marxism 2011 program notes: how can we stop the right?

These are my notes from the 2011 Marxism conference in Toronto. The series starts here.

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How can we stop the right?
Christine Beckermann, member of IS
May 29, 2011

With the emergence of the Tea Party in the US, Rob Ford's election in Toronto, and now the Harper majority, we are told that this reflects a shift in people's ideas, that the public is moving to the right. Is that true? Let's examine it.

The Tea Party began as a response to the stimulus package after the mortgage foreclosure crisis. Most Tea Party electoral gains were made in states that were already conservative (OH, PA were exceptions).

This speaks more to disillusionment with Obama and his desire/ability to create change than with an actual rightward movement. The Tea Party is not a grassroots movement: it is funded by billionaires, and is fueled by racism. It reflects a discontent with the mentality that says "vote for change, then sit back and wait for change to come. It's not so much embracing the free market as a rejection of the status quo. The Tea Party phenomenon has emerged and grown quickly, but opinion polls don't line up with their rhetoric.

In Toronto, Rob Ford was previously an isolated right-wing cartoon. He ran on right-wing populist ticket, won a strong mandate, appealing to suburban (pre-amalgamation) voters with "stop the gravy train" anti-public-worker ticket. Former Toronto Mayor David Miller and right-wing city councillors were against the workers during the Toronto municipal strike, calling it a "strike against the children of Toronto", while progressive councillors were silent. Public sentiment against the striking workers was so strong, and council who were normally pro-union were afraid to speak up. But Ford was able to capitalize on the strike taking place under Miller's regime. His "war on the car" rhetoric and cuts to public transit doesn't make sense, but it was an easy slogan. He also scapegoated immigrants - who may not have citizenship, so can't vote. The opposition was said to be split, although it's questionable whether Smitherman is opposition.

In the federal election, there was a giant surge of support for the NDP - way more gains than for the Tories in the popular vote, plus a huge increase in seats. The increase in support for the Conservatives amounts to less than 2% - 23 more seats. We may be seeing an increasingly polarized voting public, as people look for responses to the economic crisis.

Conservative economic plan will benefit mostly people who are already well off, will accelerate the income gap.

There has been a large drop in Canadians' satisfaction with their standard of living, and only the NDP platform spoke to that ("lifting seniors out of poverty").

People want the NDP to be Canada's conscience, to stand up for workers, to stand up for equality, NOT to move rightward. The NDP supports Quebec self-determination at "50% + 1".

So where do we go from here?

We are living in interesting, volatile times. In Europe, India, and elsewhere there are giant people's movements against austerity; in some ways the Canadian election is part of that. The NDP as Official Opposition is an opportunity to argue "fighter jets vs health care", "why bailouts for banks but nothing to save manufacturing jobs".

[Selected audience comments]

- Right now we are in a battle for interpretation of the election. NDP came first or second in 122 ridings, only lost ground in 5% of ridings. Conservatives won 14 seats with a total of 6,000 votes more votes than NDP. 24% of the electorate voted Conservative.

- Should we view the Tea Party as a fascist mobilization? It includes guns, racism, anti-Semitism.

- The politics of divide and rule have been with us for so long, historically. E.g., the Irish poor and working class were at each other's throats because it benefited their English rulers. The politics of greed and envy (Ford).

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