Liz Rowley: “The progressive and peace-loving peoples of the world need to unite to defeat capitalism and imperialism”
Liz Rowley, leader of the Communist Party of Canada. DR.
Mohsen Abdelmoumen: How do you analyze the results of the recent federal elections in Canada? Did the Communist Party of Canada achieve good results?
Liz Rowley: The election results – a minority Liberal government – are a reflection of a number of different things. First, widespread fear of a Conservative government and its policies of austerity, social conservatism, and its refusal to acknowledge climate change.
In the context of a first-past-the-post electoral system the electorate is usually forced to vote against what they don’t want, as opposed to the policies and parties they do want. In the 2015 election, the Liberals promised electoral reform – proportional representation – and that helped to get them elected. However, this is one of many promises the Liberals abandoned after they were elected.
Abandoned promises on electoral reform, Indigenous rights, the environment; continued austerity policies and job losses resulting from free trade deals with the US, Europe and Asia, a huge increase in military spending and a sharp turn to the right in foreign policy, plus scandals such as the SNC Lavalin affair and the black-face and brown-face photos of Liberal Leader (and Prime Minister) Justin Trudeau, also contributed to the election of a Liberal minority government and the loss of the majority they held before the Oct 21 election.
The nationalist Bloc Quebecois in Quebec took a significant number of seats from the Liberals, as did the Conservatives in the resource rich prairies.
The social democratic NDP had a very tepid program which did not address the main questions facing working people, and it cost them many seats, reducing them to the fourth party in Parliament.
The Greens increased their seats from 1 to 3, and increased their votes significantly across the country as well. They were seen as the environmental party and many people voted for them for that reason.
The far-right raised their heads in this campaign through a new party, called the People’s Party of Canada. They did not win a single seat, and their leader who had been elected as a Conservative in 2015, was also defeated.
Having said that, the threat from right=wing populist and fascist parties and movements has not disappeared. The struggle continues over issues of ‘free speech’ vs hate speech, and the fight to enforce hate speech laws, and to make membership in a hate group a criminal offence. These groups, like the Soldiers of Odin, Proud Boys, KKK, 1 Percenters, La Meute, and others are criminal organizations that not only engage in hate speech, but are also known to carry out acts of hate mainly (but not only) directed at Muslims. This includes the shootings at a mosque in Quebec which killed 7 people and injured many more.
The communist Party campaign was a success – not in votes which were low due to strategic voting and first-past-the-post electoral system, but in expanding the Party’s influence and size. Our policies were very well received, as were our candidates, and the public meetings we organized were well attended. We focused our platform on the issues of an independent Canadian foreign policy of peace, urgent action on climate change including nationalization of energy and natural resources and decisive action to reduce and eliminate carbon emissions by 2050, and urgent action to raise wages and living standards for working people. You can find the full platform on our website at votecommunist.com, as well as at cpc-pcc.ca.
In your opinion, what are the challenges facing the Canadian left in general and the Canadian Communist Party in particular?
Right-wing social democracy in Canada has a base in the labour movement; however it has abandoned socialism as a goal, and also many of the policies that are important to labour and to the working class and working people. Instead, the New Democratic Party has set its sights on putting a human face on capitalism, and governing on behalf of capital as some other social democratic parties have done around the world. This is the so-called Third Way.
A split in the labour movement has also opened the door to the influence of the Liberal Party – a big business party – which has further weakened and divided the labour movement at a time when employers and right-wing governments are on the offensive. Their goal is to roll-back all of the gains won by workers in the last 75 years, and to break the back of the labour movement in Canada.
Both of these parties – and their lieutenants in the labour movement – base their policies on class collaboration and class peace. This is a recipe for disaster, as most left-wing trade unionists know. Some in the left have been seduced by the idea of rehabilitating social democracy by creating new, left social democratic parties and movements. But as shown by the record of Syriza in Greece, this is a dead-end. There can be no humanizing, no accommodation of capital, that benefits working people.
The only alternative is unity based on class struggle policies and independent labour political action against the employers and right-wing governments. This is where unity can and must be built – in defence of the working class and working people. Communists and other left forces can work together effectively around a common program and actions, and help move the labour and people’s movements from a defensive to an offensive position against the employers and the right.
Do not you think that it is necessary, today more than ever, to be an internationalist and to make the struggle of peoples converge in the face of the ultra-liberal offensive?
Yes, we think that it is essential for the working class and working people to link their struggles to the struggles of working people globally, against employers, against war and reaction, against the exploitation and destruction of the environment for profit.
The employers are increasingly internationalized, from the transnational corporations (TNC’s) to the supra-national trade deals like CETA, USMCA, TPP, and international bodies like the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, etc. which easily out-manoeuver national governments, national sovereignty, and national struggles.
Marx and Engels saw this clearly when they wrote the Communist Manifesto with its clarion call for “Workers and Oppressed Peoples of the World, Unite!”
You have probably seen the uprisings of the peoples of Algeria, Chile, Lebanon, Iraq and Ecuador. Do not you think that progressive forces must unite to counter capitalism and imperialism?
Yes, we agree that the progressive and peace-loving peoples of the world need to unite to defeat capitalism and imperialism. In fact, this is becoming more and more urgent, as imperialism, and US imperialism in the first place, becomes more and more threatening to the peoples of the globe. War and aggression, massive military build-ups, illegal coups d’etat against elected governments and sovereign countries, black sites and torture centres, these are the indicators of imperialism in deep crisis and decay, at its most ferocious and dangerous.
Unity of the revolutionary, progressive and democratic forces is decisive to defeat imperialism today. The alternative to imperialism – the highest stage of capitalism – is socialism. There is no intermediary step – no third way. Working class political power is the only alternative.
I am Algerian and my people fight every day for a radical change in the political system. How do you explain that some Western regimes, particularly France, support despots and corrupt regimes rather than listen to the voices of the people?
The reason for their support of corrupt regimes is that political parties in every country fight for the class interests of those they represent. The exploiting class in capitalist countries owns and finances the governing party and determines what the policies of that party (or parties) will be.
We would need to look at a socialist government like Cuba, to see a government and political parties that consistently act on a high moral plain, and in the interests of working people and justice.
In Algeria, huge sums of money have been looted from the people by corrupt Algerian politicians and invested in real estate or placed in bank accounts in the West, particularly in Canada. Do you think it is normal for Western countries that claim to be states governed by the rule of law to accept this money and then confiscate it? Can we talk about « human rights » and « democracy » under capitalist regimes when they take advantage of people’s money and thus impoverish them?
No, it’s not possible to speak about genuine human rights and democracy when capitalism as a system is based on the exploitation of one human being by another, and the oppression of peoples and nations by the capitalist system. This is the fundamental contradiction of capitalism which cannot be remedied. To rid capitalism of these fundamental contradictions is to relegate the capitalist system to the dust-bin of history.
How do you explain the persecution that Julian Assange is suffering? In your opinion, is there a real democracy in the West or don’t people live rather under a fascism that is sometimes disguised, sometimes displayed?
Julian Assange is persecuted because he committed the cardinal crime of exposing capitalism, and US imperialism in the first place, as a threat to democracy, and to humanity.
There is no doubt that democracy, even the very limited bourgeois democracy that exists in capitalist countries is under threat by reaction and has been sharply curtailed by legislation or by fiat, to curb civil, social, labour and democratic rights. This is very dangerous and anti-democratic, but it is not fascism – though it certainly creates the conditions for fascism to grow and thrive.
Georgi Dmytrov identified fascism as the open terrorist dictatorship of the most reactionary, most chauvinistic and most imperialist elements of finance capital. He was talking about Hitler, Mussolini, Franco, and we could add Pinochet, Somoza, Castillo, Stoessner, Guzzetti, Bordaberry, Banzer, and more.
Today the mass disinformation campaign in the capitalist countries, combined with strident anti-communism and a re-writing of history, poses a great danger to democracy – limited though it is. We think it’s very important to push back these restrictions and to expand labour and democratic rights, civil and social rights, and political rights. It will require mass pressure by the working class and democratic movements to do this.
Other than this, the only guarantee of working class democracy – real democracy – is socialism.
What is your analysis of the return of the far right to the USA, Canada and Europe?
Fascism is the protégé of capitalism. It emerges when capitalism is having difficulties ruling in the old way, that is in a bourgeois democratic system of capitalism. Fascism is the right bower of capitalism, which the most reaction, chauvinistic and imperial elements of finance capital can default to, in times of crisis such as the increasing anger at the capitalist system displayed by working people fed up with austerity, war, unemployment, and crisis. Renewed interest in socialism as an alternative to capitalism is also regarded as a crisis by these reactionary forces.
In Canada, the appearance of these forces in the federal election, and in cities across the country, is an early indicator that here too, there are far-right and fascist forces with links to the Conservative Party, that are recruiting and spreading their hate messages and criminal activities with impunity.
How do you explain that Westerners continue to sell weapons to the Saudis who massacre the people of Yemen? How do you explain the silence of the media and politicians about this deadly war?
There is an armaments industry in Canada, including an operation in London, Ontario that produces armaments for export to Saudi Arabia that are being used in the genocide in Yemen. Many Canadians were unaware of this until recently, and don’t support these arms deals or the genocide in Yemen.
But as in the US, the arms industry is very powerful and not easy to shut down. Furthermore, it has the support of the Canadian government. But pressure is building on the government to stop the sale of armoured vehicles to the Saudis, which are being used in the Yemeni genocide.
We call for an end to the production and export of arms, for repatriation of all Canadian troops abroad, for withdrawal from NATO and NORAD, for a 75% cut to military spending, and for a foreign policy of peace and disarmament.
How do you explain that the Palestinian people are being robbed and massacred in full view of the entire planet without Israel being judged for its crimes?
Israel is being judged and found guilty for its crimes against the Palestinian people in the court of public opinion. However, the Zionist lobby in Canada is very powerful and has a tight grip on all of the parties in Parliament and in the provincial legislatures. Right-wing governments have worked hard to make criticism of Israeli policy an issue of free speech and / or anti-semitism. That’s why the BDS movement (boycott, divestment and sanctions) has faced serious obstacles in their campaigns to expose and isolate the Israeli government for their crimes.
We support the BDS movement, which includes the progressive section of the Jewish community in Canada, and are involved in solidarity work with the Palestinian people in their just struggle for a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital, for the right of return, for Israel to withdraw to its 1967 borders, and for an end to the Israeli settlements on Palestinian land.
Do not you think that in the face of the media enslaved to the military-industrial complex, the progressives of the world must intensify their presence in the alternative media to fight back?
Yes, we think this is very important. Accurate and objective information is vital for working people to be able to recognize and understand what is happening in the world, and in their communities and workplaces, and to take action in their own interests. In capitalist societies the only free press is the press you own.
We also think that protection of the publicly owned media is very important, because pressure can be brought to bear that privately owned media can ignore. In this connection, public education and culture is also an important area for maintaining and strengthening public ownership and control over content and governance.
In view of the climate disaster we are suffering, isn’t capitalism with its unbridled consumption model harmful for the planet? In your opinion, how can we effectively fight against capitalism and imperialism that are destroying the world?
In fact it’s the 100 largest corporations in the world, plus the military, who are responsible for the largest proportion of carbon and greenhouse gas emissions on the planet. In other words, it’s capitalism that is destroying the planet, not working people.
We are fighting to nationalize the oil and gas sector and natural resources in Canada, so that emissions can be quickly and decisively reduced and eliminated. We propose that workers in these industries must be guaranteed equivalent jobs and wages in the renewable energy sector, or in other industries that are environmentally friendly. We propose to move from individual automobiles to mass rapid transit in cities, and in inter-urban transportation, and to eliminate fares. We propose to retrofit existing infrastructure including schools, hospitals, and public buildings, as well as homes and workplaces with green retrofits, and to use green technology to build affordable social housing across Canada.
Canada must take action on the environment and climate change while there is still time, and this will mean taking on the big oil and gas multi-nationals, and the current governments which serve them.
You are a great activist with a remarkable career and you have risked your life for your ideas. What can you tell us about your commitment?
I am convinced that the 21st century will be the century of new socialist revolutions, new struggles and victories for national and social liberation, and success in the fight for peace and climate justice. But these successes hinge on the willingness and the ability of the working class, the youth, the women, to mobilize, organize, and unite for fundamental social change. For socialism. And to put an end to the vicious inhuman system of capitalism once and for all.
Interview realized by Mohsen Abdelmoumen
Who is Liz Rowley?
Elizabeth Rowley is the current leader of the Communist Party of Canada. A politician, writer and political activist, she has always been active in the struggle for public education and health care, local democracy and labour and civil rights. She writes for People’s Voice, Canada’s leading socialist newspaper. She has also written numerous articles translated into several languages and published worldwide.
Liz Rowley has studied at the University of Alberta in Edmonton and has been an active member of the Communist Youth League of Canada. She joined the Canadian Communist Party in 1967. She is a member of the central executive of the Communist Party of Canada since 1978 and has campaigned many times at the municipal, federal and provincial levels. Liz Rowley was elected leader of the Communist Party of Canada in January 2016 by the Party’s Central Committee following Miguel Figueroa’s retirement.
Before becoming CCP leader, Liz Rowley was leader of the Communist Party of Ontario. When she was the party’s provincial organizer in Ontario in 1975, she participated in many union struggles to defend jobs, improve living conditions, workers’ rights, women’s equality, social programs and Canadian sovereignty. While she was campaigning to ban the Ku Klux Klan, her apartment was destroyed by arson and the following year her car was bombed. In the early 1990s, together with other party leaders and activists, she played a key role in members’ struggles to stop attempts to dissolve the CCP.
Liz Rowley is the first woman to lead the Communist Party of Canada.
Published in American Herald Tribune November 19, 2019: https://ahtribune.com/interview/3659-liz-rowley.html
In French in Palestine Solidarité: http://www.palestine-solidarite.org/analyses.mohsen_abdelmoumen.201119.htm