Thursday, February 21, 2019

There is Nothing Wrong with Jagmeet Singh.

While Jagmeet Singh may coast to victory in Burnaby-South, alarm bells are nonetheless still going off. The most recent polls have the NDP federally at an absolutely abysmal 14%. Older MPs, for better or worse, are choosing to retire rather than fight the upcoming election. This all sounds rather grim, but, as always, it is less grim than the rich-man's newspaper would have you believe. There is nothing wrong with Jagmeet Singh.

Jagmeet Singh is an intelligent, literate, personable, and charming guy, more than capable of commanding and leading a social democratic party in the spirit of the times if he sets his mind to it. Jagmeet Singh is eminently capable of leading a political party, the question is whether he is as capable of grasping the significance of the historical moment and articulating a clear-headed socialist response to both the vile xenophobic rhetoric of the far right, on the one hand, and the hypocrisy and economic criminality that characterizes liberalism and the monopoly form, on the other. This is what Jagmeet needs to be better at, louder at, more unrelenting at, bring the soapbox and shout it from the rooftops at, if he wants to rise to the occasion.

The commentariat across the spectrum whispers behind his back, 'he will flunk and be churned up.' I don't think so. I hope not. The problem, the reason the NDP is still at 14%, is not Jagmeet Singh. The problem is rather that Jagmeet Singh is hamstrung by all the elements that allowed him to rise to the position of party leader in the first place. With all due respect to the scaffold, Singh needs to kick away this scaffold of party patronage if he's to rise to the occasion. So far Jagmeet has trailed and stumbled in Canadian political discourse with late, polished, superficially uncontroversial language on whatever problem or issue of the day. His position on LNG was and is boneheaded and tonedeaf. The BCNDP has for political reasons, and not all of them especially convincing, made its peace with LNG. But Coastal GasLink was nonetheless, as the chart below illustrates, spearheaded by the BC Liberal Government in all its criminality and indifference.

If you are for LNG then state your reasons, defend that position, but don't materially be indifferent to the RCMP forcibly rounding up First Nations elders and shrug your shoulders because you've been assured by some shrivelled party Iago that its checked the boxes, or because it calms the waters between you and Western NDP Premiers. That is shallow opportunism, and Jagmeet Singh should be, and needs to be, better than that.

The same goes for foreign policy. In order to win the leadership, Singh slyly gladhanded exactly those elements of the party that were most culpable for the defeat in 2015, the worst, most lazy, most unimaginative vestigial apparatchiks of the party. Characteristic in this respect, is Helene Laverdiere, a viciously right-wing ex-Liberal spook. It is a great development for the NDP and for Canada that she will no longer be foreign policy critic for the NDP, it cannot come soon enough. And so, when there is a situation of disagreement between the 'leader of the party' and the 'foreign policy critic' whose support had been solicited for the leadership, the 'leader' has to lead. All around the world socialist and social democratic parties are dealing with the cynical instrumentalization of claims of anti-semitism wielded by neoliberal centrists as a cudgel. As Israel slides further and further to the right, Jagmeet Singh needs to be, and has a moral obligation to be, standing up for the basic dignity and human rights of Palestinian peoples and against illegal settlement, dispossession, and oppression by the State of Israel, as well as against real antisemitism against Jewish communities. Instead, Singh countenances Israeli-apartheid cheerleaders like Randal Garrison when they make exactly this cynical and weaponized conflation of criticism of the state of Israel with anti-semitism. On all the touchstones of foreign policy, Singh must chart a different line than the Liberals. Oftentimes these positions that he unreflectively adopts are the very thing which causes him trouble, because in many cases the apparatchiks who have survived through Mulcair and into the Singh party administration have bad and incoherent positions. The point is that it is not enough for Jagmeet to simply internalize the extant positions of the different pontiffs whose support he solicited, he's got to understand the issues and be vociferous in responding to them in a principled and consistent manner in real time.

Jagmeet Singh is going to win in Burnaby-South, but to change the political landscape in October he has to be much, much better. Jagmeet Singh is more than capable of seizing the moment, galvanizing a mass movement, and offering a credible alternative to the xenophobic right wing, on the one hand, and hypocritical and ethically bereft centrism, on the other, but this requires a gravity, clarity, and ferocity of thought and principle that Singh has in his power but has thus far not exercised. I have actually said this before to Jagmeet Singh, briefly at a leadership debate held in the Empress in Victoria, where I was pleased to have met and talked with him for a while. I told him that he needed to be more critical, off the cuff, less polished. 'On what issue?' he said. 'On all the issues,' I told him. Its even more necessary now.

The point of this writing is in the most comradely spirit I can imbue to it. I want Jagmeet Singh to hook into the general social democratization going on across the continents, to be Labour not Independent Group, AOC not David Brooks, and to galvanize working class, marginalized peoples, and First Nations peoples into a powerful force for social and environmental justice. More pessimistically I can foresee the dystopian hell-world that Andrew Scheer and his fascist henchmen would create were they to, in the demise of the reputation of St. Trudeau, take power. For better or worse, the only person who can forestall that now is Jagmeet Singh.

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