Canadian Left & Cross-Class Politics

No to Coalitionism!

The 14 October federal election in Canada produced another minority government for reptilian Conservative Stephen Harper and saw the Liberal Party, led by the ineffectual Stéphane Dion, suffer its worst political defeat in decades. The rightwing social democrats of the New Democratic Party (NDP), headed by “Strong Leader” Jack Layton, increased their representation in the House of Commons, while Gilles Duceppe’s “sovereigntist” (i.e., pro-independence) Bloc Québécois once again won a majority of seats in Quebec.

On 27 November Harper’s finance minister tabled a “fiscal update,” ostensibly in response to the global economic meltdown. The opposition parties, which together outnumber the Tories, were surprised to find a proposal to cut the government subsidy to parties of $1.95 per vote. The Conservatives, who would also have lost this funding, are much less dependent on it than their opponents. The “update” also proposed to illegalize strikes in the federal public-sector and slash funding to enforce pay equity—a move widely seen as an attack on women. Dion, Layton and Duceppe paid little attention to the assault on union and women’s rights and downplayed their concerns about party subsidies, focusing instead on the absence of a “stimulus package” to address the economic crisis.

The opposition parties declared their intention to vote no confidence in the government and signed an agreement for a Liberal-NDP coalition that the Bloc pledged to support for 18 months. The new cabinet was to include 18 Liberals and six NDPers. Harper avoided defeat by getting Governor General Michaëlle Jean, who represents Queen Elizabeth II, Canada’s formal head of state, to prorogue (suspend) parliament until 26 January 2009. The fact that an elected parliament can be suspended at the whim of the monarchy highlights the importance of getting rid of this feudalist remnant once and for all.

Marxists oppose the “prorogation” of parliament and note with distaste Harper’s crude attempts to whip up Anglo chauvinism with Quebec-bashing rhetoric about the coalition’s “separatist” midwives. Yet we give no support whatsoever to a Liberal-NDP-Bloc coalition.

Faced with a deteriorating economy, some more far-sighted sections of the Canadian bourgeoisie may well consider that a coalition between the big business Liberals and the NDP (the political representatives of the Anglo-Canadian trade-union bureaucracy), with the support of the party backed by the Quebec union tops, might do a better job than the Tories of suppressing social discontent. When it is time to administer harsh attacks on popular living standards, the capitalists often find it advantageous to have “friends” of the workers take responsibility.

The NDP, unlike the Bloc and Liberals, has an organic connection to the labor movement, but when it joins a coalition with capitalist parties it renounces any commitment to represent the interests of working people for the duration of the alliance. An NDP-Liberal coalition is a popular front (aka “people’s front”)—a bourgeois political formation through and through. In 1936, Leon Trotsky observed:

“The question of questions at present is the People’s Front. The left centrists seek to present this question as a tactical or even as a technical maneuver, so as to be able to peddle their wares in the shadow of the People’s Front. In reality, the People’s Front is the main question of proletarian class strategy for this epoch. It also offers the best criterion for the difference between Bolshevism and Menshevism.”
—“The Dutch Section and the International,” July 1936

Canadian Mensheviks

It came as no surprise that the washed-up Stalinists of the Communist Party of Canada eagerly supported the coalition. In a 2 December statement, the Young Communist League declared:

“The coalition emerging between the Liberals and the New Democratic Party, supported by the Bloc Quebecois, is a very important democratic development for all young people. It could stop the Bush-style Conservative government that blocks any possibility of advance for a youth and student agenda.”
—“The political crisis and youth”

The International Socialists (IS) ostensibly reject the coalition. Yet on 2 December, these inveterate opportunists forwarded an email communiqué from the Toronto and York Region Labour Council that advertised a “Rally for a Progressive Coalition Government,” and encouraged people to “Bring Canadian flags and placards supporting jobs and justice!” The placards carried by IS supporters at the rally, which took place in front of Toronto City Hall on 6 December, echoed the class collaborationism and eco-reformist themes of the event with calls for “Good and Green Jobs Now” and “Save the Planet, Sink Harper.”

Socialist Action, the Canadian remnant of the moribund United Secretariat, like the IS, claims to oppose NDP entry into a full-blown “coalition government with the Liberal Party.” Instead, these reformists recommend that Layton & Co. prop up the Liberals without taking ministerial responsibility:

“Should the NDP propose a time-limited accord to implement specific initiatives, to be enacted by a Liberal minority government, which would be kept on a short, tight leash? Yes, it’s worth a try.”
—“No to NDP coalition with the Liberals!,” undated, distributed on 3 December

This advice is combined with a lame attempt to deny the NDP leadership’s longstanding predilection for getting into bed with the Liberals:

“Coalition with a bosses’ party (remember, the Liberals have been the main party of capitalist rule in Canada for the past 100 years) would be a bizarre and historic reversal of the positive direction taken by the latest NDP federal campaign, which explicitly fought for an NDP government.”

The NDP propped up the federal Liberals from 1972 to 1974 with the sort of corridor coalition Socialist Action now recommends. In Ontario, the NDP supported David Peterson’s Liberals from 1985 to 1987. In every federal election since 1972—including the one that took place two months ago—the NDP leadership has signalled that if they end up holding the balance of power, they would gladly keep a capitalist party in power as long as they got some input into the legislative agenda.

Fightback, the Canadian affiliate of the International Marxist Tendency (IMT—followers of the late Ted Grant), has criticized the NDP’s coalition with the Liberals as “class collaboration.” This is a bit rich coming from an organization with a long history of supporting “progressive” capitalist politicians—in Pakistan, IMT members not only voted for the bourgeois populist Pakistan People’s Party, but actually joined it!

Like Socialist Action, Fightback criticizes Layton’s open embrace of the Liberals and suggests that the NDP leadership should have worked out a way of supporting them that would “benefit the working class”:

“If they [the Layton leadership of the NDP] had stuck to principle and opposed the Conservatives’ attacks on workers and women, without entering into any deals with the capitalist parties, there would have been huge optimism in the country. The majority is indeed opposed to Harper, but the coalition has no redeeming features. The NDP could then have worked to impose conditions on a minority Liberal government to benefit the working class. If the Liberals were not willing to meet these demands then they would have worn the responsibility and the NDP would be in a prime place to replace them.”
—, 4 December

In the run-up to the 14 October election, Fightback, whose main activity is working the fringes of the NDP, advanced a nonsensical call for the pro-imperialist social democrats to adopt a “socialist” program:

“This election will see the highest rate of abstention in modern history, less than 60% turnout, unless workers are given a real alternative. If the NDP adopts a socialist program of action, October 15 will be a very different day in Canada. If the NDP presents more of the same, we can look forward to a period of hardship and intensified class struggle.”
—, 8 September

Marxists, unlike Kautskyites, do not fear “intensified class struggle.” Nor do we shrink from telling working people the simple truth that the pro-capitalist labor bureaucracy and its NDP parliamentary adjuncts are professional misleaders who cannot and will not, under any circumstances, serve as a vehicle for achieving socialism. The job of Marxists is not to create, but to dispel, illusions in the NDP leaders by exposing them for what they are—the political agents of capital within the working class.

A week before the election at a public meeting in St. Catharines, an IBT spokesperson anticipated the NDP leadership’s course:

“The NDP’s class-collaborationism in this election and in previous ones is perhaps most clearly expressed in its appetite to participate in a coalition government with the Liberals. In doing this it effectively renounces in advance any pretence that it is going to represent the independent interests of working people and the poor against those of the bosses. This is what signing up (or attempting to sign up) as a co-participant in a joint government with the leading capitalist party signifies.”, 14 October

The struggle to win full employment, decent wages, affordable housing and quality social services, like the fight to end the Canadian bourgeoisie’s imperialist military adventure in Afghanistan, can only be carried forward successfully on the basis of irreconcilable opposition to the rule of capital. A serious challenge to the destructive and irrational capitalist social system requires the construction of a mass revolutionary organization unshakeably committed to the expropriation, without compensation, of all large-scale industrial, commercial, financial, transportation, resource and communications companies and the creation of a federation of workers’ states in North America and beyond. Those “socialists” who prettify the professional class traitors of the NDP constitute an obstacle on the road to the creation of a genuinely revolutionary socialist party.

Posted: 10 December 2008