Spartacist Canada No. 148
For Class Struggle Against Capitalist Reaction!
NDP in Bed With Bosses' Parties
Down With Anglo Chauvinism--Independence for Quebec!
After ousting the scandal-ridden Liberals in the January 23 federal election, Stephen Harpers new Conservative government is preparing to escalate the attacks of the capitalist ruling class on workers, women, minorities and the poor. Among the first items on the Tories agenda are canceling the national childcare program, ramping up law and order racism against black youth and moving to overturn legal gay marriage. More broadly, they aim to make Canadian capitalism more competitive by further savaging the working class and dismantling social programs, notably medicare.
The Tory cabinet is full of hard-right ideologues including veterans of the former Ontario Conservative regime of Mike Harris, whose slash-and-burn onslaught on social services devastated the lives of hundreds of thousands. Harpers caucus is also rife with religious reactionaries who think homosexuality is a plot to destroy the traditional family and that the Christian bible contains the last word in science. The Tories promise to align Canadas foreign and security policies even more tightly to the U.S.s neocolonial military adventures and repressive war on terror. And behind their claimed new openness to Quebec—a pitch for so-called soft nationalists that produced a few Tory seats in the province—stands an ultra-hard line against Quebecs democratic right to self-determination.
Harpers Conservatives won only a narrow minority, having failed yet again to expand from their largely rural/small-town base into the main urban centers (not one Tory was elected in Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver). But the idea that the Tories are uniquely reactionary, or that their attacks can be thrown back by looking to the NDP social democrats—or, worse yet, the Liberals—is a fantasy. For the last 13 years, a series of Liberal governments carried out the most sustained attacks on workers and the poor in postwar Canadian history. They looted more than $40 billion from the Employment Insurance fund to fight the deficit, i.e., pay off the Bay Street bankers. They presided over the destruction of hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs, 200,000 of them in the last three years. Canadas vaunted prosperity—which rests heavily on booming Western resource industries, notably Albertas oil sands—masks a vast, growing gap between rich and poor.
As for the NDP, whenever they have ruled provincially, they have enforced the savage dictates of the capitalist profit system. Workers still remember with bitterness the wage-slashing, anti-union attacks of Bob Raes Ontario NDP regime. In B.C., the NDP cut social programs, whipped up anti-immigrant hysteria and brought down massive state repression at Gustafsen Lake against Native people struggling to assert their rights. Paul Martins Liberal government only made it through its last year thanks to support from the federal NDP, which backed a Liberal budget centered on nearly $13 billion in new military spending. Not surprisingly, the NDPs election campaign was the most overtly right wing in its history (which takes some doing!). Party leader Jack Layton echoed the Tories racist anti-crime diatribes, pushed fiscal responsibility and openly endorsed the anti-Quebec Clarity Act. There was no basis for workers and oppressed minorities to give the NDP even the most savagely critical support this election.
It is the class struggle, not parliamentary maneuverings, that will determine whether the Tories are able to continue and deepen the Liberal attacks. Thanks to its central role in production—in the factories, resource industries, transport systems—the working class uniquely has the social power to lead successful struggle against the ruling-class onslaught. Across the country, there is great anger at these attacks, and an evident will to struggle. This was shown in class battles from the summer 2005 Vancouver port truckers strike (which cost the capitalists $75 million a day), to the illegal two-week B.C. teachers strike last fall, to the one-day city- and province-wide general strikes in Quebec and B.C. over the last two years.
But the labour movements ability to fight for its interests and those of all the oppressed is hamstrung by a leadership that ties workers to the so-called national interests of capitalist Canada and promotes the NDP and even the Liberals as progressive. The working class must come to the political understanding that it has interests that are separate from and counterposed to those of the capitalist exploiters. Successful defense of the workers gains, social programs and the rights of the oppressed hinges on the fight for a new working-class leadership, one that is prepared to unleash labours social power as part of a struggle against the entire capitalist system.
Quebec: Empty Promises and Chauvinist Threats
The protracted crisis of Canadian unity—the Quebec national question—was the key underlying issue in the election. The Liberal government fell thanks to its sponsorship scandal, which lined the pockets of party operatives in Quebec and widely discredited pro-Canada federalism there. But while the Liberals were reduced to a rump, mainly in heavily anglophone parts of Montreal, the Tories surprising (even to them) surge in eastern Quebec meant the bourgeois nationalist Bloc Québécois did a bit worse than expected, losing three seats.
This has led gleeful English Canadian pundits to proclaim, again, that separatism has suffered a body blow. Hardly. The Bloc won a majority of Quebec seats for the fifth straight time—this time, nearly 70 percent—and polls continue to show support for sovereignty hovering near 50 percent. An article in the London Guardian (6 February) titled Quebec Holds Key to Harpers Future noted how the Tory leader won power after promising more autonomy and money for the predominantly French-speaking province. Whether he is able to deliver, it added, could influence how long he remains prime minister, and whether the country breaks up on his watch.
Quebec is a nation with its own language and culture and an increasingly distinct political economy. Ever since the social struggles of the 1960s broke the hold of the Catholic Church and created a modern, self-confident francophone society, its development has been sharply away from integration into English-dominated Canada. Over the same period there has been a clear if uneven rise in support for political independence, especially among the working class. At every step, the English Canadian labour leaders—and especially the NDP—have joined with the Tories and Liberals to promote reactionary Canadian unity. In enacting the Clarity Act six years ago, Ottawa formally declared that it will not recognize Quebecs elementary right to determine its own future, including by a democratic referendum.
The chauvinism that dominates in English Canada has divided the working class on national lines, severely damaging prospects for united struggle against the exploiters. The Maple Leaf nationalism of the central labour bureaucracy ties English Canadian workers to their own capitalists, and has driven the more militant Québécois working class deeper into the arms of its bourgeois nationalist would-be rulers, represented by the Bloc and Parti Québécois. As consistent fighters against national oppression, Marxists advocate independence for Quebec. This would create conditions for the workers in both nations to see that the enemy is not the French or les anglais, but their own national capitalists—an understanding that is crucial for anti-capitalist class struggle.
The Tories latest plan to solve the national question by pledging decentralized autonomy, as well as standing for Quebec on international bodies like UNESCO, will be no more successful than the multiple other schemes pushed by governments in Ottawa over the years. These have ranged from naked repression—the military occupation of Montreal under the War Measures Act, ordered by Pierre Trudeaus Liberal government in 1970—to attempts at co-optation, notably the constitutional maneuvers of Brian Mulroneys Progressive Conservative (PC) regime in the 1980s and early 90s.
At the time, even Parti Québécois founder René Lévesque called to take the beau risque of abandoning independence and backing Mulroneys call for special status for Quebec. But the governments plans, codified in the Meech Lake accord, collapsed amid a chauvinist anti-Quebec uproar, especially strong in Western Canada. Mulroneys PC party imploded, with its Western base rallying to the new, right-wing Reform Party (for which Harper was an early ideologue), while most of the Quebec wing split to form the Bloc Québécois. Ever since, Reform—later renamed the Canadian Alliance and now, after swallowing the PC remnants, the Conservative Party—has electorally dominated the West, while the Bloc is entrenched as the main Quebec party in the federal parliament.
The Blocs slight decline this election masked two distinct developments. The Tories autonomy gambit won them some former Bloc seats in Quebec City and rural areas of eastern Quebec. These include the stomping grounds of the right-wing nationalist Créditiste party in the 1960s and 70s, and more recently of Mario Dumonts provincial Action Démocratique du Québec (ADQ). The ADQ called for a Yes vote in the 1995 sovereignty referendum but now, like Harper, pushes decentralization of powers to the provincial level combined with hard-line economic austerity.
At the same time, the Bloc took seats from the Liberals in heavily immigrant areas of Montreal, including the downtown riding of Papineau where a Bloc candidate of Haitian origin beat the Liberal foreign minister. This is a notable breakthrough for the Bloc and PQ, who have long sought to shed their deserved image as anti-immigrant bigots, symbolized by ex-premier Jacques Parizeaus rant against the ethnic vote after narrowly losing the 1995 referendum. After three decades of provincial legislation promoting French as the main language of work and restricting access to English schools, Quebec immigrants now overwhelmingly integrate into the dominant francophone society. Polls show a sharp increase in support for sovereignty among second- and third-generation immigrants.
The Liberals and Tories will now compete to cohere a viable pro-Canada alternative to the Bloc and PQ. With a Quebec election likely next year, the very unpopular provincial Liberal regime could well be ousted by the PQ, leading to a possible third referendum by the end of the decade. The stick to the Tories autonomy carrot is a threat to declare such a referendum illegal, in line with the Clarity Act. Globe and Mail (25 January) columnist John Ibbitson outlined the new Tory policy and its risks for the rulers in Ottawa:
A Harper government would not recognize a Yes vote, regardless of the size of the majority. It would refuse to enter into sovereignty negotiations with the Quebec government, and if compelled to enter those negotiations—by the Supreme Court, say—it would not accept sovereignty as a possible outcome.
Ibbitson warns that such an extreme position could deliver a Yes vote in the next referendum, followed by a unilateral declaration of independence, and even raises the spectre of Harpers obduracy leading to civil war.
While the Tory leader cynically claims to be reaching out to Quebec, his caucus is full of unreconstructed Western yahoos who cut their political teeth in campaigns against bilingualism and special status for Quebec. Harpers newly appointed parliamentary secretary for official languages and la Francophonie is a unilingual anglophone from Alberta! However matters play out immediately, yet another crisis of Canadian unity is a political certainty. The national question can only be removed from the agenda and the crucial class questions brought to the fore if the proletariat of English Canada firmly upholds the rights of the oppressed nation and champions the call for Quebec independence.
NDP, Labour Bureaucracy and the Reformist Left
The New Democrats flagrantly right-wing and Anglo-chauvinist campaign, on top of its recent history of propping up the Liberal government, did not stop the reformist left from once again calling on workers to vote NDP. In a statement titled Elect an NDP Government! Fight for a Workers Agenda!, Socialist Action made the absurd claim that an NDP government has the potential to open the road to social change by removing the levers of government from the parties of big business. The International Socialists (I.S.) were marginally more critical, writing that Workers in English Canada and in Quebec should hold their collective noses and vote for the NDP on January 23, while calling to build the mass movements which are the foundation of real political change—and real democracy (Socialist Worker, 14 January).
The NDP is a bourgeois workers party—a party that has an organic base in the labour movement but upholds and enforces the dictates of capital. Real political change, let alone removing the levers of government from the capitalists, will not come through putting more New Democrats in the bourgeois parliament, or by building an amorphous movement for real democracy. It requires ending the rule of the capitalist exploiters and their state through a socialist revolution. That, in turn, requires forging a genuine workers party—a revolutionary party rooted in the Marxist understanding of the class struggle and built through breaking the working class from pro-capitalist social democracy.
The NDPs modest increase in seats (to 29) mainly came in heavily unionized parts of urban Ontario and B.C., like the steel city of Hamilton where they swept all three ridings. This was no thanks to Buzz Hargrove, leader of the CAW auto union, who publicly backed the outright capitalist Liberals in order to stop the Tories. In one infamous photo-op, Hargrove campaigned on behalf of Liberal cabinet minister Belinda Stronach, whose family owns the notoriously anti-union Magna auto company. Telling auto workers, who have recently lost tens of thousands of jobs, that they can advance their interests by electing anti-union auto bosses to parliament is a truly grotesque instance of class collaboration.
Most of the labour bureaucracy opposed Hargroves stance, though in the end the difference was more posture than substance. The CAW president did call for votes to the NDP in a few dozen winnable seats; his crime was to be flagrant (and rather bumptious) about what has long been the not-so-secret maximum goal of the NDP and their top labour allies: to win enough seats to act as an effective pressure group on a Liberal government. This is precisely what the NDP did in propping up the last Liberal regime. Having fallen short this time, and with Harper emerging on top, Layton now talks of backing the Tories on issues where they have common objectives. This would notably include the racist war on crime and chauvinist Canadian unity campaigns against Quebec.
While calling to back the NDP, the I.S. complained that party leader Layton has lowered his credibility in the anti-war movement (Socialist Worker, 19 November 2005). It was these reformist leftists who built up this phony credibility in the first place. During the build-up to the U.S. attack on Iraq, the I.S. buffed up the NDPs phony posture as the party of peace, even as the New Democrats called for a United Nations force including Canadian troops to be sent to Iraq. After backing the huge hike in military spending in last summers budget, Layton hailed Armed Forces chief Rick Helliers rant about unleashing the Canadian army to kill detestable murderers and scumbags in Afghanistan. Nor has the NDP leader breathed a word against Canadas role in the brutal military occupation of Haiti. All Canadian troops and cops out of Haiti and Afghanistan, now!
With the Bush administration so unpopular in Canada, the Liberals played up their opposition to U.S. policies in Iraq during the election, claiming that a Harper government would act as Washingtons lapdog. At a fundamental level, the Liberals anti-U.S. posturing was smoke and mirrors. Under their rule Ottawa was, as ever, a loyal junior partner of U.S. imperialism. The Liberal government formally opposed the attack on Iraq because it feared that the massive antiwar sentiment in Quebec would lead to a surge in support for independence. Nonetheless, Canada did more to aid the U.S. war effort than most countries that officially signed on to Bushs coalition of the willing. Canadian patrol aircraft helped guide U.S. troop carriers in the Gulf, while Canadian officers attached to U.S. Central Command were directly involved in planning the attack.
At another level, however, Washington was clearly irked by the Liberals posturing, and insofar as anyone in the U.S. administration gives a moments thought to Canada they are clearly glad to see the back of the Martin gang. Harper will seek better relations with the U.S., perhaps by formally signing on to the continental missile defense program, though he claims to have no intention of sending troops to help the occupation of Iraq. It certainly didnt help the Tories attempt to sell the Bush administration in Canada when, a few days after the election, American troops shot up a car carrying the Canadian chargé daffaires inside Baghdads U.S.-controlled Green Zone.
For a Revolutionary Workers Party That Fights for All the Oppressed!
With a very right-wing Tory regime in Ottawa, we can anticipate a surge of class-collaborationist fight the right rhetoric from the labour tops, echoed by the fake leftists who tail them. Given the sharply different national terrains and fractures in the labour bureaucracy, fight the right will variously translate into more or less open support for the NDP, the Liberals, the Bloc/PQ or Québec Solidaire, the new left-nationalist party launched at a Montreal conference in early February (see article on opposite page).
All these options are dead ends. We Trotskyists seek to win workers and oppressed minorities to the understanding that the capitalist system is inherently irrational and unjust, enriching the owners of industry and commerce while condemning to poverty the vast majority of mankind. The only way to smash the all-sided assault on social programs, to assure free, quality medical care, childcare and jobs and a decent living standard for all, to end the neocolonial pillage of the Third World, is by ripping the means of production from the hands of the capitalist class and putting them in the hands of those whose labour makes society run. A collectivized economy with centralized planning where production is for human need, not profit: that is the real solution for the working people.
Unity with the parties of the oppressors, or with their social-democratic political agents, is the road to defeat. In the course of the coming struggles the advanced elements of the working class must take up the fight for a Marxist workers party that can unite the many victims of this exploitative system—women, immigrants, Native people, the Québécois—behind the social power of the proletariat, in the fight for socialist revolution. That is the perspective of the Trotskyist League/Ligue trotskyste. Join us in this struggle!