Spartacist Canada No. 186
For Class Struggle Against Canadian Capitalism!
NDP: A Tool of the Bosses
For years, workers and the poor throughout the country have been devastated by cuts to jobs, wages, pensions, EI and other vital social programs. Now, with the collapse of oil prices, the economy has again fallen into recession while close to 200,000 jobs linked to the once-booming oil and gas industry could be axed. The Tory government has sought to divert attention from the growing misery by ramping up its “national security” agenda, which targets ethnic and religious minorities, chiefly Muslims, under the so-called “war on terror.” Mirroring the war on workers at home, Ottawa has joined the U.S. and other NATO powers in wars of imperialist depredation from Afghanistan to Libya and now Iraq and Syria.
The Harper Conservatives are particularly vicious enemies of the working people, but they didn’t start this one-sided class war. It was the Chrétien/Martin Liberal governments that launched the sweeping assaults on social programs in the 1990s and early 2000s. Over the years, the NDP social democrats propped up minority Liberal and Tory regimes alike, thus taking their own measure of responsibility for the attacks. And under Tom Mulcair the New Democrats have now shed whatever pretense they might have had of championing the cause of the working people. Utterly committed to capitalist rule, the NDP seeks only to haggle over the terms of austerity.
Parliamentary democracy—the chance to “choose” one’s oppressors every four or five years—serves as a façade for the rule of capital. The stark fact is that none of the opposition parties—NDP, Liberals, bourgeois Greens or nationalist Bloc Québécois—offer an alternative that even starts to meet the needs of working people. The economic wreckage that defines much of Canada today is the product of an irrational and deeply unjust system based on production for profit derived from exploiting the working class. The obscenely wealthy capitalist owners of industry and finance appropriate the results of the workers’ labour as their own. Meanwhile working people are left to wonder if they will have a job or a pension tomorrow.
A successful fight against this ruinous social system requires an understanding that the interests of the workers and the capitalists are counterposed and cannot be reconciled. The working class produces the goods and services that make society function. This gives it tremendous potential power, which can be wielded not only to throw back particular attacks but to put an end to the entire inhumane capitalist profit system. But the workers’ current leaders—centrally, the bureaucrats who lead the trade unions—seek only a “partnership” between capital and labour. Tying the working class to its most bitter enemies, the union misleaders have sapped labour’s fighting power in the face of the ruling-class offensive.
The road forward lies through the methods of class struggle, a perspective that hinges on the fight for a new kind of working-class leadership. In the course of such struggle, a revolutionary workers party can be forged that champions the cause of all the oppressed—from Native people fighting poverty and degradation, to black and Asian youth facing unemployment and police racism, to immigrants and desperate refugees. Only by sweeping away the barbaric rule of capitalism can the working people establish a rationally planned, socialist economy based on meeting human needs, not private profit.
NDP Moves Ever Rightward
Sections of the labour bureaucracy and the reformist left are agog that the NDP is leading the opinion polls for the October 19 election. A statement by Steelworkers national director Ken Neumann reads: “We have the chance in this election to elect Tom Mulcair as our Prime Minster and have the first-ever New Democratic Party federal government, a government on the side of people, communities and workers.” The Socialist Action group hails the “progressive policies” that “helped the NDP to a shocking win in the Alberta provincial election,” adding: “But it is up to the ranks of labour and the party membership to push the NDP towards bigger and bolder change-seeking.”
“Progressive policies”? “A government on the side of workers”? The labour misleaders and their reformist disciples are, quite simply, lying to the working people.
The NDP is what Marxists call a “bourgeois workers party,” with organic links to the labour movement but a pro-capitalist leadership and program. Founded in 1961 by the Canadian Labour Congress bureaucracy and the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) social democrats, its purpose was to channel growing labour discontent into capitalist electoralism. The CCF had played a key role in the purges that drove militants, notably those associated with the Communist Party, out of the unions in the late 1940s and 1950s. The labour movement came under the control of an anti-Communist leadership whose political descendants run it to this day. Viewing the world through the same prism as the Canadian ruling class, the bureaucrats have all but abandoned the militant traditions of struggle that built the unions in the first place.
The New Democrats’ aim has always been to administer the capitalist system, and they have done this repeatedly at the provincial level. NDP regimes in B.C., Ontario and elsewhere have broken strikes and slashed social programs just like their Tory and Liberal rivals. More recently, with labour struggle at a nadir and seeing a chance to displace the Liberals as the main alternative to the federal Tories, the NDP brass has come to view the labour connection as a liability to its electoral aspirations. Their goal is to refashion the party as a “progressive” bourgeois party akin to the Democrats in the U.S.
This trajectory gathered steam under the leadership of Jack Layton. Federal laws enacted starting in 2004 greatly reduced and then banned union (and corporate) donations to political parties. Since the unions no longer financed the NDP, their voting weight within it was accordingly reduced. After the “Orange Wave” breakthrough to Official Opposition status in the 2011 election, Layton & Co. began moving to ditch the “democratic socialist” baggage in the NDP constitution. Mulcair, who moved rapidly from the Quebec Liberal Party cabinet into the NDP’s upper echelons and took over after Layton’s death, has consolidated and accelerated the process.
Mulcair and Thatcher: Not-So-Strange Bedfellows
Two weeks into the election campaign, a video clip emerged showing Mulcair hailing the policies of former British Tory prime minister Margaret Thatcher at a 2001 Quebec parliamentary commission. Attacking the then Parti Québécois government, Mulcair stated: “A government should never pretend it can replace the private market…. It didn’t work in England. Up until Thatcher’s time, that’s what they tried, the government stuck its nose everywhere.” Thatcher’s policies, he concluded, were a “wind of liberty and liberalism.”
Thatcher’s sweeping privatizations and destruction of unions and social programs ruined the lives of tens of millions in Britain. Asked about his praise for this unabashed enemy of the working people during a campaign stop in B.C., the NDP leader doubled down, saying, “it’s not surprising that I’m in favour of the things that work…. That hasn’t changed and that’s what that statement was about.”
Gone are the days when NDP leaders talked, if only hypocritically, about nationalizing key industries, opposing NATO and NORAD and instituting extensive reforms in the interest of the workers. While the process of the NDP breaking its ties to the unions remains unfinished, it is today moribund as a reformist party of the working class. Occasional rhetoric aside, little distinguishes it from Justin Trudeau’s Liberals. On some issues, like raising income taxes on the rich, the Liberals outflank the NDP on the left.
While some unions are sticking with the New Democrats, much of the labour bureaucracy is calling, implicitly or explicitly, for “tactical” voting to whichever party is best placed to oust the Tories in a given riding. The Canadian Labour Congress election propaganda centres on the vapid slogan, “It’s time to start making better choices.” Unifor, the biggest private-sector union, was among those who supported an anti-Tory ad campaign, “Engage Canada,” run jointly by veteran Liberal and NDP operatives.
As Toronto Star columnist Rick Salutin noted on 9 July, “To the degree the NDP has slipped ahead of the Liberals it’s largely because they’ve Liberalized themselves.” Adding that the “phony war” between the parties also serves to “gloss over how much both share with the Tories,” he continued:
“That’s the way the system works and it allows for regular, smooth transitions of power…. There’s no reason to expect any serious changes. Thomas Mulcair’s NDP, for instance, insists on balanced budgets except in ‘a severe economic downturn,’ which was exactly Stephen Harper’s position in the 2008-9 crisis.”
The NDP has always been on the right wing of the social-democratic spectrum internationally, but its creation did represent a deformed expression of working-class political independence from the twin parties of Canadian capitalism, the Liberals and Tories. This is now in the process of being reversed. The labour movement cannot go forward as long as it is shackled to the parties of the ruling class.
Labour Must Fight for All the Oppressed!
The capitalists constantly work to deepen religious, ethnic, national and other divisions in order to divide and weaken the working class. This is the effect of the Tories’ anti-Muslim scare campaign, which aims to bolster support for the police and other repressive forces of the capitalist state. All workers have a direct interest in opposing these attacks, which also serve to constrict civil liberties.
Mulcair is making much of his opposition to the Tories’ latest “anti-terror” law, Bill C-51. But the NDP did so only after a growing outcry from capitalist mouthpieces like the Globe and Mail, which called to “reject Harper’s secret policeman bill.” Accepting the whole framework of the “war on terror,” the New Democrats are attacking the Tories for not providing enough “counter-terrorism” funding for the police and “counter-radicalization” programs in the community. Mulcair boasts that an NDP government would allocate $250 million in funding to train 2,500 new cops, followed by $100 million more each year. They want more resources for CSIS and the RCMP to police dissent and regiment the population.
The workers movement must oppose the “united Canada” chauvinism that has long been wielded against the national rights of the Québécois. Trying to shore up its Quebec seat base, the NDP has dropped its past support for the Clarity Act, a flagrantly anti-democratic law that seeks to ban Quebec’s right to national self-determination. The Tories and especially the Liberals are attempting to exploit this shift to rally support in the West, where anti-Quebec bigotry is especially widespread. But Mulcair is, as he never tires of repeating, a dyed-in-the-wool partisan of “Canadian unity.” He cut his political teeth campaigning for the “No” side in the 1980 and 1995 Quebec sovereignty referendums, the latter of which lost by a single percentage point.
Anti-Quebec chauvinism has divided the workers on national lines, with those in English Canada rallied behind their “own” exploiters and those in Quebec pulled into the framework of bourgeois nationalism. The main Quebec union federation, the FTQ, has long backed the Bloc Québécois, telling the workers to support this capitalist party in the name of “national solidarity.” But with the Bloc’s support having collapsed in the 2011 election, the FTQ bureaucrats now call to vote for whoever is best placed to oust Harper, whether NDP, Bloc, Green or even Liberal. Marxists advocate Quebec independence not least because this would create better conditions for the workers of both nations to understand that their enemies are their own national capitalists, not “the French” or “les anglais.”
In Lockstep With U.S. Imperialism
The U.S. imperialists, with their Canadian junior partners in tow, have been lashing out with wars and armed provocations all over the world in a drive to assert their global dominance. And the NDP has stood with them, saluting “our brave men and women” in the Canadian military while backing despotic U.S.-allied regimes. The fight for class struggle at home cannot be separated from the need to oppose imperialism abroad.
The NDP supported Canada’s participation in the 2011 NATO bombardment of Libya to overthrow the regime of Muammar Qaddafi. The imperial brigandage wrecked that country, which is now split among mutually hostile Islamic forces. When the Tories announced last year that Canada would join the latest round of U.S.-led attacks in Iraq, the NDP proclaimed “wholehearted support” to the Canadian army, though Mulcair advised the government to act under a cloak of “humanitarian aid” to victims of the Islamist ISIS rather than through combat operations.
The current imperialist bombing in Iraq and Syria is the latest episode in the wars and occupations that have destroyed much of the Near East and produced escalating ethnic bloodletting. It goes without saying that Marxists are die-hard enemies of the ultra-reactionary social and political program of ISIS, and that we condemn all interethnic massacres. But ISIS is today under attack by U.S. imperialism—the main enemy of workers and the oppressed worldwide—as well as the rulers in Ottawa. Under such circumstances, the world’s workers have a military side with ISIS when it targets the imperialists and their on-the-ground lackeys. Military setbacks for the U.S., Canada and their allies might give the imperialists pause in their military adventures, including by encouraging popular opposition at home.
The NDP has also joined the Tories in effusively backing Zionist Israel. Mulcair endorsed “Israel’s right to defend itself” when it attacked Gaza last year—a bombardment that saw the slaughter of 2,000 mostly defenseless Palestinians including at least 400 children. Echoing Harper’s demonization of anyone who would criticize Israel’s rulers, the NDP is now purging its ranks of those who have spoken out in defense of the Palestinian people. A would-be candidate was pushed out in Nova Scotia after criticizing Israel for seeking to “ethnically cleanse the region.” The axe fell on another in Alberta because he said Israel had committed “war crimes.” Mulcair has stated that he is “a friend of Israel under all circumstances.” The working class must stand for the defense of the dispossessed Palestinians against Israeli state terror. For a socialist federation of the Near East!
The New Democrats were again at one with Harper in hailing the February 2014 coup in Ukraine, a reactionary power grab spearheaded by open fascists and backed to the hilt by the U.S. The NDP supported the Tories’ dispatch of 200 Canadian troops to help train the Ukrainian army, which is waging a brutal war against a just struggle for self-rule by the largely Russian-speaking population in the east of the country (see House of Commons Debates, 29 April). NDP MPs have shared platforms with far-right Ukrainian nationalists including from the fascist Right Sector, and have joined in Harper’s foam-flecked attacks on Russia’s capitalist strongman Vladimir Putin. They have even complained that Ottawa’s punitive economic sanctions against Russia aren’t strong enough. Defend the right to self-rule in eastern Ukraine! Oppose imperialist sanctions against Russia!
And when it comes to China, the largest and most powerful of the remaining bureaucratically deformed workers states where capitalist rule was overthrown, the NDP has at times taken positions to the right of the Tories. When the government ratified a bilateral foreign-investment pact with China last year, well after it was ratified by the Chinese, the NDP sharply denounced this. A statement by trade critic Don Davies complained that “the agreement will give China’s state-controlled companies the same protection under the law as private Canadian companies” and “give China access to, and control over, some of Canada’s natural resources for the next 31 years” (cbc.ca, 12 September 2014).
It is in the interest of the world’s working people to stand for the defense of China against imperialism and counterrevolution, despite the rule of its nationalist Stalinist bureaucracy. China has the right to enter into trade and other deals with capitalist countries, which can often provide resources and technology crucial to the development of the workers state. The NDP’s defense of “private Canadian companies” against China’s state-owned enterprises speaks volumes about its fealty to Canadian capitalism.
The Fight for Revolutionary Leadership
Millions of people rightly hate the Tories and want to see the back of them. But whether they hang on or are replaced by the NDP, the Liberals or some combination of the two, the capitalist system of racism, oppression and war will remain. The reformists’ shopworn claims that the NDP can be won to a “workers’ agenda” (Socialist Action) or a “socialist program” (the Fightback group) are patently delusional. Insofar as such groups influence any militant workers or youth, they actively mislead them by tying them to a party committed unreservedly to capitalist rule.
There is a lot of social discontent in Canada today. The incessant tide of layoffs and plant closures has produced simmering anger. Quebec has seen huge labour and student protests against austerity. Minimum-wage workers are fighting for unionization and a living wage. Native people and their supporters have mobilized repeatedly against poverty and racist degradation. What is missing is a political perspective that sees the working class champion its own interests and those of all the oppressed. And that points directly to the need for revolutionary leadership.
Many workers think the best they can do is to put their heads down and try to hold onto their jobs. But the same conditions that grind them down, that set them against each other in a fight to survive, can and will propel them forward to unity in battle against the class enemy. In the course of such struggle, the workers, starting with the most advanced, can be won to the perspective of forging a multiracial, binational revolutionary party whose purpose is to sweep away capitalism and all its attendant miseries.
We need a fight for jobs for all through sharing the available work at no loss in pay. We need a massive program of public works to rebuild crumbling roads, hospitals, schools and transit systems. We need decent pensions, health care and other social services for everyone. But such measures will not be granted by the capitalist rulers, whose only interest lies in maintaining their profits and privileges. To achieve such basic necessities, and more, the workers must wrest power from the exploiters through socialist revolution. This is a task not merely in Canada but internationally. Under the rule of the working class, society will be reorganized in the interests of the vast majority and poverty and inequality will become but bitter memories of the past.