The ascendant, cheerful, dapper Canadian leftist politician Jack Layton died at 61 Monday morning. He died just months after taking his party, the New Democratic Party of Canada, to amazing heights in the last federal election. The New Democrats—always the bridesmaid, never the bride—thrashed the separatist Parti Quebecois in Quebec, left the once powerful Liberal Party a rump in the rest of the country, and earned the right to form what we call the Official Opposition to Stephen Harper’s Conservative government. Now he is being eulogized (mostly) in the press, a state funeral is in order, and, in many ways, his memory is already being co-opted by people who once dismissed him, derided him or even hated him.
Here’s a link to a smart little essay by Noah Gataveckas (published in the online magazine The Mass Ornament) that seeks to insert some logic and realism into the tangle of emotion and pop journalistic burbling and political re-remembering that is, yes, not just a characteristic of Canadian politics.
It is important to remember the past, compare today to yesterday, if one wishes to gain an understanding into any (historical-material) situation. This holds true for the Canadian political landscape.
Various newspapers and ideologues are now posthumously celebrating noble Jack Layton as a hero of humanity, who “More than anything else, stood for Canada”. Yesterday, these same papers otherwise portrayed him as a socialist traitor who had “an almost pathological hostility to the corporate sector [that] would quickly turn Canada into a North American Zimbabwe”. Or: a “champion of elite privilege”. Or: a “Shameless Socialist Opportunist”.
Now that his legacy is up for grabs, Layton is being spun into some kind of watered-down New Liberal. While in the past he was portrayed as the Leftist Enemy (under the spooky banner of ‘socialism’), now he is being sold as a ‘good guy’ with “always a twinkle in his eyes”. The message here is: forget about who he was, what he did, and his politics, celebrate the mere ‘person’ of Jack once he has been abstracted from all the (real, living) political content that made him who he actually was (i.e. what he fought for, what “he gave his life for”). In other words, we are encouraged to celebrate a fiction of Jack Layton instead of his truth.