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Canadian electoral politics and the global loss of legitimacy of the neoliberal project

By: 
Charles Posa McFadden and Karen Howell McFadden

Here we illustrate our argument for a path out of the existential crisis which now faces humanity by identifying resolvable intellectual contradictions we have identified in the context of a leadership contest within the Green Party of Canada. This illustration is not a critique of the Green Party of any country. The Green Parties today play an essential role in the global struggle for a more just, democratic and sustainable global community. Our intended audience is not solely fellow Canadians, but anyone, anywhere who is concerned to find a viable path out of the present existential crisis that threatens humanity and all life on Earth. The form of unity we need in this struggle is achievable only through clarity about the nature of the challenge we face. It is only achievable through continuing discussion and resolution of differences.

Those of us active in the struggle for a future for humanity can never have the advantage of hindsight in relation to that future. The struggle to find a better way is always and necessarily a vast scientific experiment, one which requires imagination, intellectual courage and knowledge of achieved scientific wisdom. Reaching empirically testable and ultimately validated consensus is always the goal of scientific inquiry and a necessity for those who seek a better way forward.  

An elaboration of the argument we illustrate here can be found in either eleven brief articles recently published by the online journal Green Social Thought or in seven thematic chapters, both versions accessible through our website, www.greensocialdemocracy.org, under the title, Achieving an ecologically sustainable civilization.

The existential crisis we face is understandably accompanied by a crisis within the political elite and in the nature and organization of forms of government created to protect and preserve the rule of the propertied classes. This is nowhere more evident than the paralysis of the federal government of the United States and its descent into political rule by the duopoly of a now neofascist Republican Party and a Democratic Party whose leadership is more concerned with the preservation of its own privileges and propertied status than with placing obstacles in the way of corporate power, including even effective obstacles to corporate neofascist takeover. 

The political crisis to its south is mirrored within Canada, whose parliamentary form of government is patterned after the compromise reached between a once ascendant English capitalist class and the ever-present descendants of Britain’s former feudal rulers. Such a parliamentary government, with its semblance of democracy, but with concentration of political power in the hands of the leaders of the contending political parties, themselves largely controlled by an army of  corporate lobbyists, wealthy political campaign donors and private for-profit mass media, has evolved into an ideal form of government for the present descent of global capitalism into a global rentier civilization, one in which the people find themselves increasingly trapped by seemingly eternal debt to those at the very top of the economic pyramid. 

The British and Canadian forms of parliamentary democracy are only rivalled in their  compatibility with rentier capitalism by such other examples of descent into autocracy as the republican forms of capitalist democracy established in the late 18th century by revolutionary USA and revolutionary France. While both republican and Westminster forms of parliamentary democracy were historically justified as advances over feudal autocracy, neither of these forms of capitalist democracy can make a credible claim to such a status today, not in this period of the descent of industrial capitalism into rentier capitalism, the latter increasingly less distinguishable from feudalism.

We argue further that neoliberal policy has been the route of the propertied classes to a global rentier civilization with fascist overtones. That should be logically evident from the policy itself and empirically evident from its results, which include increasing wealth and income inequality, leaving an increasing proportion of humanity at the bottom of the economic pyramid in a rentier form of slavery to the financial capitalist oligarchy at the very top, increasingly abandoned to the ravages of global health pandemics, environmental chaos, and declining individual and communal resources needed to withstand these forms of violence. All this without yet mentioning victimization by more direct forms of violence.

We need only remind ourselves of the content of the neoliberal capitalist project to understand our present predicament. While originating during the early twentieth century as the promise of a re-invigorated liberalism which would once again produce an expansion of the freedoms associated with the early victories of the rising capitalist class over feudal autocratic rule, neoliberalism didn’t make much headway politically until the economic crises of the 1970s and 1980s, expressed as relative stagnation.

While neoliberalism arose first within the core capitalist countries, we argue that its influence extended across both the supposed iron curtain and across the political boundaries between the core imperialist countries and their former colonial subjects, explained by the dependency of all countries, whatever their proclaimed social goals, on capitalist market-based commodity exchange. The ascendancy of neoliberalism after that period was reflected in both public policy and accompanying arguments that capitalism is:

  • An eternal human system for making our way through nature, that it 
  • functions best in the public interest through a reduction in regulations and laws that are said to inhibit its initiative, that it 
  • brings increasing equality and wealth to the world’s impoverished peoples, that it 
  • can be trusted to manage nature in the long-term interests of humanity, that in the face of partial failures, its promise can be re-invigorated by 
  • the application of austerity policies, reducing public debts acquired during episodes of “profligacy” by further deregulation of capital and reductions in public investment in public welfare, and that it
  • is a system in which public welfare is best served by private for-profit initiative.

It was also reflected in the decline and even collapse of former self-defined socialist countries, both reformist and revolutionary.

Elsewhere we have argued that the principal dimensions of the existential crisis we now face  have a common cause that can be addressed by human agency. This cause is the incompatibility of capitalism as a class-divided system of social relations for making our way within nature with our current needs and possibilities. More recent advances in science and technology, most notably digital technology, are now available for the liberation of human creativity and as a tool for global cooperation and democratic management, that is, for an ecologically sustainable global civilization, radically democratic, just and non-violent. 

While capitalism became the dominant social system in association with the industrial revolution, two hundred years of further development of technology has eroded the basis for capitalism, namely the exploitation of industrial wage labor, the point at which nature is turned into artifacts for human consumption. Less able to replicate itself through the continuing exploitation of industrial wage labor, capitalism, or rather the propertied class which most benefitted from it, is turning to even more repressive forms of social relations.  

At the same time, the inherent assumption by capitalism’s defenders that nature, including human nature, is a cost-free gift from an infinite resource has become a patently obvious misconception. Capitalism is today challenged by the convergence of the movement for the conservation of nature and the movements for social justice, making the confluence of these movements inherently revolutionary. (And by the way, also making “green capitalism” an increasingly obvious oxymoron). 

The new technologies developed over the last century have the capacity of further liberating humanity from the more repetitious, less desirable forms of manual labor. The decline in this primary source of capitalist profits, has turned the propertied classes into rentier capitalists, pushing those who must work for an income into debt slaves, increasingly controlled and managed by a rentier form of capitalism. 

Capitalism as studied by Karl Marx in 19th century England is moribund, as will also be the neoliberal capitalist project intended to prolong its life by creating a universal competition for the lowest levels of income and social support, the least control over continuing private appropriation of the commons and the weakest environmental regulations. The question remaining is whether humanity will follow capitalism to its grave or act in defence of life by moving beyond capitalism and all forms of class-division to a cooperative, democratic form of managing our relationship with nature and with each other. 

Readers who doubt the scientific validity of the above arguments are reminded of the reference shared in the third paragraph above. In the work referenced there we elaborate our argument, in turn buttressing it with references to a representative sample of the vast, relevant heritage of scientific work humanity must now draw upon if we are to find a way out of the existential crisis that ten millennia of class-divided existence has created, primarily during the historically brief period of capitalist class dominance. 

Now we turn to the leadership debate within the Green Party of Canada as an illustration of some of the issues we must now resolve, issues arguably present in the political debates within every country on Earth. 

Canada, like most countries with a capitalist-run democratic form of government, has been ruled since its inception by a duopoly of conservative and liberal parties. Given that the real power resides in the small number of resident oligarchs at the top of the food chain, these parties need legitimacy from a much wider base among the population. With the increasing loss of legitimacy of the neoliberal capitalist project, the principal capitalist political parties have been experiencing increasing desertion, including to other parties that have emerged to contest for political power as well as into the large part of the population discouraged and disengaged from the struggle for political power. 

The present crisis presents an opportunity for smaller political parties and movements to grow. Those with political representation in the Canadian federal parliament include the New Democratic Party, the Bloc Quebecois and the Green Party of Canada. Are these ready or not to respond to the present existential crisis in the face of the evident failure of the principal capitalist parties?

The New Democratic Party (NDP) was formed in 1961 by the merger of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) and the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC). This merger represented the culmination of a political process that consolidated and institutionalized a class compromise between the subordinate working and farming classes, on the one side, and the dominant capitalist class, on the other. By marginalizing the anti-capitalist movements that emerged from popular struggles, including within organized labor, it established the continuing struggle for a better seat at the table set by the capitalist class as the highest allowable social goal for the working class, for women within patriarchal capitalism, and for all the oppressed minorities. This result was reflected in the ideological acceptance by a majority of the working class of the designation, “middle class” as the identity of all those who managed to acquire, however temporarily, a modicum of economic security, dignity and independence. The NDP remains a reformist political party, even known in recent years to campaign to the right of the Liberal Party of Canada.

Can this leopard change its spots? Are its sponsors among organized labor prepared to abandon their search for a seat at the capitalist table and, instead, commit themselves to the only paths available to the people for a future on Earth, paths that lead beyond capitalism to a more cooperative relationship between people and a sustainable relationship with the rest of nature?  

The Bloc Quebecois promotes within Canada’s federal parliament greater sovereignty for Quebec. Fair enough. But is it also prepared to link this aim with a non-capitalist agenda, one that represents a path out of the existential crisis that capitalism deepens? An agenda that envisions a common struggle of all of humanity for a path out of this crisis?

The Green Party of Canada is the new kid on the block, born out of the environmental movement, but now with a comprehensive set of membership-developed policies that address the full range of responsibilities of a federal government, and which integrate social justice and environmental goals. This Party defines itself by its adherence to six values: ecological wisdom, social justice, participatory democracy, nonviolence, sustainability and respect for diversity. It acts in cooperation with Green Parties around the world to translate these values into public policy.

However it has yet to make a clear public argument for the connection between the inherent drive of capitalism for infinite accumulation of private wealth and the necessity of moving beyond capitalism if its environmental and social justice goals are to be realized. In its leadership debate, nevertheless, the argument for moving beyond capitalism has been advanced by some of the leadership candidates, mirroring debate within other Green Parties, including that in our neighboring country. 

Will there come a more appropriate time, the most critical so far in humanity’s long history, for  Green Parties to resolve the increasingly evident contradiction between our values and any remaining ambivalence about capitalism as a viable path forward for acting on our values? 

Of course, we all remain embedded in capitalism until we find a viable path out of it. We all associate our experience, our family and other social attachments with the system in which we remain embedded, some of us as wage or salaried employees, some as farmers and small businesspeople whose activity depends on our employment of the labor of others, some as members of unions or cooperatives, some of us not any of these. But the path out of an exploitative relationship with nature and violent social relationships is not the continuation of capitalism as the dominant social system. The only paths forward are those which must ultimately be prepared to leave behind all the social classes created by capitalism and all other class divisions and inextricably embedded cultural practices and beliefs. Are we to be drowned by nostalgia or will we have the courage to experiment with a path out of capitalism, guided by our values? 

And if not the Green Party, then what other existing political Party? Those burdened by the public memory of their past failures? Perhaps new parties yet to be created, a difficult task given our experience of the challenge of developing a new party with the infrastructure and policies to muster a credible challenge? And is there time for that?

For those readers who remain outside of existing political parties: What are you waiting for? Miracles, perfect people, a political movement with everything already resolved? As Jill Stein, US Green Party presidential candidate in 2016, and many others have repeatedly and courageously asserted, “We are the people we have been waiting for”. Now is the time, before all viable options are closed by the creeping threat of neofascist descent into oblivion. Now is the time to step up and participate in a political movement which might, with your participation, be better able to move beyond the crisis that capitalism can only deepen. Now is the time for the hope and comradery that only comes in struggle for a better tomorrow. 

Charles Posa McFadden and Karen Howell McFadden

Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada

www.greensocialdemocracy.org

apcamcafadden@aol.com

Authors of Achieving an Ecologically Sustainable Civilization

Published on Green Social Thought in 11 Articles