No 1459 Posted by fw, September 24, 2015
“It is clear that no fundamental change will happen as a result of this election. There are no political parties promising a challenge to capitalism, neoliberalism, austerity, or present a working-class oriented strategy with important structural reforms with any real alternative vision, certainly not the NDP. The NDP offers modest alternatives that would not change all that much, but possibly provide some short-term relief for sections of the working class and provide some promises that can legitimate key worker concerns. But progress in each of these areas requires important battles being waged by the labour movement and social movements from below. Currently, there are few signs of mass movements on any of these fronts.” —Herman Rosenfeld, Socialist Project
Herman Rosenfeld, a Toronto-based writer, educator, and activist contributing to building a socialist political organization, surveys Mulcair’s approach to the election campaign in key areas and sees “nothing fundamentally different” from what the other parties have on offer. The irony is, of course, that the NDP is holding its own in the race for the prize, leaving one to speculate where the party might be had it opted to advance principled policies more closely approximating an authentic social democratic platform. Pragmatically, the party has chosen to follow the majority of voters to the centre right. Looking ahead, the best that progressives and socialists can hope for, says Rosenfeld, is “to contribute to the eventual creation of a socialist political presence in the larger working class, and eventually as a participant and reference point in the electoral and larger political system.”
Face it — Tom Mulcair is no Jeremy Corbyn. But even Jeremy Corbyn might eventually turn out not to be the idealized Jeremy Corbyn – think fallen leftist idol of Greece, Alexis Tsipras.
Below is an abridged version of Rosenfeld’s excellent essay with added subheadings and highlighted text. To read his original paper, click on the following linked title.
Where are the Electoral Alternatives?
But a number of obstacles [to socialism] will remain – from the inability and unwillingness of the electoral opposition to present real alternatives (both the NDP and Liberals); the relative weakness (and lack of radicalism) of labour and other working-class based social movements; the embedded strength of material and ideological gains of neoliberalism, and the lack of any organized class-based socialist political movement or party with any resonance.
[Nevertheless] defeating Harper is a key goal for socialists and for the interests of the labour movement and the larger working class.
There aren’t any real clear political choices that will fundamentally challenge and undo the deep destruction of Harper and those who came before him.
Mulcair and the NDP present a series of dilemmas and contradictions for socialists and the working class
Mulcair and the NDP present a series of dilemmas and contradictions for socialists and the larger working class. They could be the first federal NDP government in Canadian history – whether ruling independently, in minority or in agreement with or in coalition with the Liberals. In the larger political history of the country, this is significant – it would mark the first time that a social democratic party was elected on that level, although the nature of social democracy in this neoliberal era undermines that significance.
There are modest reasons to recommend voting the NDP
There are modest reasons to recommend voting the NDP, in a basic comparison of the programs of the three parties [NDP’s plan]. They promise spending increases (such as the childcare program, OAS, etc); restoring Post Office home delivery, reducing the pension age; rescinding C-51; a minimum wage increase, infrastructure spending, withdrawing subsidies to oil and gas industries other reforms. All of these are important and some could open up space for further struggles at the base, such as the minimum wage and Post Office.
One would also expect a break from the paranoid attacks on civil servants and fact-based analytical capacity of the state and some restoration of capacities, like restoring the long form census. Also, there would be better and more respectful relations with first nations and links with labour. As well, there likely would be efforts to lesson direct participation in aggressive international projects (like ISIS bombing).
But there is nothing fundamentally different in Mulcair’s larger approach in key areas:
Don’t expect any fundamental change coming out of this election
It is clear that no fundamental change will happen as a result of this election. There are no political parties promising a challenge to capitalism, neoliberalism, austerity, or present a working-class oriented strategy with important structural reforms with any real alternative vision, certainly not the NDP.
The NDP offers modest alternatives
The NDP offers modest alternatives that would not change all that much, but possibly provide some short-term relief for sections of the working class and provide some promises that can legitimate key worker concerns. But progress in each of these areas requires important battles being waged by the labour movement and social movements from below. Currently, there are few signs of mass movements on any of these fronts.
The relationships that the NDP have with the labour movement are somewhat of a wildcard. It can bring some modest gains and a reduction of attacks, or accommodation to the compromises with capital that are sure to come with an NDP government.
Unions are divided in their relationship with the NDP, and this reflects a recognition of the party’s weakness, the confusion within working class organizations about how to orient themselves in this era and a recognition that the NDP is just as confused, as well as the party’s unwillingness and inability to consistently represent working class interests. In many ways, the NDP actually disorganizes the working class, by offering a political vision that relies on the economic and political leadership of private capital, and seeks to reinforce a ‘middle class’ identity, and the separation and weakness of the different components of the working class.
“In fact, it’s hard to know what the party stands for – other than getting elected.”
In fact, it’s hard to know what the party stands for – other than getting elected. It is so… committed to winning over the more conservative swing voters – that it claims that it will never run a deficit (or undo the odious ‘balanced budget’ law), and everyone knows that it is impossible and clearly won’t be done if they get elected.
Don’t look for any guiding set of principles from the NDP
The idea that they will have any guiding set of principles that reflect the interests of the working class is long gone, and most working people know it. This feeds the cynicism about politics, and hardly inspires any movement for change.
The NDP feeds voter cynicism about politics
The NDP is hardly part of any challenge to this set of limitations, and instead, feeds it. The relations that key unions have with the NDP often reflect brokerage politics – ways of getting support for their pet policies in exchange for support, rather than acting as voice for the working class. And, the policy approaches of the NDP tend to reflect the more moderate and corporatist policies of individual unions, reflecting the limits of the current union movement which is sorely in need of transformation.
Voters looking for Jeremy Corbyn’s sizzle won’t find it in Tom Mulcair
There is little of the sizzle, excitement and critical depth that follow the new campaigns of Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn in the UK and candidate for Democratic Party nomination Bernie Sanders in the United States. These campaigns push the boundaries of current forms of social democracy (while remaining within the paradigm), and appeal to the disgust and frustrations of working class people with the utter lack of representation and advocacy for their interests in the face of ongoing and steady declines in living standards and the loss of hope. The NDP will not play that role.
Will seeing the NDP as the “lesser of evils” be enough to coax voters to the polls?
All in all, it would make sense for socialists to vote for the NDP, simply as the lesser of evils, and in most ridings, see them as the most likely to defeat Conservatives. Working for them and getting involved in their campaigns seem less exciting and offers very little in return.
What about strategic voting? Will that help or hurt the NDP?
The entire strategy of strategic voting is hardly compelling: given the long campaign, the unreliability of the Liberals and the unpredictability of outcomes. There is little proof that it has ever really made a difference on a larger scale. But given the sorry state of the NDP central campaign message, socialists would be better off organizing around key issues than NDP candidates, all the while voting for the NDP.
And, in the event that no party has a majority, we should argue in favour of an NDP-Liberal alliance, based on a platform that rejects the essential tenets of Harper’ Conservatives. We should have no illusions about how progressive this would be – distasteful in many ways – but it might be essential to bring down Harper and open up a new era of Canadian politics.
Realistically, a centre-right NDP will not soon become an instrument of the social transformation we need
Socialists need to do education on the limits and realities that make it impossible for the NDP to become an instrument for the kind of social transformation we need – in the short run, with important reforms – or in the longer term, with a challenge to the system.
For the time being, progressives and socialists will have to manoeuver for “a socialist political presence, in the larger working class”
As well, whatever the outcome of the election, we have to move beyond acceptance of social democracy as the face of the ‘left’ in Canada. We have to contribute to the eventual creation of a socialist political presence, in the larger working class, and eventually as a participant and reference point in the electoral and larger political system.
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