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Vote With Your Feet (part 4) - Guest Post by Wendy G.

This is a guest post by comrade Wendy G. that addresses why the New Democratic Party (NDP) is not even a viable social democratic force in Canada.  Since many of the arguments levelled against a potential boycott by leftists who theoretically believe in revolutionary politics (but apparently not practically) centre around the belief that the NDP is our only viable option––or even worse that it's a party that actually represents the interests of the oppressed masses––it is necessary to discuss the actual behaviour of the NDP in Canada.  For those comrades just south of the border, we should also point out that the NDP is even (and sadly) to the left of the US Democratic Party...

GUEST POST ON THE BOYCOTT (upcoming event on March 19th)
by Wendy G. 

1.  Past and present experiences of NDP governments show that the party ends up becoming just as pro-capitalist, anti-indigenous and imperialist as the other major parties in Canada. 

The NDP has come to power in many provinces, including Ontario and B.C.  In a now infamous experiment, the NDP ruled Ontario from 1990 to 1995.  Yes, Bob Rae’s NDP government introduced legislation that passes as “progressive” within a capitalist framework, such as severance pay laws for laid off workers, pay equity for women and forestry legislation. However, from the moment the NDP was elected, the bourgeois, the Canadian media and the police launched a pervasive and powerful propaganda campaign against the NDP government. Investors insisted Canada had become “communist.” Bay Street threatened that the cost of borrowing would rise if spending was not kept “under control.” The NDP implemented small tax increases for the highest earners and corporations but it also – in true social democratic compromise fashion – decided that cuts should be made to the public sector to a similar tune. That way, the private sector wouldn’t feel “singled out” during the recession. In the 1992 budget, the NDP severely cut its social spending, giving into the threats from the right wing investors. Premier Bob Rae also passed legislation that imposed a wage freeze on public sector unions and he introduced “Rae days” which forced public sector employees to work for 10 days a year without pay. The NDP experience in Ontario shows on one hand that a small party that is not supported by a mass people’s movement, people’s media and a new form of direct action democracy has no hope of withstanding the onslaught of the bourgeoisie, even if this party does win a majority in an election and even when this party is not at all communist. The left needs to work outside of the parliamentary system to build its media, military and mass forces. The experience of the NDP in Ontario also shows however, that social democratic parties in a bourgeois capitalist system will end up, once in power, capitulating to the extent that gains made for the poor are miniscule and vulnerable to being taken away at any moment. Meanwhile, the ruling classes and media is able to praise a “democratic system” that gives rise to a plurality of voices, even left-leaning ones.

In BC, the NDP was in power for a longer period, from 1991 to 2001. The only reason the NDP was able to win a second election within the quite undemocratic, heavily uneven playing field of parliamentary politics was it took a hard turn to the right after only two years in power. In its welfare reform, the NDP made the public enemy “welfare cheats, deadbeats and varmints” as premier Michael Harcourt referred to the most marginalized and exploited.  The government introduced massive restrictions to welfare eligibility among low-income people and implemented other cutbacks to social programming across the board. The NDP in BC also revealed its staunch opposition to Aboriginal sovereignty in one of the largest paramilitary operations in Canada. Under premier Ujjal Dosanjh, the RCMP fired tens of thousands of rounds, including internationally prohibited hollow point bullets, at a small group of indigenous people protesting the occupation of Shuswap territory. It was considered a miracle no one was killed. Dosanjh staunchly defended the police’s actions.
2. The NDP prioritizes its relationship with the Israeli lobby in North America over the liberation of the Palestinian people.

The NDP’s statements on Israel mirror that of the Conservatives and Liberals in their suggestions that Palestinians are not victims of genocidal and apartheid policies but equal aggressors. When Israel was carpet bombing the Gaza strip in late 2008 and early 2009, Layton called on the Government of Canada to “urge both sides to end the current hostilities.” In 2010, when the conservatives passed a motion to condemn the term “apartheid” in relation to Israel on Ontario campuses, many members of the NDP supported the motion. The NDP has also made it clear it does not support a one-state solution.

Meanwhile, critics within the NDP who have spoken out against the occupation of Palestine are quickly silenced and condemned by the party. In 2010, when Libby Davies said that the beginning of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory began in 1948, the NDP propaganda machine went in overdrive to exclaim that Davies’s views were not shared by other members of the party. Jack Layton phoned up Israel’s ambassador to Canada to “clarify” that Davies’ comments did not represent NDP policy. Davies herself publicly apologized.  “My reference to the year 1948 as the beginning of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory was a serious and completely inadvertent error,” she said. Given that in 1948, Israel expelled hundreds of thousands of the non-Jewish population, confiscated property and placed the remaining non-Jewish population in Palestinian territory under military rule, the statement that the occupation began in 1948 is factually accurate – yet the NDP refuted this statement due to outcry from the pro-Israel lobby in Canada.

In 2002, after federal NDP leader Alexa McDonough condemned Israeli “state terrorism,” she apologized for the “regrettable public perception” that the NDP is anti-Israel.  She simply said Israel’s actions were “counter-productive.” Also in that year, the NDP stripped MP Svend Robinson of his Middle East portfolio when he criticized the Israeli government for war crimes committed in Jenin, where the Isreali army invaded a refugee camp and killed more than 50 Palestinians.

The NDP has proven that it is not a party interested in justice for Palestinians when such a pursuit means taking a position that is unfavourable to the U.S. and to the pro-Israel lobby in Canada.

3.  The NDP supports the imperialist occupation of Afghanistan, even though the party shies away from all-out military aggression there.

Jack Layton has recently called for the troops to be pulled out of Afghanistan, but the leader of the NDP only began to publicly call for withdrawal of troops in 2006, more than three years after Canadian soldiers were sent to fight an “enemy” that was largely only mobilized in response to the foreign invasion and is overwhelmingly peasant based. Today, Layton doesn’t argue from the principled position that the war is and has always been an imperialist project driven by the west’s selfish geopolitical and economic interests in the region. Quite the opposite, Layton recently went so far as to praise President Obama’s troop surge strategy. In the context of the NDP’s ‘troops out’ campaign, Layton expresses support for the imperialist bloc by explaining in a 2011 speech that the Canadian military has done its share: “Nobody can say Canadians haven’t done their share,” said Layton. “The question now is: What should Canada be doing next?” Now, Layton calls for Canada to engage in the imperialist project in a more “diplomatic” manner.

On numerous occasions, most recently February of 2011, NDP Premier of Nova Scotia, Darrell Dexter has praised Lockheed Martin for employing Nova Scotians and modernizing the Canadian Navy’s fleet. In fact, this year, Dexter announced that Lockheed Martin was one of a handful of companies the government was partnering with in its plans to build a tidal turbine to supply energy to the province. Lockheed Martin has been contracted to supply surveillance and weaponry technology for the U.S. military and NATO in the war in Afghanistan. Talk about a military industrial complex.


  1. Thanks for sharing this great, guest post by a great comrade.

    I grew up in a NDP voting home, but have become more and more (and more!) disillusioned with them over the years. At best, they are Liberals in "progressive" clothing. And I think a large part of this is due, as Wendy says, to the fact that they do not have public or media support. Perhaps they would be more willing to take some seriously progressive stands if they had that support. That being said, I don't think that scrambling for crumbs and going with the "lesser of the evils" is a viable solution.

  2. Hear hear! Expose these frauds for who they are.

  3. In fact the latest NDP line on Afghanistan is one of the most vile yet. A Jack Layton tract was put online recently called "Canadian Leadership in Afghanistan" (!!!) which plainly, in liberal humanitarian language, called for a more soft Canadian imperialism in Afghanistan, ie removing some soldiers and accelerating export of capital!

  4. Glad you all liked Wendy's post. Many of us grew up with the idea that voting for the NDP was the telos of leftism and that Tommy Douglas (though an actual social democrat, unlike Jack Layton) was the be-all-and-end-all of the left.

    Good point above about the NDP's latest line on Afghanistan: perhaps this just reveals that social democratic reforms are contingent on imperialist plunder - a point made and proved over and over by the best anti-imperialist theorists but one that is still, for some strange reason, practically ignored by certain sectors of the NA left.

    Perhaps it's a law of history (I'm not making a scientific law of history claim here, though, just musing) that parliamentarian social democrats, the longer they exist as social democrats, move towards the right. My partner ran into one of her old social dem friends recently, who did all sorts of organizing for the NDP and other left-liberal causes, but who is now claiming that we should ignore the left/right divide [even as social democrats traditionally understand it!] and try to reconcile differences to, y'know, really work for the people. Lovely.


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