In this episode, Mexie talks with author and professor, Tyler Shipley, about Canada’s dismaying place in the world. Tyler is the author of Canada in the World: Settler Capitalism and the Colonial Imagination, where he details how Canada’s genocidal relationship with Indigenous peoples has carried into imperialist aggression. Spoiler alert: we aren’t the good guys.
Sources and Links
- Canada in the World: Settler Capitalism and the Colonial Imagination: https://fernwoodpublishing.ca/book/canada-in-the-world
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/canadainthewrld
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F1: [MUSIC] How can we not only discover more compassionate relations with human beings but how can we develop compassionate relations with the other creatures with whom we share this planet?
F2: There’s an us before the wound, there’s an us before oppression, and to me pleasure is the way that we tap down into that.
F3: We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings.
MEXIE: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the Vegan Vanguard. It’s Mexie and today we have one of my super-cool, super-brilliant friends and comrades on the show, Tyler Shipley. He wrote the book Canada in the World: Settler Capitalism and the Colonial Imagination which is just absolutely fantastic, packed, packed full of info. I would recommend this to everyone. Today we’re gonna be busting that myth that Canada is just a peacekeeping force in the world, that we are not the aggressors, we are not the imperialists, because as Tyler’s book very aptly shows, that is so far from being true. There are actually times in regime change operations and just imperialist aggressive wars where Canada is even more the aggressor than the United States which I’m not sure that people know about, but people should know about it.
So, I hope you all enjoy this conversation. Before we dive into it, I want to say thank you from the bottom of our hearts to our new patrons this month. Thank you to Isaiah, TJ, Hamza, and Mica or Mica for your very generous donations. If you like what we do here, if you get something from it and you want us to keep making more, please consider supporting us monthly on Patreon at patreon.com/veganvanguard. You can also give us a one-time tip or donation via PayPal on our website which is veganvanguardpodcast.com and/or please share this episode to amplify the message, and please give us those ratings and reviews on iTunes. I love reading them. Thank you so much to everyone who has given us five stars and written a review. So, without further ado, let’s get into the interview with Tyler Shipley.
TYLER: [MUSIC] So yeah, my name is Tyler Shipley. The book is called Canada in the World and it’s an attempt to I guess situate Canada within the story of colonial and imperial powers in the world. So many people in Canada don’t understand or don’t want to understand that Canada is every bit a colonial and imperial power the way the United States is, albeit on a smaller scale and with some minor different details. But I think that for a really long time this has been something that bothered me, and then as I sort of started doing the academic work to back it up, it was like I became more and more — I just felt more and more like I needed to articulate in detail the — this part of Canada’s history.
So yeah, my PhD which I did at York University kind of gradually moved in that direction and was critical of Canada with respect to one particular case, and then as I moved into my teaching career, I just found myself drawn to this work on Canada and kinda trying to pull together the overall picture. So, that brought me here to the Vegan Vanguard.
MEXIE: Amazing. Well, thank you so much for coming on the show. Yeah, I recently read your book and was just floored by it. It was exactly the kind of book that I wanted to read because I just get this all the time from family or friends or whatever that they think that Canada’s role in the world is just to be peacekeepers or just to be this benevolent force and that it’s not really us that’s doing this stuff; it’s the US and whatnot. So, I just thought it was such a powerful book. I definitely recommend this to everyone. I will link it in the description box below so everyone can check it out. But I guess to begin, could you tell us a bit about your political journey? I guess you kinda touched on what inspired you to write the book, but if you want to say anything more about the project itself.
TYLER: Yeah, I mean, I think I was always — I’ve always been irritated just on a visceral level, irritated by Canadian exceptionalism, you know? This kind of — this mythology that Canada is so great and Canadians are so nice. I remember being taught that stuff in school, in high school. It always irritated me. But then gradually as I started getting more I guess politically active and aware and I started reading Adbusters and rabble.ca and all these signposts of leftist youth, I started getting more of the pieces. I started getting more of the little bits, like oh, there’s a coup in Haiti and Canada was involved. That’s weird. All these little bits and pieces kinda started filtering through, and so I gradually started doing this work. I think for me, it’s important to work in the location where you are. I grew up here.
I grew up on the prairies. I grew up right on the site of a horrific colonial attack that was important in the construction of Canada. My dad was born in a town that was built literally immediately after indigenous people, Cree people, had been dispossessed of their land. It’s just, the legacy of colonialism and imperialism in Canada, it’s so immediate. The fact that it’s been erased is really — it’s really — it’s sort of an incredible feat of ideology. So, yeah, I mean, for me, I think this work has been about trying to bring this stuff back into focus for people and refocusing our energies — if we’re located here in Canada — on the problems right here. Never mind — well, you can care about what the United States is doing. It’s bad too, but let’s also take seriously the problems right here in Canada. So, that’s I guess generally where the book comes from.
MEXIE: Yeah, absolutely. Then your political journey; you said you kind of were always irritated by Canadian exceptionalism but, I guess, how did you develop more of a leftist socialist politic?
TYLER: Yeah, I think it happens so gradually and generally, or at least in my case it did. I grew up in a middle class, lower-middle class household. I didn’t really think much of the fact that my dad and mom both were poor when they were kids and that we now had this middle class life. I didn’t really confront or think about my class position. I guess that’s probably somewhat normal when you’re a kid. You just live; you just live in what you’re living in, but as I got older I started to kind of understand that my family was pretty working class. My dad was the seventh of ten kids in rural Manitoba and he was the only one really — I mean, there’s probably a couple of others that sort of did — but he was really one of the few that attained a certain level of middle class comfort and I was always conscious of that whenever we would see our family.
I guess I started thinking about class in those moments. Then it wasn’t until later when I went to university that I kinda started to connect some of the dots. I’m sure other people roughly my age probably had some similar moments. There’s Chomsky, you know? Chomsky is really important. You read your first Chomsky and it’s like your first puff. I read Howard Zinn, of course, Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States. I remember reading it, actually. I remember being in my bed in my parents’ house in my bedroom as a teenager reading the first chapter of that book and being blown away. I mean, just absolutely blown away and part of the power of Howard Zinn’s book was that he used the words of the people themselves.
Like, that first chapter, he uses the diaries of Christopher Columbus and it was really — it sounds kinda corny but it was extremely myth-busting for me. I think that kinda started me on this very long, arduous path to a sort of left political life which I’ve — I think it’s safe to say now at this stage of my life that I’m committed. I’m in it for the long haul. I’m not gonna do some weird…
MEXIE: Why I left the left.
TYLER: …conservative turn at some point. Yeah.
MEXIE: Awesome. Yeah, thank you for sharing that. So, in the book you argue that our genocidal relationship with indigenous peoples at home set the stage for all of our foreign engagements, so could you talk about how the atrocities that Canada has committed and continues to commit on indigenous peoples are connected to Canadian imperialism?
TYLER: Yeah. I think that probably the most significant contribution that I make in the book is around that issue. I think for the most part, the book is based largely on secondary sources. It’s not a lot of original digging that I did. A couple of exceptions, but for the most part I’m rooted in secondary sources. I’m pulling things together. But I think the one thing that I’ve tried to do in this book that oddly I haven’t seen often enough, certainly from — in the settler left in Canada, was to just explicitly connect the roots of what Canada is, what the state was built to do, and what it does currently. This didn’t seem like a strange connecting of the dots to me. It seems sort of obvious to me that the state, the Canadian state, was built 150-ish years ago with the express purpose of conquering and colonizing this land and the people who inhabited it, and that was, you know, this wasn’t oblique.
This was very explicit. The quotes that I’m sure many of us have seen by now, the quotes from people like John A. Macdonald but not just him, from the time, they make it extremely explicit that this is a conquest, that they view the indigenous nations as foreign powers and that they’re engaged with these foreign powers with the intent of destroying them, sidelining them, erasing them. There’s some official that says something about that there’d be no memory of them left in the world. I mean, there’s — it’s very clear. So for me, it’s a strange sleight of hand that the Canadian state has done over the last 150 years where they’ve transformed what was foreign policy, a policy directed at foreign nations, indigenous nations, and they’ve made it into this sort of domestic issue.
Like oh, this is just an internal Canadian problem, and I don’t accept that. I think it’s a — I think it’s the formative case of foreign policy, the way that Canada engages with these foreign nations; theft, violence, deception, deceit, ultimately genocide. To me, I just sort of say okay, well, that’s where the Canadian state has its roots. Even right down to confederation itself, the moment where the Canadian state kind of becomes what it currently is, that moment is specifically about conquering the West. It’s unambiguous. John A. Macdonald convenes this sort of attempt to bring the Canadian provinces together because there is urgency in their mind to building a railroad and conquering the West and pushing the indigenous people out and getting that land before the Americans did. I mean, that’s where the urgency comes in.
It’s right after the Civil War in the US and there’s all this territory that both Canada and the United States are coveting, indigenous territory. So, confederation is explicitly about that. For me, it’s a logical thing to say well, if that’s where the Canadian state begins and that’s what’s — its roots, then that’s gonna have some impact on the rest of Canadian foreign policy. The same people who develop Canada’s colonial policy in the 1860s, 70s, 80s, 90s, are the same people who then start developing Canada’s foreign policy with respect to South Africa in the Boer War or Latin America in the 1900s and 1910s and 1920s, and that bleeds into the invasion of El Salvador in the 1930s, and then supporting fascism in the 40s. It all is — it’s all emanating from the same place.
So, with that in mind, I sort of identified two elements of colonialism that I thought were at the center of it, and there’s obviously more. It’s obviously an oversimplification at some level, but I distill it into what I called Settler Capitalism and the Colonial Imagination, settler capitalism being the logic of conquering land, claiming it, and converting it into capitalist — places of capitalist social relations and capitalist exploitation. That, and the colonial imagination; the idea, the ideological framework of white supremacy that white people are providentially destined to conquer this land and any land, really, to be the rulers of the world.
Those two things of course operate at the heart of colonialism but what I found — and I found this even more than I expected when I started doing the work; like, I knew I would find it but I found it far more completely in Canadian foreign policy that those two things are there, one or the other or both of those two dynamics establishing or maintaining capitalist social relations and the premise of white supremacy, the colonial imagination of supremacy. Those things are there in almost every single case. I struggled to find cases where it wasn’t there. So yeah, that’s I think sort of the central argument that holds the book together and I think that’s one of the contributions I hope the book makes.
MEXIE: Yeah, absolutely. I think it’s such an important contribution and as you said, it makes perfect sense. You bring up a lot of really interesting connections as well; the fact that all of our imperial soldiers, wherever they are in the world, they call it quote, unquote “Indian country” and then some really interesting connections you brought up about how indigenous people mined the uranium for the bombs that were dropped on Japan and things like that. Yeah, just all these really, really interesting connections between what we’re doing to indigenous people and then what we’re doing abroad, so I just thought that was — yeah, a definitely very important contribution of the book.
TYLER: And also…
MEXIE: But I guess…
TYLER: And also too…
MEXIE: Oh, sorry.
TYLER: …a lot of the same — oh no, I was just gonna say also too, like sometimes even the same personnel, like even the people. If you kinda follow — it’s like, if you walk slowly through the history, it’s like okay, you got Sam Steele who’s this celebrated — which is absurd — but the celebrated North West Mounted Police officer, right? Central figure in the conquest of the indigenous nations of the prairies, and then guess what? Sam Steele shows up in South Africa, in the Boer War, where he — not only does he fight with the British in the Boer War against the Boer Afrikaner settlers but after the war, he plays a really central role in the construction of concentration camps for British prisoners who are Boer but also black, also indigenous South Africans from a number of different nations which quickly become the basis, really, for the apartheid system in South Africa.
So, here you have this guy, Canadian, an actual person whose life and work spans one moment of colonialism and then another — I think you’d call it imperialism, but the two things, and you find that. You find these individuals who are constructing colonial policy here and then imperial policy somewhere else over there. Yeah, the overlap is — it’s so much more — it’s so much deeper than I even realize. I sort of expected it to be a kind of theoretical thing and it turned out to be much more explicit and material and direct.
MEXIE: Yeah, I know. Yeah, that’s definitely something that — again, as I was reading it, I was like I shouldn’t be surprised but this is just really, really involved. But yeah, so I guess moving on, Canada’s armed forces here are really largely perceived to be quote, unquote, “peacekeepers”. That’s just what I hear from everyone. But what has Canadian peacekeeping actual involved internationally, and just more broadly, what does it mean to be a peacekeeper in the context of imperialist aggression? Right? I just find that whole concept really funny.
TYLER: Yeah. It’s so — I mean, what’s I think really interesting is that the peacekeeping language starts also really early. I can’t remember where I first found it but I know that as early as, well, as early as Garnet Wolseley’s march in 1870 to destroy the Red River Resistance, the Metis uprising, whatever term we want to use, but when the Metis asserted their sovereignty at Red River and British soldiers were sent, they called it a mission of peace in 1870. They called the Korean War — it was technically the first peacekeeping mission. So, yeah, rhetorically that stuff has just always been mobilized, but I think one of the things that I — I actually do this in my teaching and I’m not sure if I did it in the book, but in my classes when I teach the peacekeeping stuff, I’ll talk to my students about the fact that on the surface, peacekeeping seems benevolent and fine.
At worst it’s like, maybe a bit clumsy but trying their best kind of a thing. But what I always say to my students is why do we think of peacekeeping as — why does peacekeeping always end up having this framework of saving people, of going to someplace and saving them instead of being about solidarity? Like, why is it not solidarity? It never has that feeling. It always has the feeling of saving. I think the answer to that question is because it is colonialism. It’s imperialism and it always has been. So, its true colors come through pretty clearly. Yeah, I mean, I did spend a lot of time in the book on peacekeeping, right, because it is so central to the Canadian mythology. It’s bad. I mean, it’s just bad. It’s like, every case, you just pull apart the cases and there’s a range of different types of bad, you know?
There’s the Suez Crisis since everyone’s focused on the Suez Canal these days. But there’s the Suez Crisis which is a case of Canada frames it as though it’s this great keeping the peace between all these different powers, but really it’s about keeping the peace between the Western powers. Like, Egypt gets screwed but Canada doesn’t care about that. As a matter of fact, Nasser openly says this is not okay with us. This is not what we want. How dare Canada propose this, and we don’t want Canadians here; get the hell out. At some point the Canadian prime minister is offended that Nasser would ask the Canadians to leave. So, you know, the Suez Crisis is a good example where it’s like, Canada plays this peacekeeping role but only to keep peace between the European powers and the United States and to a certain extent Israel, but with no regard for Egypt.
There’s that colonial — that old colonial logic coming through. But most cases are far worse than that. In some ways that’s the least offensive mode that Canada takes. Some of them are really just downright horrific. I mentioned the Korean War which somehow gets plucked into peacekeeping even though it’s a horrific, aggressive war. One that sticks out for me is the Congo. I think part of the reason that one sticks out is because there’s this Heritage Minute, and I actually spend a little bit of time in the book on the Heritage Minutes, right, because they’re so central to our myth-making machine. There’s this Heritage Minute about the Congo where — and I’ll sort of — I’ll set it up in the way that it’s set up. This is not how I view it, but they frame it as this frenzied, crazy African man; scary, scary man shouting, screaming.
It’s almost cartoonish. He slaps a nun, he’s yelling on the phone. It’s all just portrayed in this cartoonish villain kinda way. Then the — this vignette ends with a Canadian peacekeeper moving in on this guy. They hold him at gunpoint and very rational, calm, Canadian peacekeeper says we have you under arrest. Your building is surrounded. Drop your weapon. It’s supposed to be this great, you know, wow, Canada; so rational and reasonable and saving people. Save that nun. That sweet nun was saved. It’s just really — it’s offensive and racist but that’s not even the worst part of it.
The worst part of it is that it’s a insane misrepresentation of what Canada actually did in the Congo, which the short form of what Canada actually did in the Congo is that Canadian soldiers went to the Congo at the request of Patrice Lumumba, the prime minister, socialist, who asked for help because there was a right wing rebellion that had been supported by Belgian to try to take back the country, basically, for Belgian capital. Canadian peacekeepers went; they were super racist, they caused a ton of incidents, they had to be explicitly ordered to stop using racial slurs, they had to be specifically ordered to stop going to particular bars and brothels in the capital city because they were starting fights there.
The Canadian press wrote about this whole incident as though — well, actually not as though; they literally claimed that Congolese people were cannibals and that they were threatening to eat Canadians which obviously any — not say is false. Then I think the worst part of it is that Canada basically sided with the right wing rebels despite having been invited to the Congo by its elected prime minister to help maintain the peaceful order. A Canadian peacekeeper had befriended the leader of the right-wing faction and actually gave him — this, by the way, was Joseph Mobutu who ends up being the dictator of the Congo for thirty years — gave Mobutu — Lumumba’s location and said here, you should go there and get him.
They did and he was assassinated, and thus ended this really hopeful moment in Congolese history; they finally had achieved independence and voted for this socialist and wanted to try to reclaim some sovereignty and dignity, and of course Canada plays the central role in undermining that and then calls it a peacekeeping mission and makes a Heritage Minute about how gallant it was. So, yeah, I mean, the peacekeeping stuff is pretty messed up and we haven’t even gotten into Somalia which if you like, I could talk a bit about that, too. But horrible stuff.
MEXIE: Yeah, absolutely. Well, yeah, definitely say something about the Somalia affair because that’s one of the — probably the worst things that we’ve done globally. But yeah, just absolutely shameful, right? It’s so wild how any of this is pegged as peacekeeping, right? Especially Korea as well; just completely scorched earth policy. How was the peace kept there, you know?
TYLER: Yeah. Well, I mean, the craziest statistic or I guess tidbit that I know about the Korean War is that they bombed North Korea so heavily that they ran out of targets. They had blown up every building that was larger than — or higher than one story off the ground, and so pilots would be sent on these bombing sorties into North Korea and for lack of targets, they would just drop bombs on individual people. There was this case of a person on a bicycle and the pilot just drops a bomb on this guy on a bike because there’s nothing else to bomb. They devastated the country so much. They dropped more tonnage of bombs on North Korea in the Korean War than was used in the entirety of the second World War. It’s insane.
US General MacArthur who was — had been put in charge of Japan — and this is not a nice, peaceful man; this is a man of violence — even he at one point says what’s going on in Korea is messed up. Like, this is really, really not cool. My stomach turned. He said something about his stomach turned at the violence in Korea. Yeah, we called it peacekeeping. So, it’s really — yeah, it’s so duplicitous. I think to I guess quickly mention the Somalia thing; Somalia is such an interesting case because it happens in the 1990s at the height, I think, of this sort of Canadian mythology of peacekeeping. A lot of the peacekeeping missions themselves happened in the 60s, 70s, and a little bit in the 80s, but the 90s is when the story of peacekeeping seems to really, really take hold in Canadian popular consciousness.
So, Somalia should have been the end of that because of course, I’m sure most people know but anyone that doesn’t know what — the short version of what happened is that Canadian peacekeepers went to Somalia and were bored because they didn’t actually run into any real conflict, so they started picking on kids who were allegedly stealing from their camp. These were kids who were hungry, were at times just stealing food and water. The Canadian soldiers set a trap of food and water for some of these Somali youths who then eventually did enter the camp to take the food and water, and then the Canadians used that as a pretext to attack them and didn’t — in one case they captured a sixteen-year-old and collectively tortured him and killed him. It’s just gruesome and horrific. This became known.
This became a news story. It’s called the Somalia Affair because it — because they failed to hide it. They usually cover these things up but they failed to cover this one up. So, that should have been the end of the myth of peacekeeping, something that horrible, and yet the peacekeeping myth persisted because of — I would argue because of the colonial imagination. Actually, I take this argument — shouldn’t claim it; it’s an argument made by Sherene Razack who wrote a book about Somalia Affair in particular, and she basically says — and I fully agree with this — that Canadians were so convinced of their inherent innocence and goodness that they simply couldn’t allow the possibility that this incident would interrupt that.
So instead, there is a kind of myth or narrative constructed around the Somalia Affair where the real evil is Somalia. The real evil is this place. It’s so hot, it’s so dusty, it’s so strange, everyone is so weird, no one understands us, no one appreciates us. That’s the big one. That’s the one I would really underline, is that no one appreciates us. There is this recurring theme in the testimonies of Canadian peacekeepers that they were hurt and offended and upset by the fact that Somalis didn’t seem to want them there and didn’t appreciate what they were doing. Some people would say maybe you shouldn’t be there, then. Maybe you misunderstand the situation here. But instead, of course, the way they took it was these ungrateful Somalis, you know. They don’t understand, they’re less civilized.
We’re a civilized nation; we’re coming here to save them and they don’t even appreciate it. They called it Indian country, same kind of narrative that were used — are still used, actually, with respect to indigenous people here. Yeah, so the story ends up being that these unfortunate peacekeepers got caught up in this horrible thing because Somalia was such a bad place and no one appreciated them. You know, to me, that says — it speaks volumes about the way that colonial imagination plays out and it does elsewhere too, as I’m sure we’ll talk about. Afghanistan is a good example of that similar thing elsewhere. So, it really — it runs deep, I think.
MEXIE: Yeah. No, it runs very, very deep. Then in that case as well, it was also like oh, well, it was just these bad apples that did this and it’s not representative of Canada or the Canadian Forces. Meanwhile as you say, up to eighty people actually participated in torturing and actually raping, sodomizing this child and then took photos and everything. It’s just absolutely horrific. Yeah, I think that this stuff really, really needs to get out there because — I’ll just give a little anecdote because I know you’re wearing a Blue Jays hat right now. I’m sure you’ve noticed at all of our sporting events, these military shows where they’ll bring out some kind of general or whoever, some kind of…
TYLER: Yeah, the Sunday Salute, they call it.
MEXIE: Oh my gosh, yeah. It’s painful. Then of course, everyone is expected to stand up and clap super loud for, whatever. So, I guess before I used to do that just because I was like ugh, whatever, but I would roll my eyes. Then more recently in recent years, I’m just like no, I can’t. I cannot do this. Right, so I just sit in my chair. My mom, god bless her. She’s a sweet woman; she’s just not very politically involved, right? So she kinda gave me some side eye and was just like oh, well, you know, that’s fairly disrespectful and our troops — ‘cause I was making the argument that well, I’m not gonna stand for imperialism or aggression or whatever and she was just like oh, well, our troops are peacekeepers. It’s not these peoples’ fault. They’re the peacekeepers, right?
It’s just such an ingrained — the story is so powerful and I’m like, do you have any idea what that means? Do you have any idea what it means and what we’ve done as peacekeepers globally? No. Nobody does. Nobody has any idea. So yeah, I just — I honestly just want to hand my book to her and be like, this is why I will not stand for the Sunday Salute.
TYLER: Yeah. It’s so crazy. It runs so deep. I’m sure that my mother would probably have this similar reaction. I know lots of people do. An added bit of irony to this is that for the last thirty years, Canada has almost contributed nothing to peacekeeping missions. Like, there’s no — there’s not even a pretense anymore that Canada’s doing peacekeeping. Canada does war now, aggressive war, and yet the peacekeeping thing — I mean, you would ask people about Afghanistan and they would say oh yeah, we were peacekeepers there, right? It’s like no, at no point. At no point were they even pretending that that was about peacekeeping. That was an aggressive war. It was an occupation.
I think it’s important the fact that it runs so deep and the fact that people are so committed to the idea, and it’s no disrespect to your mom or my mom; both I’m sure sweet people in their own regard, right? But this is how ideology works. Ideology operates on the level that is almost — it’s not even conscious. It’s subconscious. It’s just something that sort of seeps into our general understanding of the world. For Canadians, I think there’s been a real emotional need, ideological emotional need to convince ourselves right from the start that we were good, that what we were doing was good. We weren’t doing anything bad. This isn’t colonialism. We’re not — yes, these indigenous children are going to these schools but it’s to help them. We’re not trying to destroy them; we’re trying to help them become better, like we are.
White supremacy has — it doesn’t have to be burning crosses and KKK hoods. White supremacy can have this appearance of something benevolent somehow. It’s obviously not; no serious person would think that it was, but it can present itself in a way that almost plausibly seems like no, no, no, we’re just trying to help. Look, you people are backwards. You don’t understand and we’re gonna help you, right? I mean, I watched those Heritage Minutes; I watched every single Heritage Minute and it’s insane how many of them basically reproduce that idea that there’s some group of people somewhere in the world, usually not white, who don’t get it, who haven’t figured it out, and Canada’s gonna help them. Benevolently out of the goodness of its heart, Canada’s gonna try to help these people. So, yeah, the peacekeeping thing is part of that and it’s so deeply, deeply — we’re so invested, I think, in the idea. It assuages our guilt about the reality of the world.
MEXIE: Mm-hm. I know, yeah. I think there is this real need to be like oh, well, we’re not the Americans, right? We’re not the US. There’s this huge need to try and distance ourselves from the Americans and kind of carve out what we actually are, right? So, everything that we are is kind of in opposition to them, like oh, well, we are the — we’re polite, not like those Yanks, you know? We’re whatever, we’re the peacekeepers, not the aggressors. But yeah, let’s move on to the War on Terror now and how that changed how Canada engaged in the world. So, you mentioned Afghanistan, so how did Canada participate there and in Iraq, et cetera, because yeah, I think there is still an idea that many Canadians have that even in those wars, we were just peacekeepers.
TYLER: Yeah, yeah. It’s so strange because those were explicitly aggressive wars. The war on Afghanistan starts a couple months after 9/11 and there’s no ambiguity about the fact that it’s retribution for 9/11, despite the fact that none of the 9/11 hijackers were from Afghanistan and no one in Afghanistan had really any role in it. The Afghan government didn’t have any direct role in — not that they — and it’s not that they were a particularly nice government. You don’t have to be a Taliban defender to say well, they didn’t do 9/11, which many people said, of course at the time. But nevertheless, the United States launched its war and Canada joined, although the prime minister didn’t actually admit to it until several months after. But Canada joined right from the start.
I think there’s a big shift there and of course, that quickly follows the war in Iraq which had even less to do with 9/11 and the broader War on Terror which expands to many countries in the Middle East and North Africa. There’s a real shift there and I think in the broad scope of world history, part of what’s happening is that with the end of the Soviet Union, the end of the Cold War, the 90s are this kind of strange moment where American centrality and North American — because Canada attaches itself to US power — didn’t really know how to justify itself, didn’t really have a way of — for — ‘cause for the better part of the century, they had sort of said look, it’s not that we want to dominate the world, but we have to because if we don’t, the Soviets will. We’re saving the world from communism.
Well, okay, so the Soviet Union falls and then it all gets super weird, and the 90s are very weird. Foreign policy interventions in the 90s are very unpopular, you know? People are home don’t like — I mean, there was Somalia we talked about but they didn’t like the war in Yugoslavia, either. It was a terrible war that, again, terrible things were done, but at home the fact that people sort of opposed it or weren’t into it was a bit of a concern but the War on Terror solves that in a way, right? The War on Terror, there’s this obvious emotional thing around 9/11 and it’s this new opportunity now to assert US global power, especially in a place like Iraq where there’s obviously a lot of oil. Canada just sort of attaches itself to that, not because Canada is weak, not because Canada had no choice.
This is I think a real serious — like, another myth. It’s more of a left wing myth unfortunately, but the myth, the Linda McQuaig sort of holding the bully’s coat thing where we say as Canadians, the Americans do these awful things; we don’t want to do them but we have no choice. The Americans forced us to do this. That’s just not accurate. I actually spend I think quite a bit of energy in the book trying to take that apart and show that that’s not true. Canada joins the War on Terror because it’s extremely profitable for Canadian capital, and that’s really what the War on Terror is about. The colonial logic is there. The colonial ideology is there. It’s very present, especially Canada in Afghanistan in particular. It’s very, very present and I’ll talk about that in a second.
But the core of it is the profits that stand to be made from destroying countries, destroying their infrastructure, destroying their nationalized industries, destroying even their privatized industries that they own, and then rebuilding them yourself. Nortel, a Canadian company, got a massive contract in Iraq to rebuild their entire telecommunications network. They already had one but it was destroyed by the war, right? Then Nortel gets this big contract. Here I draw a lot from the work of Jerome Glossen who’s really meticulously kinda put all of this together, and Greg Albo as well talks about this a lot; the way in which the Canadian state realizes that its profits, the profits of the business elite in Canada are tied to the US empire so by choice, Canada works with projects of US imperialism so that Canadian capital will get some of the rewards.
Canada and Canadian capital got a ton of rewards for participating in Afghanistan and Iraq and elsewhere. So, a huge amount of profit was made out of wars that killed — in Afghanistan, at least 500,000 people. In Iraq, as much as a million people. Completely devastated the country. Even those numbers are sort of not quite — don’t quite capture it because the level of destruction and the suffering that came from just the destruction of infrastructure; houses, sanitation systems, energy production systems. The scale of the trauma inflicted on people, the fear every time you hear the sound of a drone, that it might be bombing a wedding and it might be your wedding or your friend’s wedding. Just the deep traumatizing of these societies for the profits of SNC-Lavalin or SRK Consulting or Goldcorp.
It’s really, really kind of awful stuff. Then to tie it back together with this colonial piece, there’s a terrible book, terrible, terrible book by Christie Blatchford. It’s called Fifteen Days and it’s Christie Blatchford, this former National Post columnist, right wing, big fan of Don Cherry, but she wrote this book where she’s embedded with the troops. It’s one of those I’m gonna spend some time with the troops and find out what it’s really like. She doesn’t realize — or maybe she does; I don’t know — but she doesn’t present it critically. She just sort of presents what the troops are saying but I read it and I was like oh my god, I can’t even believe that you’re saying this out loud and that you’re reprinting this.
This stuff, the quotes that I pulled from that book — there’s a soldier who’s describing being in Afghanistan and says it’s like walking with people who are 2,000 years in the past. It’s like I’m in the pages of National Geographic. I mean, that is so racist. It’s so incredibly colonial and racist and obviously false, but not just because it’s racist; false in the sense that the claim is that this is a place that has no history, that has no development internally, that has no — there’s no internal logic to its own progressive development as a nation, that it’s stuck. It’s fixed in the past, that the only way this country could ever be modern is for us to destroy it and rebuild it.
That’s not only racist but also inaccurate because Afghanistan has a long, complicated history, and the West played a really central role in undermining its own progressive development in the 1960s and 70s, and funding the mujahideen who invade that country, provoke a massive and serious war, draw in the Soviet Union that leads to the emergence of the Taliban. Oh, and by the way, that mujahideen group that we funded, well, one of its leaders was Osama Bin Laden who launches 9/11. I mean, it’s like, the hubris and the consequences of these actions, right? So, yeah, I mean, I think Canada’s War on Terror has been — there’s no moment that is its most shameful moment because they’re all quite shameful, but certainly the ante has been upped in terms of how much destruction Canada can dole out to the rest of the world in this era.
MEXIE: No, absolutely. I mean, the whole premise of going into Afghanistan, right, was because Osama Bin Laden was there and didn’t the Taliban actually say to the US like okay, well, we’ll just — we’ll give you Osama Bin Laden and they were like no, no, no, we must come in. We must come invade. It’s so ridiculous.
TYLER: Yeah, yeah. You can add to it too that the stated motivation for the war changes constantly over the fourteen years or so of the occupation. It starts out it’s about Osama but then it’s like no, this is actually about rebuilding the country. This is about establishing a stable democracy. Then for a long time, of course, it was about saving women. Oh no, this war is so that we can — so that girls can go to school, this mobilization of liberal colonial feminism. Of course it’s nonsense. Even if — it’s like, even if at some level that were true, even if you accept it, the idea that Canada is just trying to help Afghan women, you’re not helping. This isn’t helping.
This is not making that happen and you’re crazy to think that this is helping because what in practice is happening is that the occupation is strengthening the most conservative, the most reactionary groups and forces in Afghanistan who are saying we always told you that the West was depraved. We always told you that the West was bad. You should have listened to us before. Listen to us now. Join our war against these invaders. So, Afghanistan has become a more dangerous and difficult place, certainly compared to the 60s and 70s for women and for many people because of the occupation. Even if you believe Canada’s — I think — ludicrous claims about why it was there, it has failed on those claims as well or on those terms as well.
MEXIE: Mm-hm. Yeah, and weren’t Canadian forces caught either torturing Afghanis or transferring Afghan people to the police to be tortured?
TYLER: Yeah, both, actually.
MEXIE: I guess it’s something we should have also mentioned with the peacekeeper section, was that in all of these peacekeeping wars or just wherever our troops go abroad, they are assaulting, raping, sexually assaulting civilians, and often murdering them as well but it’s often just that’s kind of the code of conduct, this really — yeah, imperialist patriarchy, kind of.
TYLER: Yeah. I found a terrible, upsetting book about sexual violence in UN peacekeeping missions. It wasn’t specific to Canada; it was about all of them. It’s strange that it was the only one I could find. There’s been very little written about this even though it’s prevalent. It is really upsetting; maybe that’s part of the reason sometimes people don’t want to look into it but yeah, it’s been prevalent in these missions. You know, maybe a bit of a side tangent from what we’re talking about, but a really interesting finding in this book was that they were looking at peacekeeping interventions in Africa and peacekeepers from various countries including white, Western countries and African countries.
The cases — the documented cases of sexual violence by peacekeepers was astronomically higher from the white, Western countries. When Botswana sends peacekeepers to Sudan, for instance, there are few if any cases of sexual violence. But when Belgium or France or the United States or Canada does, there is always, in every case. All the way back to the Korean War, in all of these cases. Again, all the way back to colonialism. It’s a piece of the story that’s uncomfortable and unpleasant to talk about, but sexual violence has always been part of colonialism. It’s part of the assertion of white, patriarchal power, and it is, and it’s very evident in Canada’s colonial history. I pull quotes from North — the first North West Mounted Police officers, their diaries of their trip out West, their first mission out there.
I mean, it’s pretty disgusting to listen to the way they talk. Then whether it’s in 1870 at Red River or 1885 at Batoche, sexual violence is used by Canadian and — soldiers and police, and then again in the Boer War, and then again in the Korean War, and then again in Congo and Somalia and one after another. So, yeah, this stuff follow — and to pull it together, one last thought on this; Sherene Razack has an argument about torture and violence where she says that in many ways, it’s about the assertion of power. It’s about you do the torture, you do the violence in order to assert that you’re part of the civilized group of nations that is allowed to do this. I think that rings quite true of the Canadian experience, at least, in a lot of these cases. But it’s not pleasant listening.
MEXIE: No. Yeah, but it is just completely telling that that is a tactic used, that this is just white patriarchal power being imposed on the rest of the world through the most horrific kinds of violence. I guess moving on; when we think about regime change operations, we typically again fault the US or the CIA, but I guess we’ve mentioned a few regime change operations already that Canada’s been part of, like Lumumba and Mobutu, and in Iraq with Saddam. But I guess talk a bit more about how Canada has been involved in other regime change operations, especially more recently and why, why we’re doing this.
TYLER: Yeah. Yeah, yeah, I mean, it’s usually a preferred method of — if you don’t want to do a full-scale invasion, find some sort of lighter way of getting what you want in other countries, and Canada’s been involved in that for a long time in many different ways. In the more recent cases, one that is particularly I guess meaningful to me because I’ve done a lot of work on it, was in Honduras. The government of Honduras was in the 2000s — I guess I would say liberal at best. Maybe social-democratic leftish, but not radical by any means. What emerges in that period is an activist movement that wants to improve the conditions of life for poor people, for working people, for indigenous people, for women, and build a kind of collective movement.
It was an organized social movement in that country that kinda comes together, coalesces in the early 2000s, and under the presidency of Manuel Zelaya who was elected in 2005, they finally have a president who — I wouldn’t say he listens but he’s receptive to the demands of the movement. It’s not because he’s some great hero, right? I think it’s important to actually emphasize that the power of this movement comes from the popular classes. It comes from this organized movement, not because some heroic guy in a cowboy hat came down and saved them. He did wear a cowboy hat and people liked it, but that wasn’t the issue. He was receptive though, insofar as his political fortunes became increasingly tied to the support of this movement.
He gradually starts reforming the state and I mean, these are minor reforms; increase to the minimum wage, rewriting the mining laws of the country so that they’re not quite so abusive, because they were abusive insofar as Canadian — mostly Canadian companies would be allowed to poison the environment, treat their workers with disrespect, and pay no taxes. So, he’s gradually making some minor shifts here. But even that was deemed unacceptable by the West. So, the West teams up. Here, I mean mostly Canada and the US. They team up with the far right in Honduras and they overthrow Manuel Zelaya’s government in 2009. Canada didn’t physically even do anything in this. It’s different from the case of Haiti where Canadian troops actually were in the country to help kidnap the president in 2004.
But in 2009, there’s no Canadian soldiers on the ground. All the dirty work is being done by Hondurans. But Canada plays this tune over the next six months — well, really over the next twelve years, but especially in the ensuing six months where they immediately say oh, we don’t want to rush to any judgement here. We’re really sorry to see that there’s a crisis in Honduras and we hope it gets resolved peacefully. We call on all parties to show restraint. I remember because I was there and I was working in Honduras at the time, and the idea that this was all parties need to show restraint; it’s like sorry, one side is the military that just kidnapped the president and enforced martial law and the other side is the people who are just like hey, we voted for that guy; bring him back.
This isn’t all parties need to show restraint time, you know? This is you need to restore the president time. There’s one example and of course, the — why does Canada support it? Which, by the way, they did support over the next six months and then twelve years in a variety of different ways, Canada made sure that that right wing military group stayed in power. They are still. Honduras is a dictatorship now governed still by that same faction and has been ever since. It’s because it’s really good for business. Canadian mining companies are all over that country. They’re by far the dominant country in the mining sector, and one of the first things that the new government did was, actually, they did change the mining laws to make them more favorable to Canadian capital.
The Canadian garment manufacturing company Gildan has a number of sweatshops there. Most of Gildan’s operations are in Haiti and Honduras, the two poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere and both places where Canada has participated in the overthrow of governments that were trying to help working people. It’s mostly women that work in those Gildan factories. They’re extremely physically taxing. They’re worked very, very hard. They’re given few breaks. When they develop — which they invariable do develop — physical injuries from the work, they are not allowed to go to a regular doctor; they are told to go to the company doctor. These are sort of industrial parks so there’s a doctor, there’s a little clinic onsite.
I actually interviewed somebody who was one of those doctors and he was like yeah, I was just told give them some painkillers and send them back to work. These are really exploitative, horrific places. When people tried to form a union at one of them, they were — they faced violence. The company hired organized criminal thugs to intimidate them. Of course, this is what Canada was trying to support. In supporting a right wing dictatorship in that country, in supporting regime change in that country, it was to ensure that the mining companies, that Gildan, that the tourist industry in the north would be — would have no interference from a government that would listen to people who were saying we would like some interference here, please. We would like to be allowed to form unions.
We would like to be allowed to protect our communities from the toxic shit they’re pumping out of their mine into our river. We would like to have access to the land that’s guaranteed to us, for fishing rights on the north coast. All of these things we deserve. Of course, Canada doesn’t care because its priority is the needs of business. So, many of the things that Canada does in Honduras have their reflections again right here in Canada, in Canada’s relations with indigenous people and resource extraction here. So, I use that example. It’s one of many. Oops, sorry, cat. It’s one of many — just kicking my cat. But yeah, I guess that’s — thank you cat; that was a good segue into something else.
MEXIE: Yeah. Yeah, no, absolutely. I think that’s another thing that people don’t know about Canada, is that our mining sector is so humungous. We make up like, 75% of the world’s mining companies and that what we’re doing abroad is so disastrous. As you said, that does have resonance with what’s going on in Canada with the man camps and missing and murdered indigenous women ‘cause that’s definitely something that happens around all of our mining operations globally as well as environmental destruction. But yeah, I mean, just basically all of the regime change operations that the US is involved in or trying to pull off in Venezuela and whatnot. We’re just as involved and it’s just kinda swept under the rug.
TYLER: Yeah, Venezuela, Bolivia.
TYLER: Yeah, and there’s even — what’s interesting too, and to come back to that claim that Canada just follows the US, there’s times where Canada’s actually the much more aggressive party with respect to these dictatorships. I mean, it’s not quite regime change. It’s the reverse of it; it’s protecting a dictatorship. But there’s the case of Somoza in Nicaragua in the 19 — late 1940s. The US didn’t really want to — the US would have been perfectly willing to accept a succession of the government of Nicaragua as long as it was still pro-American, pro-capital, because the dictator, Anastasio Somoza, was embarrassing. He was a Nazi. He literally had pictures of Hitler and Mussolini on his desk, and this is after World War II. There was a popular movement.
There was — clearly something was afoot, and the Americans were happy to let Somoza fall. But Canada, because it had such significant mining interests and those were based on a relationship with Somoza, Canada actually steps in to protect Somoza against the wishes of the United States. The Americans were ready to cut ties and Canada gets in there and makes sure it was a complicated story, but they funneled him some weapons and airplanes and so on and managed to keep Somoza in power. His family stayed in power until the 1980s, so Canada really made sure that Nicaragua had another forty years of dictatorship. Yeah, Canada’s often the aggressor despite our self-perception. We’re really out there.
MEXIE: Yeah. No, absolutely. That’s horrifying. So, I guess speaking of fascism, you point out that Canada has flirted with fascism historically and now we’re seeing another rise of the far right, so can you speak a bit to the history of Canada and Canadians supporting fascism and the material conditions today that are precipitating its return?
TYLER: Yeah. I think the history of fascism and the role it plays in the world is often really misunderstood. It gets boiled down into some very over-simplistic story about the Nazis, and the Nazis were evil and bad and we beat them because we’re the good guys. That narrative around World War II, it’s so popular I think because unlike a lot of the other conflicts whether it’s World War I or Vietnam or Korea, World War II seemed to be so obvious and the narrative seemed to be so simple. You know what I mean? My dad liked World War II stories. He watched a lot of World War II documentaries. He was into it and I think the reason, despite the fact that his generation, his age, the Vietnam War would have been the more obvious thing that would have been part of his moment, but he always watched the shows about World War II.
Why? I think it’s because he liked the idea of a simple story where we were the good guys. I mean, fair enough. I wish it was all simple stories of us being the good guys. That would be a lot more fun than this goddamn book that I wrote, but unfortunately this is — even World War II is more complicated than we think. Fascism generally arises as a reaction to pushes for change. Fascism is — there’s a reason reactionary became a term in that era, and it’s because fascism was a reaction to the rise of the left. The left emerges in — it had been bubbling and growing for a long time but it really, really emerges around the first World War, this horrific crisis of capitalism that ends in millions of people — working people dying in trenches and everyone is so angry and so — and can see through the whole system.
It prompts a massive boost in the number of people who join left wing movements. There’s revolution in Russia, obviously, but there’s also one in Germany, two in Germany. There’s a revolution in Hungary, there’s a revolution — or there’s almost revolution in Spain, there’s an almost revolution in Italy. The left is really, really powerful and the right, fascism, grows as a response to that. Mussolini explicitly comes to power in Italy on the premise that he will destroy the growing left, that he will break the unions that keep going on strike and disrupting the flow of capital. Hitler’s ideology is anti-communist at its heart. Even the antisemitism that is so deeply woven into Nazi ideology is actually interspersed with anti-communism.
Hitler’s sort of presentation of things is that the — Germany has been undermined by the communists who are Jewish. He explicitly makes this connection between communism and the Jews, and so while we typically remember the antisemitism of Nazism, we often forget that it was deeply interwoven with anti-communism. Hitler’s first enemies were the communists. They’re the first people that he liquidates when he comes to power, and then the trade unions. The leaders of the trade unions come swiftly after. The foolish leftists that got sucked into the Nazi party are quickly liquidated. Then the Soviet Union is his primary target, so much so that the West supported Hitler. It’s incredible to me that that has been so successfully written out of our historical memory.
But the West explicitly supported Hitler. The Canadian prime minister goes to Berlin and meets with him in 1937. By this point, Jews are already being rounded up and sent into what become camps. By the way, this is widely known. It’s not like Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King didn’t know about it. There had been protests in Toronto, Jews in Toronto demonstrating against the Canadian government, demanding some kind of intervention to deal with the problem in Europe, demanding in particular that Jews be allowed to escape Europe and come to Canada as refugees, which Canada refuses because most of the leaders of Canada at the time were deeply antisemitic themselves, including the prime minster who goes and meets with Hitler and they talk about — Hitler tells him all about the problems that the Jews have caused.
Oh, they’re in our movie theatres and this and that, and Prime Minister King is receptive. I mean, I read his diaries. It was harrowing reading but I went through all of his diaries for that two, three week period. He doesn’t raise any objection to that at all. In fact, the primary purpose of King’s meeting with Hitler was to communicate to Hitler focus on the communists. Keep your eye on the Soviet Union. As long as you go east, you have no quarrel with us. If you turn your attention to Western Europe, if you turn your attention on Britain, then there’s gonna be a problem. But as long as you’re heading that way, it’s fine. You know, I think in many ways this really captures the liberal — what we think of as liberal or centrist approach to fascism which is that they don’t want to be the fascist.
They don’t want to do or say the horrible thing, but if there’s any possibility of a powerful left wing movement that could seriously threaten their authority and their power and their prestige, they’re perfectly happy to let the fascists do that dirty work. That’s essentially what King was saying; go ahead, we don’t like the communists, either. We’re afraid of that ideology too, so go, do what you need to do. Don’t tell us. Just go do it, but don’t interfere with us. Don’t interfere with what we’re doing. I think that changes for me. That changes profoundly my understanding of what World War II was and what it was about. Yeah, eventually of course, the West ends up fighting against Hitler. That’s clear, but it does so and you can read Winston Churchill on this. He’s very clear about it.
The West changes its position when it realizes that Hitler is ambitious enough to want to be the center of capitalism, that Hitler wants Germany to replace Britain/the United States as the central capitalist power. Now, that’s where he goes too far. That’s the moment. How insane is that, that of all the things Hitler does, the thing that really pushes us over the edge is when he threatens the centrality of British imperial power? But that’s it. That is explicitly what it is and Churchill recognizes that before even some of the others, and that’s part of the reason there’s this mystique about Churchill. I mean, good god, that’s a whole other story I won’t get into. But yeah, so I mean, this changes I think how we understand World War II and I think it tells us a lot about the West’s general and liberalism’s general relationship to fascism, and also Canada’s.
MEXIE: Yeah, and then they also kind of wrote out the fact that the Soviet Union played such a major role in defeating Hitler, right? It was all the West that did that as well, so just very interesting. Then you also write that they supported fascist Japan and other fascist powers as well.
TYLER: Yeah. Yeah, all of them. I mean, Canada…
MEXIE: Just very interesting.
TYLER: …Canada had a very close relationship with fascist Japan to the extent that Canada was even selling materials that were going into Japanese weapons as Japan was attacking not just some of the islands around Japan but Korea, Manchuria, even mainland China. When Japan, fascist Japan, attacks mainland China, the Canadian ambassador says hey, you know, we gotta understand here; Japan is just trying to put its neighbor into better shape. Canada runs interference, political and diplomatic interference on behalf of Japan as it’s — the attack on the city of Nanjing, widely known and remembered, is just a horrific, horrific thing. Hundreds of thousands of people killed in that city in that attack, and that’s just one attack.
The way that the Japanese fascist administration treated people in Korea and China — not very well-known in the West but absolutely horrific stuff, and Canada was fully on-side with it. Canada was fully on-side with fascist Spain. I shouldn’t say that; I should be more precise. They weren’t fully on-side with fascist Spain but when Hitler asks Prime Minister King to maintain strict non-involvement and non-intervention in Spain, King agrees. So, Spain falls to the fascists with Hitler’s support. Hitler’s Air Force is bombing Spanish cities but the West does nothing. Now of course, individual Canadians, to their great credit, a couple thousand, almost, went to Spain individually and fought against fascism there. Before it was cool to fight against fascism, they went.
These were working class people; veterans, homeless men for the most part, veterans of the Regina Riots and the On-to-Ottawa Trek who went and fought against fascism in Spain and they lost because they were fighting against not just Franco but also Hitler and Mussolini, and they had no support from Canada. Canada called them scum, in fact. That’s what they were called in parliament, and they were treated as criminals. So, all of this — and I think all of this is probably especially relevant for us to think about now because we’re living in a moment where fascism is again on the rise and we already see Canada — the Canadian state, that is — lining up beside many of the newly-emerging fascist powers; Ukraine, in India, in Brazil, Saudi Arabia. You could call Saudi Arabia fascist. Canada’s funding them, arming them, working with them.
MEXIE: Yeah. No, absolutely. Yeah, I mean, oh, we didn’t even talk about Israel, really.
TYLER: You’re right, of course.
MEXIE: And how much Canada has supported their colonial invasion and occupation, but that has been extremely significant. Yeah, you mentioned Ukraine; you talked about Chrystia Freeland who may become our prime minister, or she’s kinda — it seems like she’s being groomed to be the next prime minister of Canada and yeah, she’s — she has very close ties to the far right in Ukraine. Her grandfather was a literal Nazi, a Nazi propagandist, which she covered up and said was just Russian propaganda which is hilarious. So, pretty concerning stuff. Then of course, it came out recently that there’s so many actual Nazis or white supremacists in our military and our police forces as well, I believe. But…
TYLER: Yeah. I mean, that’s — and that’s gonna happen. That’s part of this moment that we’re living in now, in the 2020s which, I mean, we’re in a crisis of capitalism. That’s clear. The pandemic was a sort of spark that has ignited it even further, but we’ve been in — we’ve been on the verge of a deep crisis of capitalism for twenty years or so and as that happens, you’re gonna see — we’re gonna see a growing left. We’re gonna see more and more people joining left wing parties, movements, protests, demonstrations, and so on. We’re already seeing that. That’s already happening in the last four or five years. As that happens, so too then you get the rise of the right which of course, we’re also seeing. There’s gonna be fewer and fewer moderate centrist liberals in the coming decade.
That position has really lost its legitimacy and continues to every single day. Every day that Joe Biden fails to do anything progressive but also fails to say something super racist, he’s failing the left and the right. Obviously I’m not sympathetic to his failing the right, but every time Justin Trudeau cries on TV about the way indigenous people were treated but then makes sure that our CMP have the right to shoot protesters at Wet’suwet’en if they’re blocking the construction of a pipeline. What he’s doing is eroding any kind of real sustainable support for that central, liberal thing. People are either going to be pulled to the left by the fact that he’s attacking protesters or they’re gonna be pulled to the right by the fact that he would dare to cry about indigenous people. That’s what we’re gonna get. We’re gonna get this increasing polarization and it’s obviously happening in the US but it’s happening here too and it’s gonna be intense. It’s a scary time, I think, in many respects to be living through this. It’s hard to know exactly what it’s gonna look like, but we all have to make pretty serious political choices, I think.
MEXIE: Mm-hm. Yeah. Well, I guess to that end, you conclude with the need to decolonize Canada and develop a socialist or communist alternative, so I guess where are you focusing your energy right now with respect to building that alternative? Yeah, I guess just…
TYLER: It’s the toughest question, right?
MEXIE: …in this horrible apocalyptic setting that we’re in, yeah.
TYLER: Yeah. Oh yeah, that question is always the dagger, right? What are you doing about this? Nothing.
MEXIE: No, I don’t mean to call you out personally. I just mean where do you think personally that we should be — I guess that’s also a big question that has a million answers because it’s like well, diversity of tactics. Wherever you are, do something, but…
TYLER: Yeah. I mean, I don’t know. I think I take your calling me out quite — I think it’s an appropriate calling out. I think we do actually have to be saying to ourselves what are we doing? Yeah, diversity of tactics stuff. I sort of grew up in that milieu but I mean, it also kinda failed. Everything from the Battle of Seattle to the G20, that kinda milieu of diversity of tactics; let’s all just loosely organize and build these loose movements of — I mean, it didn’t do much. It didn’t really succeed. It certainly didn’t win in the big picture, so I guess my answer is I don’t know exactly what I’m doing and I’m frustrated by the fact that I don’t know exactly what I’m doing. I have some ideas about where — that I think need to guide the work we do.
As I say in the book, I think that any serious progressive project in Canada has to have decolonization at the center of it. I don’t think — I have no respect for any left wing movement in Canada that doesn’t have decolonization as a central pillar. So, at some level, that means any work that is done has to be led in part by indigenous struggles, whether the Mi’kmaq in Nova Scotia right now or the blockades at Wet’suwet’en or any other of those particular struggles, that stuff has to be central because Canada itself is the problem at some level. The Canadian colonial state and the colonial imposition is in some ways our primary enemy, I guess. It’s a strange word to use but I would say in many respects, the right one. So, decolonization has to be central.
But how you get there and what you build along with that decolonization is complicated and the left — I mean, everyone on the left complains about the left, so I hate reproducing that dynamic, but the left in Canada is a mess. It’s as messed up as it’s been in a really long time and there is increasing interest, I think; my perception is that there is growing interest in left alternatives and left wing projects, but the socialist and communist movements that exist, parties that exist in Canada are in various degrees of disarray. The labor movement is — has — and I should say all of these movements and parties have great people in them, like great people in them trying to do great work. None of this is a attack on any people involved but I mean, I think it’s fair to say that in general, the labor movement is very conservative.
It’s very oriented to the center at best, and certainly is resistant to radical possibilities. They spend a lot of their resources on the NDP which is very clearly just trying to be the new Liberal Party and failing at that. But the NDP — the Green Party as well are both center and center-right political parties, so those aren’t places of interest for me. We need movements that can build real opposition to the Canadian state, the Canadian colonial state and the things that it’s doing, but we haven’t got that right now. So, yeah, I hope I haven’t just offended like, everyone that’s listening. I don’t mean any offense to anyone here. I’m really coming from just a place of disillusionment and frustration.
MEXIE: Yeah. I mean, yeah, it’s definitely a humungous project that can definitely feel very disempowering or lead to a lot of doomerism. But I think you’re definitely right that the Land Back Movement needs to be front and center and that that is a critical part of building this alternative that a lot of — I think a lot of settler leftists don’t give enough — they don’t realize the import of it. Like, they do in general; they’re broadly like oh yes, I’m for decolonization, but they kind of see that as maybe like an afterthought whereas I agree that I think it is foundational because as you said, you have this settler capitalism; the colonial imposition of the settler state is absolutely at the core of the problem. Yeah, I just made a video, actually. It’s coming out — it’ll be out once this podcast is out called Living the Revolution where I kind of talk about dual power and that kind of thing, and I think that’s definitely where I want to put my energy. But yeah, I guess it’s a big question and I understand your disillusionment and frustration.
TYLER: Yeah. It’s hard. It really is. I agree with you. I think Land Back and decolonization, that stuff really is — it’s central because it is so central to what Canada is. If your primary impediment right now to having a post-capitalist society here is the Canadian state, which I think it is, colonialism is central to the Canadian state, so opposing colonialism is a fundamental prerequisite of anything else that is done, and so I — it’s like that — but that’s the easy part. It’s knowing how and it’s understanding also that it’s not like all indigenous groups and movements have the same approach to decolonization. I think there’s this kind of really not-helpful thing that happens. It’s kind of a liberal thing that — where it sort of — it’s like it’s the — I’m doing the clapping thing.
It’s the tweet with claps where it’s like listen to — and listen to so-and-so people. It’s like, listen to indigenous people. Yes, of course. I mean, that’s so obvious, but it can also — that can be so over-simplistic that it actually reproduces a kind of ridiculous racism and colonialism because it implies that all indigenous people agree and that they all have somehow the same platform for revolution and the same ideas for a post-capitalist society, which they don’t. We have to engage in good faith with the fact that there are divisions and divides between all of the different groups of people that we want to be part of our movement, whether it’s like — whether we’re talking about the working class, indigenous people, racialized people, women, trans people.
Whatever category — whatever group of people we’re talking with, and some of us of course are part of, it’s not like that group of people all agree and all have the same position. So, we need to both center those groups of people, center those movements, have them be front and center so it isn’t just a bunch of white guys running the show as usual. But at the same time, we all have to be building I think political movements that can actually process the debates that exist within these communities, within our communities of resistance and where we can actually take positions. I know that’s — it probably sounds a little bit vague and theoretical and abstract.
It’s partly ‘cause I haven’t really thought this out super clearly, but it is also in reaction to the idea that we just have to, well, here’s a group of people that are protesting; join them, follow them, listen to them. Raise up their voices. No, it’s not always that simple because different groups of people protest for different reasons and they’re not always aligned. We do need to know what we’re fighting for. We do need to — for me at least, we need to identify that capitalism is a problem. It’s the problem in many respects and we have to have a plan for how to confront capital and how to confront the capitalist state and how to win. We have to have a plan for how to win these struggles so that it isn’t just a handful of people trying to do something and then they all get arrested or killed or whatever.
We have to have real goals, real principles, real plans for how to fight these things and win. Yeah, it’s hard right now because those structures don’t exist here. They exist in other places though, and we can take lessons whether from India, millions of communists struggling in India or in the Philippines or what’s happened recently in Bolivia. Even Venezuela, there’s a lot of really positive lessons to take from the experience there. I think it’s a matter of trying to I guess pull all of these things together and find things to build. At least hopefully at some point we can start doing that.
MEXIE: Absolutely. Well, that’s a somewhat hopeful place to end, so just thank you so much for this conversation. It was just so amazing to have you on. I will link your book in the description box below. It’s called Canada in the World: Settler Capitalism and the Colonial Imagination. So, everyone please pick that up and check it out. It is such an important read. Before we go, do you want to shout out maybe where people can find you online unless you don’t want them to find you online? In which case…
TYLER: Yeah, after what I just said? Yeah, yeah, do not look me up. I’ll give the — there’s a Twitter account for the book that I’ll give. It’s @canadainthewrld, although it’s W-R-L-D because I ran up against my limit for characters. So, it’s Canada — @canadainthewrld, @canadainthe W-R-L-D. It’s an account that I run for the book and I share little threads and vignettes from the book, so that would be a good place. [MUSIC] From there, ultimately you’ll probably be able to find me if you really want to send me that hate for what I just said at the end there.
MEXIE: Alright, awesome, well, I’ll link that in the description box as well. So yeah, otherwise just thank you so much for coming on. This was really wonderful, and, yeah.
TYLER: Thank you. Thanks. I’m glad we finally got around to doing this. We had talked about it for a long time, so it’s — I’m glad we finally did it.
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