Exchange with SC on the NDP’s Victory in Ontario

The Left’s work has just begun


"I really don’t think the change will be as dramatic as people think it will be."
Helen Sinclair, president of the Canadian Bankers Association

There is good cause for jubilation among all those committed to the fight for social justice and workers’ power. The two parties of big business have received a sound thrashing at the polls. The New Democratic Party, a party born of and directly linked to the labour movement and partially linked to the social movements, has won a convincing majority.

Now is not the time for complacency, however. It is the job of activists in unions, choice in abortion, Native, Francophone, gay and lesbian, and students’ rights, anti-racism, child care, housing and environmentalism, and all other activists to step up their efforts and offer no "honeymoon" whatsoever for Rae and his team.

Moreover, the work of those building a political alternative to the left of the NDP has just begun —and in markedly more favorable circumstances.

The pillars of the Canadian establishment are crumbling one by one, and its upstanding custodians are visibly shaken. It was only fitting, therefore that the "impossible" should become fact—an NDP majority government in the richest and most populous province in the country.

The rebellious mood of the Ontarian and Canadian working class and social movement activists should not be underestimated. They have been profoundly influenced and emboldened not only by the disarray of the Canadian establishment and the revolt of the Native and Quebecois people against it, but also by the world events they have watched on TV over the past year.

Events in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union particularly have given a tremendous boost to the ideas of self-reliance and political mass-action among ordinary working people. Incorrect as it may be, the widely-held belief that the NDP is a socialist party certainly did not discourage people from voting for it, despite the last-minute frantic red-baiting efforts of Liberals and Tories alike. So much for the "death of socialism."

We must remember that, unlike its American counterpart, the Canadian union movement managed not only to survive the 80s’ [sic], but even to post some small membership gains. Yet during the "boom" workers saw their real wages shrink or stagnate while corporate profits grew and executive salaries skyrocketed.

Many are already feeling the effects of what promises to be a very serious recession, much more serious perhaps than any other in the post-World War II period.

It is very likely, in fact, that if the Liberals had postponed their election call any further, they would have been trounced in an even worse way. On one hand, the Liberals knew that an election held later in their term would be one held in the context of recession-fuelled discontent. On the other, they were after a new full term in office to implement—in concert with the federal Tories—the severe measures necessary to maintain their corporate friends’ profits through difficult times.

They did not get that term. The NDP did. Bay Street is not confident that the NDP will slash social service expenditures, privatize even more of the public sector, and passively sit by while thousands of workers lose their jobs. The post-election fall of the Canadian dollar and of the Toronto Stock Exchange are indications of the unease of the Canadian capitalist class and its international colleagues. The NDP, after all, owes its very existence to the unions and the struggles of Canadian working people over the decades.

This last fact, unfortunately, is no guarantee at all that the NDP leadership will fight for workers, who make up the overwhelming majority of the province’s population. What is inexcusable—although hardly surprising—is that Bob Rae has directed his first energies as Premier designate towards "reassuring" Bay Street, declaring that "all parts of the community must work together."

Are we to believe that business will stop laying off workers because of Mr. Rae’s naive appeals for "togetherness?" Are we to believe that business will invest in a depressed economy just because Premier Bob says so? Are we to believe that the NDP will be able to implement its campaign promises with the full cooperation of big business, the banks, and their entrenched governmental apparatus?

This is both utopian nonsense and a sure-fire way to quickly squander the unprecedented support the NDP has won.

The NDP has been given a mandate for radical change by a working class population that is ready to mobilize massively in its defense; not from the frightened business community.

Either the NDP acts firmly and decisively against the private sector and the logic of the capitalist market, or it will have to enforce that logic by implementing the anti-worker, anti-democratic measures business demands—closely following in the footsteps of the West European social democratic governments which seem to have caught Bob Rae’s fancy.

An additional factor is the growth of the "fringe" parties, primarily the right-wing, racist, anti-gay, anti-French, and anti-woman Confederation of Regions and Family Coalition Parties. In the context of economic crisis, groups which target convenient scapegoats are sure to grow. This is all the more true with the current climate of racism and xenophobia that has been created by the invasion of Mohawk territory and the West’s virtual occupation of the Middle East.

At the very least, the record of the NDP should be judged on its ability to halt the continued growth of these retrograde political forces. If it chooses to manage the recession in the interests of the banks and corporations, we can be sure that record will be a very poor one indeed.

Raghu Krishnan is a member of Socialist Challenge/Gauche Socialiste.

Monday, September 10, 1990 The Varsity

Business as Usual

Raghu Krishnan’s article in the 10 September Varsity, "The Left’s Work Has Just Begun," advises socialists, leftists, etc. that they have "good cause for jubilation" due to the victory of the New Democrats in the provincial election. The article is an exercise in wishful thinking which promotes unwarranted hopes in the New Democratic government. The NDP described in the article simply does not correspond to the NDP of real life.

Krishnan presents the NDP victory as part of a more radical political climate in this country, so radical in fact that "the pillars of the Canadian establishment are crumbling one by one." Oh, really?! Where are all the victories for labour against the Canadian establishment? Unfortunately, the labour movement in this country has been on the defensive since the mid-1970s. Where there have been militant strikes that could have led to some kind of breakthrough, like the Gainers meat-packers’ strike in Alberta, "Operation Solidarity" in British Columbia or the postal workers’ strike a couple of years ago, the bureaucrats who control the trade union movement and the NDP leadership have worked overtime to keep a lid on them.

Krishnan also cites the Native struggles in this country against the "crumbling" establishment. If Natives do wrestle any victories from the government, it won’t be thanks to the NDP. The Mohawks under attack by the Canadian army at Oka have got at least as much support from Jean Chretien as from the NDP. Bob Rae was reportedly scheduled to speak at a demonstration in defense of the Mohawks on 8 September in Toronto at Queen’s Park, but he cancelled at the last minute. He apparently did not want to look too radical to his new constituency on Bay St.

The protest against English Canadian oppression by the Quebecois people has been increasingly taken over by very conservative, even reactionary forces. The rise of racism against Natives and other minorities in Quebec has been exploited to the hilt by nationalist leaders during the crisis at Oka. PQ leader Parizeau viciously slandered the Mohawk warriors as "terrorists."

Krishnan claims that the NDP’s rise to power proves that "socialism is not dead." It is true that socialism is a very live political idea, but in the NDP it IS dead. If people believe the NDP is a socialist party, they certainly did not get the idea from Bob Rae, who has generally made a point of refusing to call himself a socialist. Helen Sinclair, the president of the Canadian Bankers Association, whom Krishnan quotes at the start of his article, is smart enough to know that a NDP government will be almost indistinguishable from its predecessors. Why should the business community be worried about the NDP sitting on the government side of Queen’s Park? The NDP’s election promises included no radical proposals for Ontario’s economy. Besides, Bob Rae has already given every indication that he is ready to "compromise" any of his promised programs which big business does not like. Krishnan is wrong to call Rae "naïve." He is simply proposing to do what every social-democratic government in power has always tried to do: administer the capitalists’ economy in the interests of capital.

Krishnan slams Rae’s pro-capitalist program as "utopian nonsense," yet proposes the following alternative: since the NDP government received a "mandate for radical change by a working-class population ready to mobilize massively in its defense," the NDP should act "firmly and decisively against the private sector and the logic of the capitalist market." What could be more nonsensical than expecting Bob Rae and his gang of parliamentary cretins and careerists to blow their big chance to show Bay St. how "responsible" they can be in administering capitalist austerity, by suddenly transforming themselves into class-struggle warriors?

Krishnan’s article contains an important contradiction. On the one hand, he would like to build a left-wing alternative to the NDP, but on the other hand he wants people to believe that the NDP, with a little pressure from the left, can introduce socialism. This is, to be polite, grossly misleading. The NDP is not a vehicle for socialism in Canada. It is a pro-capitalist, pro-imperialist social-democratic party. Working people and oppressed minorities in Ontario will soon discover, if they don’t already know it, that the NDP stands for whatever capitalism will tolerate, and nothing more.

September 1990

Posted: 12 December 2004