The APEC conference of 1997 was a meeting in the University of British Colombia of various North American and World Leaders to discuss trade talks between the corresponding nations. During the conference, there were a lot of student protestors and police to secure the event. The two sides clashed and turned into an unforgettable event in which rights were broken and freedoms were lost. What caused the erratic response of the RCMP? This is the question I will answer in this blog. I will be taking a Marxist perspective establishing that there was a conflict of two classes in this event. The government will be representing the bourgeoisie (the upper class elites), while the protestors will represent the proletariat (the lower working class). I will argue that the reason for the unorthodox police response and the lack of care by the government is due to the state’s interest towards capitalism in the APEC summit.
The main goal with every western capitalist state is the accumulation of wealth: this has been in interest of the upper class. In addition, the upper class has entrusted the state to protect their interests of capitalism through any means: sometimes at the loss of the working/middle-lower class. This repression has been evident throughout history: think of the imperialism towards the indigenous population where the state tried to colonize the aboriginals to gain a working class and use their resources. This is know in Gordon’s Piece “Empire at Home” when he states that the Canadian government attempts to take the land of the aboriginals for the production of wealth in terms of the natural industry such as mining (Gordon 2011: 85). The government also makes it extremely difficult for the Aboriginals to make a claim for treaty obligations because of the various tactics the government institutes. An example would be the slowness of the bureaucratic progress in which it can take up to twenty years for a claim to be settled (Gordon 2011:94). Though it may be different, there are similarities between imperialism and the APEC summit: both were consequences of capitalism. In theorizing power and order, a Marxist approach would look at the conflict between the two classes. There is hegemony in the capitalist society, which there is a want for the universalization of values of the dominant class. Hegemony is the production of the ‘normal’ in society, but what constitutes the normal is the state. To ensure that there is hegemony, the state institutes consent and coercion tactics to get the lower class to assimilate with the upper classes values. Generally, we get punished if we break the rules (coercion), and we abide by a certain guideline (consent) (Hall et al 1978:209). However, it is important for the public to consent to the states actions in order to provide legitimacy towards the state – which was not the case in APEC through the perpetuating cycle of severe overt measures (Hall et al 1978:209). These rules, or laws, are used to keep the conformity of the public. With the opportunity to obtain a lot of wealth for the country, the state – in the interest of the elites – would like to keep any negativity (as done by the protestors) away from the conference.
To enforce these laws and ensure conformity, the elites use the police. “Police were solidly in the hands of the local commercial and industrial elites…” (Gordon 2006:38). Police were therefore used to protect the class interests of the elites: in this case, capital growth. It was not just the state that the police looked after but the other world leaders as well. These world leaders pose significance in the world and they could be at risk for imminent danger: for example – President Suharto of Indonesia has a lot of corruption and controversy attached to his name. In regards to the APEC conference, police established rules such as designated demonstrating areas to ensure that the conference goes without a hitch. Police also used their power to detain people and confiscate banners when demonstrations became too much. Keeping in mind that many of the protestors rights were broken throughout the course of the conference, the police were instructed to do one thing: keep the demonstrations out of sight from the conference and keep the demonstrators from disrupting the conference. Keeping the students from interrupting the conference will allow state interest of capital accumulation in order.
So why did the police target students? The police – governed by the elites – saw the students as members of the working class. The students can also be seen as the anti-citizen in which the become knowledge workers – they have always been considered a risk to society (Kennelly, 2011:339). Moreover, “the inherent duality of both challenging the status quo … [and] upholding and perpetuating it remains constant for universities” (Hewitt 2002:216). This means that university students are being critical about the society they live in while living in it. Students would voice out their opinions if they do not agree. This was constantly evident in the demonstrations, for instance the displaying of the Tibetan flag on the graduate student lounge in reference to the Free Tibet campaign. Seeing the voice of the students gave rise to produce fear in the upper class. The upper class saw the working class “as potential criminals” (Gordon 2006:43). This kind of moral panic – in which there is an overemphasis on a minor fear – created much insecurity with the upper class. The elites would have seen the students as a threat to their ability to accumulate capital. In response, the police took the rights (unjustly) of the student protestors. The police and the upper class saw the protestors as “others” and through militaristic measures attempted to pacify them: reconstruct social order to allow for assimilation towards bourgeoisie/capital interests. Neocleous states that security is essential for pacification (2011:194). These militaristic measures were in response to appearances and behaviors rather than criminal activity (Gordon 2006:43). This meaning that the protesters were law abiding, but because they were labeled as threats, they were criminalized. Students were seen as part of the lower class and a threat to the prospect of capital accumulation.
In this first world country, we are promised liberty; and through the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, we have received the perception of liberty. But in this capitalist economy, the state wants to secure its own capital interests. Liberty and security have a oppositional relationship: if we want more liberty, we have to have less security, if we have less security, we can have more liberty. The state should not sacrifice the liberty promised to the citizens through the Charter in order to keep its interest of capital accumulation. Unfortunately, through the APEC conference of 1997 held in Vancouver, this was not the case. The state used coercive measures to ensure that the conference would go without a problem, and thus supporting their capitalist interests.
Gordon, Todd. 2006. “Producing Capitalist Order: Police, Call, Race, and Gender”. Pp 29-51 in Cops, Crime, and Capitalism. Halifax: Fernwood Publishing
Hall, Stuart, Chas Critcher, Tony Jefferson, John N. Clarke, and Brian Roberts. 1978. “Crime, Law, and the State” Pp. 181-217 in Policing the Crisis: Mugging, The State and Law and Order. London: Macmillan.
Hewitt, Steven. 2002. “From CSIS to APEC” Pp. 203-217 in Spying 101: The RCMP’s Secret activities at Canadian Universities, 1917-1997. Toronto: University of Toronto Press
Kennelly, Jacqueline, 2011. “Policing Young People as Citizens-in-Waiting.”. British Journal of Criminology 51:336-54.
Neocleus, Mark, 2011. “A Brighter and Nicer New Life: Security as Pacification. Social and Legal Studies 20(2):191-208.