Spartacist Canada No. 188
More War, More Repression
Justin Trudeau’s Liberals won a big victory in last fall’s federal election based on widespread illusions that they would be a “progressive” wind of change after a decade of right-wing Tory rule. Among Trudeau’s many campaign promises was a pledge to withdraw Canadian fighter planes from Iraq and Syria, where they have been part of the U.S.-led bombing campaign against Islamist forces. This gesture, Trudeau claimed, would be in line with “Canadian values.” Now the Liberal government has indeed withdrawn the CF-18 jets—as part of a program of escalating Canada’s military involvement in the Near East. In addition to maintaining planes in the region for refuelling and reconnaissance, the government has tripled the number of special operations troops embedded with Kurdish forces in northern Iraq.
The government maintains a hypocritical fiction that this is a “non-combat” mission. But the chief of the defense staff, General Jonathan Vance, made clear that Canadian soldiers “will accompany their Kurdish counterparts to the frontlines, engage in firefights and even call in airstrikes” (Toronto Star, 8 February). Trudeau is also sending additional military personnel to Jordan, Lebanon and Kuwait, where they will spot targets and render other forms of deadly assistance to local forces.
Canada’s shift in military deployment was endorsed by Washington. Speaking on behalf of U.S. defense secretary Ashton Carter, a Pentagon spokesman told the media that “the secretary sees these as significant contributions, and he appreciates the decision by the Trudeau government to step up Canada’s role in the campaign at this critical time” (Associated Press, 8 February). Meanwhile, a Canadian warship has been dispatched to the Aegean Sea as part of a NATO flotilla that aims to stop desperate Syrian, Iraqi and other refugees from entering Europe. And the government is considering joining another NATO military intervention in Libya, a country that was devastated in 2011 by imperialist bombardment including by Canadian warplanes.
Only a few months ago, much of the reformist left and the top labour leadership were positively giddy about Trudeau’s election. The Communist Party called the vote a “significant victory for the working class, for indigenous peoples, for women, youth and students” (communist-party.ca, 27 October). The International Socialists (I.S.) wrote: “We should take joy that Harper is gone, and that he was voted out on desire for change and that movements outside Parliament should feel emboldened to fight harder” (socialist.ca, 22 October). The Canadian Labour Congress bureaucrats saluted “the onset of a new era in relations between the labour movement and the federal government.” In contrast, we emphasized that Trudeau was merely providing a facelift for Canadian capitalism and that his government would be an “enemy of workers and the poor.”
Whether run by Tories or Liberals (or for that matter, the NDP social democrats), the Canadian capitalist state can never be a force for peace, “fairness” or any other “humanitarian” value. It is committed to protecting the private property of a miniscule group of super-rich businessmen and bankers. Canadian military operations abroad are predatory, rooted in the same capitalist economic system that is responsible for exploitation and poverty here at home: from low wages and grinding conditions on the shop floor to soaring student debt, rotten “temporary” work contracts, unemployment and homelessness. The necessary response is class struggle against Canadian capitalism. All U.S., Canadian and other coalition troops out of the Near East!
Under Liberal and Tory regimes alike, Canada has played a full part in a stream of U.S. wars and occupations, from Iraq in the 1990s to Afghanistan in the early 2000s and more, leaving millions upon millions dead, starving or homeless. The bombing of the reactionary forces of Islamic State (ISIS) is the latest episode in the bloody imperialist interventions that have laid waste to Iraq and other parts of the Near East and touched off spiralling communal and ethnic bloodletting. Cynically launched in the name of “humanitarian” assistance to Shi’ites, Kurds and others threatened by the ISIS cutthroats, the imperialist onslaught is aimed at reinforcing the hold of the U.S. and its allies over the Near East.
As we explain in more detail elsewhere in this issue (see “Syria: Imperialists Fuel Bloodbath,” page 8), there can be no road forward for working people and the oppressed without forthright opposition to all imperialist military interventions. Any blows dealt to the U.S., Canadian and other imperialist forces assist the struggles of workers and other oppressed people internationally. The fact that various Kurdish and Shi’ite forces have been operating as boots on the ground for the U.S. forces means that revolutionary Marxists have a military side with ISIS when it targets the imperialists or their proxies. It goes without saying that we internationalist communists are die-hard enemies of the ultra-reactionary social and political program of ISIS, whose methods of rooting out “apostates” amount to mass slaughter, and that we condemn communal atrocities on all sides.
Purported concern for the Kurds and other minorities is a key selling point for Trudeau as he escalates Canada’s role in the war. “We will be supporting and empowering local forces to take their fight directly to ISIL [ISIS] so that, kilometre by kilometre, they can reclaim their homes, their land and their future,” he told a news conference on February 8. A report by Human Rights Watch serves to contrast the grisly reality: “Kurdish forces for months barred Arabs displaced by fighting from returning to their homes in portions of Ninewa and Erbil provinces, while permitting Kurds to return to those areas and even to move into homes of Arabs who fled” (“Iraqi Kurdistan: Arabs Displaced, Cordoned Off, Detained,” hrw.org, 25 February 2015).
In December, Canadian special-ops troops fought alongside Kurdish forces in battles with ISIS for control of the city of Erbil. According to Human Rights Watch, thousands of Arabs have been confined in “security zones” as videos emerge of Kurdish fighters torturing and threatening to rape their captives. Canadian troops also provided ongoing military assistance to Iraqi and Syrian Kurdish forces last fall to retake the city of Sinjar. “The Canadians are among our most important guys,” boasted a Kurdish infantry general to a war correspondent for the right-wing National Post (28 April 2015).
The Fraud of “Humanitarian” Imperialism
The domestic reflection of the imperialists’ devastation of the Near East is the demonization of Muslims in the name of a “war on terror.” This “war on terror”—which is not a war at all, but a political construct designed to regiment the population and justify government repression—was launched in Canada by a Liberal government under Jean Chrétien. It remains in full force today under Trudeau. While in opposition, the Liberals voted for the Tories’ repressive Anti-Terrorism Act (Bill C-51), and they now are enforcing its provisions.
Notably, the Trudeau government is shielding the CSIS secret police from any obligation to release thousands of documents pertinent to the cases of Muayyed Nureddin, Ahmad El Maati and Abdullah Almalki. These three Canadian citizens are seeking an apology and $100 million in damages from the government over its role in helping to arrange their jailing and torture in a Syrian prison in 2001-04. They were held in the same prison as Maher Arar, who was infamously “rendered” there in 2002 at the behest of Canadian intelligence services.
It was Chrétien’s government that colluded with the U.S. to have Arar spirited to Syria for interrogation under torture. After they lost office to the Tories, the Liberals cynically backed Nureddin, Maati and Almalki’s case against the government. But now, back in power, they have flipped again. Indeed, the Liberals are going even farther than Harper did in covering for CSIS. While the Tories’ Bill C-44 granted CSIS sources blanket anonymity last year, Trudeau’s government is now making that anonymity retroactive.
“The lethal enemy of barbarism isn’t hatred, it’s reason,” said Justin Trudeau, “and the people terrorized by ISIL every day don’t need our vengeance, they need our help.” This traditional “civilizing” or “humanitarian” notion of Canadian imperialism went by the wayside under Harper, with his “warrior nation” rhetoric. Harper’s decade of overt and unapologetic campaigns against oppressed people at home and abroad alienated growing sectors of the population, leaving Canadian imperialism in need of an overhaul. Now the Liberals are back, and they’re looking to revive the fraud of Canada’s “progressive” image.
Imperialism is not a set of policies to be tweaked by parliamentary regimes of varying political hues. It is an economic system. In Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism (1916), Bolshevik leader V.I. Lenin noted that “Imperialism is capitalism at that stage of development at which the dominance of monopolies and finance capital is established,” and “in which the division of all territories of the globe among the biggest capitalist powers has been completed.” A small club of wealthy imperialist powers subordinate and oppress the vast majority of the world’s population. Dependent countries, which today include most of those in Asia, Africa and Latin America, “politically, are formally independent, but in fact, are enmeshed in the net of financial and diplomatic dependence.”
Canada’s role on the world stage is as a junior partner of U.S. imperialism. Its “humanitarian” posture has often enabled it to function as a purported honest broker while upholding the interests of Washington. Anything but “peaceful,” this role has always been violent and predatory.
Canadian “peacekeeping” made its debut in the 1950s, when more than 20,000 Canadian troops joined the U.S.-led war against the North Korean and Chinese bureaucratically deformed workers states under United Nations auspices. A decade later, starting in 1960, Canadian “UN peacekeepers” were sent to the Congo to help protect its vast mineral wealth for imperialist exploitation. Helping to overthrow Patrice Lumumba’s radical-nationalist government, they set the stage for his murder.
During Washington’s long, losing war against the Vietnamese Revolution in the 1960s and ’70s, Canadian “peacekeepers” and “observers” served as spies for the U.S., while Canada supplied the U.S. war machine with $1 million a day in arms shipments. Liberal prime minister Lester Pearson, a Nobel “Peace” Prize winner, met with U.S. president Lyndon Johnson in May 1964 as Washington was planning a mass terror bombing campaign against North Vietnam. According to the official U.S. record of the discussion, Pearson indicated that he would understand “the punitive striking of discriminate targets by careful iron bomb attacks” (cited in James Eayrs, In Defence of Canada—Indochina: Roots of Complicity, 1983).
In the 1990s, Canadian UN troops tortured and killed civilians in Somalia, including the gruesome murder of Shidane Arone by the fascist-infested Canadian Airborne Regiment. Hundreds of Canadian troops and RCMP officers have also worked with Haitian police and death squads in a decades-long “peacekeeping” mission, notably assisting in the 2004 coup against then-leader Jean Bertrand Aristide, which saw thousands of poor peasants and slum dwellers massacred.
The Necessity of Revolutionary Leadership
The NDP social democrats are now posturing as opponents of Canada’s military campaign in the Near East. Yet when the Syrian civil war began, they denounced Harper’s foreign policy from the right, chastising the government for not consistently enforcing sanctions against the regime of Bashar al-Assad. The NDP again one-upped Harper during the federal election by demanding harsher sanctions against Russia over Ukraine, while giving full-throated support to the dispatch of Canadian troops to help train the armed forces of the far-right regime in Kiev.
As the Liberals’ step up Canada’s participation in the latest imperialist rampage in the Near East, the once large “peace movement” has utterly collapsed. But the politics of its reformist organizers haven’t changed one bit. Rather than seeking to rally working people and radical youth in struggle against the barbaric capitalist system, they plead with the imperialist rulers to trade in their guns for the butter of social programs at home.
Perhaps the most fawning is the I.S., whose paper Socialist Worker (February 2016) features a huge front-page photo of the new prime minister with the headline “Message to Trudeau: Time for Real Change.” The I.S. has long been prominent in the Canadian Peace Alliance, whose latest declaration calls for “Peace & Prosperity, Not War & Austerity.” For its part, the Socialist Action group says “Jihadi terrorism could be quickly stopped,” explaining: “Instead of demonizing, arresting, or excluding Muslims and Arabs, domestic and foreign, the western powers could target poverty, racism and youth alienation at home” (socialistaction.ca, 15 January). The same capitalist powers that have been grinding workers to the bone as they slaughter thousands around the world? The bottom line for these groups is dead-end appeals to the imperialist rulers to abandon their crazed pursuit of profits and instead act upon the “universal human values” that they claim to espouse.
To advance the struggles against imperialist war and poverty and destitution at home, it is necessary to unleash the social power of the working class against the capitalists. Thanks to its centrality to social production, the working class uniquely possesses the power to cripple the capitalist system. By fighting for their own class interests, including through strikes against ongoing austerity and layoffs, workers can choke off profits, the lifeblood of the employers. Such economic struggles could pose an opening for political struggles—strikes and worker-centred protests waged directly against the “war on terror” at home and abroad. That perspective in turn requires a struggle against the politics of the union bureaucracy, the NDP and their reformist tails, who all preach directly or indirectly that the workers and the bosses share common interests.
There is a lot of simmering discontent among working people and the oppressed in this country. Minimum-wage workers are fighting for unionization and a living wage. Other workers are protesting the gutting of pensions, never-ending layoffs and plant closures. Quebec has seen recurring mass labour and student protests against austerity. Native people and their supporters have risen up against poverty and racist degradation. What is missing is a political perspective that sees the working class champion its own interests and those of all the oppressed.
As we wrote two years ago:
“The fight to rebuild the unions as organs of class struggle, not collaboration with the enemy class, is linked to the fight to forge a Marxist workers party that can draw lessons from past struggles, at home and abroad. We of the Trotskyist League/Ligue trotskyste are dedicated to the fight to build such a party, through our propaganda and our interventions into labour and other social struggles. Join us in the struggle for socialist revolution, the only road to a society where those who labour will rule and where endless and bloody imperialist wars will be but a bitter memory of a distant past.”
—“U.S./Canada: Out of Iraq, Syria!” SC No. 183, Winter 2014/2015