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As the Conservative budget results rolls across Canada, I can hear the echoes of a million jaws grinding in nervous fury. In bars. Bus-stops. Homes and apartments. Wherever they were at the time when Harper made the best on his majority mandate. Amidst this macabre chorus, my thoughts turned to fascism.
Here I’m talking about historical fascism – that of Mussolini, Franco, and Hitler. Their policies and practices have been outlined in detail. It is well-known that racial, political, sexual, and ability-based scapegoating lubricated the fascist machines that roared to life in the dawn of the 20th Century. However, often missed in these identity-based accounts of atrocity (which are indeed important) are other, more “mundane” economic functions of fascist policy.
Fascist regimes administered the privatization of state-owned enterprises, the reduction or annihilation of corporate taxes, massive corporate subsidies, destroying unions and labor laws, the widespread suspension of civil liberties, and the rending of the social safety net. It entailed an attempt to place the state more fully and irrevocably at the service of the capitalists, and to turn away from its liberal tale of a social contract whereby The People are granted protection and service in return for obedience. Fascism entailed a powerful state free from liberal obligations. Life was ground ever more desperately under the totalizing boot heel of a freed capitalist machine. “These policies are necessary,” goes the logic, “to save and strengthen the economy and thus soothe the ills of the masses.” The results of these policies are well-known. In a word, suffering. Catastrophic suffering, on multiple registers, and in complex ways. Particularly because it is precisely this saved, strengthened economy that tears bodies (human and ecological) apart by the thousands every day.
Before considering fascism as a name for his program, Mussolini originally considered ‘corporatism’. I found that to be a compelling revelation, given our current late capitalist economy dominated by multinational corporations. According to my dictionary, corporatism (and its root word corporate) is derived from the 15th Century Latin word corporare, meaning “to form into a body”. Fascism is also derived from the Italian word fascio, which is both “bundle” or “political group”, also derived from Latin. Both of these words have connotations of togetherness. Unity, to soothe the ills of the masses.
Corporatism. Fascism. I am not so interested in the differences between these words, but how they are tangled together within contemporary democratic politics in Canada. Because Stephen Harper’s majority government, and their recent budget, include the functions of fascism outlined above. I do not claim we live under fascism, but the state of things just changed - more and more social and ecological bodies were just forcibly opened up of all kinds to direct exploitation.
Does not a warlike economy help create a warlike nation? With this budget, has not the Harper Government won a significant victory in the war on all of us who are not wealthy? Tragically so, given that Canada’s self-told lie of “peacekeeper” may finally be put to rest as we see this country with a stark, new clarity. What better to boost Canada’s GDP than social war against its the people? The justification is quite simple, the logic near impenetrable.
In fact, Hermann Goering of Nazi Germany said it best: “the common people don't want war… after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship…voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the [dissidents] for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger.”
Cue the Refugee Exclusion Act (Bill C-31) and Jason Kenney’s long track record of racist profiling of so-called illegal immigrants (and he is far from alone in this – racism amongst his fellow Conservative Party collaborators runs rampant). Or internally, even the most milquetoast of environmental NGOs are deemed terrorist threats. This is pre-criminalization. And anything can become a prison – a warehouse at the G20 or a bus en route to Quebec’s uprisings. Indeed, cue new methods of criminalization as part of a burgeoning Canadian prison-industrial-security complex. Those of us who engage in whatever extra-parliamentary political defense of our lives, livelihoods, loves, and the land on which we stand can expect to be (pre)criminalized, or ever further, (pre)demonized as terrorists.
Is this fascism? I don’t know. But it approaches. Does it not? Remember how Harper cancelled parliament to avoid answering questions about Canada’s role in torture abroad? How about the voter fraud? Robocalls? Again, I ask – is this fascism?
Here are some lowlights of the omnibus budget bill, Bill C-38.
1. Bill C-38 guts environmental legislation and 'streamlines' the environmental reviewprocess to pave the way for rapid approval of industrial mega-projects like the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline in northern B.C., the Alberta tar sands, and Quebec's Plan Nord.
2. Various aspects of Bill C-38, including changes to the environmental assessment review process, violate the federal government's obligation to consult with First Nations and accommodate First Nation Treaty and Aboriginal rights.
3. Bill C-38 amends the Coasting Trade Act to allow increased off-shore seismic testing and drilling. Less than two years after such drilling was put on hold due to the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the Conservative government announced 905,000 hectares of Arctic watersopen for bidding.
4. Bill C-38 implements new rules that will require most unemployed EI claimants to accept job offers at hourly wages significantly lower than their previous employment.
5. Bill C-38 will also make changes to the Temporary Foreign Workers Program, Old Age Security, and will repeal of the Fair Wages and Hours of Labour Act - all of which are expected to depress wages, especially in already lower-paying jobs.
6. Bill C-38 makes changes to meat inspection regulations and cuts funding to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, weakening our protection from diseases like listeria, mad cow, rabies, and toxic poisoning.
7. Bill C-38 undermines food sovereignty by amending the Seeds Act and Plant Breeder Rights, eliminating enforcement of the Product of Canada label, and prioritizing trade deals that benefit multinational corporations instead of local farmers.
8. Bill C-38 officially withdraws Canada from the Kyoto Protocol reducing the federal government's obligations to report on climate change policies.
9. Bill C-38 dedicates millions of dollars to attack environmental groups and charities through audits on foreign funding. Environmental groups are being targeted, despite the fact that the Canada Revenue Agency records show environmental charities are not the biggest recipients of foreign funding.
10. Bill C-38 includes amendments to the Employment Equity Act which eliminate the requirement that federal contractors apply employment equity provisions put in place to protect groups that have experienced discrimination, including women, Aboriginal peoples, visible minorities and persons with disabilities.
Let me put this plainly. Bill C-38 is equivalent to being pissed on by the rich, and then being told to like it. Cuts make us bleed. Corporatism. Fascism. There are differences, of course, but the lines blur when the functions carried out by Harper’s democratically-elected government are fascist in effect. Do they not boost corporate capitalist Power and as such add to the unbearable, threatening weight that hangs over so many lives? Suicide rates have soared in Greece since their (socialist) government caved to the EU’s demands for an escalating democratic social war. It makes sense. And that is exaclty what this is - this is a democratic social war, not flawed policy. Cuts induce bleeding. Our self-told tales about the vigor of Democracy and sanctity of Law will never circumvent this fact: real blood flows just as easily from a democratic social war voted in by The People as it can from a fascist machine that drags The People into itself and uses their misery as fuel.
Many of the million grinding their jaws at the budget bill have bemoaned their disappointment with their fellow Canadians. I share in this utter disappointment to the point of vomiting. I have even now covered my computer with saran wrap because I nearly puke on it. Twice. With rage. But we must be clear – these policies are merely a continuation of a long historical process of democratic social war, not the sudden manifestation of fascism. Second, our neighbours, our family members, and millions of people across this country were not somehow deluded or "less intelligent than us" for voting in the Harper majority, or for not voting at all. They do not need to be educated about the world. They do not just need to "wake up", to "see the truth", to move beyond dogma. This critique is flawed because it erases the real possibility that these people wanted exactly this budget, that they wanted this world that has fallen on us with such breathtaking suddenness. It denies that this world is their truth.
We must realize that our enemy is fascist Power, which is inherent in this democratic social war. It stems from the political and economic systems that were imported onto Indigenous lands through a continuing program of military occupation, genocide and ecocide referred to as colonization, or also known by its sickening euphemism the founding of our great nation. As an intellectual wrote in the aftermath of a revolution in France that nearly brought the government to its knees, our enemy is not only historical fascism, however, the fascism of Mussolini, Franco, and Hitler - which was able to mobilize and use the desire of the masses so effectively. Our enemy is also the fascism in us all, in our heads and in our everyday behaviour, the fascism that causes us to love power, to desire the very thing that dominates and exploits us. It is specifically this everyday fascism that has opened the floodgates for democratico-fascist policy on a national scale in this country. To love the Harper government, and love their budget.
Just as a fascist would laugh in response to an invitation to politely engage in conversation about differences in opinion, should we not also laugh at a strategy based on sober conversation with the Conservatives and their Minister Prime? This is social war. On all levels, human and ecological bodies are being pulverized every single day of their barely-living lives in complex and persistent ways. To paraphrase another apt writer, our responsibility is not to effectively navigate worlds of Power, (as many activists I know limit themselves to, though they probably claim otherwise) but to bring them to a clamorous, grinding end. If those of us in Canada realize that we are in a state of war the likes of which my young generation has never seen, then there is a chance that the lukewarm political strategies to which many people cling, along with the hope that the system can change from within, could be set ablaze. Hope in appealing to Power will be lost, and in this sense, the fascism in us all may evaporate as we turn diligently to the task before us: to begin a beautiful destruction of all the pain and alienation that lifetimes of colonization and capitalism has inflicted upon us and our allies, to vomit out this whole history of machinery within our very being, and to begin returning of our lives and bodies to ourselves and each other.
We have the power to adjust the flow of rage from lateral violence amongst ourselves and direct it outwards into fuel for a new world. To be clear – this loss of hope in Power includes rejecting saviours in the form of electoral solutions such as an NDP majority, which will only ever slightly lessen the intensity of democratic social war and risk simply channelling us back into effectively navigating systems of Power, and into the endless labyrinth of bureaucratic dialogue.
It was the NDP, after all, who arrested over 800 people who were defending the land in the disobedience in Clayquot Sound. It was the NDP who sent in "the army and 400 officers armed with dogteams, airplanes, helicopters, Armoured PersonnelCarriers, grenades, land mines, M16 and C7 assault rifles, hollow point ammuntion and fifty-calibre macine guns to besiege a handful of Secwempemc traditionalists and allies" in Gustafsen Lake in 1997, a force that fired over 77,000 bullets (from the zine The Gustafsen Lake Crisis: Statements from Ts'Peten Defenders). Or, just a few days ago, the NDP was enthused about a Shell Corporation contract on BC lands - saying that gas is 'greener' than oil. And finally, NDP leader Thomas Mulcair recently stated that the NDP is neutral on the Quebec student strike, stating that it is a provincial issue. The NDP machine calculation of the best way to sway public opinion led them to side with legal process points instead of siding with striking students. We should not be surprised.
Those who claim that this is not social war, this is simply flawed policy will also claim that once the NDP is in charge, everything will be better. Perhaps they will soothe the ills of the masses? Give them a chance, whydontcha? The NDP cannot be trusted with the task of decolonization, just as the socialist government in Greece cannot be trusted to be anything more than well-dressed stooges for European capital. The NDP gain their very legitimacy from the Powers of captialism and colonization itself. They are not worthy of trust.
The point is not to ask colonial bureaucrats to dull their deadly blades. The point is to tear the blades from their fucking hands and break them. It is in this loss of hope in Power where we can find our power, our courage, and our togetherness.
See you in the streets; see you in the forests; see you wherever our shared dreams of other worlds collide.