In a distant past when the left was more self-assertive, we used to denigrate the mainstream political process around its usual institutions, political parties, reformist ideologies and elections. We were happily hoping that some sort of an unpredictable revolution would move in to swipe this away like a storm. We were readily studying the State and Revolution from a famous Leninist and declaring that our task was not to “take” the bourgeois state, but to destroy it …

Prehistoric age is it not? Of course in that “dream” there were so many gaps and misconceptions, starting from a totally unrealistic comprehension of Canadian and North American class confrontations. But somehow I feel there is still some validity in that apparently extremist view. That’s what I was thinking Tuesday night during the federal “debate.”

Our political scene was created to channel social confrontations into a narrow channel where it is impossible really to talk “outside the box.” The system, that is the capitalist system, is the only system, like it or not. Managing it differently is what is at stake. The “left” is supposed to do it more humanely. But no red lines can be crossed: the “sanctity” of private property,” the “rule of law” (laws that were precisely enacted to protect the system), the primacy of the individual. The political scene is the site where you can modulate these “foundations.”

Now that we have passed our heroic and romantic phase, there is no way that one can deny the importance, in the short and on the long run, of that constrained terrain. Differences are huge between social-liberalism (humanizing capitalism), neoliberalism and even more neoconservative (a la Harper). It is a big mistake to “withdraw” from that waiting for a revolutionary Godot down the road.

But should we have illusions? The system, call it capitalism, is a social and historical construct. Not the sun or the moon. It was built, it is contested, it will be replaced, some day somehow, just as the feudal system was. It is legitimate, and important, to challenge capitalism, to demonstrate that it cannot “deliver” and that its inherent logic is to accumulate capital and subjugate living beings. It is legitimate to aspire for another word, another set of principles. And therefore, to build political and social forces that are struggling for a radical change.

In the meantime, we will certainly shut our mouths and campaign for Jack or Gilles!


Pierre Beaudet

Pierre was active in international solidarity and social movements in Quebec, and was the founder of Quebec NGO Alternatives, and Editor of the Nouveaux cahiers du socialisme. He blogged on in...