Spartacist Canada No. 184
Canada's Creeping Police State
The Harper government’s Bill C-51, the “Anti-Terrorism Act 2015,” is a sweeping attack on free speech and other civil liberties. The bill targets publications, web postings and even private conversations sympathetic to causes that the capitalist rulers deem to be “terrorism.” It authorizes the CSIS secret police to go after any activity that “undermines the sovereignty, security or territorial integrity of Canada” or interferes with the country’s “economic or financial stability.” And you don’t have to actually do anything; the bill provides for “preventive detention” of individuals who the police claim “may commit” an offense.
The most immediate targets are Muslims, who are being subjected to a wave of demonization and discrimination from the federal government on down. Bill C-51’s timing is no accident. A federal election is on the horizon, and with oil prices having collapsed and the overall economy going down with them, propaganda extolling “Canada’s economic action plan” just won’t cut it. The killing of two soldiers in Ottawa and Quebec by converts to Islam last October was a gift from the gods to the Tories, for whom a campaign centred on the glorification of war and scare stories about Muslim “terrorists” could be a ticket to re-election.
“A great evil has been descending on our world,” Harper intoned as he introduced the bill on January 30. The Tories are churning out propaganda linking Canada’s role in the war against the Islamic fundamentalists of ISIS to a supposed threat of mass “jihadist terrorism” at home. They’re also railing against a Federal Court ruling that upholds the right of a Muslim woman to take the citizenship oath while wearing the niqab (full-face veil). The anti-Muslim hysteria has had particular traction in Quebec, where municipal authorities have shut down and blocked the opening of mosques and a Montreal judge refused even to hear a court case brought by a Muslim woman unless she removed her headscarf.
As Marxists and fighters for women’s liberation, we recognize that the Islamic headscarf is a symbol and instrument of women’s oppression. However, that is far from the main issue here: the moves by governments and the courts to restrict the democratic rights of Muslims, including the right to wear the veil, are part of a crusade to whip up bigotry and hatred against a vulnerable minority.
The labour movement and all those who uphold democratic rights must defend Muslims against these attacks. But make no mistake: the Tories’ proposed law targets huge swathes of the population. Native people engaged in road or rail blockades, Quebec nationalists who oppose Canada’s “territorial integrity,” left-wing activists, political refugees who support national liberation struggles abroad—all these and more are in the gunsights of this reactionary bill.
The bottom line of the capitalist social system is private profit, and there is no greater threat to profit than the people whose labour produces it. That’s why the organized working class will be the ultimate target of the rulers’ repressive legislation. The government already bans strikes with metronomic regularity, from the railways to the post office and more, claiming such moves are essential for Canada’s economic well-being. Bill C-51 goes further: in outlawing any interference with “critical infrastructure” or “economic or financial stability,” Harper’s new legislation could make even calling for a strike illegal.
Imperialist Terror and Hypocrisy
The U.S. imperialists launched the “war on terror” in conjunction with their occupation of Afghanistan and later Iraq after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. Other imperialist countries followed suit, including the then Liberal government in Ottawa. From the start, we exposed this “war on terror” as a pretext to increase the police powers and repressive apparatus of the capitalist state, constricting the democratic rights of the population. As we wrote:
“In ‘normal’ times, the class dictatorship of capital over labor, of wealth and privilege over the poor and oppressed, lies partly hidden in a wrapper of constitutions and rights, treaties and conventions, elections and parliamentary debate. But the ‘war on terrorism’ is lifting that cover, revealing the democratic imperialist state as nothing other than the bourgeoisie’s repressive weapon against the working class….
“And the definition of what constitutes ‘terrorist activity’ is vague enough to include ‘disruptions’ like the Quebec City anti-globalization protests, Native blockades in pursuit of land claims, or ‘illegal’ strikes like the citywide Days of Action in Ontario in the mid-1990s.”
—“For Class Struggle Against Canadian Imperialism!” SC No. 131, Winter 2001/2002
A decade and a half later, the racism and hypocrisy of the ruling class is even more brazen. After Islamists staged criminal attacks on a newspaper office and a kosher supermarket in France in January, capitalist politicians from across Europe and beyond linked arms in Paris in a grotesque display of “national unity,” while Muslim and other minority youth were hit with heightened repression (see “France: Down With ‘War on Terror’ Repression!”, page 4). Yet four years ago when Norwegian fascist Anders Breivik massacred 77 people, mostly attendees at a social-democratic summer camp, the rulers orchestrated no such international outpouring.
Another example illustrating the self-serving hypocrisy of the capitalist rulers came when two youths—one of whom had a blog and social media postings replete with Nazi symbols—were arrested in Halifax in February for allegedly plotting a mass shooting and arson attack on a shopping mall. Justice minister Peter MacKay pointedly refused to call this terrorism because it was not “culturally motivated.” For the government, the “terrorism” label is a political weapon aimed above all at scapegoating Muslims.
What capitalist governments deem to be “terrorism” is always determined by political purposes. In the 1980s, when Islamic reactionaries of the Taliban and Al Qaeda ilk were throwing acid in the faces of unveiled women in Afghanistan, the U.S. and Canadian rulers hailed them as “freedom fighters” against the Soviet Union and showered them with billions in aid. At the same time, the African National Congress, then fighting apartheid rule in South Africa, was officially declared a terrorist group.
Like Frankenstein’s monster, the Islamists turned against their former masters. After the September 2001 attacks, U.S., Canadian and other imperialist forces bombed and tortured their way through Afghanistan, razing village after village. American forces similarly laid waste to Iraq. In 2011, NATO rained death on Libya, destroying that country and bringing to power rival cabals of Islamic fundamentalists.
The imperialist bombardment of ISIS is the latest episode in the wars and occupations that have wrecked much of the Near East and touched off escalating ethnic bloodletting. The world’s toilers had no side in the reactionary, mainly Sunni-Shi’ite communal conflicts that have engulfed Iraq and Syria. It goes without saying that we communists are die-hard enemies of the ultra-reactionary social and political program of ISIS, and that we condemn all interethnic massacres. But ISIS is today under attack by U.S. imperialism, the main enemy of workers and the oppressed worldwide, and by Washington’s junior partner in Ottawa. Under such circumstances, Marxists have a military side with ISIS when it targets the imperialists and their on-the-ground lackeys including the Baghdad government, its Shi’ite militias and the Kurdish nationalist forces in Iraq and Syria.
Military setbacks for the U.S. and its allies might give the imperialist rulers pause in their military adventures, including by encouraging opposition at home. Such opposition can add to the tinder that must be ignited in class struggle against the exploiters who, in their quest for ever greater profits, beat down workers and the oppressed. In the course of such struggle, the working class must be won to the program of socialist revolution, aiming to destroy the imperialist beast from within.
Capitalist Justice = Organized Terror
As the Marxist militant Victor Serge explained in his 1926 book, What Every Revolutionary Should Know About State Repression:
“It is too readily forgotten that apart from the revolutions necessary to give it birth, bourgeois society took centuries of terror to emerge and grow. Big capitalist property took shape over the centuries through the implacable eviction of the tillers of the soil; manufacturing and then industrial capital were accumulated by the implacable exploitation, aided by bloody legislation, of the dispossessed peasantry, reduced as they were to beggary.”
“Justice,” added Serge, “has been nothing but terror organised to the advantage of the possessing classes. To steal from a rich man has always been a greater crime than to kill a poor man.”
For the capitalists, “democracy” serves as a velvet glove hiding the iron fist of a class dictatorship over the working class, minorities and the poor. The yawning abyss separating the tiny class that owns industry and the banks from the working people they exploit has been made even wider since the onset of the latest global economic crisis in 2008. Well aware that galloping inequality is increasing social tensions that can sow the seeds of class struggle, the rulers are eager to put in place a panoply of “anti-terror” measures and laws to strengthen the repressive apparatus of the state against workers and the oppressed. Ultimately, the only rights the capitalists are committed to maintaining are their rights to hold property and exploit labour. At the same time, what the government can get away with will ultimately be determined by class and other social struggle.
The goal of Marxists is the overthrow of capitalist class rule through the mobilization of a politically conscious working class. We thus oppose individual acts of terrorism, which cannot root out capitalist oppression and inevitably lead to greater repression. However, we draw a distinction between odious attacks on innocent civilians, as in Paris in January, and those that target the repressive forces of the state, such as the soldiers killed in Ottawa and St-Jean-sur-Richelieu. As we wrote last issue: “For Canadian armed forces personnel, the possibility of retaliation for military operations comes with the territory” (“U.S./Canada: Out of Iraq, Syria!” SC No. 183, Winter 2014/2015).
It is in the direct interest of the working class to fight against the wars, occupations and domestic repressive measures carried out in the name of combatting “terror.” But this runs straight up against the class collaborationism of the trade-union bureaucracy and their political allies in the social-democratic NDP. The labour tops have long embraced the “national interests” of Canadian capitalism, chaining workers to their own exploiters. If the unions are to be revived and transformed into bastions of the class struggle that is desperately needed, they must act in defense not only of themselves but of immigrants, other minorities and all those in the crosshairs of the state.
After weeks of dithering, the New Democrats announced that they would oppose the Tories’ Bill C-51. However, they accept the whole framework of the government’s repressive “war on terror,” and are quibbling over details. They complain that the bill “was not developed in consultation with other parties, all of whom recognize the real threat of terrorism and support effective, concrete measures to keep Canadians safe” (ndp.ca, 19 February). The NDP criticizes the government for not providing enough “counter-terrorism” funding for the cops as well as “counter-radicalization” programs in the community. In plain English, they want CSIS and the RCMP to have more resources to police dissent and to regiment the population.
Various reformist outfits claim the NDP can be pressured into becoming an instrument that acts in the interests of the working class. The Fightback group calls for an NDP government “on a socialist program” while Socialist Action (SA) wants to win the party to a “Workers’ Agenda.” Saluting NDP leader Tom Mulcair for “getting off the fence” and opposing Bill C-51, SA claims that “the task is for the NDP and its labour allies to win working class public opinion to oppose the terror law, and the corporate terrorists behind it” (socialistaction.ca, 4 March). Yes, if pigs had wings, they could fly. The idea that the NDP will mobilize the workers against “corporate terrorists” is just as likely. While the fake-socialists nurture abject illusions in the New Democrats, even as the latter move ever rightward, authentic Marxists understand that struggle against the capitalist system requires breaking workers from the grip of pro-capitalist social democracy.
The Necessity of Revolutionary Leadership
The Harper Tories seek to regiment all aspects of social life. They want the population to venerate the military and the monarchy, to fear the “criminals” and “terrorists” who supposedly lurk around every corner, to extol a country that is, they claim, “glorious and free.” But who should working people and the oppressed really be afraid of? The cops gun down black youth and other minorities all the time. Such police violence is part of the ongoing state terror against the oppressed that is integral to capitalist rule. Cuts to health care and pensions, crumbling infrastructure, work accidents due to the bosses’ neglect of elementary safety measures—these too are far greater dangers than the actions of a few religious zealots who dream of a return to the 7th century.
By orders of magnitude, the biggest sources of terror in the world today are the imperialist rulers in Washington, Ottawa and elsewhere, who viciously exploit the workers at home while lording it over the subjugated masses of the semicolonial world. With its overwhelming numbers and strategic role in producing society’s wealth, the working class has the historic task of leading a struggle against the all-sided attacks of the exploiters. The consciousness of the working class is today far removed from such a perspective, thanks in large part to the betrayals of the labour misleaders. But in the course of renewed social struggle, the workers and their allies among the oppressed can come to understand the need to uproot the entire social system that lies at the foundation of Canada’s creeping police state.
The working people need a leadership that doesn’t bow to the bosses’ dictates and champions the cause of all the victims of capitalist barbarism. Only the victory of proletarian revolutions in Canada, the U.S. and around the world can end the wars and occupations, the exploitation and racist oppression of capitalist class rule and its barbaric state repression. The necessary instrument for such struggle is a reforged Fourth International, world party of the socialist revolution. The Trotskyist League/Ligue trotskyste dedicates all our activities to building the nucleus of such a party. When capitalism has been swept into history’s dustbin, mankind will be able to develop a society based on abundance and equality, where the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.