Hard Left Turn

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I know — you’ve given up on the New Democratic Party (NDP). It’s irrelevant, it’s misguided. I’ve heard it all before. And I agreed. Well, mostly. But with federal party-leader Alexa McDonough’s resignation announcement last week, there is new reason to devote some brain cells to what Canada’s “leftist” political party can do for you. It’s time to put some utopia back into our leftist visions.

I’ll go first.

1. Follow the Leader, Not

I know the cult of leadership is popular and all, but we need to rethink it. Do we really believe that if only the right leader is elected, all our problems will be solved? One little person for all those problems? I don’t think so.

How about trying out organizational structures that are more horizontal and authentically democratic? Imagine if leadership were cultivated in everyone, and those who tend to clog up official leadership roles were, ahem, encouraged to give up some air-time. We co-operative Canadians should invent something like, say, shared leadership. “Official” leaders could cultivate everyone else’s potential and allow new voices to emerge — even when they are dissenting.

Try decentralizing power by putting more attention on local politics where people can become directly involved in decision-making. Take the participatory budget of Porto Alegre in Southern Brazil — flawed, but a great general model. The Brazilian Workers Party, a mass popular socialist party, largely built its base at the local level.

2. Go Green

Remember the environmental movement? The NDP should, but it’s never paid it enough attention, as far as I’m concerned. As a result, voters who prioritize ecological issues have been turning to the Green Party — which in a growing number of ridings does better at the polls than the NDP. Although there are a few exciting aspects to the Greens in Canada, leftist they are not.

Issues of diversity, gender and class are virtually absent from Green platforms. And, at least in Ontario, the Greens seem more interested in courting the suburban “Green Tory” vote than dealing with hot-button issues like homelessness or foreign policy in the Middle East. Until the NDP sows the seeds of eco-conscious votes and makes environmental issues a core part of their work, potential supporters will keep turning to the Green party’s flawed dogma of “neither left nor right but forward” — and that won’t get us anywhere.

3. More Fun, Please

Let’s be realistic, we need fun. Take it from youth activists everywhere: fun works. One of the reasons so many people were protesting on the streets of Quebec City last spring was that they could dance on those streets. Not that this is the only reason people went. For sure, police repression and tear gas are not fun. But while protestors in Quebec had serious political reasons for being there, there’s no denying that people prefer to get active when politics meets party.

One small attitude adjustment and we’re excited about ideas — we can be inspired. Puppets are fun; radical cheerleading is fun; large samba bands and street theatre are fun. Having someone yell at you through a microphone or pressuring you to buy a newspaper is not. Neither are long tedious meetings without something to look forward to at the end. And no offense, Alexa, but you weren’t fun either.

4. So-So-Solidarity

Yes to building solidarity with people struggling against neo-liberalism in their own communities. No to convincing this community or that community to join “our” struggle so that we seem more diverse. Yes to joining in as many local and community-based struggles as possible — on the basis of extending solidarity and not recruiting.

5. I’m Not Buying It

Do not be afraid to hate capitalism. It is the root of all evils (or at least an accomplice). Its seemingly unstoppable forging forward is why health care is declining in this country. And education. And social programs. Let’s call it like it is. Capitalism causes environmental degradation and homelessness, and it takes us farther down the road to utter corporate rule. Too many people on the left are afraid of naming names for fear the C-word will turn off the majority of Canadians.

But getting off my cloud, the real world does need serious action now. The federal Liberals convincingly argue that they believe in Medicare, public education, environmental protection and community economic development. They say they believe that everyone deserves to have a roof over their head and access to healthy food. I say: show me the money.

The left needs to be heard when we call them on this bunk and when we articulate our visions for a better Canada. We need to dare to be dangerous (and a hell of a lot more utopian).

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