On 8th October, the National Post published an article titled, “Not your father’s socialism.” It uncovered a plot by NDP brass to re-write the party’s constitution, eliminating any mention of socialism, economic planning, or nationalization. This is part of the general trend of the bureaucracy, since the failed NDP-Liberal coalition, to move the party to the right. They say that what they are doing is “modernization,” but what they propose is not modern in any way; it is just the same old Liberalism of cuts and attacks on workers and youth.
At the same time as the NDP Right are given free rein to work against the founding principles of the party, they are attacking party democracy and rank-and-file activists. In BC, the unpopular and unsuccessful Carole James leadership kicked MLA Bob Simpson out of caucus for airing some very mild criticisms. In Ontario, one of the bright spots of the party, the Toronto Young New Democrats, recently had their charter removed for “allegiance with Fightback!” There seems to be one rule for the right-wing bureaucracy who contemptuously feel that they, and not the members, own the party, and another rule for everybody else, who are the victims of a McCarthyite witch-hunt.
This must all be seen within the current context of the biggest economic crisis of the capitalist system since the Great Depression. Governments have poured hundreds of billions of dollars into the pockets of private corporations, and now they are using these record deficits as an excuse to implement some of the biggest cuts to the standard of living of the working class. With this in mind, the move to the right in the NDP goes against all reason. Rank-and-file NDP members, activists, and trade unions must mobilize to stop this backwards step.
We must be clear as to what this is. This is Blairism. We must remind ourselves of the lessons from the British labour movement. Similar measures were carried out by Tony Blair within the Labour Party in Britain resulting in defeat of the party, cuts to the social wage, and the alliance with Bush in the invasion of Iraq. The party’s policies became practically indiscernible from those of the Conservatives; party membership plummeted as rank-and-file activists saw little reason to be mobilizing for another party that carried out the dictates of big business. Are we going to let the same thing happen to the NDP?
NDP planners and election strategists are still trapped in the false conservative mentality of viewing everything from a purely electoral standpoint. However, their logic falls down even from this perspective. The more the NDP moves to the right, the less reason people have to vote for it. Why vote for the fake Liberals when the real ones are available!
When Layton was first elected NDP leader, he was a supporter of the left-leaning New Politics Initiative. He called himself a socialist and attempted to balance between the different wings of the party. However, since the coalition debacle, it appears that Layton has become a convert of the right-wing party bureaucracy that sees the left as something to be purged. These are people like Bob Rae and Ujjal Dosanjh, principle-less turncoats who jump ship at the first sign of a better job opportunity. Their real interests are not in fighting back against cuts—they simply wish to advance their own careers. NDP support has been dismal since the coalition rightward turn. Millions of voters are abstaining, as they feel that none of the parties speak to their issues.
There is, however, an alternate trend developing within the NDP and in the labour movement that needs to be strengthened. The recently elected leader of the Ontario NDP Andrea Horwath, in her speech that won over the most trade union support and ensured her victory in the contest for new party leader, clearly stated, “We New Democrats won’t check our socialism at the door when it comes to building a better future.” Many unions, such as the CEP and Steelworkers, are also making statements criticizing the capitalist system. Given the economic crisis and the failure of capitalism, this is quite obviously the direction the party should be moving in.
Inspired by Horwath’s words, the NDP youth in Toronto moved to set up a club that did politics in a different way. The Ontario New Democratic Youth (ONDY) has been inactive for as long as anybody can remember—no campaigns, no activity, no real clubs, and declining attendance at ONDY’s convention every year. This was because of a careerist trend that seized control of ONDY and who did not care for building the party; they only cared to pad their resumes. In opposition to this, the Toronto Young New Democrats (TYND) organized active campaigns, such as for free education and free public transit, a vibrant successful summer camp, numerous lively debates, and mass canvassing for the Cathy Crowe provincial by-election and Joe Pantalone municipal campaigns. Socialist ideas were at the heart of this activity and success and this resulted in over 50 youth signing up to join the party. For this, they were rewarded by being brought up on secret charges at a closed secret meeting, with no opportunity to cross-examine their accusers or present alternative evidence! The right-wing specifically cited TYND’s alleged association to this paper. The editorial board of Fightback has been proud to give support to the NDP youth in Toronto, some of which are regular writers in these pages; however the TYND is its own organization that democratically decides its own politics at well-attended membership meetings. The undemocratic removal of Bob Simpson in BC and the de-chartering of the TYND are an attack on the democratic principles of the NDP and the labour movement and must be opposed by all. If they can unleash the thought-police to target one sector of the party, then no section is safe. The NDP has traditionally been a big-tent party, which encompasses all ideas from liberalism to Marxism. But the bureaucrats would rather have a dead party low in the polls than build an activist base that can win elections and think for itself. The rank and file will not stand for this.
This plot by the party bureaucracy towards so-called “moderation” is the exact opposite thing that the NDP needs to be doing right now. The results of the economic crisis are already having their effects. The massive deficits, lay offs, cuts, and the falling standard of living are already shaking the consciousness of Canadians. All this pressure that is building up gives a great opportunity for socialists to argue their case. The route towards an NDP victory is for it to become the political voice of a mass movement against the cuts to healthcare, rising tuition, attacks on public sector workers, and layoffs in the manufacturing industry. Democratic freedom of thought, association and criticism is essential to build a lively, active and victorious movement. Any turn to the right is a short-cut off a cliff.