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As of yesterday, the NDP is no longer a “socialist” party. With a vote at this weekend’s national convention in Montreal, delegates approved a new constitutional preamble which removed all references to the dreaded red menace. This isn’t the first time such a move had been suggested – the late Jack Layton attempted it two years ago, but without much success. This time, however, the party seems determined to prove that it is “ready to govern” by shedding it’s radical baggage in the hopes of capturing a larger chunk of the political “centre”.

This wasn’t the only showdown with socialists at the convention, either. The NDP’s “Socialist Caucus”, a group of party members who advocate for more radical policies from within, made it’s presence felt more than once. They booed speeches from high ranking American Democrats like Jeremy Bird and Joseph Stiglitz (the former Clinton adviser and senior VP of the World Bank), put forward motions on issues like pipelines and held up a large banner protesting America’s drone-bombings in Pakistan. This last move proved quite unpopular, and offending party members were met by security and threatened with the loss of their voting priviliges.

To put this in perspective, the issue has seen a lot of attention at the United Nations of late. They had no such reservations about declaring drone bombings in Pakistan illegal last month. To the NDP, though, it’s an embarrassment in front of their new American friends, who happen to be the warmongering criminals in question.

Seriously, NDP, what the fuck happened?

It’s been a long time since I attended an NDP convention (‘working the door’), far enough back that Clinton was still president. I left the party soon enough afterward. In those days, they hosted saw speakers like John Clarke of OCAP and even a surviving Spanish Civil War veteran at a youth convention. If I’d known then that someone like Stiglitz would soon enough be speaking at a similar event, I would have left even sooner. Even back then, the party was perpetually mortified at the idea of seeming “too radical”, and almost lost party status as a result. Without the willingness to advance any policies too “progressive” for the Liberals (who lived by “campaign left, govern right”), they never managed to offer up a substantially different platform, at least until the Liberal party collapsed under the weight of it’s own success. The rise of the NDP was always tied to the Liberals’ fall from grace, but it remains to be seen whether it can survive a return.

Which leads me to the single biggest flaw in Mulcair’s plan…

His scheme worked. For entire hours yesterday, the NDP convention and it’s rejection of socialism was the biggest story in Canada. The mainstream media finally seemed convinced of their readiness to govern, and it began to look like he might actually have a shot at the Prime Minister’s seat. And then, in the flash, it was gone, as the day’s other big convention came to a close, officially crowning Justin Trudeau as heir to his father’s throne. With a fresh, young and untainted champion, centrist politics are no longer Mulcair’s exclusive domain.

If American politics are any judge, the allure of dynastic politics can be amazingly strong, even in “democracies”. If it worked for bumbling George W. Bush, there’s little doubt it will do wonders for Justin. He’s already been inspiring gossip for some time in the mainstream press, almost to the level of Prince William or Justin Bieber. I’ve avoided mentioning him here, so far, because I honestly hoped he’d go away. Now that it’s clear he won’t, a second wave of “Trudeaumania” can’t be far off.

This must be Mulcair’s worst nightmare. Against Harper, he probably would have won. Against the idol that is Trudeau, though, he risks quickly becoming the villain. His politics of pragmatism are the opposite of inspirational. Trudeau is reviving a disgraced party, Mulcair’s in the process of selling one out. He’s already alienated a considerable amount of the NDP’s traditional support base and established himself in exactly the same mildly-kinda-almost-centre-left territory Trudeau is likely to claim. After his many pro-business stances (pipelines, Mali, etc), there can be no going back, and only humiliation if he tries. There is every possibility that this will be a disaster for the party, but if so, it’ll be a well-deserved disaster.

The next election will put two Liberals in the ring with one Conservative. Because of the way our votes are counted, this puts pretty good odds on Harper from the outset. “Vote splitting” is a very real threat to campaigns thanks to Canada’s archaic election laws, and it’s going to play a huge role. It may even allow Harper another term.

Thanks Tommy.

Even as truly radical ideas have made a mainstream comeback for the first time in decades, there’s virtually no (large) parties in the industrialized world left which champion its aims. The anti-parliamentary bias of many recent protest movements doesn’t help, but politicians like Mulcair only vindicate these suspicions. The real left moved on from electoral politics a long time ago, as socialism and statism never mixed well.

I still have a lot of friends with the NDP. Solid labour and student organizers, and even that one area politician brave enough to attend my friends’ funerals (thanks, Dave). There’s a strong tradition of organizing there, and for all it’s failings, I’m most angry because I’m sad to see it go. Canada is bursting at the seams right now with anger at Harper, and it’s being all-but-ignored by the only party in an “official” position to speak out. Instead they’re playing politics and schmoozing. If this is what a promotion to “official opposition” means for the party, I have no desire to see what they’ll become if they ever reach power. The last thing we need is another party of business-friendly politicians that treats ideals like costume jewelery.

When the next election comes, don’t even bother to knock on my door. Don’t call me, and don’t dare drop anything in my mailbox. Stop showing up at our events and making statements like “the NDP is the only friend you have”, it only elicits laughter anyway. If you’re going to throw us under the bus in an attempt to get into “the in crowd”, don’t expect to be welcome back when you fail. We actually stand for something, and understand all too well that “winning” which comes at the expense of our principles isn’t “winning” at all.

GrrrrrrFederal NDP leader Thomas Mulcair has just announced his support for pipelines running toward Eastern Canada from Alberta’s Tar Sands. Speaking to the Canadian Club of Toronto at the Royal York, he spoke out in favour of an eastern path toward refineries in central Canada and the east which currently must pay higher prices for imported crude. These remarks show a shift in Mulcair and the NDP’s policies, who’ve generally opposed the Tar Sands until now, toward a position much friendlier to business and development.

This eastern route would include pipelines like Enbridge’s Line 9, currently in the process of reversal to handle these flows, which runs right through rural Hamilton and cuts across the province from Sarnia toward the St. Lawrence. It may also involve the repurposing of the a Transcanada gas pipeline. Much like southern or western options, it puts everything along its route at risk. Last year’s spill in Kalamazoo (along the route) showed these risks clearly, dumping “dilbit” (diluted bitumen) which brought about enormous damage to the surrounding environment and frightening health problems.

This choice is incredibly pragmatic on Mulcair’s part. Since western (Northern Gateway) and southern (Keystone XL) pipelines have become so controversial, a less contested route is needed if these exports are to grow as fast as planned. This has important implications for the NDP, who are expected to win provincial elections in BC next spring based largely on their opposition to pipelines and tankers. Mulcair also needs a way to back down on some of “Dutch Disease” comments which served him well as an Eastern politician but have earned him a lot of animosity in Alberta now that he’s a national leader. Supporting an eastern route allows him to play both sides, a strategy which is fast coming to define Mulcair.

I warned you about this guy. The direction he’s taking the NDP in looks far too much like a reincarnation of the failing Liberals than the party created by Tommy Douglas. This kind of casual, unprincipled opportunism defined the reign and fall of Mulcair’s old party, witnessed most recently with his old friend and colleague Jean Charest. While this may allow him a shot at the Prime Minister’s office (something any of Layton’s successors would have had), it also threatens to abandon the beliefs which founded and sustained the NDP. Like other “leftist” parties around the world, they’re deciding to take a dramatic rightward turn just as their populations take massive steps (and marches) in the other direction.

What electoral option does this position leave for the other eight provinces, who don’t want this awful black sludge running through their backyards any more than Mulcair’s friends in BC? This hypocrisy only further confirms the dead end that is parliamentary politics, in which a single sellout can leave millions without a voice at the ballot box. This is a big part of the reason why so many of the massive movements which have sprung up over the past few years, from Egypt to Greece to Zuccotti Park have been so openly hostile to any kind of party politics, and an excellent reason for them to continue on that path.

If a pipeline to the Pacific from Alberta is unacceptably dangerous, then pipelines to the Atlantic are simply insane. With hundreds of thousands of barrels of diluted bitumen flowing, it’s only a matter of time before something breaks. When that happens, what spills is far worse than ordinary crude oil, but more like a mix of road tar and napatha (zippo/camp fuel). All of this will be done in the name of expanding production of some of the world’s dirtiest oil. Mulcair’s support for this project is no surprise, but it is a disappointment. Resistance, though, will go on without him. We will stop this project with or without the NDP’s help, and if they don’t want to take part, then they’ll have to risk being left behind.

“Sell-out”, depending on who you talk to, it’s a slur or a sin, but not something anybody wants to be called, especially in any kind of radical circles. The term “sell-out” is a nasty one, either a slur or a sin depending on who you ask, so it’s with a heavy heart that I use it here. The wikipedia entry on “selling out” states this perfectly for the context and makes perfectly clear why the term applies perfectly.

In various political movements (usually communists and anarchists), a “sellout” is a person or group pretending to adhere to a genuinely pro-working class ideology, only to follow these claims up with actions directly contradicting them, often (whether actually or implicitly) supporting capitalism. Equally it could be utilised by supporters of parties for persons that subsequently formed coalitions with those they seemed to oppose, such as the Liberal Democrats’ leader Nick Clegg’s coalition with the Conservative Party in the United Kingdom.
“Selling Out” – Wikipedia

Defining “socialism” isn’t quite as easy. It’s a subject I’ve dealt with before, and one I’m sure will come up again (I hope…). Broadly defined, socialism refers to various ideas which seek to collectivize capital in the hands of “the people” – an incredibly wide range of ideas spanning two centuries and many ideologies (communism, anarchism, social democracy, market socialism etc). More specifically, in common usage, “socialist” has come to suggest something more moderate than “Communism” but more radical than progressives and liberals, though there’s lots of overlap. It’s an incredibly charged term which means about as much as a $10 “Rolex” from a New York street vendor, but then, so are most in politics.

Which socialists am I talking about? The socialist parties. All of them.

This isn’t to point a finger at millions of well-meaning members and supporters, but it’s time to stop pulling punches when it comes to their “leaders”. Too long has the rest of the left “looked the other way” when it came to the failings of our own parliamentarians, perhaps out of a naive hope that we might one day be among them. Even a quick skim of the world news over the last week shows a few too many examples. This isn’t just an issue of making concessions in tough times, these are fundamental ideological shifts which betray a growing set of structural problems.

In Canada, this is of course most visible within the NDP, our official social-democrats. In the race to succeed the late Jack Layton who made unprecedented gains in the last election, one figure stands out more than most: Thomas Mulcair. Perhaps most notorious for his support of Israeli militarism, he’s a former Quebec Liberal and seems to be gaining the support of many of Canada’s richest financial elites. like Anthony Munk (Barrick Gold) and Gerald W. Schwartz (Canwest, Onex). Given the near-demise of the Liberal Party over the past few elections, this kind of attention was to be expected, but as Mulcair leads in some polls, this does not bode well for the party.

To the south, Latin America has been witness to a grand experiment over the past decade. Led by the likes of Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and Evo Morales of Bolivia, or Rafel Correa in Ecuador, this “Bolivarian revolution” has now swept several countries. Chavez in particular has been extremely vocal in his opposition to American imperialism abroad and determined in his reforms at home. Looking closer, though, cracks have appeared. Indigenous regions in Bolivia have been rapidly losing faith after battling plans for a new highway cutting through their lands. In Ecuador, indigenous movements have lost patience over similar moves in favour of oil and mining development. Chavez himself has a much better reputation when it comes to the rights of poor and indigenous peoples, though this comes as a result of the gifts given by his “petroleum socialism”, which has in recent years nationalized oil companies and begun work on Venezuela’s colossal heavy oil (tar sands and oil shale) deposits and corresponding pipelines

Then there’s Europe, for years the shining example of prosperous and successful “Euro-Socialism”. Today, they lead the world more in embarrassing “Socialist” failures. There was the defeat of Spain’s Socialists last year, abandoned by a nationwide radical movement opposed to the austerity programs it attempted to impose. Then there’s Greece, still being torn apart by austerity programs pushed by the ruling PASOK (social-democrats) and paramilitary support from the KKE (parliamentary Communists) and PAME (militant communist unions) against raging protesters. This week in France, Socialists sided with Sarkozy’s plans for Roma (“gypsy”) internment camps, perhaps the single most terrifying example here. Across the continent the ETUC (European Trade Union Confederation) is catching heat for their complicity in the austerity programs. And what can be said of Britain? As the above-quoted Wikipedia entry states, Nick Clegg has pretty much come to define “sell-out”.

I could list other regions, or examples from these. China’s communists would be an obvious choice, Nepal’s (former) Maoists or Cuba’s post-Castro reforms. America, of course, doesn’t really have a socialist movement (at least, not one in any position to “sell out”) and there’s really never been anything “socialist” about Obama (no matter how much he might have sold out).

There is an undeniable pattern here. It isn’t just a trend toward making concessions on economic issues in “tough times” – the social aspects of these trends, especially against Roma, indigenous or Palestinian people are utterly atrocious. The environmental implications are terrifying (particularly from Mulcair or the “Bolivarians”). In this context, the international drive toward austerity measures certainly isn’t surprising (though disappointing), it fits perfectly. While these leftist parties might have been the last line in defense against this international agenda, it’s fairly clear that they’re far more interested in their status as political parties than any alleged “leftist” beliefs.

I write this not to lament the death of the parliamentary socialist movement, but to issue a warning to those just beginning. As those involved with the Occupy movement and others like it debate whether to get involved in parliamentary parties or start their own, it’s important to take a look decades, even centuries down the road. Problems like these can’t arise without a tremendous amount of support and success. To sell out, you must have something worth buying, and that takes time to build. The size and clout of parties like the NDP set a tempting example for those groups and movements just starting out, and it’s only human to assume that one’s noble ideas or nature will prevent the same mistakes.

Political parties are traditionally viewed as an “evolution” of movements and struggles, out of the precarious world or direct action and grassroots organizing. Examples like these call into question whether that’s really the case. Can “change” really happen because a new group of leaders implement a new set of policies? Or are the those who attempt it more likely, in the end, to be changed themselves?

The word “socialist” is getting a lot of press these days. This past weekend, it captured national attention after a big debate at the NDP’s national convention in Vancouver. It seems many wanted to remove the term from the party’s official constitution, to give the party a more moderate image and hope to attract voters. The convention voted otherwise, and so for now, they’re still “socialists”. Since the NDP’s stunning win of over a hundred seats in the recent Federal Election, this was probably inevitable, but it does raise a lot of questions.

As long as I can remember, the moderate left has been possessed with a kind of paranoia about not being seen as “moderate enough”. This kind of fear kept the NDP in the shadow of the Liberals for years, as they simply copied out all the best parts of the NDP’s (watered down) platform. This gave the NDP the illusion of being next to useless – why vote for them when the Liberals are promising all the same things, and might actually win? The NDP’s recent success has as much to do with the implosion of the Liberals as it does with the (very real) leftward shift of Canadian opinion, and Layton knows it.

This is a big part of the reason I haven’t worked with the NDP in a very long time. Not only is this strategy self-defeating, it borders on outright dishonesty. And the ultimate result, either way, is that nobody on the “organized left” is willing to actually argue a “leftist” position. When this happens, centrists and “right-wingers” win by default, and the population at large is left without any radical alternative.

The next part of the story comes from Europe, where established “Socialist” parties are taking a beating. In Spain and Portugal, ruling Socialists have lost recent elections over the outright disgust of Spanish society over their handling of austerity measures, whom either voted Conservative (Spain) and Centrist (Protugal) or refused to vote and took to the streets and squares instead.

What does “Socialism” mean when a ruling Socialist party is willing to push austerity cuts on the population on the behalf of EU and IMF? Not a whole lot. And despite the very clear dislike of capitalism present in the new wave of European radicalism (particularly in Spain), not a whole lot of it is using the “S-word”.

The final part of this story comes from our neighbours to the south, the Americans. We’re all familiar with the culture of red-baiting, and absolutely over-use of terms like “socialist” (eg. “Obama is a socialist”). In spite of all this, a recent poll of Americans showed that even if you use the dreaded s-word, a surprising number are all for it. Only 53% of Americans believe capitalism is “the best system”, about half that are unsure, and about 20% said socialism. Among young people, it’s nearly even, with 37% saying capitalism, 33% socialist and 30% undecided. Pretty startling numbers if you believe Fox and CNN reflect “America”.

Since Reagan, Republicans and others have repeatedly attacked many parts of “the government” – schools, public services, health care etc – as essentially “socialist”. Unfortunately for them, those are the parts of the government that people actually like and tend to rely on. The predictable backlash has been that people really aren’t all that scared of the idea anymore, especially if the alternative is Reagan-style “big government” (more cops, prisons, armies and corporations).

Like so many other terms in modern politics, “socialism” has been used and abused to the point of meaning almost nothing. The 20th century left socialists with a legacy of failure in nearly every arena of statecraft – from the autocrats of China and Russia to moderates of the west. And while there’s clearly a demand for an alternative to capitalism, socialism in general seems far less clearly defined than it did a century ago.

If there’s a future for socialism, it’s going to have to be a lot more grassroots. The dream of a workers’ state has proved absolutely unworkable in nearly every form. With all the general strikes and popular uprisings in the last year, there hasn’t been much in the way of a “party” rising to lead, especially a socialist one. Perhaps, though, with the death of the (dreadful) notion of a governing party which can make all our dreams come true, the actual issue of workers controlling production can be discussed.

If the word “socialism” won’t do, how about syndicalism? Or mutualism? “Economic democracy”? Open-source? Autonomist Marxism? Or (gasp) anarchism? What does it take to get a serious discussion of an economy that isn’t run by government bureaucracies or investors and profiteers? We’ll probably never again be able to use the term “Soviet” (worker’s council), and if many corporations get their way the term “co-operative” will become just as tainted. Whatever words we use, it’s that idea that matters.

Liberty without socialism is privilege, injustice; socialism without liberty is slavery and brutality.” – Mikhail Bakunin (Marx’s famous anarchist adversary)

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