Sunday, February 28, 2010

Report on Rebuiding the Left: Reflections from the Waffle

Below is a summary from the Rebuilding the Left conference held on January 30 in Regina. Participants will be receiving further information by the end of the month.

PDF of report here.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Regina Riot: Police infiltrators revealed

By Heather Polischuk, Leader-Post

On July 1, 1935, a public meeting in Regina's Market Square erupted in chaos.

In what came to be known as the Regina Riot, police fired bullets and tear gas into the crowd while the crowd responded with smashed windows and counterattacks on police. When the dust settled, Regina city police Det. Charles Millar lay dead while dozens more city and RCMP officers were injured.

Meanwhile, On-to-Ottawa Trekker Nick Schaack was taken to hospital with what would later prove to be a fatal head injury. Numerous Trekkers and even Regina residents who'd just come for the meeting were also injured.

University of Regina history professor Bill Brennan says while the event left no real long-term impact on the city, it was nonetheless a key moment in Regina's history. Brennan was scheduled to speak on Thursday about the On-to-Ottawa Trek and the riot during the RCMP Heritage Centre's Speakers' Series.

"It seems appropriate," he said of the talk's location during a Thursday morning interview. "The Mounted Police were involved in the events I'm going to talk about tonight, and here we are holding it in the museum that recognizes the history of the RCMP."

Although many have a basic knowledge of the Regina Riot, or at least have heard of it, Brennan said there are aspects of the event that are less well-known.

"All of what's been written about the On-to-Ottawa Trek and the Regina Riot have approached these events as part of the nation's history, and that's certainly true," he said. "At the same time though, these young men were here for (about) three weeks ... in the summer of 1935. So it's an important episode in Regina's history, too, and one that hasn't been written about nearly as much as the national story, and so I thought that would be an interesting approach to take in giving the talk."

Brennan gathered information from a number of sources, including a recently declassified RCMP file on the riot, which includes information on why police decided to disrupt the meeting when and how they did.

A possible answer emerged in those documents. Brennan said a private detective employed by the CPR had managed to infiltrate the Trekkers and found information the group was planning "a big event (in Regina) to draw attention to their plight" on July 2.

"We don't know what it might have been," Brennan said, although he added it might have mirrored actions they'd taken in other cities -- the occupying of businesses in a bid for relief. "Were they going to try to seize Hotel Saskatchewan, for example? ... We don't know, but certainly there's some indication from this (RCMP) file that there was a reason, in (the RCMP's) mind anyway, why it was important to move quickly before the Trekkers did something dramatic."

The Red and Green Pony

Milton Acorn's "The Red and Green Pony"
by Ron Dart
The Clarion Journal of Spirituality and Justice

The Red and Green Pony is one of the most important Canadian political parables, and it was written in the 1950s by Milton Acorn. The tale is a well told political fable that records and anticipates much that was about to unfold in the latter half of the 20th century. The leading protagonist is Tommy, and there can be no doubt that Tommy Douglas (the father of universal public healthcare in Canada, voted ‘The Greatest Canadian’ in the 20th century in a CBC survey in 2004 and still on secret and classified files of the RCMP and CSIS) is the leading historic actor in the story. Acorn was holding Douglas high in a time when most reviled, opposed and sought to topple Douglas through a variety of questionable means. Douglas, for those who do not know, was the father-in-law of Donald Sutherland and the grandfather of Kiefer Sutherland.

Read the full article here.

Friday, February 26, 2010

The Nuclear Debate in Saskatchewan Across the Generations

Campion College Environmental Sustainability Committee presents:

"The Nuclear Debate in Saskatchewan Across the Generations"
with Jim Harding, Brett Dolter and Katherine Arbuthnott

Monday March 1, 7:30 PM
Campion College Chapel, 2nd Floor

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Howard Adams: Reflections on rebuilding the left

Howard Adams (September 8, 1921 – September 8, 2001) was an influential twentieth century Metis academic and activist. He was born in St. Louis, Saskatchewan, Canada, on September 8, 1921, the son of a French Metis mother and an English Metis (Anglo-Metis) father. In his youth he briefly joined the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Adams became the first Metis in Canada to gain his PhD after studies at the University of California, Berkeley in 1966.

He returned to Canada and became a prominent Metis activist in Saskatchewan, often creating controversy by propagating his Marxist and Metis Nationalist views in reference to contemporary and historical events. Adams was often critical not only of Canadian society but of Aboriginal leadership for what he saw as its co-option, and cultivation of dependency by receiving government funding.

Adams' intellectual influences include Malcolm X whom he saw lecture at Berkeley, and the general radical environment of that institution during the 1960s. He was the maternal great grandson of Louis Riel's lieutenant Maxime Lepine who fought in the Northwest Rebellion of 1885.

Major works include Prison of Grass: Canada from a Native Point of View (1975), The Education of Canadians 1800-1867: The Roots of Separatism (1968), and Tortured People: The Politics of Colonization (1995).
Howard Adams audio presentation below is from the Rebuilding the Left conference held in Toronto in 2000.
Listen to Howard Adams here.

A Short History of the Socialist Party of Canada

By J. M. Milne

Further reading : The Impossibilists: A Brief Profile of the Socialist Party of Canada

Below is the cover of the Socialist Party's 1944 Manifesto.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Socialism: the Goal, the Paths, and the Compass

by Michael A Lebowitz

On the occasion of the presentation of El socialismo no cae del cielo: un nuevo comienzo at the 2010 Havana Book Fair, 18 February 2010

There's an old saying that if you don't know where you want to go, any road will take you there. As I've said on many occasions, this saying is mistaken. If you don't know where you want to go, no road will take you there. In other words, you need an understanding of the goal. You need a vision for the future.

Marx had a very clear vision. It was a vision of a society which would permit the full development of human beings -- a society which allowed everyone to develop their potential. And, that would occur not because of gifts from above but, rather, as a result of the activity of human beings. This was his concept of revolutionary practice -- the simultaneous changing of circumstances and human activity or self change. Human development and practice -- this "key link" in Marx reminds us that there are always two products as the result of our activity, the change in circumstances and the change in people themselves. It reminds us that what Marx called rich human beings, socialist human beings, produce themselves only through their own activity.

The Bolivarian Constitution of Venezuela incorporates this concept. It stresses that the goal of society must be the full development of every human being and that participation and protagonism is "the necessary way of achieving the involvement to ensure their complete development, both individual and collective." In 2007, President Chavez of Venezuela reinforced this vision by introducing what he called "the elementary triangle of socialism." Social ownership of the means of production, social production organized by workers, and production for social needs and purposes make up this triangle.

Firstly, social ownership of the means of production is the way to ensure that our communal, social productivity is directed to the free development of all rather than used to satisfy the private goals of capitalists, groups of producers, or state bureaucrats. Secondly, social production organized by workers permits workers to develop their capacities by combining thinking and doing in the workplace and, thus, to produce not only things but also themselves as self-conscious collective producers. Thirdly, satisfaction of social needs and purposes is the necessary goal of productive activity in the new society because it substitutes for the focus upon self-interest and selfishness an orientation to the needs of others and relations based upon solidarity.

This is the vision of the society we want to build. This is where we want to go. And if we don't know that, no road will take us there. However, knowing where you want to go is not enough. It's not true that if you do know where you want to go, any road will take you there. Isn't there a relationship between the goal and the road you take to get there? Are these independent of each other? For example, can you get to the goal by going in the opposite direction? Do you build social ownership by relying upon capitalist ownership of the means of production and the capitalist monopoly of our social heritage and of the products of our labor? Do you build a society of associated producers and social production by preventing decision-making by workers and retaining the gap between thinking and doing? Do you build a society based upon solidarity, where production is for social needs, by stressing selfishness? In other words, do you go forward by going backwards?

Maybe. Maybe sometimes it is necessary. Socialism does not fall from the sky. It is necessarily rooted in particular societies. We all start from different places -- in our development, in our histories. Therefore, there cannot be one single path. All paths will be different. Some will be longer than others. Some will be relatively straight, while others will require switchbacks because of the obstacles along the road. As we have learned, the biggest mistake is thinking that there is one road and one model.

But there is a problem. When you are not going directly toward the goal, how do you avoid getting lost? How you avoid the problem of the growth of capital and capitalist interests, the alienation of workers in the process of production, and thus an emphasis upon possessing things and consumerism, the growth of self-interest at the expense of solidarity? Some would say that there is no problem as long as we have a compass, as long as we have a directional finder. And that the party is that compass: the party can point in the direction of the goal when obstacles have temporarily forced you to go in the opposite direction.

I agree with that in principle. But I also believe that we need to learn from historical experience that the party is not itself immune, that it does not stand outside society and thus does not always point to the true North. This was certainly the case, for example, in Hungary, Yugoslavia, and China. And, not only there. I have just returned from an intense month in Vietnam. There is no question in my mind that, under the conditions facing Vietnam in the 1980s, it was essential for them to make a significant change in the path they were on.

By developing an economy which they describe as a market economy with a socialist orientation, they have succeeded in lifting their people from significant poverty. Whereas previously people were facing starvation, now Vietnam exports food. This is a very important achievement. They have also begun a process of industrialization.

However, there are serious problems. Young people are overwhelmingly oriented toward capitalism. They say openly that Vietnam needs more foreign investment, and they credit that foreign investment with ending poverty. They want capitalism, and they look upon Marxism as having no relevance to their lives. I stress this point because the students we met were not selected randomly. They came largely from the young communists.

And the dominant views increasingly are in fact no different from those in other countries in Southeast Asia: Thailand, Malaysia, and other nearby countries relying upon foreign investment and export-oriented industrialization are the basis of constant comparison in Vietnam. In other words, capitalism is winning in Vietnam. There is growing inequality, there is the emergence of millionaires (not as many as in China so far), and there is a significant process of privatization of state-owned industry (which is called equitization).

And then there is the party, "the socialist orientation." It is my sense that a growing portion of the party is looking to Sweden and social democracy as the appropriate model. (In fact, this was openly advocated at the conference I attended at the Ho Chi Minh National Political Academy, the Party school.) In other words, an emerging goal is not the socialist vision but, rather, capitalism plus social policies which reduce inequality -- a capitalist welfare state.

There is an infection in Vietnam, and the party is not immune to that infection. I suspect that the next Party Congress will involve a struggle over this direction. Some party leaders are very worried about these tendencies. Certainly, the direction of change in the party in recent congresses has been to strengthen capitalist tendencies -- for example, they have removed the prohibition on membership in the party by capitalists.

Something has been missing in Vietnam. Missing so far has been a sufficient emphasis upon that participation and protagonism that is "the necessary way" to ensure the complete development of human beings, "both individually and collectively." While there has been some focus upon grassroots democracy (for example, in Ho Chi Minh City), there has been very little decision-making by workers in workplaces (outside of annual congresses in state-owned industry), and there has been little emphasis upon conscious production for social needs. And, the results are predictable. In the absence of social production organized by workers and production for social needs, the third side of the socialist triangle, social ownership, is withering away. And, increasingly, the human product is people who embrace the logic of capital.

I think that Vietnam reinforces the lesson that every step to the market must be accompanied by two steps in the direction of building a socialist society: building worker decision-making in workplaces and building institutions based upon solidarity. If we recognize that people produce themselves through their activity, then their activity should unleash their potential rather than be left to an orientation to the market and self-interest. This is what I was stressing in Vietnam -- that the party needs to create the conditions in which people can develop their capacities as protagonists within their workplaces and their communities, institutions such as the communal councils and workers councils being developed in Venezuela.

I suggest that, through such a process of producing rich human beings with confidence and dignity, both the people and the party will be inoculated against the infection that can prevent us from reaching the socialist goal. That won't be achieved, however, by a one-sided focus upon developing productive forces. In short, we should never forget the essential insight of Che Guevara -- the necessity simultaneously to build productive forces and socialist human beings.

Michael A. Lebowitz is professor emeritus of economics at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada, and the author of Beyond Capital: Marx’s Political Economy of the Working Class (Palgrave Macmillan, 2003) and Build It Now: Socialism for the Twenty-First Century (Monthly Review Press, 2006). He works with the Centro Internacional Miranda in Venezuela. His forthcoming book, The Socialist Alternative: Real Human Development, will published by Monthly Review Press this year.


Tea Party, Canada-Style!

America's battle over health care reform started in Saskatchewan
By Christopher Flavelle

Nearly 50 years before Sarah Palin gave us "death panels," the American Medical Association was testing the limits of health care scare tactics in the Canadian prairies. During the 1960 provincial election in Saskatchewan, the AMA helped fund an advertising campaign aimed at defeating the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, a quasi-socialist party whose leader, a former Baptist minister named Tommy Douglas, had promised to introduce universal, government-funded health care in the province.

The AMA, together with Saskatchewan's College of Physicians and Surgeons, warned that if the CCF won, doctors would leave the province in droves. But here was the kicker: As Dave Margoshes writes in his 1999 biography of Douglas, the campaign told voters that if the state were permitted to take over health care, "patients with hard-to-diagnose problems would be shipped off to insane asylums by bungling bureaucrats."

The campaign failed. Douglas won the election, and the CCF government went on to introduce his health care plan in 1962, creating the model that the rest of Canada would later follow. (So far as we know, insane-asylum panels did not come to pass.) But the fight for health care reform in Saskatchewan, which the AMA worried could spark change in the United States, was a precursor to the battle in America today—a mix of populist anger, political opportunism, and disinformation. As Democrats debate whether to pursue health care reform in the face of growing opposition, they might consider the lessons of Saskatchewan.

Like the Democrats after their 2008 victory, the CCF moved slowly at first to implement its plan, a delay that emboldened the opposition. In an attempt to win the support of doctors, the government created an advisory panel for their concerns. Doctors used the panel to stall, and the government waited more than a year to pass its reforms, with the start date delayed until July 1, 1962. The province's doctors responded with a vote to strike if the plan was implemented.

The events of the next 10 months were ugly by Canadian standards. Douglas' push for health care reform "lit the fuse of the incendiary bomb that would tear Saskatchewan apart into its two opposing elements," wrote Doris French Shackleton in her 1975 biography of Douglas.

Part of the unrest came from doctors themselves. In the months leading up to the new plan, physicians across Saskatchewan put up office signs reading, "Unless agreement is reached between the present government and the medical profession, this office will close as of July 1." Douglas' wife, Irma, described how a doctor would tell his pregnant patient, after a check-up, "I'm afraid this is the last time I'll be able to see you."

The doctors' worries about being paid by the province, rather than patients, may have been genuine. But those concerns were amplified by Saskatchewan's opposition Liberal Party, which had been shut out of power since 1944. Like the American Republicans 50 years later, the Liberals fought health reform in two ways: directly, by opposing it in public; and indirectly, by supporting groups that could provide the appearance of broad-based public anger. In Saskatchewan, the public opposition to health reform came in the form of a movement called Keep Our Doctors, which organized rallies and protests across the province.

Sometimes, the Liberals blurred the line between political opposition and rabble-rousing. At a Keep Our Doctors rally outside the provincial legislature, Liberal leader Ross Thatcher used the occasion to call for a special session of the legislature, which wasn't sitting at the time. To illustrate his point, he invited TV cameras to follow him up to the locked doors of the legislature, which he then made a show of trying to kick down.

But in another precursor to today's Tea Party movement in the United States, the unrest over health reform in Saskatchewan proved to be more than just political theatrics. "The fears inspired by the doctors and fanned by the Liberal party," Shackleton writes, "convinced many people at least briefly that the CCF was a dictatorial, power-mad, ruthless group of politicians who would rather see people die for lack of medical care than back down." Shackleton described "a sense of civil war." (Read more about the unrest in Saskatchewan.)

Public anger against the plan found its lightning rod in Douglas, who had resigned as Saskatchewan's premier to run for federal office as the member of Parliament for Regina. Election Day was June 18, 1962—just two weeks before the new health care plan was to take effect. A woman who worked on Douglas' election campaign recalled the venom of the time. At night at the campaign office, "teenagers would come up and hiss at us through the glass," she remembered later.

"The city's residents had been whipped into a near-hysteria by the doctors' anti-medicare campaign," Margoshes writes, adding, "There were graffiti threats on city walls and calls in the middle of the night to Tommy's house. His campaign manager, Ed Whelan, got frequent calls from a man threatening to 'shoot you, you Red bastard!' A few homeowners placed symbolic coffins on their front lawns."

As in the United States today, opponents of the health reform plan weren't sure whether to denounce the CCF as Communists or Nazis, so they did both. Protesters greeted Douglas' motorcade with Nazi salutes—when they weren't throwing stones at it. Other opponents painted the hammer and sickle on the homes of people thought to be associated with the party.

The doctors made good on their threats: When the new health care plan was introduced on July 1, doctors across the province walked off the job. But the government was ready, flying in replacement doctors, mostly from Britain. The strike ended after three weeks, the health care plan stayed in place, and four years later, the Canadian government passed the Medical Care Act, which provided funding for every province to create a similar plan.

Douglas and his party were vindicated. Once their plan took effect, Shackleton writes, it "was soon so well accepted that no political party had the temerity to suggest its abolition."

But that vindication came too late. Douglas, who had led the CCF to five straight provincial victories, lost his federal campaign that June, receiving barely half as many votes as his opponent. Two years later, the Liberals defeated the CCF for the first time in 20 years. The party that passed health care reform would spend the next seven years out of power.

The events leading up to the 1962 doctors' strike in Saskatchewan are different from today's Tea Party movement in important ways, of course. Saskatchewan wasn't seized by the same level of broad distrust for government that U.S. opinion polls show today. The idea of a government role in health care was already accepted, to a degree: Saskatchewan had already passed the Hospital Insurance Act in 1947, which paid for hospital care. And the changes Democrats have called for stop well short of single-payer health care, notwithstanding the charges of their critics. Even the AMA supported Obama's plan.

But the anger of those months in Saskatchewan undermines a key belief in the debate over health care reform. When confronted with the overall success of Canada's brand of government-funded health care—better health outcomes at much lower cost—Americans tend to respond that such a broad government role is anathema to American culture. This has the ring of an excuse—after all, the idea was apparently somewhat anathema to Canadian culture in 1962. As Douglas said then, "We've become convinced that these things, which were once thought to be radical, aren't radical at all; they're just plain common sense applied to the economic and social problems of our times."

The point isn't that U.S. and Canadian cultures aren't different. Rather, it's that cultural attitudes aren't static. However much some segments of U.S. culture may resist Obama's proposals, the Saskatchewan experience suggests that resistance will dissipate if the plan produces a system that works better than the status quo—especially since, as in Saskatchewan, the government was elected on a promise to make that change.

The other lesson of Saskatchewan is less exciting for Democrats: Even if people come around to the reform itself, they may not come around to the party that pushed it through. If they want to achieve health care reform, that may be a chance that Democrats have to take. But re-election qualms shouldn't be dressed up with bromides about the limits of what's possible. As Canadians can attest, health care reform takes a little more backbone than that.


Doris French Shackleton, a biographer of Tommy Douglas, describes the mood at the time:

The anger crackled in the air. Every business interest, every insurance agent, every local Chamber of Commerce … now aided and abetted the doctors' cause with every resource at their disposal. Stores were closed to swell "Keep Our Doctors" rallies and parades and marches on the legislature. Newspapers and radios bristled with accusations. There was, as many testified, a sense of civil war.

Shackleton tells of the story of an elderly priest, Father Athol Murray, inciting a "Keep Our Doctors" rally in Wilcox, a small town 25 miles south of the provincial capital, Regina. "This thing may break out into violence and bloodshed any day now," Father Murray told the crowd—"and God help us if it doesn't."

A volunteer on Tommy Douglas' federal election campaign, which came at the height of the unrest in Saskatchewan, tells this story: "I drove home one day with a taxi-driver. He was a man who could really have benefited from Medicare. He had no teeth: he had had them all extracted. He said he had five children and a sick wife. And he blasted me about Medicare and about Tommy. There was no arguing with him."

Christopher Flavelle reports for ProPublica, the nonprofit investigative newsroom in New York City. He is Canadian.

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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Regina's top hits of 1970!

I was at Wascana Park for the Goodbye to Summer concert. Ahh, to be young again. And they don't make music like this anymore!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Open Letter from Labour Scholars on the Economic Crisis

Brothers and sisters,

More than a year ago, an unprecedented housing boom in the US went bust, triggering a financial crisis that has recently led to large-scale bank failures and enormous government bailouts. This crisis affects not just the financial markets and not just the US. Banks are failing in Europe and in Latin America, as well. Stock markets are plummeting around the world. Governments have bailed out banks in many European countries. Central banks are pouring vast amounts of money into financial circuits that have been deserted by private credit. Moreover, growth is slowing dramatically. Economic activity has actually reached recession levels in a number of countries, and unemployment rates are rising.

The first sector of the Canadian economy that was hit by this crisis was manufacturing. A wave of speculation in resource prices, propelled by money fleeing the plummeting housing and financial markets, pushed the Canadian dollar up sharply and, in turn, drove exports and jobs in export industries down. Though this short-lived boom in resources is already over, the manufacturing jobs that have been lost there won't be coming back. Instead, we are seeing job losses spreading to other sectors. As is the case in many other countries, Canada is on the brink of recession. Moreover, falling stock prices and a severe tightening of credit indicate that the financial crisis is spilling over from Wall Street to Bay Street.

Given the firm grip that profits-first and balanced-budget dogmas have over Parliament Hill and the Bank of Canada, our politicians' reaction to Bay Street calamities is easy to imagine: throw tax dollars and credit at financial investors to cover their losses while gutting public services and jobs to avoid budget deficits. Such misguided policies are a sure recipe to push an economy that is already ailing into deep recession or even depression. More lay-offs, wage cuts and the evaporation of private and public sector pension plans will follow.

The large-scale interventions that we have already seen in the US and Europe, and we can expect to see in Canada soon, are fundamentally at odds with free market propaganda, which provided an ideological cover for an unprecedented accumulation of profit and wealth in the hands of the few at the expense of the many. Working people who created this wealth by the sweat of their brows and the effort of their brains, and who are now destined to carry the burden of the crisis, will see the fruits of their labour benefit no one but the people on Bay Street. While the breadth and depth of this crisis should not be minimized, it can also provide an opening for very necessary economic and social change. And organized labour can significantly contribute towards such change.

We, the signatories, urge that:
  • Unions make a major effort to inform their members as well as non-union workers about the economic situation. Undermining the legitimacy of free market ideology is a precondition for a struggle for progressive change that can benefit everyone. Discussion and understanding of economic developments are others. Educationals on the current economic situation are an important contribution to develop workers' capacities to successfully engage in union struggles.
  • Unions prepare and lead actions against lay-offs, spending cuts and concessions. Such actions are essential if we are to prevent Bay Street from placing the burden of the crisis on the residents of Main Street.
  • Unions help to build activist coalitions that can engage in economic issues beyond the workplace and collective bargaining. Such coalitions should plan and mobilize for demonstrations that claim public control over the financial sector and a major remake of fiscal policies from bailing out private banks towards policies for jobs, social justice and ecological sustainability.
  • Unions that are involved in the management of pension funds should inform their members about the state of these funds and develop strategies to their members' pensions. Such strategies could play an important role in a fundamental redirection of fiscal policies, away from balanced-budget dogmas – which cause fiscal transfers that place the weight of financial burdens on those at the bottom – towards taxing the rich in order to expand public services and create universal social programs and protections, including publicly-funded pensions, childcare and post-secondary education.
Greg Albo, York University Bryan Evans, Ryerson University
Ingo Schmidt, Athabasca University
David Camfield, University of Manitoba
Étienne Cantin, Université Laval
Sam Gindin, York University
Cy Gonick, University of Manitoba
Adam Hanieh, York University
Jerry Kachur, University of Alberta
Dennis Pilon, University of Victoria
Chris Roberts, Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada
Richard Roman, University of Toronto (retired)
Stephanie Ross, York University
Edward H. Shaffer, University of Alberta (retired)
Sid Shniad, Research Director, Telecommunications Workers Union

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Building a strong trade union movement in Saskatchewan

This special supplement to the Oct.\Nov. 1977 issue of Next Year Country was published at a time of mass action and when there was an influential Marxist current in Saskatchewan's trade unions. The radical left today is very weak among most trade unions and militancy is low.

One of the necessities of our times is to rebuild a militant and organized left in the trade union movement. You can judge for yourself whether this document has anything to suggest to us now.

Below is a link to a contemporary Labour Platform from the Ontario-based Socialist Project.

   Labour Platform Link 

Friday, February 12, 2010

The Robin Hood Tax

A tiny tax on bankers that would give billions to tackle poverty and climate change, here and abroad.

It sounds complicated, but actually it isn’t. A tiny tax on bankers has the power to raise hundreds of billions every year – giving a vital boost to the NHS, our schools, and the fight against child poverty – as well as tackling poverty and climate change around the world.

Not complicated. Just brilliant.

The Robin Hood Tax Website here.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Time for the left to get serious

Bill Fletcher at the National Convention of the Democratic Socialists of America, November 2009.

Bill Fletcher, Jr "The Economic Crisis" from Frank Llewellyn on Vimeo.

Norman Bethune: Canadian Medical Hall of Fame

Dr. Norman Bethune was inducted into the Canadian Hall of Fame in 1998. This is his entry and video.

Born: March 30, 1890, Gravenhurst, Ontario
Died: November 12, 1939
Education: M.D. - University of Toronto, 1916
Category: Mobile Blood

In 1890, Norman Bethune was born in Gravenhurst, Ontario. He went to the University of Toronto, where his education was interrupted when he enlisted as a stretcher bearer in World War I. He received his M.D. in 1916. Dr. Bethune's impact on medicine can be categorized into three distinct areas. Bethune wrote extensively on the development of new surgical instruments, helping to establish a body of work that would be an essential reference for any surgeon.

In 1938, while living in China, Bethune proposed a universal health care system for Canada. Although the suggestion was not readily accepted, Bethune's good works abroad and compelling recommendations would eventually find a place in the Canadian medical system. And finally, Bethune is probably most remembered as being the first to introduce the mobile blood bank to the battlefield, where he performed countless blood transfusions in the midst of heavy fighting. A doctor to the very end, Bethune died of blood poisoning in 1939, while ministering to a Chinese Army. Canada remembers Bethune as a medical genius, China reveres him as a saint.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Honoré Jackson: Prairie Visionary

Jackson, William Henry (1861–1952)

Read the  first definitive biography of this complex political man, who served as Louis Riel’s secretary in 1885, and went on to be a labour leader in Chicago and a “capitalist” in New York City.

Born in Toronto to a Methodist family and raised in Wingham, Ontario, William Henry Jackson attended the University of Toronto before moving to Prince Albert, where he began to sympathize with the Métis and their struggle against the Canadian government. Jackson became personal secretary to Louis Riel, was captured by the Canadian militia during the 1885 Resistance, and was convicted of treason and sentenced to an insane asylum near Winnipeg. When he escaped to the United States, joining the labour union movement, he told everyone that he was Métis and modified his name to the Métis-sounding Honoré Jaxon.

After a lively career as a politically radical public figure in Chicago – where he befriended, among others, the revolutionary architect Frank Lloyd Wright – Jaxon eventually moved to New York City to attempt life as a real estate developer. His ongoing project was to collect as many books, newspapers and pamphlets relating to the Métis people as possible, in an attempt to establish a library for their use. However, he was evicted from his basement apartment at the age of ninety. His entire collection was dispersed, most of it to the New York City garbage dump, the remainder sold. He died a month later, in early 1952.

Book available from Coteau Books.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Saskatchewan Farmer-Labor Group

The Movement Grows to Power

"THE YEAR 1932 saw the Saskatchewan farmers and the socialist movement united in a national attempt to establish socialism in Canada. Joining with other groups in the rest of Canada did not greatly affect the Saskatchewan movement beyond giving it a base from which to take part in national elections. The Saskatchewan group called itself the Farmer-Labor Group, and did not officially adopt the name Coöperative Commonwealth Federation for provincial usage until 1935. The new C.C.F. was to remain essentially a federation of provincial parties, each of which had its own approach to socialism and politics and did not interfere with the activities of other provincial sections.

The creation of a mass socialist party in Saskatchewan was not, therefore, the local extension of a new national movement but, rather, an endemic movement having its roots in Saskatchewan. A small group of convinced socialists in key positions in the farmers' movement prompted action in the face of the double catastrophe of depression and drought. These socialists attempted to use this opportune moment to make a drastic change in the thinking and organized actions of farmers and workers."
- S.M. Lipset, Agrarian Socialism

Photo: George Williams speaking at a wheat pool picnic, 1930

George William's letter to Farmer-Labor supporters

(click image for larger format)

Saturday, February 6, 2010

An American Socialist in Saskatchewan

by Joseph K. Roberts

My father was vice-president of Standard Oil (Indiana), and, like my schoolmate Don Rumsfeld, I was supposed to go on via Princeton to a corporate or government job. Like Rumsfeld, too, by pursuing higher education and exploiting the class privileged American selective service system, I managed to skip both the Korean and wars.

But in the age of the Cold War, McCarthyism and the restoration of corporate control after the Great Depression, my family's plan for me went wrong. The main reason was Hugh Wilson. It was this professor of politics who introduced me to the realities of corporate power and the distortions of democracy. Wilson sent me on to Columbia to Robert Lynd, who in his turn helped me to broaden my understanding of class and power in America.

Studying public law and government allowed me to take classes in sociology, history, economics and law, as well as public administration. Among my formative experiences was a year-long class on social change with Herbert Marcuse. For me, academic work demanded direct action. Wilson had helped found the Emergency Civil Liberties Committee, a radical departure from the Cold War-compromised American Civil Liberties Union. I became versed in some of the more pressing First Amendment cases. In the New York of the time, there was also a strong peace movement that opposed nuclear testing.

In my doctoral dissertation, I examined the role of the oil industry in the Suez Crisis of 1956. During this period of academic and political activity, Lynd introduced me to Leo Huberman, who along with Paul Sweezy was the founder and co-editor of Monthly Review. This was the beginning of a critical relationship that has shaped my understanding, my teaching and my perspective to this day.

My wife required fieldwork for her anthropology degree, and, with the aid of a Ford Foundation grant, she chose Sierra Leone -- so, in 1961 we set off for Africa. It was an opportunity to Learn about imperialism firsthand. Britain was then in the process of relinquishing colonies like Sierra Leone--without, of course, abandoning its interests in those places.

Shortly after I returned to the U.S., President Kennedy was mysteriously assassinated. He and his entourage were idols of many American liberals, but for me he was not the enemy, but the escalator, of the Vietnam War.

From Michigan State to the University of Regina

In 1964, I went to Michigan State University to teach. The university's political-science department had established itself as a government contractor in the 1950s, attempting to create an administration in South Vietnam that was Loyal to the U.S. As the war intensified, the university campus saw the birth of an opposition, in tandem with the already vigorous civil-rights movement. At first the environment was distinctly unfriendly, but in the spring of 1965, the first big campus "teach-in" was held at the neighbouring University of Michigan. This served to bolster our efforts at MSU.

In 1965, Hugh Wilson was invited by Dallas Smythe, an economist trained at the University of California, Berkeley, to the newly created University of Saskatchewan, Regina Campus, as a visiting professor. Smythe was born in Regina and had been employed in the Federal Communications Commission until the Cold War forced him out. He then got a job in the Communications Department at the University of Illinois. Appalled by the Cuban Missile Crisis, Smythe accepted an invitation to head up the newly created social-science faculty at the Regina campus. Prompted by Wilson, Smythe then called me up and offered me a job.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Saskatchewan Transportation Company

Established in 1946

Created by an order-in-council on April 1, 1946, the provincial government of premier T.C. "Tommy" Douglas established a crown corporation called the "Saskatchewan Transportation Company". It was mandated to provide bus services between major centres and to as much of the dispersed rural population as possible in a fiscally responsible manner.

Photograph courtesy of Alex Regiec
History of Intercity Buses

ATU Local 1374


Communist Manifestoon

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Socialist History: The Red Menace

The Red Menace was published by the Toronto-based Libertarian Socialist Collective between 1976 and 1980.

The collective publishing The Red Menace described its political orientation as follows: “We want to overthrow the capitalist system and build a new world in which freedom and creativity can flourish, a world in which people are in control, in which they run things democratically and collectively. A libertarian socialist world.”

The Red Menace appeared in magazine format for the first two issues of 52 pages and 44 pages respectively; the subsequent three issues were in tabloid format, with 24, 32, and 16 pages respectively.

Fair Vote Canada: Saskatchewan Chapter AGM

The Saskatchewan Chapter of Fair Vote Canada will be holding its Annual General Meeting (AGM) in two stages.

The first meeting will be held in Regina, Saturday, February 20th.

Cathedral Neighbourhood Centre
2900 13th Avenue
The Boardroom
2:00 pm to 4:00 pm

The second meeting will be held a week later, February 27th in Saskatoon.

Amigos Cantina
632 - 10th Street East (one block east of Broadway)
The back room
2:00 pm to 4:00 pm

With our parliament in a sorry state many Canadians are looking for solutions. We think this is an exciting time for supporters of proportional representation.

We hope all Fair Vote members in Saskatchewan can find the time to attend. We would like to take this opportunity to talk about what we have been up to during our first year of operation and what we would like to accomplish in the coming year. We have some ambitious plans for 2010 and we need some energetic and dedicated people to lend a hand.

Gord Hunter
Fair Vote Canada – Saskatchewan Chapter

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Saskatchewan youth art for the environment

I love the submissions over the past few years found at the Climate Change Saskatchewan art contest page.

Visit here to view them all.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Regina forum on the coup in Honduras

The Coup in Honduras: Popular Resistance and Canadian Imperialism

What: Report back from Human Rights delegation to Honduras

When: 7pm, Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Where: University of Regina, Room CL112

Jeffery R. Webber will report back from his meetings in Honduras with trade unionists, peasants, and other activists involved in the popular resistance against the coup government. He will also discuss the role of the Canadian government lending support to an illegal regime principally in an effort to protect Canadian mining investments in the country.

Jeffery R. Webber is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Regina. He has three books forthcoming this year: Red October: Left-Indigenous Struggles in Modern Bolivia; The Paradox of Evismo: Rebellion to Reform in Bolivian Politics; and The Resurgence of Latin American Radicalism: Between Cracks in the Empire and an Izquierda Permitida (co-edited with Barry Carr).