By Ajamu Nangwaya
dem wi'gi` whey dem talent to di state (they will give away their talent to the state)
an'di black workin' class andahrate (and underrate the Black working class)
dem wi' side wid oppressah (they will side with the oppressor)
w'en di goin' get ruff (when the going gets rough)
side wid aggressah (side with aggressor)
w'en di goin' get tuff (when the going gets tough)
dem a black petty-booshwah (they are Black petty bourgeois)
dem full of flaw (they are full of flaw)
- -Linton Kwesi Johnson,Di Black Petty Booshwah
Given the early record of the conservative mayor of Toronto John Tory in standing against issues that are of interests to the Afrikan community, it would not be hard for a casual observer of the Afrikan petty bourgeois elements to declare that their self-interested or politically misguided endorsement of candidate Tory has left them with egg on their collective face.
John Tory has long been a major political figure in the Progressive Conservative Party in Ontario. He has served as a leader of the party, advisor to conservative administrations and a reliable supporter of conservative interests.
During the latter stage of the October 2014 municipal election campaign, a seemingly puzzling but revealing display of political bi-partisanship was executed by the Afrikan petty bourgeois elements in their support for the mayoral candidacy of the “old money” operative John Tory. These middle-class or middle-income forces from the three mainstream capitalist parties in Canada (Conservative Party, Liberal Party and the New Democratic Party) embraced this “Red Tory” politician with reckless abandon and unfettered enthusiasm.
Mary Anne Chambers, a former cabinet minister and Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP) in Ontario registered her support by declaring, “Toronto really does need John Tory to serve as its mayor now!’’
Another former Ontario Liberal cabinet minister, Speaker of the provincial parliament and MPP Alving Curling explained his unbridled endorsement of his erstwhile political rival, “His conduct was excellent in the House, he was a gentleman and followed the rules accordingly. He made my job a little easier except for the other guys inside there. I found him to be a person who respected decorum of the House and I have a great respect for him.”
Curling praised Tory for his involvement in charitable and civic activities that merely confirm the noblesse oblige expectations of this member of one of Canada’s old establishment families.
Former school board trustee and current Ontario Liberal MPP and Minister of Tourism Culture and Sport Michael Coteau gave his support to Tory. There just might be some truth to the claim that politics is a maker of strange bedfellows.
In Canada, the New Democratic Party (NDP) is perceived by many as a sort of left-wing party. But in practice it is a pro-capitalist party that essentially peddles the notion of “capitalism with a human face.” Surprisingly, two members of the Afrikan petty bourgeoisie who are normally seen as strong advocates of the Afrikan community on anti-Afrikan racism and other matters of material import jumped on Tory’s bandwagon.
Zanana Akande, former Ontario NDP cabinet minister and MPP, and past president of the Urban Alliance on Race Relations endorsed Tory and chastised people who questioned his anti-racist and working-class positive bona fides:
“Perhaps the most depressing accusation made of Tory is his alleged attachment to a “segregationist,” “classist” and “elitist” world view. For as priority neighbourhood activist Spider Jones said: “If John Tory is a racist, I’m the head of the KKK.”
John’s ambition is to bring Toronto back together. He seeks to unite downtown and suburban dwellers, new and old Canadians, the ambitious and the accomplished, the struggling and the successful, no matter their colour, creed, or point of origin — let alone their neighbourhood — to our collective benefit. A cursory search of John’s website reveals the endorsement, friendship and respect of poverty, race and social activists from every corner of the city — who have known John for decades. Are they all to be disbelieved?”
Akande’s position on Tory’s implied commitment to challenging white supremacy is rather baffling given his denial of the existence of white privilege. Evidently, the class struggle is not a part of Akande’s worldview given her belief that Tory, a wealthy capitalist, can unite the material interests of the “the struggling and the successful.”
Lennox Farrell, a co-founder of the Black Action Defense Committee and former candidate of the NDP and former Toronto mayoral candidate also lined up behind Tory. Farrell readily concede that Tory’s politics “may not be the same” as his, but he had faith in the candidate’s “instincts and sensibility.” Politics is not a faith-based enterprise. We ought to evaluate candidates on objective criteria and not pander to non-rational ways of knowing.
Tory naturally had the expected endorsement of Conservative Party operatives within the Afrikan petty bourgeoisie. Audrey Williams, former candidate of the Conservative Party of Canada and vice-president of the Jamaican Canadian Association extolled his endearing qualities, “In my opinion, what I seek for myself as a resident and as one who cares deeply about this country at-large and Toronto specifically, I trust the knowledge, service and leadership that John Tory will provide and I do not expect that he will disappoint.”
Samuel Getachew, a card carrying member of the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario, writer and party activist, wrote a love letter masquerading as a column that peddled his endorsement of Tory.
Getachew had this to say about his political idol, “I have always respected and admired John Tory. He is a decent, passionate, dedicated and exemplary public servant. It is no wonder that he is now the front runner in the mayoralty Toronto race. He is a candidate that is rare and worth supporting. I hope many will.”
The only supreme quality of Tory that was left unexpressed by these endorsers-cum-cheerleaders is his ability to walk on water or raise Bob Marley or Claudia Jones from the realm of the ancestors.
The Afrikan petty bourgeois forces used their public status and/or influence in the media to champion Tory’s candidacy. According to Getachew, “Many of Toronto's black newspapers -- Share, Nigerian News, Pride and TZTA -- as well as all the major mainstream newspapers endorsed him as well. He essentially became the "Trudeaumania" of 2014.”
Share newspaper is a Toronto-based weekly with the highest circulation within the Afrikan and Caribbean community and dubs itself as “Canada’s largest ethnic newspaper.” The newspaper supported Tory’s candidacy and sang his praises, “He has been involved in and supported many causes and initiatives in our community – especially for our youth, mostly in his own quiet way and without fanfare. We don’t see that concern and respect for our community changing if he becomes mayor.”
Royson James, columnist with the Toronto Star clambered onto the Tory bandwagon with a strong endorsement. This member of the Afrikan petty bourgeoisie is an admirer of his grande bourgeois counterpart and Tory’s ability to circulate among and give charity to those of us from the ranks of the “unwashed masses”:
“Tory was born into a blue-blood family and one of the country’s top law firms. If he was weaned onto a silver spoon, he has learned to pass it around in many charitable pursuits. There are no “airs” with this Tory. He’s as approachable and normal a rich guy as you’ll find.”
Tory has not committed “class suicide” so it is hard for me to imagine how he is relevant to the material interests of the working-class in general and the racialized working-class in particular.
Unfortunately, the Afrikan media, public figures and media workers failed to provide the Afrikan working-class with a critical assessment and interrogation of John Tory’s policies and conservative ideological commitments. The newspapers were too eager to serve as cheerleaders as opposed to affirming the dictum that “The job of the newspaper [or the media] is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”
The Afrikan petty bourgeois characters who supported Tory could only point to the charitable contributions that he made to community initiatives, his charming and personable character traits and him never experiencing “a scheduling problem,” unlike other white political figures, who were invited to Afrikan Canadian public events. Some members of this group also focused on their personal friendship with Tory, which glossed over his conservative policies.
It is quite instructive that not even one endorser has pointed to public policies and social and income security programmes that have been championed by Tory to advance the material interests of the Afrikan Canadian working-class, or even the interests of the members of these bourgeois elements who contend with white supremacy and/or patriarchy in society’s institutions.
The exclusive fixation on Tory’s personality, the financial crumbs that he throws at charitable causes, and his willingness to fraternize with Afrikans might be an unwitting admission that his policies are irrelevant or hostile to the interests of this racialized community.
During the 2014 mayoral election campaign, Tory called for the reform of the Toronto Police Services’ carding regime that stops, questions and documents personal information about members of the public during non-criminal encounters. Racialized working-class community and Afrikan Canadian are disproportionately targeted by the cops for carding. There is overwhelming opposition to carding in Toronto’s Afrikan community because Afrikans and other racialized communities are racially profiled by this practice.
Tory was speaking at a forum directed at the Afrikan community and clearly articulated his support for the continuation of carding:
“I think our police have a difficult job to do and they need the tools to get the job done. There are going to be encounters between people and police no matter what system we have in place or what we call it.
I think that something that has become known as carding has been reformed but it hasn’t been reformed enough. I think what we have to do is what the police services board is doing which is continuing the reform of the how and the when and the who and the where and the why.”
I think the police services board should be mandated to continue to reform encounters between police and people and gathering information which the police have to do form time to time. They have to do it as part of doing their job.”
Anyone who supports carding in Toronto is knowingly or unknowingly promoting racial (and class) profiling. The residents in the largely white and wealthy neighbourhoods of Toronto such as Rosedale, Lawrence Park, Bridle Path, Kingsway, York Mills and Forest Hill are not the people who are impacted by police violence in the form of carding. It is the people of Jane and Finch and other racialized working-class communities who targeted by the cops.
The petty bourgeois members in the Afrikan community were quite aware of Tory’s position on carding during the election campaign. On April 16th, Tory voted for a new repressive carding policy that repudiated an April 2014 adopted policy that claimed a human rights focus. We have a few of the same petty bourgeois endorsers of Tory’s successful mayoral bid now howling their disapproval of his action on carding and lamenting over their support for him.
Soon after the inauguration of Tory as mayor, he sent a clear message to the Afrikan community on the value that he placed on pleasing the police chief by not re-appointing a “transgressive” member on the civilian-controlled Toronto Police Services Board (TBSB). Share newspaper’s publisher and senior editor Arnold Auguste called out Tory on this troubling action:
“It was terribly worrisome to many of us in the Black community, especially those of us who supported John Tory for mayor, that one of his first major decisions following his election win was to remove the only Black city councillor [Michael Thompson] from the Toronto Police Service Board.”
It should be recalled that Share newspaper endorsed Tory for mayor so the removal of a police accountability critic from TPSB ought to have been taken as a sign of things to come.
Getachew, in an article entitled John Tory's Support of Police Carding Is an Insult to the Black Community, blasted the mayor for his stance on this issue. Tory’s fellow Progressive Conservative Party member, Getachew, declares, “By voicing his support of carding, Tory has given a slap in the face to the [B]lack community as well as to the ideals of a civilized and moderate society. Too bad we do not have a recall legislation to reject bad politicians like him in Canada.” The overtone of the essay is akin to that of a jilted or spurned lover.
Journalist and endorser of Tory’s campaign Royson James had this reaction to the new Tory-supported carding policy, “Imagine this. A police officer sees my two boys on the street. They are not being investigated, don’t match a description of a fleeing felon, are not suspects, but easy pickings for a police fishing expedition, a “carding” exercise designed to fill police databanks with as many random elements as possible that might provide a match for some undefined act in some undetermined future.”
Tory is probably not James’ most favourite politician at this time. James’ described Tory in his endorsing column thus, “…John Tory is exactly the mayor Toronto needs: balance, integrity, consensus-builder, healer.” Tory’s healing power would probably be ineffective against the blues that James is experiencing.
Should we attribute the failure to do due diligence on Tory’s policies and their likely impact on the community to rank opportunism or infatuation with his personality or a combination of both?
Tory is a hard core supporter of the discredited racist and classist “broken windows” theory of policing and crime prevention. Tory outlined his views on policing in the policy document Time for Action: A Report on Violence Affecting Youth in 2005 during his tenure as Leader of the Official Opposition at Queen’s Park, Ontario’s provincial parliament:
“I am a believer in the “broken window” theory. If we just let the so-called “little things” go because we don’t think they really matter or because we don’t have the resources to deal with them, offenders will conclude there are no consequences to their actions and more brazen and serious criminals acts will follow.”
In this report, Tory calls for measures that support “the police to carry out aggressive forms of policing to help end violence in our communities.” He also supported “strict minimum sentences for gun-related crimes,” and an “aggressive form of violence prevention” such as “warrant sweeps of high-risk areas to target those trespassing and those with outstanding arrest warrants.”
Mandatory minimum sentencing is a way to feed the prison industrial complex with Afrikan people and other members of the working-class. Warrant sweeps would serve as a legal cover to engage in racial profiling. It would be difficult to tell who are trespassing in an area or being sought on outstanding warrants. The race and/or perceived class status of the community members would likely be the basis for stopping and questioning them.
The Canadian Supreme Court recently struck down the federal government’s mandatory minimum sentencing provisions on illegal gun possession, and other such sentencing guidelines could suffer the same fate. But Tory is a champion of mandatory minimum sentences.
John Tory’s position on the city’s provision of affordable childcare, promotional prospects of women in the workplace, denial of the reality of white privilege, and the subway versus LRT (light rail transit) expansion in Scarborough were overlooked by his class privileged Afrikan supporters. They failed to see the way that Tory’s policy preferences and political stance on social and economic issues would negatively affect Afrikans and other racialized people.
One would have to conclude that the Afrikan petty bourgeoisie’s class aspirations, pandering to pragmatic politics and/or the suspension of disbelief about Tory’s conservative credentials might have gotten the best of them.
The radical organizers or leftists within the Afrikan Canadian community need to marginalize the petty bourgeoisie. The latter group does not have a mass base among the people and is out of touch with the expressed needs of the people. Furthermore, most of them are not organizing around the needs of the people in a way that calls into question the oppressive character of capitalism, patriarchy and white supremacy.
This relatively privileged class is a politically bankrupt force. The fact that Afrikan partisans from the main political parties and political independents could have coalesced behind Tory’s campaign is an indication of the narrowness of Canada’s and the petty bourgeoisie’s ideological consensus around social and economic policy and politics.
The petty bourgeoisie is too willing to trade the interests of the people for alms from the Tory’s substantial personal fortune or the pursuit of its class interests. Former Archbishop Desmond Tutu words are quite relevant on this point, “I am not interested in picking up crumbs of compassion thrown from the table of someone who considers himself my master. I want the full menu of rights.” We ought to demand social policy and programmes that address the needs of the Afrikan working-class as well as that of other members of Fanon’s “wretched of the earth.”
At the end of the day, Linton Kwesi Johnson is right, “dem a black petty-booshwah /dem full of flaw.” Therefore, left-wing and nationalist organizers need to centre the goal of fostering class consciousness and class solidarity within the community through political education initiatives and other organizing projects.
The liberal and conservative members of the Afrikan petty bourgeoisie are flawed and irrelevant and have no value in the people’s quest for justice, freedom and dignity.
Ajamu Nangwaya, Ph.D., is an educator, organizer and writer. He is an organizer with the Network for the Elimination of Police Violence.
[i] It should be noted that the term “petty bourgeois” and “petty bourgeoisie” are not pejorative ones. I am in agreement with the late Dr. Walter Rodney’s approach to the use of the terms:
"Many people find the term 'petty-bourgeoisie' to be pejorative and abusive because of its association with the bourgeoisie - the exploiters of the world. But a case can be made for its continued use as a non-abusive analytical term, describing a local social stratum that lives in a privileged manner in a colonial or post-colonial society. Amilcar Cabral has spent a great deal of time in analyzing strata and sub-strata in Guinean Society, with the functional aim of advancing a national Revolution by any means possible. The success of the Guinean revolution on the battle front and at the level of political and social organization is a potent reason for paying close attention to Cabral's views on this subject. He considers the petty bourgeoisie not as a decadent stereotype but as a stratum with various possibilities, and he includes himself. Cabral was concerned with evaluating the 'nationalist capacity' of the petty bourgeoisie as well as their 'revolutionary capacity' for the post-independence phase.”
- Walter Rodney, Some Implications of the Question of Disengagement from Imperialism, 1971