Spartacist Canada No. 183
Labour Must Oppose Racist War on Terror
U.S./Canada: Out of Iraq, Syria!
In the month since they joined the U.S.-led war on the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Canadian forces have carried out more than 100 sorties. Asked by the media about Iraqi deaths, the military’s spokesman wasn’t interested. “We’re not focused on numbers of casualties; we’re focused on effects on the ground,” he said. The military specifically refuses to disclose how many civilians it has killed. As the press warns of “mission creep” and the U.S. mulls ground troops, Prime Minister Stephen Harper refuses to rule anything out.
The Canadian rulers have deployed some 600 troops and ten military aircraft for the war in Iraq. Meanwhile in Ottawa, the Tory regime prosecutes the same war in a different form, introducing new “anti-terror” bills that will ransack what remains of civil liberties at home. The renewed imperialist assault in the Near East has also fuelled an offensive against Muslims, who have long been targeted by both the government and racists in the streets. From vandalism of mosques to threats against Islamic associations and politicians, attacks on Muslims have increased tenfold.
The working class has every interest in opposing Obama and Harper’s war. Every military setback for the imperialists would create more favourable conditions for working-class struggle at home. In turn, resistance to the war by workers in the imperialist centres would assist the struggle against the depredations of imperialism abroad, which have laid waste to countries throughout the Near East and beyond.
Our Marxist political views are hostile in every respect to the outlook and aims of the Islamist reactionaries of ISIS. We condemn communal atrocities on all sides. At other junctures, retrograde forces like ISIS (which grew out of Al Qaeda in Iraq) have served as lackeys for U.S. imperialism against struggles by workers, women and oppressed minorities.
Earlier, in the mainly Sunni-Shi’ite intercommunal conflicts that have torn apart Iraq and Syria, the world’s workers had no side. However, the current U.S.-led bombardment is a predatory imperialist war, part of the ongoing campaign by Washington and its allies to deepen the subjugation of the peoples of this region. Down with the imperialist war against ISIS! All U.S. and Canadian forces out!
Harper, Mulcair Stand as One
The Tory regime has used the killing of two Canadian soldiers in late October to whip up support for the war and for its new repressive legislation. On October 20, Martin CoutureRouleau drove a car into two soldiers in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, south of Montreal. He was shot and killed by police after his vehicle flipped in a short car chase, and one of the soldiers later died of his injuries. Two days later, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau shot dead a soldier outside the National War Memorial in Ottawa, then ran into the main parliament building. He was cut down in a hail of gunfire a few metres from where the prime minister hid in a storage closet.
The next day in parliament, Harper, NDP leader Tom Mulcair and Liberal leader Justin Trudeau stood together in solidarity and took turns embracing. Such expressions of “national unity” come naturally to these politicians: though the three leaders clash cardboard swords over parliamentary trifles, in matters of importance they are as one, the New Democrats’ historic links to the labour movement notwithstanding. In a televised address, Mulcair saluted “the brave women and men of law enforcement, our security services and our Canadian Forces,” intoning: “we have watched in awe your acts of courage—now an abiding emblem of Canadian strength, values and valour.”
The “valour” of the Canadian rulers and their military forces consists of waging wars against populations that are all but defenseless. “Acts of courage” consist of bombing civilians from the air.
By all accounts, Couture-Rouleau and Zehaf-Bibeau, both converts to Islam, were troubled individuals who acted alone. Yet, with a shamelessness that was entirely predictable, the government issued portentous warnings of a “terrorist” threat to the population at large. Police in military gear laid siege to Ottawa for a day and lockdowns spread as far as Halifax and Victoria. The capitalists’ media hacks sensationalized the killings, lamenting that Canada had “lost its innocence” and “will never be the same again.”
Innocence? The Canadian capitalist state has long been a faithful junior imperialist partner to the U.S. To this end (and to cite only a few examples): In the early 1950s, Canada joined an anti-Communist war in Korea that cost three million lives in just three years. Starting in 2001, U.S., Canadian and other imperialist forces bombed and tortured their way through Afghanistan, razing village upon village in a counterinsurgency that lasted over a decade. Together with their NATO allies and toadies, they rained death on Libya in 2011, bringing to power rival cabals of Islamic reactionaries whose orgies of torture and killing have thoroughly ravaged the country.
At home, the remorseless onslaught of the capitalist profit system can be seen in the deaths of workers on the job at a rate of three per day. There is no outpouring of grief by the ruling class for these workers, many of whom were killed thanks to grinding speed-up or the bosses’ cavalier disregard for health and safety. Then we have the aboriginal peoples, who were violently dispossessed and are now subjected to unremitting racist brutality by the capitalist ruling class. Or desperate refugees from the neocolonial world who are denied even basic health care and deported by the tens of thousands.
The faux naïveté of the Canadian rulers that their soldiers might become targets was skewered by former London Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald in an article aptly titled, “Canada, at War for 13 Years, Shocked that ‘a Terrorist’ Attacked its Soldiers”:
“A country doesn’t get to run around for years wallowing in war glory, invading, rendering and bombing others, without the risk of having violence brought back to it. Rather than being baffling or shocking, that reaction is completely natural and predictable. The only surprising thing about any of it is that it doesn’t happen more often.”
—The Intercept, 22 October
The truth hurts, and Greenwald’s remarks were predictably pilloried by the capitalist media.
The biggest terrorist on the planet is U.S. imperialism. The goal of Marxists is the overthrow of capitalist class rule in the U.S., Canada and elsewhere through the mobilization of a politically conscious working class. We thus oppose individual acts of terrorism, which even when carried out by misguided leftists are ineffective at rooting out capitalist oppression, and inevitably produce heightened repression by the very regime they were intended to undermine. Nonetheless, the attacks in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu and Ottawa were not crimes from the standpoint of the working class—unlike, for example, the 2005 terror attacks in the London transport system which indiscriminately targeted the multiethnic working people. For Canadian armed forces personnel, the possibility of retaliation for military operations comes with the territory.
Shredding Democratic Rights
The Tories’ “Protection of Canada from Terrorists Act” (Bill C-44) was thrown into high gear after the events on Parliament Hill. This bill will greatly expand the powers of the CSIS secret police. Overriding several high-level court rulings, the new law would permit CSIS agents to serve as anonymous witnesses and openly authorize CSIS to operate in foreign countries.
The consequences of this are foretold by the ordeal of Canada’s best-known victim of the “war on terror,” Maher Arar. A Canadian citizen, Arar was fingered by CSIS and the RCMP to U.S. officials as “suspected of being linked to the Al Qaeda terrorist movement.” The FBI abducted Arar in New York in 2002 during a stopover on his way home from vacation. Sent to his native Syria, Arar endured nearly a year of “extraordinary rendition,” the notorious practice whereby U.S. imperialism outsources torture to its dictators-of-convenience. Ottawa stonewalled all efforts to free Arar, then sought to cover its tracks by further smearing him once he finally returned home.
The Tories are reported to be cooking up yet another bill that would criminalize any “condoning” of “terrorist acts” online and expand the mandate for preventative arrests already on the books. Last year, the government renewed preventative arrest laws that were introduced temporarily by the then-ruling Liberals in 2001. The new law would deepen these Orwellian measures, which prohibit “thought crimes” by people who have done precisely nothing. The Tory regime has already arrogated to itself the right to strip people of passports and citizenship. While Muslims are the immediate target, the potential scope of such laws is far broader. The early trade unions in Canada were outlawed as “criminal conspiracies.” During the anti-Communist Cold War of the 1940s and ’50s, the democratic rights of leftist and working-class militants were shredded.
The Canadian state that wages wars abroad and prosecutes the “war on terror” at home is a tool of the capitalist class. Consisting at its core of armed bodies of men—the cops, army, courts and prisons—this state is committed to enforcing the supremacy of profit. By necessity, its ultimate target is the organized working class, whose interests are fundamentally hostile to the profit system. The task of the working class is to unite its own ranks across ethnic, racial and religious lines through opposing imperialist war, anti-Muslim hysteria and the “national security” offensive. Only then can the workers stand squarely against their class enemy, the employers, and begin to redress the suffering of all oppressed people. Labour must oppose the racist “war on terror”!
Social Democrats in the Camp of Imperialism
Eschewing a class-struggle perspective, the existing leadership of the unions instead eulogizes the armed forces of the class enemy. Ontario Federation of Labour president Sid Ryan responded to the Parliament Hill events by condemning the shooting of the soldier as “an appalling act of violence.” He even thanked the cops who terrorized Ottawa workers in the lockdown—or “kept them safe during the crisis,” as Ryan would have it.
For his part, NDP leader Mulcair whined that the Tories should not be “rushing through partisan legislation,” but should rather “work together, strike a special committee, and conduct a thorough review of Canada’s existing security measures before proposing a host of new ones.” The imperious Harper chose to shut down parliamentary debate, thus depriving the NDP of an opportunity to improve upon his new repressive legislation.
For years, the NDP’s standard practice has been to endorse “anti-terror” legislation in principle, then vote against it on one or another technicality. The bills pass and the NDP, whose vote is not decisive anyway, maintains a duplicitous posture that caters to both “law and order” patriotism and the party’s “progressive” image.
Cut from this same cloth was Mulcair’s October 6 amendment to Harper’s motion to authorize the new Iraq war. The NDP leader proclaimed “resolute and wholehearted support to the brave men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces” and advised the government “to contribute to the fight against ISIL [ISIS], including military support for the transportation of weapons for a period of up to three months.” The NDP amendment called on the government to eschew “combat operations,” but act instead under the cloak of “humanitarian aid.” Having wrapped themselves securely in the Maple Leaf, the New Democrats voted against Harper’s motion once their amendment was rejected.
The reformist left is also bending to the mood of national patriotism. At a small October 25 Toronto antiwar rally, emcee Faline Bobier—a prominent supporter of the International Socialists (I.S.) and columnist for its paper Socialist Worker—went out of her way to condemn the attacks on Canadian soldiers. She declared: “We in the peace movement stand in solidarity today with the family and friends of 24-year-old corporal Nathan Cirillo who was killed in Ottawa this past week, as well as with the family and friends of 53-year-old warrant officer Patrice Vincent…” (Toronto Video Activist Collective, YouTube). This was no aberration. The November Socialist Worker counsels “Real support for troops” on its back cover. We Marxists say: “Not a person, not a penny for the Canadian military!”
As they did during the much larger protests against the imperialist occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq, the various antiwar coalitions urge the capitalists to redirect military spending toward social programs (e.g., “Money for health care, not warfare”). Underlying this perspective is the utterly false view that the murderous capitalist state can be made to serve the interests of the oppressed, if it is only subjected to sufficient pressure from mass protests. To advance the struggles against imperialist war and growing poverty and destitution at home, it is necessary to unleash the social power of the working class against the capitalists.
Thanks to its centrality to social production, the working class uniquely possesses the power to cripple the capitalist system. By fighting for their own class interests, including through strikes against ongoing austerity and layoffs, workers can choke off profits, the lifeblood of the employers. Such economic struggles could pose an opening for political struggles—strikes and worker-centred protests waged directly against the “war on terror” at home and abroad. That perspective in turn requires a struggle against the politics of the union bureaucracy, the NDP and its reformist tails, who all preach directly or indirectly that the workers and the bosses share common interests.
There is plenty of social tinder in Canada today: struggles by minimum-wage workers for unionization and a living wage; anger at the incessant tide of layoffs and plant closures; growing labour and student protests against austerity in Quebec; militant actions by Native people and their supporters against poverty and racist degradation. What is missing is a political perspective that sees the working class champion its own interests and those of all the oppressed.
The fight to rebuild the unions as organs of class struggle, not collaboration with the enemy class, is linked to the fight to forge a Marxist workers party that can draw lessons from past struggles, at home and abroad. We of the Trotskyist League/Ligue trotskyste are dedicated to the fight to build such a party, through our propaganda and our interventions into labour and other social struggles. Join us in the struggle for socialist revolution, the only road to a society where those who labour will rule and where endless and bloody imperialist wars will be but a bitter memory of a distant past.