Police states don’t appear full blown, over night. They are, like any other social phenomenon, part of a social and political process - the end result of a long term corruption of the political culture and the incremental diminishing of democracy. This is a process that has been taking place for at least twenty years in Canada and it should come as no surprise that the police in Canada are now willing to take actions - at the direction of the politicians - that escalate the threats to democratic expression and the intimidation of ordinary citizens.
The corporate security state is not static – it will keep filling more and more space to the extent that they are allowed to by civil society. It is not a process that will suddenly arrest itself. There is no “enough” in this plan.
But in that incremental process there are seminal moments – sort of qualitative leaps in the continuum of anti-democratic moves that momentarily reveal to everyone willing to look what is actually happening. The police actions in Toronto are one of those key moments, one that we will look back on as a time when the authoritarian governments we now endure tested our resolve.
They know exactly what they are doing. There was no spontaneous “over-reaction.” There were no cops “out of control” - the obvious fact is that were always in control. This was a very strategic operation from beginning to end. The decision to allow the Black Bloc to do its destructive work without any intervention at all was strategic as the police and their political masters knew the media would play their pre-assigned reactionary role and focus on the destruction of property.
The mass arrest of 900 people was a message to those willing to take a stand: you could be next, and a criminal record is no laughing matter. There is no question that amongst the mob of window-breakers and car-burners were a significant number of agents provocateurs. How many we will likely never know as this time around none were exposed as they were in Montebello at the SSP Summit.
The black clad activists have a lot to answer for – they provide the cover for the provocateurs and they are totally responsible for the media frenzy about the damage to a few shops. Perhaps next time the real social activists should swarm these people and stop them if the police refuse. They are the enemies of social change – we should treat all of them as agents provocateurs and plan to deal with them accordingly. In the process we might catch a few more cops in the act.
But in the bigger picture they are a side show. The crisis in democracy itself is developing quickly as the security state apparatus and its political committee – Harper and his handful of operatives obviously, but provincial governments as well – plan for the future. It is a future that promises to be increasingly grim.
There is a clear connection here between the obscene amount of money spent on security, the completely unnecessary shut-down of Toronto, the nine foot fences, what the police did – and what the G8/G20 “leaders” talked about. We could call them the austerity summits: an international agreement to make working people and the poor pay for the crisis. In the next year – unless Harper can actually be forced from office – Canada will witness a wave of huge cutbacks to the social democratic state.
The set up is in place: the enormous tax cuts implemented by Flaherty in 2007 (and still being implemented) and the resulting huge deficits (party due to the “stimulus”) is the perfect useful crisis to justify massive cuts to social spending and the radical downsizing of the federal state (with the military intact and growing). In effect, Harper wants to download everything onto the provinces and distribute the political responsibility for downsizing to all senior governments.
These cuts will have a severe impact on hundreds of thousands of Canadians – individuals and families already facing an economic crisis of unsustainable personal debt, and over-work at mostly low wages. High unemployment is the other useful crisis – a key part of the strategy of “labour flexibility” aimed at lowering the share of the economic wealth achieved by workers, and thus decreasing their political power at the same time.
Will this increasing pressure on Canadians’ quality of life and economic security be the trigger that creates the conditions for social unrest? There is no way of knowing that ahead of time but it will certainly present the conditions for a rejuvenation of social movement efforts to mobilize against the corporate state. Labour will be forced from its self-imposed slumber and have to take a real stand – and not just show up a single demonstration.
When resistance does increase that corporate state hopes to have created a new a normal where demonstrating is seen as vaguely threatening, the demand for civil liberties is the recourse of scoundrels, and criticism of governments naïve at best and dangerous at worst.
Economic insecurity does not necessarily lead to greater resistance. It can also lead to passivity out of fear that things could get even worse. That passive part of the population is the classic ground for fascist politics and the desire for a “strong” leader, in the mode of a father figure. Harper, of course, has always played that role. For the moment at least it has had limited appeal as his party’s 30% in the polls shows. But he always polls higher than his party and leads the leadership stakes in part because of this strong leader image.
We have a decidedly different political culture in Canada than they do in the US but what is happening there can also happen here – not in exactly the same way and not as quickly. But in the absence of a vigorous mass movement, based on hope for the future, there is only one other possibility: things will inevitably get worse as the capitalist crisis deepens.
Now what? What will the 25,000 people who participated in the demonstrations do in the face the assault on their fellow-citizens? Will they become active in organizations fighting for a better world? Will they donate $100 each to those organizations critical to defending democracy? ($2.5 million would make a difference.) And what about the rest of us? Will the labour movement – still the sector of civil society best equipped to put resources into the struggle – finally take the situation seriously? Will they come together, call for a coalition to rid the country of the most dangerous prime minister in its history? Will enough people demand of the NDP that it actually defend democracy – instead of denouncing the violence as its only statement on the events did? Is the NDP even capable under its current leadership of understanding where we are and how to address the crisis?
I can’t think of a better wake-up call for all of us than the wanton violation of civil liberties and democracy that happened on the weekend. Calling for an independent investigation, demanding civil liberties be respected, denouncing the governments involved, raising money to defend those falsely charged – all of this is necessary.
But it is not nearly enough.
Murray Dobbin is an author, broadcaster and journalist. He is the author of five books and his work appears regularly in the Tyee.