Friday, December 18, 2009

Friend of Nature, Enemy of Capitalism

Jack Warnock, now in his 70s, continues to analyze and write about Canadian political economy. Read his latest article "Understanding the Great Financial Crisis" in Act Up in Saskatchewan.

A Canadian Dimension Salute to Jack Warnock
By Joe Roberts

It was in the spring of 1976 that Jack Warnock wrote his first article for the new magazine, Canadian Dimension. The title was "Canadian Policy in Vietnam, 'Ready, Aye Ready'". Jack and his wife Betty Meyers came from Washington D.C., where he worked in the State Department of the brand-new Kennedy administration, After two years of that experience, he decided that even serving a liberal imperialist was not his future. Jack and Betty moved to Saskatoon, where Jack was hired as an assistant professor at the University of Saskatchewan.

Since then he has produced thirty more articles, interviews and book reviews for CD, down to his review of Joel Kovel's Enemy of Nature in the July/August, 2003 issue. Over the years Jack has served continuously on CD's Editorial Collective, but has now decided to retire. At age 72, he is busy writing his tenth book, due in 2006.

Jack is one of the most prolific political economists. His capacity for research and translation of information into politically useful knowledge for movements and individuals has made him an invaluable asset to the movement. His research and writing on the political economy of Saskatchewan is unequalled. It continues to pour forth from his fertile mind, as if he were in the prime of academic productivity.

Jack abides by the great tradition of the public intellectual. He learned conventional, Cold War political science at Duke, and later American University in Washington, D.C. In 1963, when Jack and Betty fled Washington for Saskatoon, he met and learned from the likes of Ken Buckley, Vernon Fowke and Irene Spry, all in the English political economy tradition, all supporters of the Saskatchewan farmers movement. As those mentors passed from the university, a new generation replaced them and the tradition they represented. The department divided into distinct disciplines at a time when the upheavel of the "New Left" swept across the western world. Jack's sympathy with this current and his insistence upon acting on his convictions put him increasingly at odds with his colleagues. In 1974, he and Betty and their three children left Saskatoon to take up fruit farming in the Okanagan Valley.

However -- and importantly, because of his relation with Canadian Dimension -- Jack remained an important public intellectual. During his twelve years outside of the Academy, while farming and then research consulting, he wrote four books and numerous articles, most dealing with the march of capitalist agriculture. Another benefit of his return to the land was that he became an accomplished carpenter and general contractor.

In 1986 he returned to work in Saskatchewan at the University of Regina. Jack is a stimulating and respected teacher. His recent volume, Saskatchewan: The Roots of Discontent and Protest, is based on lectures he developed over his career, with chapters on Saskatchewan in the era of North American integration, economics, political economy and human society, world capitalism, Saskatchewan and the wheat economy, the political economy of racism, patriarchy in Saskatchewan, left and right populism, the NDP and structural adjustment and building an alternative to neoliberalism.

His writing for Canadian Dimension reveals a similarly wide spectrum: Canada and NATO, the anti-ballistic missile project and increasing continentalism, the 1968 murder of Martin Luther King, an interview with Howard Adams on aboriginal politics, and articles on the Prague Spring and the American election. In an early article he provided an anaylsis of parliamentary government along the lines of Ralph Miliband with its significance for the New Democratic Party. After another Arab-Israeli war in 1973, when the Arab powers took control of their oil and set off the first energy crisis, Jack co-authored a lengthy article, "The ABC's of Oil". Later, reviewing Steve Moore and Debi Well's Imperialism and the National Question in Canada, he concluded, "there is a Canadian bourgeoisie. But it has already chosen sides. It will not join an anti-imperialist struggle. In such a struggle, there is every reason to believe that the Canadian working class will emerge as the dominant force. Furthermore, in such a struggle the people as a whole will... realize that the only feasible alternative to foreign monopoly control of Canada is a socialist programme."

During his time as a famer his writing highlighted the worsening conditions of capitalist agriculture. He supplied articles to CD, Canadian Forum and others on agricultural marketing boards and in industrial agriculture in the era of free trade. Later he provided articles on agribusiness, genetic engineering and capitalism as the enemy of nature.. Following his return to teaching at the University of Regina, Jack's attention turned to the Saskatchewan NDP, the poor and an indictment of the Romanow government’s social-justice record.

Despite his prolific publishing record, Jack has never limited himself to teaching, research and writing. From the outset he lived as a social and political activist. In the early sixties he was a member of the New Left, which placed him against the Vietnam War, the Cold War and imperialism in general. He supported the New Democratic Party, as well as left, extra-parliamenetary peace, solidarity and social -justice campaigns until 1995. During the period between 1969 and 1975, when the Waffle was a force within the NDP, Jack was an active participant. After 1975, when the Waffle left the NDP, he became critical of its policy.

By the mid-1980s, with the rise of Grant Devine's Conservative Party in Saskatchewan and Brian Mulroney's Progressive Conservatives in Ottawa, Jack found the NDP opposition flacid. Along with most readers of Canadian Dimension, he saw and resisted the drift of NDP policy toward neoliberalism. This criticism was confirmed nationally by the loss of the 1988 free trade election, when the NDP ceded its early electoral leadership to the Liberals.

In Saskatchewan the party was similarly weak in opposing the privatization and budgetary cutbacks of the Devine administration. In 1987, along with trade unionists and anti-poverty and anti-racist activists, Jack took an active role in creating the Coalition for Social Justice. Its statement of purpose declared the organization’s role to "support and help coordinate activities carried out by groups in their struggle against government policies which are causing the economic crisis to be borne by those who can least afford it." The Coalition grew rapidly and, in the summer of 1987, staged one of the largest demonstrations in Saskatchewan history, with 8,000 people marching on the legislature in Regina. Local coalitions formed throughout the province and a large well attended founding convention was founded in the fall of the year. Subsequent conventions representing as many as eighty participating groups followed annually. As the 1991 provincial election approached, however, a familiar process set in, asserting NDP priorities for election work and, once the Romanow government was elected, complete abandonment of the Coalition loyalties in favour of governmental priorities.

With the collapse of European Communism after 1989, social democracy drifted into neoliberalism. Searching to understand the process, Jack plunged into an investigation of European, Austrailian and New Zealand labour and social democratic parties. Faced in Canada with provincial and federal evidence of social democracy's move to the right, Jack moved in the direction of his concern over environmental destruction. He joined a group of environmentalists who had formed an association, which, in 1995, created the Saskatchewan New Green Alliance. Jack was the leading analyst and strategist for the group. Its platform was not the same as the national Green Party, which explicitly excluded social-justice priorities and issues central to the working class and trade unions. Over the next ten years Jack frequently contested elections, recruited candidiates, raised money and performed the labours necessary for elections.

During this period of political party activity Jack was still energetically producing books, studies and publications. His interest in agriculture and anti-imperialism took him to Mexico and Cuba to study Spanish and to publish The Other Mexico, which examined the realities of the North American Free Trade Agreement's impact on imperialized Mexico.

Throughout his political career Warnock has avoided sectarian affiliations and debate. In practice he has an ecumenical approach of working willingly with others who generally favour the same goals as he has. His disposition is towards empirical rather than abstract reasoning. Although Jack has read much Marx, Lenin and Mao, he seldom invokes their insights in his own argumentation. This reflects his early devotion to the British political economy tradition. There is a strong moral dimension in his political convictions.

In Saskatchewan the thrust of Jack's left criticism of the NDP and his leadership in the New Green Alliance produced a predictable breach with long-time left friends from the farmers movement and from his New Left days. Publications like Briarpatch and prairie dog, while not completely excluding his frequent submissions, have been leery of giving him much space. Old friends who have become the "loyal opposition" within the NDP, trade unionists who were once in the Coalition for Social Justice and progressive publications are all dependent on the NDP, especially when it governs, for a multitude of opportunities and support.

There is, of course, much agreement within the traditional Left in Saskatchewan about how, since the time of Alan Blakeney, the NDP has adopted neoliberal policies. But not since the Waffle uprising of the late sixties and seventies has there been any agreement that there could be an alternative political formation to the "party of government." Discontent is sublimated in reluctant support for the lesser of two evils, or for simple withdrawal as advancing age and single-issue campaigns assume greater importance.

Jack is uncompromising in his examination of reality. His entire career has been a search for understanding, analysis and exposition of his findings and conclusions. When this has led to confrontation, he has never been afraid to face the consequences. Nationally and locally the Left must be grateful for the energetic honesty of Jack Warnock's political contribution.

Visit Jack Warnock's Saskatchewan: Where the Sun Always Shines website and the Canadian Dimension website.
Purchase his most recent book Creating a Failed State: The U.S. and Canada in Afghanistan here.

1 comment:

  1. An excellent and well deserved tribute, Joe. Jack has been a great inspiration to me and many others. his wisdom and tenacity are unparalleled.
    bill carroll