Jack Layton: the Tim Hortons of the left

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PINK APE 2000

You're right to be suspicious of PA2K, Thwap. Sometimes I'm not sure myself.

I can tell you this: I worked for a large union for 5 years. In that time I saw some horrible things. I've come to the conclusion that human collectives cannot operate according to their ideals. It just gets too complicated and everyone's looking for the victim position according to the mainifesto.

In my experience with grassroots organisations, It's pretty clear to me that one person can render the group useless by forever sighting scripture or constantly taking the contrarion position so that in their theoretical world, no one's feelings get hurt.

Talking pie in the sky Utopia is all fun and good but it won't get us out of this mess.

OK, NDP fiscal responsibility, myth or reality, the electorate is not buying it.

Stan Hister

Here’s my contribution to fighting thread drift.

This article raises a basic point: What is the left fighting for? What is its vision? Where are its big ideas?

A lot of people are obviously pissed off at me for asking these questions, but no one on this thread has offered any meaningful answers.

To the extent than anybody has anything concrete to offer, it’s a return to the ‘good old days’ of the welfare state, or as someone put it, a “Keynesian, Just Society, Pro-Labour government”. Now there’s a vision worth fighting for - outdated bourgeois economics and moldy Liberal election rhetoric!

And somehow we’re supposed to bring back this sort of ‘capitalism with a human face’ in an age of the most rapacious capitalist globalization, an age of Enrons and oil wars. It’s always ‘realists’ like this who turn out to be the worst sort of utopians, true believers in CAPITALIST pie-in-the-sky.

At least some people have agreed with me that Layton is far more glitzy image than real substance. Yet I’m still accused of “picking on Layton” because you can’t expect anything else from an NDP leader. Surely this is wanting to eat your cake – or donut - and have it too.

My point was that Layton is appealing to a lot of people in social activist movements who have been a good deal to the left of the NDP traditionally. If these people are aware that this emperor has no clothes, they’re keep awfully quiet about it. In fact there’s been nothing but a chorus of hallelujahs for ‘Jack’ from the left. And that only underscores my point – that the absence of an alternative vision to capitalism is endemic on the left.

Finally I want to take on a cultural stereotype that runs right through this thread. It’s the one about pragmatists vs. ideologues, people who like to ‘get things done’ vs. hysterical sectarians who’d rather commit political suicide than see any of their oh so precious ideas compromised. A no-brainer, right?

But a no-brainer can also be brainless. We’ve had nothing but pragmatists in mainstream politics since time immemorial. And where has this gotten us? A society so starkly polarized in terms of wealth that it would make even an apologist for feudalism blush.

Remember back in 1988 the House of Commons unanimously passed a resolution to end child poverty by the year 2000? The motion was put by Ed Broadbent, as pragmatic a guy as you could wish. And this was hardly was some wild-eyed utopian dream – not when the likes of Brian Mulroney were voting for it.

Since then we’ve had an even more pragmatic guy running the country: Chretien wouldn’t know a political principle if it hit him on the head (which is why he’s so admired by another stellar pragmatist, Bob Rae). We’ve also had an unprecedented economic boom, the stock hit record levels, the rich were making money hand over fist.

And yet here we are, 4 years after the deadline, and there’s still over a million kids living below the poverty line. It turns out that the ‘get things done’ kind of guys are only able to do things that suit capitalism. And here’s a prediction you can bet the proverbial mortgage on: if pragmatists continue running the show – including NDP pragmatists – there’ll be millions more kids living in poverty ten or fifteen years from now.

What a terrible sin – to have a vision! What a terrible sin – to have principles and actually stick up for them!

In that essay of Oscar Wilde’s I quoted, he talks about the role that abolitionists played in ending slavery. If it were up to ‘pragmatists’, to ‘realists’, Afro-Americans would still be in bondage. The Abolitionists started out as a small bunch of ‘extremists’ and ‘idealists’ with a vision of freedom that they refused to compromise on. And yet it was they who “lit the torch” that finally destroyed slavery.

It’s only that sort of idealism that will ignite a mass movement against capitalism in our time.

thwap

Mr. Hister,

I did say there was good and bad in what you wrote, but you're right, I didn't take the time to adequately flesh-out what I thought was bad or good.

Yes, "pragmatism" is a dead end if it means only more effective management of the system (Think Rae, Romanow, [even Clinton] compared to Harris, Devine, Bush jr.)

As Michael Albert puts it, 'why keep cleaning up the messes of an unsustainable system? Why not change the system?'

But I've read Gindin, Panitch, Gonick, et.al, for a long time now. They're still not clear on how to accomplish their goals. Gindin's plan for a "structured movement on the left" (what I thought was an attempt at creating a new party by stealth) never went anywhere.

Given the failure of the socialist left (I include myself in this) to communicate a winning strategy, what is left for the social democrats to do other than to make the system more humane?

Your criticism of Layton's talk of supporting a minority Liberal government just seemed a little doctrinaire. If we (the NDP) could mitigate the sufferings caused by neo-liberalism, if we could even force the Liberals to roll it back in some areas, this would be a very real, very good accomplishment.

I agree that socialism, but not necessarily state-managed nationalization of everything, is necessary to bring about real change, and that the socialist critique (such as you provide) is important. Personally, I think your article needs to be balanced by pragmatism, just as NDP pragmatism needs to be balanced by idealism and analysis.

PINK APE 2000

All Right! Lets get this party started.

I'm glad you clarified your position Mr. Hister (I think?)

All those who want to fight for the overthrow of capitalism, raise your hand.

All those who want to work for a slightly more just and equitable society, say nothing.

Mr. Magoo Mr. Magoo's picture

I demand a utopia, and will bitterly denounce anything else as a sellout. Should I raise both hands for that?

Lard Tunderin Jeezus Lard Tunderin Jeezus's picture

quote:


What a terrible sin – to have a vision! What a terrible sin – to have principles and actually stick up for them!

I believe the issue most of us have is that your vision seems completely disconnected from reality. If your vision included the path [b]leading[/b] to your ideological utopia, I for one might be more open to its consideration.

jeff house

quote:


And here’s a prediction you can bet the proverbial mortgage on: if pragmatists continue running the show – including NDP pragmatists – there’ll be millions more kids living in poverty ten or fifteen years from now.


How certain you are!

And how certain you are that nationalizing the means of production would create fewer poor children, fewer poor adults, etc. That might be so if intentions create reality, but in fact your recipe would simply cause economic collapse.

Brandishing the word "socialism" is a kind of silly romanticism. While Messrs. Gindin and Co. are no doubt praiseworthy people, why have they been unable to sell this vision thing? They want Jack to do it, but they can't create a movement themselves. No one responds when they put out the call.

Why IS that? I guess the masses just need a Central Committee to decide these things for us.

Doug the Red

Mr. Hister,

Thanks for writing that article, and also for clarifying your argument.

The problem with providing a vision of socialism is that it is still hampered by what happened in Russia, China and elsewhere (which I believe were not socialist but state capitalist). While there have been embryonic forms of socialism, notably the early Soviets in Russia and the Paris Commune, most people are completely unaware of these events and so our task at providing a vision becomes even more difficult. Not only do most people think nothing remotely resembling worker's power has existed, but they also think that anything that is initially socialist will inevitably lead to Stalinist Russia, China, North Korea, etc. The immense popularity of Orwell's two most famous books greatly reinforces these views, to the extent that its worth noting.

As for the revolutionary left in Canada, including the International Socialists, of which I am a member, there is a vision of socialism and a fairly well developed understanding of how it can come about and what it would look like. I disagree when you say that even the revolutionary left can only mimic liberal platitudes. Not only are there numerous, detailed historical writings about socialist revolutions that initially succeeded (Russia, Germany, etc) but there are also many books based on these historical examples that construct a detailed picture of what socialism would be like.

Speaking for the IS, we are dedicated to "socialism from below" and are wary of creating a detailed vision of a future socialist society like Robert Owen did or Michael Albert is doing now. We believe, as Marx said, in the self-emancipation of the working class: it is up to the working class to create the structures of socialism, not for an elite group to impose this structure. Revolutionary groups that are organically tied to the working class prior to a revolution will have the ear of the working class when a revolution does occur. Doing this, revolutionary socialists can provide an informed argument of how socialism can be generally constructed based on historical examples.

So, I don't think there is a lack of vision, at least on the revolutionary left, but rather a difficult environment in which to put forward a socialist vision. Party's like the NDP, at their most socialist, don't believe in revolution, but rather a "parliamentary road to socialism", as supported by Ed Broadbent, and they hardly lay out what socialism will look like for fear of scaring off voters. Not only do revolutionaries think morphing capitalism into socialism is impossible through parliamentary means, but we are also against these reformers as their ideological position has time and time again put them firmly against democratic working class revolution, as the SDP's role in crushing the German revolution in 1919 clearly demonstrates.

[ 01 April 2004: Message edited by: Doug the Red ]

PINK APE 2000

It sounds like Doug The Red knows some history but he's learned the wrong (... ok wrong) lessons.

He's stated the best examples against a socialist theory in action yet he trots out the ultra chic goatee of early Russia and the Paris commune. Yeah, there's proof positive for ya.

The proliteriate has to be democratic somehow and yet stick to the socialist philosophy. When the going gets rough that's when they have to call in the tanks. ie, the above mentioned examples.

N.Beltov N.Beltov's picture

Years ago I had a trade unionist friend who used to say, "N, the members are always right." I would scratch me head, wonder a bit, and treat it like a zen koan or Hegelian dialectical razzle-dazzle. Did he mean that if there is a disagreement between me, in some leadership position, and rank-and-filers that the rank and filers are always right? I still wonder a bit...but I take one aspect of what he said to mean that I should have a fundamental faith in the members to give me some guidance...that I shouldn't be afraid of that guidance...that if I lose a political battle I need to consider the wisdom of the members beyond my own wisdom. I have never forgotten that expression and I never shall. It seems to me to reflect a profoundly unshakeable democratic spirit and faith in my own social class to find creative solutions to difficult problems.

Vision. Goals. Methods for achieving those goals. Friends we can count on. I have yet to see an NDP leader, openly, whether he or she has some vision of a better society than the current one, to welcome socialists to the NDP and muse, aloud, for all to hear, about what kind of society we want and how we might get there. We all know that the process is as important as the goals...that means are ends themselves...but how much better it would be for all of us if a Jack Layton, or any NDP leader, put his cards on the table and facilitated a debate, the end of which we cannot possibly know, about socialist visions. Not to elaborate a blueprint but to dare to dream of a better world. It seems to me that working people deserve from its would-be thinkers an openness and honesty that [i]their[/i] creativity is valuable and needed. To demonstrate by deed that we really do believe that the members are always right.

There was a babble thread where I tried to elaborate a "faithfulness" that differed from the "blind" faith we are all familliar with. I think it was under "joy of atheism."

In his babble reply, Stan Hister noted, "It’s only that sort of idealism that will ignite a mass movement against capitalism in our time. "

It's a good thing that Layton has made welcome social activists to the NDP as a revitalization of his own party and for the left in general. Keep going dammit! And if Jack Layton won't keep going...then he and his supporters shouldn't be suprised...if he gets pushed from the left as well as the right. Bully for Hister for stirring the pot and pushing a little...

Doug the Red

quote:


Originally posted by PINK APE 2000:
[b]It sounds like Doug The Red knows some history but he's learned the wrong (... ok wrong) lessons.

He's stated the best examples against a socialist theory in action yet he trots out the ultra chic goatee of early Russia and the Paris commune. Yeah, there's proof positive for ya.

The proliteriate has to be democratic somehow and yet stick to the socialist philosophy. When the going gets rough that's when they have to call in the tanks. ie, the above mentioned examples.[/b]


While I concede that the history of the Soviet Union is a sticking point (and will forever be one), you're completely wrong about the Paris Commune. Tens of thousands of Parisians didn't die at the hands of some elite cabal running the city, but by the French government which took back the city with horrific brutality. Get your facts straight.

I'm not going to use this thread to debate your comments regarding Russia, so I recommend "In Defence of October" by John Rees of the British SWP (the same tendency as the Canadian IS of which I am a member). The book includes three responses from non-SWP/IS academic critiquing Rees's historical analysis, and then finishes with a rejoinder by Rees. It might be available online somewhere, and it will definitely be in a university library.

PINK APE 2000

>The book includes three responses from non-SWP/IS academic critiquing Rees's historical analysis, and then finishes with a rejoinder by Rees. It might be available online somewhere, and it will definitely be in a university library.
>
>
Yeah, I'll be sure to look that one up, in between paying my hydro bill and working at the call centre.

It's real people with real ideas like yours that makes the day to day trudgery a little less oppresive.

Rufus Polson

I have no problem with pushing the envelope from the left, as N. Beltov suggests.
I have doubts about Mr. Hister's social analysis, but more because I'm basically an Anarchist not a Socialist than because I think it's too 'extreme'.
I have difficulties with Doug the Red's whole revolution thing. But in a way it's irrelevant. Our actual politics are worth discussing, but no matter what they are I don't see them as reasonable grounds for a critique of the job Layton's doing as leader of the New Democratic Party.

That may sound odd, I realize. But the point is that all these critiques come from a skepticism about the viability of reform-oriented attempts to work within the current parliamentary system. But Jack Layton is the leader of the New Democratic Party. This party is by definition a reform-oriented attempt to work within the current parliamentary system. If he abandoned the attempt to do that, it would be a betrayal of the party he ran for the leadership of.

So Layton may have something you guys would consider substance in the middle of that doughnut, but it would be utterly irresponsible and indeed treacherous of him to admit it, given that he deliberately ran for and won the leadership of the New Democratic Party.

To put it a different way, it seems to me that your positions are bases for some very serious critiques of the NDP and everything it stands for. This is well worth doing. It seems odd, however, to instead criticize the *leader* of the NDP for not rejecting the NDP and everything it stands for. That's hardly his job.

Performance Anxiety

What's with the Tim Horton's reference? Wasn't it Sheila Copps who used TH's as a venue for press conferences and whatnot? Personally I don't think being associated with a doughnut chain is a good thing. A far better association, in my view, would be with this:

[url=http://infringementfestival.com/]http://infringementfestival.com/[/url]

Doug the Red

quote:


Originally posted by PINK APE 2000:
[b]It's real people with real ideas like yours that makes the day to day trudgery a little less oppresive.[/b]

Glad to be of service.

verbatim

{Aside}...

PA, are you Googlebombing your site here? If so, I think that's rather cheesy.

N.Beltov N.Beltov's picture

Never heard of it until I looked it up...

Google bombing
(GOO.gul bawm.ing) n. Setting up a large number of Web pages with links that point to a specific Web site so that the site will appear near the top of a Google search when users enter the link text.

[url=http://www.wordspy.com/words/Googlebombing.asp]Google Bombing ...what is it?[/url]

PINK APE 2000

Nope. That's the first time I heard of it.

My site is [url=http://www.EntList.com]http://www.EntList.com[/url]

Stephen Gordon

I think the reference was to the link Performance Anxiety posted.

arborman

Umm, back to the so far interesting discussion.

I actually liked Hister's response to the thread better than the article itself.

PINK APE 2000

P-Anxiety will be on the increase when they figure out they're doing an anti-corporate festival but the're looking for sponsors. I suppose they'll have a litmus test for worthy sponsers, head shops and reflexologists. If they're lucky enough to be successful, their ideology will break down as more feasible commercial interest want to get involved.

Its all goop.

Pimji

I liked the article. I’ll agree it is challenging. In short I interpret the article to be saying at this point in time that current systems, both socialist and capitalist, are paralyzed by a lack of imagination.

If I were to offer one critique it would be that left, like the right, believes that all human affairs are motivated and dictated by economics.

arborman

There has been a loss of the human element in public discourse. In my day to day work I am dealing with the absolute, all out assault on the poor of BC by our current provincial government. Unfortunately, it boils down to graphs and budget numbers (and a foolish tax cut).

A lot of suffering, stress, suicides and misery to pay for that tax cut. It break my heart, and it pisses me off.

Keeping my eyes on Utopia is all well and good, but in the short term I'm going to work hard to get these monsters (and I am not exaggerating, if you look at it on the human level) the hell out of office, and fast.

Right now I feel that it is not a matter of revolutionizing our society etc. Rather, it is a matter of stopping the full frontal attack on the vulnerable people of our communities, and trying to build ways to improve the way we operate as a society. We can be rightsous and denounce Layton and the rest, but unless we can produce something real and credible, we aren't doing anything to help.

Rationalizing the suffering of others for any reason, including sowing the seeds of radical change, is nihilism. Our obligation is to fight for each human, not for an idea. When we eventually clue into that basic foundation, we'll have something to work with.

Cleve

I agree with Rufus Polson, it seems somewhat pointless to be criticizing Jack Layton for not having a more substantial or radical vision when this criticism is really applicable to the NDP as a whole. I see the NDP as an electoral part of the larger movement for a better society. What Mr. Hister and others seem to mean when they say "vision" is revolutionary vision, ie a vision of a socity beyond capitalism. The NDP (and Jack Layton) can't be expected to (officially) have this kind of vision when they operate within the context of electoral politics which are an inherent part of what a revolutionary vision would be replacing.

I don't see it as hypocritical for radical activists to support Jack Layton despite his lack of vocal radical vision. They probably recognize that considering the context in which he operates he has struck a good balance between being leftist and his actual goal, which is to get elected. The transformation of society is the goal of the broader movement of the left, and an NDP government (or coalition with the Liberals) would certainly be a step in the right direction but there is no way it can ever be expected to attempt the entire leap on its own.

Mr. Hister, you say "somehow we’re supposed to bring back this sort of ‘capitalism with a human face’ in an age of the most rapacious capitalist globalization". I would say that yes, what we definitly do need is capitalism with a human face because of exactly what you say: capitalism is really bad now and getting worse. It is killing people, and if the "human face" of NDP reformism can slow down that process then it should be supported.

It's not up to the NDP or Jack Layton to propose or implement revolutionary vision. However, it is an essential part of any revolutionary movement, and I think that Doug the Red is too quick in dismissing the Parecon vision proposed by Michael Albert. Why should there be wariness of a vision for a possible future society? Is there a fear that it will be somehow imposed upon the people? I find this kind of reasoning far fetched, and I think that the far greater risk is that a revolutionary movement without a vision could end up with a society that is not much better than the one we're leaving behind, as has happened in the past.

elixir

I can see why some see that there is a bit of a false debate here. The piece criticizes the NDP, before and after Layton, for not having the right stuff to fight and ultimately overturn capitalism.

It's easy to respond that, well, the NDP isn't and has never been about those things anyway. Why hold the party to standards whose very proponents haven't scored many successes themselves?

The piece sets itself up to be rejected in this way, although the author's subsequent remarks clear things up a bit.

I think you can criticize the NDP on its own terms. It is not able to deliver the things it says it will, and is unable even to win elections in most cases in spite of the fact that this is always given as the main rationale for "moderating" language and goals.

For me, the point about the current phase of capitalism is useful to explain why the traditional NDP "get elected and make progressive reforms" strategy is even less viable than before. The system just doesn't have as much "give" in it as it did a couple decades ago. So by not tackling the system more frontally, both in your "language" but more importantly in the groundwork that is laid through organizing and education, you are even throwing out the possibility of even the gradual and modest reforms you planned. Indeed, as Social Democratic governments across Western Europe have shown in recent years (and not only Blair), you end up going in the opposite direction.

Leave aside the absurd spectacle rightly described in the article: an NDP campaigning against the corporate and corrupt Liberals, while simultaneously salivating over the prospect of supporting (and even joining?) a Liberal minority government.

What about the actual outcome of such a move, again based only on the NDP's own terms? Why is there so much certainty that the NDP will get more of its agenda through under such an unprincipled arrangement than if it stayed in opposition, built strong pressure on an unstable government (of any stripe) and scored improved electoral results in future elections? All the while building a strong movement of opposition and ideas across the country...

In between the lines of the piece is also the idea that [i]things needn't have turned out this way[/i]. The piece is quite hard on Judy Rebick, and I am guessing that the reason for this is that the NPI needn't have caved in so early and completely to the Layton leadership campaign and, now, to the Layton-led NDP.

There was a space and a need for a more critical and radical Left in this country. With the collapse of the NPI, that space is much smaller now, but the very fact that we are having this exchange here on Babble shows that the need is still there. (You won't find these issues being debated in your local NDP riding association, if one even exists outside election time.)

It is disconcerting to see how quickly a project pointing in that direction was abandoned and how its proponents are now so ready to contradict the very things they said such a short time ago.

No, the small independent Left forces who persist in trying to build a more radical alternative have not had any great successes. OK, there's a separate and long thread to be had on that subject. But it's not the height of sincerity and collegiality to be pointing to the failures of the radical Left while sitting embedded in a party which (remember, this is where this began) is demonstrably not committed to the radical Left's objectives of genuine transformation.

[ 02 April 2004: Message edited by: elixir ]

thwap

Okay.

I tried to say it before; "Politics is the art of the possible" doesn't have to be a cliche.

The NDP has to more courageously think about what is truly possible. "Possible" doesn't have to mean the same thing as "safe."

But if Mr. Hister is still following the thread, I'd like to ask for a clear, coherent outline of advancing socialism via any path, whether through Parliament and the NDP, some other party, revolution, etc.,.

And (was it 'Dan the Red'? ....[not RedDan from 'Tacitus'?!?]) perhaps you could give us a picture of a coherent 'revolutionary' path to socialism?

Otherwise, discussing the NDP's discussing imperfections and failures seems kinda like idle speculation and musings. What else do we offer?

I liked the NPI's call for the expansion of democracy and human rights everywhere. I actually saw no need for winding it up.

Personally, I'd like to see democracy expanded into private sector workplaces, thus defeating the power of private capital through the people, not the state. I'd like to think the NDP could be the vehichle for legislating this expansion of democracy.

Steve N

The Regina Manifesto notwithstanding, even Tommy Douglas' governments were reform governments that worked withing the existing system rather than replacing that system with "something else." I agree with others that we can't simply trash the NDP for not being radical enough when it has never claimed to being a radical movement.

If you don't like the NDP as it stands, vote M-L. And I'm not just being sarcastic here. Probably the best hope we have for "real" change is with the implementation of proportional representation. There is a good chance that under such a system we could eventually see a minority NDP government supported by a few M-L members.

The problem with Democracy is that if you want radical change you have to convince the majority to support that change. If Hister or anyone else wants to accomplish that, then make a case for it and take it to the Canadian people and convince them. What annoys me about the article is that Hister apparently wants Layton to do it for him. And Layton is under this obligation because...?

nonpartisan

quote:


And Layton is under this obligation because...?

(as the logic goes) the NDP has always staked out the position as the only electoral (serious) party on the left, expecting (taking for granted?) the support of left activists even though it has never reflected their positions on some fundamental issues.

As I and others have said above, it is not realistic to expect the NDP to be something that it never was. I strongly agree with Steve N's assertion that pr will be a good thing for the left, allowing for a more diverse range of views to be reflected in electoral politics (and hopefully in Parliament) without risking splitting (destroying?) the NDP.

In the end, I think the NPI's initial formulation of "one party - many movements", while practical under first-past-the-post elections, had it backwards. I think "one movement - many parties" provides a more solid long range perspective.

N.Beltov N.Beltov's picture

quote:


Originally posted by Non-partisan partisan:
[b](as the logic goes) the NDP has always staked out the position as the only electoral (serious) party on the left, expecting (taking for granted?) the support of left activists even though it has never reflected their positions on some fundamental issues.....

In the end, I think the NPI's initial formulation of "one party - many movements", while practical under first-past-the-post elections, had it backwards. I think "one movement - many parties" provides a more solid long range perspective.[/b]


What would flow from your analysis ...is that left-NDPers and "left-of-the-NDP" have a ready made issue in increased democratization of the voting system, i.e., proportional representation, as an issue to unite the two groups...and as an issue to "push the NDP left" on. Now there's a democratic deficit we can all sink our teeth into...

Stan Hister

A few points:

Arborman writes: “Rationalizing the suffering of others for any reason, including sowing the seeds of radical change, is nihilism. Our obligation is to fight for each human, not for an idea. When we eventually clue into that basic foundation, we'll have something to work with.”

I sympathize with the feeling but I question the logic. Take child poverty, which I raised earlier. Through individual action you can help at best a relative handful of children. No doubt such efforts can make a difference in these children’s lives, but if this is all you do – in other words if you focus all your efforts on this as opposed to “sowing the seeds of radical change” – then aren’t you guilty of ignoring the million odd other kids who continue to be condemned to poverty? And wouldn’t that be a much clearer case of moral “nihilism” than the other way around? The Abolitionists didn’t just help individual slaves; on the contrary, the main thrust of their work was to eradicate the evil of slavery root and branch. I think the highest humanism today is the fight for socialism.

I think Elixir is right that this discussion is an indication of a need for a more critical and radical left and to that extent I think the article has served a purpose. As to spelling out a vision for socialism, that’s simply beyond the scope of an article like this. I would add, however, that a vision doesn’t mean a blueprint, some fantasy utopia where every detail – including what people wear on Tuesday – is worked out in advance.

I did make a point, though, of raising nationalization both because I think this is fundamental to any socialist vision and also because its total absence in the current economic climate - i.e. with the bankruptcies of Air Canada and Stelco – is a measure of how bereft the left today is of any alternative to capitalism.

The big objection to nationalization is that it creates bureaucracy. Needless to say, that isn’t how I see it. As my remarks on the Soviet Union were meant to indicate, I’m an opponent of Stalinism and my vision of socialism has nothing to do with bureaucratic totalitarianism. And this isn’t just true of me as an individual: there’s a long tradition of struggle within the left on this issue. Part of the irony of George Orwell’s predicament is that he became the poster boy for the identification of socialism with totalitarianism, though he saw his books primarily as an attack on Stalinism in defense of a genuine socialist vision.

Nationalization isn’t about bureaucracy, it’s about democracy. About real democracy – i.e. the great majority taking control of the economy from the tiny minority of wealthy parasites. Nationalization means nothing – from a genuinely socialist perspective – unless it goes with workers’ control.

This is also a demand that has disappeared from the political discourse of the left. Things like proportional representation are very trendy, but as valid a demand as that is, it does little to change the basic class structure. After all, the corporate elite is alive and well in Europe which has had PR for decades.

But nobody talks about workers’ control – about the factories and offices being run by the people who work in them. No single measure could more profoundly democratize social life than that. But of course that directly challenges the most holy of holies – the so-called right of private property.

Finally, a word about how popular or otherwise these ideas would be. There’s a sort of ‘opinion poll’ mentality reflected in some of the discussion: nobody would vote for that so it can’t be good. It’s like those reports about which movie got the most box office on the weekend: lots of people went so it must be good, and if not many people went then it must be a stinker. Bad way to judge movies and an even worse way to judge politics.

Capitalism routinely manipulates public opinion – that’s a large part of what the mass media is about. So big surprise – a vision to end capitalism isn’t hugely popular. But so what? The big question is – does the world need to be changed? And if it does, then we have to find a way of breaking the shell of manufactured public opinion. The point of my article was that crucial to such an effort is articulating a vision of socialism.

arborman

SOme of the most constructive discussion I've read in awhile. Diversity has always been both a strength and a weakness of the left.

The right (and I recognize the shameless oversimplification of the left-right linear model) has been historically quite effective at finding common ground, agreeing to disagree on certain issues, and subsuming any views that are unpalatable to the general public (until they get into power).

The left, for many reasons, tend to have our fights and disagreements out in the open. Combined with a social activist's wish to hear everyone's voice, we often appear divided and unfocused, navel gazing and fighting about the destination without even agreeing on a road to take.

Jack Layton is not and cannot be all things to all people. However, he is the most progressive party leader out there (in the big parties), and given the political context, he is the one whom I will support. However, I come to that view as a former Liberal pragmatist. I have always been of the view that a flawed progressive in power is better than a righteous and perfect progressive on the sidelines.

Honestly, most of us wouldn't want the sort of chaos that would precede the radical systemic change some of you profess to want. The only way a majority of people would support such a change is if they are suffering, and I refuse to 'look forward' to that circumstance. I see our role, and the role of the NDP, as an attempt to find ways within the system to alleviate suffering and build the just society. By definition, the NDP is a part of the system.

If it doesn't work, meaning if society continues down the path we seem to be on, then eventually the NDP, as well as the rest of the current parties, will cease to matter, ad we will have to deal with the circumstances and issues of the day. Until then, the NDP as it exists, in the context it is in, is essentially a party to prevent our society ever getting to that point. This is a good thing, because that point, in human terms, means a lot of suffering and pain for the members of our society.

I reject any view that says that suffering is necessary to further some utopian goal, to bring the masses around. Utter nonsense.

N.Beltov N.Beltov's picture

“Things like proportional representation are very trendy, but as valid a demand as that is, it does little to change the basic class structure. After all, the corporate elite is alive and well in Europe which has had PR for decades.”

Damn you are hard line! Seems to me that public debate and discussion about the form of democracy is a useful prelude/accompanyment to talking about the content. (socialism) Further, Europe has parties to the left of the Social-Democrats in their parliaments, etc. And that gives some “purchase” or leverage to crack the door open a bit more. One of the problems of the left in Canadian (electoral) politics is the monopoly position occupied by the NDP in public discourse..other than in places like babble that is. Seems a variety of views would help us all on the left, that it is just short-sighted by some NDPers to attempt to keep that monopoly…So lighten up, eh?

“But nobody talks about workers’ control – about the factories and offices being run by the people who work in them. No single measure could more profoundly democratize social life than that. But of course that directly challenges the most holy of holies – the so-called right of private property. “

I have some experience in this regard. As do many Canadians…in co-operatives, left-wing bookstores, and so on. An openness to a variety of forms of property seems essential for socialists…not the least reason being that the abolition of private property is a hell of a lot easier with a public that is already used to a variety of forms of property, to discussion about their functioning, and so on. It seems to me that talk and practice and experiment in this regard does move us forward…a little.

My experience teaches me that the typical institutions of working people, trade unions in particular, have to be retained, even if they come to play a more complex role in the new institution. That’s the first lesson that I learned…and believe me, I paid for it…it was interesting how many “well-intentioned” people stumbled over that one. There was no better proof of the flawed nature of the Soviet-style of socialism than the virtual rubber stamp nature of their trade union bureaucracy and its accompanying weakness to fight for its members…Another point I would mention is that the complexity of a transition in the form of property makes for a golden opportunity for the members to get…screwed. Talk and analysis of transitions, whether in forms of property or some other subject, seem a productive avenue as well.

That’s my rant. Keep up the good work dude.

"Noli arrogantium iniurias pati"

['Don't let the bastards grind you down']

Coyote

If Mr. Hister has done nothing else with this essay, he has at least helped to re-introduce a discourse of economic nationalization. I agree whole-heartedly. We need to start taking a more aggressive stance on how we view economic matters, and it has to be more substantive than raising corporate taxes.

I would add that while talking about nationalization, we should be including a discourse of 'co-operatization', placing the levers of economic power in the hands of workers and communities.

But Mr. Hister, I would suggest to you that in framing this debate within an attack on Jack Layton, you have run the risk of alienating an otherwise very receptive audience. Now, this is not to say that he is above criticism; far from it. But alot of us who are supportive of Mr. Layton are so because we feel that under his leadership it may be possible to begin opening up this dialogue. Like I said earlier, I agree with you that Mr. Layton has been vague on economic matters; but I think that is because we are all, on the Left, being vague on those matters. We have been beaten back on so many levels it isn't even funny.

I might suggest that one of the reasons we have been beaten back, sir, is because we have focused so much on maintaining some notion of our purity rather than on working together within institutions like the NDP that just might be able to provide a firm base for economic reform.

My two cents.

jeff house

I think M. Hister simply dekes around opposing arguments.

He trashes Layton because Layton doesn't want to nationalize the "means of production". He trivializes the SLIGHT difficulty that only a tiny minority of people in this country would ever vote for a party which took this position.
Social democratic ideas are moth-eaten, he informs us, and counterposes solutions from the Communist Manifesto (1848).

And he doesn't explain why purists who talk romantically about their vision for socialism nonetheless leave it to others to lead.

Someone asked: What is the specific method of getting from where we are to where you think we should be? And can that be done democratically?

No answer was given.

But on the basic concrete question of how to get from here to there, M. Hister gives no answer. Isn't this the definition of utopian socialism?

elixir

quote:


Someone asked: What is the specific method of getting from where we are to where you think we should be? And can that be done democratically?

No answer was given.


Well, as someone else said, the NDP positions itself as being the only serious force on the Left, and takes for granted support from people with whom it holds serious disagreements. Thanks to its funding from unions and from progressives in the professional classes, and due to its presence within state institutions at various levels, it has access to resources that the rest of the political Left does not.

So part of getting "there from here" involves, one, criticizing the NDP leadership and, two, engaging that part of the population which usually ends up voting NDP but does so while holding their noses. Hister's article leans mostly in the direction of the first point, but the second point is also partially covered, including here in this Babble exchange. Has there been something "undemocratic" (or "totalitarian") about this exercise?

There's also the matter of building a separate non-NDP Left political project and debating the merits and problems of such projects. I don't know if Hister is involved in such a project.

But one person and one article (and one Babble thread) can only do so much. Surely, deflecting criticism of Layton and the NDP by demanding to know "what have you done?" only works up to a point. One would think that people on the Left (inside or outside the NDP) would be a bit more careful throwing this kind of ultimatum down, seeing how often right-wingers always do that to us...

[ 02 April 2004: Message edited by: elixir ]

nonpartisan

quote:


[b]N.Beltov said:[/b]What would flow from your analysis ...is that left-NDPers and "left-of-the-NDP" have a ready made issue in increased democratization of the voting system, i.e., proportional representation, as an issue to unite the two groups...and as an issue to "push the NDP left" on. Now there's a democratic deficit we can all sink our teeth into...

I agree with this except for the part about "an issue to push the NDP left on". Most of the NDP already supports electoral reform. So do most of the other mainstream parties. It's the "left of the NDPers" who need to be pushed to put some energy into this issue in order to break the first-past-the-post malaise and disillusionment.

I don't see (most of) the "left of the NDPers" having any ideas of their own on electoral reform so there's not much "pushing to the left" they can do (although I shouldn't underestimate some of the geniuses who are sure to come up with brilliant, instant positions once electoral reform is really on the agenda).

I thought that Layton's move to tie electoral reform into support for a minority liberal government was a bold and smart move (although I know some here disagree). He knows that he's not going to be forming a government any time soon but that electoral reform is one of the keys to re-engaging the public in politics again and overcoming the cynicism which impacts the NDP as much (or more) as any other party.

[ 02 April 2004: Message edited by: Non-partisan partisan ]

PINK APE 2000

Wow! Isn't the Internet wonderful. Where else can you get chit-chat with such an extreme ...group?

For those of you who are actually serious about

1. revolution against parliament
2. abolishment of private property and inheritence
3. overthrowing capitalism.

I don't think you should vote for the NDP or try to devlop policy.

I know, I know, who am to tell you what to do. My reasoning is that these positions belong in a different party. You should be honest about who you are and organize based on your fundamentals. For the NDP, not only, are these positions unplatable to the general electorate but they would not survive radification in their own ranks.

I know that the NDP may have been founded by ML socialists but that's ancient history. It's one thing to know the history, but if you're going to try and run a viabale organisation, these positions only serve to undermine the day to day realities of living in a capitalist society with tax cuts and downsizing and errosion of social services.

Get back to us when you're ready to implement your plan.

RickW

quote:


Originally posted by thwap:
[b]The myth of ndp fiscal irresponsibility exists in spite of a long record of prudence. Conservatives have a long history of recklessness, going back to Sir John A. and including Diefenbaker, and now Devine and Harris/Eves.[/b]

I am always astounded how something like this can be stood on it head generation after generation, and in spite of mountains of evidence to the contrary.

Does this mean you CAN fool ALL the people, ALL of the time?

Seuno

quote:


Originally posted by PINK APE 2000:
For those of you who are actually serious about:

1. revolution against parliament
2. abolishment of private property and inheritence
3. overthrowing capitalism.

I don't think you should vote for the NDP or try to devlop policy.

[I say quite the opposite: You should try to develope policy in the scientific thought of Marx, do for the working class what you can now. Revolution and armed violent revolution may be two different things. Violence should be avoided as in the third or fourth international decision. Trying to accomplish everything in one lump sum is perfectionistic fantasy, such as doing away with private property and inheritence. Overthrowing capitalism would be like overthrowing one's own brain; having done that, there is little left for anything else, because one can not permanently overthrow something by it's own nature requiring perpetual change, and therefore, to cease the change, perpetual oppression.]

.......My reasoning is that these positions belong in a different party. You should be honest about who you are and organize based on your fundamentals......

[To be free to be honest about one's beliefs is a luxury few are afforded. Those positions are not true positions, they are reductio absurdum, an over simplification from a more complex and comprehensive formation from observation of human action, shared with the sociology of Marx et al. A party which does not teach from it's scientific activity is not a very good party. Every party may have a declaration of scientific method and record of research, but do they?]

I know that the NDP may have been founded by ML socialists but that's ancient history. It's one thing to know the history, but if you're going to try and run a viabale organisation, {these positions} only serve to undermine the day to day realities of living in a capitalist society with tax cuts and downsizing and errosion of social services.

[Which positions? We should critique based on what?]

Get back to us when you're ready to implement your plan.

[You were responding to someone else, and I don't know which plan you thought needed "implement". I have a plan that's needs the people.]

[/QB]


[url=http://groups.msn.com/taxationjustice]taxation page one[/url]

thwap

I'd like to hear more specific criticisms of Jack Layton.

I do like the way he stands up for himself and his policies.

Regarding "plans" or "revolutions," the danger of having too specific a plan to overhaul society is that if a couple of material factors change, then you are lost.

The problem with having no plan, absolutely no idea whatsoever about what to do, is you either accomplish nothing or you get swept along by events.

Mr. Hister's and the IS poster's statements about the need to get to the heart of the matter of the problems of the capitalist system are well taken.

(I disagree with wholesale 'nationalization.' I prefer wholesale 'democratization.')

I just think that those who criticize the NDP for not moving farther have to honestly address the questions of 'how to move farther' and 'why hasn't the NDP moved farther.'

We shouldn't be complacent or overly 'pragmatic,' but we must back up our critique with alternatives.

N.Beltov N.Beltov's picture

quote:


Originally posted by Non-partisan partisan:
[b] I agree with this except for the part about "an issue to push the NDP left on". Most of the NDP already supports electoral reform. So do most of the other mainstream parties. It's the "left of the NDPers" who need to be pushed to put some energy into this issue ....

I thought that Layton's move to tie electoral reform into support for a minority liberal government was a bold and smart move (although I know some here disagree). He knows that he's not going to be forming a government any time soon but that electoral reform is one of the keys to re-engaging the public in politics again and overcoming the cynicism which impacts the NDP as much (or more) as any other party.

[ 02 April 2004: Message edited by: Non-partisan partisan ][/b]


Nothing wrong with a little pushing back, eh? You really know how to hurt a leftie...

I wasn't aware that Layton had tied support of a Liberal minority regime to specific policy. Good stuff...it may actually have the effect of substantiating a vote for the NDP in the circumstances, we are all familliar with, when a voter re-gurgitates the Liberal argument that they should vote Liberal to ensure the other [i]more extreme[/i] right-wing party doesn't get elected. Of course that is the theory...if we come into that situation in practice let's hope that the promise is honoured...

The "wasted vote" argument is wasted on someone who is convinced that even one MP can make a difference ...we in Manitoba know about MLA Elijah Harper...

meegwich

jeff house

One of the things I disliked about the original article is the argument that Jack's emphasis on process caused him to avoid the question of where the process should lead.

I think that comment, by implication, is a criticism of Jack's work on democratizing this country, through PR, for one thing.

But some people, like Jack Layton, are actually prepared for a dialogue with the population of this country: he has his ideas, but values the experience of others. So procedural reforms, like PR, are important.

Of course, if you think "socialism" is a bunch of ready-made policy conclusions arrived at in 1848, then electoral reform is hollow; its supporters are "donuts".

The one thing I didn't see in the original article was this:

"A socialist values democracy and learns from the people."

elixir

quote:


But some people, like Jack Layton, are actually prepared for a dialogue with the population of this country: he has his ideas, but values the experience of others. So procedural reforms, like PR, are important.

I can't speak for Stan Hister, but I do have a few thoughts on this myself:

1. The NDP is not Jack Layton, Jack Layton is not the NDP. Whatever one things of Layton as an individual, presumably he cannot (and should not be expected to) single-handedly transform a party with the roots, interests and culture of the NDP. A post in another thread suggested that it is a bit odd to be getting lessons in democracy and process from people who have become such big boosters of the NDP based on their beliefs in or expectations of what a single leader can achieve.

2. In this era of polls and focus groups (and the history of these within the recent "modernization" of Social Democracy -- cf. Blair's Labour Party), it is entirely legitimate to be skeptical about a Left party (or government) leader's espousal of "openness" and "consultation".

3. Speaking of the "modernization" of Social Democracy, I also feel a more deep-seated skepticism is warranted in relation to the Layton project, inasmuch as -- in addition to PR -- it is also tied up with a shift to internal party reforms like "one member one vote", to an elimination of union funding, to a shift towards an "urban agenda" and to increased reliance on media and the Internet. I can expand on this point in a further post if people like.

4. The skepticism is further amplified when one sees that this project is being carried out with the direct blessing and participation of longtime party stalwarts (and ideologues, if I may use the term) such as Ed Broadbent and Desmond Morton, who cannot be said to have drawn a critical balance sheet of even the Bob Rae experience leave alone the expulsion of the Waffle in the early 1970s.

So (while I'm obviously sympathetic to talk of nationalization, though I prefer the term "socialization") it's not about attacking Jack Layton personally or saying that there is some full-blown ready-made socialist programme that everyone should quit the NDP for and adopt. But independent socialists such as myself (I'm a supporter of the New Socialist group and former NPIer) feel that, one, a space has to remain open for a more radical, activist and "transformative" Left and, two, there's reason to believe that Layton and his "modernization" project -- following a period in which the ideological and political profile of the party was uncertain -- could well be taking the NDP in the opposite direction.

The NPI experience revealed (yet again, the more jaded might say) that a radical/activist/transformative position or profile cannot be maintained with effect for long [i]within[/i] the NDP, and so there is little choice but to continue building Left organizations [i]outside[/i] the party.

For NDPers quick to jump on the non-NDP Left for our supposed lack of commitment to democracy and process, this should also give some pause for thought about the internal life of the NDP.

[ 03 April 2004: Message edited by: elixir ]

jeff house

quote:


For NDPers quick to jump on the non-NDP Left for our supposed lack of commitment to democracy and process, this should also give some pause for thought about the internal life of the NDP.

Hister's article "jumps on" Layton, largely for refusing to support nationalization. He poo-poos any suggestion that openness, and a willingness to listen might actually be positive values.

So, sorry, but I don't think I am "jumping on" anyone. If someone from the "non-NDP left" makes a criticism, they should be prepared to have their biases and weaknesses pointed out, also.

elixir

quote:


Hister's article "jumps on" Layton, largely for refusing to support nationalization. He poo-poos any suggestion that openness, and a willingness to listen might actually be positive values.

So, sorry, but I don't think I am "jumping on" anyone. If someone from the "non-NDP left" makes a criticism, they should be prepared to have their biases and weaknesses pointed out, also.


I didn't read Hister's piece that way. Rather, I felt he mentions "nationalization" as the way much of the Left used to try to put some meat on all the nice talk of social justice, activism and democracy in a society where wealth and power is concentrated in so few hands. He says Layton, the NDP and much of the rest of the Left do not do this, or anything approximating it, and he sees this as a big step backwards.

As for "poo-pooing" openness and a willingness to listen, I'm not Hister but in my last post I listed some specific and serious reasons as to why some on the Left might be skeptical about such things.

Jeff House, you appear to be saying that if someone doesn't have a detailed plan to make inroads into private ownership and control of the "commanding heights" of the economy -- and which, moreover, meets your "democratic" criteria -- then they better think twice about criticizing those who don't even mention the need to make such radical inroads. And who are part of a party that long ago stopped talking about such things, and in fact has gone in the opposite direction when in power, and is now making overtures to people who represent anything but this, and is even considering supporting a Liberal government which has gone further in the opposite direction than the Mulroney Tories.

Also, I gather you feel it is irresponsible to "deconstruct" terms like "activism", "social justice" and "democracy" and the potentially misleading way they are used on the Left today. This, after all, was the main point I got from Hister's piece.

Have I misread both House and Hister ?

[ 03 April 2004: Message edited by: elixir ]

matthewryan

You can come down on Layton for a number of things, but to claim that he's icing, maple or not, with a whole in the middle is a bit harsh. Given the perfect political climate, I imagine Layton would have the hard-line platform that this country needs; however, he, and his NDP colleagues alike, have to operate within a political system that would sooner see them relegated to the past. That being said, I can't even begin to understand how one could see Layton's maneuverings through our political system as icing. The NDP has put forth a progressive, if not idealistic agenda, amid the wave of status quo politics. Any more to the left, and the NDP wouldn't have a chance in hell of forming an effective opposition, let alone government.

Seuno

quote:


Originally posted by matthewryan:
[b] The NDP has put forth a progressive, if not idealistic agenda, amid the wave of status quo politics. Any more to the left, and the NDP wouldn't have a chance in hell of forming an effective opposition, let alone government.[/b]

Why would that stop them from being an effective opposition? Or are you defining "more to the left" like imagining one of those who believe they are Marxist but are psycho-fanatic? That's a rather broad brush to be painting individual socialists with......If Layton is avoiding a more solid political identity, then he is sweetener without the real thing. I don't want a public that is full of sweetener, I want a sober and factually equiped public that can move boldly and comprehensively to change, not follow like some groupie mob with stars in their eyes and heat in their pants.

PS There's no need for nationalization of anything except the workers movement. Give us power in democracy, or cram your "democracy" and we may get on with ours.

jeff house

quote:


PS There's no need for nationalization of anything except the workers movement. Give us power in democracy, or cram your "democracy" and we may get on with ours.

Thank you Mr. Stalin.

Elixir: Anyone can deconstruct anything they wish. Hister thinks that Layton is shies away from the traditional gaols of socialism, or rather, communism.

I think Hister's inability to appreciate the importance of a democratic process should also be deconstructed.

Furthermore, I think the heart of socialism for Hister is simply something which could never be sold to the population of this country. It would be an economic disaster, for one thing.

Layton is a democratic politician having substantial success at making progressive arguments in a difficult context.

Hister will have none of it. He wants his precooked agenda foisted on everyone. This needs to be deconstructed.

FencingFoil

Mr. Hister writes, "'Expropriate the expropriators' used to be a rallying cry of the socialist left. Now you'd almost have to look up nationalization in a dictionary of antiquarian terms."

Yes, could we please get back to using obnoxious Marxist jargon?

Sigh. You know how it sounds when the Right waxes nostalgic about Adam Smith and his invisible hand? That's how this all sounds.

It's absolutely true that the Left has lost its way. But it needs to look forwards and not back.

thwap

I prefer 'rights for the rightless' ["rightless"? what the hell kind of word is that?] than 'expropriation of the expropriators' because I'm hung up on the powerful institution or process that would be powerful enough to expropriate the expropriators. I wonder where it would end.

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