I don’t review a lot of stuff these days (although I do keep a regular book journal). However, after reading Aaron Bastani’s Fully Automated Luxury Communism I felt compelled to respond, at length, to his vision of the bright, shining near future that awaits us thanks to new technologies, robots, and limitless leisure time.
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First of all, does anybody else have a problem with the words “luxury” and “communism” appearing in such close proximity? Aren’t they understood to be practically, y’know, oxymorons?
Not according to Aaron Bastani.
Looking through his rose-colored glasses, he sees the future as a time of abundance, thanks to the mining of asteroids in near earth orbit and virtually free services like health care and housing. It is technology that will finally liberate our species from the onerous yoke of work, robots doing most of our jobs, humans enjoying lives of leisure…
I consider myself something of a student of history and try as I might, I can’t recall a single human society, from pre-history to the present, where someone didn’t get a larger slice of the pie due to their size, strength, ferocity, intelligence, wealth, connections, etc. In times of abundance, the ruling clique simply takes more. In times of want, they give up the least.
I wouldn’t call Bastani’s book non-fiction, more like science fiction.
In describing a near future utopia brought about by technological advances, he is employing wishful thinking—I don’t trust machines (or billionaires) to save us and, frankly, we don’t need more luxury on this godforsaken planet, we need less.
In light of the most recent IPCC report on the climate (and its ominous-sounding references to “Code Red”), Fully Automated seems even more far-fetched and fanciful. It will be decades before we can mine asteroids or store limitless amounts of data on a strand of DNA. I see no political will anywhere for building affordable housing or offering free health care or university tuition—hell, we can’t even get our governments, liberal or conservative, to get behind a liveable minimum wage.
And, in the meantime, we’ll be dealing with a climate catastrophe: drought and severe weather phenomena, refugees in the hundreds of millions, flooding, famine, mass deaths from heat waves and newer and even more deadly pandemics as we continue to trespass in remote areas we don’t belong.
Under such stressful circumstances will workable societies and infrastructure still exist, will we have the capacity or, yes, luxury to conceive of space travel when the bonds that hold civilization together are loosening, the world coming apart at the seams?
We know that capitalism is eminently adaptable, able to contort itself into new configurations if it means justifying its survival, but even getting it to embrace a $15 minimum wage or support the notion of a Universal Basic Income is like trying to pry food away from a T-Rex.
It isn’t part of its mentality to throw around “free money” or have governments providing anything but the most basic services to citizens. Oligarchs and their cover organizations have spent billions in “dark money” to secure legislators who are hostile to “big” (i.e. effective) government, doing their best to discredit democratic institutions in the eyes of an increasingly cynical and disconnected electorate.
What major party or serious contender for power is out there agitating for Universal Basic Services for every citizen? Who is going to have the courage and chutzpah to “switch off the privatization and out-sourcing machine”, institute a “One Planet Tax” and impose the rest of Bastani’s progressive and expensive agenda in a world bought and paid for by minions of neoliberalism?
To be fair, the book does have its moments. For instance, Bastani is proficient at providing short, snappy definitions:
Capitalism is described as “a machine designed to extract maximum value to shareholders at the expense of workers and service users”.
Privatization: “is not about improving outcomes or services, but pursuing a political agenda which redistributes wealth from the majority of society to a small elite”.
Neoliberalism: “reduces the capacity of public bodies to spend money while simultaneously intensifying social problems like homelessness and poverty. This means the only options to respond…are increasingly market-oriented”.
And, finally: “A green politics of ecology without the red politics of shared wealth will fail to command popular support”.
I also agree with Bastani’s insistence that we should replace the GDP, not with an “Abundance Index”, as he suggests, but something that measures the physical, mental and spiritual health of our citizenry, a Happiness Scale (“decommodify happiness” should be a meme passed on like a secret password, embroidered on t-shirts, stamped on buttons).
But those occasional gems don’t detract from this book’s wrong-headedness and sheer hubris:
“Our technology is already making us gods, so we might as well get good at it.”
“Under Fully Automated Luxury Communism we can lead lives equivalent to today’s billionaires…”
It sings the praises of technology but expresses little interest in human nature and our somewhat spotty historical record when it comes to slavery, exploitation, genocide, conflicts over resource scarcity, etc. Even so-called “free societies” have been built on the fruits of cheap labor and menial servitude.
Bastani posits a positive, hopeful future based on the most specious evidence while blithely ignoring crises that represent an existential threat to our species and are far more present and pressing than he seems willing to acknowledge.
Humans have never lived “wisely and agreeably and well” (quoting John Maynard Keynes) and we’ve never existed in a jobless, leisure society where our basic needs are met and I don’t believe we ever will.
If there is wealth, the priest-kings and charismatic leaders will use dogma and jingoism to take more than their fair share. If we complain, they will employ lethal force to terrify and constrain us. What else is new?
Capitalism might be flexible and self-replicating, but it will also fight fiercely for its survival, its ability to continue exploiting the many in favor of the few, chewing up more and more of our precious ecosystem, its greed barely held in check by weak laws, compromised lawmakers and a distracted populace.
Bastani feels that through some magical influx of abundance, capitalism will become a victim of its own success and be transformed into an economic system that better serves the common good.
I wish that were the case but fear his timeline renders his solutions, fanciful or not, moot. Our plight as a species must take precedence over capitalist wet dreams. We need to act today to save our living, breathing planet, not wait decades for dubious technological fixes.
And I shouldn’t have to say this but the solution won’t come from without, but within.
It starts with us. Speaking and acting collectively. Reforming when possible, revolting when necessary. Putting aside our differences, shouting in one voice, a deafening, prolonged clamor that can’t be, won’t be ignored. Demanding a sustainable, equitable, ethical future, one worth the blood, sweat and tears that will undoubtedly be shed in the course of bringing it to fruition.
This was, for all intents and purposes, a second Brexit referendum and, guess what, the Leavers easily won the day, despite the so-called “youth quake” and every bit of “Momentum” they could muster.
Labour took a big hit but what is equally interesting is that the Liberal Democrats, pro-Remain and proud of it, were also swept from the electoral board. Take that, all you Labourites who insisted Jeremy Corbyn should have more aggressively stumped for the European Union while out on the hustings.
Ah, Jeremy Corbyn.
He’s finished, of course, and so is the Left wing of the Labour Party. Now Tony Blair and his minions will have all the ammunition they need to gut the party and return it to the golden days when they hugged the middle of the road like a near-sighted motorist. No more of this shite about “the many vs. the few” and shaking up the ruling hegemony. There are many affluent Labour members and supporters who were never comfortable with Corbyn’s intentions to redistribute wealth and shore up the “nanny state”. Cradle to grave medical coverage, free tuition, reinvesting in social services? Fuck that. The wealthy are happy to claim a progressive mantle as long as their interests aren’t threatened. Once that happens, they lose all trappings of liberalism and socialism, siding with their economic equals and peers. Karl Marx and Rosa Luxemburg called it over a hundred years ago and little has changed since.
It’s a class thing and nothing else matters once privilege is called into question.
Going to get very, very ugly, very, very fast in the U.K. but here are a few predictions for what lies ahead, and one doesn’t have to be a swami or mentalist to see this coming:
Boris Johnson’s star won’t be long in ascent. At heart, he’s a creep and compulsive liar and his true colors will be revealed in very short order.
The U.K. will sign a final Brexit deal…but will never escape the economic reach and power of the European Union. The final draft will be a huge eye-opener to the rabid Leave folks, Brussels setting the agenda and calling the shots, including a free movement of people across borders and many other clauses that kinda, sorta resemble the old agreement.
Scotland is gone. Independence, baby. The Scots are a wise people who know which way the wind is blowing. While the rest of the U.K. limps along, its power and influence much diminished, Scotland will cut a new deal with the E.U. and before long will be out-performing their Brit, northern Irish and Welsh counterparts.
The powers that be will double down on their control of the “free press”, learning to better manage the message. Despite a heavily biased news media (including the once-vaunted BBC), Labour was able to starkly depict the plight of the poor, disenfranchised, youth and precariously employed, exposing the underlying anger people are experiencing while suffering under the yolk of neo-liberal capitalism. That must be checked—can’t allow reality to defeat the carefully maintained illusion of a united, contented populace.
I’m in grieving mode today, distraught that ordinary, hard-working people had an opportunity to take a sober, second look at Brexit and remake their society into a fairer, more sustainable and democratic dominion where everyone is treated equally.
This was a chance for real, generational change, a revolution from below.
It’s over and won’t come again in my life time.
The good guys have lost and now the U.K. is at the mercy of a black-hearted bunch of bastards who are going to loot the public purse, secret the proceeds of their crimes in tax havens, while having a bloody good laugh at the expense of the stupid proles who put them in power, voting (yet again) against their own interests, deserving of nothing but contempt.
“The worst slavery is that of heavily indoctrinated happy morons who adore their chains and cannot wait to thank their masters for the joy of their subservience.”
“Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.”
I confess to feeling nervous—how would people, even enlightened, progressive types, react to my rants on subjects that would strike many as too close to home?
As the clock wound down and the reading date we’d chosen inched closer and closer, I felt my nerves twanging like guitar strings. On the day in question, I set up chairs in our living room, cleaned the house from top to bottom and wondered if I’d be a few friends shyer once the evening was over.
My latest book, Mouth: Rants and Routines, is a no-holds-barred attack on political correctness and its dim-witted minions, except this time, the criticism is coming from the far Left. This will be considered unconscionable by some, a betrayal of my roots.
PC and its accompanying trendy social causes have diverted the attention of progressives and advanced the agenda of people only interested in narrow, single issues, rather than trying to build a giant tent that would encompass all those who struggle in the crushing grip of capitalism, men, women and children who lack food and health and shelter security. I’m talking about folks working two or three part-time jobs in a precarious economic climate; single mothers, people living on fixed incomes that amount to no incomes at all, once the rent and bills are paid.
And then there is the existential threat presented by climate change: while some of us fuss about, wondering where we fit on the sexual spectrum or fret over what bathroom is most appropriate or which personal pronoun to use when referring to ourselves, half the world is burning.
Mouth is a bitter pill to swallow, no question, and will offend a lot of individuals who like to wear their beliefs on their sleeves, visible to everyone, a display of righteousness and piety and sanctimoniousness that would make a medieval Pope blush.
As my Introduction to the book warns:
“If you’re a wishy-washy liberal, someone who sits on the fence until their ass is black and blue, this probably isn’t the book for you. Likewise if you recently enrolled in a Gender Studies program and/or believe that one day, God willing, Caitlyn Jenner will win a Nobel Prize for…something. If you frequently use the words ‘men’ and ‘rape culture’ in the same sentence, if you self-identify according to a particular animal clan, or consider your pets surrogate children, well, there’s the door, please use it.”
The folks in attendance that night were surprisingly receptive to my heresy and in the recording we made you’ll hear lots of laughter and noises of agreement. I was thrilled and very, very relieved.
I know I’ll take some stick for daring poke at some Lefty/liberal causes that many people hold as sacred, inviolable, untouchable. But I also know there is a strong undercurrent among political progressives and contrarians who agree with me and cheer my decision to slay these sacred cows with as much invective and sarcasm as I possibly can.
Here’s a link to that reading, recorded in our home earlier this week. I have quite a bit of spoken word material and ambient music posted over at Bandcamp, all of it available for free listening and downloading. Please, tuck in.
I welcome your responses, whether you agree with me or not.
We need to have this discussion. The Left has no hope of defeating the entrenched interests opposing us unless we act in a unified, cohesive manner, refusing to allow ourselves to be hijacked by special interest groups and a tiny, vocal minority who eschew Big Ticket issues (income inequality, poverty, hunger) in favor of identity, gender politics, etc.
Stop the atomization and division and come together in one massive plurality of those who demand fairness and equality for ALL.
It really is our only hope of slowing down or, at least, humanizing the capitalist juggernaut bearing down on us, the horrible future it portends.
- Special thanks to my pal, Laird Brittin, who bravely agreed to open the evening with some of his new, original songs. He set the tone early, warmed up the crowd and, oh, yeah, played a helluva set. A true and valued friend…
Completing the final draft of my latest book, experiencing giddiness, a strong sense of anticipation, as well as a certain amount of anxiety—I mean, how are folks going to react to 40+ “routines”, satiric snippets, many of which are devoted to controversial or touchy subjects? We’ve become so thin-skinned and defensive these days that the most innocuous remark can be misread as bigoted or insensitive, topical humor regarded with suspicion and those holding dissenting views treated like latter day heretics and pariahs.
A guy on the far Left putting down political correctness, attacking the notion that our society should focus on social issues, at the expense of much more pressing concerns like poverty, food and health security, the looming threats posed by climate change and global warming? Not advisable, one runs the risk of being accused of apostasy or, even worse, labeled a “hater”, which, these days, is akin to being called a pedophile.
At various points during the conception and writing of this book I’ve paused, questioning my motivation, my aims…even my sanity. It would be far easier keeping my head down and mouth shut, not responding to the threat to freedom of expression and personal liberty presented by mushy-headed liberals trying to socially engineer their brave new world. Except…all my life I have been a progressive and I don’t want to see that agenda hijacked by a small, vocal group of people who wish to control what we talk about and the words we’re allowed to use in conversation and debate.
I also have a very strong hunch that we are being deliberately distracted with social causes (like identity politics) because the Powers That Be don’t want to be forced to make the massive, systemic changes necessary to confront the hegemony of the wealthy, the rampant consumerism threatening the future viability of the planet, the dark underbelly of capitalism.
All my adult life I have spoken out against censorship and will not, as an artist and human being, have my ideas, my imagination and themes, controlled by anyone else, regardless of how fine and honorable their intentions might seem.
I know my book, once it’s released, will cause offense, will annoy and alarm people, maybe a lot of people, but that’s kind of the point. We can’t be weak-kneed when we are defending something as fundamental as freedom of speech.
In about two weeks I’m going to be hosting an informal reading in our home, inviting a few friends and acquaintances over to hear excerpts from the book. A public workshop of the material. I’m curious to see what their reaction will be; it will be an excellent gauge as to how its contents will be received by people who don’t know me or my body of work.
Gonna be an interesting evening…
Further: hope to have a mockup of the cover ready to show you in the next week or ten days…I will be posting excerpts from the book around mid-April, releasing electronic versions of the complete text by the end of that month…there might also be an audio recording of my wee “house concert”, which (if it’s of sufficient quality) I’ll post either here or on my Bandcamp page.
Moment of Truth
They say it’s not a class thing, it’s just common sense that the right to vote should be reserved for those who own property.
They say it’s not a class thing, but it isn’t society’s responsibility to look after the poor.
They say it’s not a class thing, it’s that higher education was never intended for everyone, just a select few.
They say it’s not a class thing, it’s because handicapped parking discriminates against the able-bodied.
They say it’s not a class thing, but shouldn’t those who make more get to keep more?
They say it’s not a class thing, but does their daughter have to sit next to her?
They say it’s not a class thing, but too much is made out of raising the minimum wage.
They say it’s not a class thing, but wouldn’t our neighbourhoods be a lot safer if we had more cops and prisons?
They say it’s not a class thing, but what’s all this nonsense about minority rights?
They say it’s not a class thing, but aren’t the best cleaners and maids from Central America—El Salvador and Honduras especially—because those people have the most to be thankful for.
They say it’s not a class thing, it’s just that offhand they don’t know the price of a quart of milk or carton of eggs.
They say it’s not a class thing, they really do need that great, big house all to themselves.
They say it’s not a class thing, they don’t mind shelling out seven bucks for a quality cup of coffee.
They say it’s not a class thing, but as a rule they never give to panhandlers.
They say it’s not a class thing, some people are natural leaders, while others are meant to serve.
They insist it’s not a class thing, then grin sheepishly and admit yeah, it probably is.
Only a few days left to go, the countdown on, people across our home and native land waiting with bated breath for October 17th, the day recreational cannabis will officially be available for sale in Canada.
Actually, to be honest I detect very little sense of anticipation or concern, even in my small prairie city which is, ah, conservative/redneck, not exactly pothead central. But I wonder what overall effect the normalization of marijuana will have on the Great Green North, how long it will take to defeat the pervasive stupidity of the “reefer madness” mentality that has poisoned legalization discussions for the past century.
Will it be a non-issue, like the legalization of casinos a generation ago? There’s a similar mentality involved, cash-strapped governments seeking coins for their hungry coffers wherever they can hoover them up. If they can’t raise income tax, they’ll raise consumption taxes, make us pay for every item or service we require. Remember when gambling was bad? I can, but only just, and the same thing will happen with demon weed. All the doom-sayers and worry-mongers will be shown to be full of hot air and other than a few more red-eyed people walking around and pizza sales shooting through the roof (at least initially), I predict pot legalization will produce a general feeling of “So what was the big deal?”
And after pot, what next? Has to be prostitution—government-inspected brothels, sex workers better protected from predatory johns…and the Feds and provinces gain yet another tidy, dependable revenue stream.
They’ll need it because they’re going to be forced to inject more capital into a system that is currently running on vapors. It will be necessary to prime the economic pump, and soon. That’s why you’ll eventually see a $15 minimum wage AND, not long afterward, a guaranteed annual income for every Canadian. There’s just not enough money going around, not enough offerings being shovelled into the hungry maw of Mammon. Trickledown economics NEVER worked and that fact becomes ever clearer. When people can no longer to afford the basic goods and services of capitalism, the machine crashes and burns, chaos results.
The poobahs in charge don’t want that. They’re going to do whatever is necessary to perpetuate their power structure, the benefits they enjoy. If that means skimming off some spare change and casting it at the feet of the plebs, so be it.
Except I have a feeling that poor and struggling workers will no longer settle for morsels. They’re falling farther and farther behind, their wages stagnant, their kids can’t improve their prospects because post-secondary education is so expensive, they’re on the downward spiral AND THEY KNOW IT.
Legalizing pot is a temporary—and, frankly, cynical—holding measure. Buying off the electorate with pseudo-progressive policies and symbolic concessions while doing next to nothing to actually, y’know, address economic inequality and health security. Surely our masters aren’t foolish enough to think the rest of us don’t see through their transparent ploy.
Real change is required, to preserve social mobility and address fundamental flaws in a self-perpetuating system that rewards the few at the expense of the many.
That system is not democratic or sustainable and, in light of the current climate crisis, quite demonstrably insane.
What will it take to convince our political masters and elites that we’re serious this time?
Must they hear the awful roll of the tumbrils once again?
The atmosphere was terrific, the audience engaged and appreciative of the opportunity to meet and question a man who could well be the premier of our province in 2-3 years.
Ryan, I think it’s safe to say, is on the progressive side of the party and so I felt comfortable in my preamble excoriating the stupidity, cowardice and arrogance displayed by “center-Left” politicians and (gritting his teeth) liberal democrats.
I loathe both vile species, will never forgive them for the betrayals they’ve perpetrated on the people they purport to be serving.
I’ve posted the text of those remarks below and, as always, encourage readers to respond to or debate with any of my points and assumptions.
The evening began with my friend Laird Brittin performing a rousing rendition of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land”.
Here’s what I said immediately following the song:
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Thank you, Laird.
And thank you, thank you, thank you, Woody Guthrie.
Does anyone happen to remember what Woody had printed on the body of his guitar in big, block letters?
“This Machine Kills Fascists.”
Woody wouldn’t have had much tolerance, I’m afraid, for those people who like to refer to themselves the “Alt-Right”. He was well-acquainted with the danger they represent and I have no doubt he would have called them by their real name.
I also think that Woody, if he was alive today, would be disappointed by the state of the political Left, how muzzled and tamed and tepid it is. And how sadly compromised, its program and rhetoric in many instances almost indistinguishable from the Tories and neo-liberals it allegedly opposes. In the name of expediency and electability, the Left has abandoned its most basic principles and lost its historical solidarity with the working class—also known as the “precariate” or “anxious class” among certain contemporary sociologists and commentators.
Our fellow citizens are disillusioned, depressed, indebted, cynical, lacking any kind of hope for a better future, the scantest possibility for improvement. They’re losing faith in notions like “social mobility” and, yes, “democracy”.
Woody could have predicted that. In the midst of the Great Depression, experiencing the horrors of the Dust Bowl firsthand, he witnessed people giving up, the light in their eyes going out as they watched their livelihoods, the very source of their identity, swept away by powers beyond their control. Such men and women are easy prey for demagogues and dictators, anyone who’s quick to supply easy answers to their questions (along with a convenient scapegoat or two).
And so it is today.
Vulnerable workers, people in low-wage jobs with no benefits, men and women one paycheck away from a repossessed car…or a notice of eviction. Folks who look around and don’t see their lives getting any better…and no one addressing their fears and anxieties.
As the saying goes, a drowning man will clutch the point of a sword.
Especially if that’s all they’re being offered.
Clearly, progressives have been doing a poor job of presenting a relevant, well-articulated alternative to the neo-liberal/corporate agenda and we’ve failed to connect with people who are at the end of their rope and desperately in need of some relief from the constant strain and pressure of daily existence.
From their point of view, we’ve abandoned them—and did so once we started spouting the same jargon as the other guys and kept gutlessly tacking to the middle of the road in the hope of making our policies more palatable to international money markets and guys in suits worshipping at the altar of the Chicago School of Economics.
We need to spare struggling citizens our rote sympathy and manufactured outrage and, instead, help them better cope with a fluid, volatile world that, without some kind of outside intervention, will treat them like chattel, while reducing our environment to the equivalent of a smoldering rubbish tip.
Our counterparts on the Right are quick to put forward solutions that promise the electorate the efficiency and rigorous structure of a Toyota factory floor. Conservative ideologues–many of them, not coincidentally, wealthy businessmen—cannot conceive of why every government service can’t either be privatized, down-sized or delivered in a manner that conforms to sound management practices and tried-and-true business methodologies.
But do we really want the profit motive and neo-liberal economics applied to our education and health care systems?
Doesn’t that kind of top-down, austerity-driven model lead, in other spheres, to boom-and-bust cycles, insolvency, mass layoffs, cronyism, corruption…and is that the mindset we want to embed in our hospitals and schools?
Tariq Ali calls it “tooth-and-nails capitalism” and I think he’s bang on.
And since I’m tossing quotes around, I’ll throw in another one, this one from Terence McKenna:
Because the future is rushing toward us and it is a future for which we are wholly unprepared. We approach dangerous new frontiers in almost every branch of science and find ourselves confronted with technologies that will alter our conception and definition of humanity. Genetic engineering and the development of artificial intelligence present us with extraordinary ethical dilemmas. And if we prove to be unable or incapable of facing up to our responsibilities, others will be more than happy to make critical decisions on our behalf.
But these are huge issues and so we feel helpless and stupid when we try wrapping our minds around them. How can we manage?
May I remind everyone that we live in the birthplace of the cooperative movement? At one point in time, we were the bellwether as far as the socialist experiment in North America was concerned.
Individually we might feel overwhelmed, but by acting in concert, with a shared vision and a shared sense of urgency, we might have a chance to slow this juggernaut down and introduce some kind of sustainability and human compassion into a world-spanning ideology that is starting to eat itself.
We need people in the vanguard who are willing to defy the status quo and resist the temptations and blandishments offered by the ruling class.
Dr. Meili’s prescription for a healthy society requires that we recognize the role of scarcity and insecurity in undermining wellness in all its guises.
It acknowledges that without a strong social safety net, too many will founder when faced with the innate indifference of market forces and rampant consumerism.
Any government that refuses to protect its citizens from unemployment, social exclusion, inequality and marginalization based on race, class or gender, has abdicated its constitutional responsibilities and is unfit to represent the people who mistakenly elected it.
Tonight, we’re dreaming big.
We’re looking down the road a few years when there will be an opportunity to show the people of Saskatchewan that there is a real alternative, another course to choose.
It will involve innumerable challenges and it will ask each of us to contribute what we can toward forging a brighter future…for us, and generations to come. A participatory, grassroots-oriented democracy that values the ideas and input of one and all, harnessing the tremendous creative and entrepreneurial energies of our people.
A special kind of leader is required for a movement like that—someone who understands the enormous potential that exists when we pool our collective resources, achieving more in concert that we ever could have alone.
Since announcing his candidacy, Ryan Meili has impressed many of us with his composure, his candour, his comprehensive understanding of the vital issues facing us…and the personable, thoughtful manner in which he responds to them.
It’s my pleasure to welcome Ryan to the Gog tonight and invite him to step forward and present his platform to you and, later, take your questions.
Without further ado, allow me to introduce our special guest and featured speaker, Dr. Ryan Meili.
We’re witnessing a changing of the guard, of sorts, voters on the Left seeking leadership not from traditional, moribund political parties and personalities, but from voices that are usually consigned to the fringes. It’s a clear indication of how disenchanted people have become with mainstream politics when you see parties of the far Left and (more worrying) the far Right polling higher than usual, their gains coming at the expense of liberal and conservative mainstays.
In my home province of Saskatchewan, our Left-ish party, the New Democrats, are embarking on a leadership campaign. There’s a growing discussion among party members as to whether the new leader should be more electable and pragmatic or someone not afraid of showing their ideological roots.
As we see some of the familiar faces on the social-democratic scene either retiring or losing popularity, we must ask ourselves: what would it take to reinvigorate the Canadian Left, what policies could we emphasize that would reflect our socialist roots and values, distinguishing us from the candidates stubbornly hugging the middle of the road?
I recently sat down, wrote up my ideas and circulated the resulting mini-essay among progressive friends and associates. Their responses were encouraging so I’ll reproduce my “manifesto” here—needless to say, I welcome your comments and critiques.
* * * *
In light of the upcoming leadership campaign and the electoral vulnerability of the Sask. Party, the question arises: will New Democrats seize this opportunity and seek to renew the Party, embracing a bold, progressive legislative agenda…or will voices within the existing hierarchy and executive council encourage a safer, more prudent approach?
Will we sharply distinguish ourselves from the Brad Wall regime and their discredited policies or will we water down our platform, putting forward the kind of mild, middle of the road initiatives that British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn derisively dubs “Tory lite”?
Do we, as New Democrats, defend or condone a continuation of the status quo (with a few minor tweaks here and there), are we going to choose electability over idealism, pragmatism over passion? Are we willing to sell our principles down the road for a chance to sit in the Big Chair?
Many commentators speak of a “democratic disconnect”, a loss of belief in democracy among voters in Europe and America, and it’s clear a large portion of the blame rests with the major political parties. They have put in place command and control structures that limit policy debate and minimize the opinions and influence of ordinary party members. They’ve created a bureaucracy more interested in maintaining power, raising money and serving their corporate masters than it is enacting reform or making the system more humane and transparent.
Much has been made of rebuilding from the grassroots…but how is that possible without ceding them some genuine power, a say in Party decision-making? Annual political conventions are fine, it’s a great chance to mingle and meet old friends, but what practical purpose do they serve if none of the resolutions put forward by the membership are binding or carry any kind of clout? Rather, they are perceived by the executive and caucus as helpful suggestions, a chance for members to exercise their conscience on the issues of the day.
Surely any kind of talk for renewal must include allowing the Party general membership more input on direction and focus.
I suspect part of the problem is that the membership is much more progressive and socialistic than the Party poobahs would like. That’s why the Party leadership makes such profound efforts to derail or disallow potentially divisive or controversial motions and ensure that any that do pass have little or no impact on overall policy or strategy. I would love to see thresholds set so that when a motion achieves a certain amount of support from the general membership, it automatically becomes part of our platform—a process that would revitalize the grassroots and help address that democratic deficit I referred to earlier.
The Party hierarchy has made considerable efforts to address gender and racial disparity within the NDP governing councils, but they have yet to extend representation to those who are struggling in the “new economy”, working class men and women who have no benefits, no safety net; low income earners and “wage slaves” condemned to debt peonage, with little chance of improving their circumstances. Their kids won’t be going to college or trade schools. We pay lip service to representing and championing such people—but where are they in evidence within our councils of power?
Instead, we have a situation where a class of well-paid, well-educated professionals set policies and priorities for the Party, individuals who have little grasp of the day-to-day reality facing the working people and precariously employed of this province.
And what is the ideology of these affluent NDPers, a bloc that Marx called “bourgeois socialists”? Would they be willing to enact initiatives that harm their own interests, take coin from their purses? Will they support efforts to democratize the Party and, in so doing, lose power and influence?
For most Canadians, government isn’t the problem—but poor governance or governance that favors the wealthy elite certainly is. Government shouldn’t be perceived as an enemy of the people, but a body created to serve them, reflecting their collective aspirations.
We can address this point through ideology. We show the citizens of this province that an NDP administration would protect their interests and remove some of the anxieties and frustrations they must deal with on a daily basis. We offer the reassurance of cradle-to-grave health care and guarantee the highest possible educational standards and the opportunity for everyone, regardless of means, to improve their minds and enhance their future prospects.
The Sask. Party never shied away from ideology, why should we?
And we know from polling and discussions with our fellow citizens that there is strong support for socialistic policies like state ownership of critical resources and services. When Wall and his cronies floated the idea of dumping some of our Crown corporations, the message they received was loud and unequivocal: hands off.
I believe most people in this province would support progressive taxation—the Tories make much of the notion that the economic burden must be shared equally, but I disagree. Why should we speak of proportionality when some of us are living in the best neighborhoods, enjoying the best services, with all the requisite toys…while the rest of us are told we must pull up our socks, economically speaking? Those who have more, must pay more: in income tax, property tax and “luxury” taxes on their expensive vehicles, cabin cruisers, so-called “McMansions”, as well as the “rustic” cabins they own that are more like vacation homes. A levy applied to profligacy and conspicuous consumption—how many here would argue against that?
Finally, let us take back ownership of the vocabulary of the Left. The word “socialist” is not a bug bear, trotted out to scare the children—but that’s the way it’s treated by our counterparts on the Right and their hired media stooges. Even some of us fall prey to it: “Socialist? Nossir, not me…”
We must reclaim that word and numerous others as well, and do a better job at educating today’s work force about the history and tradition of socialism and the labour movement, the great gains made by courageous women and men who put their lives on the line so that ordinary people might live in freedom, security and dignity.
“For the many, not the few.”
Are we, as a Party, prepared to live up to that ideal?
Do we have the courage to act on our high-sounding moral principles and convictions?
* * * *
NDP Election Platform (2020):
1) Raise minimum wage and enact more legislation to protect worker rights and improve workplace safety.
2) Introduce progressive taxation, whereby those that have more, pay more: a higher proportion of their income and a “luxury tax” on high end goods (expensive cars, McMansions, vacation homes on the lake, cabin cruisers, etc.).
3) Dramatically reduce tuition costs so that post-secondary education is within the means of every resident of the province.
4) Ensure, through legislation or an amendment to our provincial constitution, that our Crown corporations and essential resources (like water) are owned in perpetuity by the people of this province and cannot be privatized.
5) Impose tough environmental standards that deter polluters through legislation, punitive fines and jail terms.
6) Begin the immediate transition out of the thrall of fossil fuels, investing in renewable/alternative energy to the extent that within 8-10 years we are national leaders in that field, our dependence on carbon-based fuels dramatically diminished.
(Phase I: Ban on fracking)
7) Improve relations with First Nations/Metis people through partnerships, shared initiatives; the failure to consult with Aboriginal leadership and treat them as equals devalued and marginalized them and we must make vigorous efforts to win back their trust and participation in the decisions affecting them.
8) Develop more subsidized or low-income housing—build quality homes for those in need…
9) …while pursuing and prosecuting slum landlords, anyone who knowingly provides sub-standard shelter to desperate people.
10) Work in partnership with the federal government to provide a “basic annual income” to every resident of the province/country, investing in our people rather than offering billions in subsidies to multi-national corporations that damage the environment, pay low royalties and taxes, while offering their employees as little as possible in terms of wages, benefits and job security.
Disorder in the Real
Something has gone wrong, somewhere along the way the polarities were switched or we missed a critical turn or…?
Power has devolved to self-interested, greedy individuals in the thrall of capital.
We have been passive observers, happy to cede control and responsibility to others as long as that means we’re free to pursue our frivolous entertainments and distractions.
But all of a sudden it’s like someone has decided the illusion need no longer be maintained. The elite have grown wary of even the tepid, paltry democracy we celebrate every four years.
There will no longer be elections, key positions will be appointed from a trained, compliant technocracy.
Not politicians, autocrats.
Aided by a permanent state of emergency, which helps rationalize the curbs to freedom, the removal of basic rights, judicial oversight, etc. When liberty, personal or collective, impedes commerce (they claim), the natural order is disrupted and economic stability threatened.
Rich, as a reward. Poor for a reason.
Alert for dissent, some budding Robespierre waiting in the wings (the creak and rumble of tumbrils still haunt their dreams). Discredit or kill potential opposition leaders (give ’em the “Assange treatment”). No quarter for class enemies. To the victors, the spoils.
Idolizing Lee Kuan Yew, while demonizing Marx.
Controlling the means of production and the dissemination of information.
Governing a cowed and stupid populace, relegated to low wages, uncertainty, fear; resigned to their diminished station.
Militarizing and privatizing the police, just in case harsher lessons are required.
Resorting to patriotism, should every other artifice fail.
“If this isn’t the end of the Republican Party, it’ll be a shame. They dominated American political life for 50 years and were never anything but monsters. They bred in their voters the incredible attitude that Republicans were the only people within our borders who raised children, loved their country, died in battle or paid their taxes. They even sullied the word ‘American’ by insisting they were the only real ones. They preferred Lubbock to Paris, and their idea of an intellectual was Newt Gingrich. Their leaders, from Ralph Reed to Bill Frist to Tom DeLay to Rick Santorum to Romney and Ryan, were an interminable assembly line of shrieking, witch-hunting celibates, all with the same haircut—the kind of people who thought Iran-Contra was nothing, but would grind the affairs of state to a halt over a blow job or Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube.
A century ago, the small-town American was Gary Cooper: tough, silent, upright and confident. The modern Republican Party changed that person into a haranguing neurotic who couldn’t make it through a dinner without quizzing you about your politics. They destroyed the American character. No hell is hot enough for them. And when Trump came along, they rolled over like the weaklings they’ve always been, bowing more or less instantly to his parodic show of strength.”
Matt Taibbi, Insane Clown President (2017)