With the rise in far-right violence, there is a pressing need for something to be done. This has only increased after Trump’s “insurrection” on Capitol Hill in January this year which made the issue plain to see in the eyes of the world. Many, including the NDP, have called on the federal government to clamp down on the far-right – which has led to many groups, including the Proud Boys to be designated as terrorist organizations. But is this the right way to fight the far-right?
On February 3rd, the federal government declared the Proud Boys a terrorist organization. The Proud Boys are a “white nationalist,” fascist organization which operates in North America. In response to this, the Canadian chapter of the Proud Boys dissolved in May 2021. But not all local chapters agreed with this decision. There are 12 local groups in cities like Vancouver, Calgary, Saskatoon and Toronto, that may continue organizing given their autonomy from the national group. In fact, an offshoot organization by former members of the Proud Boys, “Canada First”, has been operating openly since October of 2020.
A 2020 study by the Center for Strategic and International Studies found that that far-right terrorism has outpaced all other forms of terrorism in the USA. In Canada we also saw a 60% rise in hate crimes between 2014 and 2017. In 2019, Statistics Canada reported a 9% increase in the violence against the Muslim population. And there were 1150 attacks against the Asian community during the first year of COVID-19.
More recently, on June 6th, a man purposefully drove his truck into a Muslim family, killing 4 of its members and hospitalizing their 9 year-old son. On June 23rd, two women were violently attacked by a man who threatened them with racial slurs at knifepoint in St Albert, Alberta. It is therefore evident that racism and xenophobia are alive and well in Canada.
The state to the rescue?
Back in November 2020, the NDP launched a campaign to counter “white supremacy”. The campaign states that “Canada has seen a 200% increase in active hate groups in the last five years.” This means that the number of alt-right or white supremacist groups has risen from 100 in 2015 to 300 today. The campaign correctly states that this represents a danger to “communities from coast to coast to coast” and that “it will simply be a matter of time before the next attack against people.”
However, the only concrete action proposed in the campaign is demanding that “the Liberal government must immediately use all its tools to dismantle white supremacist groups.” They also launched a petition on their website which demands the Liberal government to crack down on far-right groups and puts forward the concrete demand to “create and properly fund dedicated hate crime units.”
But the NDP are not the only ones to demand state intervention to combat the far-right. The NDP has now found strange bedfellows in Jason Kenney’s United Conservbative Party government. Following the London attacks, the Alberta UCP government announced the formation of a special hate crimes unit to work with law enforcement on hate crimes investigations. On June 11th, Alberta’s Minister of Justice, Kaycee Madu, said in a press release that “the goal here is to gather intelligence that will help us prevent hate-motivated violence.”
This is quite rich coming from Jason Kenney who is himself responsible for fanning the flames of Islamophobia in Alberta and throughout the country. In 2011, as Minister of Citizenship and Immigration under Stephen Harper, Kenney imposed a niqab ban for those taking the oath of citizenship. In 2015, Kenney wrote a tweet equating a religious ceremony of Shia Muslims with the mistreatment of women by ISIS. Even after he was confronted for this misleading tweet, Kenney never deleted it. These actions are likely why Jason Kenney and the UCP were mentioned by name in a threatening letter sent to a mosque in Edmonton in 2019. The hypocrisy couldn’t be more glaring.
Connected to this, on June 23rd the Liberals introduced bill C-36 against online hate speech in parliament. This bill would facilitate complaints against online hate speech through the Canadian Human Rights Commission, effectively granting this institution greater ability to police online spaces. The bill was introduced two days before four new organizations were added to the Canadian list of terrorist organizations. It is clear that the government intends to ramp up the use of these measures in the future and use them as an electoral issue.
While many on the left are happy to see these measures implemented by various layers of government, it is fundamentally wrong to rely on the state to fight the far-right. This is because relying on the powers of the state means propping up these powers, including funding intelligence agencies, law enforcement and the police. What this essentially means is that all of the demands to defund or even abolish the police which gained popularity in the past year are thrown out the window if we call on the government to combat the far-right, which equals a demand to fund the police.
As well, as the struggle against oppression and capitalism intensifies, the same state measures used against the far-right will be used against anything that threatens the capitalist status quo. These actions on the part of the state set a dangerous precedent for anti-capitalist organizations, Indigenous land defenders, and Palestinian rights activists. In fact, already Indigenous activists are being considered “terrorists” by CSIS. Jason Kenney has already labeled attacks against churches by indigenous activists as “violent hate crimes,” and the Hate Crimes and Violent Extremism Unit in Calgary is currently investigating the covering in red and orange paint of ten Christian churches following the horrendous discovery of mass graves near former residential schools.
Calling on the government to take action against the far-right is therefore a mistake. The Canadian state has a track record not of protecting people from violence, but of inflicting the most odious violence in the name of defending private property. A few examples suffice to illustrate this. First, in 1991, the Canadian military was used against the Mohawk community that was protesting a massive golf course development on Indigenous land in Oka, Quebec. In 2012 the Montreal police violently repressed student demonstrations in Montreal against a proposed tuition hike with thousands of arrests and two students losing an eye in confrontations with the police. And in 2019 the RCMP were sent to repress indigenous activists who were protesting the building of a pipeline through ancestral territory on unceded Wet’suwet’en lands.
Those on the left who call on the government to take action against the rise of the far-right and right-wing terrorism foster the wrong idea that the state is a neutral arbiter in society. The reality is that the state a is a tool of class rule. The modern capitalist state serves and protects the interests of the capitalist class. As Marx noted in the Communist Manifesto over 150 years ago, “the executive of the modern state is nothing but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.”
Class struggle to fight the right
We agree with the NDP when they say that we must fight the proliferation of white nationalist and fascist organizations. We also think that the NDP has a role to play in this fight. But calling on the government to implement state measures to this end is a fatal mistake for the movement. Instead, the NDP should be joining forces with trade unions and the wider labour movement to organize a mass movement of workers and youth against far-right violence.
Working class communities have come out spontaneously on multiple occasions in the recent past to confront injustice, right-wing violence and oppression. Examples range from the hundreds of demonstrations in solidarity with the plight of the Palestinians, to the over 200 Kamloops truckers who organized a convoy to protest the mass murder of Indigenous children in Canada, to the thousands that participated in solidarity demonstrations with the Muslim community following the London attacks. The role of the NDP and the trade unions should be to organize this mostly unorganized expression of anger and solidarity.
Far-right violence is not fueled simply by some amorphous “hate” coming out of nowhere. Rather, it is the product of a society in crisis. Capitalism in decline has less and less to offer to a growing layer of the population. Faced with this, people are looking for an explanation. Political opinion has become polarized as people look for a way to fight the rotten status quo. Unfortunately, some small layers turn towards far-right, racist explanations for the growing misery and disenfranchisement. However, a much larger portion of society is being radicalized to the left – but this potential must be organized.
But we cannot simply fight against far-right violence, we need to fight against the conditions which give rise to the far-right. This means fighting for good jobs for all, free education, affordable housing and many other things to lift the working class out of destitution. As the capitalist system enters further into crisis, the above program could clearly only be accomplished through a thoroughgoing socialist transformation of society.
Instead of calling on the capitalist state to fight the far-right, the NDP and the labour movement as a whole should mobilize a mass movement independently to combat this menace. Such a movement would have to fight not only against the far-right but against the very conditions which give rise to the far-right. When the far-right demagogues point the finger at Muslims or other groups in society, the labour movement must point the finger at the only minority which is responsible for this, a small parasitic layer of capitalists.