Canada’s Place in the Imperialist System, and the Struggle for Sovereignty and an Independent Foreign Policy of Peace and Disarmament
Presented by Kimball Cariou, editor of People’s Voice and member of the Central Executive Committee CPC, at the seminar on “Anti-Imperialism and Peace,” June 25, 2006, Vancouver, British Columbia.
My presentation today is largely based on some earlier work by comrade Miguel Figueroa, leader of the Communist Party of Canada. Together with Miguel, I have added some comments in regard to issues being debated within the anti-war movement in the new context of the Harper Conservative minority government.
The CPC has a long history of involvement in the anti-war struggles. Our party was formed in 1921 by representatives of the socialist movements in North America which were most strongly opposed to participation in the First World War, which saw millions of European workers slaughter each other for the sake of the competing colonial ambitions of their masters. Ever since that time, the Communist Party has played an important role in the movements against war and for peace and disarmament. During the most difficult years of the Cold War, the Communists, along with some left-oriented social democrats, were virtually the only political force campaigning against the imperialist domination of the US and the European colonial powers.
Even at the present, when our Party is quite small, we place a high priority on building a broad and powerful struggle against imperialist war, from local grassroots coalitions to alliances on a country-wide and international scale.
To give just a couple of local examples, the Communist Party was one of the very first organizations to affiliate to the StopWar coalition here in Vancouver. We were deeply involved in the Coalition of Progressive Electors, whose elected officials took the initiative to launch the World Peace Forum. On a country-wide scale, we were among the groups which built the Canadian Peace Congress, and which helped to launch the Canadian Peace Alliance during the 1980s. We have been among those political forces which aim to build up mass opposition to the occupation of Iraq and Palestine, and to resist Canada’s shameful role in the occupation of Afghanistan and the overthrow of the democratically-elected government of Haiti.
I want to speak about some of this context first, and then deal briefly with the theoretical issues faced by the peace movement.
Two months ago, on the third anniversary of the U.S.‑led invasion of Iraq, protests were organized around the world, including in over thirty cities and towns across Canada. With the dangers to peace multiplying, Canada’s peace movement is faced with the necessity to redouble our efforts to block this country’s tilt towards support for U.S. imperialism.
The election of the minority Conservative government is a dangerous development, directly counter to the interests of the majority of people in Canada.
In recent years, Canada has participated in a number of imperialist aggressions, violating the fundamental, democratic principles of international law: Iraq (enforcing sanctions, 1990 to 2003), Somalia (1992), Bosnia (1993 to present), Yugoslavia (1999), Afghanistan (2001 to present) and Haiti (2004 to present).
Prior to this period, Canada projected an image as a “neutral” party in world affairs. Canada was clearly on the same side as the United States, but we were usually seen as “peacekeepers” rather than participants in military actions. Under enormous pressure from the peace movement, particularly in Quebec, the Chrétien government declined to take part in the invasion of Iraq, a move which temporarily restored this tarnished image.
Overall, however, this more aggressive recent trend emerged following the serious setbacks to socialism in the Soviet Union and its allies, which acted as a counterweight to imperialism’s constant and inherent drive for world domination.
Canada’s new imperialist record has shocked many people, but it should be no surprise. Acting on behalf of Canadian banks and transnationals, and backed by the corporate media, successive federal governments have increasingly aligned Canada’s foreign policy and military doctrine with that of the U.S. One important exception has been Ottawa’s disagreement with the illegal U.S. economic blockade of Cuba.
Now, on a whole range of foreign policy issues, the Harper government threatens to involve Canada in ever more dangerous aggressions and war preparations.
In defiance of public opinion, the Harper government wants to reverse the 2004 decision against official participation in U.S. plans to deploy weapons in space (missile defence). With the aim of taking part in more foreign aggressions, the Harper government will increase military spending to nearly $25 billion over the next five years, up from today’s $11.6 billion.
Canada’s leading role in the occupation of Afghanistan is the greatest and most immediate problem confronting the peace movement. Last year the Martin Liberals – with the full support of the Harper Tories – escalated Canada’s troop deployment to Afghanistan into the largest foreign operation in fifty years. Last month, on just 36 hours notice, the Conservatives pushed through a Parliamentary vote to extend the Afghan mission for two more years. But the vote was just 149-145, thanks largely to a last minute campaign by anti-war groups to flood MPs with e-mail messages.
This struggle will continue despite the Parliamentary vote, and it will almost certainly escalate as two things happen: more Canadian troops will suffer casualties in the Kandahar area, and more Afghans will be killed by the occupation forces. The battle to win “hearts and minds” over this issue is being fought here in Canada by such means as the arrests of 17 young men in Toronto, who are now facing terrorism charges. According to Harper and “Public Safety” Minister Stockwell Day, these men are already presumed guilty. We can be certain that the timing of these arrests had more to do with winning support for the Afghan mission than with any real immediate danger of a terrorist action.
This deployment has nothing to do with improving the lives of people in Afghanistan or fighting terrorism. The real purpose is to allow the U.S. to keep more of its soldiers in Iraq, and to safeguard U.S. investments, like Unocal corporation’s proposed oil pipeline through Afghanistan from Central Asia. But the presence of Canadian troops in the region will make Canada an even more important target and enemy of the peoples struggling to end unjust occupations.
The seriousness of tensions in the region cannot be underestimated. The use of nuclear weapons or devastating attacks by the U.S. or another imperialist power may well provoke a far greater and widespread war with millions of casualties over many years.
Unfortunately, the Afghanistan deployment vote revealed the lack of a powerful Parliamentary opposition to the Tories’ foreign and military strategy. There was plenty of talk of “supporting our troops” and “getting back to building infrastructure,” but even the NDP members of parliament accepted the underlying assumption that Canada has a “responsibility to protect” the weak and powerless through the projection of our military strength. In effect, the NDP, as well as Liberal and Bloc Quebecois opponents of the war, are reluctant to challenge the imperialist nature of this occupation. This means that the peace movement must redouble our efforts to demand that Canada immediately withdraw our military forces from Afghanistan and speak out in support of sovereignty of the peoples in the Middle East. There will be stronger campaigns along these lines by many anti-war groups across Canada in the coming months, including a cross-country day of action on October 28.
There are other crucial issues faced by the peace movement today. The U.S. continues to develop and lower thresholds for the use of its massive nuclear weapons arsenal. A new round of nuclear testing is in preparation.
The Bush administration is ominously charging that Iran is building nuclear weapons, laying the groundwork for some type of military assault upon that country.
Imperialist countries are using the Hamas victory in the Palestinian Authority elections to punish the Palestinian people with starvation and sanctions, while ignoring the murderous campaigns against the Palestinians by the Israeli state.
The war on terrorism is being used by imperialism to curb civil rights, carry out racist attacks, and criminalize resistance to its domination.
All these problems are added to old global injustices, such as the impoverishment and starvation of millions of people as a result of the unjust world order of corporate globalization.
In response, the Communist Party calls for an independent foreign policy of peace and disarmament for Canada, and urges peace‑supporting left, democratic, labour and other peoples’ movements to mobilize and unite in support of such policies.
In all these broad struggles, our Party has also put forward our own perspective. Some of my comments on this topic were presented at a seminar in Toronto two years ago, where comrade Figueroa engaged in debate with other left groups, such as the International Socialists, who are prominent in the Canadian Peace Alliance and in some local coalitions and campaigns. I will also deal with some controversies here in Vancouver, where the Mobilization Against War and Occupation attempts to impose narrow, divisive positions on the wider anti-war movement. The point of these debates is not to engage in sectarian attacks against other forces on the Left, but to attempt to clarify the strategies and tactics necessary to strengthen the peace movement as a whole.
First, some comments on the nature of the Canadian state. In our Party’s view, Canada is an imperialist state. Chapter II of our program states explicitly:
“Canada is an imperialist country – a highly developed monopoly capitalist state. Canada has the highest level of foreign ownership amongst the imperialist countries, but it is neither a colony nor a semi‑colony. Canadian‑based transnationals participate in the exploitation of working people in other countries, and Canada is subject to the intrinsic contradictions of global capitalism.”
In fact, recent statistics indicate that while foreign ownership of the Canadian economy is on the rise once again, at the same time Canadian monopoly interests are increasing their export of capital. By 1996, outward Direct Foreign Investment (DFI) from Canada to the U.S., Europe, and Asia had actually surpassed new inward foreign investment in the country. Last weekend here at the Dogwood Centre, a speaker from Montreal pointed out that even the smaller nation of Quebec has developed its own transnational capitalists, such as the giant Bombardier Corporation.
Our program goes on to state: “Canadian monopoly is more than a junior partner of U.S. imperialism; it is an integral part of the world imperialist system. Canadian monopoly interests are interwoven with those of U.S. capital and increasingly with capital from the EU and Japan.”
And on the related question of who actually controls the Canadian state, our program is also explicit: “The central fact of political life in Canada is that state power is in the hands of Canadian finance capital.”
In short, our Party rejects the idea that Canada is some sort of vassal state, or semi‑colony controlled by a comprador bourgeoisie – a view advanced by some others on the Left during the 1960s and ’70s.
This is not to deny the colonial, dependent roots and history of the development of capitalism in Canada, and of the ruling capitalist class in this country. From early in the twentieth century onward, trade and debt dependence on Britain was gradually replaced with an even closer dependence on U.S. capital and technology. U.S.‑based capital increasingly gained control of key sectors of the Canadian economy, particularly manufacturing and natural resources. This process resulted in Canada becoming more integrated into and more dependent on the U.S. economy than any other developed capitalist country.
This relatively unique pattern of capitalist development helps to explain the contradictory relations between Canadian and U.S. capital. In earlier decades we characterized this relationship as an “antagonistic partnership.” The Canadian ruling class collaborated with foreign, mainly U.S. capital, including tolerating an unusually high level of foreign ownership in an advanced capitalist state, while at the same time maintaining its control over the Canadian state apparatus and over significant parts of the domestic market – banking and finance, communications, and certain manufacturing and service industries, in particular.
This “antagonistic partnership” took shape prior to WWII, and held sway for at least the next three decades or more. It began to give way by the late 70s and early 80s with the gradual abandonment of Keynesianism in favour of monetarist and neoliberal policies by the ruling class.
As late as the 1984 general election, Brian Mulroney campaigned on a promise never to enter into a free‑trade arrangement with the U.S. After that election, following a “briefing” from the Business Council on National Issues (BCNI, now the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, CCCE), he and his Tory Government flipped 180 degrees and began to promote free trade.
Our party sums up this new orientation in this way: “Canadian monopoly has its own independent interests to protect and advance. However the dominant trend within Canadian monopoly circles today is toward economic integration and political collaboration with U.S. imperialism, and with international finance capital in general. In pursuit of maximizing profit, Canadian monopoly is prepared to sacrifice the country’s economic and political sovereignty, so long as it can maintain a reasonable share of the plunder of Canada’s natural resources and domestic market, while expanding access to larger U.S., hemispheric and global markets.”
Simplistic theoretical constructs would suggest that a state like Canada is either an independent, imperialist body in its own right, or else that it is in a dependent, subordinate position to its much more powerful imperialist neighbour. Life is far more complex than this. Certainly, in the case of Canada, both are true.
With that, let us turn to the issue of sovereignty.
Our Party rejects the argument that somehow the fight to defend Canadian sovereignty is at best an unnecessary distraction from the class struggle against capitalism, and at worst, an unprincipled embrace of bourgeois nationalism, a rejection of working class internationalism. On the contrary, we contend that the struggle for Canadian sovereignty and independence is an essential condition and step for the advance to socialism.
Two main considerations inform our approach on this issue. The first relates to our understanding of sovereignty as a fundamentally democratic demand, and second, the importance of the struggle to defend sovereignty as part of the larger struggle against U.S. imperialism.
There is sometimes an assumption that when Communists speak of sovereignty, we are primarily referring to state sovereignty. As Communists we are not in favour of strengthening the Canadian bourgeois state. We envisage that revolutionary moment when the people begin to dismantle that oppressive capitalist state and replace it with a democratic, revolutionary state led by the working class and committed to the building of socialism.
When we speak of Canadian sovereignty, we mean the sovereignty of the Canadian people – the vast majority of whom are workers and their closest allies – and the basic democratic right of the Canadian people to determine their own future, their own destiny.
It is precisely the democratic content of national sovereignty which is under attack by finance capital – both international and domestic. This takes place under the cover of various trade and investment regimes – the so‑called “global architecture” that is being imposed on the peoples everywhere under the aegis of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the various imperialist‑controlled institutions like the International Monetary Fund and World Bank.
Under the terms of these pacts and agreements, the democratic rights of the people to determine their own social policies, labour and employment policies, environmental standards, etc., are being systematically stripped away. These “treaties” protect the interests of monopoly, guarantee the free mobility of capital, and virtually outlaw any possibility of public nationalizations and seizure of private assets. This is being done with the collusion of our own Canadian ruling class, and not by accident!
And yet there are still forces within the left which view the struggle against “free trade” and U.S. domination as a diversion, as a form of “tailing behind the national bourgeoisie.” Such forces sharply criticize groups such as the Council of Canadians, which are considered simply “nationalist.” Of course, this misses the point that it was precisely the national bourgeoisie which promoted “free trade” in the first place. Failure to condemn free trade, along with the rest of the project to integrate Canada more fully into the U.S. empire, plays into the hands of the Canadian ruling elite who want to enlist the support of the Canadian people for this sell‑out, or at least neutralize us and silence our protests.
There have been other forms of objection from the left against the struggle for sovereignty. Comrade Figueroa has related, for example, his experience at a seminar during the 1980s held by the Institute of Canada‑USA Studies in Moscow. The Soviet comrades argued that our party’s position was reactionary, because economic integration is an inevitable, objective process under capitalism and that therefore we should accept and even embrace it.
Our response what that while economic integration is objectively-driven, under the prevailing monopoly capitalist conditions it exacts a heavy price primarily from working people, and that in struggling against this agenda, Canadian workers become more aware of their class interests.
Sovereignty is directly connected to the rights of nations and peoples to self‑determination. This is not a selective right reserved only for oppressed nations, or those which have already embarked on a revolutionary path. Such is the view of Movement Against War and Occupation (MAWO) here in Vancouver, for example, which has bitterly resisted any attempts to link the struggles by the people of both Cuba and Canada for sovereignty against U.S. domination.
In reality, sovereignty is a fundamental right of all nations and peoples. Of course, no nation or people can be truly free if they oppress another nation or people. Our program is very explicit on this point, with respect to the right to self-determination of the oppressed nations in Canada – the Aboriginal nations, the Acadians and Quebec. But recognition of these national rights does not detract from or negate the sovereign rights of the peoples of Canada as a whole to resist the onslaught by U.S. imperialism and international finance capital.
Yet another argument is sometimes raised: that the struggle for sovereignty is part of a bygone era, the stage of early development of the bourgeois-democratic state in Canada. Again, this view misses the point. The left supports and fights for a whole number of democratic demands of the people – the right to the full equality of women, the struggles of the LGBT community, the campaign against environmental degradation, the defence of civil liberties – none of which are not directly or inherently socialist demands. The role of the left is to link these democratic struggles to the overall struggle for social emancipation against capitalism.
Finally, on the importance of the struggle to defend sovereignty as part of the larger struggle against imperialism.
Since the point is not just “to interpret the world, but to change it,” our starting point must be the elaboration of a clear line of march, a set of revolutionary strategy and tactics to achieve our goal.
There is a saying that “class consciousness is knowing which side of the barricades you are on – class analysis is knowing who is beside you.” We could add that strategy and tactics is knowing which direction to point your gun.
We often speak of “imperialism” or “global capitalism” as short‑hand to refer to prevailing political economic order in the world today. But in doing so, we should not fall into acceptance of the concept that there exists one all‑embracing, interconnected imperialist goliath – a kind of “ultra‑imperialism” of which Karl Kautsky wrote, or its modern variant, the core‑periphery model of world systems theory or similar ‘dependency’ theories.
In fact, world imperialism is composed of several different rival imperialist powers and centres. For a number of decades, during the imperialist Cold War struggle against the Soviet Union, these rivalries and contradictions were submerged in the common cause, to defeat world socialism. But these contradictions did not disappear, and since the early 90s, they have re‑emerged into the light of day.
To quote again from our program: “While the imperialist powers have a common interest in imposing a single global market which they can dominate and control, the three main imperialist centres – the U.S., the European Union (EU), and the emerging Asian bloc led by Japan – are engaged in a bitter struggle over the division of the spoils of global domination. As the world capitalist economy becomes ever more volatile, each imperialist centre seeks to protect its privileged position within those markets it already dominates (its so‑called ‘sphere of influence’) while simultaneously attempting to penetrate and supplant its rivals in other national and regional markets.”
The most powerful, predatory and expansionist of these three centres is U.S. imperialism. It follows therefore, that the main enemy of humanity today – and the main target against which we must direct our political fire – is U.S. imperialism.
As we know, the Canadian ruling class has for the most part decided to throw in its lot with Fortress America. Since the 1980s this walk to economic and political integration with the U.S. has turned into a jog, and then since Sept. 11, 2001, into a full‑fledged sprint.
But for the working class and popular forces in Canada, as around the world, anything that can weaken and block the drive of U.S. imperialism for world domination and hegemony should be done.
And in so doing, it is necessary for us to seek out and utilize every possible contradiction, every chink in the armour, to weaken U.S. domination. Should we not seek out every grievance and perceived wrong to hurl at the Bush regime? Should we not enlist every possible ally in this mammoth battle?
To ask the question is to answer it.
Take the debate over Canada’s participation in Missile Defence as an example. During the course of that political debate, former Liberal Foreign Minister Bill Graham made an incredibly honest statement – that Canada’s involvement was “necessary” to head off severe repercussions from the White House. That remark reminded us once again of the arrogance and condescension towards Canada coming from our imperial masters to the South. In the ensuing political struggle, the Liberal government was compelled by public opinion to reject “official” participation, although in reality, most of what the U.S. wanted from Canada was being carried out through our participation in the NORAD treaty. Now, the Harper Tories are pushing once again for participation, not because this would mean Canada doing anything significantly different, but to support the public relations campaign of the Bush regime.
In such circumstances, we reject the argument – raised by MAWO for example – that Missile Defence is “just another weapons system.” (The same general argument is used to resist efforts to build campaigns against nuclear weapons.) In our view, the development of Missile Defence, new tactical nuclear bombs, and other upgraded weapons systems are an integral part of the drive by U.S. imperialism to achieve global military domination. For this reason, all Canadians who are concerned about preserving our country’s sovereignty must be mobilized into the broadest possible campaign to block Missile Defence and to pull out of U.S.-dominated military agreements. Failure to do so, on some specious grounds of refusing to pander to nationalist sentiments, would be the height of political immaturity and irresponsibility.
Communists are not afraid of seek unity with others. On the contrary, we understand that it is only through the forging of unity – both within our class and with other allies – will the class struggle against capitalism proceed toward victory.
I will let Lenin have the last word. He wrote in Left Wing Communism, An Infantile Disorder: “To carry on a war for the overthrow of the international bourgeoisie, a war which is a hundred times more difficult, prolonged and complicated than the most stubborn of ordinary wars between states, and to refuse beforehand to manoeuvre – to refuse to temporize and compromise with possible (even though transitory, unstable, vacillating and conditional) allies – is this not ridiculous in the extreme?”
At the same time, however, let us remember that the working class and revolutionary forces must be expanded considerably to allow us to take part in the anti-war movement from a position of strength. Our perspective must be to build the broadest possible alliance of forces aimed at defeating imperialist war and aggression, at the same time as we build our own movement so that we can do more to provide principled and consistent leadership.