At the end of July, a survey conducted by Forum Research revealed that 58 per cent of Canadians support socialism. This echoes similar polls in the U.S. However, with the start of the federal election campaign it seems like this desire for socialism is not being reflected by any of the major parties. As long as politicians do not express the need to make a radical break with the status quo, there will be disengagement, apathy and abstention.
It is not hard to understand why support for socialism is increasing. Statistics Canada data shows that from 2012 to 2015, incomes of the wealthiest top 0.1 per cent rose by 17 per cent, while the bottom 90 per cent of the population only saw incomes rise by 2.2 per cent. This data is corroborated by a 2018 study commissioned by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives studying wealth concentration since 1999, which showed that the 87 richest families have as much wealth as the bottom 12 million Canadians.
This situation has had an impact on the consciousness of millions of people. An Ipsos poll in early September showed that 67 per cent of Canadians agreed with the statement that the economy was rigged to favour the rich and powerful.
Federal election 2019: Socialism or disinterest
With the federal election fast approaching on Oct. 21, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has tumbled in the polls and now has a lower approval rating than U.S. President Donald Trump. Sixty-seven per cent believe that it is time for another federal party to govern. In addition, studies show that the leading sentiments among the electorate are “anger” and “pessimism” towards the federal government. Having gone back on nearly every electoral promise which vaulted the Liberals back into power in 2015, cynicism and anger towards the Trudeau government is palpable.
Thus far, this drop in support for the Liberals has not led to a meteoric rise for any opposition force. While some polls put the Conservatives slightly ahead of the Liberals, it would be a mistake to think that this is due to the popularity of Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives. People still remember the hated Harper Conservative regime and are not eager to return to that. The general feeling is disappointment towards the Liberals, rather than enthusiasm for the Conservatives.
This situation is evidently a fantastic opportunity for a third party, dare we say, a socialist party to make huge gains. However, the New Democratic Party, which comes from a socialist tradition, has been unable to capitalize on this situation. Instead, the party has been languishing in the polls, with one poll even placing the party in fifth place, at a paltry seven per cent, behind the Greens for the first time in memory. But what is the reason for this?
Crisis of capitalism = crisis of reformism
The economic crisis which rocked the world economy in 2008 completely dislocated the social equilibrium in one country after another. While the Canadian economy exited the crisis the least scathed of the major world economies, it would be a mistake to think that Canada has been unaffected. Most importantly, mass political movements around the world have had their effects on the consciousness of millions of Canadian workers and youth.
During this past period, the NDP leadership moved in the opposite direction they should have been, continually tacking to the right. First the party picked an ex-Liberal, Thomas Mulcair, as leader in 2012, and then the party removed socialism and social ownership from its constitution in 2013. As we predicted at the time, this move to the right was the path to defeat. Reformism in the epoch of capitalist crisis inevitably expresses itself in accepting what capitalism can give us—austerity and falling living standards. Sure enough, in 2015 the NDP leadership found themselves justifying balancing budgets, while Trudeau criticized Mulcair from the left and ended up sailing to a majority government.
While a rank-and-file revolt subsequently turfed Mulcair in 2016, the NDP brass, sensing which way the winds were blowing, made a calculated shift to the left with Jagmeet Singh. As more and more people are thirsting for a bold socialist leader, Jagmeet’s leadership has unfortunately been incapable of taking a firm stand on key issues. When asked blunt questions Singh tends to try and please everyone, and in the process pleases nobody.
Technically, the NDP platform under Singh is further to the left than it has been for at least a couple of decades, and cosmetically, Jagmeet has been attempting to speak out against corporate interests, claiming to be “in it for you.” But these words coming from his mouth sound bland and contrived, rather than an impassioned defense of the working class against the attacks of the capitalists. Singh was the favoured candidate of the party bureaucracy and this is the same bureaucracy that brought in Rachel Notley and other compromised NDP campaigns. This ongoing influence of the bureaucracy is reflected in the fact that despite the party’s left-ish platform, left-wingers with an anti-establishment image such as Sid Ryan are being excluded from running for the NDP.
In this context, no one really believes that Jagmeet and the current NDP apparatus will really put up a fight against the rich elites who dominate our lives. The completely allergic attitude the NDP leadership has towards the S-word, in spite of all the polling data saying socialism is popular, is indicative of this approach.
Workers and youth have had enough of politics as usual. They have had enough of the rich and powerful who always get their way, and of the vague platitudes and broken promises offered by politicians. If the desire for a fundamental break with current society does not find an expression in the electoral field, it will look for other outlets in the streets, campuses, and workplaces. An explosion is in preparation; it just needs an outlet that is sorely missing in this general election.