Because It’s May Day

Hammer and SickleBecause today is May Day, and that a decade and a half ago, this used to be a big day in Moscow’s Red Square, I can’t help but post:

…this stirring anthem (3.5 MB, mp3, 3:37)

Don’t read too much into the posting of this song and this image. It’s just that I remember Dec. 31, 1991, when a few friends of mine mourned not so much the end of the Soviet Union as the disappearance of one of the world’s most stirring national anthem. (Of course, Russia has since taken it back as its anthem.)

I also remember a philosophy class in business ethics I took in the summer of ’88, taught by a woman who would later become my boss. Someone in class — I think I was the only one who wasn’t in business administration — presented an “argument” whose punchline, delivered with a sneer, was that we would degenerate into communism if we followed a certain path. I was one of those guys in class who said very little …unless I couldn’t stand the nonsense anymore.

What bugged me about my classmate’s argument was how, to him, the term communism was the exact synonym of totalitarism. I didn’t dispute that the Soviet Union had become a totalitarian state, even in those days of glasnost. Rather, I took issue with the unchallenged assumption that communism, by nature or definition, was totalitarianism. The latter is not built into the former; poverty of imagination led to all the experiments in the former to end in the latter.

To this day, the same (mis)equation — communism = totalitarianism — is tossed up to dismiss social democratic principles. Several Canadian provinces have had social democratic (CCF or NDP) governments since the 1940s, governments that were neither communist nor totalitarian. Yet it was when the citizenry of any given province elected parties on the opposite end of the spectrum — the most striking example being Duplessis’s Union Nationale in Québec in the ’40s and ’50s — that governments became more casual at suspending civil liberties.

I don’t think any single party in Canada or the U.S. holds the magic bullet. But a social democratic party, by attempting to retain the best of both extremes, is more likely to achieve a happy medium. It is because of visionaries like Tommy Douglas that Canadians need not live in fear of being unable to afford to be patched back together after an accident. But the economic legacy of past federal governments that embraced so-called free trade and absolute free-market principles is that Canadians can live in fear of reprisals from their trading “partners” if they dare to disagree on policies, for now our economies are so closely integrated.