Forward to a Revolutionary Workers’ Party!

Class Politics & Election 2006

At this point it appears that Stephen Harper and his Conservatives are headed for victory in next Monday’s election. While a Conservative government will certainly wage an aggressive class war on behalf of the bosses, and align Canadian foreign policy more closely with their ideological mentors in the U.S. Republican party, Harper is hardly being swept into office on the crest of a powerful wave of rightist sentiment. He is instead the beneficiary of widespread dissatisfaction with the incumbent Liberals in an election that many voters regard as little more than a choice of poisons.

The Liberals won the past four federal elections (1993, 1997, 2000 and 2004) by campaigning as the defenders of ordinary people against the vicious right-wingers of the Conservative/Reform/Alliance Party. But once elected, the Liberals implemented many of the policies they had previously denounced. When this campaign began, it looked like Paul Martin might be able to repeat his 2004 performance and end up on top again simply because of the fear and loathing inspired by the reptilian Harper and his crew. The Liberals contrasted multi-millionaire Martin’s "sharing society" with Harper’s cruel "fend-for-yourself" vision. But it was Martin, as Liberal finance minister during the 1990s, who balanced the budget by gutting health care, unemployment insurance and other social programs, while introducing big tax cuts for corporations and the super-rich.

This time the Liberals have been dragged down by the widespread perception that they have been feeding too long at the public trough. There have been various scandals, but the most damaging is the "sponsorship" affair in which Liberal-friendly advertising companies siphoned off $100 million from a slush fund to promote federalism in Quebec. "Adscam" alienated much of the Liberals’ traditional Quebec base, with some opting for Gilles Duceppe’s indépendantiste Bloc Québécois, but more going to Harper’s Conservatives who are now well ahead of the Liberals in both English Canada and Quebec.

Harper’s promise to give more money to the provinces to address the "fiscal imbalance," and to allow Quebec delegations to attend international conferences of organizations like UNESCO, gave him traction in Quebec. This made the Conservatives more credible in English Canada, particularly in Ontario. Harper opened his campaign pledging to hold a free vote on banning same-sex marriage, but has since kept the various flat-tax cranks, anti-abortion bigots, arch Anglo chauvinists and back-to-the-Bible evangelicals, who constitute much of his hard core support, on a short leash. He has promised to oppose the introduction of any anti-abortion legislation and to maintain universal healthcare. His promise to reduce the hated GST overshadowed his plans to further reduce business taxes, slash social spending and increase income tax for those in the lowest bracket. In contrast to the campaign of 2004, Harper has managed to soften his image enough for many voters to be prepared to take a chance on the Conservative devil they don’t know, rather than the Liberal one they do.

English Canada’s third party, the social-democratic New Democratic Party (NDP), propped up the Liberal minority government in exchange for being allowed to rewrite last spring’s federal budget—inserting promises of future funding increases for social programs and delaying a planned round of corporate tax cuts. The social democrats hailed "the first ever [federal] NDP budget," as one that "is balanced," "pays down debt," "contains tax relief for small business," and "does not raise one penny in taxes" ("Our Record," NDP website). This "NDP budget" also boosted military spending by $12.8 billion, thus increasing Canadian imperialism’s capacity for foreign military adventures.

In December, the Liberals and NDP parted company, and Layton and his caucus voted with the Conservatives and the Bloc to bring down Martin’s government. The NDP’s electoral strategy has been to shift to the right in order to appear as a more "responsible" potential junior partner in a coalition with one of the big business parties. To this end, Layton repudiated his previous half-hearted opposition to the Anglo-chauvinist Clarity Act which denies Quebec’s right to self-determination. The NDP also began advocating mandatory jail sentences for some offenses as part of a bid to repackage itself as "tough on crime."

Unlike the Liberals and Conservatives, the NDP is not a capitalist party. It is a party based on the trade-union bureaucracy—a "bourgeois workers’ party." It is organizationally independent of the capitalists, yet so politically subordinated to them that it barely qualifies as "reformist." In the 2004 campaign, Layton proposed a few redistributive sops, such as an inheritance tax on estates worth over $1 million and a corporate tax increase. It cost nothing as no one expected the NDP to form the government. But this time there are no such promises—instead, Layton is promising not to raise taxes at all.

NDP: Handmaiden for Canadian Capital

One of the NDP’s star candidates is Paul Summerville, former chief economist for RBC Dominion Securities. Summerville explained why he felt at home in the new "sophisticated" NDP:

"In the past, the rap against the NDP was that it was unsophisticated about the role of the market in the economy. That rap gave Canadians an excuse not to vote for us. Those days are over.

"This is what Jack Layton has done as leader. We are prepared, given the chance, to govern accordingly."
National Post, 19 November 2005

Summerville, a partisan of the oppressor Israeli state, recently criticized former NDP foreign affairs critic Svend Robinson for solidarizing with Palestinian victims in the Occupied Territories. This fits neatly with a 5 January letter from Jack Layton expressing his "deepest sympathies" for ailing Zionist war criminal Ariel Sharon that is posted on the NDP web site.

Throughout the campaign, the NDP has been attacking the Liberals for insufficiently funding Canada’s military machine. An NDP policy statement, "Peacekeeping and defence," complains that "Liberal majority governments inflicted deep cuts on Canadian Armed Forces personnel, who were already struggling with low salaries, poor housing and aging equipment," and also that "Under the Liberals, Canada’s peacekeeping star has faded." "Peacekeeping" is a euphemism for imperialist intervention. Canadian "peacekeepers" in Haiti are helping prop up the unpopular rightist regime which overthrew elected president Jean Bertrand Aristide in a February 2004 coup that had been plotted a year earlier in Ottawa. While the NDP initially asked some skeptical questions about Aristide’s removal, Layton subsequently supported the participation of Canadian troops in the United Nations expeditionary force backing the coupsters.

In July 2005, while the NDP was keeping the Liberal government afloat, General Rick Hillier, Canada’s top soldier, denounced the "detestable murderers and scumbags" who dared resist the U.S.-led occupation of Afghanistan (for which Canada is providing 2,000 soldiers). Hillier bragged: "We are the Canadian Forces, and our job is to be able to kill people" (Globe and Mail, 15 July 2005). Layton characterized this as "an appropriate response…We have a very committed, level-headed head of our Armed Forces who isn’t afraid to express the passion that underlies the mission that front-line personnel are going to be taking on" (Ottawa Sun, 24 July 2005).

NDP’s ‘Trotskyist’ Loyalists

While there is no choice for class-conscious working people in this election, Layton continues to enjoy the reflexive support of several ostensibly Marxist groups. Perhaps the most abject are the supposed Trotskyists of Socialist Action (SA), an affiliate of the decrepit European-based United Secretariat, who have spent the past several years attempting to animate a "Socialist Caucus" within Canada’s right-wing social democracy. SA justifies its call for electoral support to the social democrats "in every constituency" with the absurd claim that:

"an NDP government has the potential to open the road to social change by removing the levers of government from the parties of big business. An NDP government could increase the confidence and combativeness of those fighting the neo-liberal agenda."
—"Elect an NDP Government! Fight for a Workers’ Agenda!"

A key theme of the entire NDP campaign has been a celebration of its role in "making Parliament work" by propping up the Liberals, the traditional party of Canadian finance capital. To talk of Layton et al wresting power from big business and implementing "a Workers’ Agenda," when they so openly advertise their commitment to the bosses’ agenda, is simply nonsensical.

The supporters of Fightback (affiliated with the Committee for a Marxist International led by Alan Woods and Ted Grant) who attempt to nest in the NDP’s moribund youth section, also call for voting for Layton’s slate with the lame excuse that perhaps, at some point in the hazy future, the NDP’s base may insurrect:

"The perspective of the NDP leadership is to hold the balance of power in parliament—such a proposal erodes support before an election and if successful will lead to the NDP being complicit in the Liberals’ attacks on workers. In as much as the working class movement has an expression within the NDP, such an outcome will split the party on class lines. Increasingly the call will come to split from the Liberals and adopt an independent working class policy."
—"Canada and the Crisis of International Capitalism"

The NDP’s overt coalitionism has already made it complicit in the Liberals’ attacks. By advocating votes to the NDP when it openly proclaims its willingness to support one of the bosses’ parties, Fightback effectively endorses Layton’s class-collaborationist policy.

Unlike Fightback and Socialist Action, the International Socialists (IS) do not have a strategy of permanent entrism in the NDP, but they are also advocating a vote for Layton et al, while at the same time blaming Martin for "the first ever NDP budget":

"Add to this his [Martin’s] Spring budget which included the biggest increase in military spending since the Korean War, his refusal to say the war resisters can stay in Canada, and his gross attack on civil liberties through imprisoning five Muslim men on so-called ‘Security Certificates’.

"Paul Martin is just as Tory as Stephen Harper.

"We should vote for Jack Layton’s NDP—in spite of the fact that Layton has muddied the water on private health-care, in spite of the fact that he won’t raise the issue of Martin’s militarism, in spite of his accommodation to the anti-Quebec elements in the party leadership. The NDP is a party of the unions, not a party of business. On that basis, we should cast a vote for it."
Socialist Worker, 10 December 2005

During the 2004 election, the IS claimed that voting NDP was a way to "kick back against the Liberals" (Socialist Worker, 2 June 2004). In the wake of the Layton-Martin corridor coalition, the IS leadership needed a different rationalization for their chronic NDP loyalism. This time they claim that votes for the NDP aggravate reactionaries and increase working-class combativeness:

"When the vote for the NDP—the only party linked organizationally to the trade unions—rises, working class confidence increases, And every right wing, reactionary bigot, takes support for the NDP as a slap in the face."
Socialist Worker, 10 December 2005

But this is refuted by experience. When an NDP government was elected in Ontario in 1990, Premier Bob Rae immediately reneged on his promise to raise corporate taxes, and chose instead to attack welfare recipients and rip up public-sector union contracts. This emboldened "every right wing, reactionary bigot" and thus opened the door for the Mike Harris "Common Sense Revolution," and the most viciously anti-working class government in Ontario since the 1930s.

During periods of heightened class struggle, social-democratic parties like the NDP are useful to the capitalists because, as supposed "friends" of working people, they are often more successful at imposing austerity measures than the mainstream capitalist parties. In suggesting that voting for the NDP is a way to promote working-class militancy while the social-democrats are endorsing the imperialist occupation of Afghanistan and Haiti, embracing the chauvinist Clarity Act and openly campaigning on their record of propping up the Liberals, the leadership of the IS, in its own small way, helps pave the way for future defeats.

Putrid Stalinist Nationalism

The Stalinist-reformists of the Communist Party of Canada (CPC) are fielding a slate of candidates with their own nationalist and class-collaborationist project:

"By electing a large progressive block [sic] of MPs to Parliament, including NDPers, Communists, left-minded Greens, and all those committed to democratic and progressive reform [i.e., left-wing Liberals], working people can curb the power of the transnational corporations. Another minority government would create the best conditions for the democratic and labour movements to push for the important concessions benefiting working people, and strengthening our collective national sovereignty and independence."
Platform of the Communist Party of Canada

While stressing the importance of the "sovereignty and independence" of the imperialist Canadian bourgeoisie, the CPC also lightly sprinkles its propaganda with occasional abstract references to "socialism." This is more than can be said for the ex-Maoist Stalinoids of the Communist Party of Canada (Marxist-Leninist) [CPC (M-L)] whose campaign literature is characterized by brainless gibberish like the following:

"The sovereign power to decide the direction of society and to participate in governance belongs to the people of the society, not to political factions calling themselves political parties for the purposes of passing laws which permit them to legally access the state treasury for their own advancement. The Marxist-Leninist Party of Canada is the only political party which is addressing the crucial issue. It is mobilizing Canadians to affirm themselves by bringing into being a new democratic process."
—"Crisis in the Party-Run Parliament Reveals the Necessity for Change," TML Daily, 1 December 2005

A 2 December 2005 press release from Mike Taffarel, CPC (M-L) candidate in Sault Ste. Marie ("the Soo"), encapsulated the crude nationalism and reformism that characterizes their campaign:

"As an Algoma steelworker and a worker politician, I call upon all Soo and area voters to:

"Stand Up for Canada!

"Stand Up for Sault Ste. Marie!

"Stand Up for Algoma Steel! And

"Vote Marxist-Leninist!

"At this time, the U.S. asset management company of Paulson & Co., Inc. of New York is stepping up its nefarious attack on the independence and sovereignty of Canada, on the well-being and future prosperity of Sault Ste. Marie and on the very existence of a viable and secure major local employer Algoma Steel."
—"Vote for Mike Taffarel in Sault Ste. Marie! Vote Marxist-Leninist!"

Is it possible that Taffarel and the CPC (M-L) leadership are unaware that "Stand Up for Canada" is the central slogan used by Harper and the Conservatives? Are they deliberately trying to confuse the unwary, or is this intended as some sort of bizarre "unity" overture? With these demented reformists it is hard to rule anything out. In any case, it would be overly generous to describe the "Marxist-Leninist Party’s" Canadian nationalist campaign as worthless.

The Crisis of Proletarian Leadership

In the past few years, workers across Canada have repeatedly engaged in struggles to resist the attacks of the bosses and their state. The British Columbia Teachers Federation’s "illegal" strike against the provocative attacks by the Liberal administration of Gordon Campbell in October 2005 was a powerful demonstration of the potential for hard class struggle to nullify right-wing electoral successes. The striking teachers enjoyed broad public support, despite endless squealing by the capitalist media about "the rule of law," and received substantial material support from other trade unionists who respected the teachers’ picket lines and even, in some cases, initiated walk outs in solidarity. This quickly got the attention of the ruling class. In the end, the intervention of the treacherous union tops (whose parliamentary expression is the NDP) diffused the workers’ anger and directed the struggle back into the "proper channels" of bourgeois legality.

Homelessness, poverty, ecological devastation, racism, sexism and imperialist war are the inevitable by-products of a social system based on the pursuit of private profit. Only after the expropriation of the expropriators and the establishment of a new, international socialist order, will the enormous productive capacity developed under capitalism be employed for the benefit of all. To achieve this it is necessary to create a revolutionary workers’ party that, in stark contrast to the groveling, pro-imperialist NDP, openly proclaims its intent to upend the entire dog-eat-dog system of global capitalism. We of the International Bolshevik Tendency are committed to the struggle to forge such a party.

International Bolshevik Tendency
Box 332, Adelaide St. Station
Toronto, Ontario M5C 2J4
(416) 461-6864
labor donated

17 January 2006

Posted: 18 January 2006