Jagmeet Singh, Prison Abolition, and the NDP Leadership Race

Standard
A big “on the other hand”: I’ve been supporting Niki Ashton for the NDP leadership because she seems to push hardest against that party’s drift to the neoliberal centre, but I believe deeply that prison abolition and restorative justice (defined a bit more below) are essential to any genuinely radical left politics, and Jagmeet Singh’s criminal justice reform positions are hands-down the best in the race, and probably the best I’ve ever seen from a Canadian politician.
Singh is a criminal defence lawyer, so he knows and targets in depth the issues that blight Canada’s penal system: cruel and ineffective mandatory minimum sentencing laws, bail policies that keep people behind bars for the crime of being poor, the criminalization of the mentally ill and of racialized persons, and an overall tendency to favour punitive/retaliatory over rehabilitative/restorative forms of justice (despite lip service to the contrary). Other, related issues in Singh’s platform are under-theorized by comparison: concern for unfreedom at home should be matched with care for unfreedom abroad, and Singh, unlike Ashton, tends to sideline questions of international solidarity with oppressed peoples.
But his explicit, detailed refusal of conservative law-and-order politics is a huge deal, unmatched by any of the other candidates (Ashton comes closest). Prison abolition is an important conceptual framework because, as theorists like Angela Davis argue, it’s about so much more than prisons: to ask what would be necessary to render prisons obsolete, as a thought-experiment and a horizon, is to identify the social and cultural determinants of harm, to strategize concretely about how those harms can be limited, and to think carefully about non-violent approaches to individual and communal restitution, healing, and repair. In the Canadian context, prison abolition and restorative justice also imply a transformed relationship to Indigenous peoples, insofar as restorative justice adopts Indigenous principles (and practices!) of reconciliatory dialogue in place of the liberal utilitarianism that says that certain persons — the criminalized, the disabled, the mentally ill — are disposable.
I’m not moving my vote to Singh without more reflection, but the essence of socialism is the absolute unwillingness to accept that human beings should abide in cages and chains, and I have a lot of time for anyone who cries out against that horror, whether or not he calls himself a socialist.
Advertisements

A Distinct Left Alternative, Not Kitchy Slogans

Standard
I’ll support him if he wins the NDP leadership, but the consolidation of leftish Canadian support around Jagmeet Singh on the basis of that (actually pretty weird and troubling?) viral video speaks to the #1 problem with what passes for the left in Canada: a tendency to privilege heartwarming optics and performances of virtue over coherently expressed visions of social transformation. That video, at very best, is pure Trudeau. At worst it’s a progressive man literally shouting over a right-wing woman with kitchy slogans, which is the right’s stereotype of how the left deals with its critics among so-called ordinary people.

I worry that Niki Ashton doesn’t have the union and other elite NDP backing to win the leadership, but in a match-up with Trudeau she’s electable because she represents a distinct alternative, a different way of saying and perhaps of doing politics. Angus and Caron maybe less so, on the surface, but at the last debate they spoke with an assurance and a nuanced take on the issues that I found less marked in Singh, who seemed more often to speak in generalities (i.e. generalities I found less subtle and precise than the others’ generalities).

His policy positions seem to be better than Trudeau’s, so, again, if he wins the leadership I’ll support him, but if he wins it’ll also increase my fear that the modern NDP, rather than representing a genuine left alternative in Canada, instead colludes in producing the depressive state that Mark Fisher called capitalist realism: the sense that there *is* no thinkable left alternative, that all that exists is market logic and less or more woke, less or more cheerful technocratic modifications to it.