On the Freedom Convoy, the Right and crisis of State legitimacy

Three Way Fight


Protests against laws: vaccine mandates; border restrictions; the general implementation of broader, potentially more and lasting forms of state governance and control of the populace (at times appearing as a “soft” repression if accepted, more blatant if opposed). All of this has been met with demonstrations by varying sectors of society. These demonstrations which have a growing international scope have in many occasions transformed into more militant actions including riots against police, symbols of government and ruling class policy. However, the driving politics of these protests have a decidedly far-right character with small but not insignificant fascist currents within them that have been able to articulate a politics and program and use these demonstrations as a larger space to network and build a broader front of rightist struggle. 


Canada is seeing the most recent of these international protests. Dubbed the Freedom Convoy, these protests have taken the general form of a truckers’ revolt. For a week now truckers and supporters of the convoy have organized actions across Canada. Some of the most dramatic are in Ottawa which is the federal capital. The mayor of Ottawa has declared a state of emergency with the situation “out of control”, the police have called the convoy a siege and have started some arrests, and there are active calls for military intervention against the convoy. Beyond Ottawa, other cities across Canada have had pro-convoy actions. Pro Convoy forces also temporarily shut down main bridges between Canada and the US including the Windsor-Detroit Ambassador Bridge.

In trying to make some sense of these protests and from there develop some possible strategic approaches, we’re posting up responses to the general argument above. Events are moving rapidly and the specifics of the actions in Canada are changing. But it’s not just all specifics we’re grappling with, instead we think the liberatory anti-system left has to have an ongoing, growing perspective on what we recognize will be a more generalized political phenomenon.


On the Freedom Convoy, the Right and crisis of State legitimacy

Convoy and supporters in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.
Photo by Reuters. Used here for educational purposes.

(The following is a contribution by a friend and fellow traveler of 3WF. It is being posted as anonymous due to personal and political concerns.)

Regarding the convoy, arguing against counteractivities that take the form of defending the State, a comrade has noted that

there is a widespread crisis of capitalist legitimacy that will increasingly generate such popular oppositions and these will predictably include reactionary (fascist?) elements [] the left cannot allow itself to be positioned as an appendage of the party of order and assume a partial responsibility for mitigating the impacts of capital’s conflicts and contradictions. This will cede the terrain of resistance to the neofascist right, and while we can hope they will screw it up that’s not the best plan for the future.

Correct insights, but this does not actually indicate what approach to take, though i grant that it does remind us of what reference points we should keep in mind.


On the news, i see that people (i assume on the left) held a demonstration outside of a police station in Ottawa demanding more vigorous police action. (A subsequent demonstration was more correctly organized as a counterprotest – it went ahead despite strenuous efforts to sabotage it by an unholy alliance of politicians, trade unionist officials, and “community organizers”.) A demonstration was called in Quebec City with the same demand, in advance of a convoy that descended on the provincial capital on February 4 (organized and led by Bernard Rambo Gauthier, a former member of the far-right Islamophobic group La Meute and former spokesperson for the tiny Citoyens au Pouvoir de Québec political party). It is easy for everyone to agree that such protests are the wrong way to proceed; however, in a situation where there are countless reports of police signaling the “truckers” in Ottawa have a green light to do various things nobody else who has held a protest has been allowed to do (include physically confront people who try to photograph or counter-protest them, building permanent structures, honking horns constantly day and night, harassing people for wearing masks – all of this in an area where many people work and live), it is also clear that for many people the Ottawa police’s tolerant approach itself feeds into the “widespread crisis of capitalist legitimacy”. (In this regard, see: https://ottawacitizen.com/opinion/monaghan-ottawa-police-have-facilitated-the-freedom-rally-now-what; and similarly regarding the Coutts blockade in Alberta: https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2022/02/03/lack-of-action-at-truckers-blockades-shows-racist-intent-of-albertas-critical-infrastructure-defence-act-says-chief.html.)


The legitimacy of the State response is under fire, but from different people for different reasons, and whether we do it loudly (demonstrating, etc.) or quietly (choosing to wear or not wear a mask), lining up on one side does imply opposing the other side, even if it also implies opposing or criticizing the State. One can fault the State because of its role in gutting the public health system or for not privatizing it quickly enough (both positions are widespread here, of course); one cannot easily hold both positions at the same time, and each position implies, if only passively, shoring up State legitimacy against the critics who hold the opposite view. Add to this that, in terms of the pandemic, by their nature those measures that would have had the greatest effect — preventing outbreaks, reducing hospitalizations, preventing complete breakdown of the medical system, perhaps even preventing new variants from emerging — are also those measures that seem to “be doing nothing”, because they succeed at preventing and so never need to engage in the more visible task of remedying things. Whereas for those who want to criticize measures, it is a pretty easy game, as the measures do suck big time, some are inevitably going to prove to have been unnecessary, and people are getting sick and dying anyway.


Early in the pandemic I thought, “the right is taking a stand against public health during a pandemic, how do they recover from this?” – now I feel the takeaway is “the left” (meaning whoever is in power but is facing a more right-wing opposition party) is seen as making life miserable with restrictions, and the right is being credited with bringing freedom when they are lifted, and whether or not the virus is no longer serious, for understandable psychological reasons many people are increasingly not able to take it seriously, so they naturally feel relief and sympathy with the protests organized by the right.

Convoy supporters in Ottawa.
Photo by unknown. Used here for educational purposes.

As an example of another left approach, in response to this bad political situation, there are attempts to perhaps “get in front of” (or maybe “ride the wave” of?) the discontent, by calling for (radical) left-framed protests against how the pandemic has been handled. Which might be a step in a good direction, but these attempts sometimes (maybe because it would complicate the message) fail to criticize anything but the State’s pro-active measures, and sometimes fail to demarcate themselves from the rightist protests. They do not address the pandemic as something that is leading people to get sick, just as something that is leading to hitherto unprecedented social constraints. They do not address what repealing public health measures may mean in terms of people getting sick – most very mildly, but some fatally – just in terms of how unfortunate it is that the right now enjoys the initiative in protesting these measures. Furthermore, while they often include admonitions to not “judge” or “look down on” those who participate in rightist protests (the idea being that doing so is a sign of left elitism), their own approach is pretty condescending, assuming that the people at these protests are not capable of having a political analysis themselves, assuming they must somehow be there out of inexperience or naiveté.


Regarding the convoy itself, from its inception, it would be inaccurate to see it as an example of “popular oppositions [that] predictably include reactionary (fascist?) elements”, it is instead a political intervention organized, encouraged, and funded by reactionary elements. (For background: https://globalnews.ca/news/8543281/covid-trucker-convoy-organizers-hate/.) 

Convoy supporters rally outside Parliament in Ottawa.
Photo by Dave Chan / AFP. Used here for educational purposes.

This core succeeded in mounting a political intervention that attracted a large number of people of various political persuasions, drawn to the protests because the pandemic restrictions do indeed chafe. (As an aside, for Americans reading this, our restrictions vary largely from province to province, and in some places are very laissez faire; where I live, on the other hand, they have at various points included lockdowns, curfews, ticketing people for walking outside too close to someone else, vaccine passports to enter not only restaurants and gyms but also Walmart or the liquor store, etc. — interestingly, the anger at restrictions seems greatest in those provinces where they are the least onerous.)


In Ottawa, the ratio of “committed reactionary organizers” to “people with some reactionary views” to “people who are not particularly reactionary but just fed up”, seems to have fluctuated from day to day (media are saying perhaps 15,000 people attended the protest on Saturday, and that that was down to 300 mid-week, but shot back up to over 8,000 over the next weekend – and don’t forget that thousands of people went out and waved their Canadian flags on highways across the country to show their support for the convoy as it made its way there), and it is not clear to me how it could be measured. Obviously, there are even going to have been leftists who participated, though probably in extremely small numbers.

Convoy and supporters in New Brunswick, CA.
Photo by Unknown. Used here for educational purposes.

Everyone seems to be saying that the convoy will be a turning point and a powerful symbol — but a symbol of what, and to whose benefit, is not clear. An early sign: this week it precipitated a vote of non-confidence and resignation of the leader of the establishment-right Conservative Party, Erin O’Toole, who had vacillated on how to position himself vis à vis the protests, and whose interim replacement has made a point of correcting this error by immediately staking out pro-convoy positions. O’Toole was already unpopular in his party and there was already blood in the water, but the timing of his ouster is not a coincidence. While a boon to the populist right, the convoy has clearly thrown the establishment right into a panic.


In terms of the dangers of wrong left approaches, i assume we all see the danger in demonstrating to ask the police for more repression. Similarly, exaggerating the scope of the violence engaged in by demonstrators, or measures that seem “unfair” (like canceling their gofundme but not automatically returning donations to those who had contributed), simply provide talking points for the more hardcore elements within the miasma. At the same time, it is unclear how the convoy will end up being seen — in the short and medium term, what we know is different people will see it different ways. In Ottawa, media says there are increasing tensions between people who live in the city and the convoy people. Things may take a turn where the soft support — the thousands who lined highways with their maple leaf flags, the thousands who showed up last weekend but then went home after a few hours — could start to rapidly melt away. A danger of the “riding the wave” approach – leftists who hope to undercut the right by mounting left protests against restrictions – is that, in such an eventuality, such “left cover” for the convoy protests could play a critical role in keeping people entangled – or entangling new people – in the reactionary orbit.


At the same time, there is also a convoy-adjacent blockade of the Coutts border crossing between Alberta and Montana, which has received a lot less coverage but which may end up being more significant, depending on how things play out. And, inspired by all this, there are several convoys that descended on provincial capitals this past weekend (Feb 5-6), many of which say they intend to stay. At the same time, in Europe and Australia (I assume organized by far rightists, but could be wrong) there is now talk of a series of convoys, inspired by the Ottawa one. It is reminiscent of Occupy, except with confused right-wing politics instead of confused left-wing politics.


Everyone i talk to in my immediate circles is experiencing this as a moment of great demoralization, disorientation, and worry as to what might come next. Interesting times.

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