The following is an edited excerpt from a presentation on Marxist electoral tactics given by an IBT supporter at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario, on 25 September 2015.
In Canada, the parliamentary election on 19 October might possibly produce the first-ever NDP [New Democratic Party] federal government. The reasons for this opening for Canada’s reformist labor party are well known. The Conservative government has been tarred by the Senate corruption scandal, opposition to Bill C51 [draconian security state legislation], the Syrian refugee crisis resulting from imperialist intervention, an economic recession and growing popular sentiment that it is time to be rid of Stephen Harper. All of this has helped the NDP, as has the apparent inability of the Bloc Québécois (once again under Gilles Duceppe) to bolster the sagging sovereigntist movement and win back its former supporters who have gone over to the NDP. Until recently, Justin Trudeau’s Liberals had not been able to compete with Tom Mulcair’s NDP as the perceived “government in waiting.”
Opinion polls are showing that the most likely outcome of the election will be that no party wins a majority of seats in the House of Commons. So we may be looking at another Conservative minority government, or an NDP or Liberal minority government. And there is the possibility of a coalition NDP-Liberal government. Trudeau has ruled out a formal coalition, but the NDP leadership has been quite explicit about its willingness to get in bed with the Liberals:
“Coalition talk was revived this week by New Democrat MP Nathan Cullen, who has promoted the notion before – but now, his party seems to be the one in a position of strength because it is ahead in opinion polls. And the NDP’s Leader, Thomas Mulcair, suggested he is open to the idea, if only Mr. Trudeau, the Liberal Leader, would consider it.
“‘We’ve always worked with others in the past, but every time I’ve raised this prospect with Justin Trudeau, he’s slammed the door on it,’ he told reporters in Amherstburg, Ont. ‘All you have to do is remember that in 2008, we were willing to make Stéphane Dion prime minister of Canada. And they shut the door on that, and we’ve had Stephen Harper for another seven years.’”
—Globe and Mail, 23 July 2015
The NDP, despite its rightwing pro-capitalist program, is organically connected to the labor movement through the trade-union bureaucracy. It is, in Leninist terms, a bourgeois workers’ party. Critical support is therefore a conceivable tactic. A precondition for even considering critical support for the NDP would be that it rejected any sort of coalition with the Liberals (or the bourgeois Green Party).
And here we are talking only about what would be in the realm of Marxist principle, not what would actually be a smart tactic at this conjuncture. Even if Mulcair were to renounce his coalitionist appetites, calling for votes for the NDP today would make little sense, as it is not even pretending to defend the interests of the working class. Instead, it appeals to “middle-class Canadians,” promises tax cuts for small businesses and “balanced budgets,” which will inevitably be achieved by cuts to social programs. There are very few illusions to be dispelled about the NDP’s willingness to take on the capitalists. Workers are well aware (because Mulcair is telling them) that an NDP government would be committed to maintaining the bourgeois status quo.
Yet groups like Socialist Action (SA), while lamenting Mulcair’s eagerness for a coalition with the Liberals, are, as always, calling for a vote to the NDP. SA, which has been playing around inside the NDP for decades, argues:
“The merit of fighting for an NDP government is not diminished by the pro-capitalist outlook of its leaders because the prospects for socialism depend on the class struggle, not on the low political horizons and the narrow career ambitions of party officials.”
. . .
“An NDP victory will raise the confidence of working people to assert their demands. It will alter the relationship of class forces to the disadvantage of Capital and in favour of the popular majority.”
—“Vote NDP – without illusions,” undated leaflet distributed at Labour Day rally, 7 September 2015
This boils down to claiming that, if the NDP, a bourgeois workers’ party, gets to run the capitalist government, “the prospects for socialism” will somehow automatically be enhanced and “the confidence of working people” will be raised. This wishful thinking reflects a passive, objectivist approach to politics that abdicates the responsibility to devise meaningful tactics that advance a revolutionary program on the grounds that, whatever the situation, some inexorable objective historical process will tend to move things to the left.
Fightback, Canadian section of the International Marxist Tendency (IMT), is also engaged in promoting the NDP. While formally opposing Mulcair’s willingness to enter a coalition with the Liberals, Fightback – which headlined the September 2015 issue of its newspaper “Time to dump the Tories!” – declares that “the most basic way to defeat Harper, and corporate Canada, in this election is to vote NDP.” In this electoralist fantasy “corporate Canada” (i.e., the capitalist class) can be defeated by electing the NDP with a leader who, as Fightback acknowledges, has praised Margaret Thatcher. Fightback’s position derives from the IMT’s conception, displayed in every country in which it operates, that “pressure from the workers” will turn political lead into gold:
“Only a mass movement of workers and youth can counteract the opposition of the bosses and ensure that the positive reforms in the NDP platform are implemented. This movement must necessarily reach both inside and outside the NDP, with the unions playing an important role. Only a mass movement can stop the (potential) NDP government from capitulating to corporate interests and attacking the public sector and the wider working class like Bob Rae’s Ontario NDP government.”
The Communist Party of Canada (CP) is also running candidates in the election. The CP has no popular base, and its election platform is riddled with reformist nationalism, with calls to “Adopt an independent Canadian foreign policy of peace and disarmament,” “Keep Industrial Jobs in Canada,” and “Ensure Canada’s food sovereignty” (2015 election platform). These reformists proclaim: “Winning this progressive alternative starts with dumping the Conservatives. Stephen Harper’s pro-war, pro-corporate austerity agenda has been a disaster for Canada’s sovereignty” (election statement, 9 August 2015).
In the current federal election, there is no one to vote for – the best thing for workers to do is spoil their ballots. This is not the same as a “boycott” of bourgeois elections-if there were any party that even roughly approximated a clear class-struggle alternative, it would be entirely possible to extend critical support. But this time, given the options, the only choice for workers is to spoil their ballots.
In the discussion following the presentation, a local candidate for the Marxist-Leninist Party (the electoral front of the Communist Party of Canada [Marxist-Leninist]) distributed a printed statement to the audience. In his summary, the IBT speaker cited the following bits of reformist-nationalist drivel from the hand-out as evidence of why not to vote for this ex-Maoist sect:
“Measures must be taken to restrict monopoly right so that the country is put on a path of nation-building. Sovereign decision making over the economy has to be restored.”
. . .
“The annexation of Canada into the United States of North American Monopolies must be halted. Canada’s armed forces must play their role to defend the country, not threaten and attack other nations.”
—Democratic Renewal, undated leaflet “Authorized by the Official Agent of the Marxist-Leninist Party of Canada”