Friday, April 12, 2013

NDP: stay true to the founding principles of the Regina Manifesto of 1933

Our movement was founded on the idea that, to quote the Regina Manifesto of 1933, “both the old parties in Canada are the instruments of capitalist interests and cannot serve as agents of social reconstruction” and that the “time has come for a far-reaching reconstruction of our economic and political institutions.”

Now, with rising inequality and unemployment in this country and across the Western world, Canada needs a party that will stand on socialist principles to offer a true alternative to the status quo of free-market capitalism. (from "The NDP should stay true to its socialist roots" by Arash Azizi. Toronto Star, April 10, 2013, below)
Pragmatic politics, and the spectre of achieving the ultimate in political aspirations, forming a national government versus hanging onto the founding principles, now seen as virtually pure idealism...this is the way the question is posed in many quarters.
Tommy Douglas was a firebrand socialist, the founding 'father' of the National Health System.
David Lewis, also trumpeted the socialist principles, in his frequently articulated, "corporate welfare bums" as he attempted to turn the gaze of self-satisfied Canadians to the idea of removing the perks from the coporations as found throughout the tax system.
Ed Broadbent, too, carried the socialist banned, with his fervent appeal to eliminate poverty, and even succeeded in getting the House of Commons to pass a unanimous vote to do so, back in 1979....although nothing has been done to implement that bill in the intervening thirty-four years.
People like Douglas Fisher, the MP from Thunder Bay, is remembered for his formidable presence on behalf of the underbelly of society, giving voice to the voiceless, among the political elite.
Ed Shreyer, Roy Romanov, Allen Blakeney, Dave Barrett four of the most articulate and committed servants of their respective provinces, as former premiers, held the banner of government balancing the appetite for excessive profit with balanced budgets, and for many years, gave the NDP a reputation that still stands as a foundation for its future, as a potential national government.
This is not the time to water down, for the sake of appearing "less threatening" to the middle-of-the-road Canadians, the party's commitment to social justice and social democracy and to the potential of reaching into the quivver of the many unused arrows that socialism offers, to curb the insatiable greed and appetite for profit that is gutting social programs, eviscerating the labour movement, and turning a blind eye to the threat of global warming and climate change.
We all know that Mr Trudeau Junior, will be knocking on the doors of the same corporations who write cheques for Mr. Harper, (just to balance their risk, should one or the other become Prime Minister) and we also know that whatever policies that do eventually emerge from the Liberal camp, following the coronation of Lord Justin, those policies will be "harper-lite" and insufficient to "right" the ship of state that has tilted almost to the point of capsizing, on a windy ocean of corporatism, globalism, and individual pursuit of profit as the holy grail of both politics and culture.
We can separate the need to re-brand Mr. Mulcair as a more user-friendly leader, with some warm-fuzzy encounters, to which he is clearly unsuited,from the need to rebrand the party, given the current political and social and even intellectual culture, marked as the latter is by "star" phemons in politics, regardless of whether they have substantive, creative and even courageous policy proposals or  not.
The NDP has never had to apologize for having sound and energetic policy proposals, and governments
wearing their monogram have consistently provided sound social policies with usually balanced budgets. A national NDP government can be expected to provide nothing less.
And pouring some tepid "tea" into the party's plqtform pot will only serve to lower expectations of both party affiliates and prospective voters, of whom there are millions waiting to be challenged.
Saying no to "watering the wine" of party history, tradition and political courage and vision is at this time the only and best way to honour the founding leaders and principles that have made the party what and who it is today....abandoning those leaders, principles and idealism when it is most needed would be a national as well as a party travesty.
We will be sending our support to the people on Mr. Azizi's side of the convention floor, enthusiastically, and unreservedly.

NDP agonizes again over what it stands for: Walkom

Does the NDP still believe in putting people ahead of profits? Or does it believe in winning power? Stay tuned.

By Thomas Walkom, Toronto Star, April 5, 2013 In Montreal, (this weekend) New Democrats will be wrestling with the thorny question of what they stand for.

Specifically, they will be debating — again — the preamble to their party’s constitution.
Two years ago, the NDP was at daggers drawn over whether to call itself social democratic or democratically socialist (the latest suggestion is to use both terms).
But now battle lines are being drawn over another clause in this strangely controversial preamble.
Should New Democrats devote themselves to creating a society in which “the production and distribution of goods and services shall be directed to meeting the social and individual needs of people . . . and not to the making of profit,” as the party’s current constitution states?
Or, as a party committee has suggested, should New Democrats content themselves with fighting for “a rules based economy . . . in which governments have the power to address the limitations of the market?”
To outsiders, such a debate might seem bizarrely irrelevant. In practice, the NDP is hardly a party of fire-breathing socialists. Even Prime Minister Stephen Harper tacitly acknowledged that when he picked Manitoba’s former NDP premier, Gary Doer, as Canada’s ambassador to free-enterprise America.
Outsiders might ask: Why don’t New Democrats face reality and admit that their once anti-capitalist party has made its peace with the bosses?
In one form or another, these are the arguments that those around NDP Leader Tom Mulcair are expected to make in Montreal.
In effect, they will be saying to delegates at the party’s convention: Face facts; we are not radicals; at best we are incremental reformers; let’s admit it and get on with the job of winning government.
It is a powerful argument.
The other side is harder to explain. New Democrats are a funny breed. Many were attracted to the party not because they necessarily expected to win power but because they believed in the idea of a democratic alternative to liberal capitalism.
My guess is that many of these New Democrats — at heart — still believe that an economic system based on private greed is fundamentally corrupt and that somehow, through hard work, a better one can be created.
Tommy Douglas, the party’s iconic former leader, referred to this as working toward a New Jerusalem. And within the NDP, the idea retains great potency.
Indeed, the most successful NDP politicians have been realistic idealists, people like Douglas and former Saskatchewan premier Allen Blakeney who, while eminently practical, never forgot the ultimate goal.
But for the federal party, idealism has often proved a weakness.
In spite of the solid record of their provincial cousins, federal New Democrats still face the charge that they are woolly-headed gadabouts.
In choosing Mulcair as leader, the party solved part of that problem. Mulcair’s very body language screams solidity. When he pronounces on issues, he does so with some subtlety.
Yes he would oppose the proposed pipeline from Alberta’s oilsands to the British Columbia coast. But he does not oppose all pipelines. Nor does he oppose development of the tarsands (although he argues it could be done more rationally).
Free trade with Europe? Mulcair says he’s open to the idea. All depends on the details.
Thanks to his performance, many Canadians would be hard-pressed to say whether Mulcair is Liberal or New Democrat. This is another way of saying that the NDP has the leader it needs to get a shot at winning.
Now the leader wants a party that can deliver him victory. That party, it seems, is not the NDP as it is currently constituted. We shall see how the rank and file react to being re-engineered.

And then there is this:

The NDP should stay true to its socialist roots

Removing any reference to socialism from the NDP's constitution would be wrong both tactically and in principle.By Arash Azizi, Toronto Star, April 10, 2013
Arash Azizi is an elected delegate from Toronto-Centre to the upcoming NDP convention in Montreal (April 12-14). He is among dozens of NDP members organizing against the proposed changes to the party constitution.

On Wednesday, April 3, delegates to the upcoming convention of the New Democratic Party received a message from our president, Rebecca Blaikie, about yet another suggested replacement of the preamble to our constitution.

That the party brass is taking another shot at changing the constitution comes as no surprise to any New Democrat. This is, at least, the third consecutive convention where we’ve seen similar attempts from the top. At the 2009 Halifax convention, there was suggestion that the “New” in the NDP’s name might be dropped so that we’d become the “Democratic Party.” Together with the presence of many Obama strategists at that convention, it suggested a rightward shift that would turn the NDP into a party of the centre like the American Democrats. The opposition to any such move was so great that it was not even proposed.
Then there was the 2011 convention in Vancouver. A few months after the massive Orange Wave, the party brass imagined a “love-in,” where all resolutions coming from the top would be voted in without much debate. This included a now-infamous motion to change the preamble to the party constitution so that it would no longer include the word “socialism.” I’m not exaggerating when I say this caused a revolt from the floor. Hundreds of delegates were angry at this move and the line-up at the “no” microphone was so long that it reached the doors of the hall. It included such recognized party leaders as Members of Parliament Libby Davies and Niki Ashton. Then-president Brian Topp intervened with a compromise suggestion not to vote on the motion and to defer the issue until the next convention.
Now, with less than a week before the convention, we are faced with another “new” preamble. Except there is nothing new about it. It is another attempt at erasing the democratic socialist foundations of the NDP that are enshrined in the party’s constitution.
The existing preamble couldn’t be clearer. It says that “social, economic, and political progress of Canada can be assured only by the application of democratic socialist principles to government and the administration of public affairs.” It then goes on to define these principles with three simple rules: production should be organized for need not profit, there should be economic and social planning and “toward these ends and where necessary the extension of the principle of social ownership.”
The newly proposed preamble is more than twice as long, but says much less. Trying to prevent another floor rebellion a la Vancouver, it offers lip service to the party’s traditions, mentioning the NDP’s association with “social democrat and democratic socialist parties.” When it comes to detailing actual policies, it says the party believes in a “rules based economy” where “governments have the power to address the limitations of the market” but, unlike the previous preamble, doesn’t specify in what fashion and to what goal. Gone are all the references to the principle of social ownership of resources. It thus accepts the primacy of the market precisely at a time when the capitalist system is facing a global crisis. Most shockingly, it erases the commitment to the “abolition of poverty.”
It’s no surprise that the ascent of the NDP to Official Opposition has prompted some soul-searching. This is an exciting moment for all New Democrats; the possibility of a NDP government seems very real for the first time in generations. But this opportunity also raises crucial questions. Will a NDP federal government fight for the cause for which the party was founded? If the voters finally try the “Orange Door,” will it offer them a substantially different government?
The newly proposed preamble doesn’t have a single sentence that differentiates the NDP from the Liberal Party. Far from making the NDP “electable,” it poses a severe threat to the party’s electoral aspirations. It makes us redundant. If people want to vote for the Liberals, they might as well go for the real thing. Furthermore, the political consequences of an NDP government that abandons its principles would be grave. Just look at Bob Rae’s NDP government in Ontario in the 1990s. Rae went on to become a Liberal but in the process destroyed the Ontario NDP’s chances for a generation. The NDP’s only chance for electoral success is to offer a real alternative to the status quo.

The NDP is rooted in the movement of farmers, labourers and socialists who built its predecessor, the CCF, in 1933. A lot has changed since them but these times do bear a striking similarity to the moment of the CCF’s founding.
The 1930s, too, had a global economic crisis that wreaked high unemployment and opened the door to austerity agendas everywhere. Our movement was founded on the idea that, to quote the Regina Manifesto of 1933, “both the old parties in Canada are the instruments of capitalist interests and cannot serve as agents of social reconstruction” and that the “time has come for a far-reaching reconstruction of our economic and political institutions.”
Now, with rising inequality and unemployment in this country and across the Western world, Canada needs a party that will stand on socialist principles to offer a true alternative to the status quo of free-market capitalism.

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