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Rewriting History: Harper's days of future past

John Bell

May 13, 2013

Not content to stifle the future, Stephen Harper has announced his intention to rewrite the past.
It is well documented that the Harper Tories have limited scientific enquiry, muzzled researchers in the public service and yoked new scientific funding to crass, commercial outcomes.
Recently they used their majority on the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage to launch “a thorough and comprehensive review of significant aspects in Canadian history including the following subjects and themes: A focus on Canadian history including but not limited to pre-confederation, early confederation, suffrage, World War I, with an emphasis on battles such as Vimy Ridge, World War II including the Liberation of Holland, the Battle of Ortona, Battle of the Atlantic, the Korean conflict, peacekeeping missions, constitutional development, the Afghanistan conflict, early 20th century Canada, post-war Canada, and the late 20th century.”
It seems that they are emboldened by their recent rewriting of the history of the War of 1812. The stated price tag for the 1812 anniversary–$30 million–is certain to be as much of an underestimation as their fictitious budgets for fighter jets and war ships. And in return Canadians received a celebration of militarism, as a minor and often embarrassing imperialist sideshow was transformed into a paragon of patriotism and nation-building.
Another $25 million has been allocated to transform the respected Canadian Museum of Civilization into the Canadian Museum of History. Insiders warn that political interference is already hampering their work. Some, like right-wing historian Jack Granatstein (who never met a war he didn’t like) argue that changes are a long overdue “correction” of a too liberal interpretation of Canadian history.
Attacking research
In fact there has been a steady reduction of funding for libraries, archives and museums across the nation. In place of this independent research we will get high profile (and high-priced) “commemorations”, almost exclusively glorifying war.
Harper has always saved his most honest and direct declarations of his right-wing intent for foreign audiences. In 2012 he addressed the annual gathering of corporate CEOs (and the government policy makers who do their bidding) in Davos, Switzerland. It was there that Harper identified the war on science his government has conducted with increasing ruthlessness.
As reported in The Globe and Mail: “He said Canada’s investments in science and technology had produced poor results and were a ‘significant problem for our country.’ He said he intends to pursue free trade with the European Union and India and find new energy markets beyond the United States. Regulatory delays for mines and energy projects are also being targeted.”
I was frankly unaware that science was a “significant problem for our country.” I thought Canadian research into global warming and environmental degradation was known around the world. Oh…foolish me. That is the “problem”.
But hobbling science, in essence an examination of material reality that points the way to future alternatives, is not sufficient. The other side of the coin must be a rewriting of the past.
Rewriting the past
The Harper Tories–and their few academic front men like Granatstein–want to steer research and examination away from things like Gender Studies and examination of the past based on the perspective of victims of oppression and imperialism. Granatstein blames multiculturalism for much of the problem, pointing to the “the millions of immigrants who have poured into and continue to flood, Canada” resulting in “very weak nationalism.”
Parroting Granatstein, Post Media hack Terry Glavin warns: “If it’s ‘a proud national story rooted in the great deeds of our ancestors’ you’re after, the very last place to go looking for it would be the history faculty of a Canadian university.”
So it becomes the job of history and its practitioners to build up nationalistic fervour. Canada’s “national story” must be proud and great. But what about acknowledging the genocidal destruction of Canada’s First Nations; the brutal conquest of the Metis nation; the early history of slavery and the racist response to the arrival of Black Loyalists after the American revolution; the oppression of women rooted deep in developing social institutions; the great examples of working class resistance like the On To Ottawa trek and the Winnipeg General Strike; the steadfast, grass-roots opposition to imperialist wars, from 1812, through World War I, to the great anti-war movement that kept us out of the Iraq invasion.
Harper et al are in a hurry to put an end to all this, as they gear up for their planned “celebration” of the 100th anniversary of WWI. Anyone who has studied the realities of this, surely the vilest, most brutal and blatantly imperialistic of wars, has to wonder what there is to “celebrate.”
But we have to prepare ourselves for a bullshit barrage repeating that the root of our “great, proud national story” is participating in senseless slaughter and exerting our own imperialist interests in the world.
The opening salvo in the war to sanitize WWI has been fired. Stephen Harper used his parliamentary bully pulpit to attack NDP MP Alexandre Boulerice, who in 2007 had the nerve to blog that WWI was a “purely capitalist war on the back of workers and peasants.” Stephen Harper’s reaction to this entirely accurate description? “I find the comments outrageous, inflammatory, unacceptable.” Tories rose to denounce Boulerice, accusing him of “spitting on the graves” of brave Canadian soldiers and telling him that if he didn’t share their version of our “great, proud national story” he should seek another country.
Canada: love it or leave it. That is the level of historic understanding Harper wishes to promote, the history of bosses, generals and political opportunists.
He is right about one thing: history matters. That is why we need to fight to preserve our “people’s history”, history from below that remembers our victories, learns from our defeats and arms us for battle against Stephen Harper and the tiny capitalist elite he represents.
If you like this article, register now for Marxism 2013: Revolution In Our Time, a weekend-long conference of ideas to change the world.  Sessions include "Quebec, First Nations and Canadian imperialism", "When revolution swept the world: 1917-24", and "From Red Power to Idle No More."

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