The Leap Manifesto as a Social-Democratic Document: Climate Change, Environmental Degradation, Indigenous Rights and the Perpetuation of the Dominance of a Class of Employers

Written before the coronavirus pandemic, The Leap Manifesto: A Call for Canada
Based on Caring for the Earth and One Another, produced by various authors in 2015, ranging from scientist David Suzuki to the former head of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), Paul Moist, focuses on the need for the transition to a new kind of economy–a green economy. I will only address certain aspects of the Manifesto. If I should address further aspects in another post in the future, I will

It states:

We start from the premise that Canada is facing the deepest crisis in recent memory.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has acknowledged shocking details about
the violence of Canada’s near past. Deepening poverty and inequality are a scar on the country’s present. And our record on climate change is a crime against humanity’s future.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s mandate was:

The TRC is a component of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement. Its mandate is to inform all Canadians about what happened in Indian Residential Schools (IRS). The Commission will document the truth of survivors, families, communities and anyone personally affected by the IRS experience.

Direct and Indirect Violence in Modern Society

The violence perpetrated by the Canadian government on Aboriginal peoples certainly needs to be addressed. However, violence has taken many forms in Canada’s past, such as the direct or indirect violence of the creation of a market for workers, who need to sell themselves to employers. The continued existence of a market for workers in Canada expresses the continued existence of such violence.

Direct violence in a society characterized by a class of workers who must sell their capacity to work on a market via a labour contract (whether individually or collectively) is reserved for a special institution: the modern government or the modern state. From Geoffrey Kay and James Mott (1982 ), Political Order and the Law of Labour, page 83:

One crucial presupposition of modern contract, which it then reproduces, is that both parties arc deprived of the right to act violently in defence of their own interests, or even to pardon those who harm them. In a society of equivalents relating to each other through contract, politics is abstracted out of the relations of production, and order becomes the task of a specialised body — the state.

The modern state or government ensures that the contractual relations of the workers and employers are met and that the property of each is respected. Since workers acquire property, generally, in means of consumption (food, clothing, rental of apartments or houses, buying of condos or houses, cars or other means of transport, entertainment, books, balls and games for their children, and so forth), they generally lack means for their own continued existence (such as business computers, buildings, machine and so forth. It is the employers who own these and not the workers.

Since workers in such a society (and Canada is such a society) are means to the ends defined by employers (see The Money Circuit of Capital), and treating human beings as a means rather than their own ends (think of children and what most people say about treating children’s development as an end in itself–and then apply the same idea to adults) is a violent act, then employers’ treatment of workers as means is a continuously violent act, and the modern government or state protects such violence and indeed monopolizes the use of direct violence and thereby perpetuates the violence of employers.

Does the Manifesto have anything to say on this score? Following the above citation from The Leap Manifesto, it says:

These facts are all the more jarring because they depart so dramatically from our stated values: respect for Indigenous rights, internationalism, human rights, diversity, and environmental stewardship.

These may be the stated values, but Canadian reality has consistently contradicted such stated values. In general, such stated values are hypocritical. Consider human rights. Human rights in Canada are consistent with treating workers as things by employers (see Employers as Dictators, Part One). I will address the issue of “environmental stewardship” briefly in the following section.

Goals of The Leap Manifesto

What is the goal of The Leap Manifesto?

Canada is not this place today — but it could be. We could live in a country powered entirely by truly just renewable energy, woven together by accessible public transit, in which the jobs and opportunities of this transition are designed to systematically eliminate racial and gender inequality. Caring for one another and caring for the planet could be the economy’s fastest growing sectors. Many more people could have higher wage jobs with fewer work hours, leaving us ample time to enjoy our loved ones and flourish in our communities.

There are several points here:
1. truly just renewable energy
2. accessible public transit
3. jobs that systematically eliminate
a. racial inequality
b. gender inequality
4. Caring for the planet
5. Caring for one another
6. Higher wage jobs
7. Work fewer hours
8. Time to enjoy our loved ones
9. Time to flourish in our communities.

Some of these demands seem reasonable. Who would not want higher wage jobs?  (I will come back to this.) Who would not want to work fewer hours while having the time (and money) to enjoy our lives with family, friends and flourish within a community? Who among the left at least would not want the elimination of racial and gender inequality?

Environmental Degradation a Necessary Feature of a Society Dominated by a Class of Employers

This is contradictory list. Even on the assumption that racial and gender inequality could be eliminated, as I have already indicated, a caring planet and a capitalist economy are mutually exclusive (see  The British Labour Party’s 2019 Manifesto: More Social Democracy and More Social Reformism, Part One). Of course, there is room for improving the current environmental situation through changes to more renewable resources, but the infinite nature of the capitalist economy contradicts any real solution to the problem of environmental degradation. The idea of “environmental stewardship” within a capitalist society is an illusion.

How urgent is the need for addressing climate change and environmental degradation, according to the Manifesto?

We know that the time for this great transition is short. Climate scientists have told us that this is the decade to take decisive action to prevent catastrophic global warming. That means small steps will no longer get us where we need to go.

This plea for rapid change, of course, will now be put on the back burner because of the coronavirus pandemic and the ensuing economic crisis that will flow from it.

The Manifesto outlines the following timeline:

…we want energy sources that will last for time immemorial and never run out or poison the land. Technological breakthroughs have brought this dream within reach. The latest research shows it is feasible for Canada to get 100% of its electricity from renewable resources within two decades: by 2050 we could have a 100% clean economy.

Even on the assumption that Canada can shift to 100% clean energy by the year 2050, as the Manifesto claims, environmental degradation will continue since it will always be necessary to expand the economy infinitely. Climate change may be addressed (although, in addition to the problems associated with the coronavirus pandemic, there are powerful capitalist interests in the fossil-fuel industry), but not environmental degradation due to the nature of the capitalist economy. The Manifesto simply ignores this problem.

Unless the social relations that characterize an economy that moves towards infinity is addressed, caring for the planet is simply a will-o’-the-wisp.

Indigenous Rights and the Modern Government or the Modern State

The Leap claims:

So we need to leap.

This leap must begin by respecting the inherent rights and title of the original caretakers of this land. Indigenous communities have been at the forefront of protecting rivers, coasts, forests and lands from out-of-control industrial activity. We can bolster this role, and reset our relationship, by fully implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Moved by the treaties that form the legal basis of this country and bind us to share
the land “for as long as the sun shines, the grass grows and the rivers flow,”

Although, as Mark Franke (2007) argues, in “Self-determination Versus the Determination of Self: A Critical Reading of the Colonial Ethics Inherent to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,” in Journal of Global Ethics, Volume 3, issue 3, pages 359-379, that the adoption of the Declaration undoubtedly aids in the recognition of indigenous grievances, he also argues that the definition of self permitted through the Declaration would limit indigenous peoples to definitions of self characteristic of liberal societies. Such enabling and constraining features are characteristic of many liberal capitalist states (Francesca Merlan (2009), “Indigeneity: Global and Local,” in the journal Current Anthropology, Volume 50, Number 3, pages 303-333). As Franke remarks (page 375):

The human rights discourse of the UN itself is based inmaking a division between, on the one hand, those peoples who are seen as peace-loving social units willing and capable of supporting a specific vision of human need and rights and willing and capable of supporting the state as the necessary mechanism through which these needs and rights may gain address and, on the other hand, those who are unwilling or incapable of either. The whole notion of self privileged in the UN’s vision of self-determination is predicated on its contrast to a class of groups who do not seek identity with the human self idealised within its ethic. As Farid Samir Benavides Vanegas contends, the globalisation of rights remains deeply trapped in a colonial outlook (Vanegas 2004). As a result, peoples in the world who seek to determine themselves in ways that do not accord with the UN vision of peace, security, and human rights are not even eligible for recognition as selves. They could not be seen to identify with the human self valorised within the UN project; they can be only different from the self.

If it is the case, then, that any indigenous peoples wish to engage in processes of self-determination that questions the validity of the state as the fundamental organising
principle for their lives and the lives of all other peoples on earth, on the basis of the Declaration, there is no room for them to be recognised as groups deserving of the rights set out in the document or as groups that may be recognised as selves in the world. Under the basis of this document and the ethic of self that propels it, indigenous peoples have no opportunity to be identified as peoples with genuine moral claims on the states and international organisations of this world, if they choose to express their interests in ways outside of the modern political vision of self, which is itself a product of colonialism.

The Manifesto assumes the legitimacy of the modern state or government, and such an acceptance often goes hand in hand with acceptance of the continued existence of a class of employers. (For a critique of the nature of the modern government or state, see for example, The Poverty of Academic Leftism, Part Seven: The Idealization of the Nation State or the National Government and Nationalization in the Wake of the Coronavirus Pandemic, Part Two, or  Socialism, Police and the Government or State, Part One).

The Leap’s Assumption of the Continued Existence of a Class of Employers

In addition to ignoring the direct and indirect violence of modern class society, the necessary degradation of the environment in a capitalist context, and the necessary limitations imposed on Aboriginal self-determination, the Leap Manifesto fails to criticize the essential nature of the economy in which we live. It states, as noted above:

Many more people could have higher wage jobs with fewer work hours….

Higher wages–rather than the abolition of a system based on wages, with the class of employers abolished in the process–this is one of the goals of the Manifesto.

It may seem that the Manifesto goes further. It says:

As an alternative to the profit-gouging of private companies and the remote
bureaucracy of some centralized state ones, we can create innovative ownership
structures: democratically run, paying living wages and keeping much-needed revenue in communities.

However, in another part of the Manifesto, it states:

We call for an end to all trade deals that interfere with our attempts to rebuild local
economies, regulate corporations [my emphasis] and stop damaging extractive projects.

Companies can only be regulated if they exist–and presumably such companies will still involve a class of employers. There is simply no direct expression of the need to eliminate the class of employers and the associated economic, political and social structures.

It may also appear that the Manifesto, by proposing a universal basic income, is advocating the abolition of classes:

Since so much of the labour of caretaking – whether of people or the planet – is currentlyunpaid, we call for a vigorous debate about the introduction of a universal basic annual income. Pioneered in Manitoba in the 1970’s, this sturdy safety net could help ensure that no one is forced to take work that threatens their children’s tomorrow, just to feed those children today.

I too have advocated for a universal basic income (see, for example,  A Radical Basic Income as a Radical Reform). However, it is not to be part of a “sturdy safety net” but to breach a hole in the need for working for an employer in general–a threat to the power of employers as a class; such a breach would require widespread class struggle–something which the Leap Manifesto simply ignores. Economic coercion is necessary in a capitalist society–as John Clarke, a former activist in the organization Ontario Coalition Against Poverty admitted (see  “Capitalism needs economic coercion for its job market to function” (Ontario Coalition Against Poverty: OCAP). 

The document is a hodge-podge of proposals, some of which may be attained within a system dominated by a class of employers (such as higher wages, self-determination by Aborginal peoples as defined by nation states and even, perhaps, “clean energy” (although that is debatable). Other proposals cannot be realized within the modern class system–abolition of the direct violence of the modern state and the indirect violence of the dictatorship of employers; environmental degradation; and the definition of self-determination that goes beyond the limits of the modern state.

The proposal of a basic income could be accommodated within the capitalist system, or it could be more radical, threatening the existence of a market for workers. Since the Manifesto nowhere explicitly opposes the class power of employers, it is likely that it proposes some form of basic income that is consistent with the continued existence of a market for workers, where workers are hired and fired by employers.

Another piece of evidence that the proposal of basic income is likely consistent with the continued existence of a market for workers is who signed it: Paul Moist. As I pointed out above, he was former national president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE); he retired in 2015–the same year as the publication of the Manifesto.

I met, I believe, Mr. Moist in 1996, in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. The issue of “fair collective bargaining” had come up. Susan Thompson, who was mayor of Calgary at the time, wanted to break the collective agreement between the city and CUPE local 500; she  tried to have Gary Filmon (premier of Manitoba, Canada) support her attempt to breach the collective agreement. Paul Moist, at the time head of CUPE local 500 outside workers in Winnipeg, called out the slogan “A contract is a contract,” in opposition to Susan Thompson’s underhanded attempt; it was a wise tactical move on Moist‘s part since people supported him in what they perceived was an unfair act by Susan Thompson.. At the time, I belonged to a leftist group called New Directions. Mr. Moist came to one of the meetings, and I asked him whether he considered the slogan to be a tactical move or whether he believed in it. His response was that the foundation of our society is contracts; he evidently believed in the slogan.

Furthermore, Mr. Moist is a supporter of the New Democratic Party–a social-democratic party whose aim is to reform capitalist society, making it more of a welfare state than the current neoliberal model.

All in all, then, the Leap Manifesto falls far short of any real call for change. Its “leap’ is indeed a leap–at a frog’s pace rather than at a human pace. It is a social-democratic or social-reformist document.

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