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article imageOp-Ed: Canada's New Democrats will try rebranding at upcoming convention

By Ken Hanly     Apr 6, 2013 in Politics
Montreal - At the upcoming federal New Democratic Party (NDP) convention coming up later this month in in Montreal, the party will debate and vote on changes to the preamble to the party constitution. Party brass would like to remove any references to "socialism".
Kady O'Malley of the CBC has been faithfully following this issue for some time. Ever since 2011 there have been backroom negotiations to change the preamble to make it more up to date. The result is a success in that from the preamble you would never know that the NDP ever had anything to do with socialism. O'Malley provides some helpful background but I will add more. The New Democratic Party is at present the official opposition in the federal parliament. The leader is Thomas Mulcair.
At the NDP's 50th anniversary convention last June, the delegates were all set to fight a revision that would have deleted the existing preamble to the constitution and replaced it with one that replaced all references to "socialism" by the term "social democratic principles". I am not sure what the latter mean any more. Looking at the actions of social democratic, and even parties termed "socialist" in Europe, it often involves imposing neo-liberal austerity policies, selling off government assets, smashing unions, etc. The new third way in Europe is very much like Tea Party Socialism if there were such a thing, except it espouses an ideology of saving entitlement programs by slashing them. The right no doubt believes in slashing entitlement programs to destroy them and cut government spending. The results are the same.
Now, back to the NDP.. To avoid the impending floor fight, the brass saved the day by proposing a compromise that sent the motion back to the federal executive, who would consult members and refer the findings back to a future convention. Now the party has confirmed that a revised version of the preamble will be presented to delegates. The new version was generated by a committee and agreed upon by consensus O'Malley presents both the original and the revision in her article.
The new version does contain the term "democratic socialism" but only in a historical context. O'Malley describes the new version perfectly. The preamble is expanded by 200 words with, as she puts it, " a general theme of progressiveness without tying itself to any particular ideology". I think that is being kind. It is a progressive salad with a mild feel-good flavour but little substance. There is nothing sharp that those who will still continue to call the NDP socialist could seize upon. The original preamble was a relatively innocuous document as well. It does not mention capitalism or oppose capitalism per se. However, it does suggest, " the extension where necessary of the principle of social ownership". This reference is removed from the new document in spite of its expansion.
The original preamble also explicitly attacks the profit motive. It describes one of the democratic socialist principles as " the production and distribution of goods and services shall be directed to meeting the social and individual needs of people within a sustainable environment and economy and not to the making of profit." This is much too sharp and programmatic for the new and improved NDP.
The new preamble does still grant a role for the government in helping to remedy the defects of a purely market based economy. A specific critique of the profit motive is now gone as well.
" New Democrats affirm a role for government in helping to create the conditions for sustainable prosperity. We believe in a rules based economy, nationally and globally, in which governments have the power to address the limitations of the market in addressing the common good, by having the power to act in the public interest, for social and economic justice, and for the integrity of the environment."
The new preamble does talk of the "heritage and that record [that] have distinguished and inspired our party since the creation of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation in 1933, and the founding of the New Democratic Party in 1961." That heritage of the CCF has been consigned to the dustbin of history. Here is an excerpt from the Regina Manifesto of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation the predecessor of the NDP:"We aim to replace the present capitalist system, with its inherent injustice and inhumanity, by a social order from which the domination and exploitation of one class by another will be eliminated, in which economic planning will supersede unregulated private enterprise and competition, and in which genuine democratic self-government, based upon economic equality will be possible. The present order is marked by glaring inequalities of wealth and opportunity, by chaotic waste and instability; and in an age of plenty it condemns the great mass of the people to poverty and insecurity. Power has become more and more concentrated into the hands of a small irresponsible minority of financiers and industrialists and to their predatory interests the majority are habitually sacrificed. When private profit is the main stimulus to economic effort, our society oscillates between periods of feverish prosperity in which the main benefits go to speculators and profiteers, and of catastrophic depression, in which the common man's normal state of insecurity and hardship is accentuated. We believe that these evils can be removed only in a planned and socialized economy in which our natural resources and principal means of production and distribution are owned, controlled and operated by the people."
The CCF had a vision of an alternative society to capitalism, the present NDP wants at most modest reforms within existing capitalism whose practicality will always be contingent upon the particular state of the capitalist economy and upon an overall friendly environment for global capital providing opportunities for profits, which are the engine of growth in such an economy. The Co-operative Commonwealth idea was elaborated in a book by the Danish-American Laurence Gronlund. It is available on-line here. I have appended a video that looks at the development of the CCF from an American standpoint. The idea that the iideology was imported from the US by US farmers is very simplistic but certainly they were a factor as was the influence of Americans such as Gronlund.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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