In the premier episode of the all-new FTB Podcast, hosts Jason C. McLean and Dawn McSweeney talk about the Outremont by-election and Canadian politics with special guest Niall Ricardo and we feature an interview with NDP candidate Julia Sanchez.
Also: News Roundup, Survey Says (Should Major League Baseball return to Montreal?), Dear FTB, Things You Did Not Know (Maybe) and Predictions!
Since Nelson Mandela’s passing two days ago, the front pages of newspapers around the world have acclaimed Mandela as a human rights giant, a saint, and even as a reincarnation of Jesus Christ. That being said, very few of the international mainstream media outlets have done Mandela’s radical politics justice.
What I am interested in shedding light on, that has been underrepresented in mainstream media, is the extent to which Mandela sought to fight discrimination. Beyond race discrimination, Mandela strived to eliminate class.
The radicalism of Mandela can be shown through his usage of a diversity of tactics – training for young militants, violent actions and sabotage when needed, but also the organization of peaceful protests, strikes and boycotts. Due to the wide range of tactics Mandela employed, it is difficult to place him on the political spectrum.
Mandela gave a statement in his own defense at the trial of Pretoria on April 20, 1964, in which he said, “I have always regarded myself, in the first place, as an African patriot. Today I am attracted by the idea of a classless society, an attraction which springs in part from Marxist reading and, in part, from my admiration of the structure of early African societies. The land belonged to the tribe. There were no rich or poor and there was no exploitation.” Ultimately, on June 11 of that year, he was found guilty of four charges of sabotage and sentenced to life imprisonment.
Mandela saw the struggle for the liberation of his people as a class struggle. In these few upcoming weeks, politicians and writers around the world will be framing his struggle in a different light, in a way that will attempt to omit the essential fight that Mandela fought that is class warfare.
In many ways Mandela differed from the linear dogma that was the Marxist approach. Mandela didn’t believe in the dictatorship of the proletariat but that armed revolution was unfortunately, considering the circumstances of the time, the only option.
After the Sharpeville massacre, Mandela understood that peaceful resistance in the South African context would set precedence for immobility. He went on to co-found Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation), which was the armed wing of the African National Congress (ANC) until 1990.
Armed revolution was a recurrent tactic used by national liberation movements throughout Africa since the end of World War Two, particularly in the Portuguese colonies of Guinea-Bissau, Angola and Mozambique, but also in Algeria, where Mandela was first trained in the art of armed revolution by members of the Front de Liberation Nationale (FLN).
Where Madiba (Mandela’s clan name) did differ was in his belief that violent revolution would not emancipate the majority of black South Africans but rather enact another form of oppression onto them. Unlike the Communist Party of South Africa, Mandela believed in actively participating in class struggle, with the mission to harmonize class distinctions.
This is a primordial point in understanding the national liberation theory that was the backbone of the ANC’s struggle and also in better understanding the current political climate of South Africa. Yet, in the past three days, mainstream media has made no mention of one of the defining traits of the South African Miracle – that black majority of South Africans did not seek a form of revenge from the white population after the end of apartheid – and why the so-called miracle has turned into a nightmare for many South Africans today.
There is a right-wing sanitizing effort that is trying to rewrite history and construct Mandela’s legacy to conform to a neoliberal agenda that many multinationals and the current South African Zuma administration ascribe to. On the other hand, many left-wing commentators and political pundits have noxiously repudiated Mandela’s legacy altogether.
The emphasis on Mandela’s non-violent actions while omitting his struggle to bring about substantial economical and social change in South Africa panders into the neoliberal belief that civil liberties can be upheld while economic and social rights are denied. Madiba knew this to be false.
Even though apartheid was technically vanquished in South Africa, in part because of the relentless efforts of Nelson Mandela, social and economical apartheid continues to impede the birth of the “rainbow nation” – a term coined by Archbishop Desmond Tutu that tries to capture the racial, tribal, and linguistic diversity of South Africa.
Many left-wing media sources have published articles that point to the ANC’s implementation of the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) directives and the World Bank guidelines in the early 1990s, which made sure to prevent an equal redistribution of wealth throughout South African society. These sources imply that Madiba’s decision not to pursue armed revolution, and his total faith in a democracy that could change, demonstrate that he was not radical enough for real social change in South Africa. It should be noted that social change has never been brought over night.
In light of the 2012 South African Marikana massacre, a wildcat strike that lasted a month and a half and cost the lives of 38 striking miners because of the intervention of security forces, Madiba’s radical legacy is more important than ever. We can look to his radical past and learn from how he used a diversity of tactics for the struggles of today. Madiba inspired the world to act and inform themselves on issues of class and race, but that struggle is far from over.
As the 2015 federal campaign is gearing up, one question may be on many a progressive Canadian’s mind: who is the best option in the federal arena to turn things around? Who will be able to – after nine horrid years of “wild wild west” conservatism – give progressive Canadians a voice in the government?
Many see Justin Trudeau as young and charismatic, someone that would be a break with the past. He is seen as a figure who would be able to rally like-minded Canadians from coast to coast to coast and finally defeat the Conservatives after three successive failures. But if he were to win, the status quo would win as well.
Trudeaumania, as coined by political pundits, is back again after the election that put Trudeau at the helm of the Liberal Party of Canada. Trudeaumania, as any mania, is based purely on a sensation – the sensation of a nostalgic past when Trudeau Senior was the Prime Minister.
In many ways Canadians can identify with the bygone era when Pierre Elliott Trudeau was in power. Some may be thinking that those were the days when Canada was really great and that this nation held an important position in an international political setting. But, in many ways, the Trudeau era was far from perfect.
We must not forget that Quebeckers from all walks of life were striped of their rights and thrown into prison, that the civil rights of the people of Quebec were sacrificed on the altar in the name of “national unity.” During the Trudeau era, this nation saw the implementation of the War Measures Act, and a massive violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, that was implemented by Trudeau himself.
Not unlike the reverence many Americans have for the Kennedy era, Trudeaumania is a misplaced Canadian longing for a bygone era in which Canada had as its head of state an inspirational and progressive leader on the world stage. Once you scrape away the surface of the myth, the mania around continuing a Trudeau lineage in office comes off disingenuous, based on false pretences.
In the 1972 federal election, P.E. Trudeau was handed a slim minority and had to work with a new political landscape in Ottawa, thus implementing many of the New Democratic Party (NDP) measures such as the creation of Petro-Canada. The progressive era of P.E.Trudeau was more so a product of intelligent political maneuvering than a true affection for the ideals of social democracy.
One thing to be said about P.E.Trudeau is that he possessed political courage on many issues, the main one being the National Energy Program. The National Energy Program would be his Waterloo and the Waterloo of the Liberal Party in the Canadian West. No matter how unpopular it may have been, P.E.Trudeau fought tooth and nail for the project, and unfortunately for him, the main benefactor would end up being a future Prime Minister of the Progressive Conservative Party Brian Mulroney.
Since 2004, the Liberal Party of Canada has been heading down a slippery slope. Canadians in recent polls (Ipsos-Reid poll conducted from the 16th-20th of October) have said that they know very well what issues are the backbone of the NDP and the Conservative Party, but have trouble figuring out what the Liberal Party stands for. I believe there is a quite evident correlation between the adoption of the Chicago School of Economics 101 (Neoliberalism as described by Milton Friedman professor at the University of Chicago) by the Liberal Party of Canada and their loss of relevance within the arena of Canadian politics.
More recently Liberal leader Justin Trudeau and his caucus might be firing shots left, right and centre during question period but when the time comes to vote, the Liberal caucus, on numerous occasions, have sided with the Conservatives. On the issue of the exploitation of tar sands and the building of pipelines, he offered to team up with Harper and head to Washington D.C. to help lobby for the Keystone XL Pipeline. When the National Energy Program – one of the pillars of his father’s legacy – was brought up at a press conference in Alberta, he shutdown the conversation by saying that he was flat out against it, end of story.
Justin Trudeau speaks widely of the need to reform and rejuvenate Canadian democracy and yet has voted time after time for the status quo in the Senate. And when it comes to free trade deals that serve the interest of multinationals rather than Canadian citizens, he has sided with the donors with the deepest pockets.
Would P.E.Trudeau be a member of the Liberal Party of Canada if he were alive today? I think not.
Maybe, after all, the Liberal Party of Canada, is…liberal. As Domenico Lusurdo explains in Liberalism: A counter-history, the “ideology” of liberalism born in the 18th century, was from it’s conception a flawed idea. It defended the equal rights of men and yet under the premises of civilization enabled the enslavement of millions of others throughout the globe. The rhetoric of liberalism and the practice of liberalism don’t match, they are antithetical. In this sense, the gulf between Trudeaumania and the aspirations and the hopes of many Canadians have put in Justin Trudeau and the real content of his message is a gap that cannot be bridged.
As Losurdo explains, liberalism has always been a fluid ideology capable of being everything while keeping the reins of power in the hands of the elite. Thus, the Liberal Party of Canada has become a machine built to keep and gain power and, without knowing, many wishful thinking liberals are maintaining the status-quo.
The political landscape in Canada has shifted under Harper, shifting Canadian political discourse toward the right. In this new politically polarized landscape, the Liberals offer no new alternative to the neoliberal Harperite vision of society. Unlike the Conservative Party and New Democratic Party, the Liberal Party of Canada offers no vision for the future of Canadian society, this is why the Liberal Party has lost its dominant place within the Canadian political spectrum and now should be relegated to the wishful shores of nostalgia.
* Top image: Justin Trudeau via Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons