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Reflections on the so-called "Freedom Convoy"

Whenever there is a political movement our job as anti-capitalists––as communists––is to analyze the class content of the movement. Such an analysis does not mean to examine it according to its appearance but according to its substance: the politics it mobilizes, and thus its dominant political line, and thus its proximity to state power and the ruling class. Moreover, this analysis always needs to take into account the way in which class contradictions are articulated in the social formation in question and the conjuncture of that social formation. If we fail to examine a movement according to its substance (the content as articulated through the class politics it expresses, state proximity, the social formation of the current moment) then we fail to grasp its essential meaning. At best we end up with a poor analysis of what is taking place, and thus a failure to conceptualize a proper response to events; at worst we end up with a mechanical workerist analysis that, taking "class" as an identity based on appearance (those people look and sound "blue collar" and so they are the "working class"), horrendously misunderstands the politics in operation and what these politics seek to achieve. Hence the innumerable and impoverished "Marxist" analyses that have claimed the struggles of police or prison guard unions are "working class struggles" that, having conjured away the fact that the primary function of these workers is to maintain the bourgeois state. As always, and as Lenin and Mao consistently maintained, with any analysis––and practice following from this analysis––the point is to put politics in command.

The so-called "Freedom Convoy" that has converged upon Ottawa and Windsor (among other places) is an example of a movement that has been poorly analyzed by individuals and groups of the supposed "left". Not by the hard anti-capitalist left that has been organizing against capitalism for years, and definitely not by those who have been involved in anti-fascist organizing, mind you, but by those who think they are providing a critical "marxist" or populist socialist counter-point to what they see as identity politics. For example, the self-proclaimed "marxist" website, The Bellows, published an analysis of this event entitled As Workers Resist, the Left Recoils that argues, among other things, that the convoy is a working class resistance and that those amongst the left who reject this claim are guilty of identity politics. Written by a New York journalist who has done little to no social investigation of the class composition, let alone the class politics of the convoy, and filled with absurd declarations about those who oppose the convoy, it would perhaps be worth dismissing this analysis as disconnected mechanical workerist nonsense. While such a pithy workerist analysis is incorrect because it cannot get the basic facts right, and while the active radical left who has spent years organizing in grass roots movements (and who are not online twitter liberals) have in fact put forward a correct line rejecting the Freedom Convoy as being a workers resistance, such an analysis remains compelling (to varying degrees) for people who are disconnected from organizing. Even when they don't accept the absurd conclusions of the above article (which uses the accurate analysis of pharmaceutical companies being capitalist, as well as liberal governments being capitalist, to push the inaccurate position that the "Freedom Convoy" is a workers revolt), some people disconnected from grass roots organizational milieus are impressed by the "successes" of this supposed "insurrection" in befuddling the Canadian government, thinking we can learn from their tactics even if we dislike their politics. What I want to do in this post, then, is to buttress the hard left's rejection of the Freedom Convoy––which means a rejection of any analysis that seeks to treat this convoy as anything that has to do with a meaningful proletarian politics.

So let's be clear: the Freedom Convoy is not an example of working-class resistance; it is a paramilitary expression of reactionary bourgeois politics. Those involved in the Freedom Convoy did not express a political line that was opposed to bourgeois rule, but in fact they demanded a return to an older and more traditional conception of bourgeois rule––this is why the Conservative Party by-and-large defended them. The reason this convoy's tactics were "successful" was not because of any quality to these tactics but because of their proximity to state power: the police were sympathetic to them and enabled them. The class content of the convoy was not proletarian but largely petty-bourgeois (the vast majority of participants were small business owners), and again a petty-bourgeois that the Conservative Party of Canada endorsed. The majority of the masses in Ottawa and Windsor, from the most impoverished to even other small petty-bourgeoisie, united autonomously against the convoy and in fact, despite this more "populist" will, experienced a police repression that the Freedom Convoy did not experience.

We need to again emphasize that not every political movement against government is meaningfully rebellious. This should go without saying, but here we are again in 2022 dealing with people who see themselves as "leftists" deliriously slavering when they see trucks mobilized against the Liberal Trudeau government, unable to conceptualize that there might be a right-wing populist movement that reactionaries have been stoking in a time when fascism is possible. (Hence, again, the importance of the "three way fight" thesis that anti-fascists have been arguing for a while. Indeed, an excellent analysis of the convoy is on the Three Way Fight website.) Fascists have always strived to mobilize against liberal capitalist governance, but with an appeal to a return to traditional values and a monolithic capitalism, and have had "mass" movements in the racist states in which they operate. Trudeau's liberal government is noxious for many reasons, but the reasons we progressive anti-capitalists find it noxious and the reasons that reactionaries find it noxious are completely different. And if we actually pause to examine the political content of the Freedom Convoy it is not hard to see why those involved, from the organizers to the majority of the participants, dislike the Trudeau government: the entire discourse of the convoy, regarding the Trudeau regime, is reactionary vitriole (again endorsed by the Conservative party) that largely conceptualizes the Liberal government as being "communist" simply because it is not as right wing as the participants in the Freedom Convoy wish it would be. What we are dealing with, here, is less of a rebellion and more of a confrontation between ideological wings of the ruling class. Which is evident when, again, we recognize that one of the mainstream Federal parties is largely defending the so-called "Freedom Convoy".

Canada is not simply a capitalist and imperialist nation state; it is a settler colonial state. A class analysis of a political movement such as the "Freedom Convoy" needs to take the settler capitalist structure of Canada into account. In a settler capitalist social formation white supremacy affects the articulation of class struggle. Although the "Freedom Convoy" by and large consisted of petty bourgeois elements (i.e. the majority of those participating were small business owners), it did of course possess working class elements as well. This is because there is a strata of the working class that is united with factions of the petty bourgeoisie and bourgeoisie through white power, or what W.E.B. DuBois called the psychological wage. Here I am simply summarizing analyses that already exist regarding the history of Canadian settler capitalism (i.e. Tyler Shipley's Canada In The World) or the class structure of Canadian society (i.e. What Is Canada?) that have already done the work of examining the class development and deployment of this settler capitalist social formation.

The history of any given settler colonial formation generates a garrison of white workers who see their autonomy and freedom premised on social privileges conveyed by whiteness. During the nineteenth century railway expansion across Canada, for example, the Chinese workers brought in to the hard labour on these railroads were barred from joining labour unions due to white workers' unwillingness to have non-white members within these unions. "White Canada Forever" remained, for a long time, the most popular song in white working class bars. A labour aristocracy developed according to the class contradiction of colonizer-colonized, with settler workers having long been part of the displacement of Indigenous populations and then functioning to keep a particular strata of the working class white and, because of this whiteness, accorded more economic privilege than their more exploited and marginalized counterparts. To be clear, white supremacy is no longer normative, let alone explicit, amongst the Canadian working class as a whole: the labour union movement and other working working class organizations––which have been significantly altered through waves of immigration and a history of class struggle since the days when unions were fully settlerist––have condemned the Convoy and indeed marched in demonstrations against the convoy. Even still, the persistence of garrison ideology remains amongst sections of the settler working class who, though a minority compared to the labour movement as a whole, are still drawn to the psychological wage and see their allegiance with petty bourgeois and even big bourgeois elements of society because of a shared settler colonial politics. This is why members of the white working class burned Mohawk effigies and chanted "savages" when they were inconvenienced by the blockades set up by Kahnesatake in 1990, or why similar workers invited the KKK into Caledonia to confront the Six Nations blockades in the early 2000s, or why the same strata of workers express racist antipathy to the Wet'suwet'en blockades of the pipeline.

Every settler capitalist social formation is also a racial capitalist formation since, as Fanon and others have taught us, racism is normative in settler colonial societies and is in fact the consequence of colonialism. This is why white workers lined up to oppose anti-segregation bussing in the US, and it is despicable to see such a political movement–-since it was opposed to the state's anti-segregation measures––which resulted in buses of black children being swarmed by white working class mobs as a proletarian rebellion. We could cite multiple examples. The point is that settlerism distorts class struggle and this distortion needs to be grasped whenever one is doing an analysis of political movements in settler colonial social formations. If we do not take the contradictions generated by settler colonialism into account we cannot cognize the political line that is command.

Hence, while the "Freedom Convoy" is by and large comprised of petty bourgeois racists, it also possesses members of the working class who are united by the notion of a return to a traditionally white supremacist Canada. Working class participation in such a movement does not render it a "proletarian" movement or an anti-state movement anymore than the working class opposition to anti-segregation measures in Boston was proletarian. The fact that the pigs are sympathetic to the Convoy, and have refused to act against it in the way they act against so many anti-capitalist and anti-colonial movements in Canada, demonstrate that there is a cross class alliance of white supremacy that is recognized and endorsed by the repressive state apparatus. The pigs are not stymied by these protests; they support them. Yet again: how is it that a protest movement that is just a bunch of vehicles driven by assholes who have the time and money to spare, and who have no tactical skills beyond being jerks to everybody, has been allowed to persist for so long when any and every challenge to Canadian settler capitalism has been met with immediate state reprisal? When a movement is met with soft reprisal––when the pigs say they don't have the resources to remove a bunch of assholes that everyone hates despite the fact that these same pigs have done crowd management for anti-capitalist and anti-colonial protests with unequivocal violence––we should immediately treat such a movement with suspicion. Especially when politicians of reactionary political parties support such a movement.

But just as the shitty "marxists" who have fantasized the "Freedom Convoy" as an instance of proletarian revolt are out to lunch, so are the "left" liberals who want to pretend it has no roots in the settler working class or even Canadian society as a whole. As I noted above, there are indeed elements of the settler working class who happily participate in these racist spectacles. Moreover Canadian society, being a settler capitalist society, is also a racist society. Not only is this reality dismissed by the liberal "left", conspiracy theories abound. The notion that the "Freedom Convoy" was funded primarily by right-wing US politicians, and that it is an instance of foreign interference, is liberal delirium. Simply because reactionaries abroad like giving money to their counterparts does not mean that they have created these counterparts. Reactionaries in Canada also donate to a variety of backwards causes in other imperialist nations––right wing Christian Evangelicals (who have also played a key part in the convoy) regularly donate their money to Evangelical causes across multiple borders. Moreover, as recent leaks from GiveSendGo have shown, the majority of the money raised for the "Freedom Convoy" came from Canada, including civil servants and politicians, from those invested in the politics the convoy expresses.

Beyond the narrative of an otherwise "kind" Canada subverted by foreign interference (similar to the claims that "Trumpism" was aided by Russian interference to subvert the otherwise "good" US values), the liberal discourse imagines that policy/policing is the just and logical solution to the convoy's bullshit. Watching in dismay as the police did nothing to prevent the convoy assholes from making life intolerable for those subordinated to their asinine behaviour, those who believed the myth that police "serve and protect" the general population needed to also believe that the police were overwhelmed and were trying their best if they were to escape cognitive dissonance. Liberal media promoted this discourse by consistently trumpeting the claims of Ottawa's (now resigned) police chief Peter Sloly and its mayor Jim Watson that they lacked the means to do proper policing, that the protesters were too much for a beleaguered and well meaning crew of officer friendlies. To be clear, living in downtown Ottawa during the convoy's occupation was, at best, akin to being subjected without consent to an intolerable fraternity party or hockey hazing ritual, and at worst, an experience of prolonged harassment. For the average resident who has not been politicized beyond common sense ruling class ideology, and who has been socialized to believe that the police is "to keep the peace" then of course there would be some dismay. And so, when it became clear that the police were doing nothing the only way to keep this myth in place, and to obscure the fact that the actual job of the pigs is to keep the peace of capital, narratives about police not possessing the requisite resources, as well as narratives about the supposed strength and organizational acumen of the "Freedom Convoy", proliferated. While such a proliferation was belied by the empirical facts of police actually refusing to do anything about the convoy, fraternizing with the convoy, and even arresting counter-demonstrators, the strength of the ideology regarding police is such that these uncomfortable facts could be occluded behind a media blitz designed to reinforce the police mythology. The fact that Sloly resigned was also part of this mythology reinforcement: the problem became one about police incompetence rather than policing itself and the proximity of policing to its paramilitary shadow.

Hence, the invocation of the Emergencies Act by the Trudeau government and its popularity amongst the liberal "left" that sees policing as the solution to convoy's reactionary disruption. Hell, even the NDP supports the Emergencies Act! As many have pointed out, however, the Canadian state has not needed to invoke the Emergencies Act when it is dealing with Indigenous or anti-capitalist revolt: in those cases the police, which are somehow "overwhelmed" by the convoy, are suddenly robust and powerful actors––even the military sometimes joins them, without the invocation of a special act, in smashing blockades and kettling activists. One of my first experiences as an activist was at the 2000 FTAA summit in Québec City where a veritable army of pigs met protesters with tear gas and rubber bullets, defended the zone in which the summit was taking place, and meted out violence to any and every dissident. We weren't able to lounge about in hot tubs, party chaotically, or drive around honking our horns; we were too busy dealing with police violence. And this is the normative experience of each and every movement that actually challenges the Canadian state. Not so with the convoy. So what does the Emergencies Act actually do?

Well for one thing, and the reason why the liberal "left" appears to want it, the Emergencies Act slots itself into a policing narrative: it shows that the government is serious and wants to remove the bothersome "Freedom Convoy" through the mechanism of more policing. This more, of course, is entirely symbolic: the police weren't doing shit to begin with, and since this same police have always acted to violently suppress other rebellious protests without an Emergencies Act, this invocation is an empty gesture. Indeed, what is more interesting than the NDP's support of this Act's policing is the fact that the Conservative party is currently opposed to the Emergencies Act. The reactionaries are telling on themselves: in nearly every other situation the Conservatives are the first party to demand state retaliation for the disruption of business as usual, but in this case they are opposed to a state of emergency. Why? Because the protesters are their political base, because Conservative MPs have been donating material resources to this protest, and so this is their paramilitary state of emergency. The Conservative party has always appreciated policing, which is why they see the convoy as a paramilitary extension of policing.

Furthermore, and as aforementioned, although the state has not required the invocation of such an act to violently police those anti-systemic protests that it sees as an actual threat to Canada, providing more legal resources to the pigs further entrenches policing ideologically. Since the majority of the population, especially those living in Ottawa, dislikes the Freedom Convoy, the final removal of this convoy through policing (a soft removal compared to the policing unleashed upon oppressed communities that comes after three weeks of leeway no other movement has been accorded) reifies the police as protectors of the general population. This despite the fact that the pigs did nothing for weeks, but we are meant to believe that all they lacked was the Emergencies Act in order to act. We can thus hypothesize that, in the months following the convoy's removal, the police will be given even more funding and this will not be met with much resistance. All three parties and their supporters will agree with such funding: the Liberals and NDP because of the convoy, the Conservatives (despite their hypocritical opposition to the Emergencies Act) because they always want the police to be given more resources. Large swathes of the general population who hated the convoy will possibly agree to such funding because of the policing discourse that was sanctified by the invocation of the Emergencies Act. And the reactionaries comprising and supporting the convoy will also have no problem with the over-funding of the pigs because, despite having eventually been removed by the police, they were already accommodated by the same police who have related to them as a disorderly group of paramilitary siblings. Let's not forget that amongst the many white nationalist flags flown by the members of the convoy, there was also the "thin blue line" flag.

Now, as the convoy disperses––after having confronted mass counter-protests that did what police would not do, and finally policing that was regretful but even in its softness demonstrated that the convoy's "tactics" were merely the reliance on the good will of the settler state––a question about policing lingers. We know that the pigs, by-and-large, politically support the Conservative party (if not the more reactionary People's Party of Canada), which is why they were friendly with the convoy. The Liberal party and the NDP are under the impression that the police, because they are a "public" institution, will be loyal to whatever government is in power and do their "duty" as it is ideologically conceived: defense of the public, serve and protect, law and order. They largely fail to grasp that in times of capitalist crisis, where fascism becomes more of possibility (especially in settler-colonial states with an ingrained white supremacy), that the police are an institution that is aligned with the illiberal wing of capitalism and thus antipathetic to Liberal governance, let alone NDP governance. Providing more resources to an institution that is opposed to liberal capitalism––that sympathizes with its paramilitary siblings––is how liberals allow themselves to be overwhelmed by reactionaries in those moments of crisis where the conservative wing of capitalism pushes for fascism.

With this dilemma of crisis capitalism that mobilizes the fascist creep, we are once again presented with the antinomy of socialism or barbarism. For if there had been a strong anti-capitalist movement united in theory and practice––that is, a comprehensive fighting party of the proletariat––we would have had something that could actually confront this paramilitary movement of the reactionary wing of the ruling class. Something that could have mobilized the masses for a more sustained movement against the onset of monolithic capitalism. Part of doing a proper class analysis is the requirement of a proletarian party. The existence of such a party can easily dispel the vacuous claims that a reactionary protest movement is "working class" because such a party, being the vessel of the working class for itself declares the class content of the movement it commands––that is, it puts politics in command.