by Bill Burgess
[Editor’s note: The following is an excerpt from an important new study of the nature of Canadian capitalism. The full text is posted in PDF format on the Socialist Voice website.]
Is Canada a colony of the United States, a dependent economy controlled by U.S. corporations? Are Canadian capitalists a weak and servile group with no real power? Should socialists focus their efforts on winning Canadian “independence” from the Yankee behemoth?
Many on the Canadian left — especially in the NDP and the Communist Party — believe just that. They complain that Canadian capitalists don’t defend Canadian sovereignty at home or pursue independent Canadian interests abroad. Imperialist war, private health care and more greenhouse gases are not really ‘Canadian issues’, they are ultimately ‘made in the USA.’
That in turns leads them to the view that the left should focus its main fire on the U.S., not on Canadian capitalists. In some cases they argue that we should ally ourselves with “progressive” sectors of the Canadian bourgeoisie to bolster Canadian sovereignty as a necessary first step towards other progressive changes. This view guided much of the opposition to ‘free’ trade with the US over the past two decades.
This “left-wing nationalism” became particularly influential in English Canada in the 1960s and 1970s, and it still exerts a powerful influence on progressive thought. Groups such as the Council of Canadians, headed by Maude Barlow, argue that Canada’s growing political and economic integration with the U.S. is the most important political question today. Readers of Barlow’s recent book, Too Close For Comfort, will find no mention of a Canadian capitalist class with its own capacity to act and its own motives for acting the way it does. Barlow’s Canada is controlled by US corporations and right-wing Republicans.
Barlow’s readers would never guess that 22 of the 25 largest enterprises in the country are Canadian-controlled. Ten rich families control ten of these largest enterprises. Another two are government enterprises, and ten are more widely-owned. Only three of the top 25 enterprises are US-controlled.
Wealthy Canadians have clearly not been displaced as the primary economic decision-makers in this country. Nationalists therefore resort to the myth that Canadian capital is so divided along sectoral lines and integrated with US capital that the Canadian ruling class lacks independent interests at home and abroad. The facts actually reveal strong links between Canadian financial and industrial corporations. As for the links between foreign and Canadian corporations in Canada — they are conspicuous by their absence.
And isn’t it time to admit how wrongheaded the nationalist economic perspective has been? Robert Laxer wrote in 1973 that, “The theory of deindustrialization as a consequence of imperial dominance will have more practical consequences for the future of jobs, economic security, and quality of life for Canadians than any single other explanatory concept on the Canadian horizon.” Wrong. 33 years later Canada is still not qualitatively less industrially-developed than the U.S.
So-called “left nationalism” rests on assumptions about the Canadian economy that are demonstrably false. The simple truth is this: Canada is an independent imperialist country dominated by its own ruling class.
At every opportunity, nationalists highlight the US influence over Canada. Meanwhile they underestimate the role of the Canadian bourgeoisie, relying on economic myths for which the empirical evidence is negative. Canadian capitalists are closely allied with US capitalists, but from their own basis of power.
Canada’s second rank relative to the US should not be confused with its imperialist status in the world system, which is rooted in a domestic economy controlled by independent Canadian finance capital.
Politics in Canada should begin with the mainly Canadian capitalist root of social ills at home and Canadian policy abroad.