Saturday, May 22, 2010

D.I.Y. and the Canadian Left: Linguistic Overdetermination, or Coincidence?

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D.I.Y and the Canadian Left

I intend this article to try to explain the shortcomings of the Left that have enabled the success of the Right in the last three or four years. It comes from a cultural, rather than a political, perspective. First, let me first explain that one of the problems of the political culture in Canada is that it is widely thought of in terms of a straight line with a small batch of communists on the far pole of the left, who are by and large excluded from public discourse, and the former Reform Party sectors of the new Conservative Party on the far pole of the Right, some of whom hold very important positions at the current juncture, such as Jason Kenny, the minister of education, or Stockwell Day, the minister of trade. I would like to propose thinking of the political spectrum as more of a continuum: a circle, even.

Once you look at the political spectrum as a circle, you can start to see how cultural phenomenon of the Left, such as aspects of DIY culture, can actually undermine the success of the Left. Let me first define DIY as I understand it. I grew up in a mid-sized city in Southern Ontario that had an amazing music scene. One of the characteristic features of this scene was its relative independence from the industrial entertainment machine, as exemplified by the major music labels, the big publishing houses, etc. It was youth putting on shows for younger youth, and the profit motive was a marginal component of this culture. The DIY punk scene in particular was highly politicized, opening critiquing the military strategies and foreign policy of the mainstream political culture as well as the shallowness of consumer culture, and the lack of quality of its products. DIY stands for Do It Yourself. In other words, rather than accept the standards and criteria for achievement prescribed by the industrial entertainment machine, make the music you want to make and share it with your peers and others.

I was an active participant in this culture, and in 1999 I started my own record label. Due to various difficulties, changes of interest, and my general lack of business savvy, I quickly realized my imminent failure. Perhaps the linguistic singularity of “yourself” in the acronym DIY became a psychological barrier for collective action. Great things have rarely been accomplished by people acting on their own. While I was certainly not the first to have started a record label, others in my circle quickly followed suit and started their own record labels of similar material. This led to local competition that, from my perspective, undermined the collaborative and collective aspects of the scene. Perhaps if DIY instead stood for “Do It Yourselves” that would have emphasized the collective nature of successful resistance. Instead, the movement atomized its individual members; some DIY magnates actually became consultants for the political Right when they grew up.

I propose that strategies the Left has used in their struggle against the Right have been uneffective. Rather than dismiss the Right outright and uttlerly, the Left should study the tactics they have used that have made them successful, and incorporate some of these tactics into their own strategizing. While it is true that some consider it problematic to frame resistance in terms of the “Master’s tools,” at a certain point, the left will lose support just because people don’t enjoy losing. Coalition building is important, and for that we need to identify points of priority and solidarity, not to eliminate our differences, but to be more effective in our struggles. The circle folds in on itself: after all, individualistic anarchism is the point at which the far Right joins the far Left in the political circle. Max Stirner is closer to Alan Greenspan than you may think.

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