29 October 2015

The NDP—back to social democracy

Rather like the British Labour Party under Tony Blair, the NDP made a play for the political centre. The Liberals, led by the dangerous to underestimate Justin Trudeau, have now writ fini to that ambition.The thing for the NDP to do now, in the heart and mind of this member of the party at least, is to return to social democracy.

Not that the NDP hasn't occupied centre-left of the political spectrum successfully. They have filled that space in all the Western provinces and currently hold power with that mandate in Alberta and Manitoba. Federally it's a different matter. There it has traditionally been a Liberal fief, and although the NDP managed to usurp the role in 2011, the Liberals have reclaimed it in no uncertain terms.

The need for a party of the left, a social democratic party, arose from the inequalities of power and wealth that derive from capitalism. As those inequalities declined in the 20th century, particularly after the Second World War with the rise of the welfare state, the need for such a party was believed by many to have faded.

However, in recent years, the need is back, and in some ways is more urgent than ever. For example, with globalization we have seen a steady growth of corporate power. "Trade" agreements have been as much about advancing the rights of investors over governments as about trade. We see democracy steadily undermined in favour of plutocracy. Liberals, who have generally been supportive of "trade" agreements, cannot be counted on to assume the responsibility of democratic champion. Only social democracy can reliably fill that role.

Further to this question is whether capitalism, a system based on accumulation, is appropriate for a future where growth must eventually end if we are to avoid exhausting the Earth's resources. Social democrats have always offered the perfect alternative to capitalism—the co-operative. Co-operatives are thoroughly democratic, economically successful locally, nationally and globally, and emphasize co-operation over competition, essential in a world of shrinking resources. Incredibly, although co-ops were once at the heart of NDP (or at least CCF) philosophy, there is no mention of them in the NDP election platform. Here is an opportunity for a political party to proclaim the mantra "we must co-operate in a global society" over the soul-destroying "we must compete in the global marketplace."

Globalization has also undermined the power of workers. With entire sectors of the economy not unionized, other sectors experiencing decline in unionization, the use of temporary foreign workers, the replacement of people with robots, etc., working people face a host of challenges. They need a political voice committed to their interests, and the NDP has traditionally been that voice. It might start by insisting that worker protection at least match investor protection in international trade agreements.

Regarding foreign affairs, Canada needs a political party to speak out for the vulnerable—the downtrodden and the dispossessed. This is a fundamental role for a social democratic party. For example, we might start with the Palestinians, a people terribly ill-served by our recent government, and not much better served by the NDP who cravenly submitted to political correctness during the recent campaign and shushed candidates that spoke out for these beleaguered people. Serving the interests of the less fortunate is a fundamental role for a social democratic party even at the expense of popularity.

There is a lot of work to do from a left perspective. I submit that the NDP's future should lie in taking on that job.

1 comment:

  1. Very well put, Bill. That said, there are a great many New Dems who, like Harper, seem to believe it's the NDP's turn to be the next Liberal party and the Libs should just close up shop. These same people fiercely deny that the NDP slipped its moorings and went across the centre-line. Veteran NDP stalwarts such as Laxer and Caplan have no such illusions and call for a NDP reformation.

    This election showed fairly persuasively that all political parties draw their support from a segment of the population that identifies with a party largely regardless of policy or merit. Some of them 'inherit' their affiliation from their parents, friends or colleagues and, in slightly different circumstances, could just as easily fall within another party's catchment.