Liberal Thinkers and the Crisis on the Left
CPS Election Analysis 2008 - Week 6
William O’Casey

The events and effects of the rapidly developing US financial crisis roil, perplex and confuse the “left” who have played all their “revolutionary” chips on the environmental question. Murray Dobbin one of the left’s leading thinkers apologizes and subordinates class struggle to class reconciliation not willing to give up the intellectual’s leadership of the question to the working class.
Dobbin, in his June 27 2008, article, “Will Canada Last?” asks the question, “At what point does a nation cease to be viable?” No other left commentary in recent months has exposed the confused apologist politics of left social democracy then the Murray Dobbin lament “Will Canada Last?”
Mr. Dobbin outlines the economic confusion, barren and naked political reconciliation with Canadian capital. It is a characteristic fear of petty bourgeois intellectuals of losing their position as the “voice of reason” within the Canadian ruling class. The danger is that these voices command influence within the labour movement.
Dobbin bemoans that, “What will it take persuade Canadians that if they do not act soon to reverse the course of their nation, there will be nothing left to save?” Now that Dobbin has discovered the sell-out of Canada there is a frustration with workers for not acting in a manner deemed acceptable by social democracy. What does Dobbin mean by reversing the course of the nation? Does it mean putting it back on a previously ‘solid’ liberal capitalist economic footing? At what point was Canada on a correct course of economic development? Under what political leadership was Canada’s economic direction sound? What does Dobbin mean that there will nothing left to save? The material base of Canada regardless of ownership will remain. The struggle to place ownership in the hands of the Canadian people will however change and become sharper. It is this and similar apocalyptic pronouncements originating on the left that leads to the collaboration with the Canadian ruling class to protect ‘our’ system. Such conclusions avoid the central question; that as long as material resources remain in the hands of capitalism the benefits of the resource will be returned to the owner classes first.
Fear is gripping the class of liberal thinkers. It is growing because the working class is beginning to move independently and in their economic interests. The threat and challenge by posed to social democratic ideology and to their positions as “liberal thinkers” is the objective growth of the working class and contradictions within Canadian capital. It is expressed in a growing sentiment of ‘liberal’ reason inside labour shrouded in ‘attacks’ on capitalism. It mimics the crisis in capitalist democracy as the divide between corporate profit and bourgeois democracy widens. It manifests itself in a belligerent alliance of Canadian imperialism led by the finance, oil, mining and military cabal currently finding expression in the economic and political policies of the Harper administration.
As the federal election approaches conclusion in the reality of an intensifying economic and political crisis, liberal ideology confronts the demand of workers for economic relief and protection head on. It must address that reality. But as that process matures, so too does the class ideology of liberal intellectuals as the threat to the capitalist system becomes more acute. The idiom of that process is an ideological tightening of and alignment with the capitalist system as a whole.
Dobbin laments that the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP) is a blue print for the “gradual dismantling of one of the most successful nations (Canada) of the twentieth century.” Dobbin avoids the discussing objective reality; that Canadian capital is part of the international inter-imperialist club of belligerent nations and has been a leading proponent and architect of imperialist capital, military and political structures and alliances, benefiting from that alliance. Canadian capital’s aggressive nature has profited from those capital formations - benefiting from imperialism. Canada’s ‘success’ as a leading capitalist nation has been, in part, due to a active participant in US imperialism and its global aims. Canadian capital as well has profited from acting in its own interests, exporting capital globally. Canada’s success been expressed politically in its foreign and economic policy within NAFTA, SPP, NATO, NORAD, NORTCOM, the World Bank, WTO and by exploiting its own working class.
Dobbin continues with the line of reconciliation between capital and labour where he says:
“The catastrophe of global climate change is upon us. Even if we started to seriously address it tomorrow it would take a generation to even begin to create a post-carbon economy. With secure supplies of oil and gas and careful government regulation of how quickly they are depleted, and who gets to purchase them, Canada's future as an environmentally and economically sustainable country would be virtually guaranteed.”
The above statement deserves close examination as it reveals the class roots and idiom of Dobbin and similar ideological strains within the Socialist Project and even within sections of the Communist Party. Again the overarching threat is climate change. ‘Seriously addressing the crisis’ and the basis of environmental and economic sustainability, in Dobbin’s opinion, is “careful” government regulation over the sale of Canadian energy. And this, Dobbin asserts “virtually guarantees” Canada’s economic future.
But just who are prudent government regulated energy sales to be offered to? All Canadian pipeline capacity runs south and virtually all power lines run south. What Dobbin is really saying is that Canadian energy needs to be sold to the US under more favourable terms and conditions. The question of developing the home market is not addressed by Dobbin. Dobbin avoids how much, under what conditions and who will benefit from its sale. If Dobbin and similar strains of social democracy didn’t command influence within the labour movement it would be comical, but that is not the case and in fact it is in effect a dangerous alliance with Big Oil couched in a shroud of environmental fear and phoney patriotism. Such is Dobbin’s plan of environmental protection and Canadian energy security.
Describing “Canada” as “one of the most successful nations” Dobbin infers that Canada’s success has been benign and all Canadians have benefited from it. This above class position avoids the fact that Canadian capital has been a significant beneficiary of the previous historical world order led by US imperialism. Avoiding that question winds up in maintaining the status quo.
Dobbin’s reconciliation with Canadian capital is hidden by decrying the “piecemeal distribution (of Canadian capital) to the decaying empire to the south”. It is similar in form to the expression of left in the US that views Canada as a source of raw materials for US industries and calls for US energy security while at the same time avoiding any discussion of Canadian sovereignty over the resource.
Dobbin hypocritically conceals that in the opposite historical period of rising US imperialism that social democracy would support the “piecemeal” transfer of Canadian resources to the US. This coincides with Dobbin’s ‘reversing the course of the nation’ thesis and placing Canada back in the historical period of rising US imperialism. One can only conclude that Dobbin is OK with the leadership of US imperialism as long as the benefits flowing from that alliance are returned to the middle class.
The last Dobbin lament:
“This stunning situation begs the question: At what point does a nation cease to be viable? While there is a legitimate debate about the role energy security plays in the answer, there is no debate about the role of the economic and political elite. In a market economy, once that elite has abandoned its commitment to the nation, it is just a matter of time. And time, like our oil and gas, is running out.”
No other statement in recent months by the liberal intelligentsia expresses their class outlook and ideological allegiance as profound as this one. Dobbin once again expresses his surprise and horror that Canada is in such a ‘stunning situation’ [the gradual dismantling of one of the most successful nations of the twentieth century], remaining perplexed over the way out. And because Dobbin has discovered that Canadian energy and natural resources have been sold-out to US monopolies through 6 decades of successive Canadian governments he declares that now is the time to ask if Canada is economically practicable.
Dobbin avoids defining the ‘nation’, leaving the function of a capitalist state unanswered. Dobbin dismisses the role of the national bourgeoisie stating that all Canadians are in agreement with the role that ‘economic and political elite’ should play, as if all Canadians understand and are fully aware of what role they do play. Even when discussing amongst academics themselves there is not full agreement on this question. Only to return to their role 6 words later to Dobbin says that once they ‘abandon’ the nation the economic viability of the state is in jeopardy. This can only mean that the ‘most successful nation of the 20th century’ is dependent on monopoly capital for its status as a nation, and that the working class themselves cannot manage the affairs of the nation. It is confused apology for the capitalist system, abandoning and subordinating class struggle to petty bourgeois prognostications and pleadings to capitalism to reform itself.
Further if one is to view the statement from other than a market economy – socialism – Dobbin argues that there is still a role for monopoly capital in a socialist system. This role Dobbin envisages monopoly capital will play must invariably lead to reconciliation by workers with monopoly capital to subordinate their interests in a socialist economy to the interests of the leadership role of capital. However in socialism monopoly capital can ‘abandon its commitment to the nation’ and we can only assume that the state will still function. In other words under a market economy monopoly capital is the determining factor but under socialism where monopoly capital plays a role [!?] the state will function on the efforts of labour alone, of course monopoly capital under these conditions one can only assume reaps the profits from its abdication of ‘responsibility’. It is quite the muddle.
State planning and control under a situation such as the one that Dobbin proposes means that a there is a role for monopoly capital to play and that the private ownership of the means of production and the profits derived by that remain under monopoly control even under socialism. Of course for workers this means subordinating their struggle for political and economic power and retaining capitalism as the only alternative. It is an allegiance to monopoly capital that Dobbin seems to be quite comfortable with.
And while Dobbin bemoans the desertion of Canadian monopoly capital and their administrators from their role as primary managers of the nation, he argues ‘in a market economy’ the flight of Canadian capital and resources and its ‘commitment’ [!?] to the nation spell the end of the country. Does Dobbin mean then that the only option is to placate and plead with monopoly capital to live up to its role and responsibility as protectors of Canada? What Dobbin in effect is saying that the any demands for workers for political and economic power are best left aside while the intellectuals work with the capitalists to ensure that Canada remains a successful member of the imperialist club of nations? Of course being a successful member of imperialism must translate into the blood soaked spoils of that success being returned in kind to Canada where one can only assume that they will be divided equally under the watchful eye of the intelligentsia.
One can only assume that the nation is defined as capitalist state and that the functions of the state operate within the confines of a market economy. Further, the role of the state in a capitalist economy is to provide political legitimacy to private ownership of capital and accumulation of wealth and to protect the fundamental premise of private ownership of the means of production and the expropriation of the unpaid labour time of workers.
Therefore, placing the question in a new form we attain the formula; at what stage does the market economy of the capitalist state lapse into default and its financial instruments stop functioning? Or to simplify it further; at what point is monopoly capital threatened by the demands of the working class for political and economic power? Dobbin warns monopoly capital that if they don’t start acting to protect their system it will be soon. This kind of collaboration couched in a veil of patriotism is dangerous.