Across borders

By Ulli Diemer

To: Linda Smith

Dear Linda:

I appreciated your comments and your analysis, and I think that I agree with pretty much everything you said in your letter.

My own feeling is that while I feel most comfortable with face-to-face, small scale communities and activism, and while I believe in decentralizing and abolishing power to the greatest extent possible, I also believe that larger-scale decision making is necessary. For some kinds of things, we simply have to make decisions and set standards that apply regionally, nationally and internationally. Rather than pretend that isn't so, I'd rather acknowledge it and try to figure out how to get such decisions made as democratically and accountably as possible. Otherwise those with the most power, be it multinational corporations, or the International Monetary Fund, or George Bush, will continue to make them.

On the issue of free trade and the existence of the Canadian nation, my attitude is that I am in favour of moving to reduce barriers between nations - nationalism being one of the most important of them! At the same time, it seems obvious to me that if a country like Canada, living next door to an aggressive superpower, unilaterally drops all barriers, this simply amounts to inviting foreign domination. Being taken over by the U.S. is not what I have in mind by internationalism.

You suggest that the insistence on so-called free trade (by the Green Revolution people) has more to do with a refusal to acknowledge the existence of nations than with a claim to know what is best for other countries. That may be true, but I'm not sure that those two things are actually terribly different. I think it's typically the attitude of people - including progressive people - living in a powerful nation. I was in Germany this fall and I encountered a similar attitude: German leftists were impatient with nationalist preoccupations of any kind, while those from countries which had been historically threatened and invaded by Germany felt that the preservation of some form of distinct national identify was crucial. Similarly, American radicals are always telling Canadians that nationalism of any kind is anachronistic, while Canadians, who have a keen awareness of pressures from the U.S., including two military invasions, are typically concerned with retaining the power to decide ourselves what is best for us.

I do know, as you say, that the attitude of the country is not necessarily the attitude of the people. Some of the people I like and admire most are Americans. (Yes, some of my best friends are Americans!) However, in the same way as even the best-intentioned men still retain some unconscious sexist attitudes, so many otherwise admirable Americans still suffer from imperialist attitudes. But in the same way as I strongly believe that men and women need to work together (as well as separately at times) to create a new non-sexist society, so I also believe that Canadians and Americans need to make every effort to work together toward goals we can share. But much as I want to join together across the border, I want to make sure that border stays there too.

Thanks for writing, Linda. I enjoyed your letter.


Ulli Diemer
December 13, 1990