Politics in Canada and more broadly is a very regimented, leader-driven game. From multiple, seemingly different perspectives, we often end with the same result. The hegemonic discourse of neo-liberalism and the overwhelming desire of those in power to stay in power, as well as the subversion by apparatchiks of party "democracy" exists to such an extent that political parties, their members and their caucuses are really mass powerless mouthpieces for their leaders and the backroom strategists that advise those leaders. This has meant that the room to maneuver and to fight for a leftist discourse in electoral terms has narrowed considerably.
While some insist that getting this-or-that candidate nominated, or this-or-that resolution passed at some farcically irrelevant party convention can turn the tide, the evidence of the last 30 years is unequivocal. When the left, in Canada embodied in the NDP, has been in or out of power they have, in economic terms, lost. The right has set the policies and the framework for these policies and the "left" has capitulated to them. This is why, for example, having had the NDP in "power" in Manitoba for many years now has made little difference at all to that province's rates of inequality, people living in poverty or child poverty versus the rest of the country. The NDP has capitulated in advance to the essentially consumerist middle class ideas that drive our politics, so their election or reelection is basically meaningless in any fundamental sense.
Would they have been better and would they be better than the Tories? Yes. Of course. But the same can be, was, and could still be said of the Liberal Party many times. It is not only not an inspiring argument, it is a tiredly old and facile one from any actually socialist point-of-view. If being "better" than the hard right movements that have successfully dismantled the post-war social compromise welfare state is the objective, then that is not hard to achieve. If largely doing the bidding of business lobbyists while talking in "progressive" terms about "getting results", and if being unwilling to stand up for principle, the poor and the marginalized while collecting salaries that place one within the top 2% of income earners is the objective, then the job has been well done.
Leftist discourse has been reduced in meaning in Canada to the point that we have begun to actually believe that fighting to lift ATM fees, take the HST off home heating or to make it more affordable to help contribute to global warming by facilitating the singularly selfish lifestyle choice of driving cars to work in a metropolitan area with mass transit, are "leftist" causes as opposed to the neo-Nader, liberal, consumerist irrelevances that they actually are.
Less than much ado about nothing, they are a sad shadow of when the capitalists used to be actually scared of the left and the possibility of its victory. Now they, at worst, would see it is as a short term inconvenience, like a stock market crash or bad press from a class action lawsuit.
So, apologies to Lenin, what is to be done?
The task of building a new left party faces the tremendous obstacles of not only the institutionalized power bases of the already elected MPs, MPPs, MLAs, MNAs and their staffs and organizers, it also faces the sectarianism of the left generally, the reality that many union leaderships, as in the United States, have bought into a "reformist" strategy where "reform" really means a defensive posture against reaction, and it faces the anti-electoralism of the many in the "social movement" or "neo-anarchist" wing of the left who, understandably, think it is all a big farce.
It also faces the reality that Canada is a huge country and that starting a new electoral project is inhibited by obvious problems like a lack of money, the vast distances between activists, inertia, the odd left wing version of apathy and the natural and inevitable distrust of the "new". It is also inhibited by the desire of people to be a part of a "winning team" even if that team is really not winning much of anything at all other than some elections.
Given these very real obstacles, we are faced by the even greater ones of our society's and movement's "leadership cults." For all the talk of wanting to do something new and to construct a new set of social power relations, it is depressing how leftists within their own organizations have entirely adopted the structures of the elites and political movements that they are seeking to supplant. It is depressing how obedience to the leader is seen as a virtue despite the obvious inequality, lack of democracy and historically noxious reality that such obedience implies and reflects.
Overly respecting or playing the sheep to your "leaders" is a fool's game, and the leadership concept itself inevitably leads to inequity, undermines true democracy, creates false and shallow partisanship, and leads drips to get their backs up about even minor criticisms. A new world is never born by adopting the institutions of the old.
While Quebec Solidaire has begun to chart a new path in collective governance ideas, we in the rest of the country cannot wait for the consciousness of the English Canadian socialist left to catch up.
So, to paraphrase the great leftist singer Billy Bragg, it is time to start your own revolution, and cut out the middle people, the power brokers, the parties, the sycophants, the hacks, the careerists and the opportunists. If the structures do not exist yet, it is time to start to create them yourself with your local friends and comrades. It is time to take back power from the self-appointed, party backed, mouthpieces of institutionalized "leftism".
Where to start? Start with municipal elections. If you are in Ontario, for example, these are coming in 2014, they cost very little ($100) to register in, and you get as many as nearly ten months to get out and make your ideas heard. Ten months to talk to neighbours, friends, co-workers, fellow students, and whoever will listen to the message that, as a comrade Andrew Klochek put it at the founding convention of the Socialist Party of Ontario, "It is never too late to write the future."
There are more choices than the paltry four "versions" of the same thing that we are being offered, and there are more outcomes that are possible than the depressing ones we have been taught to expect.
Start by telling the naysayers that it is not about winning, it is not about you, it is not about immediate "power," it is about something much bigger than that. It is about turning the tide in a real way. It is about making those in real positions of power uncomfortable and accountable again. It is about empowering citizens to be angry in an anti-capitalist sense and to no longer want to reform the system in minor ways, but rather to reject it entirely. It is about saying this can be done without leader worship, "democratic centralism" or the sheer idiocy of "solidarity with the leadership" in pathetic social democratic "campaigns" that seek to change little at all.
You can do it yourself. You do have that power. You may not, and in most cases will almost certainly not, "win" in the short term, but if worrying about losing, or desperately trying to talk to people "where they are" had been the tactics of our socialist ancestors we would all be living in the dark ages of the early industrial era still. It is usually an excuse for wanting to "win" anyway.
The only real change occurs when you shift the discourse. That never happens by "talking to people where they are." Doing that is the window dressing of do nothing parliaments and parliamentarians.
Take the fight to the people. Directly. Change the discussion. Directly. Do not wait for some politically appointed and partisan driven committee paid for by a party or government to decide that one minor part of what is important to you and your community is something they might do something about one day. Say it yourself and forget the talking heads.
You can stop interpreting and talking about how bad the world is, and you can instead change it. Marx was right.That is the point.
There has never been a better time for a grassroots, insurrectionist politics in defiance of political leaders and parties. There has never been a better time for citizens to cut the parties and politicians out. They are already irrelevant.
Make politics relevant again.
Run for office, any office, on an independent socialist or syndicalist campaign and start a new discussion in your community.
Thomas Mulcair and Justin Trudeau and their machines are not going to do it for you. They are never going to talk about what matters to you. They are only going to talk about what can get them a seat here-or-there. Most municipal, provincial and federal politicians are nothing but a sad reflection of whatever their "leader" says they are or whatever opportunist stance can get them closer to reelection. That is why no one cares who they are unless they do something "off script", which they basically never do. Almost no one who does not live there can name or cares about an MP or MPP who is outside their own riding who is not in cabinet.
Why should they? These MPs are paid over $100,000 a year (in many cases well over) to say Yes Minister or Prime Minister and leap up like sheep during a vote as expected.
Cut them out. Be unexpected. Fight back.
You have nothing to lose. And you just might, one day like the early socialists did, change society.