The Red Menace

Can the NDP be Socialist?

Dear Red Menace:

I just received the second issue of The Red Menace and there is no doubt in my mind that you are a RCMP front. The issue contained little or no rhetoric and was very readable. Since such a situation is in opposition to over one hundred years of "left" history, I must assume the repressive forces of the state are trying to pull a fast one!
Seriously, I thoroughly enjoyed the issue - especially the article on the Bain Co-op. The article on office work was also useful. The issue deserves the widest distribution possible.

There are some serious political differences between us. I strongly advocate electoral politics and work in the NDP. Nevertheless we share the goals and principles of libertarian socialism. Enclosed is an article on Canadian politics and the NDP which I would very much like to see reprinted in The Red Menace so that your magazine can be a forum among libertarian socialists with opposing views.
Best regards, Simon Rosenblum

Socialism and social democracy

A debate concerning socialism vs. social democracy has begun to engage the left. One expects to find substantial discussion regarding the New Democratic party but the Canadian left is surprisingly uninvolved in the NDP. The NDP is a social-democratic labour party, partly based on and largely financed by the trade unions. Contrary to most Canadian leftists, I believe that the NDP, whatever its past and present shortcomings, can eventually be turned into a socialist party genuinely committed to the creation of a radically different social order.

Before discussing working within a social-democratic party, the question of whether there can be an electoral transition to socialism must be dealt with. Many leftists argue that the parliamentary 'road to socialism' is not a road at all; it is a dead end. The most common complaint is that the capitalists would never permit it and the Chilean tragedy is used as a definitive example. It is true that ruling classes don't just fold up their tents and slink away. Capitalists, if ever decisively threatened, will put up the strongest possible resistance, by whatever means they have on hand, to prevent their own extinction or harassment. But it is not true that this inevitably means armed resistance by capitalists and their military forces. Democratic traditions in advanced Western countries seem strong enough to allow one to envisage a major onslaught against the power of capital without risking the survival of democracy. Although often dismissed as 'revisionist' such an analysis was made by Marx and Engels who suggested that a socialist transformation in such countries as England and Holland, with their deep-rooted democratic traditions, might be relatively peaceful. The electoral alliance between the French Socialist and Communist parties may favorably resolve this question in the 1980s.

The electoral arena must be entered if socialism is to be put on the agenda of Canadian politics. The alternative is a politics outside the established formal democratic framework that continues to occupy a mystical never-never land. Such theorizing may intoxicate the militants, but it remains a fantasy. As long as the parliamentary route is available, a party that does not attempt to gain power through it will not be taken seriously. As a recent editorial in In These Times, an American radical paper, maintained: 'A movement that does not submit itself publicly to the judgment of the people can never hope to gain their confidence and loyalty.' It is a tragic irony of 20th century history that the socialist and democratic traditions became to a significant extent, divorced. Again the words of an ITT editorial: 'To reject 'bourgeois democracy' not only confuses substance with form, but also implicitly or explicitly rejects democracy itself.'

Following from this orientation is the question for Canadian socialists of whether to work within the NDP or form a socialist party. The latter might seem like an attractive option but the close relationship of the labour movement with the NDP makes it extremely difficult for such a party to gain any constituency. It is by no means accidental that such attempts inevitably end up as small fringe groups lacking the strength to be taken seriously. Unlike the Democratic party in the U.S., the NDP is clearly a 'workers' party and enjoys deep loyalties as a result of this attachment. It is of little use to claim that the dispersion of illusions about the NDP will produce a climate in which a new party could take root: established parties are not disestablished that way. Only after an alternative has emerged do masses of people change their allegiance. Consequently, a meaningful socialist force can only be built through working to transform the NDP into a socialist party that can be the instrument for socialist victory in Canada. As indicated by efforts to transform the English, German and Swedish labour parties, the task is not an easy one and failure is at least as likely as success. Social-democratic parties have a striking tendency toward increasing conformity but there is no immutable law that says the NDP must always oppose socialist politics. Difficult or not, it is clear that if socialists cannot win over the membership of social-democratic parties they are unlikely to influence the general population.

Since the NDP (at least, on the national level) is far removed from the seats of power, there is a much greater opportunity of changing both its policies and leaders than has been the situation in England, Germany and Sweden.

It is true that there can be no purely parliamentary approach to socialism. Fundamental political change occurs only after a prolonged period of ferment and conflict within the principal cultural, social, and economic institutions of society. This necessitates what German student leader Rudi Dutschke called 'a long march through all the institutions of society.' The radical transformation of the existing social order in a socialist direction will require a lot more than electoral legitimation and, within a complex and diffuse scenario, must include many different forms of action, pressure and struggle. The NDP must be transformed so that it actively intervenes in the day-to-day struggles of working people. The problem is to make the NDP capable of giving institutional expression to greater participation, to make it the leader and not the controller of — or substitute for — participant and democratic action. A reformed NDP must be present at every contradiction and conflict in society, and at every effort at invention and creation. The NDP must learn the necessity of making the question of socialism vs. capitalism central to all its public activity. This is the only way in which the consciousness of people, rather than the opinions of voters, can finally be changed.

Published in Volume 2, Number 2 of The Red Menace, Spring 1978.

For alternative viewpoints see: Let's Stop Kidding Ourselves About the NDP and Letter to Canadian Dimension.





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Subject Headings: New Democratic Party - Social Democracy