Ontario’s NDP has kicked out a lone voice (MPP Sarah Jama, now Independent) calling for a ceasefire, Toronto’s school board has agreements with an institution, CIJA, that openly lied about and targeted student protesters at a high school, anti-genocide doctors have been suspended from work. The rot is deep.
While did Canada anomalously vote at the UN General Assembly for a toothless ceasefire resolution, it followed up by joining a small pro-Israel minority asserting Israel’s colonial control over the West Bank.
Canada’s elite is totally morally compromised on the most basic moral issue of all: genocide.
In a context where the majority is pro-peace, if not necessarily pro-Palestine, this is a major disconnect between elite and population and, according to plural political theory, should provide a political opportunity for a party that is uncompromised.
It is necessary to understand why it does not provide such an opportunity in the current context. Why can’t any political party turn this moment of moral collapse to political advantage, by occupying the anti-genocide space?
There are two possible answers: 1. the strength of the pro-Israel lobby, or 2. what is called “settler solidarity”: the deep identification of the elite with Israel’s colonial project and the understanding that it would be hypocritical on some level to be a member of Canada’s political elite while espousing Indigenous rights in Palestine.
There is a strong pro-Israel lobby in Canada that is capable of punishing pro-Israel statement or action, especially by elites. The lobby is well-organized and can send floods of emails to institutions and mount social media campaigns to try to get people removed from elite posts. But the success of the lobby is precisely what needs to be explained, as an equivalent pro-Palestine lobby, equally well-organized, has not been found to have the same success. The success of the pro-Israel lobby is explained by “settler solidarity”. Canada’s elite identifies with Israel and with Israel’s project.
The only way for a party to fully occupy the political vacuum that is the anti-genocide political space in Canada would be for that party to be a party for the return of land to Indigenous Sovereignty. The empty political space in Canada can only be filled, in other words, by a Land Back Party. Canada’s elite cannot support Palestinian freedom because of its structural opposition to First Nations sovereignty; the movement inside Canada for Palestinian freedom has long understood the necessity for First Nations sovereignty.
Indigenous movements in Canada are currently experiencing what has been called a “resurgence”. The Land Back Party would support this unstoppable resurgence and work in constant coordination with it.
The Land Back Party’s program would be ambitious as it would have to achieve several difficult, perhaps unprecedented, and seemingly (though not actually) contradictory objectives:
- Improve the living standards of everyone living in Canada, including health care, education, water, food, environment, and all other welfare measures
- Without exploitation of the labor and resources of the Global South (ie., while achieving fair trade arrangements with Global South providers of resources);
- While also transferring land and wealth from Canada to First Nations, expanding their land base and rights;
- While also defending the land back project from the inevitable attempt to overthrow it.
While difficult, each of these objectives can be done.
Living Standards for all. The most succinct economic program for a left party upon reaching power was articulated by Utsa and Prabhat Patnaik with India in mind. In their book Capital and Imperialism, they imagine such a party introducing a set of
“universal, justifiable economic rights on par with the political rights typically enshrined in a democratic constitution. A minimal set of five such rights, namely the right to employment (or of wage payment if the state fails to provide employment); the right to food at affordable prices; the right to free, quality, public healthcare; the right to free, quality public education up to at least the university level; and the right to old-age pension and disability assistance of an adequate magnitude can be immediately implemented. And for this no more than an additional 10 percent or so of GDP will be required.”
Upon arrival in power, the government would immediately face capital flight and would have to incrementally introduce capital controls. Once those were introduced, trade controls would have to follow especially since, for Canada, a major portion of international trade is mining and military industry (both of which destroy Indigenous land within Canada’s borders and outside them). Were these controls to be introduced, big business in both Canada and the US would likely conduct an “investment strike” and try to shut down industry as part of a campaign of regime change. At that stage, a left government would also have to incrementally introduce nationalization of industries, turning them over to be run by their workers, and economic planning measures (for a Global North example, see the “window guidance” adopted in Japan prior to the Plaza Accord – described in the book and film The Princes of the Yen).
In The Wealth of Some Nations, Zak Cope describes the mechanisms by which trillions of dollars of value are transferred from the Global South to the Global North each year. The challenge for a left party in an imperialist country is improving living standards for all while moving towards a fair trade arrangement in the global economy. Moving Canada from a global exploiter to a country that is neither exploited nor exploiter. An analysis of the mechanisms through which neocolonial exploitation occurs can help understand how to unravel it without plunging the masses who live in Canada into misery. These mechanisms include especially the artificial lowering of prices of commodities and of labor from the Global South and the inflation of prices of services and labor from the Global North. The details of how to engage in fair trade in the global economy can be worked out if it is a priority.
Transfer of land and wealth to First Nations. In the book Unsettling Canada, Arthur Manuel and Ronald Derrickson show that Indigenous peoples control 0.2 percent of the land and settlers, 99.8%. The history of Canada is one of successive bad-faith attempts to “settle” these land claims – meaning, to extinguish them without changing the distribution of land. Rather than striking a committee or writing a new White Paper, the Land Back Party would come to power with a careful study of the history of land theft in Canada using maps like the set of maps at mappinglandtheft.ca, it would immediately stop fighting losing cases to prevent Indigenous people from getting their rights and lands, and begin immediately expanding the Indigenous landbase. Ultimately, it would learn about and adopt Indigenous ways of relating to the land – not the theft of Indigenous knowledge that characterizes the current colonial relation, but a transformation of the way society relates to the land in accordance with Indigenous principles.
Surviving all the overthrow attempts. As the landbase was expanded, strategies for holding the land against violent encroachment by aggrieved settlers and regime change campaigners would also be implemented. A Land Back Party would, on the road to power, have to win enough support to be able to resist even an armed coup attempt or an attempt to roll back gains that were made by First Nations. Returning the land to First Nations is, for its opponents, a most violence-inducing idea. A Land Back Party cannot afford to be naive about this, but with popular support, sovereignty can be defended.
The weakness of communist parties in Five Eyes countries has been a lack of understanding of countries like Canada as “prisons of nations” as Sakai described the US (following the Bolsheviks’ criticism of the Russian tsarist Empire). As organizations that work in colonial settler states that need to be transformed, left parties need to work for this transformation: not simply for a just distribution of the stolen spoils.
Other Land Back Party priorities would serve to permanently differentiate the party from unprincipled parties and serve as a bulwark against co-optation – the other early danger for such a party. These would include:
- Freedom for Palestine, an end to the occupation, a Palestinian state with equal rights for all. Humanitarian and infrastructural aid to rebuild Palestine and no relations with Israel while occupation, apartheid and genocide continue. To those who ask, why is a foreign policy issue so important for this party? All other parties are pro-Israel and Palestine is evidently an issue of immense importance to Canada. Someone has to be the first anti-genocide party in North America. The party’s constitution will require support for Palestine.
- Cancelling all governmental partnerships, guarantees, and subsidies for mining and military industries and co-operation with Five Eyes intelligence and US covert and overt military programs. Defense concepts will instead include partnerships with First Nations for defense of sovereign Indigenous land, solidarity and coordination with struggles of oppressed people inside the US, and communal and civil defense against coups and fascist violence.
- Expansion of welfare state, health care, education including in Indigenous languages, water infrastructure to Indigenous communities. Transition to restorative justice based on First Nations models. Community control over police (see, e.g., The Black Agenda Report proposal). Food sovereignty and state support for agriculture. Economic planning. Unapologetic use of policy tools including taxation, nationalization, capital controls.
The initial activities of this organization will include:
- Media work – social media and a media infrastructure that belongs to the party so that the party does not require social media to get its message out. Media work will be a high percentage of the work of the organization and will support all other work.
- Media education and training – the idea of an introductory course for organization members that would be useful anyway – that would develop theoretical knowledge, writing skills, and other media skills so that the work required to join the party is rewarding in itself.
- Movement defense. The party would work with lawyers but the organization will also defend anyone suffering repression for their Palestine- or Indigenous sovereignty- related work through public campaigns. This kind of movement defense casework will help the day to day building of the organization.
- Support for organized labor in strike actions, political use of the general strike to exert pressure for policy change (ie., a ceasefire at this moment), again primarily through media and public work.
- Work with school boards, media organizations etc., to get anti-Palestinian racism widely used as a concept. Longer term work would include education on the practicality of the immediate expansion of the First Nations land base.
There are also lessons from other parties – small, left-wing parties and mainstream parties – that the Land Back Party would learn from. These include having robust self correcting mechanisms within the party and organizational structures. The party charter would include democracy, transparency, equality, gender equity, diversity, anti sexual harassment policies, accountability mechanisms for all levels of the organization. Application to the organization would be open to all, but it would require completion of an educational program. The organization would be built with the expectation that it would grow and it would have committees and transparent procedures for handling everything from the aforementioned sexual harassment allegations to funds, budgets, and media infrastructure.
When the time is right, the party would fill out the forms, raise funds, find and prepare candidates, and run for office in elections at provincial and federal levels since it is only through state power that these economic, foreign policy, and land back agendas can be fulfilled. This, too, will require a careful analysis of what opportunities exist within the electoral system in Canada and the legal constraints on how political parties operate, with a view to preventing the Land Back Party from replicating the co-optation or (assisted) self-destruction of previous, similar efforts.
Such a party would have many difficulties getting started (all the problems left-wing people have in organizing at a small scale), greater difficulties achieving power (as repression would increase dramatically), and still greater difficulties governing (in the face of capital flight, coup attempts, and threats of invasion by the US). But all of these could be overcome in time and it would be better to start now than to look around as un-organized activists in twenty years of further rightward drift and wish we had done something like this now.
Justin Podur is a Toronto-based writer and a writing fellow at Globetrotter, a project of the Independent Media Institute. You can find him on his website at podur.org and on Twitter @justinpodur. He teaches at York University in the Faculty of Environmental Studies.
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