The following was first printed in a Spartacist supplement (February 2022).
21 FEBRUARY—Massive unemployment, overloaded hospitals and cancelled treatments, widespread deterioration of working conditions, crippling inflation, gutting of democratic rights, ruined shopkeepers, closing of schools, families stuck together day and night, unspeakable pain and distress, death: For two years now, the workers and the oppressed have suffered the devastating consequences of the bourgeoisie’s response to the pandemic and its lockdowns. This is the backdrop to the truckers’ convoy on Ottawa, which has become a lightning rod for widespread discontent in society.
Faced with this first significant blowback to the ruling class’s “national unity” campaign in the pandemic, the bourgeoisie, its media mouthpieces, the New Democratic Party [NDP] and the reformist left immediately went into hysterical overdrive. Their propaganda barrage which portrays anybody participating in anti-government demonstrations as “far-right extremists” is but a lie to justify cracking down on them. What has pushed thousands of people in major cities to come out in protests is not “racism,” a “far-right agenda” or (as tinfoil-hatted liberals would have it) a “U.S.-funded coup,” but the totally legitimate anger against the social disaster created by the bourgeoisie’s health measures.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has decreed the Emergencies Act—a “rebranding” of the War Measures Act—with which the government gives itself arbitrary powers to increase repression, suspend civil liberties, freeze bank accounts and extend the policing powers which they’ve used to crack down on truckers and protesters. Nearly 200 have already been arrested under this law. We say: Defend the truckers! Drop all the charges! Down with the Emergencies Act!
Break with the Labour Traitors!
Build a Revolutionary
Outrageously, the loudest voices in the hysterical campaign against the truckers and protesters have come from the NDP and their fake-socialist left tails such as Fightback, Socialist Action and the Communist Party of Canada, which have pushed for more state repression. Fightback (among others) even acted as shock troops for the government, mobilizing counterprotests in several cities against the truckers!
This comes as no surprise. Throughout the pandemic, the NDP and union tops in the Canadian Labour Congress and Unifor, as well as the leaderships of the Quebec union federations, all supported the lockdowns, i.e., the reactionary response to the Covid-19 crisis by the capitalist ruling class, who sought to stave off in a cheap way the total collapse of their decrepit health care systems. The union tops offered their “full collaboration” to the bosses and their state, fostered “national unity” with the bosses and shoved the lockdowns down the throats of their members; the federal NDP has been unwaveringly upholding Trudeau’s minority government; and the B.C. [British Columbia] NDP government has outright enforced the lockdowns! For their part, the fake socialists of Fightback not only supported lockdowns but have been clamoring to make them harsher!
All those class traitors claimed that supporting the lockdowns of the bourgeoisie was necessary in order to “save lives,” that there is some sort of “universal,” transclass concept of public health to which we are all beholden; that we need “solidarity” (with the bosses) in order to “fight the pandemic” and “protect each other”—in other words, that the workers must accept putting their struggles on hold and getting screwed.
No! The interests of the proletariat and the bourgeoisie are at all times irreconcilable, no less during a pandemic. The immediate response of the workers movement to the Covid crisis ought to have been: We need to fight for more health care, more education, more housing, more infrastructure, and to fight for workplaces that we deem safe, not stay at home, holed-up, isolated and powerless. In-person union meetings, street protests, strikes is how class struggle against the bosses is done in the real world (not on Zoom). It’s the only way for the working class to defend its health and safety and to confront what fuels this crisis, the capitalist system. But these are the very class-struggle means that lockdowns aim to prevent: Lockdowns weaken in every possible way the fighting ability of the working class. Opposing them is the precondition for labour to address this crisis from the perspective of its interests. Down with the lockdowns!
From miserable health care systems to housing and public services which are in shambles, the pandemic has shown for all to see that the supposed “Canadian welfare state” is but a sham. Production for profit, anarchy of the market, international imperialist competition and domination, exploitation of labour at the cheapest possible rate, austerity attacks on health, education, welfare services: It is the very nature of capitalist class rule which has fueled the health and social crisis. The pandemic has only made clearer that to even begin to address these basic human needs workers must control society and organize it under a rationally planned, centralized socialist economy.
At every turn, the vital interests of workers and the masses run up against the capitalists’ private ownership of the factories, mines and banks and their overall control of the productive forces of society, power which they protect with the full force of their state—composed at its core of the army, the cops, courts and prisons. The bourgeoisie won’t peacefully relinquish any of its fundamental interests and accept giving up its power: capitalism cannot be reformed. The working class cannot lay hold of this state machinery (through elections for instance) to meet its interests—it needs its own state, a workers state, to confront the resistance of the bourgeoisie and assert its own class rule.
What’s urgently called for is a communist opposition to the government, which means breaking with the current treacherous reformist leaderships and building a new, revolutionary party which can lead the working class to victory in its struggle for power. The Trotskyist League and its comrades internationally are the only ones on the left today that advance such a revolutionary perspective in the pandemic. Reforge the Fourth International, world party of socialist revolution!
For a Revolutionary Program in the Pandemic!
While the anger of the truckers and protesters against the government is entirely legitimate, the watchwords of “Freedom” and “Fuck Trudeau” as well as the defense of “Canadian values” which dominate these protests offer no way forward for the working class and lead straight to support for another wing of the same, oppressive Canadian bourgeoisie. It is because of the labour traitors’ betrayal in the pandemic that the anger at the base of society has found only amorphous and non-proletarian expressions. The catastrophic effect of their politics has been to strengthen the hold of the bourgeoisie on the workers, channeling them behind Trudeau, and letting right-wing forces present themselves as the only opponents of the government’s measures.
In the absence of a clear working-class pole during the pandemic, vaccination and vaccine mandates have become major social issues, and the truckers’ protests have polarized society mostly on this question. Either you support anything the government does if it is done in the name of increasing the vaccination rate or you oppose any encroachment on civil liberties, any form of mandatory vaccination and sometimes the vaccines themselves. As communists, we reject both sides of this debate. Our guiding principle is the interests of the working class. It is in the interest of the working class that everyone on earth be vaccinated against Covid-19. We are for mandatory vaccination, i.e., being forced to get a jab in your arm. It is not a democratic right to refuse to be vaccinated and spread the virus. But we oppose its enforcement through policies which attack the working class in the name of vaccination. We oppose Trudeau’s imposition of vaccine mandates on the trucking industry, which would condemn unvaccinated truckers to lose their ability to make a living, just as we oppose similar measures against nurses and other workers. Mass layoffs are an attack against the working class and the unions; we oppose them no matter the reason. We also oppose the vaccine passports, which track every movement of the population and turn every bar employee and shopkeeper into a cop auxiliary. Cutting through all bourgeois polarizations in society, we advance a revolutionary program of struggle, class against class, taking the immediate needs of the workers and linking them with the necessity of proletarian power to fulfill them.
The current situation cries out for a massive public works program to build new hospitals and health care infrastructure, new schools, and quality, spacious, low-cost housing. Seizing all Crown land from coast to coast, as well as the best office towers on Toronto’s Bay Street and in downtown Vancouver and Montreal is a good place to start. In addition, we need a massive union-run hiring and training campaign to shore up decrepit public services and develop new social programs. A realistic way to do it: expropriate the bankers and industrialists! Small shopkeepers, bars and restaurants as well as students are choked by debt. Cancel all their debt!
All these demands are utterly counterposed to the reformist left’s pipe dream of “putting the NDP in power on a socialist program” with their “tax the rich” schemes to get a few more crumbs, or their support to Québec Solidaire, an outright bourgeois party. Any party taking power in Her Majesty’s parliament administers a bourgeois government which will defend the capitalists and attack the working class. We need a workers government, based on workers councils!
Against the massive attacks on working conditions and the increasing cost of living, unions urgently need to organize the unorganized and fight for a major, across-the-board wage increase pegged to inflation! Against the overwork of many and the unemployment of others, unions must fight for a 30-hour workweek paid like 40 to spread work among all hands. Against racial divisions fostered by the bosses, the unions must fight for full citizenship rights for all immigrants in order to unify the working class in its struggle against capitalist class rule.
All this is counterposed to the reformists’ program of pressuring the existing trade-union bureaucracies. The fundamental problem of the labour movement is not its lack of militancy, but the pro-capitalist program of the current union leaderships who seek only to renegotiate the terms of exploitation of the working class under the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. No amount of pressure will make them relinquish their program of chasing an illusory “partnership” between labour and capital. They must go! What we need is a new, revolutionary leadership which can harness the immediate struggles for the most elementary needs of the workers to the necessity for them to take control of the whole of society, which is the only means to fulfill these needs.
In opposition to the labour traitors’ program of sending everybody home, begging for more plant and school closures and stricter Covid protocols enforced by the bosses’ health agencies, there is an urgent need to fight for union control of health and safety! Relying on the capitalist state agencies such as the [Ontario] WSIB and the [Quebec] CNESST to “protect” workers is suicidal! The unions, not the capitalist state, should determine what conditions are safe to work under. As long as the bosses are in command, profits will always come before safety. The capitalist state is the armed fist of the bosses. It exists to enforce the exploitation of the working class, not to provide safe working conditions! Anybody who thinks that the bosses and their state are there to defend your health is not a socialist but a numbskull.
If there’s such a thing as “true Canadian values,” it is certainly not “freedom” and “democracy,” but the Anglo-chauvinist national oppression of Quebec and allegiance to the British monarchy. These are the cornerstones of the Canadian capitalist state—the very state which today is coming down on the truckers. That the repressive state powers of the War Measures Act used by Pierre Elliott Trudeau against Quebec’s indépendantistes in October 1970 are the same ones used by his offspring today shows clearly that workers in English Canada and Quebec have a common enemy in the Canadian ruling class. For their part, the NDP, Fightback and the rest of the Canadian reformist left stand just as united in their opposition to Quebec’s national rights as they stand united behind Trudeau’s attack on the truckers. We say: For independence of Quebec now!
Advancing the struggle for Quebec’s national liberation on a revolutionary basis is crucial to both break workers in English Canada from their Anglo-chauvinist leaderships, and workers in Quebec from their bourgeois-nationalist leadership. Workers in English Canada have a vital interest in championing this struggle and using it as a lever to remove the bourgeoisie from power and establish working-class rule. There’s no question that breaking the yoke of English Canada’s domination over Quebec would be progressive, even under capitalism. And in Quebec, separation would only make clearer to the working class that the nationalist bourgeoisie is its sworn enemy. The Quebec bourgeoisie has made it plain, time and again, that it will fight for independence only insofar as it wants to be in a better position to exploit its own working class. Workers in Quebec won’t be free under an independent capitalist Quebec, they need a workers republic of Quebec!
The pandemic has shown once more that the present leadership of the working class in Quebec and Canada is totally prostrated in front of their respective bourgeoisies. From the NDP to the union tops, it is their program of upholding capitalism which leads them to betray the working class. Break with the NDP, break with all bourgeois-nationalist parties in Quebec! For a binational revolutionary workers party!