The working-class movement in Canada is very weak in its current state, following decades of neo-liberalism and the Red Scare of the previous Cold War. For those looking for a dissident alternative to the hegemony of global finance on Bay Street, right-wing populism is increasingly filling this space.
The Establishment left is essentially that, established and tied at the hip with Liberalism, too domesticated to fight for any substantive gains in material conditions for working class or colonized people. As a result, in the decade and a half since the 2008 financial crisis, right-wing populist movements have surged past the place of a once boisterous pro-worker and anti-war left in the West. Right-wing populist movements have become such a force in Western politics, there are even some trying to copy their playbook in a desperate attempt of charting a new course for a dissident left.
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was next to nothing in terms of a comprehensive analysis of the pandemic under capitalism from the existing socialist organizations in Canada. As a result, it was right-wing populists who were at the fore of criticizing the Liberal government’s handling of the pandemic, coming to a head in Canada at the 2022 Freedom Convoy where the left was nowhere to be found. Worse still, when it seemed when more fascistic groups were able to make a visible presence around the anti-mandate movement, the Establishment left groups who were completely behind doing any organizing just decided to side with the Liberal government, instead of putting forward their own scientific socialist analysis of what could have been done better for the working people. This was a watershed moment for those of us who are serious in Canada where the silence of left organizing was painfully loud. Our line was and should still be putting out our own analysis, and while the Establishemented left sides with the financial elites on most issues, others who are more disaffected have thrown in the towel and decided to take leadership from the right-wing populists based on an empirical analysis that presently they have more of presence in the political scene.
Following the 2016 US election of Donald Trump and the upsurge of the MAGA movement – “Make American Great Again” and “America First” – there has been a segment of Western socialists who advocate tailism of these right-wing populist movements. These socialists sometimes referred to as “National Bolsheviks” are pushing for the working class to ally with the more nationalist-oriented capitalists against the monopoly capitalists or “globalists,” believing this to be the correct “anti-globalist” strategy of “Bonapartism.” While making a tactical alliance with national capitalists is often a necessary step in national liberation for colonized nations, the same strategy cannot be replicated for the imperialist countries. Right-wing populism simply reinforces the exploitation of the working class and colonized people under the capitalist mode of production, fulfilling the agenda of that segment of more nationalist-oriented capitalists. These right-wing populist figures themselves show little desire to break from the current paradigm of exploitive foreign relations, such as the Monroe Doctrine. For a movement to truly be anti-imperialist and not just vaguely “anti-globalist,” it must decouple Canada from the Atlanticist sphere of Anglo-American imperialism.
Canada was confederated in 1867 as a dominion of the British Empire to prevent US expansionism in their period of inter-imperialist rivalry. The dominion was later grafted into the wider Anglo-American Empire, following the Bretton Woods Conference in 1944 that established the post-WWII “rules-based international order,” an Atlanticist rule of global finance shrouded in the veneer of “Western Civilization.” Canada as a dominion is dominated by the hegemony of global finance on Bay Street – the Trans-Atlantic axis of Wall Street and the city of London – and this is a class struggle for the overall Canadian population.
While the dominion is not a colonized nation, it does maintain numerous internal colonies of First Nations, who have been struggling against capitalism and imperialism since its arrival on the continent. As well, the totality of working people in Canada are subject to the whims of the Empire, as the people are not sovereign in terms of foreign policy, one entirely decided in Parliament by the political representatives of financial elites on Bay Street. As a result, there is a real case for socialist republicanism to be built on a plurinational and internationalist basis for the entire population within Canada.
However, right-wing populism digs into historic cleavages in the population, born out generations of British rule, with these reactionaries leaning into ethno-chauvinism, inciting the Anglo-Saxon population against Indigenous, Francophone, Muslim, and other Global South peoples who now make these lands their home. This movement on the macro level, functions much like scabs against strikers on the micro level, breaking up the solidarity genuine working-class movement. The saying is “they have you fighting a culture war so you’re not fighting a class war” rings very true to this whole ordeal. Right-wing populism in Canada is most concerned with the aesthetics of Canadian capitalism over anything else, they want the Canada of its original form, being predominantly Anglo-Saxon and supposedly “Christian,” as opposed to being multicultural and supposedly “woke.”
Through a series of half-truths, right-wing populist rhetoric leverages a genuinely disaffected segment of the working class along with many small business owners, to redirect their misgivings with the system back into a capitalist politics, reducing the problem to “woke capitalism” as opposed to the comprehensive capitalist system. If you are a worker swept up in these right-wing populist movements, the most you will get out of this is a change of capitalist overlords and maybe a fleeting false sense of pride, all while the underlying economic base of relations stays the same. The fact of the matter is we must create working class institutions that are independent of the capitalists or else different sectors of workers will continually be used as pawns in their game.
The socialist republican struggle in Canada is multi-layered, national liberation struggles of First Nations exist within the imperial core, so the capitalist nationalism of the right-wing populists flattens these realities while intentionally continuing oppression of colonized peoples. Framing socialism as a nationalist movement here would be incorrect as our approach in building solidarity will be plurinational to effectively dislodge imperialism from these lands. The right-wing populist’s slogan of “1776 will commence again” is not a sufficient framing for this comprehensive struggle against the dominion of the global finance-backed British Crown and the Atlanticism it represents. The capitalist republican struggle of 1776 was “breaking from the British” in the sense of the colonist oligarchs splitting from the Crown to become their own masters of the continent… to exploit its resources and peoples. The socialist republican struggle happening here today is one of sovereignty and dignity for all peoples living in the North. The struggle will be one walked together with Canadian workers alongside the national liberation movements of the First Nations, as well as the Quebecois!
[B. R. Pal is a member of Riel Republicans, a Socialist Republican collective in Canada focused on building a socialist republic in Canada, inspired by the honourable Métis Revolutionary Louis Riel and the original Resistance state of Manitoba. His work may be found at Riel Republicans: Towards a Northern Continentalism, on Substack.]
Cover Image Credits: By Eldon Garnet and Francis LeBouthillier" by Shaun Merritt is licensed under CC BY 2.0.
The views and informations expressed in the article are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect the views of The International. We believe in providing a platform for a range of viewpoints from the left.