[The Spark!, No. 21]


On June1st NDP MP Pat Martin stood up in the House and said, “When I announce that I am a socialist, I guess it is no surprise because we are all socialists now. We just bought General Motors. ... The fact is we now have Marxism realized. We own the means of production, and we didn’t have to fire a single shot.”

Was Mr. Martin really serious? In fact, no. (“I always thought one of the signs of the apocalypse would be when General Motors went bankrupt,” he said. “Is that not when the four horsemen appear on the horizon and there is darkness at the break of noon, when GM goes bankrupt?”) But Mr. Martin wasn’t entirely unserious either, more’s the pity. In his conception of society, class has disappeared. We own the means of production,” he says. Who? He and his fellow members of the parliamentary club? Does he really think that’s who sit in the driver’s seat in this country?

Push him and surely he would accept that the whole purpose of the GM bailout was to keep capitalism afloat. That’s why no class struggle was required to have this massive state takeover – temporary, as the US, Canadian and Ontario governments have made a point of stressing. Communists always fault social democrats for their tendency to prefer easy options, underestimating the intense class struggle required even to win quite modest gains.

Is Canada really ruled democratically through parliament, or undemocratically by a small group of monopoly capitalists? Certainly there are important qualifications to be made, but the main story is one of minority domination thanks to systematic support from the mass media, church and school, tradition and ingrained habit – not to mention the army and police, should push come to shove.

“The executive of the modern State is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie,” says the Communist Manifesto (Marx Engels Collected Works, Volume 6, page 486). At the time of writing this, over 160 years ago, there probably weren’t many states Marx and Engels would have considered “modern”. (Maybe only Britain, France, Belgium, Switzerland, the USA and some South American states.) And critics have asked how this statement can be squared with the evidence of their complex, concrete discussions of various different countries’ politics, and with the relative autonomy that Marxist science in principle attributes to the state and its affairs. (Have these critics ever personally had dealings with any actual executive committees? If so, they wouldn’t find “relative autonomy” such a very difficult concept to grasp.)

Last December Canada’s Tory Finance Minister Jim Flaherty appointed an eleven-member advisory committee consisting of four billionaires, five other business executives, one pro-big-business professor and one right-wing Liberal politician, who resigned her seat in the B.C. legislature to chair this Economic Advisory Council. We can be glad there is no class-collaborating labour representative on the panel. The Globe and Mail Report on Business commented on its front page (December 19, 2008) that there was “not a banker in sight” on it – which may or may not tell us something about Minister Flaherty and his boss Stephen Harper.

These eleven advisors meet together in private, but only a few times a year, we’re told. Undoubtedly this will be a powerful source of capitalist-class input into government policy, but certainly only one source of influence.

Another is the Canadian Council of Chief Executives (formerly the Business Council on National Issues). The Globe Report on Business (of June 26, 2009) tells us, “... the head of the CCCE or its staff have met with the Prime Minister’s Office or Federal finance officials a total of 15 times in the past 18 months, according to the Federal lobbyist registry. These talks ranged from tax policy to energy and small business. On at least three occasions [CCCE head Thomas] d’Aquino had face-to-face meetings with Mr. Harper.”

And there are also other business groups exerting influence on government policy, such as the Canadian Chamber of Commerce. And then, as well, there is individual corporate lobbying. Canadian billionaire Frank Stronach’s Magna Corporation needed the backing of a number of governments, including Canada’s, for his bid to take over European car-maker Opel from bankrupt GM (a bid which ultimately failed because the mainly government-appointed GM Board of Directors was “relatively autonomous” itself and wavered but in the end decided not to sell). According to the Globe Report on Business (June 1, 2009), Stronach declared, “I pretty well called everybody in Ottawa and said: ‘Look, call the Treasury Department, because in the final analysis the Treasury Department has to agree.’” We can notice that Stronach speaks only of getting through to the Ministry of Finance indirectly (and he seems to have forgotten the Ministry’s correct name; he surely didn’t mean the much less important Canadian Treasury Board). But get through to the government he indeed did. And we know how all this compares to the efforts of Canadian people's organizations to catch the government's ear.

Yet, with a sufficient head of steam, an aroused public, especially in a minority government situation, can influence even a Stephen Harper administration, as seen on issues such as Afghanistan, Quebec, the environment and (un)employment insurance. As these meagre examples show, though, the concessions wrung from a down-the-line big business government are miles and miles from what is needed. We know that a progressive majority of MPs committed to a people’s alternative policy agenda will only become possible to the extent that labour and other people’s forces are successfully mobilized outside parliament first.

n Danny Goldstick

FOLLOWUP: In deference to Canadian insurance companies and their affiliated independent insurance brokers (and the further development of an election campaign pledge), Finance Minister Flaherty faxed a letter to bank CEOs October 7th telling them regulations would be issued extending the existing rule against selling insurance in bank branches to a ban on their insurance subsidiaries doing business on banking websites. Complained Canadian Bankers Association CEO Nancy Hughes Anthony:

“By and large the banking industry has an open dialogue with the minister and the minister’s department, and we have to. We’ve had this through thick and thin over the past 18 months. So to have something that just kind of came out of the blue, on which we were not consulted in advance, obviously was a shock to many members of the industry. ... It’s not the normal way we do business with the government, that’s for sure.”

An unnamed “senior employee at one of the big banks” was quoted commenting, “I don’t think the memory of this is going to fade any time soon.” (Globe and Mail Report on Business, October 16)