On Feb. 3, the federal government formally declared the Proud Boys and several other groups to be terrorist organizations, officially adding them to the state’s list of terrorist entities. This move was largely the result of a campaign against the far right launched several months ago by the NDP.
The official designation as a terrorist organization will undoubtedly have an impact on the Proud Boys and other fascist groups on the list, greatly curtailing their ability to operate and to grow. Indeed, even before the official listing as a terrorist organization, when it was still a proposal by the NDP, it was being reported that there was an exodus of members from the group and that Proud Boys chapters were already closing down and/or rebranding.
The official designation as a terrorist organization implies certain financial and legal consequences for the groups on the list. Along with increased scrutiny and monitoring, the Proud Boys as a group and as individuals can have their property and assets seized. Purchasing Proud Boys merchandise could be considered a criminal act and known Proud Boys members will find it difficult to open a bank account or engage in routine financial transactions. Members of the Proud Boys can have their passports seized and international travel will be difficult if not impossible. Being listed as terrorist entities will also likely mean that these groups will not be able to operate on social media, and that they will be barred access to online payment processing systems and crowdfunding sites.
While it is understandable that many workers, youth, people of colour, immigrants, and the left in general would be pleased to see something done about the Proud Boys and other fascist groups, is banning the group or having the state declare it a terrorist organization the best way to deal with the far right? Should we be concerned that the same measures used against the far right could be used against the working class and its organizations?
Trump’s insurrection and the NDP
Last November, in the context of a sharp proliferation of far-right and fascist groups and a marked rise in racially motivated attacks and hate crimes in Canada, the NDP launched a campaign calling on the federal government to use “all its tools to dismantle white supremacist groups.”
Trump’s “insurrection” on Capitol Hill earlier this month played a large role in pushing the government to formally declare the Proud Boys a terrorist organization. The events on Capitol Hill were shocking to many people. It clearly shook the ruling class and the liberal political establishment in the United States and in other countries. After seeing thousands of Trump supporters, members of far-right groups, and QAnon conspiracy theorists run amok in the Capitol building, the Democrats and some on the left began calling for the events to be declared an act of domestic terrorism.
Many prominent far-right and fascist groups were involved in the rioting on Capitol Hill. One group in particular that was very visibly involved was the Proud Boys, who garnered a lot of attention after being mentioned in the U.S. presidential debates when Trump told them to “stand back and stand by” and effectively urged them “to do something about antifa and the left”.
The rioting on Capitol Hill had an impact in Canada too. The day after the invasion of Capitol Hill by the far-right mob, federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh launched a petition calling for the Proud Boys to be banned and designated as a terrorist organization in Canada. Then on Jan. 25, as part of the NDP’s general campaign against the far right, Singh proposed a non-binding motion in Parliament calling on the federal government to designate the Proud Boys as a terrorist entity. The motion was unanimously supported by members of Canada’s Parliament with the government adding the Proud Boys and several other organizations to its official list of terrorist entities just over a week later.
Who are the Proud Boys?
The Proud Boys have been a fixture on the far right for several years now. Founded in 2016 by Gavin McInnes, one of the co-founders of Vice Media, the Proud Boys are a male-only, Western chauvinist, “white nationalist”, fascist organization.
While the Proud Boys are associated with goofy antics such as their black and yellow polo shirts and childish initiation rites (which include getting punched repeatedly by other members until you can name five breakfast cereals, and a vow not to masturbate), many activists and others on the left will know them as a dangerous and violent organization.
One of the other initiation rites of the Proud Boys, one that is not so goofy, is that members must engage in physical violence and fights with members of antifa groups and leftists at rallies. This is how the Proud Boys have positioned themselves as the “military arm” of the far right.
Though the leadership of the Proud Boys have long denied any connection with the “alt-right” or white supremacy, the reality of the situation is undeniable. The Proud Boys were present at the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville and one of its members (since removed from the group) was one of the main organizers. The Proud Boys have been involved in high-profile events and incidents involving political violence in Portland and New York City. During the massive protests in the United States last summer following the murder of George Floyd, the Proud Boys were routinely found organizing and protesting at racist, pro-police, far-right “patriotic” counter-demonstrations across the United States, where they routinely engaged violently with anti-racist demonstrators.
In Canada, the Proud Boys drew public attention after disrupting a Mi’kmaw ceremony in Halifax mourning the atrocities committed against Indigenous people by Edward Cornwallis, founder of Halifax and governor of Nova Scotia in the mid-18th century.
Similar to the situation in the United States, the Proud Boys are a staple at racist, far-right rallies in Canada and are frequently involved in organizing them. The group attends the various far-right counter-demos in Canada and other countries where they harass and assault left-wing activists.
Many organizations on the left in Canada will have had run-ins with the Proud Boys, including Fightback/La Riposte socialiste. The Proud Boys have harassed Fightback members in various cities, have disrupted our meetings in Hamilton, and have threatened to do so in Toronto.
The raison d’être of the Proud Boys is to counter the left in general and to engage in physical confrontations with members of anti-fascist groups specifically. As a fascist organization, the general purpose of the Proud Boys is to terrorize the working class and its organizations.
Thus, from the perspective of the working class, and from the perspective of the class struggle, the Proud Boys are undoubtedly a terrorist organization.
However, the question of the Canadian bourgeois state declaring the Proud Boys a terrorist organization and whether we as revolutionaries should support such a move is another matter entirely.
The first question to be asked in this regard is, what is the purpose of the state list of terrorist organizations? If one looks at the Canadian government’s list of terrorist entities, one notices there are only a few far-right groups on the list (only two up until the recent addition of the Proud Boys and a few other far-right groups). This is curious given the fact that it is common knowledge, for example, that the far-right is behind the majority of domestic terrorist attacks in the United States.
In fact, a recent analysis by CSIS—not the Canadian state spy agency, but the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think tank in the United States—showed that “far-right terrorism has significantly outpaced terrorism from other types of perpetrators, including from far-left networks and individuals inspired by the Islamic State and al-Qaeda. Right-wing attacks and plots account for the majority of all terrorist incidents in the United States since 1994, and the total number of right-wing attacks and plots has grown significantly during the past six years. Right-wing extremists perpetrated two thirds of the attacks and plots in the United States in 2019 and over 90 percent between January 1 and May 8, 2020.” (our emphasis).
If the far right has been responsible for the majority of terrorist attacks and plots in the United States since 1994, and responsible for the overwhelming majority of attacks in the past couple years, why do far-right organizations barely figure on the Canadian state’s list of terrorist entities?
Looking at the list of terrorist entities, there are some nationalist organizations but the majority are (nominally) Islamist organizations. After the very high-profile 9/11 attacks by al-Qaeda, Islamist and other religious organizations were easy targets for the state security apparatus that had been unleashed in the United States and other countries. Focusing on Islamist terrorist organizations allowed the ruling class to accomplish several things at once. It served the general agenda of the ruling class to foster Islamophobia specifically as part of their general “divide-and-rule” tactic. The right wing, by preying on ignorance and paranoia, promoted this division in society as various groups were set against one another.
It also allowed the mainstream right wing to whip up anti-immigration hysteria as a means of distracting people from the real source of the growing social and economic crisis. Rather than focus on capitalism and increasing inequality, poor pay, unaffordable housing, not to mention the obscene concentration of wealth among the richest one per cent, various segments of the population have been scapegoated. Capitalism cannot provide for all, and if we are fighting each other then we will not be able to unite and fight the ruling class. This is exactly what the bourgeoisie and their political representatives want.
In the aftermath of 9/11, new counter-terrorism legislation provided massive amounts of funding for state security and surveillance, which has continued to expand ever since. The threat of Islamist terror, which was never as great as the threat of right-wing terror, provided the perfect cover for the bourgeoisie’s preparations for an intensification of the class struggle.
This explains why after 9/11 the ruling class raised the alarm about the threat of Islamist terrror, greatly expanded the funding and powers of the state security and surveillance apparatus all in the name of countering terrorism, and then stood by and did nothing as the real terrorist threat from the far right grew right under its nose.
In fact, as we have explained, the new counter-terrorism legislation and expanded powers of the state have been used primarily against the left, environmental organizations, and Indigenous and other oppressed groups. This was in fact the idea all along.
It’s not as if Canada’s spy agency CSIS, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, did not know about the threat of right-wing terrorism. In this sense, the threat of right-wing terrorism didn’t really grow under their noses at all: they knew all about it. A working paper published by TSAS, the Canadian Network for Research on Terrorism, Security and Society, clearly shows that CSIS has long had considerable information about the threat of right-wing terrorism internationally and in Canada.
The reason these right-wing terrorist groups have been allowed to grow and develop unmolested by the state in the age of counter-terrorism legislation and expanded surveillance is because, in the final analysis, they are useful to the ruling class and serve as auxiliaries to the state and the police.
Fascism and the state
The connections between the police and the Proud Boys and other far-right groups is well known. The inaction of police and their coddling of the fascists during the Capitol Hill rioting was not an accident. It has now also been discovered that the current leader of the Proud Boys, Enrique Tarrio, worked closely as an informant with various law enforcement agencies for years.
These connections can be explained in several ways. On an individual level, many police are right-wing, bigoted racists attracted to the authoritarianism of the position. This can create an immediate political connection between the police and the far right. Likewise, when the police go out to confront protestors and mass movements such as last summer with the George Floyd protests, they find in the Proud Boys a group who are willing to assist them in beating and arresting protestors.
These connections between law enforcement and far-right groups such as the Proud Boys are really only individualized expressions of a deeper connection, rooted in class relations and the class struggle. When the ruling class can no longer maintain its rule through the usual democratic channels and the usual state institutions such as the police and the courts, fascist organizations serve as unofficial reserves of the bourgeois state, and are used to terrorize the working class and its organizations.
The NDP’s mistake
The NDP leadership’s mistake on this question lies in a fundamental misunderstanding on their part of the nature of the state and its relationship with the far right and fascism.
The first problem with the NDP’s campaign against the far right is that what the NDP was really demanding was that the Liberal Party, with its control of the state apparatus, fight the far right on its behalf. The NDP wants something done about the fascists, but they want the Liberals and the state to do it for them.
By doing this, the NDP is fostering illusions in the bourgeois state, as if it is some neutral arbiter that mediates the class struggle with a fair and even hand. This is nonsense. The Canadian state is a class institution, a bourgeois state for the bourgeoisie, that governs in the interests of the bourgeoisie.
It is true what Mao Zedong said, i.e. that political power grows out of the barrel of a gun. The state is organized class violence, used by the ruling class against the other class(es) in society in order to guarantee and perpetuate their rule, and the Canadian state is no different in this regard. The political power of the bourgeoisie rests on its ability to enforce that rule–through legislation, the courts, the jails, and finally the police and the armed forces. These institutions and armed bodies of men make up the state. They are the physical components of which political power is composed.
Furthermore, with this campaign, the NDP is fostering the illusion that bourgeois democracy and legislation can save us from fascism. We just have to look at history to see that this is wrong. During so-called normal times, when society is stable and the class struggle at a low ebb, legislation on its own is a very powerful tool in the rule of the bourgeoisie. For the most part, the political organizations of the different classes, i.e. political parties and trade unions, etc., respect the “rule of law”. The state, the constitution, the law are almost everywhere respected if not revered.
However, when society is in crisis and unstable, when social and political polarization is intense and leads to an intensification of class struggle, legislation and the rule of law are no longer as widely respected. Politics becomes increasingly extra-parliamentary, and real political conflicts and decisions are made increasingly on the streets. Politics becomes much more about force of action (general strikes, police repression, insurrections, etc.) rather than parliamentary procedure.
In order to see how wrong this idea is that bourgeois democracy can protect us from the threat of fascism, all we have to do is look at history. If we take the real examples of fascism in history—Mussolini in Italy, Hitler in Germany and Franco in Spain—we can see just how wrong this idea is. What legislation or parliamentary procedure would have stopped Mussolini’s March on Rome? The state can ban the Blackshirts, but that does not stop them from marching. To stop them marching, they must be physically prevented from marching. What legislation would have stopped Franco’s military uprising and the eventual Spanish Civil War? What parliamentary procedure would be capable of physically halting the advance of Franco’s troops?
The rise of the Nazis to power was a little different. Of course, the Nazis used plenty of violence in their rise to power and once in power. However, in the case of fascism in Germany, Hitler did not come to power through a coup d’état or a civil war. Rather he came to power through legislation and parliamentary procedure. As the danger of fascism in Germany rose, the German Social Democrats called on the state to act, to do something about the fascists. In this case, the bourgeoisie willingly sacrificed the “rule of law” and handed state power over to the fascists in order to save their class rule and the capitalist system itself.
At the end of the day, constitutions, legislation, and the law are simply pieces of paper. Their true power lies in the state’s ability to enforce them, through armed bodies of men. Mussolini, Franco, and Hitler all came to power through the use of armed bodies of men and the institutions of the bourgeois state in one way or another. They all solidified their rule through the naked use of state violence by these armed bodies of men (the Blackshirts, the SS, the secret police, etc.). Legislation did not and could not have stopped them. The only way to stop them was to stop them physically, i.e. through the organized political action of the working class and its organizations and the expropriation of the class, the bourgeoisie, that was funding and promoting the fascists.
By calling on the bourgeois state to take action against the fascists, the NDP is making the same mistake made by the reformist left in relation to the rise of fascism in the 1920s and the 1930s and again in recent decades in Greece. This is a very dangerous mistake to make, as urging the state to act against the fascists will ultimately not stop the rise of fascism and will harm the working class and its organizations in the long run.
It seems like the NDP is trying to do the right things, but the party leadership continues to get hold of the wrong end of the stick. The NDP wanted to help people and defend the benefits gained during the pandemic and fought against the cuts to the Canada Emergency Response Benefit/Canada Recovery Benefit by the Liberals. But at the same time the party proposed and promoted the corporate wage subsidy, which amounted to a bailout for the corporations. Likewise, the NDP wants to do something about the far right, but then proposes that the Liberals and the state do it for them, urging the state to expand and use the very same powers it will ultimately use against the working class.
We also shouldn’t forget that the RCMP spied on Tommy Douglas for decades and that he was considered essentially as an enemy of the state, or at least a potential one. We should remember that Douglas was a provincial premier and MP. Despite his progressive reforms and the fact that he was a major opposition figure for the Canadian ruling class and political establishment, he was functionally part of the Canadian bourgeois state apparatus. This didn’t prevent the ruling class or the state from viewing him as an enemy and spying on him.
While it seems unlikely that the Canadian state security apparatus has been too concerned about any NDP leader since Tommy Douglas, the NDP is playing a dangerous game by calling for the state to use the repressive powers that it has used against the party in the past.
Lessons from the past
The question of the freedom of the press and censorship is very closely related to the issue of state repression, specifically in this case the banning of certain organizations or having them listed as terrorist entities. We recently published an article on the question of freedom of the press and censorship in relation to the delivery of The Epoch Times where we explained the following:
As Marxists, we support genuine free expression as a basic democratic right. The right to free expression, however, is not an abstract principle but a concrete class question. We oppose far-right publications such as The Epoch Times being able to freely put forward racist and reactionary views which threaten the working class and oppressed peoples. But we also cannot depend on the capitalist state or big business to stop the growth of the far right. Any censorship or repression targeting the right will always be directed with much greater force against workers, the left and marginalized groups.
This was an issue that Trotsky addressed in the late 1930s in Mexico in relation to a campaign against the reactionary press at that time. The campaign was organized by the main trade unions and the idea was to curtail the reactionary press through state censorship or an outright ban.
Trotsky explained the following:
In fact it is not difficult to see that, even if this campaign would triumph and bring concrete results to the liking of Lombardo Toledano [one of the main trade union leaders and owner of the daily El Popular who was influential in calling for the banning of the reactionary press], the ultimate consequences will fall back on the working class.Trotsky, “Freedom of the Press and the Working Class”
Theory, as well as historic experience, testify that any restriction to democracy in bourgeois society, is eventually directed against the proletariat, just as taxes eventually fall on the shoulders of the proletariat. Bourgeois democracy is usable by the proletariat only insofar as it opens the way for the development of the class struggle. Consequently, any workers’ ‘leader’ who arms the bourgeois state with special means to control public opinion in general, and the press in particular, is a traitor. In the last analysis, the accentuation of class struggle will force bourgeois of all shades, to conclude a pact: to accept special legislation, and every kind of restrictive measures, and measures of ‘democratic’ censorship against the working class. Those who have not yet realised this, should leave the ranks of the working class…
It is essential to wage an unrelenting battle against the reactionary press. But the workers cannot leave a task they have to fulfill themselves through their own organisations and their own press, to the repressive fist of the bourgeois state. Today the government may seem well disposed towards workers’ organisations. Tomorrow it may fall, and it inevitably will, into the hands of the most reactionary elements of the bourgeoisie. In this case the existing repressive laws will be used against the workers. Only adventurists who think of nothing but the moment’s needs can fail to guard themselves against such a danger.
In the mid-1930s, a period of intense class struggle and political polarization in Europe with pitched street battles between left-wing and right-wing organizations on the streets of France occurring routinely, the governments of France and the Netherlands passed legislation banning all paramilitary and special defence bodies. Officially speaking, the main threat these laws were intended to counter was from fascist organizations, which were running amok. When asked for advice by Dutch communists on how to approach the question of these laws, Trotsky wrote the following:
Since bourgeois democracy is historically bankrupt, it is no longer in a position to defend itself on its own ground against its enemies on the right and the left. That is, in order to ‘maintain’ itself, the democratic regime must progressively liquidate itself through emergency laws and administrative arbitrariness. This self-liquidation of democracy in the struggle against right and left brings to the fore the Bonapartism of degeneration, which needs both the left and the right danger for its uncertain existence in order to play them off against one another and to progressively raise itself above society and its parliamentarism…Trotsky, “Bourgeois Democracy and the Fight against Fascism”
In this highly critical period, the main enemy of Bonapartism remains, of course, the revolutionary wing of the proletariat. Thus, we can say with absolute assurance that as the class struggle deepens all emergency laws, extraordinary powers, etc., will be used against the proletariat…
The social revolution in Holland does not seem to be an immediate threat. Big capital hopes to allay the threatening dangers by using the strong, concentrated (i.e., Bonapartist, or semi-Bonapartist) state. But to keep the real enemy, the revolutionary proletariat, within bounds, Colijn [Hendrijk Colijn, the head of the right-wing Dutch government] will never completely eliminate or even sidetrack fascism. At most he will simply keep it in check. That is why the slogan for the disbanding and disarming of the fascist gangs by the state (and voting for similar measures) is reactionary through and through (the German Social Democrats cry: ‘The state must act!’). This would mean making a whip out of the proletariat’s hide, one which the Bonapartist arbiters might use to softly caress the fascist rear ends here and there. But it is our inescapable responsibility and duty to protect the hide of the working class, not to hand over the whip to fascism…
Therefore, we must vote against all measures that strengthen the capitalist-Bonapartist state, even those measures which may for the moment cause temporary unpleasantness for the fascists. Naturally, the Social Democrats and the Stalinists will say that we are defending the fascists against Father Colijn, who after all, is better than the evil Mussert [leader of the Dutch fascist organization, the National Socialist Movement]. We can say with assurance that we are more farsighted than the others and that future developments will completely confirm our perceptions and our demands.
In sharing these quotes we are not trying to argue that in adding the Proud Boys to its official list of terrorist organizations that the Trudeau government is a Bonapartist regime. The Trudeau government is not a Bonapartist regime. Rather, we wanted to show why calls for the state to take action against the fascists is counter to the interests of the working class and is in fact dangerous.
If we look around the world, we can see that this “self-liquidation of democracy” has already begun in many countries. Governments around the world are already sliding down the slippery slope of authoritarianism via various emergency laws, prorogation of parliaments, administrative arbitrariness, and the occasional coup d’état. We are only in the very earliest stages of this process, yet we can see some initial Bonapartist tendencies developing in country after country.
This slippery slope is rather visible at the moment in the United States. To be clear, the Trump regime was not a Bonapartist regime, despite the fact that Trump would have wanted it to be. Nor is the Biden regime Bonapartist. However, we can see some of the initial elements of “the Bonapartism of degeneration” in the United States. The beginnings of the process of the liquidation of bourgeois democracy that Trotsky spoke about have begun.
This past summer in the United States, political power was really on the streets with the Black Lives Matter protests surrounding the murder of George Floyd. Despite violent police repression, the state was incapable of regaining control of the situation for several weeks. The political establishment could only watch helplessly as millions came out onto the streets and, for example, burned down a police precinct.
Then in January, a right-wing mob invaded Capitol Hill, made a mockery of the security apparatus in the very centre of power of the most powerful state on the planet, and proceeded to ransack the offices of the members of Congress.
These dangers from both the left and the right facing the U.S. government will force it to respond with an increasingly heavy hand. The state security apparatus will be reinforced, Capitol Hill will become an impenetrable fortress strictly off-limits to the people over whom it governs. New laws granting extended and emergency powers to the state will be passed. The full extent of the law will be used like a hammer to smash any group, on the left or right, that dares to challenge the power of the American state.
The Canadian ruling class looks on nervously as a group with roots in Canada, the Proud Boys, played a central role in the rioting on Capitol Hill. It then remembers that both Parliament Hill and Rideau Hall have already been invaded. In the halls of power it is decided that the state must be strengthened to defend itself, that the state must act.
The actions of the far right are beginning to frighten and provoke the people. The NDP gets agitated and organizes a campaign. The Trudeau government, seeing increasingly numerous enemies on the left and right appearing on the horizon, seeing the government of its powerful ally to the south humiliated by a right-wing mob, obliges and bans the Proud Boys and a few other right wing groups.
Given the antics of the Proud Boys and high-profile rioting on Capitol Hill, the very visible danger comes from the far right. But it would be very naive indeed if we were to believe that these measures will be used against the far right exclusively. When the federal government formally placed the Proud Boys on its list of terrorist entities, CTV reported the following:
In making the announcement the government emphasized that federal intelligence agencies consider ideologically-motivated violent extremism a ‘growing threat,’ and countering the online component of these organizations remains a ‘complex and ever-evolving issue.’ While generally considered ‘right-wing’ groups, the federal government has sought to move away from that descriptor, stating it and ‘left-wing’ are largely subjective and do not capture the complexity of the threat posed. [our emphasis]
In adding the Proud Boys to its list of terrorist organizations, the Canadian state has made it clear that it should not be seen as a move exclusively against the far right, but rather it is a move against “ideologically-motivated extremism”. From the perspective of the Canadian state, right wing and left wing are “subjective”. The meaning is clear: the Canadian state will use its powers to curb its enemies on both the right and the left.
The Canadian state security apparatus has already been using the expanded powers it was granted under the Anti-terrorism Act to spy on the left and Indigenous groups for years. The Canadian state has already been strengthening its security apparatus to counter its enemies on the left. Rail blockades by striking workers and Indigenous land defenders are called “acts of terrorism” and environmental and Indigenous activists are labeled as “threats to national security”. The Alberta government has passed legislation that essentially takes away the right to protest and strike in the name of defending critical infrastructure. The Manitoba government is now preparing similar legislation, and we can expect similar laws to be passed elsewhere in the country.
Despite this momentary crackdown on the Proud Boys, we can and should expect the state to continue to use the state security apparatus primarily against the organizations of the working class, the left in general, and Indigenous communities.
The trade union test
In relation to the banning of paramilitary and special defence organizations, Trotsky in his letter to the Dutch communists explained that it would be quite easy to show why we cannot support the granting of increased state powers to deal with the threat of fascism.
We can, however, formulate certain amendments which when they are rejected, will make it clear to every worker that what is at stake is not the fascists’ rear ends but the proletariat’s hide. For example: (1) Workers’ pickets are not to be affected by this law under any circumstances, even when they are obliged to take action against strikebreakers, fascists, and other lumpen elements; (2) the trade unions and the political organizations of the working class reserve the right to construct and arm their self-defence organizations in the face of fascist danger. The state is committed to aid these organizations with weapons, ammunition, and financial support on demand.Trotsky, “Bourgeois Democracy and the Fight against Fascism”
In Parliament, such amendments would be considered shocking by the political establishment, not to mention the reformists, and they would never be passed. Such amendments would never be passed because the original intention of the law was to use it against the working class and its organizations in the first place. And thus, because we know that moves such as adding groups to the list of terrorist entities, the banning of political publications and organizations, etc. will also be used against the working class, we must oppose such moves in general.
Talk of workers’ self-defence organizations and picketing workers taking action against strikebreakers and fascists may seem like exaggerations or alarmism. However, these things are daily becoming a reality for many workers. We saw this in relation to the Regina Co-Op refinery lock-out when we explained the following:
The lockout of Unifor 594 members saw an intensification of the class struggle to a level not seen in Canada for decades. The vicious response of the bosses and the state has shattered illusions that the kind of labour struggles seen in the 1930s were a thing of the past. State repression, and the use of reactionary thugs to intimidate workers, is now the new normal. With the economic downturn sparked by COVID-19 paving the way for a crisis of capitalism even more severe than the Great Depression, the experience of Co-op refinery workers offers a glimpse of the titanic labour struggles to come.
In that strike, we saw the company fly in scabs who forced their way across picket lines. The workers set up barricades to stop them. Several confrontations with scabs and the police ensued. The state issued injunctions against the union and the pickets ordering the barricades removed. The workers refused. The police tried to take down the barricades, arresting dozens of workers and calling the workers “terrorists”. Fascists thugs harassed workers on solidarity pickets, threatened to run over striking workers, and bomb threats were made against the workers. These types of things are already becoming the norm on picket lines.
The time has come when all striking workers will need to consider self-defence in order to protect their picket lines from the state and the fascists. In this context of intensified class struggle, do we really expect the Canadian bourgeois state to side with the workers and their organizations? Will the Canadian state protect picket lines, or allow the workers to defend themselves? Of course not. The Canadian state barely tolerates the right to strike at all, legislating striking workers back to work every opportunity it can.
The Canadian state will protect the interests of private ownership and profit. That is its ultimate purpose. The law and the police will be used to help the bosses and protect the scabs. Injunctions will be passed declaring pickets illegal. Laws will be passed prohibiting the workers from defending their picket lines, and eventually from having them altogether. Workers who set up barricades and defend picket lines will be declared “terrorists” and the full power of the state will be brought to bear down on them. This is why we cannot call on the bourgeois state to take action against the fascists: because it furthers the state down the slippery slope, along the path of which its repressive powers will be used primarily against the working class.
Unite to defeat the far right
It is a very good thing in general that the NDP wants to do something about the far right. We agree in principle with this basic sentiment. However, the way the NDP leadership is going about this is in fact very dangerous for the left and the working class in general.
What is needed to stop the far right and the fascists is a genuine united front of workers’ organizations. The NDP and the trade unions could play a key role in this. With their mass membership and resources, it would be entirely possible to organize a united mass movement against fascism.
Rather than calling for the state to act, or for increased state powers to deal with fascism, the labour movement must prepare itself for the rise of the far right and increasing violence at demonstrations and picket lines. A united front of workers’ organisations and the establishment of self-defence groups for picket lines and demonstrations against attacks by the far right and fascists will become an absolute necessity (and already is in many instances). We must be prepared to defend our meetings and members.
Violence on the part of the fascists must be met with mass action organized by the labour movement. We must meet them at every turn. However, this is not the end of the matter. The ultimate defeat of the fascists will not come through self-defence alone or street battles. We must understand that fascism will only finally be defeated when the bourgeoisie is expropriated and capitalism overthrown. Fascism is a social phenomenon. It arises as a result of capitalism in crisis, and in the interests of the bourgeoisie its purpose is to crush the working class and its organizations. Thus, the struggle against fascism is ultimately the struggle against capitalism and the ruling class and will play a key role in the fight for the socialist transformation of society.