Spartacist Canada No. 161
Down with Racist "Anti-Gang" Hysteria
B.C.'s "Pick-Your-Poison" Elections
No Vote to the NDP! Forge a Revolutionary Workers Party!
The May 12 B.C. provincial elections saw the defeat of the social-democratic NDP at the hands of the right-wing Liberals, who won a third straight majority government. The B.C. political scene remains polarized, a distorted reflection of the history of militant class battles there: at 46 percent of the popular vote, Gordon Campbell’s Liberals won with the backing of virtually all the bosses’ organizations, chambers of commerce, etc., while Carole James’ NDP, scoring 42 percent, retains the support of the union officialdom and much of the working class.
The NDP won in many of the economically devastated regions of Vancouver Island and the Interior, as well as in heavily working-class and immigrant neighbourhoods of the Vancouver area. At the same time, voter turnout was the lowest in history, reflecting cynicism among working people for the electoral charade.
As the Vancouver Trotskyist League’s April 30 statement, printed below, makes clear, “gang violence” was the hot-button issue used by the NDP to demonstrate its commitment to maintaining the “law and order” of this unjust, decrepit capitalist system. In the May 3 televised leaders’ debate, James attacked Campbell from the right, accusing him of not putting enough money into “fighting crime.”
For their part, the labour misleaders heavily pushed protectionism as the answer to the devastation of B.C.’s industries. Echoing this, the Fightback group—a pro-NDP outfit that postures as “Trotskyist”—lamented that the NDP is not protectionist enough. “Instead of banning raw log exports,” they complained, “the [NDP] platform calls for restricting them”! They go on to castigate Gordon Campbell for “allow[ing] lumber companies to shut down mills and send raw logs to China where they are milled in sweatshops, while thousands of workers are laid off here” (marxist.ca, 8 May). This China-bashing is par for the course for these anti-Communist reformists, whose forebears supported capitalist counterrevolution in the former USSR and East Europe. In contrast, our defense of China, a bureaucratically deformed workers state where capitalism was overthrown in 1949, is key to our struggle to render workers conscious of their historic and internationalist interests.
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The May 12 B.C. provincial election comes amid the growing capitalist economic crisis. With layoffs mounting and people’s pensions being destroyed by this parasitic capitalist system, the economy is the number one concern on working people’s minds. But there is no party representing the interest of workers in these elections. We of the Trotskyist League oppose on principle voting for the outright capitalist parties—Liberals or Greens—who directly represent the interests of the bosses. The NDP is no choice for workers either, given their treacherous track record of imposing austerity and breaking strikes, and their thoroughly pro-capitalist politics. In power the NDP administers the capitalist state and out of power they continue to prop up the bourgeois system. We say: No vote to the NDP! The working class urgently needs to forge an authentic class-struggle workers party to sweep away this decrepit capitalist system.
The backdrop for these elections is a racist law-and-order “anti-gang” hysteria in the Lower Mainland that particularly targets South Asian youth. Whipped up by the Vancouver area police, the gutter press and both Liberal and NDP politicos around a few high-profile shootings, this cynical campaign has but one clear and unmistakable objective: to deflect the continued public outrage at killings and abuse at the hands of police—brought to light again with the Braidwood “public inquiry” into the death-by-taser of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski at the Vancouver airport in 2007.
With this inquiry, the cops aim to kill Robert Dziekanski all over again, slanderously portraying this man everyone in Poland seemed to love and respect as the stereotypical “drunken Pole.” Thanks only to amateur video footage taken at the time, everything that has come from the RCMP’s mouths—then and now—has been exposed as lies: that Dziekanski had been drinking, that he resisted the officers, that he did not react to the first taser shots—every single statement a lie. Just about everyone in B.C. shook their heads in disbelief as one officer reported being threatened by Dziekanski holding a small office stapler. As Dziekanski’s mother Zofia Cisowski aptly noted about the cops’ testimony, they “had only one thing in mind, which is to blame my son for his death” (The Province, 2 April).
Public anger, which exploded after the killing, is still seething—inquiry audience members have greeted the RCMP’s testimonies with heckles and cries of “Shame!” But the purpose of the Braidwood inquiry is precisely to defuse such discontent and refurbish the image of the police through a whitewash and damage control. This is the very purpose of such “inquiries,” which social democrats are fond of calling for. NDP federal public safety critic Jack Harris made this explicit when commenting on the Dziekanski case: “We’re very concerned because we’re seeing a loss of respect for the RCMP in the minds of Canadians” (Toronto Star, 28 March). So for these pro-capitalist reformists, the killers of this innocent man need more “respect!”
And the cop rampage continues. Firoz Khan, a delivery man of Fijian descent, was brutally beaten and robbed by three off-duty cops outside Vancouver’s Hyatt Hotel in January. The racist cops, who took the defenseless man’s phone, preventing him from calling for help, raved as they beat him that they didn’t like “brown people.” More recently in downtown Vancouver police gunned down and killed Michael Hubbard, a homeless man and long-time social justice activist. Drawing a lesson from the Dziekanski killing, cops have been seizing cameras and intimidating photographers who record police activity.
Left-wing activists and minorities are also central targets of increasing state repression as the city prepares for the Olympics. The RCMP-led Vancouver 2010 Integrated Security Unit is currently carrying out intimidation “visits” to Olympics critics, while the Vancouver cops conduct street sweeps of the homeless. An estimated 12,000 security personnel—including the highly secretive Joint Task Force 2 counter-terrorist unit of the Canadian army—are set to descend on Vancouver for the Olympics, and their targets explicitly include anti-globalization, anti-corporate and Native activists.
Far from raising its voice against police brutality and repression, the NDP calls for
more cops! The B.C. NDP has voted in favour of every funding increase given to police forces in the province since the Liberal government took over in 2001. B.C. NDP leader Carole James promises that “New Democrats will make fighting crime a top priority and we will ensure that the police, prosecutors and the courts have the resources they need to effectively combat gang violence.” The NDP’s gushing endorsement of the murderous, racist police is aimed at assuring the capitalist ruling class that an NDP government would be just as committed to enforcing bourgeois oppression.
The capitalist state—including the cops, courts and military—is the armed fist of the bosses and the sworn enemy of workers and the oppressed. More police on the streets means more violence against South Asian youth, Natives and other minorities (and whoever else falls into the cops’ clutches). These same cops are used against workers when they go on strike. In its own interest and that of the oppressed, the working class must actively defend all those targeted by this jacked-up state repression.
Workers Need a Class-Struggle Leadership!
Across Canada unemployment is soaring as the global economic crisis deepens—295,000 jobs were lost between November and February and 23,000 jobs vanished in B.C. in March alone. The formerly booming resource-based economies of Western Canada are taking a substantial hit, and the already beleaguered forestry sector is hemorrhaging jobs weekly. This crisis is a product of the inherently irrational profit system, but it is the working class that is being made to pay. Big business gets tax cuts, subsidies and bailouts while workers are shafted with layoffs, gutted benefits and Employment Insurance so inadequate that only 40 percent of those unemployed are even eligible.
The labour misleaders have responded to the economic crisis with capitulations to the bosses’ attacks and not with weapons of class struggle like strikes. The NDP says workers must pay for the capitalist recession: Jack Layton even urged them to have the “courage” to “take a pay cut so your friends at the plant can keep their job” (Toronto Star, 23 January). In Ontario, the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) leadership reopened contracts with the auto companies who are demanding massive givebacks in wages and benefits. And last December the B.C. Federation of Labour and Canadian Labour Congress hailed the class-collaborationist federal Liberal-NDP coalition. We are for the complete political independence of the working class and opposed on principle the Liberal-NDP alliance as an enemy of working people dedicated to maintaining capitalist exploitation at home and imperialist depredation abroad. In forging its coalition with the Liberals, the NDP even dropped its paper call for Canadian troops to get out of Afghanistan. Trotskyists say: Down with this bloody imperialist occupation! Canada, U.S., NATO: Get out of Afghanistan now!
The union tops also whip up protectionism, blaming workers abroad for the capitalists’ crisis. The CAW and the United Steelworkers (USW) issued a joint statement in February responding to the massive loss of jobs with a protectionist “Buy Canadian” policy. USW official Carol Landry railed at a Penticton plant that closed last year: “While good paying B.C. jobs are disappearing to China and other countries, the Campbell government sits idly by.” Promoting “Canadian jobs for Canadian workers” chauvinism undermines labour’s struggle. Protectionism is poison to necessary international working-class solidarity and builds illusions in the supposed benevolence of the Canadian capitalists, the class exploiters and enemies of the workers.
This protectionism is especially reactionary when aimed against China, a bureaucratically deformed workers state where capitalism was overthrown in 1949, in a huge step forward for the international working class. It is the duty of workers worldwide to defend China against imperialist attack and internal capitalist counterrevolution. At the same time, a Leninist-Trotskyist party has to be forged to lead China’s working class to sweep away the ruling Stalinist bureaucracy through proletarian political revolution. Capitalist counterrevolution in China would bring misery and devastation, and further embolden the capitalists in their attacks on workers and the oppressed everywhere.
The B.C. NDP platform gives a sop to workers’ concerns on the economy, with Carole James promising not to “use the recession as an excuse to do nothing while thousands of jobs are lost.” But whenever the NDP has ruled provincially they have carried out the savage dictates of the capitalist system. In B.C. they have a long and dirty anti-working-class history. The Dave Barrett government of the early 1970s broke strikes and administered capitalist austerity on behalf of the bosses. In power again in the 1990s, the NDP instituted public-sector wage controls and broke a strike by CUPE school workers in Vancouver. They whipped up anti-immigrant hysteria and carried out massive state repression at Gustafsen Lake against Native protesters. The NDP promises to restore bargaining rights to teachers, but in 2005 Carole James denounced a widely popular teachers’ strike and stood by the Liberal government-imposed salary freeze, insisting that teachers “should follow the law
. People accept consequences when they don’t follow the law” (Vancouver Sun, 18 October 2005)!
The NDP is what Marxists call a bourgeois workers party. Tied to the unions through the labour bureaucracy, its social-democratic program upholds the capitalist system, albeit with occasional rhetoric of reforms and “social justice.” As Marxists we reject the idea that workers can gain power through the vehicle of electoralism, but revolutionaries do seek to intervene into the parliamentary/electoral arena as a platform to further our program and goals. We may for example extend critical support to a reformist working-class party if it draws a clear class line against the capitalists and their parties. The aim of such a tactic would be to expose these labour traitors who, once in power, will defend the interests of capitalists and not those of the workers. But the NDP is not even drawing the crudest of class lines today.
The ostensibly socialist groups in Canada operate within the framework of social democracy, which means the capitalist system. Instead of the necessary struggle to win the most class-conscious workers away from these political agents of the capitalists, groups like the Communist Party (CP), Fightback, Socialist Voice and others reinforce the hold of social-democratic ideology. Last December the CP shamelessly promoted the Liberal-NDP coalition, calling to “drive the far-right Harper Tory gang out of office, and replace it with a coalition government.” Today the CP is running three candidates for the B.C. elections and with a platform headlined “Kick Out the Campbell Liberals” their campaign amounts to virtual electioneering for the NDP and the Greens.
Both the fake-Trotskyist Fightback group and Socialist Voice are loyal tailists of the pro-imperialist NDP, despite their “criticisms.” Fightback proclaims as the very first item in its program “NDP to power on a socialist program.” Meanwhile, Socialist Voice called on workers and leftists to push an “anti-capitalist” program and vote for the NDP in the fall federal elections (1 October 2008 statement). Spelling out its parliamentary cretinism, the statement adds: “Only action by trade unions and social justice movements can place working class concerns at the center of the electoral spectacle.” Administering the existing capitalist state—in Ottawa or Victoria, B.C.—cannot be a “socialist program” or an “anti-capitalist program.” In the words of Karl Marx, “the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made State machinery, and wield it for its own purposes.” Against illusions in parliamentary reformism, the Trotskyist League/Ligue trotskyste fights to win workers to Marx’s understanding of the need to sweep away the rule of the capitalist exploiters through socialist revolution.
The fundamental division between reform and revolution is one’s attitude to the bourgeois state. The reformist attitude is that one can administer it in the interests of workers; Marxists recognize that the capitalist state must be smashed through proletarian revolution and replaced with organs of working-class power. Flowing from this understanding is our position that we do not run for elections to executive offices, like mayor or president. In parliaments and other legislative bodies, communist deputies can, as oppositionists, serve as revolutionary tribunes of the working class, but to assume executive office or a parliamentary majority requires taking responsibility for the administration of the machinery of the capitalist state, including its corrupt, violent, racist police forces.
To mobilize as one fist against the class enemy, it is imperative that the working class combat all manifestations of capitalist oppression—in defense of minorities, women’s rights, youth. In Canada, the national subjugation of Quebec remains a major barrier to working-class struggle. We advocate independence for Quebec in order to fight the dominant Anglo chauvinism and to make clear to the workers of both nations that their enemies are their own respective capitalists, not each other. This means combating the “national unity” chauvinism supported by the NDP.
We need a revolutionary workers party that will fight within the unions to cohere a class-struggle leadership, organize the unorganized and fight for a sliding scale of wages and hours to divide the available work among everyone at no loss in pay. We need a massive program of public works to rebuild the crumbling and deadly infrastructure of North America and to ensure the very best housing, health care and educational facilities for all. Putting forward similar demands in his Transitional Program on the eve of World War II, revolutionary leader Leon Trotsky added:
“Property owners and their lawyers will prove the ‘unrealizability’ of these demands. Smaller, especially ruined capitalists, in addition will refer to their account ledgers. The workers categorically denounce such conclusions and references. The question is not one of a ‘normal’ collision between opposing material interests. The question is one of guarding the proletariat from decay, demoralization, and ruin. The question is one of life or death of the only creative and progressive class, and by that token of the future of mankind. If capitalism is incapable of satisfying the demands inevitably arising from the calamities generated by itself, then let it perish.”
Be it in Washington, D.C., Ottawa or British Columbia, democracy under capitalism is always democracy for the rich. As Russian revolutionary leader V.I. Lenin said, “To decide once every few years which member of the ruling class is to repress and crush the people through parliament—this is the real essence of bourgeois parliamentarism” (The State and Revolution, 1917). We of the Trotskyist League/Ligue trotskyste fight to break the working class of this country from the deadening grip of social democracy. This is integral to building the binational multiracial revolutionary workers party that will lead the struggle to do away with this entire system of wage slavery.