Old stars, new waters: Revolutionary strategy and Canada’s 2019 federal election

From an anti-colonial and anti-capitalist revolutionary perspective, the political landscape of Canada’s 2019 federal election campaign is bleak – not because of the particular politics being put forward by the political parties, but because radicals, and young radicals in particular, seem to have been absorbed into the work of campaigning for the NDP. Have some of our people come to believe that having an NDP government in power would bring us closer to our anti-colonial and anti-capitalist goals? 

By “anti-colonial” we mean that the ultimate political goal of The Volcano, and our sister organization Alliance Against Displacement, is to end the colonial rule of the nation states of Canada and the US over Indigenous nations that these powers have occupied since their formations.

By “anti-capitalist” we mean that our goal of ending colonialism is accompanied by a goal of replacing the dominating power and logic of capitalist production, which is, in a word, profit, with economies and political and social orders that are participatory rather than exploitative, and generate wealth for the wellbeing and good of all the people of the world.

Our perspective is that parliamentary elections are an ideological trap that lures working class and, increasingly, Indigenous people into the house of bourgeois and colonial power. We think that we need to build movements, organizations, and institutions that are totally independent of bourgeois and colonial power in order to develop our anti-colonialism and anti-capitalism from abstract principles to programmes that can better orient our strategies.

Although we disagree with the strategy of engaging in parliamentary electoralism in our particular place and moment in history, we are interested in having open discussions and debates with others who share our principles of anti-colonialism and anti-capitalism. Political principles guide us like a pole star through the choppy waters that arise from the contradictions between the world as it is and the world as we want it to be. They keep us focused as we wade through the muck of compromise, and they are the glue that binds radical communities together. We need principles to brace us against the fracturing blows of 21st century capitalism and imperialism, which are so sophisticated and ideologically slippery that the dominating political systems of Canada and the United States are able to absorb the energies of revolutionary-minded people.

There is a lot of space for discussion and interpretation of what exactly anti-colonialism and anti-capitalism mean, in theory and practice, and also for what we hope will replace colonialism and capitalism. But if you agree with these general principles, then we see you as part of a broad radical community that should discuss strategy together.

Strategy is an action plan

There are two suggestions that come from Karl Marx that we find useful for thinking about how we make an action plan:

1.     While people make and change history, “they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past.” That is: we are made by history and we make history. This means we do not carry out our political activity in a situation that we have chosen or designed – rather, we have to make the best of the circumstances we find ourselves in at any given moment, working with the skills we have and the people around us to confront the world as it is.

2.     The starting point for political action is analysis: a “summing-up” of the concrete historical and social situation that we are in. This means that before we decide on our actions, we must analyze and understand who we are and who our enemies are. We need a realistic assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of our side and of their side. 

Strategy must come from a living, flexible analysis of how to move forward under the guiding light of our principles, which means that it can’t be based on knee-jerk orthodoxy and axioms, or what Black Marxist cultural theorist Stuart Hall describes as “the frozen rituals and intonations of already witnessed truth.” 

Fighting against the terrible effects of capitalism and colonialism can be disorienting and difficult, and to put our heads down and do something we tell ourselves is right can be a way to feel a sense of purpose and direction. But if we do not regularly lift our heads to look around us with clear eyes, evaluating and assessing the limitations and strengths of our power and strategies, as well as the limitations and strengths of the power and strategies of our enemies, then we can be caught wasting our time on ineffective campaigns and robbing our people of the activities that build our power. 

Analysing and assessing the electoral strategy

We are publishing, in the days just before and following the election, some articles that develop an analysis and assessment of the strategy, whether or not it is developed, of using the NDP and parliamentary elections to develop anti-colonial and anti-capitalist power. 

“Homelessness is nothing for Canada’s progressive political parties” by Ivan Drury outlines the continuity between the housing platforms of Steven Harper, Justin Trudeau, and Jagmeet Singh, suggesting that the basis of this continuity is electoralism itself. 

“Who are the protagonists of climate justice? The Green New Deal and the dangers of building a citizen base” by Isabel Krupp focuses less on the nitty-gritty of policy questions and instead argues for the self-organization of Indigenous and working class communities, particularly those who are excluded by the project of colonial and imperial nation-building, as a solution to the economic and environmental crises of our times. We feel that these articles, together, indicate that the insufficient platforms of various progressive electoral parties are a problem with the bourgeois and settler colonial parliamentary form these parties operate within, as well as their political content.

Rather than take elections as necessarily bad or good, we hope these articles are some use in evaluating the strategy of participating in the 2019 parliamentary elections. We welcome submissions and responses from those who agree or disagree.

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