Thursday, February 18, 2016

My Log 503 Feb 18 2016: NDP a party that would run a mile rather than admit it is “Socialist”: time for a re-evaluation, with a new team in charge

Federal CCF Caucus, in 1942 with new leader M....
Federal CCF Caucus, in 1942 with new leader M.J. Coldwell(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Clement Attlee, British Prime Minister 1945-51
Clement Attlee, British Prime Minister 1945-51 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Plaque recording the location of the formation...
Plaque recording the location of the formation of the British Labour Party in 1900. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
English: This is a derivative of the National ...
M.J.Coldwell (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
English: Thomas Mulcair, NDP Member of Parliam...
Thomas Mulcair, present leader of NDP(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Official Portrait of President Ronald Reagan
President Ronald Reagan, who began the downslide of the common man (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont
U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who is putting the cat among the pigeons in the present US primary elections (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
English: Tommy Douglas, former Premier of Sask...
Tommy Douglas, leader of the NDP, of whom CBC viewers said he was the greatest Canadian who ever lived (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
When I arrived in Canada in 1954, having been raised under a Labour government in social democratic New Zealand, and having, on joining the workforce, automatically become a union member, I suppose I could have been described as a raving socialist, and a red-hot union member.
Naturally, joining the work force in Canada was a bit of a shock, especially since my first job was with the notoriously anti-union Thomson Newspapers, where I first came across the automated linotype machine to which a role of copy cold be affixed and printed out mechanically, especially to obviate the need to hire a linotype operator who might be unionized. In those days as a reporter, I would never have thought of taking a picture, because that was judged, in the union contracts I had always followed, to be the work of a photographer, and I would never have thought of stealing his job.
Of course from the beginning I supported politically the CCF, later the New Democratic Party, and later, when I was working in Western Canada, I even got to interview both M.J. Coldwell  and Tommy Douglas, CCF leaders, and my impression of both was that they would have died rather than allow the word
“socialism” past their lips.  Both, of course, were quite admirable. I was accustomed to such leaders who, while dreaming of a revolution, nevertheless trimmed what they fought for to the winds of popular acceptance. I was more or less driven out of New Zealand in 1950 by my disgust at the apostasy of Prime Minister Peter Fraser, a self-educated working class leader, who entered Parliament when in jail in the First World War for opposing conscription, and who, in 1949, returned from an Imperial Defence Conference in England where he was persuaded that New Zealand needed conscription to confront the so-called Soviet menace. Thus he split the Labour party and ensured its defeat after 14 years of good government. But not only that: he became the all-time symbol, for me, of the well-known affliction for radical leaders of the “embrace of the duchesses.” I arrived in England in 1951 just in time to join the Labour Party and lick stamps for them during the election, and then to quit in dismay after hearing my new leader Clement Attlee speak, an establishmentarian if ever I heard one.
So, on arrival in Canada, I never had wild expectations of any party, but I did realize that the NDP had performed a useful service to the country in differentiating it from the elephant in the south, through having espoused and seen through into legislation such measures as unemployment insurance, family allowances and universal old age pensions. Of course, such policies were stolen by the Liberals, which sidelined the CCF and later the NDP. The party had, to me, an unfortunate habit of being led by Protestant ministers, but of these Tommy Douglas at least appeared to be a man of conviction, ready to stand alone in face of reactionary legislation as he did in opposing Trudeau’s War Measures Act imposition in 1970.
I spent the 1960s in England, but on my return witnessed the election of a number of more or less lack-lustre NDP leaders --- I recall my astonishment when watching the entirely admirable labour leader Bob White dance a gig in celebration of Audrey McLaughlin’s election as leader --- and it is no surprise that none of these leaders has ever taken the party anywhere.
These reflections have been stimulated by an excellent article by Michal Rozworski  and Derrick O'Keefe published in, reflecting on whether the success of Bernie Sanders in the US might presage the end for Tom Mulcair in Canada. They contrast Sanders’s wholehearted approach to change with the drift to the right engineered by the former Liberal Mulcair during the recent election, and by the fact that to all intents and purposes, Justin Trudeau’s Liberals went to the electorate with a more radical programme than that offered by the NDP.
Nor is anything likely to change so long as Mulcair remains the leader. He is, at heart, a Liberal, and a wholehearted believer in the status quo, as we can see now that the mist has cleared away from he election campaign.  He has been, it is true, an effective Parliamentary debater, and in that role played his part in exposing the former Prime Minister Harper in such a way as to hasten his downfall. But that the Liberals should have been willing to tax the rich, while the NDP was not, surely tells us enough about the direction in which Mulcair is leading the party.
That Sanders has, as the Ricochet authors write, managed to put “socialism” back on the political agenda of the United States, where it had been for decades almost equivalent to poison, suggests to them that Canadians of the Left must take heed, if they are to have any chance of playing a role in the future.
Another interesting article on Sanders and the Left has appeared in The Guardian by Thomas Piketty, who claims that the rise of Sanders signals the end of the era ushered in by Ronald Reagan. Until Reagan, writes Piketty, that is to say, in the years from the 1930s to the 1970s, the US were at the forefront of an ambitious set of policies aiming to reduce social inequalities.”  He recalls thatthe tax rate for the people of highest income ($1 million or more) was for half a century an average of 82 per cent, with peaks of 91 per cent from the 1940s to the 1960s, and were still as high as 70 per cent when Reagan was elected. This was accompanied by very high rates on estates, up to 80 per cent (twice as much as in France or Germany), and these were measures which greatly reduced the concentration of capital in the United States, and did not adversely affect its economy.
In the context of the Canadian Left, which has been shuffling to reduce its recognition of “socialism”, it is extremely important to be reminded of these facts. If the United States could do it in those days, then surely Canada could do it in these days. And by “it” I mean introduce a coherent set of policies to reduce inequalities and redistribute money from the wealth-owners to the people who do the actual work, the middle and working classes, primarily through social measures such as transfers, child care, early education, free University tuitions (which, someone has reminded us this week would amount to no more than $10 billion a year, no more than four per cent of the federal budget).
It is ludicrous for the right to argue that we cannot afford measures which we could afford in 1970, even though today we have far more wealth to distribute. This is, or should be, the essential difference between Left and Right in politics. For the Right, with their untrammelled market system, it is every man for himself, and the devil take the hindmost. For the Left, all politics should be underborn by a recognition that we are our brothers’ keepers.

Although the NDP has a good record of having stimulated progressive measures implemented by other parties, they are showing no evidence at the moment that they are thinking about what is going to be needed in our new age of technology and accumulation of wealth, if life is to remain liveable for every one of us.

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