You Are Not Revolutionaries – NB Media Co-op
On January 6, 2021, just over 2,000 working-class Americans marched to the United States Capitol to protest. Convinced that Donald Trump was still the president, people who called themselves patriots occupied the Capitol for several hours. Five people died. No coherent political demands were made, other than to try to cancel an election. The world continued to function as it had always done.
This year, a similar pseudo-revolutionary movement swept across Canada: Freedom Convoy 2022. Right-wing agitators see themselves as genuine revolutionaries. Leftist critics denounce the constituents of the movement as reactionaries, white supremacists bent on taking us back to a previous place and time. Like the activists who stormed the Capitol on January 6, supporters of the Freedom Convoy are not revolutionaries: they are reformers.
The convoy is waving Canadian, Confederate and Fascist flags for a reason: their goal is not to challenge state power or establish a new order, but to return to an old way.
The convoy does not seek to end the oppressions faced by Indigenous peoples, workers, racialized people and queer people. Instead, the convoy seeks to hasten such oppression.
Journalists and scholars have linked the movement and its organizers to the far right. On January 27, the Canadian Anti-Hate Network denounced the convoy as a vehicle of the extreme right. The participants of the convoy stand side by side with several currents of the fascist fringe: Holocaust deniers; proponents of the Great Replacement Theory, a pseudo-scientific doctrine claiming that a “deluge” of immigrants will effectively ruin the purity of the white race; and neo-Nazi accelerationists, who advocate for race war and the killing of racial minorities
Pat King, the movement’s most vocal supporter and former activist with WEXIT, a movement seeking Alberta separatism, is implicated in a 2021 attack on anti-racism activists in Red Deer, Alberta.
Another of the convoy’s supporters, a group known as Diagolon, is an accelerating movement that seeks to incite a race war in Canada and the United States. Diagolon’s motto? “Rifle or rope.”
This is all horrifying, and so it seems fitting that swastikas and Confederate flags would fly over the convoy in Ottawa between January 29 and 30.
Where, one might ask, has reason gone?
Part of the problem is that the world doesn’t seem to make sense quite the way it once might have. A global pandemic and the threat of ecological collapse upend the post-war consensus. The decor has collapsed and a certain weariness seems to have taken hold of the world.
Old ways of knowing became untenable, and working people in North America began to bind themselves and their worldviews not to eternal and transcendent notions of truth, progress, and social class, but to commodities that ‘they consume.
Today, people attach their identity to mass-produced cultural products. People tend to think of themselves as loose amalgamations of their favorite television programs, books, movies, and podcasts. Yet the pandemic has temporarily abolished the moderating presence of commodity consumption in the lives of most working-class people. The daily rhythms of a professional life, easy to follow most of the time, began to seem foreign.
The far right, with its facile analyzes of white supremacy, sexual conservatism and anti-intellectualism, has sought to fill a void that the left has yet to attempt to fill. The 21st century Canadian left is defined by its inability to question the founding elements of neoliberal capitalism and its unwillingness (or inability) to unite people behind banners of class and radical change.
The absence of a strong left in Canadian politics is relatively new. In fact, Canada has a long and vibrant history of radical left-wing action by Indigenous and settler communities.
The land to which the settlers gave the name of Canada was first owned by a wide range of peoples and nations now collectively referred to as “Aboriginal people”. Indigenous societies—in their modes of governance, forms of ownership, and propensity for egalitarian rather than hierarchical gender relations—were anti-hierarchical in a way that most forms of popular media rarely accord them. It was only through contact that indigenous societies were subjected to the principles of European discipline. Imprisonment as a form of punishment was introduced as a matter of politics, and a politics based on hierarchy, rather than mutually affirmed consent, was imposed on indigenous societies as a means of developing modern capitalism.
The treatment of Indigenous peoples in Canada has been horrendous. Sixty Aboriginal communities are subject to long-term drinking water advisories. Compared to the general population, Aboriginal people face much higher rates of diabetes, substance abuse and mental health issues, and have a significantly lower life expectancy. These questions are structural and cannot be separated from the histories of colonialism and its resistance.
In settler communities, left-wing alternatives existed for much of the 20th century. They were embraced, almost without exception, by a working class that was varied in racial, gender, and gender composition. In the summer of 1919, for example, some 30,000 working-class Canadians, including women, children and migrants from Eastern Europe, took to the streets of Winnipeg. They stopped all work under the supervision of the bosses and replaced it instead with a radical possibility. Resources were redistributed according to need rather than private ownership. Winnipeg 1919 still haunts the very foundations of Canadian liberalism.
The politics behind the Freedom Convoy are of a decidedly different nature. Yet, by merging the organizational tactics of collective action with the political ideology of conservative individualism, the convoy has successfully masked itself in an aesthetic of radical change even as it asks for nothing less than the pursuit capitalist exploitation and white supremacy.
Today, collective action, human organization, and indeed actionable politics sits on an extreme right whose fervor for nebulously defined freedom—perhaps the ultimate floating signifier—has coincided with their simultaneous renunciation of individual rights. Right-wing individualism has merged with forms of organization that increasingly resemble the collectivist type. Autonomy has been socialized; yet the economy remains individualized. These political movements, notably the Freedom Convoy, now resemble the language, strategy and values of 20th century fascism.
To mix metaphors, home-brewed Canadian fascism is, in a sense, the leaven of January 2022. It’s a noxious brew, a form of hard-line conservatism that naturalizes hierarchy and gives meaning to a determined world. to rid popular politics of any reference to class as a social category.
The convoy is a fascist movement based on the aspiration of populism; it wields the cruel whip of Western chauvinism; he speaks with the voice of a divided working class, wrapped in the conspiracy theory and practice of right-wing acceleration.
Antonio Gramsci, a radical Italian philosopher, once wrote about the events of World War I then unfolding in Europe. Gramsci noted, “The old world is dying and the new world is struggling to be born: now is the time of monsters.”
Gramsci’s monsters have not disappeared, they have simply been reborn.
Fascism, both as ideology and as practice, is a symptom of a 21st condition of the century that refuses to recognize the need for an internationalist, anti-racist, queer, feminist, working class-based politics.
To quote Rosa Luxemburg, a radical German thinker, we as a species have been faced with two options: “Socialism or barbarism”. The Freedom Convoy chose the latter. The Canadian left must choose the first – a whole world of possible futures is at stake.
Harrison Dressler is currently the Arts and Culture Editor at The Brunswickan, Managing Editor of the Atlantic Student Research Journal (ASRJ), and a researcher for the Rediscovering the Roots of Black New Brunswickers project at the UNB Center for the Arts.
A previous version of this article first appeared in The Brunswickan, Canada’s oldest official student publication.