Canada's Occupation of Afghanistan:
A Challenge to the Anti-War Movement in Canada
By Ivan Drury
It's already old news that never made the front page: Canada has begun its war drive in Afghanistan.
When Canadian Chief of Defense Staff, General Rick Hillier made his July 14th announcement that 2 Thousand more Canadian troops will be sent to Afghanistan to "kill" "scumbags" and "murderers," Canada had already popped the cork on the third anniversary of the occupation of Afghanistan with a new "National Defense" plan, the first in 20 years, a doubled military budget reaching $24Billion in two years, and a new goal of an 8 Thousand soldier addition to the military. Hillier's statement was greeted with nods of approval by every single major political party in Canada, and, for the most part, the leadership of the anti-war movement said, "I gotta go to the bathroom," and skipped out on voting for or against either way.
Hillier's statements were not isolated ramblings of a racist phantom of the House of Commons who had slipped out of his attic prison long enough to hold a press conference and give the government a black eye. He is the head of the Canadian military and in his words we can glimpse the plans of future wars that his unanimous parliamentarian backers were not so bold as to share with the majority of people in Canada. It is here that the anti-war movement in Canada finds its real work, and the groups that head up this movement better prepare for a lot of overtime. In issue #25 of Fire This Time, we proposed, for this task, taking up a call for an Independent Public Inquiry into the Canadian war drive in Afghanistan. Here, we will investigate this question further.
The purpose of an Independent Public Inquiry into Canada's Afghanistan affair is simple: It is to build an effective anti-war movement in Canada against Canadian imperialism. The announced deployment of troops to Afghanistan has been shrouded in secrecy, and there is a desperate need for an investigation to be conducted into exactly how and why this war drive has been started unanimously by the government of Canada. Beyond this, the Canadian occupation of Afghanistan and the Canadian war drive will have a terrible impact on the lives and rights of every single working and poor person in Canada.
At the same time, the Canadian war drive in Afghanistan presents an opportunity to build the effective anti-war movement so badly needed for working and poor people to face this crisis. In order for working and poor people in Canada to mobilize against the Canadian war drive we all must first understand that it is in our interest to take on this struggle. People in Canada must stand united against Canadian imperialism. Currently, there is a vast gap between what must be and what is. We call for an Independent Public Inquiry to bridge this gap.
Problems with the anti-war movement in Canada and the difference between the anti-war movement in the US and in Canada
It is true that the occupations of Afghanistan, Iraq and Haiti were, for the most part, "Made in the USA." Because of this, the effects of the occupations of Afghanistan, Iraq and Haiti have been felt most deeply, first by the people of Afghanistan, Iraq and Haiti themselves for obvious reasons, and second, by people in the US. The conditions of poverty and desperation that have accompanied the US war drive into the US itself are nudging up and getting familiar with poor and working people in Canada as well.
Increasingly, people in the US (and the UK) are seeing things from the same perspective as people in Afghanistan and Iraq: that the imperialist ruling class is their enemy. In Afghanistan and Iraq, the imperialists run the show thanks to the power of their occupying armies. In the US, they operate through police forces, offices and congress directly. The difference is that this direct rule is carried out with the "consent" of people in the US. Hurricane Katrina and the disaster in New Orleans unearthed a lot of questions about the meaning of this "consent" and the question of whose interests the US Government really represent, but the lack of representation in the US Government for working and poor people in the US has always been clear. The numbers of those living in deep poverty in the US has increased by more than 1.5million families since 2000. Forty-five million people in the US live without Medicare. Full unemployment in the US sits at around 5.5%, but that number doesn't tell the whole story when you consider that of the nearly 24million people over the age of 17 who live in poverty in the US, 88% of them work full time, year round. The war and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan has not improved the lives of the vast majority of people in the US in any way - actually quite the opposite.
On top of this, since the invasion of Afghanistan and then Iraq, the US ruling class has used the "war on terror" to justify massive attacks on the democratic rights of immigrants, refugees, non-status people, women and all working people in the US. It is increasingly difficult for people in the US to accept that the occupation of Iraq is in their interest, let alone worth sacrificing the lives of 2,000 young people who have been recruited out of poverty into the army… or the lives of upwards of 150,000 Iraqis.
The result of the connections between the war in Afghanistan, Iraq and Haiti and the conditions for working and poor people in the US has resulted in a widespread anti-war sentiment, the emergence of symbols of the 'regular American' against the war like Cindy Sheehan and the sharp decline of approval ratings for the biggest symbol of the US war drive - President George W. Bush.
Obstacles to building an effective anti-war movement in Canada
From the beginning, the anti-war movement in the US has confronted home-country imperialism directly, whether different political tendencies in the movement wanted to or not; there is no escaping it. However, in Canada, the problems of building an effective anti-war movement have been even more complicated than in the US. Since the first major anti-war demonstrations of the era, November 17th 2002, the focus has been on the US war drive, and for the most part, Canadian imperialism has been overlooked, sidelined, or denied.
The main obstacle facing the development of an effective anti-war movement in Canada is that working and poor people in Canada are disoriented over the question of whose rights the government of Canada represent. By and large working people in Canada are confused about the power base of the government of Canada and about the relationship between Canada and the US. This confusion takes shape in the confused brand of Canadian nationalism so common in the anti-war movement and amongst millions of working people in Canada. These (mostly well-meaning) people state, without ever being completely convinced, that Canada is basically good, and the US is basically bad; and they search constantly for proof of this conclusion after it has already been made. So where does this idea come from?
The root of this confusion is itself the other major obstacle to the building of an independent anti-war movement in Canada, as well as any other movement for social justice and real change. Canadian Nationalism is promoted directly from the mouths of the major leaders of working and poor people in Canada. They say that they want to protect "Canadian sovereignty" against the US and they never explain that this sovereignty means the suppression of the rights of Indigenous people and the Quebecois. They certainly never outline how the "sovereignty" of this imperialist country depends upon and demands the routine theft of the products and wealth produced through the labour of every single worker in Canada by the rich classes or the invasion and occupation of oppressed nations like Afghanistan and Haiti.
The Government of Canada is the enemy of working people at home and abroad
The government of Canada is the executive management body of the ruling class of Canada. The governmental actions, policies and laws that have brought the Canadian war drive and occupation of Afghanistan will not contradict the attacks on unions and workers by Telus, Sodexho, Teck-Cominco and so many other capitalist businesses across Canada. In fact, it is the symmetry of these simultaneous attacks that we refer to when we say, "Stop the war at home and abroad!"
Within Canada itself, from coast to coast, after the federal government neatly offloaded social services locally, all social programs have come under the knife by reactionary provincial governments. The Liberal government in BC is a perfect example, but the same could be said for Alberta, Ontario, Newfoundland, and even Quebec. Social Housing, welfare, Women's centres, Legal Aid; one by one they have been cut back or eliminated. Then on a federal and provincial level, the attacks began on first the public and then private sector unions. The Hospital Employees Union, the Telecommunication Workers Union, Canadian Media Guild have all gone on strike for what? Against contracting out. For the protection of union jobs. Basically, for the right of the unions to exist and represent the workers at all. At the same time, the democratic rights of the most vulnerable people in Canada have been crushed like a rib cage beneath the treads of a bulldozer. Security certificates, secret trials, the new immigration and refugee protection act, the safe third country agreement; all aimed at the rights of immigrants, refugees and non-status people.
Some of these domestic attacks have come under criticism from some of the major political parties, like the NDP, but these criticisms have always been a matter of degree: "Too deep" / "Too much" / "Too fast" etc… The Canadian war drive in Afghanistan was not even subjected to that sort of token criticism. The doubling of the Canadian military budget, the new "International Policy Statement" released in May of this year that laid out a policy of "advancing Canada's position" on the world stage beyond it's historic "middle power status", the planned addition of 5,000 new fulltime and 3,000 new reserve soldiers to the Canadian army, and the deployment of 2,000 more troops to Afghanistan; all carried through without a dissenting vote or even a public show of "consultation."
The more severe the economic cancer, the more deeply the surgical knife of the ruling class must cut into the flesh of working people to extract power and profit. The National Bank of Canada and the chief economist-doctors of all the powerful countries in the world have diagnosed this current economic crisis as malignant and potentially fatal. The ruling class and their governments in Canada, the US and every imperialist country in the world have prescribed the painful blood-letting of working, poor and oppressed people in Afghanistan and in Canada as remedy.
To make matters worse, these are the remedies of a dark ages alchemist. None of the suffering these 'solutions' have caused, or will cause, will stop the growth of the economic cancer. For all the schooling and think-tank institutions of the government of Canada, they have misdiagnosed the source of the disease. They themselves are the cancer that is bringing war, occupation, death, destruction and suffering to the majority of the people in the world.
To destroy this cancer is the job of working and poor people in Canada and throughout the world. But before that is possible, we must overcome the barriers to building an effective movement for the rights and lives of working and poor people internationally, independent of the government and ruling class in Canada. The nationalist ideology of "Canadian sovereignty" blocks the necessary understanding of the government of Canada as being just as opposed to the interests of working and poor people in Canada as the government of the US is. Canadian nationalism tells working people in Canada that the ruling class is "on your side" and the Afghan people are "scumbags," "murderers" and "terrorists," who "detest our freedoms, they detest our society, they detest our liberties." (Gen. Hillier, July 14) Nothing could be further from the truth. Canadian nationalism also blocks the necessary understanding of the Canadian troop deployment to Afghanistan for what it is: the beginning of the Canadian war drive.
Why an Independent Public Inquiry into the Canadian war drive in Afghanistan?
First: We maintain that the most important struggle of the anti-war movement in Canada is against Canadian-home-country-imperialism. It is through the demands of "Canada out of Afghanistan," "Canada out of Haiti," and "Self Determination for Indigenous Nations in Canada" that the anti-war movement in Canada can make its most effective contribution to the international struggle against war and occupation and for the self determination of all oppressed nations. This is just as true as that the anti-war movement in the US can be most effective in fighting against US imperialism. A victory against the Canadian occupation of Afghanistan would put all oppressed people fighting for self determination in a better position against imperialism. At the same time, a struggle for the right of oppressed nations to self determination furthers the struggles of working, poor and oppressed people within Canada for self determination for Indigenous Nations in Canada and for Quebec and for social justice.
Second: Because their war drive is their central campaign to "further" Canadian-imperialist interests on the "world stage," the Canadian war drive has been launched as a unanimous campaign of the Canadian ruling class that was passed through the so-called "democratic" parliament in secret. Is it probable that if they had debated it in public and even engaged in "consultations" across the country that they would have rammed their war drive through anyway? Yes. But if they had made their occupation of Afghanistan and their war drive an issue in Canada, then they would have made the work of the anti-war movement much easier. That is, they would have risked their bombs igniting, along with the remaining homes of people in Kandahar, Afghanistan, the opposition of working, poor and oppressed people in Canada against them.
This requires an equally unanimous campaign by working and poor people in Canada against this war drive. To do this, the anti-war movement has to correct the deep misunderstanding that exists about Canada as a "peacekeeping" country; that "Canada's sovereignty" is at risk from the US, and so on. A rigorous education campaign must be undertaken by the anti-war movement to overcome the lies that the US is the only problem in the world or that the wars and occupations that plague humanity can be attributed all to the bad character of one or two men, like Bush and Cheney.
An Independent Public Inquiry into the Canadian war drive in Afghanistan would not be a solution to the problem of the occupation or the war at home and abroad, but it would provide a necessary starting point. It is necessary to educate working people across Canada about the occupation, and to do this it is necessary to make the occupation of Afghanistan into a major issue for Canada - like Iraq for the US. To make it an issue, it is necessary to bring together all people and organizations against war and occupation into a united campaign to ask the questions demanded by the new Canadian war drive:
Why was the decision to send 2,000 more Canadian troops passed through parliament without public consultation?
Why are 25Billion tax dollars annually, and currently $47Million a day, being turned over to the Canadian military while the government cuts social programs?
Who decides how tax dollars are spent in Canada?
Is the occupation of Afghanistan legal? According to who?
Although slow to respond, some elements of the leadership of the anti-war movement in Canada is beginning to ask these questions. The "Canadian Peace Alliance," the country-wide network of the largely NDP-supporting anti-war movement, has released the program for their annual conference this November and its main theme is, "Canada's role in empire… and how the movement can stop it." This may be the positive sign of the beginning of a polarization within the NDP, between the rank and file and the leadership that has pulled too far to the right for the working membership to follow any farther.
Through the call for an Independent Public Inquiry into the Canadian war drive in Afghanistan, all these millions of people who dream of real, revolutionary change could come together against this central campaign of the Canadian ruling class. An Independent Public Inquiry take advantage of the Canadian war drive in Afghanistan to expose the government of Canada as anti-democratic war mongers and could build the movement needed to fill the howling vacuum heard by millions of working, poor and oppressed people in Canada over the question of ""But what can I do?"
The Canadian war drive that begins in Afghanistan comes as a tragedy for the Afghan people who continue to struggle against the occupation of their country, for their self determination and as a crisis for the millions of people in Canada who demand money for housing, health care, social services, and education, not war and occupation. But we cannot afford to miss the opportunity embedded in this tragedy. The Canadian war drive also comes as a challenge to the anti-war movement in Canada; it is a challenge is to act.
CANADA OUT OF AFGHANISTAN!
STOP THE CANADIAN WAR DRIVE!
CALL FOR AN INDEPENDENT PUBLIC INQUIRY INTO THE CANADIAN OCCUPATION OF AFGHANISTAN!
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