By David Bush, Opinions Contributor
Is the movement of social movements really working? While there is no doubt that some social movements have exploded with activity in the last bunch of years, I feel it is fair to state that most social movements in Canada have been under intense attack. The question we must ask ourselves is similar to the one Lenin posed at the beginning of the 20th century: “What is to be done?”
I know this sounds pessimistic, but we—the radical left—are losing. The 1990s saw profound change in Canada: neoliberal reforms were ushered in at an unprecedented rate, and the death of real existing socialism altered the terrain on the radical left. The birth of the alter-globalization movement (an alternative envisioning of international policy where co-operation does not lead to exploitation) led to the re-invigoration of the anti-capitalist left.
The alter-globalization has since moved into other fields. Anti-poverty groups, migrant rights groups, anti-war groups, and environmental justice groups are the phoenix to the ash of the large protest movements of the late 90s and early 2000s.
While some of these movements are strong, others have been severely hampered. Take the case of the anti-war movement. The largest Canadian protests in 2003 against the war in Iraq were able to pressure the Liberal—yes, Liberal—government to take a passive role in the Iraq occupation and invasion. However, Canada’s actual occupation of Afghanistan, which is entering its tenth year, has engendered a relatively small vocal resistance, despite poll after poll showing that the majority of Canadians favour withdrawal. How can we account for this?
The financial crisis of 2008 should have been an opportunity for us anti-capitalists to grow our movements and spread our perspectives. This did not happen.
Instead, in the last couple of years we were fortunate if we held on to the momentum that we’d previously had. The labour movement got beaten back hard, environmental groups lost the battle of Copenhagen handily, and student groups and anti-poverty groups struggled. This isn’t to say that certain movements didn’t have success. Yet, on the whole, most of us in political organizing have been on the defensive, and in all likelihood will continue to be so.
A quick look at the neoliberal reforms proposed by the O’Neill report and lauded by our current government renders obvious that the coming austerity will be harsh. Politicians will use divide and conquer strategies, by making people vie for an ever decreasing amount of public funds. Austerity will be pushed at a time when corporate profits in North America are skyrocketing. In America, non-financial firms have accumulated more cash, as a percentage of short term liabilities, than at any other time in the past half century.
Corporations can now rely on perverted Keynesian logic where government intervention is aimed not at stimulating consumption, but at directly ensuring corporate profitability. The government funnels the very money that people are told is ‘limited,’ into wealthy hands. Working and middle class tax dollars are used to fund direct bailouts or indirect policy interventions.
We are faced with an absolutely unique situation. Neoliberal policies pushed the system, just 24 months ago, to the brink of total destruction. Yet despite the incompetency of neoliberal solutions, the welfare state remains under assault, wherever it still exists. The capitalist system is using its geographic advantage to continually try to postpone its systemic problems such as environmental crises and growing inequality by allowing these travesties to happen far away from the classes who profit from them.
When these tensions come to a boil and inspire rage in the people, we can not assume that positive radical breaks will ensue. It is just as likely that new authoritarian or racist political models will prosper such as the Tea Party movement or many racist anti-immigrant groups popping up Europe.
Thus, we on the left need to organize and strategize. We need the return of big ideas and to stop mistaking liberal ideas for radical solutions. We must risk more now because the risk of business as usual has stakes that are almost too high to fathom.
Yes, we need a better analysis of capitalism. But more than that, we need a better analysis of how we should organize and change our present situation.
Mao once wrote: “If you want to know the theory and methods of revolution, you must take part in revolution. All genuine knowledge originates in direct experience.” We need to start building revolutionary organizations (and not by blindly repeating past models). We need to do this by being less concerned about our personal identities as revolutionaries or good citizens and more focused on understanding how we can imagine a world that is different.
Imagining and building are not easy tasks. It is a long, hard road. But we cannot take a short cut to revolution or freedom. We can’t wish or hope for change. Only through struggle will we know the form of and path to our collective liberation.
I am tired of waiting.