Has the NDP sold its socialist soul for a shot at power in the 2015 election?

Former NDP election organizer, Michael Laxer, believes it has

No 684 Posted by fw, February 25, 2013

But Resolutionary Socialism has been dealt an even greater blow in that, as is obvious to any detached observer, the resolutions no longer matter. For the simple reason that the “Democratic” in NDP is a sham. To an even greater extent than in the past the deck is rigged. The “left” of the party cannot win.Michael Laxer

After reading Michael Laxer’s article below, I’m no longer sure what to make of leadnow.ca’s campaign urging Canadians to join the Liberal, NDP or Green party, and then to push the three parties to participate in a nationwide “Cooperate for Canada” election campaign. The objective is to unseat Harper. And Muclair is likely to support any movement that might propel the NDP to power.

But if Laxer’s compelling analysis, below, of the NDP’s swing to the right is accurate, Canadians should think carefully before jumping on the Cooperate for Canada bandwagon. Once in power, the NDP may turn out to be Tories in disguise.

To read Laxer’s original piece, click on the linked title. Alternatively read the post below with its added subheadings and text highlighting.

Resolutionary Socialism: Why a leftist agenda within the NDP is futile by Michael Laxer, rabble.ca, February 21, 2013

Whether at federal or provincial levels, the NDP is no longer socialist, it’s blatantly capitalist

There can be little doubt anymore, other than to the willfully blind, that neither the federal NDP nor any of its provincial wings are socialist parties.

The shift towards centrism and the embrace of neo-liberal hegemonic economic ideas, such as Tom Mulcair’s recent backing of corporate free trade deals, has become obviously irreversible. Even worse, Mulcair has now backed away from his previously critical comments about the oil sands, and has won praise from the business press for his “political maturity,” which is little more than a code phrase for having abandoned important principles around the environment and climate change.

The NDP clearly no longer sees itself as a movement to change society, but rather as a “government in waiting.” This is entirely within the framework of capitalism. The party has turned a corner.

This change is now of a fundamental nature. The basic characteristics of the party are different.

“The NDP bears no resemblance to a socialist party at all”

In an article written with Andrew Klochek both prior to the Layton NDP “winning” opposition and prior to Mulcair’s leadership, as this process began well before him, we wrote of how dramatic the ideological shift is.

This article not only remains true, but its conclusions, from an ideological point of view, are even more pronounced than they were then. The shift is accelerating. As a new federal convention approaches we are sure to see “socialist” removed from the constitution of the party, which it, for those who care about honesty, should be. It will only be acknowledging reality to remove “socialist” as the NDP bears no resemblance to a socialist party at all. There is no commitment, even in a long-term Bernstein sense, to creating a socialist economy. 

Given that this ground has been covered, it is not, here, my intention to cover it again.

NDP members who believe it’s possible to change the party from within will harm the “socialist idea”

However, despite these shifts, despite the unrelentingly rightward turn, despite defeat after defeat for the left within the NDP over the last 40 years, many socialists, even revolutionary socialists, remain within the NDP and insist that the only way to push a socialist agenda in Canada (or any of its provinces outside of Quebec) is to fight within the context of the NDP to seek to “convert” NDP members and to, somehow, change the NDP from “within.”

The purpose here is to move beyond the ideological problems with supporting the NDP and working within it and to show that this is also tactically wrong. It is a strategy that is a proven failure. As such, continuing to pursue it is both destructive to the alleged intent and harmful to the socialist idea in Canada itself.

The notion of “Resolutionary Socialism” is “entirely detached from reality”

Leftists within the NDP, especially those organized within some of the party’s entryist groups, engage in what could be called the theory and practice of “Resolutionary Socialism” (With apologies to my close friend, and longtime comrade, Andy Lehrer, from whom I stole the term).

“Resolutionary Socialism” is the notion that the point of a socialist movement is to agitate within the country’s existing “mass worker’s party” to get resolutions passed at conventions and get people elected to the party’s governing bodies with the intent of shifting the party to the left and towards a radical or, in some cases, revolutionary socialist idea.

Then, presumably, either the left will seize control of the “mass worker’s party” or, when the revolutionary or radical “moment” comes, they will march out of the party, red flags blazing in the wind, taking the radicalized elements of the membership with them.

This tactic is now, more than it has ever been, entirely detached from reality.

The reality is that all previous socialist initiatives to gain power from within failed to prevent the shift to the right

As a bit of history, one of the constant refrains of socialists working within the NDP is that they are trying to recapture the energy and “success” of movements like the Waffle in the ’70s, the CAP (Campaign for an Activist Party) in the ’80s and the NPI (New Politics Initiative) in the ’90s, all of which vied for power internally and managed to secure 25-35 per cent support from the membership of the party.

What they fail to note is that every one of these initiatives failed.

This is not a reflection, at all, upon the activists. They were all entirely noble in their efforts.

It is, however, what happened.

Every single one of these “high water marks” for the left within the NDP ultimately receded and dissolved. The Socialist Caucus has been in existence within the party since 1998 and has been an unhappy handmaiden to the period during which it shifted right most dramatically.

In each case, after the movement crested the party leadership consolidated its hold and pushed both the platform and practice of the party not in a left direction, but in the opposite direction.

The fact is that leftist party resolutions no longer matter because the process is no longer democratic

But Resolutionary Socialism has been dealt an even greater blow in that, as is obvious to any detached observer, the resolutions no longer matter. For the simple reason that the “Democratic” in NDP is a sham. To an even greater extent than in the past the deck is rigged. The “left” of the party cannot win.

The NDP now routinely prevents left candidates who are not willing, ultimately, to play ball, from either seeking nominations or, should they win them, actually running for the party. This includes, most obviously, the leader of the Socialist Caucus itself, Barry Weisleder, whose nomination in Thornhill was revoked by the ONDP. But there are many other examples.

Resolutions Committees within the NDP ensure that “left” resolutions basically never make it to the floor of conventions anymore anyway. If they do, and if the very unlikely happens and they pass, they then fall into the black hole that is the party membership’s “platform” (not to be confused with the farce the leadership and its strategists trot out at election time, which is the actual platform), a platform that is never publicly published and that, in some cases, the party has claimed does not even exist! If you doubt this, feel free to ask for the membership’s platform anytime you want.

Do not hold your breath while waiting to receive it.

The right shift depends on the isolation of party leadership from a powerless membership

There are other instances of the party, provincially or federally, either preventing its membership from exercising democratic control, or simply disregarding or invalidating the results when they do.

In fact, given that the right shift depends on the isolation of the party leadership from any embarrassment that might be caused by the membership, I think one could easily argue that the membership of the NDP has less power than any membership in any political party in Canada.

To be blunt, it is a fight that cannot be won. To describe it as utopian would be unfair to utopianism, which is predicated on the principle that its struggle is Sisyphean. This is a case of activists tilting at windmills without recognizing that they are doing so.

Today, many members just want the NDP to be a winner

Even worse, they do so without understanding that the membership of the NDP is not at all what it used to be. Many members seek to be on board with a “winner.” They are political junkies or careerists as opposed to socialists.

They are, in fact, in my opinion less likely to be “recruited” by a socialist movement than the general public, especially if socialists work with certain specific communities.

Why working within the NDP helps the NDP’s right

The basic idea of many of the leftists in the NDP is that they are fighting within a party receptive to leftism.

This disregards the party’s last 40 years. It also disregards the fact that many members of the NDP are members of the party precisely because they want to be a part of a party that will take power, and some hope to directly gain from this (as they have already by the party “winning” opposition). 

NDP members are like sheep in search of a “true leader”

Further, it is predicated on vanguardist ideas of “enlightening” the “masses” within a “mass” political party, a notion not only elitist and facile, but also assuming (as the vanguardists always do) that the NDP membership are sheep waiting for a true leader to show them the true path.

Even when dealing with actually working-class members, this principle is already false and shows contempt for working-class activists. But the NDP membership is comprised of many professionals (such as teachers, professors, social workers, white collar civil servants, etc.) and its basic class composition is not a “mass” party at all in the way the leftists mean, or used to mean, “mass”.

In fact, I think it is quite likely that much of the membership of the NDP is actually less likely to be responsive to radicalism and leftist ideas than, say, citizens in Parkdale in Toronto. Or in downtown Winnipeg. Or in Cape Breton.

Within the NDP you are talking to a membership much of which has joined or stayed within a party in spite of its shift.

The radicals have already left.

By going door-to-door, as they do, for a neo-liberal party espousing a neo-liberal ideology, and by encouraging leftists to join this party, leftists within the NDP aid the party establishment as opposed to hindering it. They reinforce the party’s hold on Canada’s left politics.

Working within the NDP, as a leftist, means directly contributing to the rightward shift as it allows the party a thin veneer of “left-wing” credibility by your presence and it means that they can take you for granted, which they do. 

Since you cannot win internally, you do not worry them at all, and, if they win, government leftists who cause trouble will be out. You can count on this. 

However, if real left candidates, as in Quebec with Quebec Solidaire, were to even get 3-5% of the vote in, for example, some ridings in Toronto, Montreal, Winnipeg, Halifax or Vancouver, (a totally achievable goal, for those who insist on being “realistic”) thereby no longer allowing the NDP to take the support of left-wing citizens for granted, then the mainstream “left” party has to take notice. And its positions and policies will change accordingly.

This has happened in Quebec and Europe… and it will not happen in English Canada without this.

As is usually the case, the threat to those who operate within circles of power and electoral politics and who accept, as a starting point, the “realities” of our system,  has to come from outside. It cannot come from within.

Michael Laxer lives in Toronto where he runs a bookstore. He has a Degree in History from Glendon College of York University. He is a political activist, a two-time former candidate and former election organizer for the NDP, was a socialist candidate for Toronto City Council in 2010 and is on the executive of the newly formed Socialist Party of Ontario.

SEE ALSO

  • Activists in the social movements have few expectations that the NDP will advance their causes, says Richard Fidler, posted February 19, 2013. “As for activists in the social movements, they clearly loath the Tories and greet the NDP’s victories but expectations are few that the party will qualitatively advance their causes. For many, an NDP vote continues to be a way to express opposition to the right-wing direction of Canadian politics. But it contributes little to building the needed culture of class solidarity that alone can point the way beyond capitalist oppression and exploitation.”
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TV Ontario shelves powerful drama about 1940’s British Mandate of Palestine and its present-day aftermath

Following 2 cancellations in 2012, TVO again reneges on “likely” February 2013 airing

No 682 Posted by fw, February 21, 2013

Background

In the spring of 2012, The Promise, an award-winning independent television production, which had its UK premier on February 6, 2011, briefly appeared on TVO’s program schedule. Without any explanation, the listing was removed.

As a pro-Palestinian sympathizer, I was eager to see the program. So I emailed TVO – in what was to be the first of a series of exchanges — and asked when the acclaimed 4-part serial would be rescheduled for airing. TVO responded that The Promise would be broadcast in the fall.

In the meantime, I purchased the DVD of The Promise from Amazon UK. (At the time it was unavailable for purchase from Amazon.ca (Canada) or Amazon.com (US)). The 4-part series focuses on the post-World-War-2 period in Palestine during the admission of 100,000 new Jewish immigrants into a partitioned territory. Moreover, the story captures the present-day disastrous legacy of the shameful British Mandate of Palestine.

After viewing all 4 episodes I agreed with Christina Patterson’s review in The Independent: “…beautifully shot and extremely well written. It is also extremely balanced…” And Rachel Cooke in the New Statesmen: “…the best thing you are likely to see on TV this year, if not this decade.”

Of course, the positive reaction to The Promise was far from unanimous. For example, Marcus Dysch, writing in The Jewish Chronicle Online, leads with this damning indictment: “A senior Israeli diplomat says that a drama series about British Mandate Palestine is the worst example of anti-Israel propaganda he has ever seen on television.”

For a broad sample of reaction to The Promise, in the UK, France, Australia and other countries, visit Wikipedia at Reception.

~ Video of part 1 of Peter Kominsky’sThe Promise is available here on You Tube

Summary of my communication with TVO over The Promise – A Tale of Personal Frustration

As mentioned above, I first contacted TVO when it withdrew The Promise from a brief listing in its spring 2012 program schedule. TVO said the program had been rescheduled for the fall.

When The Promise failed to appear in TVO’s fall listings, I contacted the station again. My request for an explanation of why the program had again been postponed drew this reply:

“Thank you again for responding.  Whenever possible, TVO takes opportunities to explore complicated issues from a variety of perspectives across our different programming strands.  In this case, we’re looking at ways to contextualize the issues raised in this drama series through our current affairs programming and web resources, which takes time.   While we understand that you’re eager to see the series, we’re hoping that you will appreciate our plan to use it as a springboard for discussion and make our programming as enriching as possible for our audience.”

I persisted and asked how soon after using The Promise as a “springboard for discussion” could viewers expect to see the 4-part series. Here’s TVO’s reply”

“Thank you for taking the time to write to TVO.  Unfortunately, the airdate for The Promise has again been rescheduled, likely for broadcast in February 2013.  We truly appreciate your interest and apologize for the further delay.  I will share your feedback with the appropriate people.”

However, no listing for the program appeared in the February schedule; once again TVO failed to meet this broadcast date. I emailed TVO again requesting an explanation for this third cancellation. And when no response was forthcoming, I phoned the station. Here are scattered bits of that conversation that I jotted down on a note pad –

“TVO is undergoing staff changes” and “shifting its programming strategy”. In particular, “social issue programming has changed”. A new Director of Content Programming says they are “looking for a new programming slot” in which “to fit The Promise” but “no decision has been made or will likely be made in the near future.” I was reassured that TVO was under no pressure from external sources to cancel the show.

Bottom line – It looks as though TVO has canned The Promise for the duration.

*****

What is it about The Promise that may have spooked TVO?

In a phrase, I would speculate that “fear of stirring up divisive controversy” may have spooked TVO. The last thing an ultra-conservative, publicly-funded TV station wants is to air controversial material that risks offending viewers. And The Promise is certainly controversial.

200px-The_Promise_(2011)_DVD_coverConsider the explosive plot — Just as 18-year-old Londoner Erin Matthews sets off to spend the summer in Israel with her best friend, Eliza Meyer, she unearths an old diary belonging to her seriously ill grandfather, Leonard “Len” Matthews. Intrigued by the life of an old man she barely knows, she takes the diary with her, and is stunned to learn of his part as a soldier in the post-WWII British peace-keeping force in what was then Palestine — a peace-keeping force that eventually abandons Palestine and its Arab inhabitants. Left to her own devices, after her friend Eliza begins National Service in the Israeli army, Erin witnesses the complexities of life — for both Jews and Arabs — in this troubled land. And as Len’s story comes to life in flashbacks from the pages of the diary, Erin discovers the disturbing truths about his time in Palestine and the atrocities he witnessed when Jewish immigrants resorted to armed violence to secure a foothold in Palestine. Retracing Len’s steps in modern-day Israel, Erin sets out on a heart-breaking journey in an effort to understand the conflict, and, above all, morally impelled to fulfill a promise that her grandfather had made as a British soldier to a Palestinian father driven out of Palestine with his family by Jewish terrorist militias.

*****

Viewing options for pro-Palestinian activists or interested members of the public who want to see The Promise

  • Lobby TVO – Ontario groups of pro-Palestinian activists might have more leverage lobbying TVO to air The Promise than I had as an individual. If you are going to lobby TVO, a phone call to Customer Relations at 1-800-463-6886 (1.800.INFO.TVO) or 416-484-2665 (GTA) will likely be more effective than sending an email using TVO’s online Questions and Comments form: http://ww3.tvo.org/contact
  • Purchase the DVD – It’s available for sale at Amazon.ca (http://snipurl.com/26fyzaj ) or from Amazon.com (US) (http://snipurl.com/26fyz1o ). IMPORTANT NOTES: 1) The DVD version is a UK Region 2 PAL format that will not play on North American Region 1 DVD players. So you either have to have a Region-Free player or other player capable of playing Region 2 DVDs. 2) Playing time for this multi-disc 4-part serial is almost 6 hours).
  • Video of Episode 1 of Peter Kominsky’sThe Promise is available here on You Tube

SEE ALSO

  • Excellent Wikipedia entry on The Promise (2011 TV serial) includes –

*****

  • SBS Ombudsman response to complaints about “The Promise” 26 Jan 12 — “Galus Australis  –  23 January 2012 I write in relation to your formal complaint to SBS (Special Broadcasting Service) about The Promise, a four-part series broadcast by SBS on four consecutive Sunday evenings from 27 November 2011. Your complaint was among a number of complaints investigated, then reviewed and determined by the Australia’s SBS Complaints Committee …” [This report covers numerous complaints received by and answered by SBS]
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2 thoughts on “Has the NDP sold its socialist soul for a shot at power in the 2015 election?

  1. Christine, thanks for your comment.
    I do understand that the focus of leadnow’s Cooperate for Canada (C4C) campaign is to unseat Harper, which effectively means electing either the NDP or the Liberals in 2015. Your argument, if I understand it correctly, is that regardless of which of these two parties wins, you seem to presume that the voting system will somehow be changed, which, as you say, is the real aim of the C4C campaign.

    By inference, you further presume a change in the voting system will be an improvement over first-past-the-post. I have serious misgivings about both presumptions, but let’s leave that discussion for another day.

    Re your comment, “I think it’s telling that neither Mulcair or most of the Lib leadership contenders are at all interested in talking cooperation.” In Richard Fidler’s article, (to which I provided a SEE ALSO link), he writes: “In 2008 Mulcair, along with Layton and his runner-up rival for the party leadership Brian Topp, was one of the architects of the coalition agreement with the Liberals led by Stéphane Dion. Although a formal pact with the Liberals is not now in the offing, there is no secret about NDP readiness to ally with Liberals if that will help ease their way into government.” I guess we’ll have to wait to see what Mulcair does.

    When I stop to consider that a C4C campaign could result in an NDP government in 2015, Laxer’s and Fidler’s devastating critique of the NDP do give me pause for serious reflection. As I wrote in my post: “Once in power, the NDP may turn out to be Tories in disguise.” Not a comforting thought. Especially if ultimate success rides on the uncertainties surrounding changes to our voting system.

    Which brings me to my main point. In my informed opinion as a former project planning and management leader, I believe that leadnow owes it to its membership to demonstrate its leadership knowledge and skills as a change agent by providing, at the very least:
    + a clear statement of C4C’s goal(s) in terms of expected outcomes;
    + how the proposed strategy and tactics will help to achieve the outcomes;
    + an outline of the anticipated risks (costs) and benefits (risks, for example, could include the alarms sounded by Laxer and Fidler); and
    + a public commitment to conduct a post-campaign assessment of the results achieved by the C4C campaign in the context of stated expected outcomes.

  2. Thanks for the links to the Laxer article. With regards to the “Cooperate for Canada” push championed by Lead Now & other progressive organizations, the focus is not to place the NDP (or the Liberals, for that matter) into power but rather to have the progressive parties (as opposed to the CPC) to cooperate in the next federal election, with the aim to change the electoral system once this “majority” Harper govt is unseated, to allow governments to better reflect the values of Canadians.
    I think it’s telling that neither Mulcair or most of the Lib leadership contenders are at all interested in talking cooperation – with typical they both hope to come into power and continue with business as usual. If cooperation doesn’t happen, of course, there’s a very very good chance that Harper will come up the middle again, and then we’re really sunk.

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