Special interview with Elizabeth Rowley, the Leader of the Communist Party of Canada (CPC).
ICP has interviewed Elizabeth Rowley, the Leader of the Communist Party of Canada (CPC). The interview was about where the Canadian state and Trudeau government stand within the imperialist system and the current condition of class and identity politics in the North American context. Rowley provided a detailed picture of issues on the agenda, and how the CPC takes on them.
ICP : For starters, we would like to talk about the recent rising of imperialist aggression. There is a remarkable increase in tacit and explicit US operations buttressed by defamation campaigns of the mainstream media against countries such as Venezuela, Brazil, the DPRK, Yemen, and else. Considering the stance and discourse of Trump administration, we see how the spotlight is easily put on the former with accusations of armament and warmongering in the American and Canadian public opinion. Democrats in the US and liberals in Canada, especially the Trudeau government, seems to dodge the bullet in this case.
In the light of all this, how do you assess the overall situation? Where does the Canadian state and the Trudeau government stand within the imperialist system? And how does the CPC proceed its ideological struggle against imperialism in a country not so far from the centre? What are your priorities? What difficulties do you encounter?
ER: Canada is an advanced capitalist country and a second tier imperialist power closely allied with US imperialism. Originally a British and French colony, Canada is now closely tied economically to the US through US foreign ownership of large parts of the Canadian economy. The free trade agreements implemented with the US in 1989, and with the US and Mexico in 1992, have further integrated the national economies into a continental economy, under the effective direction of the US and US-based transnational corporations. The political impact has been to deeply erode Canada’s sovereignty and independence, to guarantee that 80% of Canada’s trade (and energy and natural resource extraction) is with the US, and to involve Canada directly in illegal US wars of aggression and regime change, beginning with the Liberal government of Jean Chretien and the Canadian bombing of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, up to the present.
US demands that Canada and all NATO members substantially increase their funding of NATO has led to an announcement by PM Trudeau that Canada will comply with these demands, and will increase its defence spending by 70% going forward. Canada has also agreed to send troops to Latvia, Syria, Afghanistan, and an unnamed country in Africa, as well as selling arms to Saudi Arabia.
The adoption of austerity policies by both Liberal and Conservative governments during the same period contributed to, among other important things, a very strong assault on public and post-secondary education, and on independent news sources and reporting in Canada. The main news outlets in Canada are now owned by Post Media, one of the most reactionary corporations in the country. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) whose mandate is to provide objective news and information – national, international, and local – across Canada, has been systematically starved financially and has had its staff, offices and programming cut, and its leadership replaced with government cronies, in an effort to control the flow of accurate and objective information in Canada. And so, while Canadians have better access to information than their US counterparts, public broadcasters (federal and provincial) rarely challenge the prevailing views of the government (or the corporations they represent) for fear of more cuts, or privatization. At the same time, US privately owned media such as FOX News and CNN are flooding into Canada every minute of every day, with the views of the White House and corporate America.
The main theme of the pro-war propaganda circulating in Canada (and globally) continues to be the imperialist doctrine of “responsibility to protect” (R2P) which is the catch-all justification for invasion and the overthrow of progressive governments. The weakness and disorganization of the peace and disarmament movements globally and in Canada, has made it easier for the US and its allies – including Canada - to “sell” this pro-war propaganda and to paralyze opposition to the wars and aggression they provoke.
Imperialism’s drive to war is connected with the drive to re-divide the world among the strongest imperialist powers, following the destruction of the USSR and the socialist system of states. The USSR was the counter-weight to imperialism’s insatiable greed and drive to war, and when it was destroyed, imperialism was freed of all restraints. This is also reflected inside the imperialist countries where the war on the working class has also been stepped up with austerity and state repression. This has also created conditions (fertile ground) in the US and Europe (and elsewhere) for the rise of racist, xenophobic and fascist movements that pose a serious threat to the working class, to migrants and immigrants, and to democracy.
Trump’s bellicose threats to “totally destroy” DPRK using conventional and nuclear weapons, to overthrow the governments of Venezuela and Iran, and to bring down socialist Cuba, have alarmed working people and governments around the world, including in Canada. The use of nuclear weapons by the US to “totally destroy North Korea” as Trump stated at the UN, is a recipe for a world war that could destroy the planet. The use of conventional weapons to obliterate DPRK could lead to the same outcome. And of course, the danger of a world war by accident or by obsession is a reality today as well.
These threats by the President and his administration endanger everyone, and are a real catalyst for the peace movement to re-organize and mobilize public opinion and action for peace; to press governments to step up and to demand political solutions to international crises. Mutual security and survival must ‘trump’ mutual assured destruction if humanity is to survive.
Here in Canada we are doing everything we can to reinvigorate and re-activate the peace forces, and rebuild the powerful cross-class peace and disarmament movements of the 1980s. Peace is everyone’s business. It cannot be left to governments to accept or reject. In particular we think it’s important to help build the anti-imperialist section of the peace movement that can take on the ideological battle against R2P and similar pro-war propaganda, and help the wider peace forces to mobilize and organize their very broad peace and anti-war constituencies.
Of course our Party is also fighting against R2P and the ideology and drive to war by the US, NATO and now Canada too.
We are also working to support the solidarity movements with Cuba, Venezuela, DPRK, Syria, and Palestine - to name a few of the movements active here - and to use our press and media to inform the public about the democratic and anti-imperialist struggles underway around the globe.
We are also working hard to build the anti-racist and anti-fascist movements in Canada, and to expose the right-wing arguments that racists and fascists have the right to free speech. Let’s be clear: advocacy of racism and fascism is not free speech, it is criminal activity that must be prosecuted, with jail sentences. Further, these criminal organizations should be banned.
We are also calling on the federal government to withdraw from NAFTA, a continental corporate constitution aimed to transform Canada into a cheap source of natural and energy resources for US imperialism, and a market for its finished goods. Renegotiating NAFTA will not change an agreement that is fundamentally built to benefit trans-national corporations, and to drive down the wages, pensions, living standards, as well as the civil, social, democratic, labour and national rights of workers across the continent. Regrettably the labour movement in Canada is supporting renegotiations in the faint hope that these fundamental flaws can somehow be erased. In fact, the US intends to make the current agreement even worse with demands for ever greater concessions from Canada and Mexico that would effectively eliminate what remains of their national sovereignty and independence.
We campaign for a People’s Agenda, and a People’s Coalition – a coalition of labour and democratic movements, and organizations including political parties, united around an agreed-on set of policies including:
A foreign policy of peace and disarmament
An environmental policy of sustainable development, development of alternative energy sources under public ownership, closure of the Alberta tarsands (with job guarantees for current employees) as a vital step to reduce climate change
A trade policy that is multi-lateral and mutually beneficial
A full employment policy, increased wages and pensions and a substantially increased minimum wage (we call for $20/hour)
Expanded universal Medicare and social programs, creation of a universal public system of accessible, affordable childcare
A housing policy to build a million units of affordable social housing for rent and for sale, starting now
Public ownership and democratic control of energy and natural resources, banking and financial institutions
Environmentally sustainable development of a value-added industrial and manufacturing strategy for Canada
Plant closure legislation with teeth (corporations must appear before public tribunals to show ‘just cause’ to close their Canadian operations. Tribunals can refuse, can levy fines, can order jail terms – this is the “teeth”)
A Bill of Rights for labour including the right to strike, picket and organize
These are some of the most important and urgent policies we are fighting for as key parts of a program for a people’s recovery. This is a program that’s open to discussion and amendment in the kind of people’s coalition we are looking to build.
ICP - For decades now, we have experienced a general withdrawal of class politics, ironically in an age of deepening exploitation. However, there are signs of a revival, especially in the Western imperialist centres. Mass demonstrations following the 2008-9 crisis in Europe, recent uprisings in the States, most notably Baltimore, student demonstrations in Quebec, all seems to point out dissent among working masses from worsening living conditions.
Given the unwillingness of the ruling classes to appease even within the limits of capitalism, do you think a new potential is emerging? What do the CPC foresee for the coming decade? What are the possible opportunities for the communist movement?
ER - Recent polls in Canada have shown widespread disillusionment with bourgeois politics and the parliamentary parties. This is because of inability of the bourgeois parties to address the growing crisis of mass unemployment and under-employment, precarious work, falling real wages and purchasing power, increase in household debt, and the inaccessibility of affordable post-secondary education and affordable housing. The reality is that this generation will be poorer than their parents and even their grandparents, although they are working harder than ever and facing higher rates of exploitation than their parents and grandparents as a result of the STR and the intensification of labour, as well as 30 years of austerity and capitalist globalization. They are angry. And rightfully so.
Another poll indicated that 37% of those polled self identified as working class, not ‘middle class’ – the term used by Liberals, Tories, and even social democrats to describe the better paid sections of the working class. Since organized labour represents about 31 – 32% of workers today, this would seem to indicate that that there is a growing awareness by workers that they are part of the working class, and unlikely to be able to leave it – unless it’s to fall into permanent unemployment and absolute impoverishment. So some of the illusions about capitalism have faded, while the growth of inequality and poverty has focused public opinion on the growing gap between the ultra-rich 1% and the insatiable greed of the large Canadian and transnational corporations. This is a positive development, and opens up new opportunities to push for a shift to the left.
In the US, because of the extreme weakness of the labour movement and the left (among other reasons), these conditions have opened up pathways for ultra-right and fascist political movements supporting the Trump administration to launch a vicious attack on the working class, focusing on immigrants, refugees, Muslims, women, racialized people, Indigenous peoples, the LGBTQ community, and more.
In Canada, the situation is different, with a much stronger labour movement, a social democratic party, a social safety net that is badly frayed but still standing, and relatively better economic and social conditions compared to the US, where the unemployed and the poor face desperate conditions.
The ultra right and racist and fascist organizations are active and recruiting in Canada too, encouraged by developments in the US, and with close links to the Conservative Party including the new leader Andrew Scheer, plus several other leadership candidates. One of these is Kelly Leitch, a member of the Harper Cabinet, who in 2015 introduced “The Barbaric Cultural Practices Act and Tip Line”, and then campaigned for the Party’s leadership on testing immigrants for “Canadian Values”. Leitch, Scheer, and most others in the leadership are connected to right-wing organizations and media like Ezra Levant’s “Rebel News”. It’s only after the Charlottesville Nazi demonstration that Scheer was forced to state he would stop giving interviews to Rebel News.
In Quebec, the PQ government floated the “Quebec Charter of Values” in a very ugly and divisive election campaign that encouraged the extreme right, and contributed to the growth of La Muete – the largest fascist group in Quebec. In February, 6 Muslim men were shot to death (and 19 others injured) while at prayer in a Quebec mosque. The shooter was an admirer of French fascist leader Marine Le Pen.
Following the shooting a Liberal MP introduced a motion, M-103 – asking the government to oppose Islamaphobia and hate crimes. The motion passed by a vote of 201 to 91, with the support of the Liberals and NDP. The Conservatives voted against.
The public reaction and opposition to all of this has been encouraging. The upsurge of anti-racist and anti-fascist groups and actions across the country is very important and we are doing everything we can to support these events and ongoing organizing. There have also been spontaneous demonstrations of public support for mosques around the country in the wake of the February shooting.
At the same time, public opinion polls earlier this year show that the public generally supports immigration but is divided on the issue of immigration from Muslim countries. This is exactly the issue that Trump has been campaigning on since his election a year ago, and the issue that the right in Canada has been focused on in the same period. This campaign is having an ugly and a dangerous impact.
We are at a critical point now in Canada where politics could go either way. A lot hinges on the activity of the labour and people’s movements to challenge right-wing extremism, and to challenge austerity and the neo-liberal policies that the Liberals campaigned against during the 2015 election, but are largely carrying out two years later. Public dissatisfaction is starting to show on a range of economic and social issues, including pipelines, fracking, the Alberta tarsands, all issues related to resource development, Indigenous rights, and the environment. There is also deep concern about democracy and the government’s abrupt about-face on its promise to introduce electoral reform, its abandonment of its promise to embrace peace-keeping and its decisions to increase the defence budget by 70%, to increase support for NATO and NORAD, and to deploy troops all over the world. The Liberals’ commitments to redress crimes against Indigenous Peoples with massive public investments and a new relationship has gone up in smoke, along with the Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls – These are the policies the public voted for in 2015 – but which the Liberals have largely abandoned in 2017.
As public anger mounts, it is the Tories who are the main beneficiaries while the NDP languishes in the basement. The main reason for this is that the Tories are hiding their far-right policies while attacking the Liberals with populist rhetoric, while the NDP continues to compete with the Liberals for the support of Big Business. This is what cost the NDP the last federal election, and it’s what will cost them the next election too if they do not change course.
The election in 2019 election will be very important for Canada, and could result in a sharp lurch to the right if the Tories win the election. To prevent this, the labour and people’s movements must move towards mass, independent political action now to push politics to the left across the country, and – as a result – also in the NDP.
The absence of an organized and united struggle now will leave the door open to the right and the far right 2 years from now. That door must be closed, and a fight for a people’s agenda, a people’s recovery, and government that’s accountable to the people – not the corporations – is what we need today.
ICP - Related to the former question, we would like to talk about the topicality of Leninism. There are several arguments, which identify international political conditions of today with the eve of the WWI. Imperialist competition is intensifying while the global hegemony of the US seems to weaken. There are no explicit candidates for its place in the short run. The deadlock gives way to baffling military and political maneuvers by main actors, making it impossible to determine blocs or alliances. This may, of course, culminate in devastating consequences for the peoples of the world, but also may open new paths for socialist revolutions. In the 100th anniversary of the October Revolution, all this testify the validity of Lenin’s inferences a century ago.
How do the CPC assess the current crisis of imperialism, both politically and strategically? Do you think a new age of socialist revolutions is on the horizon? How do the CPC positions itself?
ER - This centennial year of the Great October Socialist Revolution is very significant for the world’s working people, for peace, for the anti-imperialist forces because it reminds us that, 26 years after the fall of the Soviet Union, there is no alternative to capitalism, except socialism. And further, that as capitalism loses all restraints imposed upon it by the socialist system of states, the struggle to survive it, to sweep it into the dustbin of history, and to replace it with socialism and peace, is more urgent with every passing day. Imperialism’s crises is deepening, its social base is narrowing, and possibilities of a new global economic crisis are growing as the US administration strips away regulatory protections like the Dodd Frank Act, while committing new military expenditures and even bigger profits for the military industrial machine. Imperialism’s crisis has opened the door to fascism – not a new political system, but the iron fist of capitalism.
The objective conditions are at the critical mark, with war and environmental devastation threatening the survival of the world, while the subjective conditions lag behind as a result of the loss of the socialist system of states and resulting weakness of the international communist movement, the strength and resources of imperialism, and the impact of the STR. While this situation is historically temporary, it has brought us to a very dangerous moment in the transition from capitalism to socialism, globally.
Yet it remains the historic task of the working class of each country to become seized with the necessity of socialist transformation, and working class political power. This is where the Communist parties are called upon to play their leading and vital role in the working class movement: to expose capitalism, to make the case for socialism, and to lead the struggle for a revolutionary transition from capitalism to socialism. Lenin stressed the vital role of the communist parties in his book “What is to be done?” This stands up very well as a guide for revolutionary parties and practice more a century later.
To advance the struggle for socialism today, it’s essential that the Communist and workers’ parties grow larger, stronger, and more influential, strengthening their bonds with the working class and the peoples’ movements, developing and testing their revolutionary theory in the class struggle, providing guidance and leadership in the struggles today, in order to provide the revolutionary leadership that will called for when conditions change and a revolutionary situation develops in the new conditions of the 21st century.
Imperialism is running out of options, which makes it more ferocious and more dangerous to working people and to the survival of the planet as President Trump has demonstrated. The stronger the Communist Parties, the stronger the left and the working class’ struggle for its emancipation. The 21st century is sure to be a new century of revolution and liberation for the world’s peoples. It must also substantially shift the balance of forces on the global stage in favour of socialism and in favour of peace and a sustainable environment.
ICP - A rise of identity politics has come along with weakening of working class movement. In countries where communists and socialists have spearheaded progressive ideas such as women’s rights and anti-racism, the effects have been more dramatic, giving way to an amnesia about the former’s historical role. We witness today an increasing diversification of identity movements, and a corporatization of feminist and LGBTQ struggle. Radical politics claim to invent new forms for a united struggle such as “intersectionality”.
How do the CPC navigate its path in such an environment, in a country where most of the population consist of recent immigrants? As a communist party, how do you articulate questions related to identity with revolutionary class politics?
ER - The ruling class has always tried to obscure the class question, by dividing the working class and setting one section against another, while the capitalists reaped the benefits – and the profits – off the backs of all workers. They still do it, using gender, race, ethnicity, status, religion, age, ability, and whatever else is at hand.
As Communists, we know that the class struggle is the primary struggle on the road to socialism, however we also know that it’s a struggle that can’t be won without the participation and support of youth, women and gendered people, racialized people, Indigenous people, immigrant workers, and workers from English-speaking Canada, Quebec, Acadia, and the Indigenous nations in Canada. To win them to the struggle for socialism we have to show how these specific struggles for democracy and equality fit into the larger struggle for socialism, and why the racism, sexism, chauvinism and oppression experienced daily by so many, can’t be resolved in any permanent way under capitalism. We are building the case and the forces for socialism while we are engaging in the struggle for vital reforms. We are educating about the limits of capitalist reforms, and exposing the system’s defence of privilege and profits, while we are teaching people who their allies are, how to fight and how to win, and not incidentally, what they can expect from the Communist Party in this life-long struggle with capitalist exploitation and injustice. The class struggle and the struggle for socialism is not the only important struggle for working people, but it’s the only struggle that can change the world in the interests of the working class and working people. That’s why it’s the most important, strategic struggle, and that’s why we try to win working people to support that most vital and decisive struggle.
The Communist Party of Canada is 96 years old, and built by immigrants, women and LGBTiQ people, racialized and Indigenous people through the struggles of the working class, that the Communist Party led and has been closely involved in over several generations. The history of the Communist Party is the history of the working class struggle in Canada.
ICP – Thank you very much comrade.