On Friday, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Jason Kenney announced that the Canadian government would be awarding $1.5 million to Tribute to Liberty under the ministry’s Inter-Action program to build a Canadian monument commemorating the “victims of communism.” The in-no-way-selective-and-ideological monument is not specific on who the victims of communism are meant to be, although based on the inflated Cold-War era rhetoric employed by Kenney (“[The monument] will also serve as a reminder to all Canadians that glorifying Communist symbols insults the memory of these victims”) we can expect that anyone defaulting to words like “gulag” or “purges” will earn a quiet smile from the Immigration Minister.
With the statue now slated to be built in downtown Ottawa, we can start to look forward to Jason Kenney’s next memorial project, which will surely require far more planning and resources: a Monument Commemorating the Victims of Capitalism.
I assume the design for the victims of communism monument will follow its American cousin, erected by liberty-warrior George W. Bush in 2007. We can expect onlookers to be reminded of the divine, elect light we luxuriate in daily as citizens of Western democracy. A monument to the victims of capitalism, on the other hand, might benefit from a more specific design.
Here are five suggestions for Minister Kenney on his next project:
1. A sweatshop
Is this too obvious? Western consumers were shocked — shocked! — to find that clothes sold in Loblaw’s Joe Fresh stores, WalMart, Primark and others were made in a Bangladeshi garment factory before it collapsed in April, killing 1,100 workers inside. Cracks were visible in the walls the day before and the building evacuated, but workers were ordered to return to work the day of the disaster, or risk losing a month’s wages. Just the year before, a fire had broken out in a nearby Dhaka factory where over 100 workers died, unable to escape through inadequate emergency exits.
These are only the most recent high-profile examples of the human cost of cheap goods distributed to whichever poor nation willing to cut safety and environmental regulations more than their competitor. Since the Western appetite for affordable, comestible goods is inviolate, the cost must come from elsewhere: the bodies and happiness of the poor and vulnerable. Economists will explain that sometimes if you don’t have money, you just need to take on more risk and “that’s OK.” “Risk,” “margin,” “choice”: this is the vocabulary of a system which necessitates inequality and precarity with one hand, and with the other, scolds its subjects for making the wrong choices and for their “bad luck.”
2. The world’s population of First peoples
Colonialism has always been the water-carrier of capitalism. When Joseph Conrad’s dark allegory of Western imperialism, Heart of Darkness, showed the sinister underbelly of the Belgian rape of the Congo to British readers in 1899, he had his fearsome protagonist Mr. Kurtz offer the quintessential maxim of capitalism: “EXTERMINATE ALL THE BRUTES!”
Conrad may have been suggesting that what was really needed in Africa was good-ol’ fashioned benevolent British imperialism rather than all these upstart colonizers like Belgium, but nevertheless it is hard to find a victim who has borne more of capitalism’s ire than the world’s Aboriginal peoples. Perpetually in the way of the capitalist and his resources, Aboriginals the world over have made themselves a constant nuisance defending their land from environmental exploitation — and they have paid a heavy price. The only mark against them earning memorialization is that in their intransigence (or what Thomas King calls their “inconvenience”), they happen to still be around — fighting water monopolies, land claims, mining expeditions and pipelines — much to the frustration of modern-day Kurtzes everywhere.
3. A melting glacier
Environmentalists were confronted with a hilariously depressing image this summer when a photo of the North Pole submerged in water circulated social media. Scientists have been harping about climate change for a few decades now — and while they’d be the first to tell you that correlation does not imply causation, there’s a pretty good chance that capitalism’s insatiable appetite for cheap energy might have something to do with it. This sculpture would help remind future generations of what it was like to skate on a frozen lake in Brantford, Ontario or what Vancouver was like before it was underwater.
4. A starving child
Hitting all the right melodramatic notes beloved by paternalistic charity organizations everywhere, this design reveals one of capitalism’s defining contradictions. Although Canadians throw out an astonishing 40 per cent of their food, four million of us are “food insecure”: a burden disproportionately shared by racialized minorities, seniors, women and children. Capitalism paradoxically requires both excess (since in the drive towards profit supply will eventually outpace demand) and want (since without need no one will buy the commodities for sale) in order to function; and nowhere is the violence of this system more apparent than in food production.
Mexico now imports corn, an indigenous crop. Andean farmers can’t afford the quinoa crop they’ve lived on for centuries. Available varietals of fruits and vegetables have plummeted since the end of the nineteenth century while consumers believe the choice available to them is better than ever (even if it comes in the form of a tasteless December tomato or a shrivelled February peach). Seventy per cent of our food passes through “the cold chain,” a vast network of refridgerated warehouses and processing plants which remains invisible to our daily lives and a blight on the landscape and energy grid supporting them. Organic, green and ethical food products are sold side-by-side (and often by the same brand) conventional ones without the courtesy to blush. One quarter of the world’s population is overfed while another quarter go hungry. I could go on. Meanwhile, landfill, greenhouse gasses and pesticides proliferate apace. A statue of a hungry child might not capture the enormity of capitalism’s food production contradictions, but it might at least break a few neo-liberal hearts.
5. A Wall Street stockbroker
Speaking of broken hearts, the Wall Street warrior is one of the least-mourned victims of capitalism (although, happily, the only one on this list who has received decent compensation). Tricked by their mentors into believing that an infinitely expanding economic system was an American birthright, these financial wizards saw their entire industry collapse once someone realized that you can’t really base an entire economy on magic.
Or, maybe, with enough bailouts to go around, you can: American novelist John Dos Passos once quipped, when asked if he believed in the inevitable failure and collapse of capitalism, “Sure, but the question is when. We’ve got the failure, at least from my point of view. What I don’t see is the collapse.” While this shouldn’t preclude economists, bankers and stockbrokers from getting the memorial they deserve, they should at least take some comfort from the fact that they can still play roulette with our patrimony and commonwealth.
It could be argued that none of these suggested monuments is really necessary, since Kenney, Stephen Harper and friends have transformed Canada into a living memorial to the victims of capitalism. Even so, it always helps to have something concrete to focus on. Do you have any suggestions for a fitting tribute? Post them below!