For Different Worlds, not a Return to Normal

The month of March marks one year since the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak a global pandemic. Both American and Canadian governments proved unable to manage the pandemic, leaving millions of people stuck in risky jobs or out in the streets with little protection from the virus. 

Eventually, people in Canada received aid in the form of the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit, an expanded EI system, and small raises to welfare and disability, while the USA issued stimulus checks. In some places evictions were halted. But over 545,000 people in the United States and over 22,000 people in Canada have died from the virus. Although the pandemic is just starting its third or fourth wave, health and safety measures are being repealed at work, restrictions on evictions have long been dropped, and consumer assistance programs are drying up. The only exceptional measures left are the daily exhortations from politicians and public health officials for people to “stay home” – somehow.

Throughout Canada and the US, every time some level of government expires a program that supported people to physically distance and isolate, it is expounding a mythology: that now is the time to “return to normal.” Some politicians are gradualist and others are impatient, but the difference between them is of pace, not policy. 

The “return to normal” means a return to the regular circulation of consumer dollars, which Covid-19 has persistently interrupted, like 2020 was the Suez Canal and the pandemic the Ever Given tanker, which blocked the canal for six days in March, askew in the artery of capitalist production. A return to normal does not mean a turn to justice, freedom, or even security for most people on the planet. 

A return to normal is a return to misery and war

The numbers of people cast into poverty and homelessness was swelling long before the pandemic began. And those who were already poor were denied most of the emergency measures dolled out to cushion the sudden joblessness suffered by millions in 2020. Instead of additional financial relief, the already-poor had existing services taken away in the name of public health safety. Soup kitchens closed down or, at best, replaced hot meals with brown bag sandwiches. Congregate shelters halved their available beds and churches that usually open to house emergency winter shelters, instead stayed closed. Low-income people are most likely to suffer the most on the “return to normal.” Already, politicians are testing out policies to attack the “undeserving” who took CERB cheques and lining up aggressive austerity talking points at bat for the moment “normal” properly returns.

Repeating its comparatively sophisticated response to the last global capitalist crisis in 2008, China responded quickly to the Covid-19 pandemic, performing a massive state intervention against consumer and producer markets, and was able to largely control the spread of the coronavirus much earlier than the US and much of Europe. China’s willingness to use state powers against and within capitalist markets allowed them to reopen their in-person consumer markets while governments in the US and Canada, bound to the ideological wheel of perpetual economic growth, continue cycling between partial market interruptions. The pandemic convalescence of the West has meant the apparent invigoration of the East, which has produced a rise in aggressive anti-China policies coming from North American governments, and a corresponding spike in anti-Asian hatred and hate crimes in the mass of the imperial populace.

The “return to normal” fantasy includes the return of the pre-2008 US juggernaut, of humiliating and putting China in its place. 

Red Braid’s first anniversary: Fighting for subaltern power in the cracks of empire

For Red Braid Alliance for Decolonial Socialism, the group with which The Volcano is associated, the abnormal year of the pandemic was also our inaugural year. So the April-May 2021 edition of The Volcano comes with a special insert publishing documents from Red Braid Alliance’s biannual winter assembly, which we held in February, a year after our refounding (we were formerly called “Alliance Against Displacement”).

Immediately after our refounding, Red Braid was drawn into the furnace of mass movements that were the most important characteristic of the pandemic year. First there was the Wet’suwet’en nation’s call to “Shut Down Canada,” which inspired young militants led by Indigenous sovereigntists to blockade Canada’s commodity infrastructure – highways, railways, and ports collapsing one after another like choked arteries. Then Covid-19 became a global crisis, which didn’t stop a radical, Black-led police and prison abolitionist movement from setting fire to every major city in the US. 

At Red Braid’s two-day winter visioning assembly, we reflected on the stress tests applied to our political theories and theoretical methods by history. While global capitalist crises can often feel like a separate world from the frustrations of our everyday lives and campaign work, we found that 2020 eradicated the fiction of that separation: the paroxysms of an international economic system ill-equipped to handle the contradiction between people and profit visibly shook the surroundings of our street kin communities. In response, we started squats and opened an overnight warming centre out of our Surrey office.

We also found ourselves immediately called upon to put into practice our theory of braided struggles against capitalism and colonialism, unified against Canada but distinct in their respective destinies and origins. Red Braid believes that only Indigenous people and nations can wage decolonial war against Canada, but that does not mean that settlers and non-Indigenous people have no role but to sit by as spectators or defer themselves to Indigenous people. We see Indigenous people as decolonial protagonists and non-Indigenous, anti-capitalist fighters as anti-colonial agents. These struggles call upon non-Indigenous socialists to follow the leadership of Indigenous nations in struggle.

Not normal worlds, but different ones

Amongst those poorly served by “normal” are the communities whose struggles are represented in the April-May 2021 issue of The Volcano.

The upheavals of 2020 opened up new possibilities for revolutionary organizing and also unleashed waves of assaults on our communities. We see Red Braid as a tool that subaltern Indigenous and working class communities can use to clear away the thicket of colonial and capitalist lies and ideologies that suffocate us. The latest issue of The Volcano seeks to put that tool in your hands, to cut down the enemies and institutions standing in the way of freedom, because other worlds are waiting. Not normal worlds, but different ones, worlds without the power of norms, without exclusions wrought by the violence of colonialism, class, race, and gender violence – worlds that we must realize.

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