If things go well in the Ontario election tomorrow, the province will have a government led by the New Democratic Party. In the popular gathering places of conservative and reactionary folks, it’s painted as a monolithic left – an undifferentiated mass of feminist trans gay communist black Jews.* But reactionaries don’t really understand the left.
* You can fill in what they really call us yourselves. But I’ll give you a hint. Actually no. I’ll just tell you, so that you can know how much progressive people are really hated. Bitch tranny faggot commie nigger kikes. That’s the language of Ford Nation.
There are trade union folks. There are anti-poverty activists and actual poor people. There are social progressives of the big cities and suburbs. There are people of non-straight sexualities and fluid or trans gender identities. There are environmentalists. There are racial justice advocates and the racialized, especially black and Indigenous people. There are religious people from traditions like the Catholic Social Gospel, liberal Islam, communitarian Sikh, Buddhist, and Hindu faiths, peacenik socialist Jews.
This is a really unstable coalition. For a really obvious example of its instability, look at the conflict between the NDP governments of Alberta and British Columbia over building an oil pipeline from the tar sands through the temperate rainforest of the Rockies, to the fjord network by the Pacific coast.
John Horgan’s NDP government is rightly concerned that this is an inevitable earth-shattering ecological disaster. Rachel Notley’s NDP government is rightly concerned that Alberta’s natural resource industry and the many thousands of well-paying jobs it fuels needs pipeline access to thrive.
This is a conflict between two major components of the party’s coalition – trade unions and environmentalists. I knew it would happen eventually. A dedicated trade union man will gladly drink carcinogenic water and breathe black air as long as the salaries, pensions, and medical benefits are good. A dedicated environmentalist will gladly live in poverty if his world is clean.
There is nothing necessary about any political alliance. As the circumstances of the world change, people will come together and drift apart. Sometimes, it feels like the only thing that brings such a disparate left together is that such a unified reactionary movement hates us all so much.
|It feels good to rage. Feels good to steal. Feels good to bully. Do it|
because it feels good, man.
When even a political party’s identity doesn’t unify its own social coalition but can win anyway, it’s a sign that total unity isn’t even a condition of victory. Politics is more creative than that.
Believing that unity is necessary for political alliance presumes that the act of allying never actually happens. That has two possible meanings.
One is that the movement is always already unified, making alliance unnecessary and differences among allies meaningless. We know empirically that this isn’t the case because significant differences** persist among those happily in political alliances.
** Differences that make a difference in your lives – just ask Rachel and John.
The other possible implication? That leaders alone inspire political unity, whether through charisma or coercion. So a social movement needs a leader to unify them through their authority. Maybe it’s moral. Maybe it’s steel. The point is that people aren’t capable of action on their own, building networks of cooperation.
Alliances are forged among all the members of different communities learning about each other and helping each other out. They have a lot in common with friendships that way, but coming together faster, spreading at a higher intensity. Friendship, solidarity, alliance are all different words for different contexts of the same phenomenon.
Building a network of self-conscious agents. If you think you need a leader for that, then you depict people as entirely passive, incapable of change on their own power or through their own decisions. Acting only through the will of the leader.
Don’t mistake one model of politics for its necessary essence. Especially when it’s such a horrifying, destructive model.