What Do We Celebrate on Canada Day?

As this edition of the Halifax Partisan goes to print, masses of people all over the city – as indeed all over the country – will be gathering to take part in Canada Day celebrations. There will be parades, outdoor concerts, and fireworks at night. Flags will be flying everywhere and popular feelings of nationalism will be running high. Thousands will stand together and sing the national anthem together on the slopes of Citadel Hill, in Parade Square, and at a dozen other rally points around HRM and beyond.

This is the day we collectively reaffirm our faith in the state we call Canada. We reflect on what it means to be citizens of this great country. We get to feel proud.

But what are we really celebrating? Consider the following:

We celebrate our violent conquest of this land where the Mi’Kmaq once roamed free. We celebrate their defeat and subjugation. We celebrate the bounty placed by Cornwallis on the scalps of First Nations people as if they were animals.

We celebrate our continuing economic and political success in carving out our “rightful place” as one of the most privileged and powerful nation states in the world. We have no real concern for underdeveloped countries of the global south, or those in zones of war whose people struggle daily for their very survival. We rightly deserve to be better off than they are, because we are superior to them. They are just lucky that we are big-hearted enough to tolerate them as we do.

We celebrate our illusion of “independence” from the USA. This is what allows us to look down our noses and scoff at their farcical electoral system, to bemoan their senseless mass murders. We smugly believe it could never happen here because we are so different from them. Because we are fundamentally better people.

But are we, really? Every honest person knows the answer to this question, painful though it might be.

National chauvinism takes many forms and has many uses. Other nation states around the world use this tactic also, carefully orchestrating mass expressions of national pride. It is especially useful in countries such as Canada, where contradictions between the interests of the ruling bourgeois class and the exploited proletariat are not so obvious as elsewhere. Nationalism is a way to superficially unite people, making them feel good about themselves by subtly feeding their delusions of superiority.

The vast majority of people who will be out celebrating this weekend with friends and families know they are being used. They are not deceived, not entirely. Even the most indoctrinated ultra-national supremacists know in their hearts that patriotism is a kind of game. It is a fiction we tell ourselves in order to make sense of it all, a fun game to play along with.

But it isn’t reality.

Citizens of Halifax, as elsewhere, will be waving their flags in celebration of the ideals for which they want to believe Canada stands: democracy, freedom, tolerance and respect. These ideals are truly worth celebrating.

But as communists, we will sort out the rhetoric from the reality. We will sharpen our analysis and not stand down in the face of obvious contradictions and hypocrisies. We will continue to name them, and give voice to what the working class knows.