Thinking about the future is something the left has always done. A basic precept is that the next society is already emerging out of the old society. This is what I see could happen in Canada.

The next society wants to reduce inequalities, not increase the powers of the over-privileged. The next society is about targeting and eliminating waste, not enhancing consumption. The next society is about extending economic and social rights, not accumulating capital. The next society wants to improve co-operation, not force competition. The next society is about community, not selfishness. In the next society people work together to meet each other’s needs, not to enrich a few.

What we are living through today looks discouraging. The Canadian government spends $1.2 billion on G8/G20 security measures. In return for our money, we got a police riot in Toronto. Over 900 people were arrested for no good reason. Acts of vandalism went unpunished, while the police decked out in armour made a direct charge at peaceful protesters singing O Canada.

The context for the repression of freedom of expression is the so-called war on terror, an American-inspired attack on the enemies within, joined to military invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. It follows on the previous great effort to frighten everyone, the cold war, and the bloody invasion of Vietnam. External tyrants posed such a threat to the American way of life, that (along with an unjust war) witch hunts, constant propaganda, and surveillance were imposed on the public. Ever wary of American hegemony, governments in Canada and other Western countries mostly played along.

Because tyranny abroad does not justify tyranny at home, many people opposed the cold war, and marched against the hot wars. Today, in open debate, few can defend the thinking behind the war on terror. Why make war on an abstract noun? So the preferred government alternative is to shut down debate and root out dissent.

In 20th-century mass society, obvious solidarities among workers, women, peace-loving religious communities, environmentalists, farmers, aboriginals, parents, young and old did not go away. However, they were overridden by a way of life that encouraged people to live alienated from each other. This started in the workplace, where labour was alienated for profit, and co-workers tossed aside in the name of fighting the recession, or the deficit, or inflation or whatever it was the “economy” was supposed to require. Seeking solace in movies, television, paper backs, spectator sports, music, and other form of entertainment did not change society, but certainly made it more palatable.

The trumped up notion of a clash of civilizations was used to discipline Americans into accepting poor wages, and diminished opportunities, and to say to hell with the natural environment. For the sake of energy exports, and softwood lumber, Canadians are supposed to follow meekly along, accepting the preposterous idea that military action against Afghanistan is being undertaken to protect democracy or women’s rights.

Instead of promoting divisions that weaken all, the next society builds on a stronger idea: what we have in common exceeds what separates us from each other. Dave Coles, head of the CEP (Communications, Energy, and Paperworkers Union) spoke at a roundtable and made this very point. Bringing people together builds the next society.

The great neo-conservative Thatcher-Reagan counter-revolution of the 1980s, and the neoliberal globalization agenda incarnated by the Washington consensus of the 1990s, have given us the collapse of the other wall — Wall Street. The breakdown of the American dollar-run world financial system has hit national economies hard. The prospect of a long period of stagnation looms large. This does not make the emergence of the next society any easier, it just makes it more obviously necessary.

Cathryn Atkinson

Cathryn Atkinson is the former News and Features Editor for Her career spans more than 25 years in Canada and Britain, where she lived from 1988 to 2003. Cathryn has won five awards for her...