The window is shrinking
Editor, the Nelson Daily:
I appreciated the recent editorial cartoon of Harper and his welcome mat to China in your recent edition.
Just after I saw that, I read that the Wildrose Party of Alberta had proposed a pipeline policy for Canada that seems — dare I say this about a right-wing party? — “progressive.” An all-Canadian pipeline to Atlantic Canada, not meant to sell oil to China or the USA, but to share our nation’s resource with all provinces — this is the Wildrose Party’s idea.
In other words, a policy that says the natural resources of Canada are owned by us all and we should all benefit by using them, not just letting corporations sell them and “share” with us by the jobs some of us will get from Alberta oil.
How does a society form its consensus on large issues like the proper share of its national public wealth to be made into private profit for private corporations?
On the proper levels of education and health and welfare and preservation of its habitat? In a society whose economic philosophy is market-driven, capital-intensive, individual-egoistic, competitive, materialistic, rationalist, secular and non-moral, we do it by constant battles.
Our battles of ideas are fought in public media, universities, legislatures, town halls, advertising, and ultimately in action, in confrontations over political and economic policy using marches, strikes, consumer boycotts, work stoppages, and tax revolts.
It is to me somewhat of a mystery how the corporate order altered the national consensus that once held good in Canada and wealthy nations generally, that corporations should bear a significant share of the burdens of a country’s costs for supplying a good life to its citizens.
A good life, and whether all citizens “deserve” one by being born Canadian, are other questions of vast import with answers that do not stay constant over time.
Pierre Trudeau, more a socialist than a classic liberal, asked these kinds of basic questions. He did the best he could inside the Liberal Party to build his vision of the Just Society.
His National Energy Policy was one of the planks of his design, as was his Guaranteed Annual Income plan (which he knew would be attacked as “communist”).
Trudeau’s vision failed more than succeeded, and his memory still provokes rage in the West where capitalist economics and resource exploitation are the determinants of opinion.
The West sees Harper as its kind of leader. The NDP cannot find a leader of principle and strength.
I was born in 1951. In that year, around half the revenues of our federal and provincial governments came from taxes on corporations and their profits.
Today BC likes to boast how low our tax rates are for corporations, as if to tell the world we will gladly part with BC resources for minimal cost to big business. And while we do that, we reduce our healthcare and education service levels, and increase consumer costs with new fees and pay-for-use billing.
With Harper, our federal government now takes aim at regulations that protect the environment because such rules interfere with corporate pursuit of resource wealth extraction. He charges that foes of his BC pipeline plan are in the pay of Americans, tapping into phoney patriotism and anti-US sentiment (which he feels not at all, loving the USA).
Canada is still a nation bearing all the imprints of a colonial origin, with its basic ground of social, political, and economic ingredients laid by the era in which we attained independence, roughly from 1870 to 1930.
The eras of Victorian morality, high Imperialism and its racist assumptions, patriarchal militarism, and the rise of anti-democratic fascism and bolshevism. Those historical contexts for our origins have deep roots in our consciousness yet.
British institutions underlie Ontario and the Atlantic region, and Ontario was the powerhouse province whose businesses extended their reach to the West and North and whose people populated those regions or at least supplied the elites and the bureaucracies.
White Anglo-Scot Protestants — WASPs — laid the groundwork. They were possessed of powerful “racial” senses of righteousness typical of the 19th century, the Calvinist work ethic, individual “pioneer character”, domineering judgement over inferior types of people and class, and the superiority of their national origins.
Rugged individualism is as much Canadian as it is American.
These Canadians, shaping the national public mind, determined that Canada would not have collective notions of sharing our territory’s wealth with all social classes that was characteristic of France or Germany where socialism had potent traditions.
WASPs have trade unionism in the blood from the Victorian and pre- WW II era, but not socialism, and we have followed the British since Thatcher into rejection of socialist blueprints for a fair or just society.
Britain has a Labour Party, not a socialist one, and we have the NDP. But we once had the CCF, a truly Canadian invention of political philosophy, also.
Paradoxically, it was the West that gave us the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) — a party whose social ethics were Christian in inspiration and whose interests were farmer-generated. The CCF did not try to base policies on urbanized industrial workers, a fatal flaw in a 20th-century party as it turned out, and one which led to a lethal defeat in the 1958 federal election.
Thus in 1961 Canada got the New Democratic Party, an amalgam of the CCF with the trade union movement at a time when the latter was still in forward motion, gathering strength. After 1980, unionism went into retreat. It still is, feebly trying to reverse the slow bleeding away of public support for unions.
In BC we see it in the Liberals’ ability to hammer the BCTF and other public-sector unions into submission.
The NDP has no answers; it has moved rightward. It wants power more than it wants to be inspiring.
The Regina Manifesto of 1932 declared the founding principles of the CCF: “a planned and socialized economy in which our natural resources and principal means of production and distribution are owned, controlled and operated by the people.”
Stirring words, and for the most parts, words so alien to the present mindset as to seem merely bizarre. Writers at the National Post love to sneer and snicker at the words:
“No C.C.F. Government will rest content until it has eradicated capitalism and put into operation the full programme of socialized planning which will lead to the establishment in Canada of the Co-operative Commonwealth. … planning will supersede unregulated private enterprise and competition, and in which genuine democratic self-government, based upon economic equality will be possible.
The present order is marked by glaring inequalities of wealth and opportunity, by chaotic waste and instability; and in an age of plenty it condemns the great mass of the people to poverty and insecurity.
Power has become more and more concentrated into the hands of a small irresponsible minority of financiers and industrialists and to their predatory interests the majority are habitually sacrificed. When private profit is the main stimulus to economic effort, our society oscillates between periods of feverish prosperity in which the main benefits go to speculators and profiteers, and of catastrophic depression, in which the common man’s normal state of insecurity and hardship is accentuated.
We believe that these evils can be removed only in a planned and socialized economy in which our natural resources and principal means of production and distribution are owned, controlled and operated by the people. The new social order at which we aim is not one in which individuality will be crushed out by a system of regimentation.
Nor shall we interfere with cultural rights of racial or religious minorities. What we seek is a proper collective organization of our economic resources such as will make possible a much greater degree of leisure and a much richer individual life for every citizen.
This social and economic transformation can be brought about by political action, through the election of a government inspired by the ideal of a Co-operative Commonwealth and supported by a majority of the people. We do not believe in change by violence.”
Admittedly, capitalism has avoided a “catastrophic depression” in spite of the dire events of 2008 when unregulated finance capitalism led to incomprehensible sums of money being assumed as national debts by governments in the West who had to save the system at the behest of their ruling classes.
But we do not even like those words I use, “ruling classes.” I would remind people that no less a capitalist than Warren Buffett loves to say, “there is a class war, and my side is winning.” However, class warfare now seems a concept as weird as scientology.
A new kind of mind is at large in the West, not the kind formed in my generation by the detritus of World War Two and the Sixties’ “social and cultural revolution.”
The new mind is the mind of generations X, Y and www, generations I try to understand by reading about “Urban Tribes” (E. Watters) and “post-modern consciousness.”
(K.Wilber). These young people are not conditioned to like unions, or socialism, as I was by my 1960’s upbringing. They do not have any loyalty to capitalism either.
They live by a new idea of the good life. “Follow your bliss. Do what you love, and you will never work a day in your life.”
A recent eye-opening conversation with some twenty-somethings has let light into my understanding of their tribal values. I was told how very many of them and of their friends are deeply in debt.
“To us, and to our friends who are all deep in debt for student loans or business start-ups or first-home mortgages, money is not truly real. The whole system is a big game, it’s all just huge numbers, and it is all going to crash and burn.
Paying back the debt one day is not seriously a real worry. Student loans are easy to keep running on; you can get breaks when you have no income. We just pay the interest, it’s not hard to do that much.
The government is paying for us to keep on living how we do and that is good enough for the moment. It is hard to find a job that you can feel is what you are meant to do, so you just take crap jobs and live your real life away from work. We live in the moment.”
I totally get this new mind of the young. It is not traditionally scientific/materialistic, it has an element of fantasy to my kind of mind, it believes that our thoughts and intents and values “manifest reality” and “we create what the world is.”
Charles Eisenstein is still the finest writer I know to explain why this mind makes sense at this point in human history, and that it will be part of our solutions, rather than a problem.
I have an old socialist’s mind. I am shocked by the approval of the Jumbo project by the BC Liberals, even though it is perfectly consistent with the many people who hang on to the operations of global capitalism as it has always been.
These minds do not see that the system is a game destined to fail horribly if not altered within the time available to create a new one. Is there still time? Yes, and no.
We can do it.
We cannot avoid mass misery and death of millions now as we stumble through the excruciating transition to a new order. How many humans died today of war, famine, disease, poverty, crime, ecological breakdowns? Many, and all once were avoidable if different choices had been made as recently as three decades ago.
The window is shrinking.
The 1% still rule and will not agree to give up the system that enriches them.
The film “The Lorax” lays it out quite starkly. You have to choose a side now. Another film, “The Iron Lady” shows you a person who knew her mind, and did much to propagandize for capitalism.
Margaret Thatcher or the Lorax? Her slogan — “There is no alternative.” (TINA).
The Lorax and Dr. Seuss gives a different option: “Unless someone like you, Cares a whole lot — It’s not going to get better. It’s not.”