JR'S Free Thought Pages
Does the NDP have a Future?
by Johnny Reb, Oct 24, 2015
In both the United States and Canada the wealth and political apparatus is controlled by wealthy elites and large corporate interests. The concentrations of massive wealth within both countries can be found in a few dozen families and multinational corporations. The political parties exist and act as direct representatives of these oligarchic interests as they promote the ideas of untrammelled exploitive capitalism, conveyed in the ideology of neo-liberalism (aka neo-conservatism), bogus free trade agreements, imperialism and endless war.
But what about the NDP and its heritage? The founding of the social democratic New Democratic Party in 1961 was potentially an important break from this unjust economic model which has become progressively corrupt and out of control. The NDP was a tacit merger of the main trade union federations of the day with its social democratic precursor, the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation or CCF, founded in 1933. The reshaping of the CCF into the NDP in 1961 was a regressive right wing step that garnered much resistance in the form of what was called at the time, the "Waffle Group", whose members represented the spirit of the 1933 Regina Manifesto. Since 1961 the NDP has moved even further to the right, accelerating this process in the past two decades. With rare exception from utterances of the old guard, "socialism" was summarily removed from the NDP lexicon. The last NDP member I can recall using the word "socialism" in a sentence was Ed Broadbent.
Although deeply diluted from the social democratic ideas of the old CCF, social policy remained quite strong in the NDP’s founding program. The party remained a rare voice for the working class populations. It advocated a national medical care program and stronger national pension and unemployment insurance programs. Without NDP support and the work of T C Douglas, the Liberal government of the time would likely not have adopted universal government run health care that the vast majority of Canadians enthusiastically support. In spite of both Liberal and Conservative efforts at underfunding, our universal health care system survives despite dilution of services and dreams of privatization, especially by extreme right wing reactionaries such as Stephen Harper.
The NDP was also sympathetic to the language and national rights demands of the French-language people of Quebec, including in October 1970 when it was the only party in Parliament to vote against the declaration of the War Measures Act by the current Prime Minister at the time, Pierre Trudeau. The War Measures Act was invoked as a police state style action intended to break the rising Quebec independence movement. The implementation of the War Measures Act by the Liberals to deal with the FLQ crisis in 1970 was appropriately condemned in parliament by NDP leader Tommy Douglas as "using a sledge hammer to kill a fly". He was the only MP to publically speak out against the Gestapo measures and for that he was condemned, not only by Conservatives and Liberals, but by some members of his own party.
The NDP also favoured Canadian withdrawal from NATO. In general, the party membership also unanimously and consistently took the positions of antiwar and pro-peace. Unfortunately, the NDP’s stance of getting Canada out of NATO was reversed by party leaders over a decade ago.
Over the past 35 years, the progressive policies in the NDP platform have been steadily diluted or even abandoned. Today, the NDP still has a moderately progressive social program compared to the Liberal Party that has primarily only paid lip-service to it, for the most part behaving like conservatives when in power. The NDP does continue to defend important civil liberties, which the Liberals abandoned decades ago. For example, on May 6 of this year, the Liberals voted in favour of the Harper government’s draconian, police-state Bill C-51 whereas the NDP voted against it. The Liberals also voted in June for the divisive Bill S-7, the “Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act”, a Conservative Party election ploy to bait the more culturally tolerant NDP. It seems to have worked, based on the election results for the NDP.
But the differences between the NDP and Liberals are narrowing as the NDP continues to slip and slide to the political right. And more importantly, the NDP no longer seems to struggle for important issues outside the confines of parliamentary chambers for the economic and social improvements it claims to support. It’s been many decades since we’ve seen a significant mass rally in the streets of Ottawa or any other Canadian city for a major social cause with mass trade union, environmental, peace activist, First Nations and other participation.
On foreign policy, the NDP’s policies today differ only marginally from those of the Liberals and Conservatives who have, like trained poodles, traditionally followed US imperialist foreign policy. It's a national disgrace.
Canada now desperately needs a genuine party of the political left. In the United States one of the contenders for the Democratic nomination is Bernie Sanders who does not hesitate to use the word "socialism" in describing his platform. But by remaining in the Democratic Party, even if nominated, he will surely get nowhere with his agenda. I believe it's possible that much of the present NDP membership and its waning trade union affiliates can be won over to idea of returning to their roots and vision so eloquently articulated by the great Tommy Douglas. But it won’t happen through inconsequential and minor incremental change within the party. A distinct new vision needs to be re-built, otherwise the NDP offers no distinct alternative for Canadians to the prevailing parties of neo-liberal corporatism.
A few years ago I wrote a lengthy rambling piece on my disenchantment with the current NDP, a party I have supported over the years:
My Plea for a "NEW" New Democratic Party
The NDP has lost its way
by Johnny Reb
(My Tommy Douglas Tribute essay can be read here)
A question for Canadians. Do any of you, particularly young people and those who belong to or support the NDP party, recognize the man in the photo below? He was chosen our country's most revered Canadian in a CBC poll. No, it's not our renown champion of hockey violence and idiocy, our national nincompoop, Don Cherry! Do you know anything about this remarkable highly intelligent and ethical man - or have you simply forgotten or know nothing about Canadian history? His name is Tommy Douglas and, despite never having achieved political power federally, he was responsible for realizing so many progressive policies that make Canada an appealing place to live.
Sadly, if Tommy was alive today he would not recognize the political party he once led. He would be alarmed by the NDPs docility and compliance with the status quo, the concessions and compromises it has made to the vile global ideology of neo-liberalism and the Conservative Corporate Welfare State. He would be unequivocally dismayed by what the NDP has become as would so many working class icons of the old CCF/NDP in British Columbia such as Grace and Angus McInnis, Ernie and Harold Winch and former Premier Dave Barrett. "Turncoat Tony" Blair mutated the Labour Party of Britain into an archaic chameleon that's now more conservative, reactionary and anti-labour than the British Conservative Party. Can the NDP be far behind?
Tommy Douglas [1904-1986]
I've been a supporter of the CCF/NDP since I was old enough to have a basic understanding of the underlying philosophies and intentions of political parties. During our high school years on our long walks to school my best friend and I often discussed the political ideologies of the various political parties. By the time we reached our senior year and nearing the age at which we could cast a vote, we decided to support the NDP. This decision was not because we were fundamentally opposed to business and free markets*, but primarily because the NDP was the only political party that sincerely claimed to be a defender of the unfortunate, the dispossessed, the oppressed, the poor and the working classes.** Not unexpectedly, the defenders of privilege, wealth and power - the reigning Conservatives and Liberals - made the same noble claims. But throughout their history, when elected, these two political parties did absolutely nothing for needy people unless there was a protracted fight, often by way of demonstrations, strikes and other forms of civil disobedience, or because they feared insurrection or even revolution as they did during the Great Depression. The long brutal history of the civil rights and labour movements are a testament to it.
* Our fathers were businessmen involved in sales, visibly unhappy and problem drinkers. This fact negatively influenced our views on the world of business and was likely conclusive in deciding not to pursue a career of making boatloads of money. A conclusion I came to later was that capitalism and markets in general are intrinsically loathsome, despite their instrumental value. Markets are cunning in that they are able to (1) enlist low grade unsavoury motives to (2) meet appealing and constructive ends but (3) produce countless adverse outcomes that include exploitation, injustice and gross inequality. Someone once remarked that "capitalism is the theory that the worst people acting on their worst motives will somehow produce the most good." Some of the appealing public benefits of "private vices" in (2) are now being seriously questioned, particularly in view of the past several decades of neo-conservative unfettered robber baron capitalism that has led to the worst economic conditions since the Great Depression, with no end in sight. With the immanent bankruptcy of governments at every level, privatization and pillage of everything within the public realm and creeping neo-feudalism seem to be the end game. This was likely one of the primary objectives of the regressive neo-conservative agenda from the outset - to bankrupt and dismantle the social security state and transfer it lock-stock-and-barrel to themselves.
**For example, during World War II, in the midst of racism and flag waving jingoism, the CCF was the only political party to express moral outrage for the internment of Japanese Canadians.
If we actually had a form of "free market" capitalism, "free enterprise" some adoringly call it, which was able to eliminate, or at least significantly diminish the predominance of fear and greed that propels it, the huge endgame disparities in wealth, injustices, the malicious manipulations and class favouritism of right wing governments and political power of the capitalist class, it might be a morally tolerable system. So far this has not occurred; instead the social and economic conditions for the vast majority have become progressively worse as anyone is compelled to admit in light of the current glaring wealth disparities and global economic collapse. I'll discuss some possible remedies for this state of affairs later in this paper by appealing to some anarchist principles, gravitating toward a form of libertarian or free market socialism.*Albert Einstein in his 1949 essay "Why Socialism" had it right when, echoing Tommy Douglas, he wrote: "Socialism is humanity's attempt to overcome and advance beyond the predatory phase of human development." Big Al's words ring true today, do they not? Every market, even a socialist one, is predatory to some degree since there are both positive and negative social tendencies in us all. Perfectibility of course is a delusion, but those on the left must not waver in their continued effort to build a society based not on self-interest, anxiety and selfishness, but benevolence, quiescence and generosity. Anarchists have much in common with classical liberalism in the sense that it's not representative government and the state as such that they find so objectionable, but the hierarchical forms** it assumes. This is attributable to conservative power elites who invariably control nation states, thus reducing real democracy to a sham, a state of affairs that has throughout history been continuous. Attempts to realize anarchist ideals of direct bottom-up democracy runs straight up against misconceptions and misunderstandings of what anarchism entails and the daunting entrenchment of global capitalism and corporate power. Not unlike during pre-enlightenment eras of theocracy, feudalism and monarchy, there now seems to be a rigid perception even among the masses, that we're at the end of history, that there's no other way of looking at the world other than through the lens of unbridled me-first capitalism.
*The NDP (No Damn Platform Party) has not even entertained this idea and basically have not presented a viable game plan for decades, other than continually rolling back the vision of Tommy Douglas while making huge concessions to the status quo. "Socialism" has been removed from the NDP lexicon and they don't even seriously object to militarism and imperialistic wars anymore. Their protestations to the war mongering Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his support of the Bush war in Afghanistan have been lame. Tommy Douglas, were he still alive, would be launching a full frontal invective against a neo-con lizard like Harper.
** The most glaring instances of coercive, authoritarian, hierarchical structures are organized religion (e.g., the Catholic Church) and the modern corporation (e.g., huge banks, financial and oil companies). Not surprisingly these two examples meet most requirements of fascism. Anarchists argue that in any democratic environment, decision making must be face-to-face, organic, bottom up and consensual. Authority should be distinguished from "authoritarianism" whereby the latter is deemed irrational because it stems from top-down social arrangements, often from one's pre-ordained social position. The problem with the state, according to most anarchist thinkers, is scale. States have the tendency to become huge hydra headed monsters creating a societal circle with an ever-widening circumference. Inevitably democracy becomes untenable and power entrenched within a small, usually self-serving conservative autocracy. This was the case in the old USSR as it is in the United States today. Leopold Kohr, in The Breakdown of Nations, informs us that, "behind all forms of social misery lies one cause: bigness. Size generates power, power corrupts and power tempts society irresistibly to violence." Kohr's philosophy of limits was conveyed and expanded by a number of social critics such as Paul Goodman, E.F Schumacher and Ivan Illich. Kohr was impressed and influenced by George Orwell who he had met in Barcelona in 1937 during the Spanish Civil War. Both men recognized the increasing subordination of the individual to the crushing mass and authoritarianism of the sheer magnitude of state power. Even in the 1950s Goodman was objecting to people being treated as "personnel", "clients" or "customers", rather than autonomous thinking human beings and that the entire education system was designed for "training" rather than education, thus creating slavish conformity. Today, under the heavy hand of the corporatist state, this situation is far worse than it was in Goodman's day.
My mother and her immigrant Norwegian mother and Swedish father were enthusiastic left wingers and I was undoubtedly influenced by their views on socialism. Acceptance was not difficult because my mom and grandpa Bill regularly practised the political ethos of sharing, tolerance, caring, compassion and empathy that were the hallmarks of socialist doctrine. Like religion, I had eventually made up my own mind about politics during high school. I rejected the intellectual vacuum of conservatism and anti-democratic quality not only of religion, but the prevailing reactionary political forces that held sway at all levels of government in Canada.
Despite the predominance and emotional attraction of religion, very early on its implausibility and irrationality made it easy for me to reject. Sunday school I found stifling and boring even as a pre-schooler; my mother's bedtime stories were far more exciting and believable than the silly Bible stories I was spoon fed there.* In deciding on politics, it seemed that the quintessential question was: "Not who gets what, but rather, who deserves what?" When I looked at the massive disparities in the economic conditions of people (far worse today), even in my small home town, there was an apparent atmosphere of unfairness about almost everything. One could not help but notice that Santa Claus was far more generous to the rich kids. In Prince George during my youth there were a half dozen or more well-to-do businessmen who ran the town and its political machinery at both municipal and provincial levels, lining their pockets along the way. They accomplished this, not because they were deserving, but through the usual avenues of corruption: cronyism, influence peddling, greasing palms and insider information. Some of these vultures made a killing on real estate, as did the local Catholic Church. I can remember as a 14-16 year old working on a car lot during summers at Fred Walls & Son, one of the two Ford dealerships in PG, and recall management at staff meetings inform us that if we didn't vote Social Credit the sky would fall in and we'd all be soon out of a job. My dad was the sales manager there at the time and, despite his serious drinking problem, was a pretty astute no bullshit kind of guy. But along with most of the rest of the employees, I think he actually believed this insidious propaganda, or at least felt he had to. Those not so subtle conservative messages were everywhere in the town culture including the local typically right wing rag, the Prince George Citizen.
*Furthermore, I was informed by the Bible teacher that since animals do not have "souls" and consequently I would not be meeting my deceased dog Rusty in heaven. The rationale for all these conceptual confusions and moral conundrums didn't even make sense to a six year old.
In addition to conspicuous injustices of the socio-economic system there were widespread accepted cultural premises about determinism and original sin, inculcated primarily by the churches. The daunting pessimism of Christianity about human nature and the notion that I had to be "saved" from inbred moral depravity, I found thoroughly unconvincing. Hadn't I been born ok the first time? Why be born again? The notion of someone dying for my sins by being stapled to a cross I found repugnant. Determinism is a noxious philosophical concept, often akin to faith in both the religious and political realm. It appeals to the innate human need for closed systems of thought, reassurance in a world of verities and certainties. This I believe is the dread that many feel about Evolutionary Theory and the notion that we live in an ambivalent ever-changing Universe, the fear and existential anguish with the reality and responsibility that we can only forge our own meaning in life - that we're "condemned to be free" as Jean Paul Sartre proclaimed. But why would we want it any other way? Are we afraid of free thought and free will? The quest for certainty does not manifest itself only in religion. During the 20th Century and into the 21st we have witnessed the embrace of deterministic internally coherent political dogmas in the form of Communism (historical determinism), Fascism (biological determinism) and, most recently, Neo-conservative Kamikaze Capitalism (deregulated market determinism - via the deity of the "invisible hand of the marketplace") - all having devastating effects on justice, liberty, equality and fraternity.
As I mentioned in the previous paragraph, the abominable Christian notion of someone "dying for my sins" made no sense ethically or rationally, not even to a curious impressionable 12 year old. Ought not I be responsible for my own moral failings, as my mother had taught? But since there was an almost universal presupposition that we were all wicked and selfish from birth, a socio-economic system that promoted self-interest and greed seemed "natural" to many. But the unconditional love, compassion and generosity of my mother, in addition to others in and outside my family flew in the face these fatalistic assumptions. It seemed to me that if we raised our children to be cooperative, sharing, generous and loving, we didn't need to accept the religious mumbo jumbo that was continually hammered into our heads. Surely, I thought, there were quite obvious actions our governments, the well off and fortunate could take to alleviate the effects of contingencies of birth. There were a few things I seemed to have figured out by the time I was a senior in high school, not the least of which was that in pre-Christian era hunter-gatherer and farming communities, people regularly cooperated, shared and reciprocated. Moreover, peer pressure in these communities was generally sufficient to discourage aberrant anti-social behaviour. Natives tribes in North America for example employed this psychological device, never used corporal punishment on their children and had no need for a police force, secret service or military.
I'll now propose five generalizations or programs that I think would promote a more egalitarian society of reciprocity, economic fairness, justice, security and the elimination of poverty. These proposals are not new; 19th century anarchist philosophers such as Michael Bakunin and Peter Kropotkin found compelling evidence - both evolutionary and historically - for the force of human behavioural predispositions to act both generously and reciprocally rather than self-interestedly. First, people demonstrate significant levels of empathy and generosity, even towards strangers. Second, people share more of what they acquire by chance rather than by personal effort. Third, people willingly contribute to the public good and cooperate in collective endeavours, while at the same time consider it unfair to free-ride on the contributions and efforts of others. Fourth, people are inclined to punish free riders at substantial cost to themselves, even when they cannot reasonably expect future personal gain from doing so. This is the peer pressure factor I mentioned earlier, realistically feasible only within non-hierarchical, non-authoritarian and non-coercive social arrangements such as in anarchistic North American indigenous cultures. Overwhelmingly complex hierarchical political systems of representative government that presently exist, where the social distance between the governed and the governors is great, is not and has not been, a viable democracy. Sadly, those with power and wealth, huge corporations and the wealthy investor classes, now control the political apparatus. The desires and hopes of 99% of us have been rendered irrelevant, hijacked by 1%, the new feudal aristocrats of the Conservative Corporate Welfare State. We have now reached a point at which the richest 300 people in the world have more wealth than the poorest 4,000,000,000.
Finally, it would not be difficult to design a system of income security and economic opportunity that would elicit rather than offend the motivations expressed in these first four generalizations. Such a system would be generous toward the poor, rewarding those who perform socially valued work, as well as to those who are poor through contingencies not of their own making, such as birth, genetically induced physical and intellectual flaws, illness and job displacement.
The fifth, however, is more problematic: as I have pointed out, each of these aspects of reciprocity become more influential when the social distance participants perceive among themselves is smaller. This last generalization may help explain why inequalities are so readily sustained within large scale hierarchical socio-economic arrangements, even among apparently generous publics. Moreover societies of such scale tend to atomize and alienate people, thus making real democracy untenable. Economic inequality - particularly when overlaid with racial, ethnic, language, and other differences—also increase social distance, which in turn undermines the motivational basis for reaching out to those in need. In fact, surveys consistently reveal that the support for those in need is stronger in societies whose before-tax and -transfer incomes are more equal. The endorsement of these ideals is contingent on what sort of world people really want. The best places in the world to live right now are the many Western European countries like Norway, Finland and Sweden where their populations have supported propositions such as these. They have shown that free markets can still thrive under a system that embraces socialist principles. Tommy Douglas knew this and it was he who attracted private investors to launch the petroleum industry in Saskatchewan, an industry that is flourishing today. But he never lost sight of the idea that resources belonged to the people of his province. One does not just hand over public resources to plundering private concerns with no obligation financial or otherwise to the public sphere as was done for decades in British Columbia under the Social Credit Party and more recently the BC Liberal Party under the neo-conservative ideologue Gordon Campbell. The corruption and contempt for democracy and working class people and devastation of the natural environment by the Campbell government in BC over the past decade has been disgraceful. During a 12 years of rampant corruption as they disgraced and shamed themselves, they have also managed to triple the provincial debt.
I submit further that egalitarian policies that reward people independent of whether and how much they contribute to society are deemed unfair and not supported, even if the intended recipients are otherwise worthy of support, and even if the incidence of non-contribution in the target population is rather low. This would explain the opposition to many welfare measures for the poor, particularly since such measures are thought to have promoted various social pathologies. At the same time it explains the continuing support for social security and universal government health care in Canada and yes, the United States, since the public perception is that the recipients are “deserving” and the policies do not support what are considered anti-social behaviours. The public goods experiments are also consistent with the notion that tax resistance by the non-wealthy may stem from their accurate perception that corporations and the well-to-do are not paying their fair share.
In the spring of 1965 after completing another year at UBC, a Prince George school chum and I headed back to our home town of Prince George in his beat up, bald tires, rod-knocking 52 Chevy to find summer jobs. Soon after arriving we decided to attend an NDP meeting that had been called to prepare for a summer provincial election. The NDP was for the most part controlled by the IWA at that time and they were looking for people to help organize and run the campaign. When my friend and I naively raised our hands to volunteer we were shocked at being promptly accepted. And then we were asked to run the campaign. We looked at one another dumfounded and said, "Yeah, why not?" It proved to be quite a learning experience. We knocked on doors, espousing the virtues of socialism and the evils of greed and exploitive capitalism but were aghast at being called "commies" by people in the quite evidently poor neighbourhoods we ventured into, people we assumed would be supportive. I was even persuaded to write speeches for the local candidate Jack Whitaker. But the big business right wing Social Credit candidate Ray Williston always won as if by divine right. Even then it never failed to amaze me that working class people in a working class town would vote against their economic interests, but they obviously did as they continue to do so today. Indoctrination in politics as in religion, is a powerful coercive force.
But over the years what youthful idealism for politics and politicians I once had has settled into cynicism and scepticism. I could never be in politics today; my bullshit sensors are too finely tuned. Especially in light of the history of the past thirty to forty years of neo-conservative plunder, culminating in the disgusting government bailouts of corporate crooks. I've now reached the point of disgust with the entire political environment in Canada, the United States and throughout the world to such an extent that I've endorsed a form of philosophical anarchism. It's a political philosophy I've been attracted to since my University years when I was introduced to Michael Bakunin by one of my inspirational professors. Certainly my sceptical, iconoclastic and heretical personality is well-suited to it. Despite this I still show up to vote in all elections, from a sense of duty I suppose, and vote for the fraud who I perceive will inflict the least harm on myself, family and the rest of the working class peons who count for zilch in Canada.
During the past thirteen years of my retirement I've had ample time to read voraciously and reflect on the state of the world in a way I never had time for while teaching senior mathematics in the Delta School District while at the same time trying to juggle my obsession for tennis and hockey with family. Anarchism has become more attractive as the years wear on since I've become more discouraged and contemptuous with the state of the world than ever. In consideration of the gross inequalities that continue to persist - becoming far worse over the past several decades - does any thinking person still believe the pack of lies we were fed in public school about history, citizenship, community and justice, that we live in a democracy whereby every person's opinion counts for one and no more than one? The idea is farcical at best. I can only speculate, but I submit that the top 10% of the economic pyramid has 1000 times the political power of the bottom 10%. It might be 100,000 times - who would know? I can only guess because we certainly can't glean it from any conservative corporate media, the propaganda that passes for investigative journalism or research that's been carried out by our most influential economists and political scientists at elite universities. In any event the bottom 10% hasn't the money or wherewithal to get the people they want elected, or in some cases, even the money to get to the polling station. And the generally accepted notion that capitalism is synonymous with democracy or truth is even more farcical. The mysticism of Adam Smith's "invisible hand" is nothing but theological nonsense. What anyone with a functioning brain can figure out for himself is to discover that, particularly in light of the government corporate welfare and obscene massive bailouts throughout the capitalist world, that it's no longer "invisible" at all - and never has been. The "hand" is the all too visible munificence of the nanny state or, to use my own expression, the Conservative Corporate Welfare State. We have socialism, but it's an inverted socialism of, for and by the rich where profit is more important than people. Even high profile Christians like Joel Osteen preach that "God wants you to be rich." Tommy Douglas, a former Methodist pastor, would be stunned by such an anti-Christian pathological statement.
Let me now return to the painful makeover of the NDP Party that has taken place over the past few decades.
I first saw Tommy Douglas in the flesh at UBC when I was a third year Mathematics major. He came to the campus to speak and, despite the sacrifice I had to make for study and beer drinking time, I attended. It was the most articulate, inspirational and charismatic speech I have ever heard. The little guy with the cool jokes, brilliant insights and uplifting vision for Canada simply blew me away. In my view, Tommy Douglas is the only truly honest and intellectually engaging politician Canada has ever had, although I do admit to being caught up in the short term hysteria of Trudeau mania in 1968. I've written a tribute to Tommy and posted it on my web site here. I continue to admire Tommy Douglas today and still vividly recall the enlightening talk he delivered while I was still an idealistic student at UBC.
“The religion of tomorrow will be less concerned with the dogmas of theology and more concerned with the social welfare of humanity.” - Tommy Douglas
If only this were true...
As the above quote reveals, if Tommy Douglas had one minor flaw, it was that he was at times a quixotic dreamer. Many of his speeches had a comparable edifying and uplifting message to those of Martin Luther King, a fellow socialist.
Over the past thirty years or so my enthusiasm and support for the NDP has waned. It's no longer the party of the CCF that my mother and grandpa Bill Strom supported so enthusiastically or that Tommy Douglas led to victory in the province of Saskatchewan in 1944, eventually introducing universal government run health care. And it's no longer the NDP party that he later served as federal leader. The word "socialism", for example, has been expelled from the NDP lexicon and the party no longer endorses the egalitarian values for which it once stood. Sadly, the image of the NDP today is dramatically different from the days of Tommy Douglas who would scarcely recognize the party as distinguishable from the Liberals or Conservatives of his day. During the last 30-40 years, the regressive ideology of neo-conservatism has won every battle in its effort to reshape our fragile democracy. Its defeat of the very idea of progressive government, community and the common good have empowered those on the far right, and sadly, altered the thinking of those on the left. In short, the NDP is no longer my Grandpa Bill's NDP. It is, in fact, the Conservative Party of John Diefenbaker.
In the mid-1990's under then federal leader Alexa McDonough, the party attempted a feeble reversal of its abandonment of the working classes and gravitation to the political right by proposing an excess profit tax on financial institutions, which would subsequently finance a National Investment Bank managed by business, labour, government and the community. There was talk of ending the deluge of neo-conservative "trickle-down" economics, tax reductions to Big Business and the super-rich and privatization of everything and anything. The NDP at the time proposed an increase in public ownership; of raising tax rates on corporations and the wealthy and imposing a "Millionaire's Tax" on inheritances over $1-million. On foreign policy, the party proposed dissenting from NATO over the use of nuclear weapons. None of these proposals came to pass.
So, welcome to the latest edition of robber baron capitalism, a state corporatist plutocracy unopposed by any meaningful political challenge. As usual the latest capitalist free for all has ended in a debacle but blamed on the working classes who are also obligated to pay for it, including the massive trillion dollar bailouts of corporate criminals and financial con men. So many of the objections to the social security system, and many ethical judgments of the poor, are based on misconceptions, a lack of compassion, and prejudice, fanned by political pundits and entrepreneurs of the conservative right. Attacks on the working classes by conservatives have always been prevalent, but are now in full flight as they were during the post World War Two era of the "Red Scare".* The denigration of the poor and unemployed wasn't always quite this bad as it is during the present economic meltdown since during most previous recessions people seemed less likely to explain poverty by “lack of effort by the poor,” and more likely to support egalitarian programs. And there's little doubt that racial stereotyping and welfare bashing by conservatives are closely associated. So-called think tanks like the Fraser Institute are embraced and promoted by our corporate media and their pronouncements are treated as though they are axioms of the universe. Newspapers like the National Post are no better than the shameless propaganda vehicles of the old Soviet Union such as Pravda.
*I highly recommend the book Red Scare: Memories of the American Inquisition by Griffin Fariello for an account of this shameful era.
I've talked to a lot of people about the present depression and there's a consensus that the bailouts on Wall Street are obscene and grossly immoral - and yes, criminal. Accountability amounts to nada - despite the fact that many people, including enabling politicians and corporate CEOs, belong in prison. Trillions of dollars have gone to rogue financial institutions throughout North America and Europe but precious little to the working class victims of their crimes.
Along with the capitulation of the NDP, even the labour unions have sold out, continuing to exist merely to perpetuate their own bloated salaries and benefits. Embracing the draconian economic theories of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher*, we've spent the last three or four decades doing everything we could to denigrate governments by loading them up with incompetent cronies, running up the national debt and transferring the wealth of our nations into the offshore bank accounts of the large corporations and the obscenely affluent, sending them victorious, happy and glorious, happy to reign over us.
*Referred to by George H W Bush as "Voodoo Economics", basically a regressive policy of privatizing profits and socializing losses. Former federal reserve chairman Alan Greenspan, by the way, was a former disciple of Ayn Rand's cult of hedonistic self-interest and cocaine capitalism. Gore Vidal has described Rand's philosophy as “nearly perfect in its immorality.”
When we finally woke up to the economic nightmare of pillage and plunder by financial wizards and CEOs who chased bonuses and obscene salaries and who could care less about shareholders or the common good, they had demolished the global economy and thrust us into an economic depression for which there seems to be no escape. Then we were held hostage* as they were bailed out with trillions of dollars of taxpayer funds, mortgaged for generations into the future. We allowed them to step into the federal reserve vaults, write themselves a blank check and offload their convoluted scam-ridden toxic investments onto the government balance sheets. And then we naively pleaded with them to please, pretty please, not do it again. We are plagued by governments that fail the people when hit by a hurricane in New Orleans, underfund education and health care, send our young men to die and be maimed in corporatist motivated imperialistic wars, neglect infrastructure, close down libraries, turn our universities into glorified trade schools, allow their buddies in mining and oil companies to plunder and pollute our natural resources with impunity - but miraculously find trillions to bail out common criminals on Wall and Bay Street. And do these conservative lackeys make any effort to change or even mitigate what is clearly a FAILED economic model for the rest of us, a venomous model that has brought us economic Armageddon?** Well of course not, instead they redouble their efforts like some reverse homeopathic quack and give us an even larger dose of the same neo-conservative disaster economics. A strategy such as this ought to be included in the Oxford English Dictionary as the quintessential definition of stupidity. And finally, the litmus test of any civilized caring society is how it cares for its least well off, those with bad lives that need to be resuscitated. In this endeavour we have clearly failed, at least according to any rationally stated principle of humanity articulated by moral philosophers.
*This is reminiscent of Ayn Rand's novel Atlas Shrugged, where the preposterous "too big to fail" axiom could conceivably have been lifted. "Too big to fail" is an expression , like the "invisible hand of the marketplace" that is never explained conceptually or evidence provided for its efficacy. They are simply unchallenged vacuous articles of faith, theological mumbo jumbo intended to hoodwink the masses.
**Mainstream economists who tout the capitalist system claim that your income merely reflects the economic value you produce - at least in free and open markets, markets that in reality are a mere chimera in our so-called free enterprise system. The free trade agreements signed during the 1990s were nothing but legalized theft and the legal right to global exploitation of labour and the environment. Are Wall Street traders and hedge fund managers, for example, really 100 times more valuable than neurosurgeons? In the UK where corporate compensation is far less that the USA, some economists say no: The British New Economics Foundation calculates that "While collecting salaries of between £500,000 and £10 million, leading City bankers destroy £7 of social value for every pound in value they generate." Let's try a back-of-the envelope calculation of Wall Street's net social value. Compare their bonuses and profits for roughly the last five years (about $500 billion) with the economic losses produced in the financial crisis the bankers caused (about $4 trillion in value destroyed, not counting the ongoing travails of the millions of people who haven't yet been able to find a full-time job). For every dollar "earned" on Wall Street, about 8 dollars were destroyed! (In case you're suffering from financial amnesia and forgot how the financial sector single-handedly caused the economic crisis, please read The Looting of America. Chapter One can be found free on Alternet.com.)
To sum up, the political consensus that has emerged out of Washington and Ottawa's governing classes (the Conservative Corporate Welfare State) is that government interference in business and the market is imprudent, except when government intervention is needed to save their mafia brothers on Wall Street and Bay Street. It's patently clear that capitalism is unable to thrive without the nanny state, but moreover is incapable of saving itself under anything approaching an Adam Smith type free enterprise system. The whole idea of "free enterprise" is preposterous in the extreme, being neither free nor enterprising. The numerous recessions and the Great Depression ver. 2 that began in 2008 makes this patently evident. With the willing complicity of our self-proclaimed voices on the left, we have instituted a system of socialism and welfare for Big Business and the wealthy investor class. It was the NDP I vaguely recall that coined the phrase "corporate welfare bum". Why have they abandoned this brilliant depiction? The effect of this noxious political order is to provide a golden parachute to the failures of our societies' wealthiest while abandoning everyone else, including our societies' most vulnerable, by stealing trillions of taxpayer dollars to bail them out and fund CEO slush funds and salaries. The "Too Big to Fail" scam has now been amended by "Too Big to Jail" as a few weeks ago US Attorney General Eric Holder proclaimed that criminal banks are too big to prosecute. In other words banks and financial corporations operate under their own laws of legalized larceny.
Welcome to the new feudalism fellow serfs...
While workers were forced to make wage concessions and millions of others lost homes and jobs, CEO's already grotesque salaries went nowhere but up, all subsidized by our tax dollars.* Instead of using the power of government to declare war on poverty, we have declared war on those suffering from it. If the present socio-economic paradigm is not changed dramatically and soon, most of the middle class will be catapulted into the status of hapless feudal peons within the next few years. With their powerful lobbies, the corporate plutocracy's virtual control of the public policy process in both Washington and Ottawa, which allows for this obscene level of inequality, delivers another message: democracy, whose essence is egalitarian, will not be allowed to mess with the divine right of the Conservative Corporate Welfare State.
* It's extremely rare for any journalists or commentators in the corporate press to even raise the question as to whether or not any of the CEOs receiving multiple millions in compensation are actually warranted. The National Post, Canada's Conservative Pravda, would argue they ought to get more. The compensation, including bonuses, imply that the CEOs are geniuses, deities uniquely responsible for the success of their companies. But there is nothing in management theory or practice to support such a conclusion. One of the most famous management gurus, Peter Drucker, who conducted a ground-breaking study of General Motors, stated: "No institution can possibly survive if it needs geniuses or supermen to manage it. It must be organized in such a way as to be able to get along under leadership composed of average human beings. No institution has solved the problem of leadership... unless it gives the leader a sense of duty and a sense of mutual loyalty between him and his associates..."
My solution to this ghastly failed economic model is rooted in anarchist philosophy, a variant called anarcho-syndicalism that embraces non-hierarchical horizontal organic enterprises in both business and government. For example, I propose an economic model based on a simple premise that those who do the work, ought to not only manage a business enterprise, but reap and share the rewards as well. On the face of it that seems only reasonable and, more importantly, democratic and fair. Corporations, like organized religions, are intrinsically anti-democratic; they're hierarchical, authoritarian, coercive, exploitive and, yes, I hesitate to admit, meet many of the criteria for fascism. Self-management and peer pressure will usually ensure that everyone works and pulls their weight; there's no need for frequent threats or reprimand by oppressive management tyrants from above, nor for punishment. It will not totally eliminate free riders and con-artists but it will surely reduce their numbers and mitigate the effects of those who engage in copping out and not meeting their group obligations. The real free riders of the state capitalist system are not welfare mothers, but greedy businessmen and corporations who exploit workers, plunder public resources and leech off the Conservative Corporate Welfare State. Workers today are over-managed; workers councils could easily assume the responsibilities of obscenely over-paid redundant CEOs, CFOs and other management drones who sit in their lavish offices that saturate all business organizations within the state capitalist system.
Many traditional projects of egalitarians, such as land reform and employee ownership of their workplaces, are strongly consistent with reciprocity norms, as they make people the owners not only of the fruits of their labours, but more broadly of the consequences of their actions. The same may be said of more conventional initiatives such as improved educational opportunity and policies to support home ownership - there is good evidence, for example, that home ownership promotes active participation in local politics and a willingness to discipline personally those engaging in antisocial behaviours in the neighbourhood.
The issue is not that the NDP might support stimulus spending in order to save jobs. The issue is that in supporting these measures, they did so without actively calling for fundamental changes to the system that required bailouts in the first place. As a result, in the final analysis they basically called for the government to back up the tremendous social inequality that is represented by these same CEOs who forced the bailouts and yet are now continuing to make over 150 times what the average worker does. This is the problem with operating within the current corrupt economic system, a system that has failed abysmally, but continues to persist. It's the epitome of futility and folly.
It's my contention that the problems with the present political order are so entrenched and systemic that it needs to be totally dismantled.
Echoing my sentiments, here is blogger Michael Laxter:
In the face of this system, the NDP/CCF, which once articulated a vision for a social democracy, now merely argues for changes that are cosmetic, not structural. Rather than organize citizens at grassroots levels to fight this assault in their communities, they offer rhetoric and band-aid solutions while editing their language and image in the vain hope that they can marginally increase their seat total in an election which, even if they won, would do nothing to alter the Conservative Corporate Welfare State in Canada. The NDP is so goal driven in its single-minded obsession to win a few extra seats that it has disempowered its own membership and riding associations from having any meaningful democratic voice within the party. Virtually every significant campaign and policy decision is made within the upper hierarchy of the party's central offices and riding associations and dissident candidates, especially those who utter the word "socialism" are routinely marginalized or ostracized. The party does not and has not had a meaningful platform since the days of the CCF or early days of the NDP.
The time has come to confront, not individual nuances of the exploitive state-capitalist system, but rather the Conservative Corporate Welfare State itself, the present version of State Capitalism that is destroying democracy and our hopes for a better life for the future, a future for our children and grandchildren that has been decimated by corporate greed and public plunder. The time has come to fight against the corporations that have moved our jobs to Mexican and Asian sweatshops, exploiting and impoverishing workers there while destroying jobs at home. The time has come to fight against a system that has ensured that many of our fellow citizens work most of their lives in temporary labour without health insurance or retirement benefits. The time has come to stand up against the neo-feudalism that creates a society where individual debt is at an all time high while CEOs, prima donna professional athletes, "movie stars" and entertainers earn more in a day than most hard-working Canadians will in a year or even a decade, and where they get red carpet treatment by the legal system. You may rest assured, if the person who stole the $50 smart phone from Future Shop is caught he will likely go to jail as opposed to an investment banker who swindled people out of their entire livelihoods and futures. No one as has yet been held accountable for the massive swindles on Wall Street and elsewhere within the global financial community that has brought the global economy to its knees, thereby virtually bankrupting nations from the taxpayer bailouts of criminal financial behemoths like Goldman Sachs and Bank of America.
The time has come to stand up against the daily violence of the system of state capitalist system (socialism for big business and the wealthy on the one hand and rabid competition for the rest of us on the other) with its destruction of decent jobs in Canada. It all amounts to entrenchment of poverty in the third world - and at home- all designed to satisfy the balance sheets of multinational corporations and an unsustainable consumerism. It's time for a big increase in the minimum wage and to institute a maximum wage. For the sake of argument suppose the average wage in Canada is $40,000. Is there a problem with a maximum wage of $4,000,000, with the excess going into social programs such as helping our worst off? Is it only the potential for obscene amounts of money that motivate people to work hard? I think not. And corporate tax rates in Canada federally are at 15% with provincial corporate tax rates in British Columbia at 4%. That's for corporations that have not moved their corporate charters to offshore tax havens so they do not have to pay taxes at all in the countries of origin, countries that legally sanctioned their corporate charters in the first place.
Most important of all, the time has come to organize a political movement of hands on democracy that will oppose this state-capitalist system and to give voice to this sentiment within our hierarchical representative forms of democracy, as well as within our communities. The entire system needs to be changed by endorsing anarchist-informed horizontal direct forms of democracy, because at least 95% of the people are not being fairly represented at all and never really have been.
The question of whether or not such a new libertarian socialist movement will succeed in winning this or that riding in the next election is not of significant importance. The Reform Party, as well as the NDP in their more radical days, demonstrated that a grassroots movement can affect the nature of the political debate without winning even a minority government. It is this victory, the altering of the political discourse in the country, that is the most important victory to win.
The process of altering the political discourse is by no means easy. The forces of the political right have shifted the debate such that, even when they are not in office their policies are still enacted. Another massive problem is the propaganda system of a right wing corporate controlled media where a half-dozen multinational companies control everything we read, see and hear. If and when these corporate brutes get control of the internet, all voices to the left of Attila the Hun will be silenced.
One should recall that the morally bankrupt ossified ideology of Conservatism was considered a draconian anachronism both ethically and intellectually by the time of the Great Depression of the 1930s and especially by the early 1960s when it was universally rejected in most liberal democracies throughout the world. Yet within a few years fanatical Conservatives (neo-conservatives) had succeeded in destroying the New Deal and Great Society programs in the United States. In Canada, they enacted Free Trade and NAFTA (in reality blank checks for corporations to wilfully exploit people and resources with impunity throughout the world) while underfunding social programs and privatizing anything they could while handing over public wealth to their pals in the private sector. Those on the centre/left should draw lessons from their tactics. The most important lesson is that an organized grassroots movement can alter the political landscape. But the future looks extremely bleak with governments at all levels financial stressed due to the global economic meltdown and massive corporate bailouts. But little or nothing is being done to help the victims of these corporate criminals and their neo-conservative pimps in government. And no one is being held accountable. Civil disobedience is one way and it could get ugly, as it has throughout the Middle East of late. Sadly one plausible scenario, if the moderate left does not get its act together soon, is the emergence of a fascist demagogue who will offer a salvation plan, a plan that people, in their desperation, may very well support. Look at the rise of the Tea Party movement and the emergence of extreme right wing demagogues like Glen Beck in the USA and, more recently, the moronic religious fundamentalist candidates vying for the leadership of the Republican Party - and remember the Third Reich.
Welcome to the 21st century dystopia, the "moronocracy".
Tommy has said…
“A lot of questions arose from the campaigns of our opponents. People asked if it was true we didn’t believe in God and if it was true we were going to take the people’s farms. Once, a woman with about five youngsters around her said to George Williams. ‘Is it true you’re going to take the children?’ George said, ‘Certainly not!’ She said, ‘I thought it was too good to be true.’ “(The Making of a Socialist, Lewis H. Thomas, ed., p. 78)
“The profit system has defiled whatever it has touched; and the profit system has touched everything. It has corrupted governments, debauched politicians, degraded morals, devitalized religion and demoralized human nature.” (Tommy Douglas, Weyburn Review, June 14, 1934)
“I felt that no boy should have to depend either for his leg or his life upon the ability of his parents to raise enough money to bring a first-class surgeon to his bedside. And I think it was out of this experience, not at the moment consciously, but through the years, I came to believe that health services ought not to have a price tag on them, and that people should be able to get whatever health services they require irrespective of their individual capacity to pay.” (The Making of a Socialist, p. 7)
“Improving people’s economic condition is not an end in itself, it’s a means to an end…. I never thought a man could save his soul if his belly was empty or that he could think about things like beauty and goodness if he had a toothache.” (Tommy Douglas in conversation, 1982, from Dave Margoshes, Tommy Douglas: Building the New Society, Preface)
“We should never, never be afraid or ashamed about dreams. The dreams won’t all come true; we won’t always make it; but where there is no vision a people perish. Where people have no dreams and no hopes and aspirations, life becomes dull and a meaningless wilderness.” (From A. W. Johnson, Dream No Little Dreams, Introduction)
“The religion of tomorrow will be less concerned with the dogmas of theology and more concerned with the social welfare of humanity.” (Research review, 1934)
“It has been said that a country’s greatness can be measured by what it does for its unfortunates. By that criterion Canada certainly does not stand in the forefront of the nations of the world although there are signs that we are becoming conscious of our deficiencies and are determined to atone for lost time.” (Comment at the Dominion-Provincial Conference, 1946)
“I do not think the dead hand of the past should be allowed to stay the onward march of progress. Human rights are sacred but constitutions are not.” (Quoted in the Globe and Mail, 1966)
“A recession is when your neighbour has to tighten his belt. A depression is when you have to tighten your own belt. And a panic is when you have no belt to tighten and your pants fall down.” (Biographical essay, 1971)
“In the 1960s my job was to ensure that Canadians did not fall asleep on their full stomachs.” (Time magazine, May 3, 1971)
“Saskatchewan was told that it would never get hospital insurance. Yet Saskatchewan people were the first in Canada to establish this kind of insurance, and were followed by the rest of Canada. We didn’t have Medicare in those days. They said you couldn’t have Medicare – it would interfere with the ‘doctor-patient relationship’. But you people in this province demonstrated to Canada that it was possible to have Medicare. Now every province in Canada either has it or is in the process of setting it up.”
“Sure things have changed. Hair has gone down and skirts have gone up. But don’t let this fool you. Behind the beards and the miniskirts, the long hair, this generation of young people, take it from me, is one of the finest generations of young people that have ever grown up in this country. Sure they’re in rebellion against a lot of our standards and values and well they might be. They have got sick and tired of a manipulated society. They understand that a nation’s greatness lies not in the quantities of its goods but in the quality of its life.” (Speech in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, November 27, 1970, From Doris French Shackleton, Tommy Douglas, p. 309-10)