Friday, February 03, 2006

Left, Right and Liberty

My old pal from our Canadian University Press (CUP) days; Terry Glavin in his latest blog entry criticizes what he sees as the libertarian/anarchist underpinings of the new left, the anti-war and the anti-globalization movement.

And Glavin believes they are dangerous, American ideas influencing our glorious Canadian Social Democratic politics.

Glavin first quotes from Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter, in Rebel Sell: Why the Culture Can’t be Jammed (Harper Perennial, 2000)

Unfortunately, the idea of counterculture has become so deeply embedded in our understanding of society that it influences every aspect of social and political life. Most importantly, it has become the conceptual template for all contemporary leftist politics. Counterculture has almost completely replaced socialism as the basis of radical political thought. So if counterculture is a myth, then it is one that has misled an enormous number of people, with untold political consequences.”

The counterculture of music, smoke ins, Adbuster magazine, G@P anarchist hip clothing chic is recuperated by capitalism, thus it is not socialism it is protest chic. Well congratulations on discovering that the counter culture is a consumer form of capitalism which it always was anyways. 'Hip capitalism', as we called it in the seventies and eighties was a kinder groovier kind of capitalism. See my Hypocrisy of Hip Capitalism

It's an old debate in the Anarchist movement as well, lifestyle reformism versus social revolution. Today the debate over counter culture is exemplified by Murray Bookchin with his Social Anarchism or Lifestyle Anarchism and Richard Day with his new book Gramsci is Dead.

Do we create alternative drop out cultures that ignore the state (Day) or do we actively mobilize to create a social revolution based on class struggle (Bookchin). This debate is now occuring again in the anti-war/anti-globalization movement which I think is the point that Glavin is trying to make. I think, because it is far from clear, that he is identifying libertarian/anarchist politics with drop out politics of the old counterculutre.

But then he goes and says this.

Ron Dart is a Red Tory philosopher, a devout Anglican, an NDP supporter (at least for now), an authority on the beat poets and the Catholic mystic Thomas Merton, and the author more than a dozen books, including The Red Tory Tradition: Ancient Roots, New Routes. In conversation with Ron the other day, I heard more than just a faint echo of the Heath/Potter thesis.

Beware the “antistate” left, he said. It may be Harper’s loudest and most vociferous opposition, but listen carefully. It speaks the same language that Harper does. It cleaves to “liberal” ideas, but in the American meaning of the word. It is a “subtler imperialism” that threatens to render Canada incapable of articulating an effective, homegrown defence against neoconservatism.

Beware of the Anti-State Left. As if Anarchism and Libertarian ideas are somehow foreign to the Canadian Left, an American influence on good old Canadian Methodist Social Democracy. In a further leap of logic Glavin then tells us what kind of an outcome will happen if these dangerous libertarian, anti-state ideas influence the Canadian Left.

"And it comes with a warning Canadians should heed: Beware, else we end up with our own versions of Fox News shouting matches, and our own Al Frankens pitted against their Bill O’Reillys in the same degenerate American arguments, carried on in the same American language, and the same hoarse and hate-filled stalemate that has so horribly paralyzed and disfigured American politics."

I know Glavin has gone native, and lives in the heart of the counter culture beast on the Left Coast of Vancouver Island but really where has he been for the last thirty years since we both left university?

We already have those voices on the right, the Ezra Levants, the Fraser Institute, the Byfields, the Alberta/B.C./Western Report, etc etc. They have been around for ages. The right specializes in generalizations and outrageous statements, the social democratic left as I have complained before have been far too polite and nice in debates allowing these screaming ranting right wingers to brow beat them in media debates. Glavin appears to think that some how polite English school boy debate, tea and crumpets, good show ol boy, is the Canadian way.

But back to my main point Anarchism and the Libertarian Left are as Canadian as any other aspect of the New Left or the Old Left. Emma Goldman the famous anarchist agitator traveled across Canada and eventually died in Toronto in exile from the United States. The Revolutionary union, the IWW was active in Canada at the turn of last century and the radicals which formed it went on to form the One Big Union, the OBU. It was reviewed in Canada in the seventies by those of us young anarchists including some of us in CUP. And is is going strong again now.

George Woodcock the famous English professor from UBC and anarchist biographer and historian was one of the earliest promoters of anarchism in Canada in the sixties. By the late sixties the New Left in Canada had a strong anarchist compenent in it based on Our Generation, a magazine out of Quebec which represented what the editors broadly called the Extra Parlimentary Opposition in Canada, that is the New Left.

By the seventies we had Yippies and anarchist collectives in every city in Canada.
And Vancouver, Glavins home town was no exception. It was chock full of anarchists especially around the magazine the Open Road. Which is well documented in Alan Antliffs book Only A Beginning: An Anarchist Anthology

Besides the Social Democratic Left which would influence the Liberals and Progressives alike in the Forties, we had a tradition of both radical Communists and Anarchists in Canada.

Way before Stephen Harper and the neo-cons recuperated the term libertarian it was used by members of the new left. And as I have taken pains to show here on numerous occasions those on the right who call themselves libertarians are merely Lazzie-faire capitalists, not real libertarians.

And one of the major Libertarian theorists in the U.S. was Canadian Samuel Edward Konkin III (SEK3) who moved to LA from Edmonton. That is truly a 'subtle imperialism'. True SEK3 was a student of Murray Rothbard, the economic historian, who did much to promote the Libertarian ideology that so upsets Glavin and his Red Tory friend. A NEW AMERICAN REVOLUTION

But Red Tories are really classic liberals, fiscal conservatives and socially liberal. Not unlike Tommy Douglas and the old CCF. In fact that is the history of liberalism, it went from a radical idea to becoming the defender of the status quo. In fact old fashioned political conservatism in Canada is liberal. The success of the Manning Reform party, and indeed the so called libertarianism of Stephen Harper are not based on libertarianism at all but on populism, economic liberalism and American Republican conservatism.

Here is what Murray Rothbard has to say about liberalism the ideology of the Red Tories and the Social Democrats that Glavin claims are as Canadian as maple syrup and beaver pelts.

In England, the classical liberals began their shift from radicalism to quasi-conservatism in the early nineteenth century; a touchstone of this shift was the general British liberal attitude toward the national liberation struggle in Ireland. This struggle was twofold: against British political imperialism, and against feudal landlordism which had been imposed by that imperialism. By their Tory blindness toward the Irish drive for national independence, and especially for peasant property against feudal oppression, the British liberals (including Spencer) symbolized their effective abandonment of genuine Liberalism, which had been virtually born in a struggle against the feudal land system. Only in the United States, the great home of radical liberalism (where feudalism had never been able to take root outside the South), did natural rights and higher law theory, and consequent radical liberal movements, continue in prominence until the mid-nineteenth century. In their different ways, the Jacksonian and Abolitionist movements were the last powerful radical libertarian movements in American life.

Thus, with Liberalism abandoned from within, there was no longer a party of Hope in the Western world, no longer a "Left" movement to lead a struggle against the State and against the unbreached remainder of the Old Order. Into this gap, into this void created by the drying up of radical liberalism, there stepped a new movement: Socialism. Libertarians of the present day are accustomed to think of socialism as the polar opposite of the libertarian creed. But this is a grave mistake, responsible for a severe ideological disorientation of libertarians in the present world. As we have seen, Conservatism was the polar opposite of liberty; and socialism, while to the "left" of conservatism, was essentially a confused, middle-of-the road movement. It was, and still is, middle-of-the road because it tries to achieve Liberal ends by the use of Conservative means.

In other words the anarchist critique of socialism (being the left wing of the socialist movement), has been that its reliance on parilmentary politics and the idea of the seizure of state power by either elections or by revolution is flawed.

The anarchist or libertarian critique has been that social democracy, which is not socialism any more than Bolshevism is communism, is State Socialism, in other words Bismarkian socialism and thus a defense of the status quo. It is reformism an attempt to ameliorate the worst conditions of capitalism. European Social democracy died with WWI when it aided and abetted that war.

In Canada social democracy arose with the coming of the second wave immigrations of Central and Eastern Europeans who brought with them their growing revolutionary aspirations towards socialism and democracy that they lacked in the old country.They came to a Canada dominated by the English ruling classes and a French comprador class in Quebec.Canada's First Internment Camps

After WWI Canada saw the rise of a broad based immigrant workers and farmers movement. And again in the midst of the depression socialist ideas gained hold in the workers movement. After the second World War, the Progressives merged with the Conservatives, the CCF held power over a Liberal minority government, and Canada's war time state capitalist economy under C.D. Howe the Minister of Everything (and a darling of the neo-con right wing today ironically) easily shifted to welfare state capitalism of Keynesian model.

So Glavin and Dart are right in saying Canada's uniqueness in relationship to the U.S. is our social democratic values as a nation. I have said that here many times. That being said the libertarian spirit of Canadians also exists and is expressed on the left as well as the right. In particular in both Quebec and the Prairies where we have struggled against the English colonial mercantilist establishment of Ontario.Social Credit And Western Canadian Radicalism

What Glavin and Dart are attempting to do is identify social democracy with nationalism, with a unique Canadian identity of state capitalism. This is the same ideology of classic liberal nationalists like Mel Hurtig and Maude Barlow who run the amorphous mass organization the Council of Canadians. And while Hurtig is from Edmonton as a capitalist he always aspired, much like Peter Lougheed, to see the West as a real partner in late twentieth century Canadian Politics.

All Canadian nationalism is Ontario centric. It is based on the politics of Ontario's identity in relationship to the Americans and Quebec. Once upon a time Canadian Nationalism was the Ontario English ruling class identity, formed by its special relationship to the British Crown. Later as Canada became ten provinces, Ontario allowed the West to join in 'its' confederation not as a partner but as chattel colony for the mercantilist interests of its ruling class. Rebel Yell

Today Nationalism in Canada reflects the interests of Ontario, not the West or the Maritimes or Quebec. Today's social democrats be they Red Tories, New Democrats or Liberals, still cannot concieve of Canada as a different kind of federation. A more decentralized one, a real partnership, a renewed democracy with greater individual and community control and representation. The Bankruptcy of Liberal Federalism

In fact Toronto has become such a megacity it has veiewed itself as seperate from Ontario for many decades now, which is why Torontonians refer to Toronto, Canada. The base of Canadian nationalism is here in the heart of the beast. All the left has their base in Ontario, their national headquarters are either in Ottawa or Toronto. While capitalism has moved west.

Calgary is the new centre of Capitalism in Canada. Not Bay Street. Winnipeg was once what Calgary is today, the centre of rail, grain, furs and other real exports. Ontario was the industrial heartland where Winnipeg shipped goods to for processing. Winnipeg shared with Chicago the Grain Exchange and the Commodity exchange. Bay Street was le petit Wall Street. Real capitalism in Canada in the 20th Century has been a movement westward.

Toronto and Ontario cling to a rustbelt future, an old conservative elite whose time once was. Today the leaders of the liberal values of the status quo are interchangeable.

We have Bob Rae former NDP leader touted as a potential leadership candidate for the Federal Liberals. His brother already is.

We have the McQuinty brothers representing both the provincial and federal Liberals.

We have Jack Layton a former Toronto city counselor as federal NDP leader now joined in Parliment by his wife, Oliva Chow another former Toronto city conselor.

We have Belinda Stronach, millionaress, business scion of the new capitalism of post-fordism. She went from being a Conservative Leadership contender and MP to being a Liberal Cabinet minister and now MP and potential Liberal leadership candidate.

And we have Buzz Hargrove with his social democratic strategic voting in the last election endorsing the Liberals. While Ford and GM care not a wit who he votes for and still slash Canadian autoworkers jobs.

The political reality of Canada is that the base of social democratic power remains identified with the status quo, with its Nationalism and with its base in Ontario. This can be clearly seen from the last election. Where really nothing changed. The social democratic left is still stronger than the social conservatives who are now the government. But its base is the status quo, not radical change. Voting for Capitalism On January 23

On the other hand the election shows that libertarian/populist radical politics comes from the West and Quebec. Rather than embracing the staus quo as Glavin and Dart suggest, in order to revive a failed dream of a Federal NDP government, the left in Canada needs a good dose of libertarianism to thwart the right. Without it the contradictions of the Harper Conservatives will never be confronted their psuedo-libertarianism never exposed for the Republicanism it is. Whigs and Tory's

Glavin and Dart suggest we maintain the status quo, that the Left subsume itself into parlimentary politics, and existing trade union politics by extension. But the left has been doing that for fifty years and it has gotten us nowhere. It is the politics of the stationary bicycle. The libertarian left wants to put wheels on the bicycle and go somewhere.


The Neo Liberal Canadian State

Historical Memory on the Eve of the Election

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