Canada: Capitalist crisis, socialist challenges

March 28, 2009

The article below is abridged from Socialist Voice,>. It is by the editors of SV, Roger Annis and John Riddell. Annis is among the international guests attending the World at a Crossroads conference, Sydney, April 10-12. For more information, or to register, visit

The capitalist world is being shaken by the most profound economic disruption since the Great Depression of the 1930s. At the same time, the imperialist powers, including Canada, are intensifying their wars in Afghanistan, Palestine, and elsewhere in the Middle East.

This situation poses new challenges and responsibilities for socialists in Canada and around the world.

The first casualty of the financial collapse has been the claim that "there is no alternative" to unrestricted free-market capitalism.

The imperialist governments are bankrolling imperilled banks and industrial conglomerates with immense bailouts — an estimated $5.1 trillion in the US alone by November 2008 — while preparing "stimulus" packages aimed at restoring financial markets.

The "stimulus" includes potentially useful projects along with many that are far more dubious. But urgently needed social investment, such as housing or a national daycare program, receives scant consideration.

The spending is shaped to restore corporate profitability, not to sustain workers' livelihoods. Thus, the US government's auto bailout is conditional on wages and working conditions in union-organised plants being cut to match non-union operations, and Canada's federal government has set similar conditions.

In Canada, mass lay-offs are spreading through the economy but unemployment insurance provides benefits to only half the jobless. The recent federal "stimulus" budget did nothing to change that.

War on nature and people

Around the world, governments only giving pennies on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. No consideration is being given to the comprehensive structural changes required to counter global warming.

No action is proposed to deal with the Alberta tar sands operation, the world's most ecologically destructive project.

In the global South, the capitalist crash has triggered what Adam Hanieh described in a November 28 SV article as a "deadly mix of capital outflows, high inflation, and drops in export earnings".

As the crash deepens, the US government and its allies are extending their war drive against peoples of the global South.

The Obama administration has promised a major escalation of the war in Afghanistan. All of the imperialist countries, with Canada in the lead, gave full backing to the genocidal Israeli assault on Gaza.

As Hanieh notes, the crash presses capitalism toward "a more hardened, authoritarian state", "increasingly virulent racism", and "more war and military repression".

Consistent with this pattern, the initial response in Canada to the crash by the Conservative Party government of Stephen Harper was to incite a wave of chauvinism against the Quebecois people.

Harper's unqualified support of the Israeli slaughter in Gaza mirrors his colonial agenda for the oppressed and impoverished indigenous peoples within Canada.

Amid all the talk in Ottawa of economic stimulus, nothing has been heard about the urgent humanitarian effort needed to remedy calamitous social conditions in indigenous communities. Ottawa continues its long-standing policy of slow death or assimilation for its colonial subjects.


The most effective resistance to the latest capitalist attacks has come from anti-imperialist governments in Latin America and the Palestinian people.

The countries in the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA) alliance (Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Dominica and Honduras) responded to the financial collapse with a plan for increased economic integration, including a regional currency.

Cuba, Venezuela and Bolivia — the leading architects of ALBA — also stood out in their forthright response to the Israeli assault in Gaza. Their leaders have proclaimed the truth that there is no solution to the problems of humankind short of the abolition of capitalism.

The slaughter in Gaza has created indescribable hardship and misery, but the people emerged from the wreckage unbowed. The Palestinian people were supported by the largest international anti-war protests since the launch of the Iraq war six years ago.

These recent events confirm the judgment expressed by Socialist Voice in a statement by its editors in June 2007: "The dramatic advances of the Venezuelan revolution and ... other insurgent peoples and governments resisting imperialism, are creating a historic opportunity to strengthen international anti-imperialist collaboration and rebuild the revolutionary socialist movement internationally."

NDP shifts right

Canada's trade unions and the labour-aligned New Democratic Party have reacted to the crisis by shifting to the right.

The NDP reached a temporary deal for a coalition government with the Liberal Party, one of the twin parties of capitalist rule in Canada for a century. That deal has now collapsed, with the Liberals choosing instead an alliance with the Conservative government.

Yet a coalition with the Liberals still stands as the avowed goal of the NDP — what party leader Jack Layton, speaking on CBC radio on January 25, called the "bold plan that we need in this country".

As part of the original coalition deal, the NDP ceased public opposition to Canada's participation in the Afghan war. It failed to counter the Conservative and Liberal parties' support for the Israeli slaughter in Gaza.

Labour and its allies cannot mount effective opposition to capitalist assaults and imperialist oppression if they are shackled to such a pro-war and pro-corporate party, or to a government it would lead.

Support for the Liberals is sometimes justified on the grounds that they represent the "lesser evil" — that their policies, while bad, are not as harmful as those of the Conservatives. That logic allows the capitalists to define the permissible options.

As the US socialist Peter Camejo once joked, "if they want us to vote for Mussolini, they need only put him up against Hitler".

"Lesser evilism" blocks working people from setting their sights on a humane and just world and advancing an independent program to that end.

Programmatically, the NDP is a capitalist party. The provincial governments it has formed have differed little from Liberal or Conservative governments.

The NDP leadership is loyal and devoted to Canada's colonialist-imperialist state.

But the NDP is also a political movement that was founded by the trade unions and left-wing activists. It has never been considered as an acceptable choice for federal government by the Canadian ruling class.

The NDP's stated program, however inadequate, echoes that of the unions that form its main institutional support. Its supporters share aspirations for a more just society.

If pressed to the limit, the coalition perspective will put in question the NDP's survival as an instrument, however weak, of labour political action.

The NDP's strategy of parliamentary action to humanise capitalism is a dead end for workers and oppressed peoples in Canada. But the challenge before workers is to strengthen their capacity for political action, not to passively accept losing what now exists through subordination to the Liberals.

That would be yet another setback for a labour movement that is already in a defensive and historically weak position.

Socialists should therefore engage in the debate over the NDP's future, particularly in the unions. We should press for the party to break from the Liberals and the capitalist class and to defend a workers' agenda.

Ending the long retreat

Through more than two decades of capitalist attacks, working people in Canada have been on the defensive. Unions have lost members and strength, social programs have diminished, and repressive and racist policies have gained ground.

The challenge is to wage broad-based struggles for immediate gains that can help end the retreat — and inspire working people with new confidence.

This will be achieved through independent struggles that can shift the relationship of forces. Such struggles can open the possibility of challenging capitalist rule and establishing a government of working people and the oppressed that can abolish capitalism.

There is no way to foresee what issues will spark such a movement. However, we can already identify central themes of a socialist agenda:

1. No government handouts to capitalist profiteers. Governments should take control of imperilled enterprises as a basis for planned economic recovery and ecological protection. The environmentally and socially destructive Alberta tar sands must be shut down, with full protection of displaced workers' livelihoods.

2. Protect the victims of capitalism's crisis through support to the unemployed, education and retraining opportunities for displaced workers. Raise minimum wages and social assistance rates.

3. Focus government "stimulus" spending on education, health care, social services, social housing and ecology infrastructure. Draw the entire population into a democratically planned transition to an ecologically sustainable economy.

4. Abolish restrictive anti-labour legislation and protect striking workers from replacement or dismissal. Adopt new laws to assist workers in joining trade unions and achieving collective agreements.

5. Take action to assist victims of racial and national oppression. Defend all victims of gender-based oppression. End restrictions on immigration and grant full legal rights to all residents. End violations of civil liberties and human rights enacted as part of a phoney "war on terror".

6. Take emergency action to eliminate the calamitous conditions forced on indigenous peoples. Unconditional support for indigenous sovereignty.

7. Self-determination and sovereignty for Quebec.

8. Oppose Canadian imperialism. End Canada's war in Afghanistan and its support to the Israeli-led genocide against the Palestinians. For boycott, divestment and sanctions against the apartheid Israeli state.

9. Cancel Third World debt and cancel pro-imperialist trade treaties. Make Canadian technology and resources available to help break the cycle of imperialist-imposed poverty.

10. Support freedom struggles around the world, including the initiatives of the ALBA alliance to overcome neoliberal devastation.

11. Press labour and its allies, including the NDP, to break with the capitalist ruling class and enter onto a road of struggle for a workers' and farmers' government.

Through struggling around these goals, we seek to help create an inclusive organisation of struggle for revolutionary socialism.

We aim to join forces with the many activists in labour and anti-imperialist movements who seek an independent path of struggle by working people and the oppressed.

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