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Onward Parliamentarian Spectacle

The Ontario provincial elections are almost here and if anyone thinks that they are going to prevent the austerity response to the crisis then s/he is delusional.  Due to Jack Layton's death and hagiography––the fact that an anti-socialist has suddenly been transformed into a socialist martyr––there is a chance, however slight, that the NDP will again become a provincial government.  But I remember the days of Bob Rae's NDP government in Ontario, and the back to work legislation mobilized against the working classes he claimed to support, and that did not happen in the context of this crisis.  Anyone who imagines that a possible NDP government in today's climate will somehow be more progressive than Rae's anti-worker regime is living in a dream world: at least Rae eventually accepted that he was liberal––here's hoping that the NDP would stop pretending it is anything more than a classic liberal party, far from even Tommy Douglas's social democracy, and voters stop imagining that an NDP in a hostile rightist climate, where the bourgeoisie is fighting to keep its profits, is going to save us from poverty and welfare cuts.

During the federal elections boycott campaign that I endorsed, and in which I participated, we discovered that the people implicitly boycotting the elections (the silent 40% who never vote, the people on the street in beleaguered neighbourhoods) could care less whether the government was Liberal, Conservative, or NDP because, according to many of them, it made no difference in their day to day reality: every government protected landlords and private property, thus participating in evictions and explicitly or implicitly endorsing police brutality.  The provincial elections will probably produce the same implicit boycott––a rejection of voting that, as we argued then and I will argue again here, speaks more to a rejection of the state than some vague notion of apathy.  Those who cling to the notion that parliamentarianism is identical to freedom, and who believe voting is some sort of utopian privilege, generally, and without any investigation, claim that people who refuse to participate are guilty of apathy––as if voting means caring, and an "x" on a ballot implies democratic responsibility.

It is all too easy, once you accept that participation in bourgeois democracy is synonymous with caring about politics, to misrepresent those who refuse to participate as simply apathetic.  Granted, some non-voting citizens may well indeed be apathetic, but simply because we know some apathetic people exist does not make their attitude normative amongst the non-voters.  And even if some of the non-voters are apathetic, shouldn't we ask why some people respond to this system with apathy?  After all, it seems absurd to care for a system that cares mainly (and sometimes only) for the upper classes.

Those of us involved in the boycott campaign for the federal elections spent part of our time dealing with this nascent parliamentarian ideology (as this older grumpity post should demonstrate), so I won't bother spending much time rehashing old territory.  And since the boycott campaign, because it was meant to unify an organizational moment in different provinces, was devoted to the federal elections, there doesn't seem to be much point in reigniting the flame wars.  This is not to say that I am endorsing voting for the NDP or any such nonsense in the provincial arena, just that I'm not spending my political activist time in a provincial boycott campaign.

(Oddly enough, because the movementist way of thinking programs us to think that every group should be a single issue or single concept group––that this group does that pet issue, and that group does that pet issue––there were people in the Toronto left who thought that some of us were involved with a group that only did elections boycotts.)

The Revolutionary Student Movement of Toronto argued, in a recent post, that "the NDP, a prime example of a party that is left in word and right in form, is dangerous because it works hard to deceive the masses by projecting a so-called working class agenda.  It says it will raise people's standard of living, but it shamefacedly represses people's knowledge of the sources of the wealth that fills its coffers. Like the Conservatives and the Liberals… [its] ultimate interest is the maintenance and growth of the capitalist system."  Unfortunately, after Layton's hagiographical death, we'll probably have well-intentioned people at the provincial level placing all their hopes on the NDP because people in the self-proclaimed "left" have worked very hard to argue that Layton was a socialist and that is party possessed a "working class agenda."

And yet in Toronto we had an NDP hack as a mayor before the conservative cut-fanatic Rob Ford.  And though that mayor didn't cut obviously essential services, he poured more money into the police (strangely enough, Ford is cutting police funding as well because, hell, he's a millionaire who wants to cut everything), actively prevented affordable housing, and supported the suppression of proletarian and reserve proletarian dissent.  And, as aforementioned, our last provincial NDP government was also anti-worker: it broke strikes and engaged in political repression with the same avid glee as the Liberal McGuinty government.  But I doubt that today's potential NDP government, in this austere climate, will be even as left as the Rae regime––and again, seeing as how Rae admits he's a liberal, that's saying something.  Anyone who imagines, however, that a bourgeois parliamentarian party, no matter how "left" it pretends to be, will be more left now than it was in the days of Bob Rae is ignoring the climate of austerity that is causing every member of the bourgeois family to move to the right.  It's time to protect the profits and power of the tiny ruling minority; Keynesianism (which was never socialist no matter how many US left liberals and their moronic rightwing opposites would like to pretend otherwise) was the bandaid solution of another crisis and the ruling class doesn't need it anymore.  Even the NDP doesn't need it anymore, though they'll probably work hard to plug a few holes in the sinking welfare capitalist ship.


  1. I don't know why you are upset you're front group took off. The boycott the election campaign was pretty successful, I remember talking to a bunch of anarchists who had no idea it was being run my maoists. Its not bad for people to think you are your front group, its good for recruiting people who aren't quite ready to do your politics yet.

  2. Huh? I'm not upset about front groups taking off in this article, nor do I think front groups are a bad thing. None of that was even in my mind when I wrote this and now I'm combing through the paragraphs to see how I gave that impression.

    What I said I was that I found it interesting that people in Toronto tend to identify groups with single issues and so people are still saying you guys just do election boycotts, don't you? Otherwise, I'm not upset about the campaign or the PRAC in general.

  3. So, it was the lowest voter turnout in Ontario history: 49.2%. For the first time less than half of eligible voters participated in the election. That does say something, I think, that the Left needs to hear. Of course, just because people are disenchanted with parliamentary politics doesn't mean they will be more open to radical forms of socialism, but if we cannot appeal to some of the alienated, they will all fall into the arms of libertarians and right-wing nut-jobs.

  4. That is a pretty low turn-out. Obviously simply because people are disenchanted with the parliamentary system doesn't mean they will be automatically open to radical forms of socialism, but part of the work of making people more open to socialism is actively, in an organized sense, is to try to speak to this need and try to make it coherent.

    Your last point is key, I think: a lot of these people aren't necessarily primed for socialism or right-wing populism, but they'll get mobilized by right-wing populists because it's those nut-jobs who are beginning to organize in these areas.

  5. Slightly off topic, but this post reminds me in a lot of ways of what I was trying to capture with my facebook status yesterday after I went out and refused my ballot (which I hope sends the message that I am not apathetic, I just don't like my options here)...

    I hope everybody thinks about voting today and about what it means, but also remembers that voting alone is not enough; we need to work together to create systemic change. As a male-centric (but still worth repeating) quote says, "What better way to enslave a man than to give him the vote and tell him he's free" -Albert Camus.

  6. Good to hear from you, and no this isn't off topic. It's interesting how we're taught to think that participating in a possible farce is the essence of democracy. And it's definitely hard to both reject this participation and prove that we're not apathetic, since rejection is treated as identical with apathy.


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