RBC layoffs not about foreigners vs Canadians

"Once again the temporary foreign worker program has erupted in controversy where it is being used to pit workers against each other," write Chris Ramsaroop and Syed Hussan. But "The answer cannot be banning migrant workers from entering Canada." Read their article here.

North Korea/US tensions

"What the hell is going on? Are we really as close to war as this sounds? Why all the buildup if North Korea was bluffing? What’s up with the “dialing back” of U.S. forces? And what brought us to this point?" Read Tim Shorrock's article (recommended by a comrade in South Korea for readers abroad) here.

Activism, Feminism, Marxism and Queer Politics

"How can we build a united movement that respects difference and autonomy, and also advances common struggles against oppression and exploitation? What are the linkages, and tensions, between feminism and queer politics? And how can we understand women's liberation in the context of other movements against oppression?" Check out the video of presentations by Johannah May Black and Alan Sears here.

Leninism and small socialist groups

Recently some socialists (for example, here and here) have been writing about the relevance or irrelevance of the Leninist model of party organization for socialist groups of at most a few thousand members in advanced capitalist countries today.

This question was key for a group of Canadian socialists around the magazine New Socialist who left the International Socialists (IS) in 1996 and set out on a path of renewing socialism from below. As a modest contribution to discussion, here we publish the section of a document written while still in the IS that deals with this question:

"The political core of the problem is a particular conception of leninist party-building which has pushed people to attempt to skip historical stages, and in the process to distort their reading of their own capacities and the state of the class struggle.

Lenin's contribution to the development of revolutionary theory and practice remains a crucial one. The need for a democratic mass vanguard party as part of the process of working class self-emancipation is central to revolutionary socialism. The unevenness of working class consciousness and the centralization of capitalist power in the state makes a party a key component of the process through which the majority of the working class is won to seizing power with their own hands.

However, this tells us little about the immediate tasks confronting us as revolutionaries. We are a small group of socialists on the margins of the working class movement. In so far as we turn to the Leninist tradition to guide us in the task of building small groups, we run into trouble. There is, in fact, no serious Leninist tradition of building small groups. The key lessons of Leninism are based on the experiences of the Bolsheviks in Russia as generalized through the first four Congresses of the Communist International. The Congresses laid down guidelines for building mass workers' parties in a revolutionary period.

The I.S. is one of many groupings that have taken these guidelines and attempted to use them to direct the development of small groups outside the working class in periods which are not revolutionary. These groups have operated on the assumption that a mass revolutionary party develops through an established series of stages (circle/propaganda group/agitational group/mass party). It is a kind of "automatic Leninism" which works like an escalator that you enter at a particular point with your ultimate destination and route determined in advance.

This approach to building small groups leads organizations into many sorts of problems, whether that means imagining themselves as tiny perfect versions of the revolutionary party or attempting to speed the progress through those stages by skipping crucial historical steps. The current claim that the I.S. is in transition from being a propaganda group into an agitational group capable of influencing large-scale struggles represents an attempt to skip crucial historical steps.

We must begin with a more modest conception of the small group project and the immense gap that separates it from the building of a revolutionary party. This gap is not unbridgeable, but it cannot be crossed by sheer will. it is the specific combination of the spontaneous development of working class insurgency with effective socialist current that creates the basis for a genuine mass revolutionary party. Organized socialists matter in this process, contributing to political clarification and acting as an organizational catalyst. However, small organizations do not automatically "turn into" mass revolutionary parties; they may contribute certain (necessary) elements to something new that is qualitatively distinct from them.

The "Where We Stand" column is therefore wrong to claim under the heading of Revolutionary Party that we "are beginning to build such a party." This claim leads to a disproportionate emphasis on building the organizations "professional apparatus and a withering of vibrancy and debate. it also leads to silly arguments that the I.S. is reliving the Bolshevik/Menshevik split of 1903 and that the political core of Bolshevism was an obsession with apparatus-building.

We should instead say that we are working to create a socialist current that can develop a new understanding of how revolutionary parties can be built and contribute to that process. We must not assume in advance that the Russian experience provides a general model for the development of socialist organizations. Lenin himself expressed concerns at the way the Communist International generalized the experience of the Bolsheviks into a universal model of party-building, arguing that Marxist from other countries "cannot be content with hanging it [the Russian experience] in a corner like an icon and praying to it." Lenin always urged other marxists to recognize that new conditions demanded a new analysis. We should not believe that all the answers to all our problems in building a socialist movement can be found in the writings of Lenin and the Bolsheviks. Unfortunately, neither Lenin nor the other Bolsheviks had much to say about our situation, as a small group of revolutionaries who are outside the mainstream of the working class, operating in a capitalist democracy, during a non-revolutionary period. We need to take the best of the revolutionary marxist tradition and bring it to life by using it to answer the pressing question of building a small group in the actual conditions we confront today."

(from Declaration of the Political Reorientation Faction, Jan. 1996)

Venezuela after Chavez

Here are a few pieces on the net worth reading in the aftermath of his death:

Venezuela after Chavez

RIP Chavez

Possible Policy Scenarios

The Revolution Will Not Be Decreed

Why socialists need feminism

By David Camfield

The relationship between socialism and feminism has been getting more attention in online discussions recently. This is both for good reasons -- such as the article by Sharon Smith of the International Socialist Organization in the US that looks critically at how the Socialist Workers Party in Britain, which greatly influenced the ISO's politics, has dealt with feminism -- and bad, above all the current crisis in the SWP set off by the disgraceful way that allegations of rape by a leading member were handled.

The idea that socialists should be feminists too is uncontroversial to many revolutionary socialists. But why socialism needs feminism is still worth spelling out.

Every society in the world today is shaped by the oppression of women on the basis of their gender (patriarchy/sexism). There are, of course, importance differences in what form this oppression takes because gender relations are always interwoven with class, race, sexuality and other social relations, which vary (for example, patriarchy in Canada isn't identical to patriarchy in Cuba).

Around the world, women taking action to challenge sexism commonly (thought not always) identify themselves as feminists. If we define feminism in its widest sense as opposition to sexism -- which is what it means in everyday speech today -- it should be obvious why socialists should be feminists.

However, some socialists who are dedicated supporters of women's liberation don't consider themselves feminists. As Smith notes, some Marxists including some in her own political current haven't "understood the need to defend feminism, and to appreciate the enormous accomplishments of the women's movement, even after the 1960s era gave way to the backlash" against feminism and other movements of oppressed people.

But some socialists who have defended and appreciated feminism and been active in struggles against gender oppression have still insisted that socialism doesn't need feminism and so they're not feminists (this is what I was taught in my early years as a socialist, in the late 1980s as a member of the International Socialists -- some of whose members had the kind of really sectarian anti-feminist stance that Smith criticizes). Why?

The best case for this position is that revolutionary socialist politics are deeply committed to liberation from all forms of oppression, including gender oppression, and therefore don't need feminism. This often goes along with the belief that socialist-feminism is flawed because it advocates both united working-class struggle against exploitation and all forms of oppression (seen as the correct orientation) and autonomous (women-only) organizing against patriarchy. Women-only organizing is seen as undermining working-class politics because it allegedly means cross-class politics that don't recognize that the interests of working-class women aren't the same as those of middle-class or ruling-class women.

But even at its best this "socialist, not feminist" approach won't do. Its claim that because socialism is about universal human emancipation it doesn't need feminism evades a real problem: actually-existing socialist organizing and politics aren't the ideal that these socialists talk about. They exist within patriarchal societies. As a result, the actions and thinking of socialists will inevitably be limited and deformed by the patriarchal gender relations that we're committed to uprooting. So socialists need to develop our politics by learning from the actually-existing struggle against patriarchy (as well as learning from history). To do this we need feminism.

It's feminists who are shedding light on how women are oppressed and grappling with how to challenge various manifestations of oppression, from violence against women including sexual assault to eating disorders to how families, workplaces, schools and other institutions pressure women to conduct themselves in particular ways to sexism in contemporary science and many more. Not all feminists equally, of course. Feminist politics range from revolutionary socialist-feminism all the way to pro-imperialist liberalism, and there are lively debates within feminism.

But it's feminists who are on the cutting edge of whatever progress is being made in understanding and fighting patriarchy. Socialists should be part of that action. Socialists need to learn from the best feminisms (both socialist-feminism and others) to deepen our understanding of oppression and how to fight for liberation. The "socialist, not feminist" approach is a barrier to doing this.

"Socialist, not feminist" politics downplay the reality that patriarchy has its own dynamics. These aren't separate from capitalism and class, but they can't be reduced to them either. Marx's theory of capitalism has been developed by Marxist-feminism to explain why specific features of the system perpetuate gender oppression.This is extremely important. However, it doesn't fully explain patriarchy. To do that we also need to draw on -- and develop -- feminist theory in a historical and materialist way.

Socialist opposition to combining mixed-gender and autonomous women's organizing is a mistake. Far from detracting from united working-class struggles, women-only organizing can be an effective tactic for making them possible. In patriarchal societies, mixed-gender organizing is never a level playing field for women. Organizing independently can help women to identify and tackle sexism in mixed-gender activism and make mixed-gender organizing more anti-sexist. It can be a way for women to take initiatives without having to wait for men to catch up with them. And there's no reason that it inevitably sacrifices the interests of working-class women to those of middle-class or ruling-class women.

Another problem with the "socialist, not feminist" approach is that it tends to promote a culture among socialists in which sexism isn't challenged as vigorously as it needs to be. To the extent that it insulates socialists from feminism, it makes it easier for socialist men to avoid dealing with tough questions about our own behaviour. Insulation from feminism can also make it harder for socialist women to challenge sexism among socialists.

Socialists worthy of the name are committed to universal human emancipation. But there's a big difference between proclaiming a commitment and making it real. To make our politics more truly what we say we want them to be, socialists need feminism. We should be feminist socialists, and proud of it.

David Camfield is one of the editors of New Socialist Webzine.


"The incredible economic leverage of First Nations today"

"News reports are ablaze with reports of looming Indigenous blockades and economic disruption. As the Idle No More movement explodes into a new territory of political action, it bears to amplify the incredible economic leverage of First Nations today, and how frightened the government and industry are of their capacity to wield it." Read Shiri Pasternak's article "The Economics of Insurgency" here.

Injured Workers and the Austerity Agenda in Ontario

By Bruce Allen

Injured workers, their plight and their issues are rarely if ever considered in relationship to the global austerity agenda and the ongoing fight against it.  Yet what is happening in Ontario reveals there is compelling reason why they should be.

An analysis of what is happening at the WSIB in Ontario lays bare the obvious fact that the trajectory of the changes being made at the WSIB to the overwhelming disadvantage of injured workers parallel the trajectory of the austerity agenda involving a process in which wealth is systematically, brazenly being redistributed away from labour and into the pockets of those who own and control capital.

So how is this evident in Ontario’s workers compensation system?  It is personified in a former bank executive named David Marshall who was hired by Ontario’s Liberal government to eradicate the WSIB’s so called unfunded liability; the projected gap between revenue going into the WSIB from employer premiums paid into the system and the projected benefits to be paid out to injured workers by the WSIB. Significantly this gap was caused by major cuts to the premiums employers pay into  the system.  Yet Marshall’s mandate is not to eliminate the gap by adjusting employer premiums upward but by instituting a multitude of measures slashing the various benefits paid out to injured workers.  I effect injured workers are being made to bear the burden of a crisis created by concerted government efforts over the past two decades to line employers’ pockets by slashing the WSIB premiums they pay.  This exemplifies wealth redistribution in line with the austerity agenda

The logical result is a more lucrative business climate for employers causing declining living standards for injured workers and more widespread poverty among them as well as cuts in WSIB costs via intensified efforts to get injured workers off of benefits and back to work with less and less regard for injured workers’ physical wellbeing particularly by employers.

One could go on at length with examples of how this is unfolding.  It is sufficient to limit onself to touching on one pivotal example.  Namely the dwindling compensation paid to injured workers for permanent injuries.

Workers have gone from having a pre-1990 system of pensions for life to compensate for injuries for life to a very inferior system of Non Economic Loss (NEL) awards worth only a fraction of what the pre-1990 pensions were worth and from there to WSIB Operational Policy changes making it harder to get NEL awards and now to policies making it much harder to get increases in those awards to compensate for significant deterioration in the condition of permanent injuries and finally to unprecedented efforts to reduce the size and cost of NEL awards ostensibly by taking into account non-occupational age related changes in our bodies regardless of whether they were a health problem prior to an injury or not.

Simply stated these changes slash the costs of compensating workers’ for permanent injuries in order to help resolve the fraudulent funding crisis of the compensation system caused by government efforts to cut employer WSIB premiums.

To sum up the obvious implication of this one example of wealth redistribution towards Capital is that the fight for just compensation for injured workers must be more than integral to the fight against the austerity agenda.  It must be front and centre in that fight.  In waging it we clearly must fight to win.


Idle No More: more must-reads

Glen Coulthard's "Idle No More in Historical Context" is just one of the recent pieces worth reading on the Decolonization blog.

Harsha Walia takes on some of the racist ideas (expressed by journalist Christie Blatchford and many others) that act as obstacles to understanding that Canada is a colonial-settler state here.

Idle No More!

"Canada's placid winter surface has been broken by unprecedented protests by its aboriginal peoples. In just a few weeks, a small campaign launched against the Conservative government's budget bill by four aboriginal women has expanded and transformed into a season of discontent: a cultural and political resurgence." Read the rest of Martin Lukacs' very good piece here.

On how Idle No More started, check out this article. Its main website is

What would it take to begin to do away with the oppression of indigenous people in Canada? This leaflet (easy to print and distribute!) points to five radical reforms. As people mobilize to demand such changes, we also need to discuss the question of strategy: what it would take to implement them?

Monsters of the Market: An interview with David McNally

David McNally speaks to Ali Mustafa about his award-winning book Monsters of the Market: Zombies, Vampires, and Global Capitalism

You can find the interview here.





Stop a New Israeli Massacre in Gaza: Boycott Israel Now!

Read the call to people around the world in this new statement from the Palestinian BDS National Committee.

Remembrance Day: challenging the right

The Tory government is working hard to propagate views of history that fit with its agenda of austerity and militarism today, so for Nov. 11 here are a selection of articles that challenge the Tories' use of Nov. 11 and right-wing interpretations of World Wars I and II:

The misuse of November 11: How the Harper government exploits Remembrance Day

A letter from a British socialist student on why he declined to lay a wreath at his university's Remembrance Day service (about WW I)

Their war and ours: the people and the Second World War





Campaigning against the China-Canada investment pact

"The campaign against Canada-China FIPA is being promoted as if though Canada is being “sold,” is “selling out,” or is “for sale,” with the implication that only China will benefit from this agreement but Canada will not. The reality is that the Canadian state and corporations, as well as the Chinese state and its corporations, both benefit from this agreement.... We need an alternative approach to the current anti-FIPA campaign." Harjap Grewal's article opens a discussion on such an approach -- read it here.

The Venezuelan elections

Jeff Webber writes, "Chávez’s victory straightforwardly represents a stinging blow to the domestic right, represented through their candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski, and a setback for the interests of the United States in the region, a region which has – in no small part due to the ascendancy of Chávez, and the oil power he exercises – established a new relative autonomy from its Northern neighbour since the late 1990s." Read the rest of Jeff's article here.

The 2012 Toronto Palestine Film Festival: A Preview

"The 2012 Toronto Palestine Film Festival (TPFF) is finally set to hit theatres this weekend. Launched in 2008 to commemorate the 60th anniversary of al nakba, TPFF aims to showcase the vibrant cultural heritage, resilience, and collective identity of the Palestinian people through film, art, and other events." Read the rest of Ali Mustafa's article here.

Auto Concessions Signal Need For A Sharp Left Turn

By Bruce Allen

Three years ago General Motors and Chrysler workers made massive contract concessions. In fact, GM workers experienced two rounds of concessions bargaining in less than a year, the Harper government enforcing even greater roll backs than GM said it needed. Following that enormous, historic defeat the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) leadership loudly but unconvincingly assured their members that we would fight again another day.

Three years later "another day" has come and gone, without a fight and with more concessions at GM, Ford and Chrysler. The latest concessions are unprecedented, particularly with respect to new hires.

The CAW long denounced the two-tier wage agreements accepted by the UAW in the U.S.A. Now the CAW has all but completely acquiesced to that type of arrangement. New hires will be paid approximately $14.00 per hour less than regular workers. It will take them 10 years to attain the full rate, which will remain virtually unchanged for many years to come - plus it will take a full six years just to reach 70 per cent of the full rate. Worse, new hires will see deductions from their wages go towards the cost of their pensions, which will be seriously inferior to those available to current employees, while current employees experience no wage deductions going towards their pensions. In effect, the CAW has accepted a blatant system of two-tier pensions. New hires will also get much less vacation time.

All of this will result in a windfall of additional profits for the Detroit 3 auto corporations' Canadian operations, and it will accelerate the general decline of living standards for industrial workers in Canada. The time when autoworkers led the way in raising the living standards for industrial workers in Canada are long gone. Now they are leading the way downwards. And the CAW is functioning like a conduit for Capital's onslaught against labour.

Current active employees at the Detroit 3 in Canada will share in the pain of these long term collective agreements - in force until 2016. There are no wage increases at all. There will only be one cost of living increase - in the last quarter. Built-in COLA is replaced by lump sum payments cynically timed to be paid just before Christmas when autoworkers used to get a seasonal bonus. Simply stated, this means autoworkers will experience a steady decline in real income over the next four years. So will retired autoworkers. They have already been stripped of COLA on their pensions and they suffer a very inferior two-tier benefit package which is eroding.

None of this has been justified by declarations that new product investment has been acquired. There are no new products to be built in Canadian auto plants. Now the sorry, but all too familiar refrain is that we are living in tough times, faced with policies from hostile governments, including a high dollar. These excuses simply signal that there is no reason to expect anything but more of the same even with the aproaching CAW - CEP merger, with very serious consequences for labour as a whole, particularly in terms of living standards. No one is proclaiming we will 'fight again another day'.

A very bleak future lies ahead, unless we see the emergence of a rank and file based left opposition to the current leadership - a class conscious movement which recognizes that calling a halt to the ongoing retreat is imperative to keep us from going from very bad to even worse.

What does the CAW-CEP merger mean?

"At a time where the Canadian union movement is at a strategic impasse and a steep organizational decline, the new union they will form is being touted as a key element in turning the situation around, through a larger project of union renewal and a major response to the attacks on the working-class and labour movement," writes Herman Rosenfeld. Read his analysis of the merger here.

Learning from the Chicago teachers' strike

"This strike pushed the boundaries of contract unionism and took a moment in which the teachers union in Chicago was battling concessions and a mayor, Rahm Emanuel, who was intent on further eroding the power of the union and advancing a billionaire backed “education reform” agenda even further and turned it into a movement to fight for an improved education system and more broadly to fight for a city that puts people ahead of profit. It has been a long time since people have seen a union, in the public or the private sector, use the most powerful weapon in the arsenal of labour, the strike, to fight back... The biggest lesson for labour, especially public sector unions, is that reaching out to the public for support is all well and good but really winning their support requires that you make your struggle their struggle by fighting on broader class and antiracist terms."

Read Peter Brogan's article about the Chicago teachers' strike here.

Teachers strike in Chicago: a crucial battle

The Chicago Teachers' Union strike that began Sept. 10 could have a big impact -- read about it in this article in Labor Notes and check out this piece from a teacher's blog.

Understanding capitalism -- a video series worth watching

Check out Kapitalism101 for an ongoing series of videos that aim to introduce people to Marx's analysis of capitalism in a way that tries to be both accessible and serious about sometimes-challenging concepts needed to understand what goes on beneath the surface of everyday life in capitalist societies.

Some of what we'll be publishing in August

Coming soon in New Socialist Webzine: more articles on different aspects of the ongoing student/popular movement in Quebec (now heading into a difficult new phase of the struggle), a review of David Gilbert's book Love and Struggle by Kim Moody, and more

Uranium mining debate in Nunavut

"A conflict over a uranium mine in the far north, four decades in the making, has pitted members of a small Inuit community against their territorial government and a French company." Read Warren Bernauer's article in The Dominion.


Syria - scrambling to keep up

By Ken Hiebert

I am riveted by the news from Syria. From a great many sources. I also participate in heated on-line debates about what is happening there. I know that whatever I write will be out-of-date within days or even hours.

What in fact is happening? I'll tell you what I see.
There is a mass movement in Syria to overthrow the Assad regime. Does this include everyone? No, Assad still has some pockets of support. Some in the religious minorities fear the rule of a Sunni Muslim majority. And some people (Alawite, Christian and Sunni) have prospered under the Assad regime. In response to this, important voices have been raised within the revolt pledging a Syria for all Syrians. But the fear is still there.  And the more that people are slaughtered by the government forces, the more that some people fear the anger that is bound to follow.
Is there outside influence in Syria? I am sure there is. Syrians desperate to defend themselves from government attack turn wherever they can to get assistance, including arms. Outside forces such as the US have urged the opposition to "unite." What they really mean is that the grass roots organization should submit to the leadership of the most moderate, pro-western forces.
The U.S. has a great capacity to grant material aid and to withhold it. See this article in The Telegraph.
Will the U. S. and NATO get directly involved? It could certainly happen. One indication of this is that Henry Kissinger decided to write an op-ed piece about this. If he didn't think it was possible, why would he bother?   He's in a good position to know what is being debated within the American ruling class.
Also interesting is the stance taken by Daniel Pipes. He is not as close to the American ruling class as Kissinger, but he is in a position to know what the debates are. And he is one of the leading apologists in the U. S. for Israel. He would know what leading Israelis are thinking. And it is clear that whatever their dislike for Assad, they prefer him to what might come after him.
There is nothing new in this. They made it clear that they hoped that Mubarak would stay in power in Egypt.  They were sorry to see him go. (In Canada, that's why Harper was so glum when Mubarak was defeated. All he could say was, "The toothpaste is out of the tube.")  
Sources of information
This is a long list but still only a part of what you can find.  The first four are the only ones I can recommend to you. You will decide which ones you have confidence in.
There is this website, New Socialist.  Search for Syria and you'll come up with lots of useful information and analysis
IV is good, but there is nothing current there. You'll have to search the site.
Scroll down to July 11th.
For those who can read French
This site is in Arabic and English.  Some for and some against Assad.
News feeds
From Cuba
From Venezuela.  For those who can read Spanish.
And the there are what I call the Hear No Evil, See No Evil sites. In private conversation they might admit that there is mass opposition to Assad,but in public they pretend they cannot see the mass movement inside Syria.
In another category is the Canadian Peace Alliance. This is a serious cross-country peace coalition. In fact it's the only such coalition. I took a blast at them on this site. (I failed to make my intentions clear and the item appeared under a pseudonym.)
To be fair, while they couldn't bring themselves to criticize Assad in their statement they did provide a link to an article by Phyllis Bennis that was quite explicit in denouncing the crimes of the Assad regime.
It is also worth noting that if you go to the current home page of the CPA, you will not find any mention of this statement.
But there is something that the CPA has in common with the Hear No Evil sites. Neither the CPA or any of these other sites has asked me for money so they can send a fact finding commission to Syria.  Imagine the impact it could have if we had Canadians in Syria who could challenge the news accounts we are receiving.  What if CNN reported that a particular town was being shelled and we could say, "That's not true.  We have someone in that town right now and they tell us there is no shelling."
There is a good reason why none of these organizations is going to Syria. They know that the facts on the ground would not fit into their truth
There are some outright pro-Assad sites.  Here are two that I have found. (I thought this was from Syria, but I am told that she is in Dubai.)
And a couple of live feeds

Understanding the Tea Party in order to better fight the hard right

As the US presidential election draws closer and some right-wing Canadian politicians like Ontario Tory leader Tim Hudak, inspired by the defeat inflicted on unions in Wisconsin by hard-line Republicans, ratchet up the attack on union rights, we're sure to hear more about the Tea Party. Read Charlie Post's analysis of what it is and how to fight it here.

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