Spartacist Canada No. 160

Spring 2009


NDP, Union Tops Preach "Sacrifice"

Capitalist Crisis Destroys Workers' Lives

For a Class-Struggle Workers Party!

As it spreads and deepens, the capitalist economic crisis is immiserating hundreds of millions worldwide. Here in Canada, unemployment soared by 129,000 in January alone, the equivalent of over 1.5 million job losses in a year. Most job cuts were in manufacturing, already ravaged by years of plant closures and mass layoffs. From the hollowed-out industrial centers of Southern Ontario to mines and mills in B.C. and the once-booming Alberta oil industry, the capitalist rulers are making working people pay for the crisis of a bankrupt social system.

While doling out billions more in tax cuts and subsidies to big business, the January 27 federal budget continued the onslaught against workers and the poor. The Tory government imposed wage controls on federal public sector workers, gutted pay equity for women workers and refused to extend access to Employment Insurance payments. Only 40 percent of those without work are even eligible for the meager benefits, even as successive Liberal and Tory regimes have looted the EI fund of a staggering $54 billion.

Some vague talk by the Tories about a “fiscal stimulus” was enough for Michael Ignatieff’s Liberals to endorse the budget, marking an end to the Liberal-NDP coalition that threatened to bring down the government in December. As we explained in a Spartacist Canada supplement published that month, the Liberal-NDP coalition was “an enemy of the interests of the working class,” dedicated to maintaining capitalist exploitation at home and imperialist oppression abroad, notably in Afghanistan.

In a recent speech to the Toronto Board of Trade, NDP leader Jack Layton called on workers to have the “courage” to “take a pay cut so your friends at the plant can keep their job” (Toronto Star, 23 January). Leaders of the Canadian Auto Workers have agreed to reopen contracts with the auto companies, who are demanding massive givebacks in wages and benefits. Meanwhile, the Canadian Labour Congress bureaucracy is campaigning for a “National Summit of labour, business and community leaders.” According to CLC president Ken Georgetti, “We need an economy that values a healthy private sector and a vibrant public sector working together for the benefit of all” (10 February statement). The NDP and labour bureaucrats push reactionary nationalism—defense of Canadian industry against rivals abroad—thereby further tying the working class to the interests of their exploiters and oppressors.

Taking on the attacks of the capitalist ruling class requires a thoroughgoing break with this class-collaborationist perspective, and the forging of a new leadership of the working class committed to the fight to sweep away capitalist class rule. We reprint below the SC supplement, first published on 22 December 2008.

Liberal-NDP Coalition: Tool of the Bosses

Down With Anglo Chauvinism—Independence for Quebec!

The formation of the Liberal-NDP parliamentary coalition in early December was greeted with elation by the trade-union bureaucracy and most of the reformist left. The Canadian Labour Congress built rallies across the country with Canadian flags and signs reading “Coalition Yes—Make Parliament Work.” Joining the rallies with calls to “Dump Harper,” the International Socialists (I.S.) cheered, “This is an incredibly exciting moment. It shows how quickly an economic crisis can create a political crisis that can potentially sweep away the Tories” (Socialist Worker supplement, 6 December). The Communist Party (CP) called to “drive the far-right Harper Tory gang out of office, and replace it with a coalition government” (People’s Voice, 1-31 December).

Far from being a step forward, the Liberal-NDP coalition is an enemy of the interests of the working class. The Liberal Party has been the main party of capitalist rule in Canada for more than a century. During the 1990s and the early part of this decade, the Chrétien and Martin Liberal governments carried out the most sweeping assaults on social programs in Canadian history. For its part, the NDP is what Marxists call a bourgeois workers party. While linked to the unions via the labour bureaucracy, it has a thoroughly pro-capitalist program of maintaining the present system, sometimes packaged in “social justice” rhetoric. The New Democrats have regularly propped up federal Liberal governments—most recently the Martin regime in 2005—and whenever they rule on their own provincially, they administer capitalism with a vengeance. In Ontario, the NDP imposed across-the-board pay cuts on government workers; in B.C., they sent the army and police against Native protesters.

Now NDP leader Jack Layton is salivating at the prospect of seats in a Liberal-run federal cabinet. The coalition parties’ pledge of “fiscal responsibility” means resolving the economic crisis on the backs of the working class. Their promise to keep Canadian troops in Afghanistan until 2011 means continued enforcement of the brutal neocolonial occupation in that country. Capitalist exploitation at home, imperialist brigandage abroad: that is what the Liberal-NDP pact offers working people! Indeed, the installation of a “progressive” government backed by the union bureaucracy could well make it easier for the capitalists to implement sweeping attacks on the workers and poor than under a right-wing ideologue like Harper. As Marxists who fight for the class independence of the workers from the capitalists and their parties, we oppose on principle the Liberal-NDP alliance.

The current deep international economic crisis, putting at risk the livelihoods of hundreds of millions, testifies to the bankruptcy of a social system based on private ownership of the productive forces and savage exploitation of the working class. Over 70,000 jobs were axed in Canada in November alone, on top of the nearly 400,000 manufacturing and forestry jobs eliminated in the last six years. Some $100 billion in retirement funds have been wiped out in the last nine months. Social programs are starved of funds or looted like EI, even as Ottawa gives tens of billions of dollars to bail out the Bay Street bankers.

A successful fight against this ruinous social system requires a leadership that understands that the interests of the working class and the capitalist class are counterposed and irreconcilable. What is needed is a class-struggle workers party committed to smashing capitalist rule and instituting a rationally planned, socialist economy based on meeting human needs, not private profit. Such a party can only be built through political struggle against the social-democratic NDP and union tops, whose quest for “partnership” between labour and capital has shackled the workers to the enemy class and sapped their fighting power. The result has been an assault on living standards and the wholesale destruction of unionized jobs, while the capitalists “divide and rule” by whipping up chauvinism against the Québécois and racism against immigrants and other ethnic minorities.

A Wave of Bigotry Against Quebec

The parliamentary crisis brought the Quebec national question—the subjugation of the francophone Québécois in a “united,” Anglo-dominated Canada—back to political center stage. Gone was the Tories’ earlier cynical claim to be Quebec’s “true nationalists,” designed to garner votes there in the October federal election. Instead, Harper sought to salvage his minority government through a furious chauvinist campaign against Quebec.

Tory spokesmen railed that the Liberals and NDP were “getting into bed with Quebec separatists” because the sovereignist Bloc Québécois pledged to support a coalition government until mid 2010. One Conservative MP called this “as close to treason and sedition as I can imagine.” Harper’s crusade found particular traction in Western Canada, where radio talk shows spewed vitriol against the Québécois. The country is once again sharply divided on national lines, as Tory support has surged in English Canada while the coalition leads the polls in Quebec.

But it’s not just the Tories who fan the flames of anti-Quebec bigotry in the name of “Canadian unity.” It was the Trudeau Liberal government that sent troops to occupy Quebec in 1970, aiming to suppress widespread social and national struggle. It was the Chrétien Liberals who made plans to mobilize the army again if the 1995 Quebec sovereignty referendum had won. And it was the same Liberal regime—with the support of the NDP—that passed the Clarity Act, outlawing Quebec’s democratic right to self-determination, i.e., to independence.

Harper’s crude appeal to Anglo chauvinism is laying the basis for a new rise of pro-sovereignty sentiment in Quebec. Following a federal election where the bourgeois-nationalist Bloc won a majority of Quebec seats for the sixth straight time, the Parti Québécois came close to upsetting the provincial Liberals in the December 8 Quebec election. For decades now, the “pro-Canada” chauvinism of the NDP and the central labour bureaucracy has helped drive the historically more militant Québécois working class into the arms of its own exploiters, represented by the Bloc and PQ. Today the Bloc and PQ’s endorsement of the Liberal-NDP coalition in Ottawa speaks volumes about their hostility to the class interests of the Québécois workers.

As opponents of the chauvinism of “our” capitalist rulers—and of all forms of nationalism—Marxists advocate independence for Quebec. We seek to get the national question off the agenda, to create conditions where it can be clear to the workers in both English Canada and Quebec that their own capitalist exploiters are the enemy, not each other. Absent this, chauvinist bigotry against Quebec and the national antagonisms that this generates will continue to divide the working class, undermining its ability to struggle against capitalist exploitation. The palpable anger among working people against the massive job losses must be directed against the capitalist rulers, not into chauvinism and nationalism.

“Left” Props for Capitalist Rule

Our starting point is the need to win the working class to see the necessity of sweeping away the rule of capital through socialist revolution. Running for, to say nothing of taking, executive positions in the capitalists’ state is counterposed to this basic purpose. More than a century ago, in denouncing the entry of French “Socialist” Alexandre Millerand into a capitalist government, Rosa Luxemburg wrote:

“The character of a bourgeois government isn’t determined by the personal character of its members, but by its organic function in bourgeois society. The government of the modern state is essentially an organization of class domination, the regular functioning of which is one of the conditions of existence of the class state. With the entry of a socialist into the government, and class domination continuing to exist, the bourgeois government doesn’t transform itself into a socialist government, but a socialist transforms himself into a bourgeois minister.”

—“The Dreyfus Affair and the Millerand Case,” 1899

In preparing and organizing the 1917 Russian Revolution—the first successful working-class seizure of power in history—the Bolshevik Party under the leadership of Lenin and Trotsky opposed as class treason any form of support to the capitalist Provisional Government, including when it was joined by the Menshevik social democrats. The Bolsheviks fought instead for the workers supported by the peasant masses to take power through their own councils, the soviets. In the mid 1930s, the Stalinist Communist parties began seeking political pacts with so-called “progressive” capitalists under the rubric of a “popular front.” Continuing the Bolsheviks’ revolutionary tradition, Trotsky denounced this as a betrayal of the fundamentals of proletarian class independence. Against pseudo-leftists who presented the popular front “as a tactical or even as a technical maneuver,” he explained that opposition to such class collaboration was “the main question of proletarian class strategy for this epoch” (“The POUM and the Popular Front,” 1936).

The Liberal-NDP coalition is, in essence, a Canadian version of the popular front. Yet a host of purported “socialists” openly support it, or call to pressure it to the left, or seek merely to package it differently. Such is the logic of the reformists’ “fight the right” politics, in which anyone and everyone is presented as a potential ally against the Harper Tories.

Most shameless are the CP and its youth group, the Young Communist League, which writes: “We call on all young people to hit the streets, and unite without hesitation in support [of] the coalition” (“The Political Crisis and Youth,” 2 December). Others want to attach a few conditions. In its December 6 supplement, the I.S. warns of “problems” with past NDP deals with the Liberals and says the coalition shouldn’t be given a “blank cheque.” But its aim is only to pressure the Liberal-NDP coalition in the streets: “the key question is what demands we make on the Coalition, and how we mobilize to win them.”

For Fightback and Socialist Action (SA), two reformist outfits ensconced in the NDP, the problem with the present coalition is that it is too brazen in its class collaboration—so they want to clothe it in more subtle hues. Fightback advises that the NDP could “have worked to impose conditions on a minority Liberal government to benefit the working class” (, 4 December). SA goes a half step further, calling for an NDP-Liberal “accord” modeled on the deal made by the NDP to support an Ontario Liberal government in the 1980s. “It worked in Ontario in the mid-1980s,” opines an SA leaflet, “Now, truly, the stakes are higher, so it will be more difficult. But it’s worth a try.”

These groups say it’s okay to support a capitalist government so long as you don’t formally join the cabinet. The history of the class struggle has shown that, whatever the particular mechanism, “socialist” support to a bourgeois regime is utterly and completely counterposed to working-class interests. Writing in 1924, Trotsky excoriated social democracy as “the acceptance of reformist oppositional activity within the framework of bourgeois society,” calling this “the actual training of the masses to become imbued with the inviolability of the bourgeois state” (The Lessons of October). These words could have been written against the Canadian fake left today.

Quebec and the Reformist Left

Most reformist left groups in English Canada who have commented on the parliamentary crisis treat the Tories’ vile crusade against Quebec as at best a third-rate question. As “left” appendages of the NDP, they necessarily capitulate to the Anglo chauvinism that is a stock-in-trade of the New Democrats. Despite a paper position for Quebec’s right to self-determination, two of these groups, Fightback and the CP, go so far as to oppose Quebec independence.

This is also the stance taken by the group known as the Bolshevik Tendency (BT). After issuing a leaflet (in English only) that called on Quebec workers to vote No in the 1995 sovereignty referendum, the BT was officially invited to a mass “Canadian unity” rally organized by business groups in Montreal on the eve of the referendum. When their only Québécois member quit, he protested the BT’s “de facto bloc with the Canadian bourgeoisie.” More recently, the BT posted on its website an October 8 presentation by its Canadian leader, Tom Riley, “On the U.S. & Canadian Elections,” that managed to avoid mentioning Quebec even once. Now the BT has another statement, dated December 10, on the parliamentary crisis. This time they choke out a half sentence in which they “note with distaste Harper’s crude attempts to whip up Anglo chauvinism.” Reducing the need to combat chauvinism to a matter of “taste,” the BT’s latest statement avoids even a for-the-record mention of Quebec’s right to self-determination!

While adapting to chauvinism in English Canada, in Quebec most of the reformist left tails bourgeois nationalism. Just about every “socialist” group with a presence there has liquidated into the petty-bourgeois populist Québec Solidaire. QS, which won a seat for the first time in the recent Quebec election, portrays itself as an alternative home for sovereignists repelled by the austerity attacks of the PQ when it was in power in Quebec, most recently from 1994 to 2003. For all its for-the-people rhetoric, QS’s program does not even pay lip service to the class struggle, let alone to socialism. On taking his seat in Quebec’s National Assembly, QS leader Amir Khadir made clear that, far from being “radical,” his party seeks nothing more than what Barack Obama has promised in the United States (Globe and Mail, 18 December).

At the federal level, QS echoes its Bloc and PQ big brothers by calling to “support the formation of a coalition government” of the Liberals and NDP (, 3 December). One would search in vain for any criticism of this stand from most of QS’s “left” publicists. In hailing as “historic” QS’s first parliamentary victory, Fightback makes the absurd claim that QS “presented voters with something they had never seen before: a platform that spoke to their aspirations and their problems, without compromise, and without skirting the issues” (, 10 December). As for “skirting the issues,” Fightback’s lengthy posting manages to avoid mentioning QS’s explicit backing for the Liberal-NDP coalition!

The Fraud of Capitalist Democracy

The Tory government has managed to survive until at least late January by suspending parliament and delaying the vote of non-confidence pledged by the coalition. The fact that the legal power to suspend parliament rests with the unelected representative of the English queen, governor-general Michaëlle Jean, underlines the deeply reactionary nature of this institution. Marxists call for the immediate abolition of the monarchy, the governor-general and the unelected Senate. These are not mere relics, but have long been used as a rallying point for social reaction.

In a December 5 statement distributed at a Toronto rally for the Liberal-NDP coalition titled “Canada’s constitutional coup: A warning to the working class,” the Socialist Equality Party (SEP) decries the “flagrant attack on parliamentary norms” by the Tories. The SEP may oppose the coalition, but they echo it in claiming: “the suspension of parliament and of the MPs’ right to defeat and replace the sitting government strikes at the most fundamental democratic right—the right of the people to choose their own government.” Since when did people “choose their own government” under the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie?! While worrying about “the defense of constitutional principles,” the SEP opposes the democratic right of Quebec to self-determination. The SEP is neither socialist nor for equality—they are political pirates who will show any flag to attack any target.

An even more flagrant case of embellishing capitalist democracy is the response to the parliamentary standoff by “anti-globalization” author Naomi Klein. In an interview published by (3 December) under the title, “We can’t lose this moment,” Klein calls to back the Liberal-NDP coalition because “we now have an opportunity to see a better version of democracy and see more people represented in government.”

For our part, we stand with Lenin in denouncing bourgeois parliamentary democracy as a fraud and a deception against the working people. As the Bolshevik leader explained nearly a century ago, capitalist parliaments are “instruments for the oppression of the workers by the bourgeoisie.” “Important questions under bourgeois democracy,” he emphasized, “are decided by the stock exchange and the banks.” This would be just as much the case under a Liberal-NDP coalition as under Harper’s Tories.

For a Revolutionary Workers Party!

The Liberals have seized on the delay in the parliamentary vote to dump their ineffectual leader Stéphane Dion. His replacement, Michael Ignatieff, is infamous for his earlier support to the U.S. occupation of Iraq and his apologias for Washington’s use of torture in the “war on terror.” While the coalition with the NDP remains intact for now, it is widely speculated that Ignatieff will junk it at the earliest opportunity, so long as Harper tosses a bone or two of “fiscal stimulus” into the next budget.

Whether or not the coalition holds together over the coming weeks, the events of this parliamentary crisis bear important lessons for the working class. In pledging to join a Liberal Party government, the NDP, with the full support of the union bureaucracy, has demonstrated with crystal clarity that it is an agency of the capitalists within the workers movement. The open or tacit support given to the coalition by the reformist left shows that they are opponents of the necessary fight for the political independence of the working class from its class enemies. And the eruption of Anglo chauvinism demonstrates again the centrality of defense of Quebec’s national rights to a proletarian revolutionary perspective in Canada.

The Trotskyist League/Ligue trotskyste is fighting to build the nucleus of a revolutionary Marxist party that can root itself in the working class. Taking up the cause of all the oppressed, such a party would give conscious leadership to the struggles of the workers not only to improve their present conditions but to do away with the entire system of capitalist wage slavery. “Unity” with the oppressors, or with their social-democratic political agents, is the road to defeat. 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 productive forces from the hands of the capitalist class through socialist revolution and putting them in the hands of those whose labour makes society run.