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The NDP and the fight against Harper

Jesse McLaren

January 28, 2013

Stephen Harper comes from the Reform party, a party based on anti-Quebec and anti-Native bigotry. To the Tories’ dismay, the biggest movements of the past two years have been the Quebec student strike and the Idle No More movement. Each have fought for their own demands, have inspired solidarity—people in English Canada joined the casserole demonstrations last year, and non-indigenous people support the Idle No More movement this year—and have demonstrated that resistance that is both militant and broad is the most effective way of challenging austerity. But NDP leader Thomas Mulcair has done nothing to support either movement.
Last year, in the midst of the historic Quebec student strike—when hundreds of thousands of Quebec students and their allies were in the streets, when the growing left electoral alternative Québec Solidaire (QS) was supporting the strike, and when thousands of people across the country were joining casserole demonstrations—Mulcair instructed his MPs to say nothing. In addition, Mulcair declared the NDP would campaign provincially in Quebec—meaning it would challenge QS, a party based in the movements, and divide progressives.
This year, in the midst of the historic Idle No More movement—when Chief Theresa Spence was on hunger strike, when indigenous people from coast to coast were leading demonstrations and inspiring widespread solidarity for indigenous sovereignty and social justice—Mulcair called on Chief Spence to end her hunger strike. This is not why people voted NDP.
Missing the Orange Wave
The Orange Wave swept the NDP into Official Opposition in 2011 in the context of opposition to Harper, disillusionment with the Liberals, inspiration from the Arab Spring and hope the NDP would provide a real alternative. But the sentiment that produced the Orange Wave has been at odds with the actual policies and strategy of the NDP leadership, both before 2011 and since then.
Back in 2008 the NDP backed down on their opposition to Afghanistan and corporate tax cuts in order to form a proposed coalition government—effectively removing the pillars of their support in order to grab a few cabinet seats in a Liberal cabinet. After the election in 2011 the NDP, under Jack Layton, initially unanimously supported the bombing of Libya. Leadership hopeful Brian Topp supported the Greek PASOK government, which later imploded over its role in imposing austerity. In 2012 Mulcair supported increased sanctions on Iran, and this year he is supporting the imperialist intervention in Mali.
The Orange Wave led to a surge for the NDP despite their policies, not because of them. But the leadership of the Ontario NDP misinterpreted the federal election results, leading them to also lean further to the right. Andrea Horwath reinforced Tory leader Hudak’s campaign against “foreign workers” during the last election. supported the Liberal budget with trivial changes to taxes, was silent on Bill 115’s massive attack on workers’ rights, and refused to join tens of thousands of workers rallying on January 26 against the Liberal convention.
Contradictions of social democracy
This is not just the fault of individual leaders, but represents the contradictions of social democracy. Electorally, the NDP is driven to chase votes to secure a majority. Instead of building movements to change the views of the majority, it tries to represent the majority of the population regardless of their ideas. If the population is split over indigenous sovereignty, then social democratic parties will adopt a stance that reflects this confusion—rather than a principled stand that supports indigenous sovereignty and tries to intervene to win over the majority.
Politically, social democratic governments want to subordinate movements to Parliament, where they see power and decision-making residing. This is especially true of movements in solidarity with Quebec and indigenous sovereignty, which the Canadian state considers threats. Mulcair's desire to lead the Canadian state means he must try to contain movements against it.
Economically, all mainstream parties are subordinate to the 1% and act to various degrees on their behalf. In the 1990s the BC NDP imposed contracts on teachers, and imposed wage controls on public sector workers. In times of capitalist crisis, social democratic parties—from the Labour party in Britain, the PASOK government in Greece, the ANC government in South Africa, or the NDP in Canada—are driven to impose austerity because they have no control over the economy. So the NDP in Nova Scotia has contracted out jobs and raised tuition fees.
Lessons of 2003
This doesn’t mean all mainstream parties are the same. Whereas the Tories and Liberals have their base in corporations, the NDP’s base is the labour movement. In 2003 a mass anti-war movement, made up largely of workers, won the NDP from its initial position of supporting UN intervention in Iraq to a principled anti-war stance—with or without the UN. As a consequence, the small NDP in Parliament was able to act as a megaphone for the movement—which split the majority Liberals and stopped Canada from officially supporting the war.
Through movements like this, we need to work with activists inside and outside the NDP to push their leadership to take principled stands against war, against austerity, and in support of Quebec and indigenous sovereignty. The NDP can not substitute for movements but it can magnify them.
In the work of building movements outside Parliament we can imagine a world of radical democracy free from capitalism, and we can build revolutionary organizations that can intervene to fight for every reform while raising the possibility of revolutionary change.
If you agree with these ideas, consider joining the International Socialists

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