James Laxer on Canadian social democracy

Photo: James Laxer/Twitter

In this wide-ranging interview, conducted in April 2014, James Laxer discusses his personal history and involvement in the NDP and the Waffle, the ideological trajectory of Canadian social democracy and the continuing relevance of a socialist vision for the future.
Note: at the time this was conducted Tom Mulcair was still NDP leader and Corbyn was not yet Labour leader. 

James Laxer passed away in France, February 23, 2018.

Matt Fodor: In what area do you feel you made the biggest difference for the NDP?
James Laxer: I would say that what the Waffle did and I was very much involved in that in the late ’60s and early ’70s was to do, I think, two or three things. One was to bring the debate and discussion about the American empire and its control of Canada much more into the NDP than it had been before -- doesn’t mean that it hadn’t existed before but there’s no question is what the Waffle did, and what I did as part of it, hugely increased that perception, the perception that Canada was a dependency of the United States as a capitalist power, and it was in terms of American economic domination of the country, and political domination and military domination of the country, that this was a very serious crisis that Canada faced. I think that would be the first thing.

Related to that very much was the focus on the resource sector, the primary sector of the Canadian economy and the need to Canadianize through public ownership parts of the resource industry, especially the petroleum industry, and so we were the people in the NDP who really brought the debate about the petroleum sector into the party and I think we had a huge influence on the country and on the creation of Petro Canada in the years following that. When the Liberals began talking about creating a national petroleum company that was going to be publicly owned, that came out of the NDP and came out of the kind of pressure that we created. So I think that we had a lot to do with that.
The third area where I think we played an important role was to take the youth radicalism of the ’60s and to channel it and focus it into Canadian concerns, because prior to that, the young radicalism, young radicals in Canada, had been very much influenced by the New Left in the United States -- so to channel their energies and bring to their attention some understanding of what was going on in their own country was extremely important and we played a big role in that.

Let me add a fourth thing, which was on the issue of Quebec, the right of Quebec to national self-determination. We made that a very (important) issue in the NDP in the late ’60s and then when I ran for the leadership of the party in 1971, just about everybody supporting the Waffle at that convention was wearing Autodetermination buttons that expressed the right of Quebec to self-determination -- and the NDP leadership hated that at the time.

But we had a big impact in the party and I think we also had an impact in the country during a time when things were very grave, because this was the period of the War Measures Act in the fall of 1970 and kind of followed from that. So those are the areas that I would stake out.

MF: OK, do you want to comment on your tenure as research director in the early ’80s?
JL: Yeah in the early ’80s when I was the research director of the party what I did was write a report which later became a public document and got a great (deal) of national publicity. And in that report, what I was arguing is that there are ways for the NDP to update and transform its economic policy, to make Canada a more effective country industrially, and in terms of the primary sector and that the key to that, or a key to that, was higher taxation for the rich and the wealthy and corporations in Canada.

And that instead of increasing the deficit, which had always sort of been NDP policy up until then… from the mid-’50s when the NDP became in a sort of sense Keynesian, the argument I made was that their recipe for the economy wasn’t going to work very well, that it was simply going to lead -- although we didn’t have the free trade agreement in effect, but because of very low tariffs there would be a huge amount of leakage out of the country if it was simply a matter of deficit financing. The argument I made in my report was that what you had to do was seriously tax the corporations and the wealthy in the country.
MF: What does social democracy mean in today’s circumstances? Is it still a valid concept?
JL: Yeah, I would argue that yes it is a valid concept, and I would argue that socialism is a valid concept, and I would argue that if you look at the history of the period since social democracy became a national force in Canada in the early 1930s, you can look at its ups and downs over the decades, you can look at the extent to which it became closer to the kind of center of the Canadian political debate or became further from it, became more radical, one can trace it over the courses of those decades…

I would argue that at the beginning, if you take the period from 1933, the Regina Manifesto, to the mid-1950s, to the Winnipeg Declaration, that the party then was most pronounced in a kind of radical redefinition of where Canada should go, it actually was an explicitly anti-capitalist, the CCF, political party and talked about a major role for publicly-owned corporations and for planning in the economy. So in that sense it was far from the Canadian political center at that time.
It then moves a great deal closer to the center with the Winnipeg Declaration of 1956 and at that time it adopts a kind of Keynesianism, talking about deficit financing and planning within the economy but with much less of an emphasis on anti-capitalism and on public ownership of sectors of the economy, so it then gets closer to the center. But it does that at a time when two things are very important. One was the Cold War and anti-Communism, so the party strongly wanted to move away from anything that would be seen as tainted by what seemed to be Marxism or Communism in the minds of Canadians.

And the other thing is it’s a period of rapid economic growth, when actually the incomes of average Canadians, as a proportion of the total share of incomes, is actually on the rise, during the ’50s and during the ’60s, it’s one of the rare decades in the last 100 years in which that was true. So the CCF comes closer to the center and then of course the NDP is created during that historical period… that’s the period where the CCF and NDP its greatest impact on the country, the biggest of course single transformation, the most transformative measure that CCF-NDP was responsible for is Medicare and that was a permanent change that they were central in achieving in the country.
But then later as you move into the ’70s and ’80s and as you move into the period that people talk about as globalization, but is really the period in which capitalism moves outside of the sphere of kind of the nation-state system that had existed in the West in the postwar decades and becomes much more dependent on resource extraction and seeking labour all over the world, therefore truly unbalancing the relationship between labour and capital that had existed to some extent to the advantage of labour in the ’50s and ’60s.

I mean, obviously labour was always a junior partner, but then in the ’70s and ’80s, capital takes off and runs away from labour and turns into a very weakened part of the Canadian economy and Canadian society.

What I would argue now… is that capitalism, neoliberal capitalism, is showing enormous weaknesses in the world today, in this part of the 21st century. It is utterly failing to deal with the challenge of climate change and the environment, utterly incapable of creating even in the advanced countries a serious balance between capital and labour, and to bring wages and salaries and economic well-being to the large majority of the population, and post-secondary education to the large majority of the population, that the gap between the rich and the rest is the great feature in the advanced countries ,and that if you move outside the advanced countries, we’ve got a system of what I would call indentured labour that exists all over the world, that can be seen most prominently in the clothing and textile sectors in all kinds of countries in Asia like Bangladesh.
When you take all of this into consideration the conclusion that I come to -- by no means me alone, there are people around the world, economists now writing about this -- that capitalism in this form is a failed system, and so if capitalism is a failed system then in some broad sense I would argue socialism is extremely relevant.

There all kinds of ways of defining socialism, but it seems to me this is no time to abandon socialism in the Canadian dialogue, that socialism is more important than ever and that for people like the NDP, people in the NDP proved for a long time were happy to describe themselves as socialists and have now moved away from that, that if there’s going to be a serious left in Canada, that left is going to have contain as very fundamental concepts anti-capitalism and socialism in one form or another.

MF: How did the NDP relate to broader debates that were occurring in social democratic parties during your time of involvement with the party, and what were some of these key debates?
JL: I would say that in its early decades the CCF-NDP was very much influenced by the Labour Party in Britain. It kind of saw the Labour Party as kind of its “big brother” party, and in terms of its outlook and ideology, it was a party that saw the Labour Party as its model and I think there you can go back to the mid-1930s -- David Lewis, who becomes Federal Secretary of the CCF, is a guy who went to Oxford and studied there and was very much drawn into the Labour Party in Britain. (There was) the need to have a party that had that sort of ideology, the kind of ideology of the Labour Party, and also to have a very strong relationship between the trade union movement and the party... that’s his huge contribution, if you like, in that historical period to the evolution of the CCF.

The CCF before that was a party where Social Gospel Protestantism, which had pretty strong radical content, was at the center of the CCF, people like J.S. Woodsworth and to some extent Tommy Douglas, and so the big influence of the Labour Party is immensely important to the NDP.

In fact, that was true right up to the 1970s and even into the 1970s, every NDP convention always had a speaker who would come from the Labour Party to talk to the convention. The Democratic Party in the United States was seen as a completely other thing, as a capitalist party. It wasn’t seen as a social democratic party in any sense, and therefore people didn’t regard it as “legitimate” as a place to draw political ideas. Now that’s changed.

I would argue that in the last several decades that what’s tended to happen is that the NDP has been influenced to some extent by Blairism in Britain, by the concept of New Labour, and which has its links to Clinton in the United States and to the Democratic Party, as well. What happened is that social democracy in Canada, certainly at the federal level, has moved away from its kind of old socialist mooring, to a period where basically the party accepts capitalism as a given, that fundamentally the party it’s operating within a capitalist framework.

And in a sense, it is to place an emphasis on giving people in the country a capacity to compete, by making sure that everybody gets a decent education… education and job training have become very central as ideas for where social democrats want to take the country. In other words, what’s happened is that especially since free trade, since the FTA and NAFTA, that the idea is that a party like the NDP -- if it’s in power -- is not going to fundamentally try to plan the economy or to have an economic strategy for the country.

Instead (it’s) going to try to adapt educational policies and social policies in the country so that Canadians can cope with the changes that capitalism, global capitalism, brings to Canadians, which is tremendously different from what came before.

I think that today NDPers are perfectly happy, as indeed is the British Labour Party, to draw ideas from the Democratic Party of the United States, from Obama’s campaign managers or campaign people. That’s seen as a kind of legitimate source for where the party ought to go, and what’s happened is that over time, beginning with -- I’m not sure beginning with, but (as a) central episode -- was the expulsion or near-expulsion (or however you want to call it) of the Waffle from the NDP in the early 1970s.

Since then, I would argue that the NDP has moved away from being a political party that has a strong process, intellectual process, at its centre; there’s very little real debate. During the Waffle period there was very real debate within the NDP. There have been a few episodes like the New Politics Initiative for a brief period of time where that’s come back -- but mostly the NDP is a kind of professionalized, top-down political party that is run by its leadership and by its full-time staff; in other words, the full-time who actually work for the party.

The party itself is an apparatus for raising money and for campaigning, but not really a political party where there is much of a movement component, and much of an intellectual component in terms of debates about where Canadian society and global society are going and the kinds of policy responses and intellectual responses the Left and the NDP ought to have to that.

So the party has moved -- and (in) this process, Stephen Lewis played a very big role in kind of moving the NDP away from socialism; Jack Layton later contributed to that to a very large extent, and that process is continuing today.

I think to describe the NDP now as a socialist party is a kind of anachronistic description.

MF: In your experience in the NDP, what were the most important moments in its evolution that you experienced? And were you aware of it at the time, or did this awareness only come over you later on?
JL: I think that initially in the late ’60s when I got very active in the party -- ’68, ’69, ’70, that period -- it seemed to me so logical and important to bring the kind of stream of young radicalism and anti-American imperialism into the NDP, that I didn’t know how it would be received by the party leadership because I didn’t know much about them at the time. I was, to some extent, surprised that there was such a virulent response to the Waffle and that they felt so threatened.

It seemed possible to me at the time that they could (have) adopted what we were saying, or adopted (it) in a modified form -- maybe not as radically as we would have put the ideas forward, but take some of the energy of those ideas, which were very current in Canadian society at the time.

The Waffle was a big force in the country, intellectually and culturally, so it wasn’t as though it was operating off in some kind small corner. But people like Stephen Lewis and the leadership of the party, they tended to see the Waffle as though it was some kind of Marxist infiltration, they always talked about it as, you know, creating a cell within the party, which was to me very curious, because the Waffle was large and very open.

The Waffle always met in public, anybody could come to a Waffle meeting, it was the part of the party that was in fact most open, so to see it as secretive and clandestine and operating like a cell, ironically I would think those descriptions, those terms, applied much more to the leadership of the party and the way they behaved.

But that’s not unusual in political conflict, to have people accuse (the) people that they’re up against in a political institution of the things in fact they’re doing themselves.
So that surprised me, I didn’t know where this would go; it seemed to me it was quite possible that we would just have an influence on where the party went and we would be accepted as a kind of younger, more radical segment of the party.

There was a huge generational gap that is very important in terms of what was going on at the time. When I started working on the Waffle, wrote the first draft of the Waffle Manifesto, I was 28 years old, I ran for the leadership when I was 29. The main leaders of the party were in their late 50s or their 60s by this point, so a 30-year gap. There were people obviously in between, but it is true to say that it was a battle going on between two very separate generational cohorts within the party, and I didn’t at the time – it was very obvious that what was going on – but it wasn’t necessarily something that I expected to have happen.

But you began to learn as time went by that these guys were very tremendously devoted to their conception of Canadian social democracy, they didn’t really want to hear from anybody else much about it, and they were determined to hang to on to their control of the party. So strange things would happen.

For example, when I ran for the leadership -- even though I was obviously a serious candidate -- the party wouldn’t give us a list of trade union delegates to send our material to. We were able to do that with party delegates, elected by riding associations, but when it came to trade union delegates they just wouldn’t provide us with that. It was a quite extraordinary way to sort of trying to hive off a large proportion of the delegates to the 1971 convention and to sort of illegitimately deprive a major campaign, which the Waffle leadership was, from having direct access to those delegates.

We did have access to trade union delegates in the bigger, more democratic unions, where there was a fair amount of support for the Waffle. But it was in the smaller locals of unions like the United Steelworkers, where delegates would be elected, where a tiny group of people would get together at Steelworkers’ headquarters and they would elect 100 delegates, and just a small number of people would be at the meeting. And we had no access to that.
So those things surprised me. And I would say this: some of the most effective opponents of socialism, and articulate opponents of socialism, that I’ve ever encountered in my life were people in the NDP.

MF: I’d like to talk about the concept of modernization, which was used quite a bit in the [2012] leadership debates. I’m curious what you believe is meant by the term.
JL: It’s a vague term and I’m not sure I’m going to shed a lot of light on it. I’m very suspicious of terms like “modernization” and the reason that I am -- obviously it’s a vague concept that can be used in kinds of different ways -- but one of the things that I think is most disturbing about the concept is that it’s often used, in the current socioeconomic climate, as a way of arguing for what people would call “flexibility.”

Flexibility in the labour force, flexibility in education: the idea that people aren’t going to have permanent jobs, that there are going to be very large parts of the labour force that are going to be outside of what would have been regarded full employment in the past, that this kind of “flexible” capitalism or “modernized” capitalism is kind of the wave of the future. What it tends to amount to is cutting back on the power of labour, cutting back on the influence of labour, and reducing the standard of living of labour.

Some people might say, “oh well, all we’re talking about is making the party more effective at communicating, using new communications technology to communicate with people and that sort of thing,” and I don’t have any problem with that. But I think the term “modernization” tends to fit into this notion of where capitalism is going and it tends to be a part of, maybe an echo of, a kind of signing on to neoliberalism, and so that’s what I tend to see when I hear the term “modernization” being used.
I mean…I’m not an Antediluvian trying to live in the distant past. In fact, I see socialism as the future, I think capitalism is a failed system and I see socialism in new forms being created for the future. I’m very future-oriented, but I just think the term “modernization” strikes me as being part of the influence of neoliberalism in the NDP.

MF: What are the greatest challenges/weaknesses do you feel the NDP faces currently? And what challenges will it face if it forms the national government?
JL: I think that historically, if you go all the way back to the ’30s and then you trace the evolution since then, that what you had was a kind of balance, not a very effective balance, but there was a kind of balance between movement and party. I mean, we’ve always known, people on the Left have always known, that if you just allow the CCF-NDP to become a professionalized political party that gets its ideas about what it stands for in an election campaign from pollsters, and it’s cut off from any kind of social movement which is driving it forward and is creating aims and goals based on the needs of people, that the party will tend to drift to the centre and to the political right.
I would argue that an outstanding example of that now is the Ontario NDP under the leadership of Andrea Horwath. It’s very hard for me to tell -- and I do try to figure this out from time to time -- it’s not the centre of my intellectual life trying to figure out what Andrea Horwath stands for, but it’s pretty unclear what she stands for and what the party now stands for.

It looks to me as though the Ontario NDP is trying to make a deal with business in the province. I think they will fail to do that, but I think they are attempting to do that, to reassure business that the interests of public sector workers, the interests of workers in general, the power of unions, will be restrained in favor of a kind of good relationship between the NDP and business in the province.
And it seems to me that we live in an era in which class divisions are sharper than certainly they were in the postwar decades, when you actually did have rising living standards for the majority of working people and that’s not the case now. I think class division and the concept of class are more important today than they were in the ’50s and ’60s, and I think that the NDP tends to flounder in periods like this, because they are not willing to draw the necessary conclusion that there has to be a sharp response, that the NDP has to decide whose side are they on.

Are they on the side of the large majority who are wage and salary earners? Are they on the side of the poor? Are they on the side of Aboriginal Canadians? And are they on the side of developing a sustainable economy that is not grotesquely materialistic? Are they on the side of rebuilding the cities in the country and the transportation systems to create a sustainable future? Are they on the side of these kinds of things, or are the simply a kind of progressive edge to liberalism in a neoliberal society?

It seems to me that’s the great question that faces the party and would face the party if took power federally, or let’s say in Ontario, British Columbia or wherever you want to look, that these are the questions that would immediately leap out.

And the Bob Rae example, the formation of the Rae government in 1990 was a government in the biggest province in the country, so therefore you can say it had more potential influence in that government than ever before and what did it do? It ran away from whatever radicalism was in its programs when it first got elected, ideas like public auto insurance were thrown overboard… the party did some useful things, but then it quickly got itself into doing a U-turn and bringing in the so-called Social Contract, which it imposed on labour.

And the leader of that party ended up not too long after that joining the Liberal Party and running for the leadership of the Liberal Party. I think that the experience of Bob Rae and the NDP in the early 1990s tells us a great deal about the contradictions and problems that face the NDP and that’s true, if anything, even more today because society has moved even more to a division between the rich and the rest of the population.

A lot of people recognize that, you don’t have to be a socialist to recognize that, lots of people recognize that, and therefore for a fundamentally progressive party, you have to grab hold of that and you have to deal with that. You have to deal with the consequences of that, otherwise you’re going to end up looking like (what) Andrea Horwath looks like today in the Ontario.

MF: You mention the sharper class divisions today -- you’re often told by the modernizers or whatever you want to call them, they’ll say, “those are such old divisions and the working class has shrunk, etc., that postwar sociological explanation.” You can argue that the potential constituency is larger than ever.
JL: Oh, for sure. I think it is larger than ever. The reality is that capitalism is becoming more centralized, more concentrated, more global and that the working class -- call it whatever you like, but the term working class is a perfectly good term to describe people who work for a salary or a wage in non-managerial positions and who make the vast majority of the Canadian population. Of course that includes the unemployed and the partially employed, it includes in a society like this Aboriginal Canadians to a very great extent.

If you think about things that the Waffle left out in our analysis, we never said a word about Aboriginal Canadians, we didn’t such much about the role of women in Canadian society although the Waffle got into huge debates with the party leadership over the role of women in the party and the party was wildly opposed to ideas like equal number of men and women sitting on executives and that kind of thing. We didn’t push forward much on the question of gays and lesbians, transgendered people in the party back then, we didn’t say a word about the environment, so there are a whole lot of things that we didn’t do that are now absolutely central to this discussion.

But I think that class has, if anything, become more central -- it was very central in the ’30s and ’40s. To some extent it’s moderated during the ’50s and ’60s, but then it’s come roaring back. And class is absolutely central. And any serious progressive party that doesn’t deal with the issue of class centrally is going to drift to the right, which is happening now to the French government, if you look at Miliband and the British Labour Party, the risks of it going that way are always very great, and those risks are great for the NDP today.

MF: The postwar period, the 1950s, 1960s, is often referred to as the golden age of capitalism, and in a sense it was also the golden age of social democracy, but part of the reason I think it was stronger then is because the class divisions weren’t so sharp, or they were diluted to some degree. Now that you have a more aggressive capitalism -- since these parties are fundamentally reformist, parliamentarian, whatever you want to call them -- it’s harder for them to take it on, because in a way they have to be more radical now in a sense, just to be in the same place.
JL: Yeah, if you go back to that period and look at the people you were dealing with then, there were lots of people in the Liberal Party and even in the Conservative Party that you could have dialogues with at that time in the ’60s. They could see us as kind of radical lunatics as they wanted, but they were certainly prepared to talk to us.

And there was a kind of dialogue where they recognized that what we were saying had to be taken into account, made some sense… but today what you’re dealing with, you’re dealing with a hard-edged neoliberalism -- all you had to do is look at a kind of party like the Conservative Party of Canada or the Republican Party in the United States or the Conservative Party in Britain or the right-wing parties in France -- and what you’ve got is an absolutely hard determination to push a class struggle and to win it and to destroy the capacity of working people to resist and to fight back. To impose on them a kind of implacable capitalist system which as soon as any progressive government rears its head in any part of the world, capital can run away effectively and go on strike and leave that kind of government stranded.
And so the Left has to, and socialists have to, adapt to these realities, and have to fight a tougher fight. And that tougher fight is not a fight about sort of marginal questions of how well you’re going to do in the next election. That’s not what that’s about, it’s about much more fundamental realities of getting out there in the day-to-day struggles of working people defined broadly – and I include Aboriginal people when we talk about that, and immigrants, and of course immigrants and people of color are much more important parts of Canadian society than they were in the 1960s.

So all of that, those battles have to be fought on a day-to-day basis.
The Waffle actually did so some of that. Waffle members found themselves out on picket lines, pretty violent picket lines, back in the early ’70s and we’d have picket lines with unions whose top leadership wanted to throw us out of the party -- those were realities. But those things have to happen again, and the struggle for socialism or socialist ideas is not going to take place in the councils of the NDP, the top councils, or in the House of Commons. I’m not saying the NDP can’t play a useful role in Canada, but it can only play a useful role if it’s tremendously pressured by people on the ground, who are determined to say our priorities are going to be taken into consideration.
Right now, it’s even too hard to come out and argue that, for instance, the tar sands should not be further developed in the country because it’s such a threat to the environment, it’s hard to even argue that. And obviously that’s a legitimate position -- I’m not saying it’s the only legitimate position, but it is a legitimate position -- but right now you’re virtually shut down if you try to say that within the NDP.

MF: Do you feel the party is well prepared in the area of policy development? And what role do you think that the Broadbent Institute can play in this regard? 
JL: I don’t know, I’m not going to comment on the Broadbent Institute because I don’t know enough about it… in terms of policy development, I think the problem -- there may be some people doing some interesting thinking about what kinds of policies the party ought to have for say, the 2015 election -- but the previous comments that I’ve made I think come into play here.

The party is so constrained by its acceptance to a great extent of kind of neoliberal capitalism, that whatever ideas it comes up are going to be relatively minor in the great scheme of things, that’s my impression.

MF: Gerald Caplan, wrote a column in the Globe and Mail a few years ago, where he described what he referred to as an “Ontario coup” -- an unrelenting campaign by business and the media to undermine the NDP government in Canada’s industrial and financial heartland that was ultimately successful. Do you see this occurring under an NDP federal government? If so, how should the party prepare for this?
JL: Yeah, I think he’s absolutely right on about what happened in Ontario and I think that if the federal NDP were to take power that what you’d have is similar kinds of pressures -- you’d have elements of a capital strike, you’d have all kinds of pressure from the outside, you’d have pressures from Canadian think-tanks and business lobbies to pressure groups like the IMF, to warn Canada against taking any kinds of radical steps...

Yeah, all of those kinds of things would come into play if an NDP government got elected. And if an NDP government tried to do anything that radically altered the structure of capitalism in the country, you would have that kind of resistance.

The people who basically are, if you like, the permanent rulers of the country would be very effective at undermining an NDP government. And I think that in a serious socialist party, there would be discussions about that, people would be considering these problems and realities, would be considering how to mobilize social forces so that pressures could be created on the other side, so some real radical changes can be made. And if you don’t do that, you’re not going to get very far.

MF: You know what Brad Lavigne’s response was when I interviewed him and posed this same question? Basically, he said it shouldn’t happen, it’s completely unavoidable and we haven’t communicated properly with the business community and that’s why this has happened in the past, we can avoid it. And look at Premier Greg Selinger in Manitoba, he’s not being attacked, so we can completely avoid this.
JL: Well, fascinating. But what that means is that, if that’s true, the NDP is just becoming another version of the Liberal Party. In other words, if you look at Selinger and the Manitoba NDP, basically it is a kind of small “L” liberal party operating in Manitoba, it does some good things, but it doesn’t challenge anything fundamentally. And that’s why, of course, that’s true.

If you’re not interested in challenging anything fundamentally, you may be able to get along. But I would say that in a hard-right world like the one we live in, that even a government like the Rae government, which certainly after 1993 was not a radical government at all, you could have put all of the businesspeople in a telephone booth who were prepared to listen to the party.

The rest of them were following Conrad Black’s advice, which is we’re going to starve these people out, have a capital strike, don’t do business with them and destroy them.

MF: Overall, how would you assess the evolution of the NDP over the past two or three decades?

JL: I’d say what’s happened over the last two or three decades is that the party has moved ever further away from socialism or any concept of socialism or any concept of anti-capitalism, it’s become a kind of new small “L” liberal party that has some progressive instincts, but is fundamentally unwilling to take on and to challenge the nature of how power is exercised in the country economically, socially and politically.

All you have to do is look at the last leadership campaign [when Tom Mulcair was elected to the leadership] and look at the economic ideas of all of the last candidates. And if you brought Tommy Douglas back and said, “whose political ideas do you think these are?”, even David Lewis, they would have thought that these were debates going on in the Liberal Party.

The Trudeau government in the mid-1970s, reactionary though it was in many ways, or in the early 1980s, was willing to do more radical things than the NDP is willing to do today, and if you look at the things being said by the leadership candidates, even the people who were supposedly the left-wing candidates, that’s certainly the case.

Matt Fodor is a Toronto-based writer and academic who has written extensively on the NDP, social democracy and Canadian politics.

This interview was published in the Left Chapter blog. 

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