Where, O Where have the Progressives All Gone?
Where, O Where have the Progressives All Gone?
A Lament for a Lost Generation
by Kevin D. Annett
We cannot come to terms with what we don't understand.
(My Traitor's Heart: A South African Exile Returns to Face His Country, His Tribe, and His Conscience)
The undeniable proof that Canada's churches and government deliberately exterminated entire generations of native people, and specifically their children, has finally been acknowledged, albeit with a cunning duplicity, by the official guardians of public order.
The fact that even the Globe and Mail and other flagships of the Canadian establishment have admitted the truth of a fifty percent death rate in Indian Residential schools illuminates exactly how undeniable is this genocide. Fifty thousand or more children died over a century. The butchers can no longer deny the blood on their hands; they merely brush it off now as dried blood, an antiquated curiosity of no particular importance to anyone.
The dead were, after all, Indians. And The Others, as we all know, do not respond the same as you or I when nails are pounded through their tongues, or when their newborns are thrown live into roaring furnaces.
Being Other, they didn't really suffer and die, to we who caused it. How else can a prominent government pundit claim, remarkably,
"None of those deaths were the result of deliberate malice ...".
Two and two equals five, clearly. But what I find even stranger than such standard doublethink on the part of the perpetrators of a crime is the fact that this exposure of Christian Canada's savagery has evoked an odd reaction among those whom one would assume would delight in such proof of the system's bloody deeds: that political species known affectionately if inaccurately as "the Left".
That reaction, in a word, is absent; and even more odious is the fact that, when pressed for a response to their own home-grown genocide, "leftists" in Canada will shake their heads and squint disapprovingly with even more vigor than so-called conservatives, and will, almost to a comrade, avoid residential school protests, survivors, and the whole bloody issue like the plague.
A classic case in point was when I showed proof of the huge death rate in United Church residential schools to an editor of the Communist Party's newspaper in Vancouver. The man looked shocked, then began shaking his head, exclaiming,
"The church couldn't have done that! I mean, my own wife is a United Church member!".
Allow, for a moment, the terrible irony of this truth to outweigh any of the reasons for it, for the cause is clear enough. How magnificently ironic that the same "radicals" who for so long have decried church and state have refused to publicize the very proof of what they have alleged so abstractly: that our society is murderous, that church, state and corporations are a blood-soaked triangle that built Canada on ethnic cleansing and mass killing, and that this slaughter continues.
It's not even that progressives have had to work hard to learn any of this, either. The proof has already been documented, painstakingly, by others: in detail, eye witnessed, and corroborated, and now even acknowledged by the mainstream press. Yet the voices of the Left continue to stay mute about the Canadian Holocaust, and their numbers are nowhere to be seen at the struggling protests and press conferences held by the residential school survivors.
Is the Left merely a pretense in Canada? If not, then why is it so comatose when it comes to the worst crime in Canadian history?
Even from a purely partisan position, cannot socialists grasp the incredible implications, and political potential, evoked by the Canadian Holocaust's complete indictment of the Canadian ruling class and all its major institutions? When have Leftists ever been handed such a thorough validation of their beliefs: that our society was born in blood and is maintained by oppression and lies? And yet to the Canadian Left, if one can judge by their actions and attitudes, genocide never happened in Canada.
Such gross political idiocy makes no sense whatsoever; assuming, that is, that the Left actually possesses a modicum of life and intelligence anymore. But regardless of this, it behooves anyone who is committed to human liberation and justice, and especially every native person, to ponder why the Canadian Left has missed the boat, once again, and abandoned the most oppressed people in their midst.
Flashback to February of 2007, and a cluttered office in Ottawa belonging to a non-descript Member of Parliament named Dennis Bevington. Dennis belongs to the NDP, that stillborn, ostensibly "left wing" party that stands like a neglected child, perpetually outside the doors of power in Canada.
Dennis was distinctly cowed that morning, for his appointment with me had been hijacked at the last minute by a more senior NDP politician, Jean Crowder, that party's national "Aboriginal Affairs" critic and a good friend of the United Church of Canada, one of the main actors in the residential school crimes.
The air was as stifled as Dennis Bevington as Ms. Crowder breezed into his office, and looked at me with something more than caution.
"I don't have much time..." she began, hovering. "But I heard you were here."
I nodded, and my partner Carol pulled out pen and paper, which seemed to unnerve the politician even more.
"That's okay" I replied. "Since you're here, I might as well ask you a few questions."
"Questions?" Jean said nervously.
"Yeah. I'm just wondering if the NDP would support a motion in Parliament to set up an investigation into the children who died in the Indian residential schools."
Jean blinked hard, as if I'd hit her. She glared at Dennis, who sank more deeply into his chair.
"That's a complex issue" she finally blustered. Looking lost, she fell back onto her political cue cards.
"We in the NDP are committed to working with First Nations to bring about healing from the residential schools ..."
I smiled at her, which halted the rhetoric.
"Look, we couldn't act unilaterally like that without consulting the appropriate First Nations groups first" she said.
"Which groups?" I asked.
Jean said nothing.
"So does that mean you won't support such a motion?" I continued.
"Not at this time, no" Jean answered.
"When would you?" I asked, as Carol scribbled.
Jean Crowder stared at me with a sudden look that had cold daggers in it. The meeting was adjourned.
Two months later, a conservative politician, not a "socialist", stood up in the Parliament of Canada and spoke for the first time of the missing and dead residential school children.
It's perhaps not accidental that Conservative Prime Minister Steven Harper is the first person ever to occupy that position who is not tied personally to one of the churches that ran the residential schools and killed children there. He's also the first Prime Minister since 1968, save one, who isn't part of the Roman Catholic church, which set up the residential schools and ran two-thirds of them.
Jean Crowder, Bill Blaikie, leader Jack Layton and lots of other NDP Members of Parliament are either loyal United Church members or actual clergymen. And, again not coincidentally, it was the NDP government in British Columbia who in 1995 helped have me fired and who covered for the United Church, when I challenged the church about its secret horse trading in stolen native land on Vancouver Island.
The Canadian Left has never drifted far from the NDP in practice, and regardless of their politics has looked forlornly to that party to carry its hopes and dreams. Even the Communist Party still prattles on about a "progressive alliance" with the NDP. So whenever the latter frowns upon a person or a cause, you can rest assured that progressives of every brand will follow step.
Maybe that's all there is to it: genocide in Canada, and me, are on the official shit list, to be avoided at all costs. But I suspect the rot goes much deeper.
I had a white South African friend called Neil Cohen, who split from his country back in the seventies so he wouldn't have to shoot black people as a military reservist. Neil had a few good insights about his people, and they remind me a lot of my own.
"Every white feels better than every black, it doesn't matter their politics" Neil described to me one night.
"I liked the right-wing Boers 'cause they were honest about that. Who I couldn't stand were the other whites, the so-called socialists, who wouldn't admit it. They'd never go near a black person, they never went into one of the Bantustans, they were too scared to. You never saw a black person in one of their groups or at any of their protests. They just talked a good line about ending apartheid but they didn't know what the hell it was, and how they were just as much a part of it."
Change "blacks" to "Indians", and you have an accurate account of Canada and its "Left".
I remember when I was a member of a marxist group called the International Socialists, during my twenties, about the same time I first met Neil Cohen in Hamilton, Ontario. Our lily-white radical grouplet of several dozen people spent most of our time denouncing oppression, but none of us knew what it actually was: especially when it came to aboriginals.
Native people were not simply exotic and distant to us: they didn't exist in our minds, and certainly not in the columns of our newspaper or leaflets or discussion bulletins. Like every other white Canadian, to we "revolutionaries", Indians were invisible and of no account.
Native militancy, Red Power and the American Indian Movement began to change that, but like a bus we ran after to catch, we jumped aboard the "native solidarity" bandwagon because it was moving and we weren't; and once there, we never took the time to come to know and learn from the people we had joined, because we didn't want to know them.
I see firsthand how none of this built-in racism has changed among the Left in Canada in thirty years, whenever a radical conference or a protest begins with the obligatory token "prayer from a native elder", or a thanking of the local native nation for meeting on their land - as if we had ever asked permission.
The fact that such patronizing and insulting behavior never seems to change among white radicals suggests the presence of an even more entrenched, pervasive mental apartheid in Canada that makes South Africa look like a liberated zone.
Maybe it's not a fair comparison. After all, unlike South Africa, we whites are 90% of the population here, and we won the war against our original peoples, so why would we ever have to change?
Part of winning means that your official mythology and self-image gets enshrined and so ingrained that it becomes invisible, and therefore all-controlling. Every single white person in Canada is born into a snug and self-justifying mythology, and rarely leaves it, regardless of his or her politics. We are all, to quote Neil Cohen, "automatic imperialists".
That's not a reason for personal guilt, for we aren't unique in the world. Any citizen of Empire carries its mindset. Lenin helped diagnose this malaise in 1916, when he described, in his brilliant work on Imperialism, how the super-profits of European empires had created an "aristocracy of labor" in the home countries, and shaped the consciousness of workers and the Left to identify with Imperial rule over colonized peoples.
Of course, the old political labels and distinctions clearly mean nothing anymore, on the ground, any more than do the terms "white" or "aboriginal". For we are in a post-Imperial epoch, our species is in a final battle for survival, and the enemy is ourselves.
Once upon a time, there was a radical counter-culture in the world, and even in Canada, that felt in its gut every injustice done to a man or woman, and tried to raise the most crushed soul to become the subject of history. In my youth, during the waning glow of the sixties, I encountered the remnants of that culture, not in the media-focused "flower child" fad, but among individual men and women who for their entire lives had stood by and never abandoned itinerant workers, the homeless, immigrants, the underpaid and unorganized, and the most endangered people among us.
Most of these bright souls called themselves socialists and communists, the real kind, not politicians but visionaries: those who saw and fought for of a world of actual equality where none would rule over or profit from or bomb another - the kind of dreamers whom Jesus called blessed. But their kind died or withdrew somehow as the seventies gave way to the long despair called Reaganism and Thatcherism, and the global technocratic fascism that emerged from it.
One of those dreamers was my strongest teacher, an aging radical named Don Eperson, whom I met the same year that Neil Cohen and I did, when I was an unemployed metal fitter in Hamilton's east end.
I first glimpsed Don outside Hamilton city hall one noon hour, where he was conducting a one-man picket against the Mayor, unemployment and the whole rotten system.
Don was seventy eight years old and the kind of loud and ornery type that Canadians abhor, because he always said exactly what he felt.
"Vote?" Don exploded at a reporter who asked him if he'd thought of running for office.
"Join that motley crew of thieves and liars? Those henchmen of the rich? Do I look like one of them black tie parasites?"
Don and I got to know each other well in the year remaining to him. He had been an itinerant union organizer most of his life until he became too radical for the unions and the NDP, simply by remaining true to his principles
"I figure the only thing to do is keep making a stink. People forget they got that power. Nobody looks out for their neighbor anymore, like we did in the thirties. How the hell do you figure we survived all that shit? By helping the guy below you, lifting him up, and bringing down them that's keeping them down. You gotta make it hard for the rich to treat us like dirt, keep making a stink. That's the only way we'll stop all of these kids from being sacrificed again, in their next war."
I kept nodding as Don regaled me thus, as we slurped our drinks in a local bar soon after we met. He looked at me through rheumy eyes and said suddenly,
"You know what your only problem is, son? That skin color of yours. It'll keep you too safe, and stupid."
Offended, I tried a response, but he cut me off.
"I knew this old Injun once, back in my Montreal days. We was drinking buddies and I dated his sister 'til she killed herself. A Mohawk war chief, he was, name was Red. I tried introducing him to all my Communist Party friends, tried to bring him to our branch meeting, but they kept him out, wouldn't have nuthin' to do with him. Red took it easier than I did. Used to it, I guess. He said somethin' to me later I'll never forget."
Don paused and stared at me for full effect.
"Red said, 'Don, I like you, you're the only white man who's ever treated me like a friend. But you'll always be a white man. And I'll always be an Indian.' "
Maybe Red was wrong. It didn't seem to make any difference to Don, who kept fighting the lost causes to the end. To him, it all came down to whose back you're sitting on, and what kind of blinders you need to stay perched there.
What I do know is that Red and Don are standing with me, all the time, but especially at those moments when only a few of us confront the immovable edifices of church and state, and call out the names of their victims.
Our whiteness keeps us safe, and stupid, it's true. And short of being tossed out of the Beast and finding ourselves on the killing floor alongside the next group of expendable people, that isn't going to change.
But that doesn't matter, of course, since, as scions of Empire, things aren't in our hands. The last really will be the first, and although it's our turn to become the last, that's where truth always finds you: when there's nothing left.
June 10, 2009