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RM Issue #030902

Paul Kellogg's Cornflakes; or "After Left Nationalism:The Future of Canadian Political Economy"

Sunday, August 31 2003 @ 03:40 PM MDT
Contributed by: Robin Mathews

Paul Kellogg, a University of Toronto political economist (paul.kellogg@utoronto.ca), gave a speech about Canadian political ideas in June 2003 to an assembly of "thinkers". The speech was put on the web and has been visited by many interested people--see After Left Nationalism. They have made it a centre of discussion - and, one must add, of some influence. I call it "Paul Kellogg's Cornflakes" because though the box looks impressive, when it is opened it seems only two-thirds full. And even at that, despite upbeat labelling, the nutritional value of its contents leaves a lot to be desired.

As journalists say: "So what's the story?" In brief, Kellogg goes (one more time) at a concept in recent Canadian history called "Left nationalism" which expressed itself most sharply between the late 1950s and the 1980s retreat of the Trudeau government from policies undertaken or projected to strengthen Canadian economic independence by measusres that were to go from The National Energy Policy to a national industrial strategy ... and more.

The retreat was the result of U.S. alarm, indignation, and threat. The whole Canadian attempt (however miserable a failure) so upset U.S. policy makers that they decided it must never happen again - Canadians must be prevented from believing they can employ their own wealth, energy, expertise, and political philosophy to reach goals designed in Canada to increase Canadian strength, independence, and positive use in the world. A major instrument forged to prevent independent Canaadian policy is called The Free Trade Agreement.

Paul Kellogg argues, in short, that Left nationalism produced theorists who saw Canada as comparable to some Third World countries subordinated to the U.S., looted of resources by it, and prevented from fully developing industrial might (the "dependency theory"). He argues, further, that it is wrong to see a link between Canadian nationalism and the politics of the Left, that the so-called facts of Left nationalist "dependency theory" are wrong, that Left nationalist ideas are inherited from "bad" Communist arguments, that Left nationalists have abandoned a world economy perspective, and that Canada is, in fact, not only an imperialist power but also one of the advanced capitalist economies at the very top of the pecking-order of nations and has as full independence as can be had in the world.

The thunderous conclusion Kellogg comes to is that Canadians whould realize they are imperialists and should work to lighten their oppression of Quebec and the Native Peoples (as that other imperial power, one supposes, should work to lighten its oppression of Blacks, Hispanics, and Native Peoples in the U.S.A.). Canadians should start again, according to Kellogg, not moving towards a nationalism the ruling elites can exploit, but towards a recognition that we are independent already, though somehow embedded in a North American dominated by a sick and declining U.S. capitalism. We need to recognize, too, that we are in a world condition in which economic and social amelioration for the world's billions seems impossible as instability and institutionalized militarism become the norm. What to do in that situation is our problem. If we put aside the nonsense of Left nationalism, we can find ways to address the problems, Kellogg suggests.

He doesn't tell us what the difference is between the "dependency theory" Left nationalists speak of and his own claim that Canada is embedded in a North America dominated by a sick and declining U.S. capitalism. Perhaps we don't have to worry, for Kellogg's argument is, in fact, a non-argument, an obfuscation of real history. Put brutally, it is a replay of the reactionary argument in Canada that we should not be Canadian nationalists and anti-imperialists (against U.S. expansionist imperialism) because, well shucks, we're just like them Yankees anyway. As Kellogg sees it, Canadian nationalism of the Left is stupid. We can't be anti-imperialists because we are imperialists. And we should not see ourselves as opposed to the U.S. because we are industrially developed to that country's level.

His arguments fall to pieces for simple reasons. He ignores the culture out of which they come. He fails to define his central terms. And he fails to see the difference between Liberal nationalism in Canada and Left nationalism. In fact, he doesn't appear to understand Left nationalism, the term he places in central position and focusses his major attack upon.

Left nationalism in Canada (like other forms of nationalism) has come out of the history of a real population. Kellogg says in effect: "I have a theory. Think this way, and act as I say". He writes briefly of a growing radicalization in the country when people like Mel Watkins and Kari Levitt were writing. But he ignores real history, the real culture of Canada.

Beginning in 1956 with the famous Pipelines Debate in the House of Commons, Canadians showed they were fearful of U.S. economic imperialism. A few years earlier (after students had finished throwing lunch bags and apple cores at him and order was imposed) I had heard Tim Buck , Canadian Communist Party leader, discuss U.S. economic imperialism in Canada - a subject I did not ever hear discussed by any of my UBC professors. If Buck was speaking (as Kellogg claims) on instructions from Moscow - who cares? For he struck an important chord among many in his audience of young Canadians.

The brief Diefenbaker/Tory interlude from 1957 to 1963 heightened Canadian concern about U.S. economic takeover, partly because of the high expectations Diefenbaker aroused with his "northern vision" and partly because of the shock-waves that ran through concerned members of the population when Diefenbaker submitted to U.S. policy, destroyed the beautiful Avro Arrow, and entered a Continental Defense Agreement with the U.S.A.

Walter Gordon, a "progressive" Liberal turned his attention to the problem in a Report in 1957-58 and then as Finance Minister in the famous budget of 1963 in which he proposed a Takeover Tax to be levied on foreign takeovers, the tax money to be used to help build a Canadian-owned economy. For that initiative Gordon was destroyed, Lester Pearson, PM, assisting at the destruction. Gordon went quietly, but not before having gained a promise that he could set up a Task Force on the economy.

The Task Force resulted in the important 1968 Watkins Report, a report which measured foreign (especially U.S.) takeover and described the costs to Canada and Canadians. The economic costs and the distortions introduced to suit U.S. prioities were and are large and real. In addition, the social, cultural, moral, and philosophical costs and distortions were and are immeasureable. No political economist (or any other writer) has attempted to discuss all the implications because they are so numerous.

Pressure from the population for action resulted in two more Reports following on the Watkins Report. The second, the Wahn Report, appeared in 1970. The third, the Gray Report, appeared in 1972. Both were reports from within the Liberal government, but the Gray Report was only released when it was leaked and published by Canadian Forum magazine. Earlier, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau had told a delegation from the Committeee for an Independent Canada that he would not release the Gray Report because to do so would upset the stock markets.

That was a highly significant admission. For though all three reports originated in the Liberal government, very, very few of their recommendations were acted upon. The whole movement was stalled, frustrated, and blocked despite a clear desire on the part of a large portion of the population to have real action taken, including nationalization, socialization, and strict laws to prevent foreign takeover. When we record that after Trudeau's return to power in 1980, the U.S. pressured successfully to stop all such independence actions, we don't have to ask why more was not done from the start.

The general movement of national concern I have recorded eventuated in the formation of the Waffle Movement in the NDP (1969), the Committee for an Independent Canada (1970), and small, activist movements like The Canadian Liberation Movement (1968).

Into the growing popular movement - as both a stimulus and an opportunity to express concern - the 1967 Centennial Year Celebrations erupted. Out of them and out of the reappraisal Canadians were making of their condition, a determination became widespread to achieve greater independence on as many fronts as possible. As a result, the next several years saw the creation of the Writers' Union of Canada, the Canadian Artists' Representation, The League of Canadian Poets, The National Action Committee of the Status of Women, The Confederation of Canadian Unions, The National Farmer's Union, the "Canadianization" movement in education and culture, a proliferation of Canadian-centred presses, and - not unrelated - the creation in 1968 of the Parti Quebecois, the independence party in Quebec - just to list some of the developments.

No new federal political party was created at the time. But the Waffle Movement in the NDP was often called 'a party within a party'. Left Liberals militated for significant change and greater government intervention in the economy and culture. Tories were visible in the Committee for an Independent Canada. Continuing Tory concern produced the important Red Tory thesis set out by Gad Horowitz in his book Canadian Labour in Politics.

The push for significant change continued, and it was capped with Trudeau's late conversion to independence legislation when he returned to power in 1980. The Foreign Investment Review Agency had been created earlier. Petro- Canada had inserted a Canadian presence into the almost wholly foreign-owned "Canadian" oil and gas sector. After 1980 the Trudeau government was set to embark on a more serious, more focussed independence program. At that point, as I have said, U.S. pressure grew so strong the Trudeau government retreated in abject disarray. Allan MacEachen, deputy P.M., flew to Washington to apologize. Jean Chretien, Minister of Finance, flew to New York to give a repentant speech to major capitalists, declaring Canada was "open for business".

The fact was not that nationalism (and Left nationalism) were proved wrong. The fact was that the U.S. government and U.S. Capitalism believed the independence policies of Canada could be very effective - and so they brought out heavy weaponry to end the policies.

Thebattle surrounding the independence movement was conducted in public for at least 30 years. It was engaged in by a large number of Canadians. It was defeated (temporarily?) by U.S. government and continental capitalist interests.

Not only does Paul Kellogg fail completely to record those facts, but he also fails to define Left nationalism. By avoiding a definition of his key term, he can manipulate his discussion towards any aspect of Canadian life he wishes to include. For instance, Kellogg's claim that Maud Barlow has moved distinctly Left and David Orchard has moved distinctly to the political right shows that he had failed to define Left nationalism even for himself.

The fact that Maud Barlow repeated the phrase "welcome to the revolution" at the Quebec, 1995 protests means she didn't like global developments, didn't like the repressive atmosphere in Quebec at the time. It hardly means that she was Left or moving Left. She is, and has always been, a Liberal nationalist (until she became, apparently, a Liberal internationalist). Mel Hurtig (who has done monumental things for Canada) is a Liberal nationalist. David Orchard and his many supporters are Red Tories in a genuine tradition. Orchard was never Left. He is a nationalist who came to see his nationalism in terms of the Red Tory tradition.

Left nationalism is a political and cultural position taken by people who believe that meaningful independence for Canada can only be achieved by (at least some) significant "socialist" measures. They believe, also, that Canada cannot take (at least some) significant socialist measures unless it is independent enough to hold off U.S. power. That pair of facts explains why Left nationalism in Canada is a perfectly logical position to hold. Because continental Capitalism is so powerful and so ruthless, Left nationalists believe that Canadians can only get a grip on their political, economic, and cultural lives by taking a number of key activities out of capitalist control and "socializing" them.

Secondly, Left nationalists do NOT abandon a world economy perspective. On the contrary. They see the larger picture and they believe that as it impinges upon Canada and Canada upon it, the wise place to focus effort is where the citizen and the society have most chance of being effective: in the community where they can successfully militate, legislate, educate, and organize - in the Canadian community. They do not believe Canadians are superior to other peoples. But they are not ashamed to think the people of Canada share a great deal of history, culture, custom, constitutional structure, and aspiration for the future which makes them , fairly and reasonably, a people. They have no doubt that a Left nationalist government in Canada would be more useful and responsible to the world than present government.

The difference between Left nationalists and other nationalists in Canada is defined by Left nationalist willingness to empower Crown Corporations, to empower trade unions and other labour organizations, to initiate programs of social care, to nationalize central activities in the economy (banks, energy operations, transportation, communication enterprises, etcetera), and to be open to possibilities of socialism in the society. Left nationalists may be 'pure, complete' socialists, but they must at least be open to (some) programs of social ownership and control of the economy.

I have set the matter out simply for the sake of clarity. There are shades of difference, of course. Some Liberal and Tory nationalists (because of the nature of the culture out of which their ideas are formed) are open to controls upon capitalist enterprise and even some nationalization. But they are not Left nationalists.

One of Paul Kellogg's major arguments is that Left nationalists hold that Canaada is a resource colony, is selling off its resources, is failing to develoop industrial capacity, and is, therefore, a colonial dependency of the U.S.A. He refutes all of those things, using graphs and statistics - and his argument appears strong. But he is only able to maintain it by attmepting to erase the significance of foreign ownership and by suggesting that cross-border "trade" between U.S. head-offices and Canadian subsidiaries is normal, natural, and fine. (The reader should look at Mel Hurtig's Couchchiching Conference presentation on this site to see just how normal, natural, and fine those things are.) No one can deny that "globalization" is increasing the power of monopoly Capitalism in the world. But ony reactionaries argue that the parallel decreasing power of national populations to shape their own futures is a good thing.

Even in that situation, Paul Kellogg insists that Canada is as independent as any country in the world. When the U.S. wishes to violate the Free Trade Agreement over and over and over again, Canada spends millions trying to get a very small measure of equality before U.S. law. Kellogg obviously calls that independence. Canada must deliver fossil fuels and other energy to the U.S.A. no matter how much Canadians decide they don't want to do so; and Canada must allow U.S. capital to take over major aspects of the Canadian economy. For Kellogg those thigs are obviously a demonstration of our independence. In the cultural sphere, U.S. interests have forced the Canadian government - for more than fifty years - to assist in the stangulation of a self-sufficient and competititive Canadian film industry. A sign, doubtless, of our independence as a country.

Enough. Left nationalists know that the way for Canada to survive - and to thrive - is NOT to place its people, by treaty, opposite U.S. negotiators as supposed equals. It is to structure our system differently, to negotiate issue by issue on economic and other matters, to maintain power over all our resource wealth all the time, to meet U.S.capitalist demands with socialist answers, to say, for instance, "sorry, our Crown corporations cannot merge with your capitalist enterprises". Or to say, "we don't like the way you use pharmaceutical companies to destroy health systems. We will create nationalized Canadian pharmaceutical research and production centres to provide medicines at cost - or less". Or to say, "we have developed a long-term, non-renewable resources strategy in the interests of our own people and economy, and you (the U.S.A.) cannot have as much as you are presently getting - unless, of course, you are willing to pay a free market price that will permit us to assure the energy future of Canadians".

At the meeting of "thinkers" where Paul Kellogg made his presentation, Daniel Drache (York University political economist) described the kind of argument Kellogg makes as "faith- based" rather than "evidentiary-centred". Drache is correct. Avoiding definition of terms, ignoring the vitality of Left nationalism in the historic Canadian community, and arranging statistics with visible bias, Paul Kellogg repeats a U.S. imperialist ritual and chant that has no basis in fact or reality.

Robin Mathews publishes on culture, politics, the arts, and Canadian Intellectual history. He lives in Vancouver with his wife, a potter. His column appears biweekly on Vive le Canada.

Comments: rmathews@sfu.ca



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