author: marty grande-sherbert | op-ed editor
United States Congress
Every now and then, I get a feeling that the ‘60s are happening again. Everywhere I look, I see incredible momentum in social movements like Idle No More and Black Lives Matter, and I feel a spirit of people more or less getting on board about things we need to change and address – police violence, climate change, Canada’s colonial legacy.
But, just as we have the counterculture and will for liberation that people did in the 60s, we are also unfortunately living with a the natural result of that: a conservative wave that uses fear to suppress left-wing thinking, convincing people that movements meant to liberate are really trying to undermine our freedom. The Red Scare still survives.
There is much talk in the news, most obvious in the States, but also present here at home, about that monster of monsters: socialism. For example, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a self-identified democratic socialist (decidedly not the same thing as a communist, but to the right it’s all the same), was recently criticized thus at the Conservative Political Action Conference: “They want to rebuild your home, they want to take away your hamburgers. This is what Stalin wanted but never achieved.” This is because AOC was speaking about cracking down on factory farms as part of the Green New Deal.
So, a concern about factory farms and greenhouse gas emissions, very real things with a real impact on our environment, has been transformed into an image of a 1984-type scenario operating on the totally abstract idea of what an “evil commie” might want to do to the country. Our politicians jump to these conclusions, too; Canada may not have an exact equivalent of the CPAC, but we have things like the Yellow Vest movement’s extreme reaction to the institution of carbon taxes, and the assumption that the welcoming of refugees to Canada is going to destroy our “culture,” whatever Canadian culture is. People are wary of what they see as government control, a hatred of free enterprise, a “dictatorship of political correctness.” That’s just what they’ve heard left-wing thinking leads to, and they are often too afraid of the imagined risk of the left to look any farther than that.
The truth is, though, that while we associate communism with the worst failures of socialist states (which, to be clear, do warrant objection as all injustices do), we still have the left to thank for a lot of the things we take for granted as common decency in our society. International Women’s Day, which just passed this week, was originally called International Working Women’s Day, created by the Socialist Party of America. Until the United Nations removed working from the title, the day fundamentally focused on strikes for better working conditions and recognition of women’s labour – we could not have counted on anyone but trade unions composed of women to make those voices heard.
The Black Panther Party, who we have to thank for a heritage of civil rights and pride for Black people as well as free breakfast programs at hundreds of schools today, were also communists. I’ve heard it said many times that if libraries were to be proposed as an idea today, they would be rejected as a communist pipe dream – people argue today about whether anyone should be given “free stuff,” but we forget that we rely on many government services to do just that. Socialism so far has given us workers’ compensation, the weekend, maternity leave, the eight hour workday – but even those basic rights are becoming harder to secure for people because of the increasing distrust of unions. Even if it seems like it’s “cool with the kids” these days, socialist is still undeniably a dirty word to the people with power, and a lot of people want us to forget how it is that we got here.
So, am I telling you to go commie? Well, I can’t force my perspective on anyone, but you can’t agree (or, in good faith, disagree) with the left until you hear what they have to say. Mainstream media isn’t a good place to get all your information about a political tendency, or about anything. Politics involve whole people, not abstract ideas, and particularly in an age where companies like Arby’s and Wendy’s are making Twitter accounts and posting memes in an attempt to connect with teenagers, it’s important to connect ideas to human perspectives and experiences. In the face of propaganda from every tendency being part of every message, we can either put stock in absolutely no opinion, or we can be more active about the messages we transmit and receive. Apathy, in my opinion, is not the better option there.
I won’t attempt to disguise this article as anything but an attempt to politicize, because every article in this section already is. Left-wing beliefs you may find too radical are reasonable to other people, and you can’t get to the bottom of that unless you make your debates about solving problems instead of being correct or superior. Because we’re living in this repeat-‘60s era where ideologies can look like stand-alone entities, we can barely agree on anything, and that’s dangerous when we have so much work to do that leftist movements have started for us. In fact, we’re all facing the same crises, with a climate apocalypse looming to boot, and we can’t afford distrust. Even if this article just makes you want to scoff at me, I would challenge you to do so actively, with a new perspective, so that we’re generating momentum instead of losing it. Without that effort, we’re both just at the CPAC panicking about imaginary hamburgers instead of having the conversation we really need to.