Anti-Neoliberalism Need Not Be Anti-Capitalist: The Case of the Toronto Radical John Clarke, Part Four: The Welfare State and Neoliberalism, or The Infinite Back and Forth Movement of Capitalism

Introduction

Perhaps it is me, but I am getting a sneaking suspicion that many who talk about being anti-capitalist are really referring to anti-neoliberalism. There is little if any talk about aiming to eliminate exploitation,  oppression and economic coercion or the creation of a socialist society (except in some vague, far-off future that has little relevance for their daily activity.

John Clarke’s Radical Social Democracy as a Case in Point 

John Clarke, a radical social-democratic reformist here in Toronto, is a case in point. We have already seen, in earlier posts, that Mr. Clarke’s aim is primarily an enhanced welfare capitalism and not the abolition of capitalism (see for example Critique of the Limited Aim (Solution)–Decent Wages–of a Radical Social Democrat: The Case of the Toronto Radical, John Clarke: Part One). Despite Mr. Clarke’s references to economic exploitation and economic coercions and his rhetoric of anti-capitalism, Mr. Clarke ultimately assumes that these features of modern social relations are fixed and cannot be abolished–and this despite his apparent recent radical turn due to the pandemic, calling for a radical change in capitalism (see a brief reference in An Inadequate Critique of a Radical Basic Income: The Case of the Toronto Radical John Clarke, Part Three).

Mr. Clarke tried to justify his critique of the proposal of a basic income by referring to the need to take into consideration the fact that economic coercion forms a vital part of a capitalist society–which indeed is the case. Unfortunately, Mr. Clarke failed to integrate this accurate observation with his proposal for an enhanced welfare state (and his belated call for the abolition of capitalist relations). In his daily activities, Mr. Clarke aims, practically, at reforming the class power of employers and not abolishing them; his aim is to abolish neoliberalism but not capitalism.

Mr. Clarke’s Recognition of the Double Movement in a Society Dominated by a Class of Employers (A.K.A. Capitalism)–and His Lack of Aiming for the Abolition of Such a Double Movement 

The nature of capitalism is such that it tends always to erode any temporary peace made between capitalists and workers but also provokes a countermovement (hence the double movement), as Streeck points out in note 14 in his book (2009) . Re-Forming Capitalism Institutional Change in the German Political Economy. Streeck quotes Karl Polanyi (a Hungarian economic historian, anthropologist and sociologist), before expressing his own view:  page 270:

“For a century the dynamics of modern society was governed by a double movement: the market expanded continuously but this movement was met by a countermovement checking the expansion in definite directions. Vital though such a countermovement was for the protection of society, in the last analysis it was incompatible with the self-regulation of the market, and thus with the market system itself” (Polanyi 1957 [1944], 130). In 1944 Polanyi believed that the double movement had come to an end, in line with similar expectations famously held by Schumpeter and others about the secular
 demise of modern capitalism. With the benefit of hindsight, I disregard this prediction and assume that movement and countermovement have continued and will continue until further notice.

Mr. Clarke recognizes that a pure capitalist market system would pose a threat for the existence of a market for workers because it would undermine even the life of workers and would undermine the legitimacy of a society dominated by a class of employers, so it is necessary that the capitalist state provide some limits on it by providing income supports–by preference at a minimal level from the point of view of employers.The following is a more or less partial verbatim report of what Mr. Clarke stated in his YouTube (see Mr. Clarke’s YouTube presentation  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r40D6fU760s&t=4s).

But such a system of brutal exploitation can become problematic. Firstly, it can compromise, on a large scale, the health–and hence the job-readiness–of the workforce. Secondly, it can contribute to massive organized protests and even rebellions. Consequently, the capitalist state steps in to save the capitalists from themselves by ensuring a certain level of services; these services form the basis for income-support systems.

The general rule of income-support systems within a capitalist system is that they will provide as much as is necessary but also as little as possible. There are two opposite factors working in that regard. The first is the needs of capital: the need to maximize profitability and to remove barriers to exploitation. For the capitalist class, the need is to minimize expenditures for income-support systems. Indeed, if profitability becomes more difficult, there will be intensified pressure to increase exploitation and to minimize expenditures on income-support systems. The second is the needs of the working class and its level of organized power within capitalist society as well as how resistant are poor and unemployed people.

Historically, there has been a class struggle over the amount and form of income support, with the levels and forms not really intended by the authorities but needed to quell working-class tendencies towards rebellion. On the other hand, with changes in the capitalist system, the capitalist class, via the capitalist state, has pushed back and changed the forms and levels of income support over the centuries. The working class, both during the Great Depression but especially after the Second World War, in turn fought back by organizing the unemployed and workers into mass unions, with the result that income supports and standards of living increased substantially. Gains were really made because of working-class resistance.

As a result, there is a need for the capitalist class to engage in a counter-offensive since increased working-class living standards had reduced capitalist profits. This counter-offensive, begun in the 1970s, is known as neoliberalism. In order to increase exploitation, it became essential to gut income-support systems. The adequacy of programs was reduced, and eligibility for the reduced level of income supports became more difficulty in various areas: for single parents, for injured workers, for disabled people, among others.

Mr. Clarke thus recognizes this to and fro movement of capitalism. However, does he aim to end this to and fro movemnt? Not at all. Such an aim at best is to be realized in the vague future rather than being aimed at via policy prescriptions for the present.  

Thus, Mr. Clarke’s immediate aims are, as I pointed out in a previous post: 

There’s a need to fight for increases in the adequacy of healthcare. The pandemic has made that absolutely clear. We need pharmacare, dental care, a unviersal childcare program that is not an empty perennial liberal promise. We need post-secondary education to be free; we need free public transport systems. On all of these fronts, we need to take up a fight.

We do indeed need to engage in fights on all these fronts–but we also need to link up such fights with the need to abolish the class power of employers (see Critique of the Limited Aim (Solution)–Decent Wages–of a Radical Social Democrat: The Case of the Toronto Radical, John Clarke: Part One); there is no evidence that Mr. Clarke sees improves wages, pharmacare, etc. as not only reforms but as also stepping stones to the abolition of the double movement.

If Mr. Clarke’s aims of achieving increases in wages, pharmacare, etc. were realized, some employers would, eventually, try to escape from such limitations as they did increasingly from the 1970s. The movement of seeking to enhance income support systems would, if not immediately then eventually, be met by a countermovement of employers seeking to avoid such restrictions. If they succeeded, then of course many workers, citizens, immigrants and migrants would seek to expand the income support system once again–and this process would have no end.

Aiming for a socialist society, without a class of employers, would seek to put an end to such class struggle–and not perpetuate it. Mr. Clarke’s position, by contrast, is the perpetuation of class struggle for eternity. It sounds radical, but it really is not; its aim is to achieve what cannot be achieved permanently–economic and social security in the context of economic coercion and the class power of employers.

Without any explicit aim for ending the power of the class of employers being used to organize present activities and critiques, this constant to and fro often leads to insecurity, turmoil and suffering among workers, citizens, immigrants and migrants. From Streeck, (2016), How Will Capitalism End: Essays on a Failing System:

The tensions and contradictions within the capitalist political-economic configuration make for an ever-present possibility of structural breakdown and social crisis. Economic and social stability under modern capitalism must be secured on a background of systemic restlessness4 produced by competition and expansion, a difficult balancing act with a constantly uncertain outcome. Its success is contingent on, among other things, the timely appearance of a new technological paradigm or the development of social needs and values complementing changing requirements of continued economic growth. For example, for the vast majority of its members, a capitalist society must manage to convert their ever-present fear of being cut out of the productive process, because of economic or technological restructuring, into acceptance of the highly unequal distribution of wealth
and power generated by the capitalist economy and a belief in the legitimacy of capitalism as a social order. For this, highly complicated and inevitably fragile institutional and ideological provisions are necessary. The same holds true for the conversion of insecure workers – kept insecure to make them obedient workers – into confident consumers happily discharging their consumerist social obligations even in the face of the fundamental uncertainty of labour markets and employment. In light of the inherent instability of modern societies founded upon and dynamically shaped by a capitalist economy, it is small wonder that theories of capitalism, from the time the concept was first used in the early 1800s in Germany and the mid-1800s in England, were always also theories of crisis. This holds not just for Marx and Engels but also for writers like Ricardo, Mill, Sombart, Keynes, Hilferding, Polanyi and Schumpeter, all of whom expected one way or other to see the end of capitalism during their lifetime.

Mr, Clarke’s political position, despite his rhetoric to the contrary of anti-capitalism this and anti-capitalism that, is not to end the power of the class of employers and the associated economic, social and political relations but their reform in order to leave behind, not class relations, but neoliberalism. Mr. Clarke recognizes that there is a “to and fro movement of capitalism” without taking it into consideration in formulating his anti-neoliberal but not anti-capitalist strategy.

Mr. Clarke’s Reformist Solution of an Enhanced Welfare State Fails to Abolish the Double Movement but Only Temporarily the Neoliberal Variety of Capitalism

Mr. Clarke’s solution of an enhanced welfare state is utopian in that such a solution has not and cannot address the fundamental features of a capitalist society. From George McCarthy (2018), Marx and Social Justice Ethics and Natural Law in the Critique of Political Economy, McCarthy, page 329:

Inquiring even further, Marx unearths the inherent logical flaw and historical tendency toward the overproduction and destruction of capital which makes the long-term prospects and continued viability of capitalist production highly questionable: rising organic composition of capital [rising value of machinery, raw materials, buildings, etc. relative to the amount of labour power employed], tendential falling rate of profit, intensification of labour exploitation, lengthening of the workday and expansion of labour time and constant capital (means of production), increased productivity of the machinery and technology of constant capital, growing disproportionality of capital development and rising surplus population, economic concentration and centralisation, growing disparity between capital accumulation and profit realisation, and, finally, functional stagnation and systems breakdown. Of course Marx … is aware that there is dialectic within the mode of production between logic and history, economic natural law and fundamental economic structures, and that these tendencies also encounter counteracting influences that may blunt for a time the necessary development of the logic of capital.

There is no indication in Mr. Clarke’s writings and presentations that he incorporates the aim of abolishing class relations characteristic of a society dominated by a class of employers into either his theory or his practice.

Mr. Clarke, by failing to address directly the exploitative nature of capitalist society, and by failing to integrate into his critique his recognition of economic coercion, in effect pushes into the far off future (never really ever to be attained) the creation of a movement for the abolition of capitalist relations of production, distribution, exchange and consumption. This is exactly what the social-democratic movements in the past did–and Mr. Clarke fails to recognize that his own solution does the same thing. 

Walter Streeck, by contrast, implies that there is a difference between an anti-neoliberal approach to capitalism and an anti-capitalist approach. An anti-neoliberal approach seeks to “embed” the capitalist economy in a network of social security structures that protect workers and citizens from the viciousness of a mainly capitalist market system. From Streeck (2009), Re-Forming Capitalism, pages 234-235: 

The socialization of capitalism, as it were, and its social-democratic organization were made possible not least by the enormous task of reconstruction after the devastations of the Second World War. For roughly two decades, capitalist accumulation could proceed without the “creative destruction” on which it normally depends, given the massive destructive destruction afflicted on the core capitalist regions by the war. Busy rebuilding the world, capitalism was able for a time to respect the desire of the period for predictably increasing prosperity for all, combined with security and stability. As early as the mid-1960s, however, open-ended demands for political protection and redistribution encouraged by progressive de-commodification of labor markets—in the form, above all, of a political guarantee of full employment—resulted in rising inflation (Fellner et al. 1961) hiding profound distributional conflicts (Hirsch and Goldthorpe 1978) and a widening mismatch between popular expectations and what a capitalist economy was able and willing to deliver. Temporarily strengthened by the worker revolts of the late 1960s, social democracy in the subsequent decade undertook to push to its limits and beyond a policy that regarded capitalism as a shared resource, a common pasture for society as a whole to be administered by expert technicians elected on a promise to provide for eternally growing prosperity-insecurity.

Today, we know that the problem of mainstream social democracy in the 1970s, with its strong belief in the power of democratic legitimacy and the efficacy of the modern state as an instrument of social control, was that it mistook capitalism for a neutral apparatus for the joint production of shared prosperity. Indeed, it did not take long for technocratic fantasies of capitalism as a politically governable “economy” to turn out to have been just that. Capitalist firms and those that own and run them can only for so long be treated as patient cogs in a collectively serviceable machine. Then, their true nature must come to the fore again, revealing them to be the live predators that they are, for which politically imposed social obligations are nothing but bars of a cage bound to become too small for them and for their insatiable desire for the hunt. In fact, by the end-1970s at the latest, capitalism had become determined to break out of the social-democratic stable into which it had been pressed after the war, being no longer willing and able to make do with the sensible but small servings of profit allowed to them by their political masters. Safe as life may have been under social-democratic tutelage, it also was boring, calling forth increasingly resolute efforts by capital to liberate itself and start a new cycle of accumulation, by expanding beyond the narrow confines of the neo-traditionalism of a social-democratic economy dedicated to the supply of fixed social needs.

Against all expectations, capitalism in the 1980s and 1990s recaptured its dynamic and once again became an unwieldy stochastic source of unplanned social and institutional change. As we have seen in the German case, the new dynamism, which for a variety of reasons soon gained the support of the very states and governments that only a short time before had aspired to be capitalism’s keepers, gradually began to undo the Durkheimian institutions that had been set up to tie capitalist accumulation to the discharge of social obligations. Capitalism redux began to absorb the slack that had been tolerated by the protected production regimes of the postwar period; migrated to new markets outside national control, pushed by domestic constraints and pulled by foreign opportunities; and did its utmost to empty the modern village of the welfare state, in its relentless search for new land to be subsumed under capitalist relations of production. Thus capitalism returned even though it had never really been gone.

Although the pandemic may have created some conditions that, to a certain extent parallel the devastating effects of the Second World War (such as the need for governments to intervene in the capitalist economy to a much greater extent–I will leave such an analysis to those more competent)–there are undoubtedly many differences, such as the organizational capacities of the working class immediately after the War and their organizational capacities in the current situation. Furthermore, having emerged from the War, the working class had military skills that could have posed a threat to the capitalist state. 

To expect that the working class could obtain the concessions from the capitalists that organized workers achieved in the aftermath of the Second World War to a certain extent achieved without threatening the foundations of capitalist society in the current situation is itself utopian; the class of employers have been on the offensive for several decades, as Mr. Clarke himself recognizes. From a post on Facebook (May 10, 2021), Mr. Clarke wrote: 

Matgyggatgatco S10p onsanoontetr 8elg:31d hlAM  ·    I spent more than three decades involved in anti-poverty struggles. During that whole time, the agenda of neoliberal austerity kept intensifying. Poverty and homelessness increased in scale. Social cutbacks deepened and had an ever more dreadful impact.

Let us assume, however, that Mr. Clarke and his social-democratic supporters achieve what they set out to achieve–an enhanced welfare state through struggle; let us assume for the moment that Mr. Clark’s aim of obtaining improved wages (not decent wages), improved social housing, pharmacare, dental care and so forth is realized. Employers may well, for a time, be satisfied with such a situation, but eventually they will likely, perhaps in a disorganized and individual fashion, attempt to bypass regulations associated with the welfare state–as they did when neoliberalism was just emerging. Would the welfare state be capable of withstanding such a move? Or perhaps Mr. Clarke believes that social movements and a renewed union movement could prevent such a move? Did they before the emergence of neoliberalism? What makes Mr. Clarke believe that they could do so now? Even if they could for the moment, would there not always be a threat of undermining previous gains?

Firstly, such a strategy has already been tried–during the post-Second World War period. It ended in the reversion to a more capitalist economy via neoliberalism. Unions and the social-democratic left, instead of constantly challenging the legitimacy of the class power of employers, accepted it. Mr. Clarke’s solution creates its own problems and its own negation–the double movement referred to above.

Furthermore, Mr. Clarke’s strategy fails to even address the dangers of a movement that only aims at reforming the class power of employers rather than abolishing that power. The emergence of more extreme far-right movements are always a threat as various classes and fractions of classes experience the ups and downs of the double movement.

Why not aim, from the very beginning, for a socialist society and hence the elimination of both the class of employers and classes in general? Or is that somehow utopian? If so, perhaps Mr. Clarke and his social-democratic brothers and sisters can explain how it is utopian.

Mr. Clarke’s Reformist Solution of an Enhanced Welfare State Fails to Address the Co-Optation of Radical Labour and Social Movements

Secondly, the Norwegian Marxist criminologist Thomas Mathiesen (1980) has this to say about the capacity of the present capitalist state to deal with radical leftist movements, Law, Society and Political Action: Towards a Strategy Under Late Capitalism, page 228 (what Mathiesen calls the “absorbent state” is a state that co-opts others):

The late capitalist social formation is, as we have seen, a distinctly absorbent social formation’. The question of contradiction therefore becomes especially difficult and especially important for revolutionary movements in this, our own social formation. The danger that the absorbent social ‘formation, through the process of defining in, will transform contradiction into accord, is especially great in this very absorbent social formation. The possibilities of yielding or deflecting are legion, and we have already given examples of how they become realities such as European social-democratic movements and eurocommunism. Maintaining contradiction, avoiding contradiction being transformed into accord, is the distinctive problem of the late capitalist social formation.

Frankly, it is naive to suppose that any movement whose aim is to challenge not just neoliberalism but capitalism must not deal with the capacity of the capitalist state to co-opt (absorb) such movements and transform contradiction into accord. Mr. Clarke does not even address this possibility.

I have shown the co-optation of part of the labour movement (especially the union movement) here in Canada, which often refers to “decent wages,” “decent work,” “fair contracts,” “fair wages” and the like (see for example Fair Contracts (or Fair Collective Agreements): The Ideological Rhetoric of Canadian Unions, Part One: The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE)). Mr. Clarke does not address how we are to prevent such co-optation.

This failure itself contributed to the emergence of neoliberalism.

Mr. Clarke never really engages in any critical inquiry into how the union movement, by accepting collective bargaining as somehow fair, has contributed to defensive actions rather than offensive ones. The defensive status of the union movement was certainly a partial consequence of the acceptance of collective bargaining as fair. Part of the purpose of this blog has been to bring out such limitations of modern unions.

In addition, the union movement has also largely idealized public services, neglecting to engage critically with the often oppressive nature of such services (for an example, see The Expansion of Public Services Versus a Basic Income, Part Two: How the Social-democratic Left Ignore the Oppressive Nature of Public Services: Part One: Oppressive Educational Services). Mr. Clarke does not question the limitation of the labour movement in general and the union movement in particular.

Hence, Mr. Clarke’s own political position would likely feed into a neoliberal reaction since the “leftist” strategy would not directly and immediately begin to challenge the legitimacy of the existence of the class power of employers. Such reformist efforts, if cut off from efforts to abolish economic exploitation, economic coercion and economic oppression will likely be co-opted.

A proposed radical basic income, in conjunction with struggles on several fronts for improved and extended public services, could prevent such co-optation by maintaining an immediate or short-term contradiction or conflict between the interests of workers and employers (and not just a long-term contradiction or conflict of interests). Mr. Clarke’s strategy of an enhanced welfare state simply ignores the problem.

Conclusion

Mr. Clarke’s radicalism is a radicalism rooted in the continued existence of economic exploitation and economic coercion–despite appearances to the contrary. Mr. Clarke, although he recognizes the double movement characteristic of a society dominated by a class of employers, proposes a solution (an enhanced welfare state) that fails to solve the problems that arise from the persistence of such a double movement. Furthermore, his solution of an enhanced welfare state does not come to grips with the problem of how to prevent radical labour and social movements from being co-opted.

It would be better to propose radical solutions that, while incorporating any reforms that we can achieve in the near future (such as greater benefits from the capitalist government), point to a different kind of society, a society where human dignity is real. An enhanced welfare state is hardly an expression of such a kind of society. 

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. From Ann Davis (2010), “Marx and the Mixed Economy: Money, Accumulation, and the Role of the State,” in Science and Society (pages 409-428), Volume 74, Number 3,  page 412:

Circulation, and the expansion of value, is an end in itself, and therefore without limit.

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.

The Canadian Left’s Lack of a Vision of the Good Life Beyond a Class of Employers

Stanley Aronowitz, in his book The Death and Life of American Labor: Toward a New Workers’ Movement (New York: Verso, page 162) , points out how the left has in effect abandoned any real intention of developing a movement powerful enough to challenge a system dominated by the class of employers:

Professional intellectuals need not be the only formulators of a new vision of the good life, but they may be needed to boldly put the questions associated with the good life back on the table. As we have seen, even political groups motivated by the promise of new social arrangements refrain from openly discussing their transformative views in their trade unions or in public forums, for fear they will be labeled as sectarians and lose access to the rank and file.

This self-censorship among U.S. radicals is nothing new. It dates from two closely related developments: Samuel Gompers’s refusal to link the labor movement to an ideological flag, a stance that led more radical thinkers to form the rival IWW; and the Socialist Party’s entry, with both feet, into the electoral arena, where the terms of engagement implied acceptance of the capitalist system as the given framework within which the struggles for social reform were to be conducted.

The Canadian left, probably like much of the left, refuse to try to open up debate about where the labour movement is really going. Rhetoric, such as “decent work,” “a good job,” “fair wages,” ‘economic justice” and indeed “fairness” in general are thrown around without the left ever bothering explaining what they mean by such terms.

The Toronto left, for example, is certainly afraid of trying to oblige union representatives to justify their platitudes such as “decent work.” Thus, in Toronto there was a call for supporting the striking brewery workers here. Such a call is certainly to be supported. However, to justify such a call, it was claimed that the brewery workers wanted decent jobs and a fair wage. The call went was sent over a list serve through an organization to which I belonged (the Toronto Labour Committee), headed by Sam Gindin, Herman Rosenfeld and Paul Gray. I decided to criticize the use of such expressions while also indicating the need for supporting the striking brewery workers (I had worked as a brewery worker in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, for about four years, and I knew about wages and working conditions from personal experience).

Eventually, I was called a “condescending prick” by a union representative, and the only defense of my action came from Herman Rosenfeld, who claimed that both I and the union representative were both right (it is nice to be able to have your cake and eat it too).

The point of all this is–there is a decided lack of discussion within the union movement and in the public sphere here in Toronto (and, I suspect, elsewhere in North America)–due to such intimidation tactics. The rhetoric of democracy within the left is just that–it is rhetoric.

There is no real discussion about the obvious dictatorship which billions of workers experience daily in their lives. There is no discussion of any alternative vision of what kind of life we humans really deserve. There is rhetoric of social justice, but there is no real substantial discussion of what that means and no movement towards building a society worthy of our nature as human beings.

There is much talk of resistance–but to what end? Resistance for resistance sake? To hold on to what we have? Not to dare think of anything beyond $15 and fairness or the idea of decent work? The hostility I met from the union reps and the so-called radical left when I questioned such ideas evidently expresses a lack of vision of the good life. For the so-called progressive left, there have been employers, there are employers, and there will always be employers. Such is the nature of the “progressive” left these days. They lack any vision of the good life beyond the class of employers.