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Spartacist Canada No. 159

Winter 2008/2009

NDP: Prop for Canadian Capitalism

Layton’s Little Drummer Boys

On the left fringes of Canadian social democracy are groups that occasionally pepper their political programs and declarations with references to Marxism, the ideology of proletarian revolution. The true character of these outfits is revealed by their loyalty to the pro-imperialist New Democratic Party. This was on full display in the fall 2008 federal election campaign.

Against the illusions in parliamentary reformism peddled by the International Socialists (I.S.), Fightback and other fake-socialists, the Trotskyist League/Ligue trotskyste fights to win the working class and the oppressed away from pro-capitalist social democracy and to the perspective of socialist revolution. As such, we said there was no party that merited the slightest support from working people in the election.

What choices did Canada’s hallowed system of capitalist democracy offer? The Conservatives, the Liberals and their small-time partner, the Greens, are all parties of the bourgeoisie in English Canada; the Bloc Québécois is a party of the bourgeoisie of the oppressed nation of Quebec. The class that these parties represent lives off the proceeds of exploiting wage labour. It is the most bitter and direct enemy of the oppressed. Under no circumstances do workers stand to gain by offering political support to bourgeois parties.

Then there is the NDP, which Marxists call a bourgeois workers party. It is linked to the trade unions through the labour bureaucracy, but has the thoroughly bourgeois program of social democracy, i.e., the maintenance of the present system, often packaged in rhetoric about reforms and “social justice.”

Announcing that he was applying for prime minister Stephen Harper’s job, NDP leader Jack Layton campaigned for “tough action on crime, gangs, and guns” including “at least 2,500 new police officers on the streets.” That means increased violence by the thugs in blue against black and South Asian youth, already viciously exploited or left unemployed by this decaying capitalist system. Under Layton’s leadership, the New Democrats voted for the 2005 Liberal government budget, which included $13 billion of new military spending centered on intensifying the imperialist occupation of Afghanistan. The NDP’s subsequent call to end Canadian participation in this brutal occupation is based entirely on protecting the imperialist military, not its victims. In any event, Layton kept all but mute on the question of Afghanistan during the election.

The fake-socialists perennially urge workers and leftist-minded youth to back the NDP. But there was utterly no reason for the working class to accord the NDP social democrats a shred of support in this election. This is underscored by the fact that the NDP is now making preparations for forming a governing coalition with the Liberals should the minority Tory government fall.

A few candidates from the remnants of Canadian Stalinism, the Communist Party (CP) and the Communist Party of Canada (Marxist-Leninist) (CPC[ML]), also ran in the election. The CP’s call to “Defeat the Harper Tories” amounted to electioneering for the NDP as well as the bourgeois Liberals, Greens and Bloc. CPC(ML), which ran as the “Marxist-Leninist Party,” waged a bizarre campaign to embellish parliament with “powerful committees for democratic renewal.” Neither of these small-time reformists drew even a crude class line against the bourgeoisie; neither merited even the most critical support.

The Fraud of Bourgeois Democracy

“To decide once every few years which member of the ruling class is to repress and crush the people through parliament—this is the real essence of bourgeois parliamentarism,” said Bolshevik leader V.I. Lenin in 1917. The 2008 election was a contest to determine who would administer the capitalist state, which consists at its core of armed bodies of men such as police, soldiers and prison guards, who are wielded to defend private ownership of the means of production. Any party, irrespective of its social composition or formal program, that administers the existing state does so necessarily as a bourgeois government. Democracy under capitalism is democracy only for the bourgeoisie. It is a dictatorship of capital.

Following the defeat of the 1871 Paris Commune, the first genuine workers government, Karl Marx drew the lesson that “the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery, and wield it for its own purposes.” He and Friedrich Engels reasserted this in their 1872 preface to the Communist Manifesto. The working class must smash or break up the state machinery of the bourgeoisie and replace it with a state of its own, a dictatorship of the proletariat. The entire experience of the workers movement has confirmed this basic truth. The high point of this experience came in Russia in 1917 when the forces of genuine Marxism, the Bolshevik Party of Lenin and Trotsky, successfully won the working class away from the reformist social democrats of their day and led the world’s first socialist revolution.

Layton’s Camp Followers

In this election, as always, the Fightback group campaigned for the NDP under the watchwords, “NDP to Power on a Socialist Program.” While calling on the New Democrats to adopt “socialist policies,” Fightback’s September 8 election statement had not one word to say about the need for socialist revolution, the overthrow of the capitalist state, or even the independent mobilization of the working class.

Administering the existing Canadian state is not and cannot be a “socialist program.” It is a program to uphold capitalism with the possible assistance of piecemeal reforms to mollify the workers. Wherever the NDP has taken power, it has administered capitalism with a vengeance. In Ontario, the New Democrats jailed striking postal workers. In B.C., they called for the detention of all refugee claimants and oversaw a massive military operation against Native protesters at Gustafsen Lake.

In the mid 1980s, Fightback’s British parent group got the chance to implement its “socialist program” when it controlled the city council in Liverpool. At one point, these “socialist” bosses threatened to lay off the entire 30,000-strong city workforce, claiming this was a “tactic” to deal with a budget crunch imposed by the central Tory government!

Fightback claims to be a “Marxist Voice of Labour and Youth.” But who could believe this, given their track record, so flatly counterposed to the core Marxist understanding that “the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery and wield it for its own purposes”?

The I.S. writes in the “Where we stand” column of its paper Socialist Worker: “The present system cannot be fixed or reformed as NDP and many trade union leaders say. It has to be overthrown.” Yet Socialist Worker calls to vote NDP, “not because of its platform or its record in office, but because of the relationship between the NDP and the trade union movement” (6 October). By this logic, NDP strikebreakers and supporters of the imperialist military, the worst traitors to the working class, must anywhere and everywhere be supported because of their parasitic relationship to the unions. Thus, the support the I.S. gives the New Democrats is (and always has been) unconditional. This is a program to further entrench the agents of the bourgeoisie in the workers movement, who from their positions of power will do all they can to stymie the goal—so cynically claimed by the I.S.—of overthrowing the present system.

The bottom line for Fightback, the I.S. et al. is opportunist adaptation to one or another pro-capitalist current, whether social-democratic or even openly bourgeois. Both have called to vote for the capitalist Greens in the U.S. Fightback’s co-thinkers in the International Marxist Tendency actually belong to bourgeois parties, from the state-sponsored United Socialist Party of Venezuela to the Pakistan Peoples Party and more. This is counterposed to the ABCs of Marxism, which is rooted in the class independence of the proletariat from its enemies.

Anglo Chauvinism, Quebec and the Elections

Harper’s scheme of courting Quebec nationalists (including by muzzling the anti-French yahoos in his own party) failed to translate into electoral advances there, consigning the Tories to another minority government. Even though active agitation for independence in Quebec is presently at a low ebb, the sovereignist Bloc won a majority of Quebec seats for the sixth straight election since the party was founded. This shows once again how the national question—the forcible retention of Quebec within a “united,” English-dominated Canada—remains the decisive issue of Canadian politics.

The NDP ties workers in English Canada to their own rulers by pushing “national unity” chauvinism against Quebec. Layton has reaffirmed the party’s support to the Clarity Act, a law effectively outlawing Quebec’s democratic right to self-determination, i.e., to independence. The NDP is rightly reviled by Québécois workers, who in their overwhelming majority support the bourgeois-nationalist Bloc and Parti Québécois. Recognizing that the working class is deeply divided on national lines and that this is a major barrier to proletarian class struggle, the Trotskyist League/Ligue trotskyste advocates independence for Quebec. We do this both to fight the dominant Anglo chauvinism, and because it is the means to make clear to the workers of both nations that their enemies are their own respective capitalists, not each other.

Viewing the world through the same lens as its own bourgeoisie, the reformist left in English Canada overwhelmingly places itself in the camp of Anglo chauvinism. While calling for the record for Quebec’s right to self-determination, Fightback denies this in practice by opposing independence and centering its fire against what it calls the “capitalist separatists.”

Even more flagrant is the Bolshevik Tendency (BT), which actually issued a statement (in English only) calling on Quebec workers to vote No in the 1995 sovereignty referendum. The BT was even officially invited to a mass “Canadian unity” rally organized by business groups in Montreal on the eve of the referendum, and when their only Québécois member quit he protested their “de facto bloc with the Canadian bourgeoisie.”

This is bred in the bone for this outfit. On October 8, BT honcho Tom Riley gave a public presentation, “On the U.S. & Canadian Elections,” which is available in text on their website. Riley managed to avoid mentioning Quebec even once! The English Canadian bourgeoisie, which has been pulling its hair out over electoral strategy vis-à-vis Quebec, would only relish the BT’s Anglo-chauvinist delusion of a Canadian election in which the Quebec national question did not matter at all.

While adapting to chauvinism in English Canada, in Quebec the reformist left for the most part tails bourgeois nationalism. The small Quebec wings of Fightback and the I.S. have liquidated into the populist, left-nationalist Québec Solidaire (QS), as have various other social-democratic outfits. While QS presents itself as a left alternative to the PQ, its declaration of principles does not even pay lip service to the class struggle, let alone to socialism.

Because QS has no federal affiliate, its members debated whether to vote for the Bloc or the NDP or abstain in the recent federal election. Intervening in this debate, Fightback says socialists in Quebec should not only support but join and build the NDP. This amounts to a call on Québécois workers to march behind the opponents of Quebec’s national rights. As for the I.S., while their French-language paper Résistance has supported the call for Quebec sovereignty, they most assuredly do not raise this in the English-language Socialist Worker—an overt capitulation to their Anglo-chauvinist NDP big brothers.

We fight to break workers and the oppressed from the deadening grip of social democracy—and in Quebec from bourgeois nationalism—in order to build a revolutionary workers party that fights for workers rule throughout North America. The only way to smash the all-sided assault on social programs, to assure free quality medical care, childcare and jobs and decent living standards 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. As we wrote shortly after the Harper Tories first came to power in 2006:

“‘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.”

—“For Class Struggle Against Capitalist Reaction!” SC No. 148, Spring 2006

Spartacist Canada No. 159

SC 159

Winter 2008/2009


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NDP: Prop for Canadian Capitalism

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