Michael Laxer's blog

Michael Laxer's picture
Michael Laxer lives in Toronto where he runs a bookstore with his partner Natalie. Michael 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.

Requiem for a preamble: A lament for a socialist ideal

| April 11, 2013

The New Democratic Party believes that the social, economic and political progress of Canada can be assured only by the application of democratic socialist principles to government and the administration of public affairs.

The principles of democratic socialism can be defined briefly as:

That the production and distribution of goods and services shall be directed to meeting the social and individual needs of people within a sustainable environment and economy and not to the making of profit;

To modify and control the operations of the monopolistic productive and distributive organizations through economic and social planning. Towards these ends and where necessary the extension of the principle of social ownership;

The New Democratic Party holds firm to the belief that the dignity and freedom of the individual is a basic right that must be maintained and extended; and

The New Democratic Party is proud to be associated with the democratic socialist parties of the world and to share the struggle for peace, international co-operation and the abolition of poverty.

It was a real vision, wasn't it? This preamble, soon to be gone, was a call to action. A direct contrast to our appallingly unjust society, made by those who really meant to be in opposition to a system, to capitalism, as opposed to being in "opposition" to a government, while enjoying all the perks, financial and otherwise, that a job as an MP brings.

This was a statement that made it clear that this party, the New Democratic Party, whatever tactical steps it might take, whatever short-term compromises it might make, was an opponent of the basic idea of capitalism. That it sought to remake society to eliminate the injustices that this system, by its very nature, inflicted on millions of Canadian citizens, and that it sought, once-and-for-all, to end the barbaric and entirely socially created "institution" of poverty.

It was a vision that understood that the context of any given short-term media spin cycle was not the context that the party fought in. That power was not an end, but a means to an end. And that that end was the reworking of how society functions.

But in a process that began many years ago, and that was consolidated under the leadership of Jack Layton and now validated under the leadership of Thomas Mulcair, the NDP has become little more than an ideological clone of what it once most despised (and continues to out of habit), the Liberal Party of Canada. A party driven by a desire to govern. A party that is "progressive," and that is, indeed, quite different from the Conservative Party, but that accepts that things fundamentally are as they are, and that they will basically remain so.

Thus we hear from the Huffington Post, in an article talking to the NDP's National Director Nathan Rotman:

Several top New Democrats told HuffPost that this weekend's convention will reveal whether the party’s membership is ready to accept the challenge of governing.

In 2008, when Layton told reporters he was campaigning to become prime minister, few took him seriously. Now, the party believes it has a real chance of forming government in 2015 — if it can convince Canadians the party is ready for the responsibility.

The first task, Rotman suggested, is highlighting to the party’s membership the importance of winning.

“We need to bring our people along and say, here are some of the great things we can do (if we have power),” he said.

For a long time, many New Democrats were content with being the “conscience of Parliament,” he said.

“We are still the voice of principle — I don’t want to make it sound like those principles alter — but you need to think about how you govern for all Canadians. You need to think about what happens when disaster strikes, when the economy goes south, when the economy goes north and how we can build a strong sustainable economy, and how we can support small businesses, and what a Canadian New Democrat government will look like,” Rotman said.

The language here is fascinating. Talking of bringing "our people along" and whether or not the membership will "accept" the challenge of governing, juxtaposing this, as they are, with the notion of standing on principle. Implying that leftists should no longer be content to be the "conscience" of parliament, as if this was a bad thing. As if this did not, as it did, actually change Canada by the threat that the conscience driven NDP posed to the existing political order. 

Now, according to the new preamble: 

New Democrats belong to the family of other progressive democratic political parties that govern successfully in many countries around the world. In co-operation with like minded political parties and governments, New Democrats are committed to working together for peace, international co-operation, and the common good of all - the common good being our fundamental purpose as a movement and as a party.

A totally meaningless statement that says the NDP belongs to a "family" that includes two of its three primary political "opponents", the Greens and the Liberals.  Are they not "progressive" and "democratic"? Do they not seek to work for the "common good of all", whatever this means? Including, of course, business people and the upper middle class.

And the new (proposed, though we all know it will pass) preamble also states:

New Democrats seek a future which brings together the best of the insights and objectives of Canadians who, within the social democratic and democratic socialist traditions, have worked through farmer, labour, co-operative, feminist, human rights and environmental movements to build a more just, equal, and sustainable Canada within a global community dedicated to the same goals.

A pleasingly inclusive statement that is also subtly dismissive. Removing as it does the commitment to end poverty, a fundamental trust that a socialist party has with the poor. It is also like those people that all leftists have met, at parties or meetings,  who go on about how left wing and radical they once were, and how much they still admire that, but how they had to "grow up" and "mature" and become "responsible" in their thinking. It is always a condescending and particularly unoriginal way of justifying "selling out", and it remains so here.

Yes, we were socialists once, but that was a long time ago. Now we need to get elected. For Canada and, presumably, future generations. Or whatever.

But now, on the eve of its dismissal, let us take a moment to lament the passing of what made the NDP something different in the United States and Canada.

The cynic, largely correctly, will point out that the NDP has been irretrievably lost to a crass form of diluted and empty parliamentary careerism for many of those involved for at least a decade. And it is also true that retaining the original preamble, in light of the victory  of Mulcair and the Layton right-shift, would be little more than a token and entirely symbolic last grasp at the memory of how profound what the party used to stand for was; but somehow I think that would still be a powerful if unfulfilled beacon.

It would be a memory and a constant reminder to those who now hold the reigns that it was not always so, and that so many sacrificed and struggled for an ideal very much apart from the hegemony of today. It would be a memory and reminder of Tommy Douglas fighting the War Measures Act despite public opinion polls because it was the right thing to do. It would be a memory and reminder of the inspiration that the idea of socialism once was to the oppressed, the workers and to those who felt that they had no future, and that it could be today to those whose futures are dying on the alter of grotesque inequality, runaway climate change, and triumphant corporate state capitalism.

It would be a tiny echo, if nothing else, reverberating in the ears of those who now hold the reigns in the NDP, reminding them of the promise of the New Jerusalem that lies just over that receding horizon of the possible. A promise that without which the future is nothing other than a discussion among the loyal parliamentarians of the state as to how to divide up the leftovers. A promise that, without which, poverty is no longer something to be eliminated, but rather "mitigated". A promise that, without which, the idea that the workers can one day own the factory is simply a fantasy.

So, while there is no real reason to mourn the passing of a preamble that was in practice already tokenism, there is an important symbolic one.

When this preamble passes into the mists of history this weekend, so too will the ghost of the NDP of Tommy Douglas. The NDP of socialism and principle. 

The NDP that mattered.

embedded_video

Comments

Thank-you, Michael. My own lament would focus most on the poor, and the lack of reference to poverty in Canadian society. Everyone in Canada, it seems, is now middle-class, middle-brow, and just plain middling...

So it's out with the old meat 'n potatoes socialism and in with a gumbo preamble with just a soupcon of socialism. It was Jack Layton who brought the nouveau cuisine to the NDP. He cooked up a Middle East policy so bland, so kosher, that even the-then Canadian Jewish Congress could stomach. And who could forget his masterful 50+1 recipe for the dissolution of Canada? The head chef now is Tom Mulcaire, who believes that the federal government that governs least governs best. No national programs for you! Should the party form a government, NDPers won't have time to cook up national programs anyway. Their government would be too busy serving as head waiter for the provinces. But the aroma of power still stirs the appetites of the likes of Nathan Rotman, the party's national director. Well, bon appetit!

Well, we can be thankful that the NDP will not be seeking advice and lessons from Obama's crew.... oh wait they are.

 

 

The NDP will be making a mistake if they are mostly concerned with becoming the government. Right wingers will never vote NDP so there is no point in trying to appeal to them. If the NDP becomes a right of centre party it won't help them win seats. Voters wanting a right of centre government will vote for the real thing: either the conservatives or liberals. Abandoning our principles for a chance a power won't work in our favour. This sounds like Obama using workers to get elected and them governing on behalf of his Wall Street financial supporters and saying no to his supporters.

 

Well said Michael. I noticed that Mr. Rotman talked about governing for all Canadians. Reminds me of what Bob Rae said way back then, referring to governing for all Ontarians. Unfortunately, all Ontarians apparently meant everybody but those who got him elected - us NDP members who thought we were fighting for some fundamental principles.

These new NDP types are really quite pathetic. Trying to get us all enthusiatic about the possibility of governing a state that, apparently, we no longer have any fundamental disagreement with. Is that what all those NDP minions will be saying when they knock on the doors at the next election - we don't believe in anything but we will govern for all Canadians better than those other guys.

ndp=no difference party

Login or register to post comments