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Death of a social democrat

The June issue of Socialist Review carried a short piece on the spring federal election here in Canada (Letter From, Socialist Review, June 2011), and noted the enormous increase in support for Canada's social democratic party, the New Democrats (NDP). The New Democrats saw their share of parliament almost triple after the election in May. They are now the official opposition, with over 100 seats in our roughly 300-seat parliament. This is by far the best result the party has ever achieved.

Sadly, Jack Layton, leader of the New Democrats since 2003, passed away quite suddenly on 22 August.

A surprising thing happened when news broke of his death. The entire country went into mourning. There were gushing accolades on a nightly basis from normally sober journalists, people across the political spectrum wrote letters to the media saying how much they missed him, and hundreds gathered outside Toronto's city hall that Monday evening, where Layton used to be a city councillor, and started scrawling memorials to him in chalk on the walls and sidewalks of city hall. The building sits in a major square here in Toronto and large sections of the square were covered in chalked memorials.

Our Tory prime minister took the unprecedented step of offering the family a state funeral. This is unheard of for a politician who has never been in power. More than 2,500 people came to the funeral with seats inside the venue, and roughly a further 15,000 came to stand outside and watch the event on TV monitors. It's safe to say that Canada has never seen anything like it.

The chalk memorials at Toronto's City Hall said things like "From choice to peace to equality for all, we will continue", "We'll mourn today and continue the fight tomorrow" and "You'll live on through us." More than 15,000 thousand people cheered lustily when "stopping the carnage in Afghanistan" was mentioned during the eulogy.
The reaction to Layton's death was so intense because people are looking for something different, and better, than what they've been getting from the rest of the political scene since most of us can remember. It's why they cast their ballots for his party in May, and it's why they mourned his passing so intensely from coast to coast in August.

This presents progressives both with huge opportunities, and challenges. People clearly want to see a change of direction. However, this does not necessarily mean people will be looking for something to the left of social democracy. Layton's personal prestige, in combination with the absence in many parts of Canada of any other progressive politics and a historically low level of political struggle in Canada at present, means the NDP is very very attractive to many people.

Progressives to the left of the NDP must speak to the desire people have to see a different politics, and do whatever they can to translate that desire into practical political activity by all those people moved by Jack Layton's passing.

G Francis Hodge
Toronto,Canada


How many 9/11s?

Statistics rarely tell the truth. But the endlessly repeated figure of 3,000 dead in the attacks on the Twin Towers (Column, Socialist Review, September 2011) resonated with me. The official figure of those killed by the Pinochet regime in Chile after the overthrow of the Allende government on 11 September 1973 was also 3,000. Why were their deaths less worthy of commemoration than the dead of New York?

It's true that they were persecuted and tortured in most cases before they were killed. They were trade unionists, students, socialists, community activists, artists and singers who had put their work at the service of the majority. We have the evidence now of what many of us already knew in 1973. When the Presidential Palace in Santiago was bombed by Pinochet's Hawker Hunter jets (made in Britain) at approximately the same time of day as the 767s ploughed into the World Trade Centre, Washington knew it was going to happen. The US was deeply complicit in the coup against the elected reforming government of Salvador Allende.

The implication is that they were less worthy of commemoration because they supported the Popular Unity government under Allende and its programme of political and economic reforms. We are asked to remember the victims of 2011 individually and by name - and that is how it should be. But why do we cover the faces of the Chileans who died? Because they were not our people - because they did not imagine they were invulnerable to attack, as most Americans did before 9/11 - because they knew that their class enemy was capable of violence and was encouraged by their friends in Washington to believe it was justified?

The pain of the living and the dead is a consequence of the same reality. We are not in the business of dividing active from passive victims, because in the end all of them were sacrificed on the altar of capital. Al Qaida was created to make the Middle East safe for US interests; Pinochet was armed for the same purpose and by the same people. If Al Qaida escaped from their control, Pinochet remained their obedient servant. Yet one was condemned, the other praised for his economic success, and his violence never mentioned by Washington or London.

In Africa it needs to be more than 1 million Rwandans or 2 million Congolese before it can be considered news. In Latin America the thousands of disappeared need not be individually named because somehow or another, like the Chileans murdered by Pinochet, they are deemed to have been complicit in their own deaths, because they fought for change, for justice, for truth. Or is it simply that some deaths are more noteworthy than others?

Mike Gonzalez
Glasgow