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Do we really want to Stop Harper? The year ahead in progressive partisanship

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One has to watch, with a certain level of bemusement, the reaction to Gerry Caplan's seemingly surprising piece calling for a potential alliance between the Liberals and the NDP. It has been predictably met with howls of outrage from the usual suspects of New Democratic partisanship.

Given the fact that most, if not all, leftists claim they want to "Stop Harper" as the primary objective of 2015 politically I think this deserves closer inspection.

Caplan, I think correctly, feels that there is no chance of a formal coalition between the two parties. His article implies a support for strategic voting while not directly calling for it. Given that he is a stalwart New Democrat,  this makes more sense then it may at first appear, in that the NDP has significantly more incumbents now than do the Liberals. In fact if, regardless of if you think this will happen, people voted strategically it would benefit the NDP more versus the Liberals given the situation overall polling wise and politically now. In fact it might save many NDP incumbents outside of Quebec. It is pretty hard to claim you are voting strategically against an incumbent. 

I actually think, if New Democrat partisans were not so blind, that that was one of the points of what Caplan was saying whether he realized it or not.

Setting that aside for a moment, taken at face value Caplan's political objective is perfectly logical.

His objective is to prevent the Harper Tories, no matter what, from forming the next government of Canada. If, and note I say if, that is your primary political objective, then there is, in fact, under our present political system no meaningful alternative to what Caplan advocates to achieve this objective.

An acceptance of strategic voting is the only way to "Stop Harper" if your primary goal is to do this. You cannot, either morally or logically, claim that your goal is to Stop Harper while advocating for voting for one of the NDP, Liberals or Greens in every riding in the country.


For example in my riding, Etobicoke Lakeshore, if your goal is actually to "Stop Harper", voting NDP or Green will not do this. They cannot win in the riding any more than the Socialist Party of Ontario (SPO) that I am a member of and have supported could if it were running a candidate. To suggest otherwise is absurd given the riding's history. This means, in reality, the functional difference of voting for the NDP or Greens or voting for the SPO here (were it running) in stopping Harper is zero.

So, if you are advocating for voting one of the NDP, Liberals or Greens in every riding in Canada your primary objective is not stopping Harper. 

Which is fine as long as that is admitted. 

Obviously the election of a Liberal, Green or NDP majority government would "Stop Harper", but we all know that there are many ridings in the country where the candidate of one of these three parties (or more than one) cannot win. So if you are advocating for voting for them then you believe that the objective of supporting that party and its candidate no matter what trumps the need to Stop Harper for whatever reason.

In other words, you believe that there are enough political, ideological and moral differences between one of these parties and the other two that this precludes you from calling for a strategic vote or alliance and means that you advocate voting for the candidates of this party even in situations where they have no chance of winning. (If you live in a riding where the battle is, say, between the Liberals and the NDP then you personally do not have to make this choice, but what you publicly advocate for others to do matters still.)

If you really, and honestly believe this, then by all means advocate for a universal, in all situations vote for that party, but then you cannot claim that this is the way to "Stop Harper". Because it is not and it is intellectually and ethically dishonest to claim it is.

In reality it is hard to buy into the idea that there is much of a difference fundamentally between these parties anymore and one has to think they are all much closer to each other ideologically than they are to Harper's Tories. In  addition they are also much closer to each other ideologically than they are to any actual anti-capitalist or socialist ideas or thinking, (and yes we must include the NDP in that).

So the argument against a strategic alliance increasingly requires "intellectual" contortions of partisan imbecility that are more and more Orwellian as each year passes.

However, having said that, I think it remains impossible to advocate for strategic voting as a leftist. 

The time is long past for anti-capitalists, socialists, communists and others to work together to build a new anti-capitalist political force in Canada and to reject the defeatist and faulty logic of strategic voting as well as to reject these three parties. Many, myself included, have said this for years now.

The logic of "strategic voting" means there will always be a "greater threat" to use to justify holding one's nose and voting for "the lesser of evils" and there will never, as a result, be a chance for a Canadian Left Front or major anti-capitalist political party as long as we embrace the logic of this and refuse to build one as we are always worried of the immediate potential consequences of this.

In other words, this idea, once it becomes a primary political goal, can never be overcome as, for example, even if we do oust Harper this year, in 2019 there will be another election and another threat from the right that is just as great and, again, this will be used to say that we have to, yet again, hold our noses and vote for one of these bankrupt wings of "progressivism".

Leftists have to, at some point, advocate for setting aside differences as well as rejecting the cynical nature of neo-liberal "mainstream" politics altogether. 

One can do this by rejecting voting and waiting for the revolution or by supposing that mass social movements, on their own, can force changes, but I think that anti-capitalist forces need an electoral vehicle and that the absence of one is having a fundamentally negative impact on Canadian politics, society and on the real life, real world poverty and oppression that millions of Canadians live in and face daily. 

When we abandon fighting against capitalism and rejecting it politically, we also abandon them. 

This is not an intellectual exercise, in other words. There are very real, and very negative consequences for real people in there not being a voice that fights for their interests and for transformative political change. 

Are leftists to seriously support voting Liberal, even though we on a certain level want to see Harper lose and even acknowledging  (as only, frankly, a dimwit would not) that they are definitely a better alternative for the country to Harper?  Voting for them, even if done to Stop Harper, endorses their cynical, bourgeois, phony progressive bullshit and how can we advocate doing that?

Voting NDP endorses Mulcair's and the party's profound cynicism and opportunism and the party's retreat from anything close to an anti-capitalist vision. The Greens, while they have some acceptable candidates and positions, also are a capitalist party and, therefore, are simply a recycled version of capitalism with a blue bin,.

So if your objective is to Stop Harper than by all means vote accordingly. If you are politically represented by one of the three mainstream progressive capitalist parties in a way that makes the other two simply not an option, then by all means vote for them and advocate for voting for them in every riding.

Otherwise I think one has to consider a vote for the Communist Party or a rejection of all the parties. The Communist Party is the only party whose commitment to ending capitalism is clear and their platform is one that speaks strongly for workers and working people. While I think that one can and should question their allegiance to Leninism and their notions of democratic centralism, one has to think it is more important in the immediate context for anti-capitalists to set aside differences in the here-and-now and get moving on building a new vision of an anti-capitalist mass movement and a post-capitalist society.

If one is in a riding without a Communist candidate or any other anti-capitalist candidate, leftists still, in my opinion, have to oppose the "mainstream" neo-liberal narrative and its terrible and devastating, destructive impact on the real lives of real people, and we have to advocate for a conscientious rejection of capitalist politics in Canada today by vocally exposing all of the three "mainstream" progressive parties.

While many will disagree with this and will feel that, as always, we have to focus on the cynical retreat that is the normality of supporting "the lesser of evils", as long as we continue to accept the logic of retreat we will never build a political force that can really change Canada and fight capitalism, austerity, inequality, poverty and injustice.

Without this force, stopping Harper means far less then it may at first appear. 


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