Being the mass workers’ party is nothing to sneeze at. And being in the leadership of the workers’ party is even less insignificant. Leon Trotsky correctly characterized the crisis of humanity as “a historical crisis of the leadership of the proletariat” (Transitional Program, 1938). Capitalism, which was at its birth a revolutionary leap forward from the inefficiency and waste of feudalism, has long ago ceased to serve any real productive purpose on this planet. There is nothing normal or natural or even logical about this system. It leads to war over oil and mass slaughter for diamonds; it deprives one fifth of its population of safe drinking water and starves over thirty thousand children to death every day. There is no reason why this should not change. The conditions for socialism are, as Trotsky put so eloquently, not just ripe, but “somewhat rotten”. So what’s the hold up?
Working people have risen up countless times against their oppressors. They realize collectively that they have had enough with cuts and attacks on their living standards, down their tools, and take to the streets en masse. And again and again, these revolutionary movements are led to defeat and often bloodshed, by a leadership that is unprepared or unwilling to guide the workers in building their own society*. Revolution is the qualitative leap that comes after years of accumulated attacks. One crisis, attack, or event is the straw that breaks the camel’s back. The workers become aware of their collective power and rise up seemingly overnight. There is no time to shop around for the best little group chanting on the street corner, that calls itself the revolutionary leadership. The workers turn to their unions and to the mass workers’ parties that have claimed publicly to represent them for decades. This is the case again and again no matter how bankrupt, bureaucratic, or conciliatory the party’s leadership has become. And each time, the leadership of the party panics because they didn’t expect ever to be in a position of power, and either hands the power right back to the old ruling class or plays a counterrevolutionary role, consciously or unconsciously, because their own interests have become so detached from the interests of the class they supposedly represent. Either way, the troops of counterrevolution roll in and a valiant effort on the part of the workers ends in bloodbath because there was not a respected strong voice in the party saying “You are in control”, “You can seize the commanding heights of the economy so that they can be controlled democratically by the workers”. There was nobody there in the leadership of that party with a concrete understanding of how to actually go about building socialism, defending the workers’ state, and spreading the revolution elsewhere.
And today we find ourselves in the most tumultuous period in human history. Capitalism cannot guarantee the increasing profits on which it depends without attacking the standards of working people. In order to stay afloat, the capitalist must cut costs at all levels. This means lay-offs, closing shops, and gutting the basic social programs and employment standards that working people fought and died for not so long ago. There is no more somewhere else to exploit; the world is finite and the attacks are beginning to get very close to home. Household debt is at an all-time high in North America. Actual income, taking inflation into account, has been declining. Jobs are scarce and in increasing demand with plant closures and public sector downsizing. There is a glaring need for change. And we are starting to see workers lift their heads. Strikes are on the rise, especially in the public sector. There will be increasing discontent among working people and the poor, and since capitalism is in no position to make concessions, we will see illegal strikes and the development of general strike movements. We will find ourselves, even here in Canada, in a revolutionary situation. At this point, our NDP and labour leader readers are snickering; they cannot fathom Canadian workers rising up. And that is precisely the problem.
When it is our turn to rise up, the Canadian working class will turn to its labour party, no matter how badly they have let us down in the past (not by any fast ferry scandal or tax-and-spend media created myth, but because they have not really improved our lives in any tangible way). We will turn to the New Democratic Party for leadership. The workers will turn to the NDP because it is our party. It is the mass party that was built by workers and continues to be funded by the dues of those fortunate enough to be organized in unions. It is the only major party in Canada that lays any claim to representing the workers rather than their bosses.
The “success” of the Liberals in the recent federal election is due more to the lack of a credible alternative than to faith in their ability or their program. And credible here does not mean fiscally responsible and moderate like the Liberals, as the NDP policy hacks concluded in piecing together their platform. The vast majority of non-voters are youth, aboriginals, immigrants, the unemployed and the poor – the most down-trodden layers of the working class. They do not vote because they do not see any reason to do so. They do not vote because the NDP has not given them a reason to do so. Their issues are jobs, affordable housing, and food to feed their children – pretty straight forward. The NDP failed to address any of these issues in a concrete tangible way. In regions where neo-Liberal governments have hit hard and fast, the NDP is growing exponentially, notably in the youth wings as well. In British Columbia, the NDP has been handed the provincial election on a silver platter, yet they may actually lose it, the only way they possibly could – by not saying anything, with a platform of no promises. At the Federal level, left opposition to Jack Layton was voiced for the first time at September’s Council meeting, on the basis that the party’s final federal election platform did not reflect the platform discussed and voted on by the elected Federal Council.
There is a growing sense of discontent within the party – a mistrust of the leadership. There is an awareness that the old leadership who were in charge during capitalist boom times, when there was very little pressure from below, are no longer really on the same page as the membership. The Canadian working class is in desperate need of some very concrete solutions to some very concrete problems – there are no quality jobs; we are losing our healthcare; our income is decreasing while our debts and user-fees increase. Interest rates have been low, but they cannot stay low forever. Our massive debt must be paid back and there will be interest. Meanwhile, corporate and government debt are just as massive. Corporations will demand spending cuts and tax relief in order to stay afloat. They will have to cut jobs and wages in order to keep costs down, so as not to be out-competed by other corporations.
The current leaders of the NDP and labour movement are wrong to underestimate the ability and willingness of Canadian workers to rise up and take matters into their own hands. We will be forced to do so, whether the NDP is ready or not. And there will be no solution under this rotten capitalist system. We’re ready for a real change – a new system in which the wealth that we as working people earn from our labour goes back into our schools, our healthcare, our social programs, our technological and artistic innovation, rather than into the pockets of an exorbitantly rich parasitic minority. Marx and Engels present us with the option – socialism or barbarism. Either we build a world where profit does not come first at the expense of humanity and the planet, OR we continue down this path of war, poverty and destruction until we blow ourselves up or the world melts because of global warming. The Regina Manifesto, the founding document of the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) which became the NDP, concludes with “No CCF Government will rest content until it has eradicated capitalism” (1933). If the leadership chooses to ignore this, then it is time for a new leadership. When the Canadian working class rises up and turns to the NDP for guidance, they better not let us down, as has been the case with so many workers’ parties in so many revolutions. It is our job as members to keep our leaders in line and to ensure that there are good people in the leadership, with a solid understanding of how to build socialism. We call on all working people to join the NDP and fight for a genuine socialist program.
NDP to power on a socialist program!
*During the twentieth century – Russia 1905, Ireland 1916, Russia 1917, Germany 1918-23, Hungary 1919, Winnipeg General Strike 1919, British General Strike 1926, China 1926-7, Spain 1931-39, China 1949, Hungary 1956, Cuba 1959, France 1968, Pakistan 1968, Chile 1971-73, Portugal 1974, Iran 1979, British Miners’ Strike 1984-5, Albania 1997, Indonesia 1998, Ecuador 2000, Argentina 2001-2, Bolivia 2003, Venezuela today – to name a few. There is not space in this editorial to expand on examples, but please visit www.marxist.com for analysis of past revolutions.