“The old world is dying, and the new world struggles to be born; now is the time of monsters.”
– Antonio Gramsci, (loosely) translated by Slavoj Žižek
“The settler’s work is to make even dreams of liberty impossible for the native. The native’s work is to imagine all possible methods for destroying the settler.”
– Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth
On January 6th, 2021, just over two thousand estranged, largely working-class Americans took to the United States Capitol to protest… nothing. Convinced that Donald Trump was still President of the United States, a number of so-called “patriots” occupied the Capitol Building for several hours. It was perhaps the closest Americans had ever come to enacting a coup d’état.
Then they left. Five people died. No tangible political demands were made. The world continued to function as it always had.
Today, a similarly flaccid pseudo-revolutionary movement is sweeping across Canada: Freedom Convoy 2022.
Increasingly, right-wing agitators seem to fancy themselves actual revolutionaries. Their left-wing enemies often denounce them as reactionaries, hellbent on turning the tides of historical development and bringing us back to a place in time when women could not vote, and racial minorities were barred from holding public office.
Like those same “activists” who stormed the Capitol on January 6, proponents of the Freedom Convoy aren’t revolutionaries. They’re reformers.
Like those involved in the prison reform movements of the 17th and 18th centuries – to quote French philosopher Michel Foucault’s Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison – the “true objective” of the Freedom Convoy is not to actually challenge state power, nor to “establish a new right to punish… [but] to assure its better distribution… so that it should be distributed in homogenous circuits capable of operating everywhere, in a continuous way, down to the finest grain of the social body.”
Freedom Convoy 2022 does not seek to negate the oppressions of Indigenous peoples, the working-classes, and racial and sexual minorities; it seeks to accelerate them. Increasingly, journalists and researchers have tied the movement and its organizers to the once-latent far-right. On January 27, a leading independent research outlet The Canadian Anti-Hate Network denounced the convoy as nothing but a “vehicle for the far right.” The convoy’s mass of truckers stand shoulder to shoulder with several strands of the fascistic fringe; among them, Holocaust deniers, proponents of the great replacement theory, and neo-Nazi accelerationists.
Pat King, one of the movement’s loudest proponents and a former WEXIT campaigner is currently implicated in a 2021 attack on anti-racist activists in Red Deer, Alberta. Another of the convoy’s supporters, a group known online as Diagolon, is a known accelerationist movement seeking to incite a race war within Canada and the United States on behalf of the purportedly superior “white race.”
Diagolon’s motto? “Gun or rope.”
It comes as little surprise that swastikas and confederate flags were spotted during convoy protests in Ottawa between January 29 and January 30.
Where, one might ask, has reason gone?
The 19th and 20th centuries saw the demise of religion as an institutional force capable of structuring the world in its image. The era of Enlightenment, according to Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, brought with it, on the one hand, the expulsion of religion as a viable system of thought from popular copiousness, and on the other, a near-global belief in the transcendent qualities of enlightened reason. The Enlightenment – by studying, measuring, and specifying physical and mental differences between socially constructed groups of people; seeking to either reform or exterminate them through processes of labour; and subjecting them to totalitarian forms of state-imposed violence – quite literally gave birth to the existence of modern fascism.
Two World Wars, multiple genocides, several opportunities for global thermonuclear war, and one threat of ecological collapse later, and the world didn’t seem to make sense in quite the same way that it had before. The stage set had collapsed, and a certain weariness seemed to overtake the world.
As old ways of knowing became untenable, increasingly, working-class people in North America began to tie themselves and their worldviews not to eternal, transcendent notions of truth, nor to their social class, but to the commodities that they most preferably consumed. Today, people readily attach their self-value to mass-produced cultural products. It should be incredibly disconcerting that the question of, “who are you?” is so routinely followed up by a brief summary of someone’s favourite television shows. In the 21st century, we, as a people, belong to nowhere but the realm of “depressive-hedonistic” consumption, to borrow a term from Mark Fisher. Dopamine, not religion, has become the opium of the people.
The pandemic has created within the lives of North Americans a crisis of the ego woven together with the tapestries of late capitalism. It has temporarily abolished the tempering presence of commodity consumption in the lives of the working-class, fully exposing the threadbare character of post-industrial society in the process. The everyday rhythms of a working life, easily followed most of the time, began to feel alien. Without the temporary distractions of Starbucks, the dopamine infused escapades of retail therapy, and the drunken revelries of restaurant eating, everyday people were left to ponder a question that crept ever deeper into their minds: is this really it?
The far-right, with their easily regurgitated (and easily disproven) stories of white racial superiority, sexual conservatism, religious fundamentalism, and anti-intellectualism – themselves products of an omnipresent Western mythos constructed using the ideologies of a disconnected 1% – quickly sought to fill the void left by a noticeable absence of left-wing alternatives. The left-wing, always (correctly) concerned with a proclivity to envision new futures rather than explain away current injustices, has become sterile since the death of the militant unions and revolutions of the 19th and 20th centuries. The 21st century Canadian left-wing can be most readily defined by its inability to question the foundational elements of neoliberal capitalism with any solid action. The Canadian left refuses to talk about class.
It refuses to unify people behind the banner of radical change.
The absence of a suitable forum for discussing left-wing Canadian politics is a relatively new phenomenon. In fact, Canada has a long and vibrant history of left-wing radical action. The land to which we as settlers have given the name Canada first belonged to a diverse range of peoples and nations currently referred to under the umbrella term of “Indigenous.”
While they were far from uniform, prior to contact, many Indigenous societies developed various modes of governance, forms of property, and a propensity for egalitarian rather than hierarchical gender relations. Indigenous societies were uniquely socialistic in ways that most forms of popular media rarely give them credit. The Indigenous property form, communalized living arrangements, and lack of a profit motive clashed with the bourgeois ideal then emanating from Europe. During colonization and settlement, the former Indigenous way of life had to be eradicated for European values to be properly implemented. The discipline, surveillance, incarceration, and social isolation of disparate Indigenous nations thereby served the development of modern industrial capitalism.
The treatment of Indigenous peoples in Canada, both historically and today, has been uniformly horrific. There are currently sixty Indigenous communities that are being subjected to long-term water advisories. Genocide is an as of yet incomplete process; the Canadian state still has a very real mandate to complete it. Indigenous peoples will continue to fiercely resist their social position. The Canadian left, if such a thing actually exists, must do all it can to buttress Indigenous efforts for national self-determination. This would reinforce not only leftism in Canada, but traditional forms of ancestral knowledge and landkeeping, benefiting all oppressed classes in the process. Proper leftism must centre Indgneous peoples and Indigenous ways of knowing.
Even apart from Indigenous ways of life, in Canada, left-wing political alternatives existed for much of the 20th century. They were enacted, almost without exception, by a working-class varied in its racial, gender, and sexual makeup. In the Summer of 1919, for example, some 30,000 working class Canadians, among them women, children, and Eastern European migrants, took to the streets of Winnipeg, halting all work under the supervision of bosses, replacing it instead with radical possibility. Resources were redistributed according to need rather than private ownership, and for a glorious six weeks, Winnipeg was subject to the awe-inspiring demands of unified labour. The Winnipeg General Strike can be described as nothing less than a verifiable explosion of democracy. It’s enactment still haunts the very foundations of Canadian liberalism.
Canadians have within themselves a deep will “to live otherwise,” to quote historian Ian McKay. 20th century Canadians were constantly building new political movements from the ground up, challenging natural assumptions about state power in ways that didn’t pin the blame on minorities or healthcare workers, and instead rightly outlined the ways in which structural inequalities – Capital and capitalism – necessarily created a human condition constantly prone to alienation and collapse rather than flourishing and stability.
The sort of politics currently directing the Freedom Convoy are of a decidedly different type. By using the organizational tactics of collective action and the political ideology of conservative individualism, the convoy has successfully cloaked itself in an aesthetics of radical change while asking for nothing less than the continuation of capitalist exploitation, racial aggression, and the deaths of those most vulnerable to COVID-19.
Today, collective action, human organization, and indeed actionable politics at all, have been increasingly located in a far-right whose fervour for nebulously defined individual freedoms has coincided with their concurrent renunciation of individual rights. Rampant, unrestrained individualism on the part of the right has coalesced with forms of organizing that more and more resemble the collectivist type. Autonomy has been socialized; economy remains individualized; reason has degenerated. To momentarily quote Adorno and Horkheimer’s Dialectic of Enlightenment, in the modern age, “the autonomy of the individual has developed into heteronomy.” Political movements, such as the Freedom Convoy, have begun to increasingly resemble the languages, strategies, and common-sense values of 20th century fascism.
Homebrewed, Canadian fascism is, in a sense, the sourdough starter of January 2022. It fills the spare time of those with nothing left to do; those with nothing better to live for. Hardline conservatism provides meaning in a world hellbent on ridding popular politics of any reference to class as a social category.
Conservatism will never go away as a form of political action because it seeks to make sense of the senseless, masking the ever-present inequalities of capitalism by using the naturalizing forces of racism, sexism, and homophobia. Conservatism operates by naturalizing unjust hierarchies for those who seek to perpetuate them for their personal benefit.
Freedom Convoy 2022 is a fascist movement built upon the yearning legs of populism; its arm wields the cruel whip of Western chauvinism; its mouthpiece speaks with the voice of a divided working-class, constantly trending towards the theories and practice of right-wing acceleration.
Fascism, as both ideology and practicable method, is itself symptom of a 21st century condition that refuses to acknowledge the necessity of an internationalist, anti-racist, feminist, working-class-based politics.
To quote early 20th century German radical Rosa Luxemburg, we, as a species, have been presented with two options: “Socialism or barbarism.” The Freedom Convoy and its proponents have chosen the latter.
The Canadian left needs to choose the former – an entire world of possible futures hangs in the balance.