Nation-building in the 21st century or empire-building | YOUTH FOR DEMOCRATIC RENEWAL*
In today’s world, the bourgeoisie is working to destroy the nation: it sells the nation’s assets and put its human, material and natural resources at the disposal of monopolies competing on world markets. In the 19th century an Anglo-Canadian state was established based on the model of the European nation-state. Over the years different arrangements were brought into being to better meet the requirements of the ruling class in terms of power-sharing between the federal and provincial levels of government, continuing the suppression of the Quebec nation and maintaining the colonial relations with the Indigenous peoples. These arrangements are also designed to keep the working class and people in thrall and maintain the privileged position of the ruling class. Since the mid-1980s and especially since the advent of the Chrétien government in 1993, the post-World War II arrangements have been replaced by arrangements that promote the success of the most powerful monopolies on world markets. This is done regardless of the consequences for the nation, its economy, trade, social, cultural and political affairs, as well as the rights of its citizens and residents.
In practice this means that major decisions about the direction of the economy are taken by private global monopoly interests that have taken over the public authority. The trade agreements concluded on this basis give global monopolies the right to challenge the national public authority and destroy the national networks of public services and social programs and subordinate public right. Far from responding to people’s needs on the basis of a modern definition of the rights of all in this new period, today rights are being redefined on a neo-liberal basis, saying that society is not responsible for the well-being of its members and even that it does not exist. Instead governments should ensure monopoly right at all times.
Meanwhile, the refusal to renew the political arrangements gives rise to a view that there is no alternative. The illusion is fostered that the old arrangements were better and can be re-established if only the right policies are adopted. All of it is done to keep the working people disoriented and unable to establish a foothold. They are told to choose between two sets of policies which in fact are two variants of the same nation-wrecking program to pay the rich.
All of it is aimed at distracting the workers from the fundamental issue that their lives depend on their ability to affirm their rights – that belong to them by virtue of being human and by virtue of being those who produce the value society depends on for its living. The fact that the decisions which affect their lives are being taken on a supranational basis and imposed on them with the dictate that they submit or be criminalized means that where they can get redress for crimes and injustices committed against them becomes an issue of great concern.
What is the authority and over what jurisdiction does it preside has emerged as an important matter at this time. The word “jurisdiction” (from the Latin ius/iuris meaning “law” or “right” and dicere meaning “to speak”) is the practical authority granted to a legal body to administer justice within a defined area of responsibility. It is the extent or range of judicial, law enforcement or other authority – the territory over which that authority is exercised. Once the jurisdiction of the authority is no longer national, who will uphold the rights of the people and according to what criteria?
Examples of this problem abound such as the destruction through free trade agreements of the public services and programs provided by municipal and other authorities and the destruction of manufacturing. What happens to workers’ rights when the bankruptcy courts deprive them of their pensions and benefits or when governments attack the unions?
In the midst of this nation-wrecking, concepts are put forward such as that Canada is a “postnational state,” i.e., the nation-state is finished and we are living in an age of “supranational states.”
Postnationalism is described as the “process or trend by which nation-states and national identities lose their importance relative to supranational and global entities.” Some also refer to this as the “postmodern state,” characterized as the removal of any national basis for the state, “the breaking down of the distinction between domestic and foreign affairs and mutual interference in (traditional) domestic affairs and mutual surveillance,” “the growing irrelevance of borders,” and other aspects. The term came into use in the 1990s with the end of the bipolar division of the world and the rise of neo-liberal globalization.
Academic works note the rise of “supranational” institutions, described as a “global trend of shifting governance tasks from states (including their sub-entities) to non-state actors… More and more private for profit and non-profit organizations step in to fill the void left by states. At the same time, there is a tendency to move governance tasks to inter- or supranational entities…” As well, “non-State [supranational] actors now play a key role in world governance in different fields and have become essential instruments within the international system.”
Regardless of the policies adopted by governments within this framework, it is only leading to nation-wrecking and further anarchy and violence. Workers must have jurisdiction. Rights without redress are not worthy of the name.
Further on these definitions
With the “postnational state” there is a transfer of authority and sovereignty over its territory to global monopolies and finance capital in the form of supranational organizations – free trade agreements (NAFTA, Trans-Pacific Partnership), the World Trade Organization, World Bank, IMF, OECD, as well as military bodies such as NATO. The impression is given that this is synonymous with a loss of a “uniform” national identity and the “postnational state” is modern and opposing it is retrogressive. This aspect has to do with identity and is being used by Minister of Foreign Affairs Stéphane Dion and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau when it comes to questions of citizenship and rights to justify what cannot be justified. Some academics link the notion of the “postnational state” with questions of identity.
“The context for this possible transformation is defined by two major, partly interconnected conditions. One is the change in the position and institutional features of national states since the 1980s resulting from various forms of globalization. These range from economic privatization and regulation to the increased prominence of the international human rights regime. The second is the emergence of multiple actors, groups and communities partly strengthened by these transformations in the state and increasingly unwilling to automatically identify with a nation as represented by the state […]”
This theme was also taken up by former Liberal Party leader Michael Ignatieff, who in his book Blood and Belonging wrote, “a cosmopolitan, post-national spirit will always depend, in the end, on the capacity of nation-states to provide security and civility for their citizens.”
Justin Trudeau specifically referred to the “postnational state” six days after being sworn in as Prime Minister. “There is no core identity, no mainstream in Canada,’’ Trudeau claimed. ‘‘There are shared values – openness, respect, compassion, willingness to work hard, to be there for each other, to search for equality and justice. Those qualities are what make us the first postnational state.’’
This gives an impression that the state is being restructured according to those values listed above. Of course the reality is that the so-called postnational state to which Justin Trudeau refers is one which requires the restructuring of the state to find new ways to pay the rich. It is postnational in the sense that it does not recognize the sovereignty of nations and peoples, only that of the monopolies and the international gendarmerie imposed by the imperialist system of states. But, according to the logic that there is a set of values Canadians all share, it is also an attack on the need to forge a modern identity and values on the basis of the affirmation of the human right to conscience. What is hidden is that these values of which Justin Trudeau speaks are defined by arbitrary powers outside the government of laws. This has always been the case but today it is on a “supranational” basis within today’s neo-liberal global context.
To go further into the conception of the “supranational state,” we find that the Oxford Dictionary defines supranational as “Having power or influence that transcends national boundaries or governments: “supranational law.” Official supranational state structures or arrangements may be recognized as in the case of the European Parliament or may not be recognized as in the case of the secret deals to integrate Canada, the United States and Mexico. A new United States of North American Monopolies has been created behind the backs of the people and it is secret. In fact, the United States likes to refer to the example of territorial conquest and empire by the British and others to say it has no empire. Far from this being the case, the U.S. imperialists impose their hegemony through supranational arrangements.
The supranational authority exists and is a force to the extent that it can limit the exercise and sovereignty of a nation-state or nations and peoples themselves and impose its own decision-making power, rules, arrangements and demands, as well as summary justice through targeted assassinations, renditions to torture and indefinite detention. Control is exercised by supranational organizations – financial, social, cultural, military, police or otherwise – which cannot be held to account within a national jurisdiction except insofar as a sovereign nation could reject their ability to enforce their decisions within its national territory. The imperialist system of states makes sure the initiative is handed over to supranational bodies such as the World Trade Organization, International Criminal Court, NATO, “coalitions of the willing” and others of like kind.
This is very different from the international rule of law sanctioned after World War II whereby conventions were adopted such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and its binding treaties. These meant that nation states ratified them after adopting the required national legislation required to bring countries into conformity with the standards of the international conventions. The Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, laws prohibiting crimes against the peace and the like all refer to international standards by which countries agree to abide.
Literature on supranational institutions often speaks of their originating with countries that band together for causes said to serve the greater good. Pretexts include economic prosperity or humanitarian expectations such as opposition to genocide, abuse of women, religious persecution, weapons of mass destruction or use of chemical weapons. These pretexts have quickly been exposed as fraudulent. The aim is to make the rich richer and establish hegemony over strategic zones of influence, resources and cheap labour and for the export of capital. It is not the prosperity of the peoples or their security, or peace.
Nation-wrecking is also justified under the idea that the supranational state is all powerful and the national authorities are helpless; therefore there is no alternative but to submit, and other such self-serving arguments.
The authority of the “supranational state” exists “because states delegate some degree of their decision-making authority to them,” the Center on Law and Globalization, an organization of U.S. legal scholars, points out. Since “supranational organizations have no true coercive power they need [to] rely on states to enforce their decisions,” it says. Princeton Professor Anne-Marie Slaughter says that what “makes a supranational organization ‘truly supranational’ is that they ‘borrow’ the coercive power of states to enforce their decisions or policies.”
“To the extent that states continue to delegate independent authority to these organizations, and to the extent that states are willing to ‘lend’ their coercive power to these organizations, supranational organizations gain an existence above states,” Slaughter says. There are examples such as the International Criminal Court (ICC), where if an indictment of an individual takes place, it is still dependent on nation-states to apprehend the “international criminal.”
The ICC began functioning only in 2002 and claims the jurisdiction to prosecute individuals for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes and exists outside the authority of the United Nations. It was allegedly needed for situations where “failed states” do not have the ability to successfully prosecute those accused of such crimes, and therefore the so-called international community must uphold rights. In fact, judicial proceedings on an international level have been carried out through the United Nations since its establishment and before, such as the Nuremburg Trials. But since the ICC was established it has exclusively indicted individuals in African countries, many times under false pretexts or because those accused of crimes were seen as blocking imperialist interests. In the case of the former Yugoslavia, the same was done using a Special Tribunal. But the most glaring thing is that the biggest international war criminals, such as those who launched the war against Afghanistan following the attacks on September 11 or against Iraq in 2003 to mention but two examples, get off scot-free. Members of the U.S. military are exempted from punishment for crimes they may commit such as in countries with U.S. bases.
The same issue of enforcement and jurisdiction is present when NATO decides to invade a country; when a private monopoly sues under NAFTA to eliminate a national law on environmental protection; or when laws are changed to comply with the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Whose authority established the supranational body, who enforces its decisions and controls them, and whose jurisdiction is supreme are all matters of concern which can only be dealt with if a strong political movement of the people is built which exercises the nation’s sovereignty. Such a movement must renew the institutions, political processes and where decision-making lies to make sure sovereignty is vested in the people. The policies adopted by governments engaged in nation-wrecking are not a matter of “bad policies” but of who is taking the decisions, who they favour and who controls the decision-making processes.
For instance, Canada has been repeatedly found to be in violation of different international obligations. In the past two years alone it has been raked over the coals by the UN Human Rights Committee and UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural rights for violations of workers’ rights, the rights of Indigenous peoples, and at the end of February for violations of the economic, social and cultural rights of people in Canada across the board. The government does nothing but further exploit the people all the while saying it is consulting them.
Looking at those aspects of life where governments have enforced supranational state arrangements and the lack of enforcement of international covenants such as those concerning torture, indefinite detention and economic, social, cultural and political rights, shows the need to grow the people’s political movement in an organized fashion.
The Marxist-Leninists have given the call for the working class to constitute the nation. It must do so in order to open the door for the progress of society. This can only be achieved when the workers take up modern definitions and work out modern arrangements which vest sovereignty in the people. Such arrangements will not come out of thin air. They are established in the course of building a political movement which renews the political processes so that decision-making is taken over by the people. It is a matter of taking independent political stands to affirm the human rights of the people and the political, economic, social and cultural rights which derive from this.
The working class must take the lead to ensure that the future of Quebec, Canada and the Indigenous nations whose territories we inhabit is not shaped by the global private monopoly interests and their state arrangements, both national and supranational. They are leading us and the world toward war and economic and humanitarian disaster. This must be stopped. Sorting out how this is done in practical terms is what builds the alternative. It requires the kind of consciousness and organization such as that put forward by the Marxist-Leninist Party. This Party is at the workers’ disposal to help find a way forward. This is the kind of Party the workers need.
1.Cooper, Robert, “The Post Modern State,” Re-Ordering the World: The long-term implications of September 11th, Edited by Mark Leonard, Foreign Policy Centre (2002).
2. Reinisch, August. “Governance Without Accountability?” German Yearbook of International Law, 44 (2001), 270-306, 270. Michaelsen, Christopher. International Law in the New Age of Globalization. Boston: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 2013. Pp. 11.
3. Sassen, Saskia. “Towards Post-National and Denationalized Citizenship,” Handbook of Citizenship Studies. Isin, Engin F. and Turner, Bryan S., Eds. SAGE Publications Ltd, 2003.
(Based on a presentation delivered by Youth for Democratic Renewal at the Conference on the Future of Quebec organized by the Marxist-Leninist Party of Quebec in Montreal, April 10, 2016)