On the Rogueness of Rogue One

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Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso

Immediately following the release of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Jacobin published Kate Aronoff’s review of the film titled Star Wars Goes to the Countryside. Jacobin is known for speedily publicizing analyses of events before any other leftist publications do. However, the review misses some crucial aspects of the film and would have benefited from more thorough reflections.

While Aronoff correctly identifies the film’s underlying motifs that are patently political and relevant to the creeping surge of fascism in the U.S represented by Trump, she argues that a real world parallel of the film is not “anti-Trump resistance” (which is broadly a continuation of street-based Black Lives Matter protests and riots in response to police killings), but the Spanish Civil War. While there are arguably some parallels between the Rebel Alliance and the young Spanish Republic besieged by fascists, her claim that there is no parallel between the film and contemporary struggles on the U.S soil is false.

For one, it smacks of nostalgia so common in the left which tends to spend much energy and vehemence on debating what went on during the Civil War than what is going on here and now. Her assertion is also ironic when we consider her reference to an old Maoist slogan “Down to the countryside!” in her review’s title. Despite this obvious reference, Aronoff misses the most crucial aspect of the film which underlies its theme and makes the said Maoist slogan appropriate.

The film’s radical politics is most clearly expressed in its emphasis on contradictions within the Rebel Alliance that made Jyn Erso and her comrades rogue in the first place. In particular, the Rebel leaders’ defeatism and characterization of Saw Gererra’s faction as an “extremist” deviation that need to be controlled is a clear parallel of the real world revisionism and compromising attitudes of self-appointed leaders of contemporary social movements from NGOs in the ecology movement to civil rights groups controlled by the comprador Black bourgeoisie that sought to contain the militancy of the Black youth on the streets of Ferguson and Baltimore. Hell, is the Democratic Party not the most obvious example here? Even if we were to pick a historical example, the Russian Revolution would have been more appropriate than the Spanish Civil War. In any case, Aronoff consciously or unconsciously misses this point altogether.

In spite of this flaw, Aronoff does make some interesting observations such as the fact that the film has less to do with aristocratic values represented by the superhuman Jedi and the Skywalker lineage than ordinariness of Rogue One that consists mostly of outcasts and more closely resembles a people’s army than holy warriors, and that the film is ultimately about collective struggle rather than personal development.

However, even these points do not fully make sense if we don’t take these contradictions into account. For instance, Jyn and her comrades do not only become “rogue” and splinter off to do their own things as they please, but triumph over opposing factions and lead the entire Rebel Alliance to a victory. Similarly, Jyn’s choice to sacrifice her desire to avenge her father and ultimately her survival for the Rebel victory can only be understood against the backdrop of rebellious individualism common in many recent Hollywood films like Inglorious Basterds and The Hunger Games series that valorize vengeance as the ultimate expression of their rebelliousness.

Its comparison with The Hunger Games (Mockingjay Part 1 & 2 in particular) is especially an apt one. While both films follow a very similar story line, their protagonists reach opposing conclusions. Katniss Everdeen remains a reluctant revolutionary (or dare I say revolutionary by chance) until the end. Her actions are motivated by moral indignation and personal desire to avenge her friends and relatives murdered by the regime rather than political goals of overthrowing the regime and instituting a new social order. Once her job is done, she retreats into a private life of marriage and family. Katniss’ desire for revenge is therefore de-politicized as her participation in the rebellion is a means to her self-fulfillment.

In contrast, Jyn Erso makes a conscious decision to defy the Rebel leadership, leads a vanguard splinter faction and the entire rebellion to an opposite direction, and ultimately sacrifices her own life for the cause. Interestingly, the film consciously militates against the common revenge fantasy near the end when Cassian dissuades Jyn from executing an imperial officer who is responsible for her father’s death. For Jyn, her ultimate revenge is not the death of an individual officer, but the defeat of the Empire and liberation of the Galaxy at large.

These are all interpretations, and I do not mean to suggest that Rogue One is a leftist film per se. As Arnoff points out, the Star Wars franchise tends to appeal to people of all political stripes including the far right. Yet, the figure of a woman who overcomes her own trauma and sexism of her comrades to exercise revolutionary leadership, and choose to subordinate her personal desire to a broader political goal is a significant one that sharply differentiates Rogue One from faux leftism of The Hunger Games and other Hollywood films.

Resilience Pending Revolution

Black survival

In January 1969, the Black Panther Party launched the Free Breakfast for Children Program with a slogan: “Serve the people, body and soul.”

The term “resilience” is often used to refer to people’s ability to withstand and “bounce back” undamaged from poverty, mental illness, and different forms of oppression, primarily by NGOs, nonprofits, and social services, but also by some sections of the radical left. While the term can be interpreted widely, it has acquired a particular meaning that is politically reactionary, and valorizes survival at the expense of political empowerment and social revolution.

Melissa Chudburn criticizes the concept of community resilience promoted by the Obama administration in its 2015 budget and Now Is The Time initiative. The initiative included $55 million for Project AWARE (Advancing Wellness and Resilience in Education), intended for states and communities to implement plans to support youth with mental illness, refer them to the appropriate services they need, and provide adults who work with youth with mental illness first aid training.

While Chadburn recognizes the necessity of such programs, she argues that the concept of resilience ideologically encourages those who live in poverty and with mental illness to merely “take it” and forge on, rather than addressing their systematic causes. According to Chadburn, community resilience is merely a stand-in for non-threatening “cult of citizenship” where the oppressed can quietly endure harsh social conditions they live in.

Built into the concept of resilience is an image of what a resilient community or individual should look like: a crime-heavy neighborhood policing itself or a child who suffered abuse growing into a responsible, civic-minded adult. But if that child were to become a skillful criminal, it’s likely that we, as a society, would consider her a casualty of adversity rather than someone who bounced back but not in the way we’d like. The unspoken byproduct of cultivating resilience, in other words, is the expectation that individuals and communities function the way we think they should.

Of course, getting involved in criminal activities is only one among many options available for the poor. The same can be applied to those who choose to politicize themselves and become a revolutionary. The colonial-capitalist power structure has many ideological tools at its disposable to make activists look weird, marginal, anti-social, dangerous or “terrorist.” The oppressed are admirable and “inspiring” in so far as they withstand their oppression, but not when they take their destiny into their own hands and fight for their liberation.

While initiatives like Project AWARE are well-intended, Chadburn argues, its proponents are

…wrong to valorize the idea that we should remain unchanged, unmoved and unaffected by trauma. Because here’s what happens to me when I embrace it: I quiver with a fake sense of pride and accomplishment for withstanding rape, poverty, bureaucracy, the child welfare system, our sexist workforce and low wages — and coming out unscathed. Yet what I’m really doing is assuaging those in authority by saying, “I am not broken. I can take more.”

By valorizing the people’s ability to survive oppression, the concept of resilience in effect legitimizes oppression.

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“We don’t want to survive. We want to live.”

The long history of anti-capitalist and anti-colonial struggles attests to the fact that their struggles are never about just surviving, but living. “Bread and Roses” is a famous political slogan first coined by Rose Scneiderman in light of the intensifying conflict between labour and capital in the early 20th century, and adopted first by the successful textile strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts led by Industrial Workers of the World. The slogan declares: “The worker must have bread, but she must have roses too.” Workers don’t only fight for wage increases, but also for dignity and respect.

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On March 12, 1912, the bitterly fought Lawrence Textile Strike, also known as the “Bread and Roses” strike ends when American Wool Co. concedes to most of the workers’ demands.

A similar expression is made in a film Jimmy’s Hall where an Irish revolutionary Jimmy Gralton appeals to the masses: “We need to take control of our lives again. Work for need, not for greed, and not just to survive like a dog, but to live, to celebrate, to dance, to sing as free human beings.”

The people don’t want to just survive, but they want to live with dignity, respect, and above all political power. One of the Black Panther Party’s slogans was “Survival Pending Revolution.” They provided many community-based Service to the People programs to ensure the survival of Black communities. But these programs only made sense within the context of their resistance to the U.S imperialism at home, guided by revolutionary politics with the goal of overthrowing what they called the “pig power structure,” and establishing an egalitarian socialist order in its place. These programs were part of their political project to foster the people’s ability to fight for their liberation. Otherwise they would not have been very different from social services of today that merely manage poverty without seeking to abolish it.

We realize we have come so far off from the politics of these slogans when we see Trish Hennesey, the founding director of social democratic Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, say Living Wages make communities resilient. While she is correct in pointing out the obvious fact that higher wage would better ensure the workers’ and their communities’ survival, what she means by resilience here is not their increased ability to fight for better working conditions, and ultimately their liberation from capitalist domination. What she means by resilience is their ability to withstand exploitation and “weather the storm.” Or worse, they should be better fed so they don’t feel disgruntled against the bourgeoisie.

This is of course not to advocate for accelerationism and the notion that “worse the shit for the people, better the chances for revolution.” Workers and oppressed peoples have the right to fight for reforms that better their material conditions and live a dignified life. The fight should be supported no matter what. The point, however, is that the very rhetoric of resilience militates against fighting as it often encourages them to “take it” if not “turn the other cheek.” Or else they are troublemakers who threaten to disrupt the status quo.

Resilience should not be valorized, but should not be discarded altogether either. There are many things privileged middle-class activists can learn from the masses and their survival. We need to listen to their stories, empathize with them, and build solidarity. But we also need to resist the temptation to valorize their stories of survival and ability to “take it.” The task of revolutionaries is to concentrate and systematize these stories into revolutionary theory, and organize individual experiences into a single fist capable of striking down the old, so they no longer have to take it.

Colonial Legacy of the CCF: An interview with Allyson Stevenson

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The Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) is often seen as a sacred cow of the Settler Left, and the Golden Age of social democracy not yet corrupted by liberalism of the NDP that succeeded it. In this interview, Dr. Allyson Stevenson challenges this myth by highlighting the colonial roots of Canadian social democracy founded on the dispossession of Indigenous peoples, specifically the separation of Indigenous children from their families through the child welfare system.

Red Anthropology: Your research is on the impact of Canadian child welfare system on Indigenous peoples. You specifically focus on the Sixties Scoop and Adopt Indian and Métis (AIM) in Saskatchewan, a child adaption program initiated by the CCF in the 1960s. Can you tell us about the program and how it came about?

Allyson Stevenson: Actually, the AIM program was first piloted, and then implemented on a province wide basis under the Liberal government of Ross Thatcher in 1967. However, the government was responding to the crisis of “overrepresentation” that had emerged during the 1950’s and 1960’s when the CCF was in power. The CCF had been in power in Saskatchewan between 1944 and 1964 during which the concerns raised by Indian and Métis peoples about issues such as loss of land, racism, and self-determination were channeled through the Department of Social Welfare and Rehabilitation.

I argue in my dissertation that, firstly, the CCF in SK sought to address the “Indian and Métis problem” through a very coordinated social welfare approach with the goal of integration. Two examples of the CCF’s very first attempts involved establishing Métis “training colonies” and the Green Lake Children’s Home for Métis children in the late 1940’s. Both are fascinating examples of the settler-colonial removal mentality laced with the social gospel desire for uplifting and social engineering beloved by the CCF. The colonies were eventually abandoned in 1960, after which the CCF shifted their focus to unmarried mothers and children using child welfare legislation. You also see in this period a shift in discourse from “assimilation” to what appeared to be a more benign goal of integration. This really picked up speed after the 1951 revisions to the Indian Act that enabled provincial laws to be applicable on reserves.

With this shift to integration into provincial health, welfare, and educational jurisdictions, both Indian and Métis peoples who lived in severe poverty came under the scrutiny of white experts. Rather than recognizing Indigenous rights to land and self-determination, social welfare experts approached colonization effects (poverty and ill health) through what I call “technologies of helping” by secular/therapeutic professional social workers. Children rapidly became “overrepresented” in the provincial welfare system in the 1960’s in SK. By 1967 they were 1/3 of all children in the care of the government. Aboriginal children entered the child welfare system through a number of different avenues, however the majority were apprehended rather than relinquished voluntarily by parents. Adoption laws, unmarried mothers legislation, and neglect laws are pieces of provincial legislation that were applied to Indigenous peoples in a coercive manner.

RA: The CCF is remembered for its socialist policies and anti-capitalist stance represented in Regina Manifesto. As an Indigenous person, what is your take on this view?

AS: I want to complicate this history by providing an indigenous critique of the settler-colonial prerogative of the men and women who made up that party at this time. It’s important to insert Indigenous voices into histories of this time period to challenge the heroic triumphant narrative that has often been used in a way that perpetuates the disappearing of First Nations and Métis peoples from the land and histories.

While I share many of the critiques of capitalism put forward by those who crafted the Regina Manifesto, I must point out the severely limited vision of this document and the farmer-labour alliance that it represented. The struggle for control over which group would benefit from the profits accrued from lands and resources in Saskatchewan, Eastern Canadian financiers, and corporations, or small farmers and workers, ignored Indian and Métis peoples.

At this time, Métis people were also organizing the Métis Society seeking a political solution to the accumulating losses from land hungry farmers. So it is interesting that that this is taking place at the very same time. One issue they were pursing was hiring a lawyer to determine whether they had a legal case against the federal government for failing to implement the scrip system for Métis in the west. First Nations people at this time were prohibited from organizing and raising funds to hire lawyers because of the Indian Act section 141, which really hampered their ability to mount any type of resistance to the government or its policies. Oppression in any form is offensive to me, however, my question is: Where in the Regina Manifesto, or the society that it envisioned, is there a space for indigenous peoples?

RA: The colonial child welfare system is very much still alive today. How did the CCF’s policies become inherited by successive governments of different political strands both provincially and federally? How does the CCF’s colonial legacy continue today?

AS: The legacy of the CCF in the contemporary child welfare crisis is perpetuated through the focus on removing children as a solution to marginalization and the lack of basic human rights of Indian and Métis peoples face in Canada. The logic of child removal has been legitimized and given the gloss of inevitability. This is because generations of trauma have accumulated and created a situation so complex and seemingly hopeless that the best anyone can offer is to repeatedly take children in the hopes that somehow it will make things better. The CCF, and Tommy Douglas specifically, bears a great deal of responsibility for the current crisis in child welfare. If he is known as the father of medicare, he can also be known as the father of the indigenous child welfare crisis in Canada also. Radical, isn’t it?

RA: In spite of the structural oppression they face, Indigenous peoples are never passive victims of colonialism, but active makers of their own histories. How have Indigenous peoples resisted the colonial welfare system? What is the significance of this resistance in the broader struggle for Indigenous self-determination today?

AS: Indigenous people have resisted in many, many ways. The Métis Society in 1971 organized against the Adopt Indian and Métis program, demanding it end immediately. The Saskatchewan Native Women’s Movement formed at this time and organized against child removal and forced sterilizations of women.They ended the AIM program by mounting a human rights complaint against the province for excluding Indian and Métis peoples from being foster and adoptive parents. In the 1980’s many Indian leaders across Canada mounted an aggressive campaign to end the removals of children to provincial welfare agencies, which is when you see a slowing of transracial adoptions, but not removals and fostering.

In the 1990’s Indian Child and Family Service agencies began to emerge. However, the issues with child welfare are really much, much larger than individual children and family, although individual children need safety and care. I argue that the resistance to child welfare is more than a matter of control. It speaks to the heart of who indigenous people are and whether they can continue to exist in this land. Kinship systems with children in the center are tied to place. Fracturing the kinship systems has been one of the key imperatives of the Indian Act and settler-colonialism in general. This is a very strategic attack because it strikes at the very center of indigenous nationhood. Kinship is nationhood and is tied to place, language and ways of knowing. Thus, the Canadian state’s removal of children whether to residential schools or child protective agencies is an act of colonial violence so profound it can be considered part of an ongoing war against the indigenous presence.

Allyson Stevenson (@doctorallyson76) is Faculty Member in Indigenous Studies at University of Saskatchewan. She obtained her PhD in 20th Century Canadian History from the U of S in 2015.

On Reactionary Medicine: Ryan Meili’s Healthy Capitalism

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Together At Last

When I saw Ryan Meili posing in the same photo as Saskatoon Police Chief Clive Weighill, I was confused at first.

Ryan Meili is a physician and prominent activist based in Saskatoon. He is also the founder of Upstream, an NGO that describes itself as “a movement to create a healthy society, and evidence-based, and people-centred ideas.”

Clive Weighill is a chief of the police force with long history of violence against Indigenous peoples and racial profiling. He is also the president of The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, an organization that represents police chiefs from all across Canada. While Weighill occasionally presents himself as progressive and pro-social justice, he is unapologetic about his support for police carding and flat out denies that the practice is racist.

Upstream recently published an interview with Weighill. In the interview, Weighill highlights the importance of alleviating poverty in order to reduce crime. Meili seems sympathetic.

Meili also seems to have no problem with the fact that, instead of funding social programs, Saskatchewan gave Saskatoon Police $4.8 million last November on top of the $3.8 million budget increase they received from the City of Saskatoon.

People in Toronto are aware of this contradiction, and organizing against the police involvement in street outreach, as well as the cuts to social services within the context of increase in police budget.

Overall, seeing Meili collaborate with a police chief seemed like a “sell-out” thing to do. How can anyone who calls himself an advocate of social health work with a cop? How can racialized policing and targeting of poor people ever be healthy?

But when I read Meili’s book A Healthy Society: How a Focus on Health can Revive Canadian Democracy, I realized I was wrong. His collaboration with the police chief is not a contradiction, but entirely consistent with his politics that are characteristically colonial and pro-capitalist. They actually have a lot in common with one another in terms of how they see the world.

The Source

Both in his book and Upstream’s literature, Meili’s primary concern is social determinants of health, the notion that one’s health is determined by social conditions they live in. Again, this claim is seemingly radical as it seems to address what he sees as “the root cause” of illness.

Meili uses the analogy of a man who frantically tries to rescue drowning children who endlessly come floating down a river. What he doesn’t question is who is throwing them into the river upstream.

But upstream is merely above downstream. Social inequality is only an effect of broader social relations that structure oppression and exploitation. The term does not capture the essence of social inequality and the source of where the river really flows from: capitalism and settler-colonialism.

Healthy Colonialism

While Meili is seemingly aware of the plight of Indigenous peoples and the need to “work alongside them,” his understanding of their material conditions rests on the notion that Indigenous peoples are Canadians, rather than independent nations.

So long as Canada is a country divided, it cannot truly develop. When we come to recognize the value of the contribution of all people, and in particular those long neglected and marginalized, only then are we on our way to building healthy society.

This narrative is all too familiar. The recent shootings in La Loche, Saskatchewan are the result of supposed “neglect” northern Indigenous communities receive from the Canadian state, when it’s the opposite. In the words of Moontime Warrior:

It is not a coincidence that areas with high Indigenous populations are the areas deprived of access to food and health care. At its core, this is an issue of maintaining the dispossession of Indigenous people and the legitimacy of Canadian control; an attempt to destroy the nations and legal orders that we hold in our blood, our muscles, our stomaches, our minds, our mouths.

Poor living conditions on reserves and in urban communities are an outcome of colonial dispossession of Indigenous peoples. The very existence of Canada is founded on this dispossession. Yet the word ‘colonialism’ does not appear in Meili’s book even once.

Meili’s lack of historical awareness becomes clear when he discusses the “inattention” many on-reserve schools receive from the federal government by using the example of Attawapiskat. For Meili, the fact that these schools receive three times less funding than schools in the rest of Canada “doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

What teacher, presented with a student who was struggling in school, would intentionally give them a third less attention than the other students? Students in difficulty receive more attention, and rightly so. Wise teachers know that the earlier they address the difficulties of a struggling student, the brighter the future for that student and the better the experience for the entire class. The same wisdom should be applied to addressing key determinants of health such as education among the communities most in need, be they urban, rural or on-reserve, great attention and resources should be applied to deal with greater challenges.

This “wisdom” is such that Indigenous peoples are like children struggling to catch up with more grown up Canadians. Behind Meili’s veiled ignorance of Canada’s colonial roots is his implicit support for more benign and healthier colonialism.

If we really care about the health of Indigenous peoples, we need to support their right to self-determination, not the assimilationist agenda of the Canadian state Meili promotes. Indigenous peoples have every right to resist Canadian imperialism and struggle for national liberation.

Colonialism and Capitalism: Antagonistic Contradictions

What Meili fails to see is the relational aspect of colonialism. Indigenous peoples are colonized not because they are culturally inferior or socially disadvantaged, but because the colonizers take their land and colonize them.

The same can be applied to class analysis. Rich people are rich not because they are lucky. The rich are rich because they actively steal from the poor; a process David Harvey calls accumulation by dispossession.

Colonialism and capitalism are always relational.

Meili’s analysis of inequality is limited in this regard as he equates class with income. According to Meili, income is the most important determinant of physical, mental, and social health. How healthy we are is determined by how much money we have, rather than our relationship to means of production. The problem with this view is it defines class difference as unequal distribution of income, rather than relations of production.

Like the relationship between the colonizers and the colonized, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat are not only different from one another, but antagonistic to each other.

Interests of the proletariat to live a satisfying and healthy life directly contradicts those of the bourgeoisie who want to extract as much profit as they can from the proletariat and pay them as little wage as possible. And in order for capitalists to extract profit more effectively, workers are best left dispossessed and propertyless.

The paradox, however, is that the very existence of the capitalist class is dependent on the working-class labour.

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The Black Panther Party’s Service to the People Programs are a prime example of revolutionary medicine.

Poverty Profits

Looking at class in relational terms enables us to see through Meili’s thesis that “poverty is a drag on the economy,” reproduced in Upstream’s Poverty Costs campaign:

When people live in poverty they are unable to participate fully in public life and the marketplace, and are unable to contribute to the common account through taxes. They are also more likely to require health services, fall into the prison system, or require social assistance, People who do not have decent housing or access to education are less able to participate in the economy as customers, workers, or innovators. As their health suffers, the costs are borne by taxpayers. Our jails are now filled with hardened criminals (at least not when they got in): the vast majority of crime against property are people stem from poverty. Our safety, prosperity, and satisfaction with society are decreased by gross inequality.

While Meili is right to point that poor people are more likely to have health issues and end up in the prison system than the rich, the notion that you cannot contribute to society while living in poverty is bogus. There are three reasons why this is so.

First, it promotes the notions that the only way to contribute to society is by spending money and paying taxes. Society functions not because people spend money and pay taxes, but because people work. Capitalism cannot survive without people selling their labour for wage.

The fact that people live in poverty doesn’t mean that they don’t work. A recent report characterized Toronto as Canada’s “capital of working poverty” with the increasing number of workers in low-paid and precarious employment.

The fact that your labour isn’t fairly compensated doesn’t mean it is worthless either. Public health is impossible without city workers collecting garbage, janitors cleaning buildings, and nurses caring for the sick. We won’t have running water without plumbers and food to eat without migrant workers picking vegetables. Even the prisoners contribute by working for as little as $4 a day. So the claim that the poor are less able to contribute to society because they can’t pay taxes simply isn’t true. Workers make the world go around.

Second, contrary to Meili’s claim, poverty is actually a profitable business. Lower your wage is, you become less of a burden for capitalists who profit off your labour.

Under capitalism, hospitals, housing, prisons, schools, and universities are all profitable enterprises. The fact that they are publicly funded or that their profits are appropriated by the Crown doesn’t make them less capitalist. They can only function through the capitalist relations of production in which one class exploits the labour of others.

Some of these enterprises rely entirety on the existence of poverty for their survival like the burgeoning NGO/Non-Profit Industrial Complex.

Third, the claim that poverty is costly is not very different from the neoliberal argument used to justify austerity measures: the poor are burden on the hardworking taxpayers, and social services/public health/post-secondary education is costing us too much so it’s time to cut back and tighten up the belt. Replacing “the poor” with “poverty” doesn’t change the fundamentally neoliberal nature of this argument.

Anti-Political Politics

Meili recognizes that, since social inequality is a political issue, so is the solution. Yet Meili’s politics is paradoxically anti-politics.

According to Meili, social inequality is a product of a lack of consensus in the political process where ideological differences, divisions, and disagreements hinder society from identifying common goals: health and well-being.

As politicians pander for popularity and pursuing their own ideological goals, ordinary citizens who are otherwise eager to get involved in politics grow frustrated and lose interest. Or worse, they become militant: “Honest intentions and frustrations are diverted from meaningful expression to angry demonstrations.”

What is needed, Meili claims, is “less politics, more democracy,” and “evidence-based policy” informed by empirical data rather than ideology. He laments: “Our democratic system is suffering, and the remedy is not harder fought, more polarized politics. What is needed to build a healthier society is deeper democracy.”

Meili accordingly proposes a complementary system of parliamentary and participatory democracy as an alternative governance structure in which citizens are invited to partake in the decision-making process. However, Meili defines democracy strictly in technical and procedural terms rather than political and substantive. He presumes that implementing more democratic means of decision-making would foster democratic culture.

While I fully recognize the importance of mass assemblies and neighbourhood councils in advancing socialism, without dismantling the current political structure that is thoroughly pro-capitalist and anti-democratic, such arrangements would either fail or become co-opted into the existing structure.

To claim that your political opponents are being political, but you aren’t is dishonest at best and hypocritical at worst. Meili’s anti-political posture is particularly ironic considering that he is a card carrying New Democrat who has ran for the provincial leadership twice. His role models are also Lorne Calvert and Roy Romanow who implemented a series of neoliberal policies while in power, and pushed Saskatchewan NDP further towards the right.

The people lose interest in electoral politics not because of too much politics or the presumed lack of consensus. It is the opposite. All major political parties in Canada are increasingly indistinguishable from one another. There are no real anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist, and anti-colonial alternatives in the current political system. The problem is not that the political system is technically deficient. It is rather that the wrong politics are dominating the process.

The notion that becoming less political and more “evidence-based” would mobilize popular support is incorrect. Bernie Sanders is popular because he is much more honest about his social democratic politics than Meili. Sanders is popular not because he has his facts straight, but because he is bold enough to call out the Wall Street, denounce police violence, and appeal to working-class people instead of elusive “middle-class” both Liberals and the NDP love to fetishize. Hell, even Justin Trudeau did a better job at being unabashedly liberal than Thomas Mulcair who did exactly what Meili proposes in his book: Less politics, more techniques. This is exactly why the NDP lost the last federal election.

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Norman Bethune served as a front line surgeon in Spain during the Civil War, and later in China for the Communist Eighth Route Army. While in Spain, he developed a mobile blood-transfusion unit. He died of blood poisoning he contracted while attending to the wounded in China. His name is more popularly recognized in China than in his native Canada

Canadian social democrats severely underestimate the importance of ideology, and the intellectual capacity of the masses to understand political ideas. This is not something the radical left should be emulating. Working-class and oppressed peoples are more open to discuss stuff like capitalism, imperialism, colonialism, patriarchy than you think, when these ideas are applied to concrete social realities they live in.

People gravitate towards organizations that are unafraid to name the names and willing to do what it takes to win, not groups that endlessly pump out policy papers filled with graphs and numbers. This is also why the Tea Party was so popular. They may have had their facts wrong and their ideas were undoubtedly racist, but they still knew what they were up against and what they were for.

Reactionary Medicine

What is more troubling about Meili’s anti-political politics is his claim “Poverty and ill health affects us all.” According to Meili, addressing social determinants of health “helps everyone, regardless of their social position.” This approach supposedly enables us to “reach across divisions of class, race, geography, or political affiliation” and “offers us a shared goal with the power to reach across the differences that separate us.”

From an outset, this seems contradictory, especially for someone who thinks that the poor and marginalized are more likely to be ill than the rich. Clearly class and race have something to do here. But the true meaning of this “we are all in this together” appeal becomes more apparent in the following quote:

While the amassing of great wealth has an obvious appeal to those who are able to do so, it has a destabilizing effect on the society that makes them wealthy. Greater differences in income increase social distances. Cuts to health and education lead to increased social stratification and demand for social services. If these go unheeded as tax bases are eroded, crime increases, and is increasingly directed against the wealthiest. If this trend continues, you get political instability that threatens to disrupt the country, including for the wealthy. So rather than enjoying the hard work and good fortune, the wealthy find themselves living in gated communities, isolated from and afraid of the dangerous world around them. More equal societies, where the difference in fortunes between those at the top and bottom is a gap that could feasibly be crossed, are safer and more satisfying to live in.

Meili correctly recognizes that the politics of austerity lead to heightened class contradictions and popular discontent, but from a decisively reactionary and counterrevolutionary perspective. Worsening inequality, ghettoization, and geographical separation between classes would not only increase crime, but threaten the political order that protects the rich. And yes, thoughts of pending socialist revolution would cause great anxiety for the bourgeoisie.

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What would Che say?

This is exactly what Meili does not want. What he means by a healthy society is nothing more than healthy capitalism. What he envisions is a society with less inequality, but is unequal enough so the rich can still finance the state and take care of the poor…or otherwise scary communists would take over.

His anxiety towards ghettoization is also similar to what drives the process of gentrification, and underlies its ideology of ‘mixed’ neighbourhoods where diversity of classes and races is celebrated, but only within terms acceptable to developers, businesses, and wealthy property owners.

We can see now that Meili’s collaboration with Saskatoon Police Chief is not inconsistent. It is perfectly consistent with his reactionary politics and emphasis on class peace as his preferred order of things.

Revolutionary Medicine

While Meili presents himself as an advocate for the poor, his politics are actually colonial and pro-capitalist. Yet he has the sheer audacity to open his book with a quote by Norman Bethune, a Canadian communist physician whose service to the Chinese Revolution and resistance to Japanese imperialism made him a hero of the Chinese people.

Unlike Meili, Bethune had no illusion that the health of Chinese people would also benefit the Japanese invaders. Neither did Che Guevara believe that eliminating inequality in Cuba would increase the safety of the Batista regime backed by the U.S. The Black Panther Party knew fully well that running free medical clinics was part of their struggle against imperialism.

BPP - Black Panther Party

Oakland, California, USA: Black Panther Haelth Cadre member Norma Armopur attends to a young girl in Oaklan during the Bobby Seale for Mayor campaign.. Credit: Stephen Shames / Polaris

What these revolutionary doctors had in common was that they were unapologetic about being political and being doctors at the same time. They all had their evidences, but they used them to advance revolutionary goals. Their medical practice was guided by revolutionary politics.

They were keenly aware that the choice was between the people or the oppressors, and that capitalism, imperialism, and colonialism were obstacles to realizing a healthy society. They all knew who their friends and enemies were.

Let’s not forget the invaluable and often unacknowledged contributions they made to the history of medicine. There is nothing unhealthy about being revolutionary. Many revolutionaries died so others can live. It is a medicine we cannot take for granted.

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A Chinese portrait in tribute of Norman Bethune

Straight Outta Colonialism: What Straight Outta Compton Reveals About Racialized Policing in Saskatoon

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Social media has been buzzing about Straight Outta Compton, an autobiographical film produced by Dr. Dre and Ice Cube, two members of the N.W.A. The film grossed approximately $60 million in the opening week alone and is likely going to be this summer’s biggest blockbuster.

Despite the pre-existing celebrity status of the film’s characters, it is still significant that a film that portrays police brutality in a realistic fashion has a mass appeal. This type of messaging does not get broadcasted often in mainstream theatres that otherwise pump out movies that are either liberal or entirely reactionary in their political content.

Make no mistake though; the film is still a Hollywood production. As an autobiography, it is also intended to glorify those producing it (especially Dr. Dre) while excluding inconvenient facts that make them look bad. As much as the film has a radical undercurrent, it also promotes bourgeois values (i.e. individual successes, competition, objectification of women’s bodies).

Like other Hollywood films praised as progressive (i.e Avatar and Elysium), Straight Outta Compton is not without ambiguities and contradictions. I could go on with my interpretation of the film’s content and contexts that produced it, but since other people are already writing about these things, I’m going to shift my focus a bit and talk about the film’s political impact; how the state reacted to the movie and what it reveals about the Saskatoon’s social dynamics.

One of the most memorable scene from Straight Outta Compton. During the Rodney Kind riots of 1992, Bloods and Crips signed a peace treaty to unite against police violence.

One of the most memorable scenes from Straight Outta Compton. During the Rodney King riots of 1992, Bloods and Crips signed a peace treaty to unite against police violence.

Despite the film’s shortcomings, its release was apparently threatening to the status quo. As the film opened in Saskatoon last weekend, Saskatoon Police decided to dispatch a special duty officer to the Galaxy Cinema downtown. The theatre also hired a private security and reportedly used a metal detector to screen its patrons, many of whom are expected to be Indigenous and other youth of colour from the west side of the river, often negatively associated with street gangs.

They softened their security in the following week when I visited the theatre, but I still had my bag searched by the private security, before going into the room with the screen. It seems like the Canadian state could not just let this movie pass, like hundreds of similar blockbuster films that have come and gone through the Cineplexes of this country.

I don’t know how successful this was though, and if it was necessary at all. Interestingly, out of all movies now playing at the Galaxy Cinema, Straight Outta Compton is the only one that does not have its poster out on the theatre’s wall facing north on 20th Street. Whether this is intended or not, I cannot qualify. Either way, it would prevent pedestrians from spontaneously walking into the theatre to see the film, and even help the theatre reduce the number of undesirables entering its premise. It certainly confused me and a friend of mine who thought for a moment that we arrived at a wrong theatre.

Straight Outta Compton was curiously not one of the

Straight Outta Compton was curiously the only film not listed on the “Now Playing” films displayed on 20th Street.

The room was still full of people (thanks to the internet), but since we arrived late, we could not assess the demography of the audience. We sat next to a group of Indigenous youth though and they seemed to find a great joy in watching the film. They laughed every time the police was cursed at, perhaps remembering their own experience of police harassment in the streets of Saskatoon.

The reactions the film has generated locally are just a few of many examples in which the bourgeoisie controls public space through its Repressive State Apparatuses (i.e police and private security) and Ideological State Apparatuses (i.e movie theatres and the media).

When I organized a hip-hop show, I was told by the venue’s booking manager that they were going to have extra security “just in case” because of the genre, even though none of the performing artists were Indigenous or associated with gangs.

I observed a similar dynamic when a group of young musicians held a rap battle in July at River Landing. They could not gather and spit rhymes without the watchful eyes of a police cruiser parked across the street. Few officers were also present, for no apparent reasons, at the spoken word event for the evacuees from Northern Saskatchewan. Both of these events involved many Indigenous artists and audiences.

Generally speaking, if you are a group of Indigenous/POC youth in Saskatoon, you can’t go anywhere without being followed by the police. They don’t have to have any political motives to be considered a threat, though rallies and protests that involve Indigenous issues do tend to bring out more officers than other groups do.

In spite of the film’s Hollywood grandeur and omission of certain facts, it is still an accurate portrayal of the great antagonism that divides the settler-colonial societies. It seems like the film found a perfect audience on both sides of this divide.

Jazz and Alienation: A Film Review (Jimmy’s Hall and Amy)

I had a rare occasion of watching two films at the Roxy Theatre this past weekend. One is Jimmy’s Hall directed by Ken Loach and the other is Amy by Asif Kapadia. I was originally planning to write about the former and other Ken Loach films, but since there are so many interesting parallels and contradictions between Jimmy’s Hall and Amy, I decided to write a “cross-review” of the two instead.

The obvious similarities are that both films are British production and about jazz. But there is also a less obvious undercurrent that connects the two. They are both about alienation, representing the different ways in which the protagonists’ engagement with jazz either empower and unite people or sow divisions, compromise their autonomy, and ultimately destroy them.

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Barry Ward as Jimmy Gralton.

In Jimmy’s Hall, set in 1932 Ireland, jazz is represented as a revolutionary culture. Though initially a foreign import brought in from New York by an Irish communist and the film’s protagonist Jimmy Gralton, it becomes a symbol of free expression, community, and resistance to the autocratic rule of Catholic Church. More importantly, jazz symbolizes internationalism and class solidarity, as Jimmy describes his favourite jazz parlour in New York as “the only place in the United States where blacks and whites dance together.” The film also represents jazz as a medium that symbolically unifies the two oppressed nations in struggle (Black/Afrikan and Irish). Overall, in Jimmy’s Hall, jazz is used to overcome alienation.

Meetings and debates are Ken Loach's auteur.

Meetings and debates are Ken Loach’s auteur.

On the contrary, Amy Winehouse’s engagement with jazz accelerated her alienation from her friends, family, and even her own creative freedom. For Amy, daughter of a taxi driver and a pharmacist from Britain, jazz was a means of upward class mobility. However, she was so successful in this attempt that she was forced to give up her privacy, health, and ultimately her life for fame. Though she became extremely wealthy, she had virtually no control over her life as she neared the end of her life, dictated by managers and record company executives. She could not even start her rehab until she fulfilled her contractual obligations, and in one occasion she was kidnapped from her flat and flown to Serbia to perform at a concert (albeit unsuccessfully), when her health was significantly deteriorating.

Amy Winehouse

Amy Winehouse

Despite these differences, both films take a tragic direction as Jimmy and his comrades are prosecuted for resisting the hall’s closure and opposing the Catholic Church allied with the Irish “Free State” (watch this film to learn more about the history of this alliance). Jimmy is arrested and deported back to the U.S.A, a permanent alienation from his homeland and beloved community. Amy becomes isolated and taken advantage of by her parasitic father and a boyfriend, who allegedly introduced her to hard drugs while riding the gravy train.

Unlike Jimmy’s Hall, which is set in a time when jazz was political and subversive, Amy takes place in a time when jazz has become commercialized, de-politicized, and even whitewashed. Ironically, however, most of her remaining allies near the end of her life were progressive Black artists (i.e Yasim Bey and Questlove) and her bodyguard who is also Black. Despite her commercial success and distance from the revolutionary roots of jazz culture, she is seemingly aware of her music’s popular appeal when she responds to a TV host who asks if her upcoming album is “accessible.” Her answer is along the lines of: “Yeah I guess it’s accessible. Not poppy, but accessible. Jazz has become an exclusive, elitist music.”

Explicitly socialist realist orientation of Jimmy’s Hall may be a strange comparison to a biography of a celebrity. Still, the ways in which these two films overlap with and contradict one another around the themes of jazz and alienation are interesting to me. Both films are now playing at the Roxy Theatre in Saskatoon.

Paris of the Prairies: What’s in the Name?

Some metaphors are meant to be purely formal. Others are endowed with some actuality and a twist of irony. The recent campaign by the local elites and “creative class” of Saskatoon to re-brand the city as “the Paris of the Prairies” falls into the latter category.

It appears as though this metaphor has no material basis. This re-branding may just be a new way of advertising the city as hip and fashionable. When I heard it for the first time, I simply dismissed it as a dumb PR campaign to promote gentrification and the bourgeois culture in general. But when I thought about the history of urban development in real Paris, I noticed an interesting parallel and contradiction implied in representing Saskatoon as its twin.

Paris as we know it today is a product of class struggle, like any other cities in the world. The most seminal transformation of the city happened between 1853 and 1870 when Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte or Napoleon III, a self-proclaimed Emperor of the Second French Empire, and a protagonist of Marx’s 18th Brumare of Louis Bonaparte, appointed Georges-Eugène Haussmann to direct its full-scale renovation. Haussmann’s plans included the annexation of the surrounding suburbs, and construction of new public works such as sewers, fountains, and aqueducts as well as new parks, squares, and avenues. The city centre was also peppered with symbols of modernity such as department stores and monuments.

Georges-Eugène Haussmann

Georges-Eugène Haussmann

Of course, Napoleon and Haussmann’s vision of new Paris was not only modern (in a cultural sense), but also ideological. Their plans also included the demolition of working-class neighbourhoods deemed unsanitary and overcrowded. Haussmann subsequently acquired the nickname of “the demolisher.” For Haussmann, however, these neighbourhoods were not a liability and even health hazards. They were politically dangerous.

Between 1830 and 1848, Paris experienced seven armed uprisings in which residents of these neighbourhoods actively participated. Narrowly constructed streets also made it easier for the rebels to build barricades. It was for this reason Haussmann’s plans included the construction of wide avenues and boulevards which made it easier for the troops to manoeuvre around and repress the people more effectively.

The Rue St. Nicolas du Charonnet, one of the narrow Medieval streets near the Pantheon on the Left Bank, in the 1850s

The Rue St. Nicolas du Charonnet, one of the narrow Medieval streets near the Pantheon on the Left Bank, in the 1850s

The avenue de l'Opéra, created by Haussmann, painted by Camille Pissarro (1898).

The avenue de l’Opéra, created by Haussmann, painted by Camille Pissarro (1898).

Haussmann overall understood very well that control of the population means control of the space, as David Harvey points out. Nonetheless, his plans not only failed to contain the working-class discontent, but also exacerbated it. While they sought to eradicate poverty, they only displaced it and moved it elsewhere. The speculative rise in the rents forced the poor to the city’s outskirts and the slums newly developed in the centre. This spatial segregation still persists to this day and has created conditions for social upheavals and the surge of revolutionary movement represented in the Paris Commune of 1871, the revolts of 1968, and the riots of 2005.

One of the battles at Paris Commune. Though significant, it ended in a colossal failure and most of its participants were massacred. Its lessons were learned in revolutionary movements that followed i.e Russian Revolution of 1917.

One of the battles at Paris Commune. Though significant, it ended in a colossal failure and most of its participants were massacred. Its lessons were learned in revolutionary movements that followed i.e Russian Revolution of 1917.

Nearly a century and half later in Saskatoon, Canada, a home of also very wide streets, a similarly draconian process is taking place. Like in Haussmann’s time, very little to no input is solicited from poor and working-class peoples. Posh restaurants, boutique cafes, and a hip “co-working” space increasingly occupy the core area of the city. River Landing is awaiting the construction of new luxury condos and a grotesquely modern art gallery that is going to replace Mendel Gallery but with entrance charge.

Despite the rhetoric of “diversity” and “mixed neigbourhoods,” increasing rent is already pushing the poor residents of Riversdale (mostly Indigenous and people of colour) further west and into suburbs, while the police constantly harass and terrorize them. These are all part of the bourgeoisie’s plan to transform Saskatoon into “the Paris of the Prairies.” Developers, city planners, and BIAs of this city are new Haussmanns of Saskatoon, albeit using less overt means and more liberal rhetoric. The extent of Saskatoon’s social apartheid and gentrification in Riversdale is vividly documented in Allan Casey’s reportage.

Pre-gentrified 20th Street in Riversdale, Saskatoon.

Pre-gentrified 20th Street in Riversdale, Saskatoon.

We should remember though that we are also seeing the contradictory effect of this process. It is not a coincidence that Idle No More emerged out of Riversdale and many local residents participated in it. People also took to City Plaza, a shopping mall located downtown, to hold round dances. This tactical choice was often criticized, but the location made sense. In spite of shopping malls being a symbol of hyper-modernity, consumerism and bourgeois ideology, it is also where many Indigenous residents of the neighbourhood frequent due to its geographical proximity and utility of the facilities in the building (i.e food court).

Idle No More round dace at City Plaza.

Idle No More round dace at City Plaza.

While the real consequence of “Haussmannization” of Saskatoon is yet to be seen, here is hoping that it will meet the fate similar to Napolen’s reign, as famously caricatured by Marx: First as farce, then as tragedy.

On the Killing of Cecil the Lion

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Social media has been filled with the posts about Cecil the Lion, a popular African lion in Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park shot and killed by Walter Palmer, a dentist and recreational game hunter from the United States. The controversy started as Palmer’s critics highlighted the cruel nature of his actions and game hunting in general, and escalated when others, mostly in North America, who argued that a life of the lion should not receive so much attention, while many Black. Brown, and Indigenous lives are considered worthless.

I was sympathetic to the latter position and I still am to a certain extent. The reaction the killing has generated is rather absurd in the face of racism and the institutionalized killings of oppressed peoples, many of which go unnoticed by the mainstream media. However, my view somewhat changed when I read a recent article that documents the Zimbabweans’ reactions to the controversy, which was mostly generated outside of its borders in the Global North. Some Zimbabweans are reasonably baffled by the controversy when there are many pressing social and environmental issues that affect their everyday lives, while others recognize the role tourism plays in the overall national economy. Reading this article made me realize the correct yet inadequate nature of the claim that Black/Brown/Indigenous lives in North America should matter more than a lion’s life.

What about the Zimbabwean lives? Not that the lion’s death would have a direct effect on the lives of the Zimbabwean people. Still, they are the direct descendants of those who put up a fierce resistance to British imperialism and liberated themselves from the shackles of its domination, albeit through the national bourgeoisie represented by Robert Mugabe who still remains in power to this day (documented in the film Concerning Violence: Nine Scenes from Anti-Imperialistic Self-Defense). Besides, why should they care about a lion named after Cecil Rhodes, the first colonizer of southern Africa (then called Rhodesia), an imperialist bourgeoisie, and an advocate of settler-colonialism and white supremacy? And Mugabe’s reactionary politics and prosecution of homosexuals aside, Zimbabwe is still a Third Word country under pressure from neo-colonial institutions like the IMF and World Bank.

Conversely, any criticism of trophy hunting should highlight its history as a bourgeois recreation tied to the development of capitalism and colonialism. In the 19th century Britain, game laws functioned as a legal means of the nascent bourgeois state to dispossess the peasants and subsistence hunters. The emptied lands were made available for the gentry who hunted solely for recreational purposes. In the mean time, the dispossessed farmers and foragers were forced to take up wage employment in the cities. Similar laws were applied in Canada to accelerate the process of colonization, and in Africa where the creation of game reserves and national parks dispossessed Indigenous populations, so wealthy Northern tourists like Walter Palmer can freely access the lands and kill protected animals with impunity.

It is within these historical contexts that the killing happened, and the Zimbabwean government is subsequently demanding Palmer’s extradition to Zimbabwe, as a legitimate exercise of its sovereignty.

It is completely reasonable to criticize the moralistic character of the mainstream animal rights discourse and highlight how some human lives are grossly undervalued. But it’s simply not enough to counter this by insisting that both human and animal lives should matter. This position still remains within the realm of morality instead of politics and historical materialism, informed by the history of colonialism and trophy hunting as a bourgeois recreation. Practically speaking, a principled anti-imperialist position to take on this matter is to demand Palmer’s extradition to Zimbabwe. He should face the real consequence of his actions in Zimbabwe, as a foreign visitor who seemingly felt entitled to kill an animal protected under domestic laws, while falling back on his bourgeois class position and First World privilege to get away with it.

Against the “Ally Industrial Complex”: Re-visiting the Legacy of the Young Patriots and the Rainbow Coalition

Cover of the Young Patriots pamphlet featuring the confederate flag.

Cover of the Young Patriots pamphlet featuring the confederate flag.

White people can be revolutionary too. This statement may raise the eyebrows of some anti-racist and POC activists who believe that the best thing white people can do is to be their “allies.” Rather than struggling for their own liberation (if they are even supposed to be oppressed), white people are called upon to “take leadership” from the oppressed peoples, partake in “Allyship” trainings, and reflect on their presumed privilege.

My intention in writing this blog entry is not to dispute the fact that white privilege exists. Canada and the U.S exist as they are today because both states have upheld and continue to uphold colonialism and white supremacy as their organizing principles, through the genocide of Indigenous nations and super-exploitation of migrant labour. However, this doesn’t mean that the white proletariat does not exist in North America, and that white people can never be oppressed and hence revolutionary. The Young Patriots and other white revolutionary organizations in the 60s and 70s already proved this thesis wrong.

Young Patriots Organization grew out of the Job Or Income Now project initiated by Students for Democratic Society (SDS). The group, based in the Uptown neighbourhood in Chicago, mainly organized poor white migrants from the Appalachian region in the Southern U.S. It came into contact with other organizations like the Black Panthers Party and the Young Lords, and formed the Rainbow Coalition (unrelated to Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow/PUSH Coalition), a multi-national coalition of revolutionary organizations in Chicago.

The Rainbow Coalition sought to reconcile seemingly antagonistic differences among its members and unite around the common causes of anti-capitalism and anti-imperialism. The coalition also included members of rival street gangs as its leaders believed that poor youths’ fighting each other in gang wars only served the ruling class’ interests. They subsequently brokered peace treaties among the gangs and sought to direct their energy to political goals.

Rainbow Coalition members at a news conference in April 1969. The lack of gender parity is unfortunate.

Rainbow Coalition members at a news conference in April 1969. The lack of gender parity is unfortunate.

Theoretically, the Young Patriots believed that poor and urbanized Appalachians experienced oppression similar to that of Blacks and American Indians. They described themselves as “hillbilly nationalists” and claimed the white southerners’ right to self-determination, in opposition to the “pig power structure” which reinforced the capitalist system and instituted slavery. They even waved the confederate flag, but for the cause entirely opposite of what the flag is being used today: anti-racism.

Of course, their claim to “White Power” (modeled on Black/Brown Power) and slogans such as “the South Will Rise Again” are rather obsolete and even reactionary in today’s context. Four decades later, the confederate flag has been entirely re-appropriated as the symbol of oppression by white supremacists and any white activists who show up to Black Lives Matter protests would be shunned and they probably should be.

Their use of the flag was even confusing to people in their time, particularly to the Black Panthers and the Young Lords who debated extensively about the meaning of the flag and if they should collaborate with the Young Patriots at all. Both organizations eventually decided to join forces with them based on their shared radical vision, strategic orientation, and organizing practice. It is these aspects of the Young Patriots that we should learn from, rather than their theoretical outlook and symbolism.

Canadian settlers culturally appropriating the Southern U.S settlers. Photo by Jordan Bell/CBC.

Canadian settlers culturally appropriating the Southern U.S settlers. Photo by Jordan Bell/CBC.

The Young Patriots’ organizing practice focused on combating racism within Uptown Chicago, a white working-class neighbourhood and also the primary recruiting ground for white supremacist groups like Ku Klax Klan. In other words, rather than tailing behind the POC/Indigenous-led movements and “taking leadership” from them, they went into their own community to fight racism. To do this effectively, they addressed the material needs of their community by organizing around the issues of poverty, housing, and police brutality. It was through their practical organizing efforts that they were able to build their shared vision with other oppressed peoples and a class-based multi-national alliance that is the Rainbow Coalition. Bobby Lee, a Black Panther who helped build the coalition, recounts his experience of working with the Young Patriots (quoted in Redneckrevolt).

Looking back, was there enough basis for unity? Hell, yeah! When I went to Uptown Chicago, I saw some of the worst slums imaginable. Horrible slums, and poor white people lived there. However, two organizations prepared the way for the Rainbow Coalition, without them there wouldn’t have been a chance of forming one…The uptown neighborhood was prime recruiting zone for white supremacists. Most of the cats who were in the Patriots also had at least one family member in the Klan. Cats like Mike James and Jewnbug, and Tappis worked hard to fight that mentality. Mike James and rua drove a wedge in that bullshit, that white supremacist bullshit, their groundwork was just amazing, out of this world. When did I first meet the Young Patriots? It was at the Church of the Three Crosses. There was a meeting, and it was the one recorded in the movie American Revolution II. After the crowd left, the Patriots were still there. We asked the Minister if he could let us have his office. We asked the Patriots if they could work with the Panthers and they said yes. I didn’t even tell Fred (Hampton) for the first three weeks of meeting with these cats. It wasn’t easy to build an alliance. I advised them on how to set up “serve the people” programs—free breakfasts, people’s health clinics, all that. I had to run with those cats, break bread with them, hang out at the pool hall. I had to lay down on their couch, in their neighborhood. Then I had to invite them into mine. That was how the Rainbow Coalition was built, real slow.

The YPO's anti-gentrification propaganda. Courtesy of Bill Keniston.

The YPO’s anti-gentrification propaganda. Courtesy of Bill Keniston.

Challenging oppression within one’s own space is one of the key aspects of the “accomplices, not allies” literature that surfaced after the Ferguson uprising. While its analysis is generally correct in identifying the problems inherent in the so called “Ally Industrial Complex,” the alternatives it proposes often hinge on ultra-leftism i.e. valorization of direct actions over mass organizing. Yet the very notion that one cannot contribute to revolutionary social change by living vicariously through other peoples’ struggle is refreshing and worthy of attention.

Retrospectively, the North American Left’s retreat from class relegated anti-racist politics to the predominantly petit-bourgeois spaces such as universities, social services, and NGOs. The vacuums left open in the white working-class communities are often filled by white supremacists and other far-right groups who are able to mobilize the poor whites by scapegoating other oppressed groups like women, queer and trans people, Indigenous peoples, and immigrants.

How to implement this model today is an open question and dependent on one’s location. In the Canadian prairies, class divisions often correspond to race/national lines. For instance, Saskatoon and Winnipeg have the highest concentration of urban Indigenous residents in Canada, many of whom are poor and ghettorized in particular neigbourhoods. The poor whites are numerical minority. In comparison, Southwestern Ontario has a large number of white working-class populations, many of whom are dispossessed as a result of de-industrialization, factory closures, and the flight of capital to elsewhere. In such an environment, their organization becomes essential, though probably not along the national lines like the Young Patriots did in Chicago. Despite the obvious differences, it is not a coincidence that both of these regions are the hot spot for white supremacist activities in Canada.

As capitalism goes into crisis, the far-right has more sophisticated class analysis than the left does. They are able to identify their social base and advance their reactionary agenda based on this analysis. It is imperative for the left to do the same but for the revolutionary cause, and build a similar class-based alliance among oppressed communities that is by no means antithetical to the individual struggles and the various forms of oppression they experience. I believe the Young Patriots Organization and the Rainbow Coalition serve as a model upon which we could build our own.

Response to Boots Riley: Toward a Dialectical Understadning of Production and Reproduction

Photo by Josh Sanseri

Photo by Josh Sanseri

I always appreciate Boots Riley’s artistic and political interventions. Despite his creative capacity and credibility he has developed over nearly two decades of his career as a politically engaged hip-hop artist, he remains down to earth and accessible. He constantly interacts with his fans on social media and engages in discussions. He is not afraid to use his fame (for the lack of better word) to popularize radical politics and serve the popular struggles. But I’m not writing this to put Boots in the pedestal. Like any of us, he is imperfect and not without contradictions. His recent op-ed piece on the Guardian, later republished by Creative Time Reports, contained some errors that I would like to point out in this blog entry.

In this article, Boots criticizes the mainstream labour movement for prioritizing lobbying and not teaching the workers to fight. He argues that workers should stop relying on union bureaucrats and asking politicians to raise the minimum wage for them. This would only lead to compromise and defeat. Instead, workers should directly engage in militant strikes, work stoppages, and occupations that could disrupt the business-as-usual at the points of production and physically prevent the scabs (“replacement workers” in the bourgeois language) from taking the place of the strikers.

What is needed, he claims, is a militant union that is grounded on revolutionary ideology, willing to struggle and ultimately win, not only immediate struggles but also a broader political and social change. Like his previous writings, this article is a much needed intervention in the present period when the workers’ movement in North America is in the perpetual state of defeat. Even as a mainstream news article, it’s 100 times better than Paul Mason’s piece on the so-called “End of Capitalism” that the Guardian also recently published.

Despite the strength and clarity of Boots’ argument, it is when he delves into historical analysis that it becomes less convincing. He traces the historical origin of the retreat of class struggle in the U.S first to the 1940s. This was when the Communist Party of the U.S.A (CPUSA) adapted the Comintern’s Popular Front strategy against fascism and halted their public criticism of the U.S government. Revolutionaries no longer made their politics public and organized in a clandestine fashion. In Boots’ view, this made them more vulnerable to the state repression during the red scare that followed this period.

This assessment is interesting and something we can learn from in the face of the heightened repression and anti-terrorism legislation that are currently being passed by governments everywhere (i.e Bill C-51 in Canada). However, he also traces the present weakness of the workers’ movement to the rise of the New Left in the 1960s when the left supposedly, in Boots’ words, “moved away from class struggle.”

The New Left did things differently: no more showing people that they could stop the machinery of industry, forcing the bosses to meet demands or lose profit. Instead, their goal was to cause enough of a scene on the street that the media would cover it and embarrass administrators or politicians into meeting demands. This approach may have had some success at the time, but it’s not the model that today’s workers should use.

Our power lies not in the streets but at the pivot point of capitalism : the workplace.

This emphasis on wage labour and capital as the primary contradiction in capitalist society and the subsequent need to build militant labour movement have been the focus of his political line for some time. He has applied this framework to analyze specific issues like gentrification and events like the rebellions in Ferguson and Baltimore. While I agree with Boots’ overall analysis that workplace organizing has declined, his equation of the New Left with the weakening of class struggle is somewhat misleading.

For one, Boots’ view of class struggle is tactically focused. Radicalness of a movement is judged by its (un)willingness to engage in militant actions, rather than theoretical orientation informed by concrete analysis of concrete situation. He also seems to frame this reformist turn in the labour movement as purely subjective, as a strategic choice made by activists and organizers at the time. He doesn’t consider objective conditions that made workplace organizing difficult i.e high unemployment and poor living conditions among the racialized working-class peoples. He also doesn’t mention the fact that this was a period in which anti-colonialism and anti-imperialism came to the forefront of radical politics, and many movements shifted their focus from civil rights to self-determination (i.e Black/Brown/Red Power) in response to the grinding poverty, lack of essential services, and increased police repression in their communities. For these reasons, organizations formed during this period were mostly community-based and used tactics that were less oriented towards economic disruption i.e armed self-defence and service to the people programs.

Boots’ reference to the media stunt and shaming of public officials seems to refer to the Black Panthers Party, which engaged in public confrontations with the state, often by mobilizing their social base and appealing to the media. Of course, when they were not doing these things, they were organizing other community institutions mentioned above and resisting capitalism at the points of reproduction rather than production.

Boots’ comment on the New Left should not be seen as trivial. It is representative of a broader current within Marxist thought that prioritizes production over reproduction as the primary site of class struggle. It points to the age-old disagreement as to which section of the working-class is the leading force of revolution and subsequently where revolutionaries should focus their organizing effort in. For Boots, the answers are wage labourers and the workplace.

In comparison, many anti-colonial theorists of New Left like Huey P. Newton and Franz Fanon saw the “lumpenproletariat” as the revolutionary class, though the precise definition of the term is highly contested. Long before the New Left, Marxist feminists had pointed out the tendency in Marxsim to discount reproductive labour performed by women as the basis of the capitalist mode of production. Proletarian feminists later updated this theory to contextualize capitalist patriarchy in the age of imperialism as super-exploitation; exploitation of women’s labour both at the points of production and reproduction. Its effect is most harshly experienced by poor women of colour in the periphery of the world system, and within the internal colonies of settler societies. Unfortunately, Boots does not consider any of these factors.

By valorizing the points of production as the primary site of class struggle, Boots seems to suggest that robust national-liberation movements and struggles during the so called New Left period in the 1960s and 70s, led by organizations like Black Panthers, Young Lords, and American Indian Movement cannot be considered as authentic class struggle. True, many of these groups defined their politics along race and national lines, rather than a strictly class-based line. Still, Boots’ view only reinforces the idea that class struggle only happens in workplace, not in the communities.

What is missing from Boots’ analysis is more nuanced understanding of class and class struggle. What is needed is a broadening of class struggle as not only between capital and labour but also between the oppressors and the oppressed, the exploiters and the exploited, and the colonizers and the colonized.

Bryan Palmer provides a useful framework for this re-conceptualization in his article Uniting the Dispossessed. Palmer problematizes how defining class solely in terms of extraction of surplus value and the wage relation limits the entirety of the meaning of class and class struggle to workplace. He argues that we need to consider not only the process of production and relations of exploitation that characterize it. We also need to look at how dispossession makes the survival of such system possible.

For Palmer and many other Marxists, reproduction is part of the dialectical whole that constitutes the capitalist mode of production. In particular, by referring to Marx’s theory of primitive accumulation, Palmer points to the expansive nature of capitalist reproduction in which self-sufficient peasants and land-based peoples are forcibly separated from their lands and means of production, and subsequently become dependent on wage for survival. However, unlike Marx’s definition of primitive or original accumulation, Glen Coulthard applies this to the Canadian context and argues that dispossession of Indigenous peoples from their land is not an one-time event, but ongoing process and the foundational mechanism of settler-colonial capitalism in Canada.

Palmer also points out that, in order for capitalism’s to survive, it deliberately dispossess and pauperizes a section of workers as a “redundant population” and a reserve army of the unemployed. Similarly, like during the 60s and 70s, austerity programs continue to deprive many working-class peoples of essential services like housing, healthcare, and education. He argues that dispossession is part of the capitalist system which differentiates one section of the working-class form another, and the solution is not to posit this or that section as being more revolutionary than others, but to have e broader understanding of class that includes both waged and non-waged.

When we consider these factors, Boots’ analysis becomes inadequate. In North America, radical transformation of society requires understanding of settler-colonialism as its primary contradiction, and that the very existence of capitalism is made possible through the continuous dispossession of Indigenous peoples. It is neither desirable nor possible to build a revolutionary mass movement in Canada without the active participation of Indigenous peoples.

Boots’ call to “fight the scabs” also makes re-conceptualization of capitalism as dispossession and unemployment as part of its mechanism necessary. Practical corollary of this conceptual shift is of course organization of the unemployed and other dispossessed sections of workers to ensure that they don’t become scabs in the first place. The Workers Unity League (WUL), a Canadian counterpart to the pre-Popular Front radical unions Boots mentions, did exactly this during the 1930s.

Organization of the dispossessed workers is something that the contemporary labour movement has failed to do, while groups like Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) fill this vacuum, often by engaging in militant actions. This was most clearly demonstrated in defensive, if not overly chauvinistic, positions taken by the mainstream unions in response to the Temporary Foreign Workers Program. Without organizing the unorganized and proactively calling for broader immigration reforms in collaboration with other grassroots organizations like No One Is Illegal, many of them simply called for abolition of the program altogether. This has only reinforced the regressive immigration policies, led to mass deportations, and continued super-exploitation of migrant labour in Canada, while the majority of Canadian workers remain non-unionized and precarious.

Again, all of the flaws I have identified in Boots’ article are nothing new and something that Marxists have been debating for decades. But his popularity and the force of his argument make it all more necessary for us to revisit them now than later. I’m also not saying that it’s either production or reproduction that we need to focus on. We need to have a well-rounded analysis of both as dialectically interrelated and mutually constitutive, as part of the same whole, however contradictory they may be. We need both strong workers’ movement and mass organizing in neighborhoods, communities, and campuses to push the struggle forward.