Category Archives: Sovereign Socialist

On the Death of Creation and Hope

Why is it so attractive to believe (if not proselytize) the notion that change cannot happen, and that any proposal or advocacy on behalf of change, subtle or radical, is delusional or naive?

We don’t need to make this conversation so philosophical as there are many simple, straightforward and tangible examples to use, wherein a proposal for change to the given situation is typically met with a torrent of gratuitous opposition.

Take free public healthcare for all citizens in the United States as an example. The mere fact that such a proposal would be considered as a political issue boggles my mind. For myself, its a matter of basic human rights – all citizens in this country deserve by the grace of God and the State the right to full medical care provided through a common tax pool. South of the border they’ve conflated it into some kind of quasi-moral issue based on what I consider to be a generally poor understanding of some of the basic tenets of the philosophy behind the founding of the American state and the religious inclinations of the so-called Founding Fathers. Medicare causing a pseudo mass existential panic seems absurd in a Monty Python-esque vein to me.

We are not merely possessed by mediocrity as a societal handicap, we defend it, sometimes in terms that seem to suggest a a general desire to pursue the path of least resistance because it is ‘virtuous’ not to rock the boat. Or is that we’ve lost the will to defend any proposal that doesn’t meet with the near total acceptance of those within immediate and arbitrary geo-political boundaries? Perhaps I’m naive to believe we were ever any different than how we seem to be today, or perhaps I believe the situation to be more grave than it is. My academic inclination to doubt camouflages me into the background of the pop-contrarians inasmuch as it sets me apart as part of the ‘idealistic Ivory Tower elite’. How fucked are we really? To fight the tide of humanity’s combined multi-millenial anti-intellectualism? For those in power, for whom any change is potentially personally destabilizing, the inclination towards preservation is great and the resources they can tap into are buried deep into our subconscious mind. This is the result of 99% of humanity’s past and present spent under the boot of the rich and greedy. This is what happens to the suppressed born blissfully ignorant of their socio-economic reality and led to believe they themselves are participating in the machinations of a Capitalist society. When the realization is made – on an individual level – that the citizen is truly, generally powerless, the resulting crise-de-conscience leads to a perpetuating class-based malaise. Perhaps this is why we dare not dream of improving our society in any real way.

I see cities as fluid, living organisms. Evolution is citizen powered, but not by individuals, by societies and communities cooperating to achieve shared goals. They conspire towards greatest.

Reflections on Occupy Montréal

A couple of weeks ago I took a walk with my roommate down to Square Victoria in the middle of a downpour to see if the police had taken any precautions, set up barriers or were otherwise surveilling the area in preparation for the confrontation I was fairly certain I would witness the following day, when Montréalers from all walks of life would participate in an international day of solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street protesters. I think I was legitimately concerned the SPVM would take a cue from the OPP/SQ/TPS G8/G20 playbook and we’d have a repeat of any anti-police brutality march in this city (that is to say, mass police brutality). Instead I found nothing, no precautions. I was surprised.

The next day the weather was generally cooperative, though at times unsure of itself, non-committal. It provided a hallucinatory experience as I crossed René-Lévesque to make my way to a late lunch with some friends, looking West along the boulevard into a sea of golden raindrops filling the cavernous corporate trench with a universe of temporary stars. It’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen lately.

My first experience with Occupy Montréal had been earlier that day when it was just getting going. It was so typically Canadian, so typically Montréal – overt contrasts, peaceful cohabitation, clean, neat, orderly, pleasant. There were very few police officers, though an unfortunate number of individuals who felt compelled to look like an anarchist stereotype ripped from the pages of a hysterical RCMP training manual from the last Red Scare. My previous concerns about the possibility of any real aggression from police were mitigated when I observed a grandfatherly police captain making gooney faces with a toddler, the child’s mother, a demonstrator, was laughing warmly. We had nothing to worry about.

I returned later in the afternoon to find myself involved in a march that tore through the retail heart of the city, blocking traffic and effectively stopping all activity on Ste-Catherine’s as we barrelled down towards Concordia. Then we looped on Mackay back onto Ste-Catherine’s, made our way down past the Place des Arts, into the Old Financial Quarter on St. James and finally back to the Square. If I didn’t know any better I could swear that the SPVM planned for this and let it happen in order to let the crowd diffuse its frustrations. I’m almost certain it had a police escort come to think of it. What I found curious and clever was how they managed to keep the demonstrators and the Habs fans separate. The numerous people I saw walking around the tent city earlier with head-sets must have had something to do with this very peculiar march. I smell smart, subtle policing, if such a thing can exist.

From what I’ve seen since, I would suspect local authorities are under the impression once Winter sets in most will clear out, as that is without a doubt the path of least resistance. As I walked around on the 15th and since, I’ve noticed that the membership of the MPQ were eager to set-up camp – part of me wondered whether or not it was just exceptionally opportunistic. The MPQ isn’t much more than an army surplus store owner and his merry band of grown-up toy soldiers. The RRQ was around, as were a bunch of unilingual Anglophone student activists missing out on a real opportunity to get to know their new Francophone brothers and sisters. Perhaps things have changed since then, I’ve only passed by a few times since. I was put-off by some drunk shmuck I encountered in the formidable tent-city who was wondering (aloud) why there was gender segregation in the tents. I didn’t want to acknowledge him, so I just looked directly in his eyes and gave him a ‘move along’ look. Hard to resist. It’s part of a common theme I saw throughout my time there – it was almost as if pot consumption was about to become a death-penalty offence, and everyone was doing their utmost to consume as much as they could before the law went into effect. My personal philosophy with regards to the consumption and distribution of narcotics notwithstanding, there was far more consumption than demonstration; I suppose we can just lump antiquated laws regarding marijuana consumption in with the very new laws that make corporations people and allow governments to play fast and loose with the People’s money as just another injustice against the working man by the hypocritical elites, but I’d prefer to stay more focused.

Yes, it’s been said before ad nauseum, but let’s face it – lack of focus is an easy problem to pick at by the mainstream media. If the direction was in place the collective would ensure it had both a list of short and long term demands, in addition to an exit strategy.

Without an exit strategy, there are only two options, one of which you can almost bank on. Either the authorities let it fizzle out on its own (which will be very demoralizing for the movement and the youth), or they clean house. Without an exit strategy, demands, and a cohesive (though, probably multi-faceted) argument, this movement, regardless of where it finds itself, is doomed to fail.

We are fortunate we have been spared the violence that has befallen Oakland, Rome and New York City. Its too early to say what will happen here.

There is something worthwhile in this local version of the Occupy Wall Street protest; it unites youth, it allows the frustrated public a chance to vent. People learn, people teach, people work together. Pass by Square-Victoria and see a veritable self-supporting community in the midst of a commercial no-man’s land. Witness the industrious 99%, backbone of the modern, stable social-democracy. Times are tough and the tent-cities are doing a good job providing. Let the example shine.

I feel compelled to end on a cautionary note, however. It is fundamentally important that the demonstrators, the protesters and occupiers out there know why they personally are participating. It’s all you need to know. Don’t speak of vague notions, don’t list all the problems with the world from a progressive-socialist perspective, just know your own personal reason. You will doubtless find many people who share your point of view and can relate, but to each his own. What is important next is maintaining the media’s focus. Let us show ourselves to the media, to show our personal reasons for protest, and let us go forth and tell them precisely we, as a collective of individuals, would go out and live in a tent city in solidarity with this growing and impressive social movement.

There can be no question we have a legitimate right to protest our current conditions here in Canada. Government is both corrupt and repressive, civil liberties are squashed in the name of public security, our economy is too reliant on corrosive American investment and trade, we allow social policy to be dictated to us like children by Washington and frankly, the less said about what we’ve allowed to happen to our once world-class healthcare and public education services, the better. It is only within the last few years that I have begun feeling ashamed of my country and my people. We’re better than what we’ve allowed ourselves to become.

I’m also less than convinced Stephen Harper is the economic mastermind he purports to be. The middle class is disappearing faster here than South of the 49th, and our elites have a far greater stranglehold on our political and economic machine than I think we care to admit. Our media has been taking cues from the worst shlock you’d find on Fox News; in sum, there’s plenty to complain about, plenty that requires urgent and dramatic action.

But this movement will go nowhere unless those already mobilized can effectively articulate their own messages of protest, justified in media-savvy terms designed for maximal political impact. We have to play the game better than those who are already the established experts.

More on this later.

What of our privilege? What of our prosperity?

It bothers me to hear our enlightened and benevolent dictator, one Stephen Harper, prattle on and on about the comparative strength of the Canadian economy vis-a-vis other G20 and G8 nations. He goes up in front of American TV cameras to remind Americans that the good neighbour up North hasn’t been affected by the worldwide recession, and further that we’re always a sound investment. It’s simultaneously economic-nationalist gloating and a somewhat undignified plea for additional capital investment. It’s unclear to me whether Mr. Harper actually believes we’re in a privileged economic position or whether he’s simply trying to feign confidence knowing full-well we’re about to bear the brunt of our own localized melt-down. If we entertain the notion that Stephen Harper is in fact an economic mastermind expertly steering Canada through a momentary fiscal storm, then we are still left with a far bigger problem, that of growing inequities in Canada. In sum, Canada’s good economic track record has only really been good for the richest 1% of our own population, and that our middle-class is in as perilous a position now as we were during the post-Cold War economic recession and re-adjustment. I really would like to know who is benefitting the most from our apparently robust national economy. I don’t see many opportunities, I know the dollar is as valueless today as it was ten years ago (despite actually being worth quite a bit more) and I know that the educated youth are almost all royally fucked, with too few opportunities and too many (subsequently) wasted minds. With no ‘economic stimulus’, young people are left to drift, wondering why they ‘invested in their futures’ with student loans so many years ago.

But perhaps I’m being overly pessimistic. Perhaps I lack faith.

What would rekindle my faith in my Prime Minister, my nation’s economic foundation, and the elites of my nation? A single massive act of charity.

Like this? Read the rest here. Scroll down to post no. 3

New on Sovereign Socialist – State Economic Planning for Conservatives (a primer)


This article was originally published by the Forget the Box news collective.

The ruling Tories have dropped the ball in one domain they repeatedly claim to be almost exclusively their own – supporting the Canadian military.

Let me be more specific. Tories typically talk a good game around election time about how they, and in their minds they alone, support the Canadian Forces. Both Stephen Harper and Brian Mulroney began their terms in office promising sweeping reforms, new equipment procurement plans, increases to personnel levels and a general ‘re-investment’ in ‘our men and women in uniform’. Typically, statements of this nature will be bookended with snide commentary about how ‘previous Liberal governments’ have ‘gutted’ the military, leaving Canadians hopelessly defenseless. It’s a good tactic because it works; it plays off of well-established though completely erroneous sentiments and pays off for the Tories during the election cycles. And true to form, though much is promised, almost nothing is provided.

And here’s the kicker; you don’t need to be a military historian to know that when it comes to defending Canada and using military spending to stimulate the economy, no party has a stronger reputation in this respect than the gold old Grits. The dirty little secret of the Conservative Party of Canada is their defense and strategic planning legacy, which has all too often fallen short. The fact that anyone in this great nation still believes the Tories know anything about defense only demonstrates the extent by which Canadian politics is framed by the American discourse, and worse still, American stereotypes.

Historically, Conservative military spending has been very much in-line with Conservative foreign policy, which stresses Canada’s ‘military obligations’ to NATO and the United States (because the Americans apparently need our assistance) and this in turn means we arm ourselves accordingly. Under Liberal governments, the stress is placed on national sovereignty and peacekeeping. Moreover, Conservatives historically tend to buying foreign-produced military hardware, whereas Liberals find ‘Made in Canada’ solutions. And don’t forget our last legitimately Progressive conservative Prime Minister, John Diefenbaker, was so consumed with eliminating the fiscal excesses of St-Laurent era ‘big government’ he axed the Avro Arrow and retarded Canada’s aerospace industry permanently thereafter – we still have yet to recover the technical prowess and ingenuity of that firm, more than fifty years after the fact. Diefenbaker’s nuclear-missile replacement was ultimately what would cost him the 1963 federal election, not to mention that he would turn around and later acquire American-made jets in 1961. Similarly today the Harper Administration is procuring 65 highly-experimental and so-far unproven fighters incapable of fully replacing the capabilities of our current fleet of 103 strike-fighters. The Canadian taxpayers are being asked to shell out $30 billion to purchase aircraft that won’t have engines or weapons, and the aircraft won’t even be built here. When Pierre Trudeau signed the order to procure 138 Hornets in 1982, he made sure to acquire the licenses as well, so that the entire fleet was built locally, and further built to a better design than their American counterparts. Our aircraft were so well built they are still outperforming more recent models of the type, and as you can imagine, given that the money stayed in Canada, the indirect economic effects were considerable. And the Tories want you to think this is fiscally irresponsible. Using a search and rescue helicopter or government jet to go on vacation, by their standards, is not.

The Harper Administration has indicated that they consider national sovereignty and northern sovereignty to be synonymous, but aside from playing capture-the-flag with the Danes and Russians, the Tories have done nothing to further defend the Arctic. And defending the Arctic is much more than a routine sovereignty exercise for the Canadian Forces – its about ensuring our territorial waters aren’t used by American, Russian, British, French or Chinese ballistic missile submarines, about securing our resources from irresponsible foreign development and further ensuring that the Arctic ecosystem isn’t further damaged by international shipping and global warming. He said he would procure armed icebreakers – that was five years ago and nothing has happened since. Same thing with the proposed new joint support ships, amphibious assault ships and the upgrades to our existing fleet – lots of talk, little walk. What’s more distressing is that under Stephen Harper’s reign the Canadian Forces have been either selling off or otherwise shedding perfectly good military equipment; the common denominator being that the equipment was procured by ‘previous Liberal governments’. A case in point would be the sad fate of HMCS Huron, one of a class of four guided-missile destroyers with the potential to be used as a platform for a ballistic missile defense system, among other things. Extensively upgraded in the mid-1990s she was still fully serviceable when mothballed in 2000 due to personnel shortages. Instead of keeping the ship in such a static, still usable state, the decision was made by DND officials to tow her out to a Pacific Ocean weapons testing facility and sink her in 2007. Similarly, none of Canada’s four submarines are currently serviceable, and the Harper Administration purposely removed the long-range missile capabilities of these ships. The subs like the destroyers were procured by previous Liberal governments. So to were the reconnaissance vehicles used by the army, the coastal patrol boats used by naval reservists and most of our air defense equipment, all of which seems to have been ‘phased out’ by the Harper Administration. It seems these days that their only success has been to re-affirm our historically British military ties by denigrating our national sovereignty by re-affixing the Royal stamp to two out of three services. A great PR victory, but ultimately as useless as tits on a bull, to use a favoured Western Canadian expression. In sum it has come time for the citizenry to question this apparent Tory dominion on all things defense related. Time and time again they have proven themselves incompetent and fundamentally disinterested in using such large allocations of tax-payer revenue to better developing our high-technology and heavy-manufacturing sectors. It’s time to set the record straight on the Tory defense legacy.

North of Sanity: Dr. Bernans’ Kafka-esque Concordia Encounters

This picture was named 'Concordia Monsters' by the source. This is not my opinion.

This article was originally published by the Forget the Box news collective.

Dr. David Bernans is an unassuming man with more than a decade’s worth of involvement in student activism and student politics in general. A few years back he wrote a book, North of 9/11, a piece of historical fiction recounting some of his personal experiences dealing with Concordia University security practices in the wake of the September 11th terrorist attacks, and all the irrationality, absurdity and insanity that has manifested itself in countless ways over the past decade.

The rallying cry of “9/11 Changed Everything”, typical of the Tea Party penchant for minimalist deepities (thanks to Daniel Dennett for nailing that idea) is unfortunately not so merely a befuddled expression, but also a kind of sick state-of-mind. Perennial fear, and every John Q middle-manager and white-collar schlock finding a newfound purpose in life by making security and anti-terrorism their personal affair. Perhaps we were spared the brunt of the 9/11 tidal wave, but at the very least on campuses here at home and across the nation, a new mood was established, and Concordia would become a Made-in-Canada example-sans-pareil of the new corporate university’s response to student politics and activism in the post-9/11 world. I can imagine another expression, “the gloves are coming off” repeated with renewed vigour in university boardrooms. One of the pillars of our liberal democracy, a ‘free’ and public post-secondary education, renown as bastions of free thought and expression, would become a new ground-zero for illegal, unethical and ultimately state-sponsored political terrorism and suppression. The new corporate university, at arm’s length of the titans of industry, finance and government, would do its part in stamping out internal dissent and anyone, though students in particular, who threatened the corporate image of the institution. All of a sudden Mr. Bernans found himself persona non-grata in the institution he worked so hard to improve. There’s nothing like altruism and the open-support of potentially unpopular causes to get the attention of corporate PR hacks and university lawyers.

I had the chance to speak with the now Dr. Bernans at the book-launch of the new electronic (e-book) version of North of 9/11, originally published in 2006. The reading to a small group was held at Concordia’s cooperative bookstore, an initiative of progressive students that goes back quite a ways. Though I’ve now graduated from the institution, I can remember the Co-op, as its commonly known, was typically the host of anti-frosh activities designed to get the focus back on learning and away from mind-crushing alcohol-fueled hangovers. So I was surprised to see Dr. Bernans’ book reading was part of the regular Concordia Student Union frosh-week roster. Inside, I met up with the new CSU President Lex Gill and then put two-and-two together. I had forgotten about the progressive victory on campus from earlier this year, when the students finally de-throned the university-approved political dynasty they had created in the wake of the Netanyahu Riots of 2002. Thus, the reading made a lot more sense, though its venue – the Co-op – is apparently still considered to be ‘outside’ Concordia territory, and this in turn is a residual effect of the university’s attempt to ‘accommodate student activists’ in the same way ‘free-speech cages’ accommodated dissenters at any political gathering in the United States over the last decade.

North of 9/11 was to be read publically for the first time in 2006. The book does not portray Concordia University in a positive light – and for good reason. The Netanyahu Riot was entirely preventable, and instead of making an example of it to act as a catalyst for better relations and a renewed effort at political dialogue on campus, it was instead ‘utilized’ by the university administration as a casus belli to instigate an unwinnable low-intensity conflict against student activists. Bernans was spied on by goons hired by university administrator Michael di Grappa, and elements of the administration conspired to buy themselves an election and a means to direct control of student activities through the CSU. I would know, I saw it happen in the Spring of 2005, 2006 etc. As Bernans puts it, the administration found ‘ass-kissing CV-padders’ to become the new face of the student body, and then systematically went after every potential threat.

The book documents the expulsions and suspensions of students for illegitimate reasons, the overt corruption of university administrators and security personnel, and the actions of secret committees with odd-sounding names. It’s the story of deep personal bonds forged during these exceptionally hard times, and the fundamental insecurity of the modern corporate university, which seems to be thoroughly incapable of dealing with a politically active student body. Maybe things are going to change this year with the ‘left’ side of Concordia student politics back in the saddle, holding the reigns of power, or whatever power’s left. We’ll have to wait and see about that one.

In the meantime I’d highly recommend checking out the book if you’re not familiar with Concordia history post-9/11. It’s a fascinating subject, and Dr. Bernans has been able to weave a good story together with scenes inspired by his own experiences, into a solid representation of that troublesome time. Unfortunately, as Dr. Bernans was quick to point out, in many ways the student body of today is still dealing with the shadow of 9/11 and the Netanyahu Riots, the implications of which have manifested themselves with heightened campus (in)security, interference in student governance and an aggressive administration. The victory for campus progressives and activists a few months ago was a major upset, but this doubtless means the university administration will take an overtly hostile tone with the students.

Why does it always feel like we’re taking one step forward and two steps back?

Two new Sovereign Socialist blog-posts

Found this waltzing around Concordia University - what a gem!

1. Unpaid Internships and the Death of Dreaming

Have you tried looking for a job lately?

Apparently there’s a major economic recession going on, despite the oft-too-rosy predictions and prognostications of the federal Tories. And who’s bearing the brunt of this recession, seeing precious few options for employment and far too many chances to be taken advantage of? The answer, students and immigrants, should hardly seem surprising.

And what’s perhaps most sickening about the realities of our economic decline is how similar these two groups are when it comes to their financial situation and their respective job prospects. What’s worse is that while both of these groups struggle to keep their heads above water, they are often stuck in an unenviable position, weighed down by competing against each other for precious service-sector jobs, spiraling personal debt and a host of social stigmas. Worse still, both groups are often ridiculed by the ‘job-providing-elites’ in government and industry for their apparent inability to remove themselves from dire financial situations, and the seemingly vicious circle of bad employment, bad credit and perpetual economic hardship and financial insecurity.

Perhaps you’re a recent graduate, not so different from myself, carrying a load of student debt that is driving your credit score down while eating up precious quantities of the limited funds you take home. If you’re lucky enough to be employed in a stable job you enjoy, you may be able to keep up with your payments, but it is unlikely you will experience real financial freedom and stability until these debts are paid in full. Given the scarcity of career paths these days as Baby Boomers hang on to their jobs for as long as their experience is an asset to the company, recent graduates are generally forced into unfortunate positions where they continue to compete with enrolled students for part-time, service-sector jobs. The big difference though is that they now have considerably larger bills to pay off and as such are undesirable. Believe me I know. I once tried making a part-time job a full-time one, and paid for it by losing the job outright. I was ‘too expensive’.

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