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article imageOp-Ed: NDP and leader Mulcair move party toward the center

By Ken Hanly     Apr 15, 2013 in Politics
Montreal - The NDP accepted a revised preamble to their constitution that still contains the word "socialism" but only in a historical context. There is no talk of replacing "capitalism" no critique of the "profit" motive only plenty of progressive rhetoric.
Perhaps the New Democratic Party is now trying to model itself on Obama's politics of hope rather than on the Third Way. Several headlines say that the NDP has dropped the term "socialism" from the preamble to its constitution but strictly speaking this is not correct. The convention did accept a lengthier revised pre-amble to the party's constitution. As mentioned, the term "socialism" as part of the phrase "democratic socialist traditions" does still occur in the preamble. The entire text of the new preamble can be found here. The final vote in favor of the revised version was 960 for to 188 against.
The term "capitalism" does not appear in the preamble. Neither does the term "social ownership". The original preamble spoke about the principle of social ownership. Even the term "profit" is too highly charged to be used. The term "progressive" is politically OK so that the likes of Rush Limbaugh still have something to rant on about. This is a rah rah preamble:"Canada is a great country, one of the hopes of the world. New Democrats are Canadians who believe we can be a better one — a country of greater equality, justice, and opportunity. We can build sustainable prosperity, and a society that shares its benefits more fairly. We can look after our seniors. We can offer better futures for our children. We can do our part to save the world’s environment. New Democrats work together to these ends for the sake of our fellow citizens and in the interests of all of humanity."
The document also points back to the heritage of the NDP in the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation of 1933 and the founding of the NDP in 1961. However, the socialism of the CCF expressed in the Regina Manifesto has been gone for over half a century.
As I understand it, socialism is an alternative economic system to capitalism in that the means of production are not owned by capitalists but are socialised in some form through government ownership at various levels or as co-operatives or worker "ownership". Production is not on the basis of profit returned to the owners of the capital invested but on the basis of the assessed needs of the population. Modern socialists for the most part and certainly social democrats long ago accepted capitalism and want only to reform it so that it pays more attention to environmental issues, the social safety net, and other rights and social issues. The new preamble tries to add on material that tries to identify the party with all sorts of groups as well as referring back to past history:"New Democrats seek a future which brings together the best of the insights and objectives of Canadians who, within the social democratic and democratic socialist traditions, have worked through farmer, labour, co-operative, feminist, human rights and environmental movements, First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples, to build a more just, equal, and sustainable Canada within a global community dedicated to the same goals."
The sharpest critique of neo-liberal principles is perhaps the following: "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." There is nothing in this that sees the people as taking over the economy or indicating that profit cannot be the engine and motive for economic investment.. The government can intervene to correct the limitations of the market. What we have is a capitalist market economy with some government intervention to act for the common good etc. There is not even the thought or idea of replacing a capitalist market economy by something else. The broad progressive concepts outlined in the preamble could be just as easily placed in a preamble to the Canadian Liberal Party.
Mulcair correctly points out that the former leader Jack Layton, who died of cancer in 2012, was in favor of the change in wording: "Jack started that modernization of the constitution. He wanted the wording to reflect the party’s ability to reach out to all progressives. We are essentially a progressive country.. A lot of Canadians share our vision (but) they’ve not been convinced in the past that federally we’re capable of providing that good solid management. That’s what the next step is for us.” Instead of any idea of replacing the capitalist system the overarching concept , if there is one, is getting votes from people who are progressive. However, this will be the same pool of voters that Liberals and the Green Party will be reaching out for.
The entire goal of the modernized New Democratic Party is not to present a new vision to voters, an alternative to the existing economy, but to entice voters to elect them through positive rhetoric left vague enough to appeal to the widest possible target group. The differences in policies no matter which party gets elected will make no systemic changes within the system. Not that these marginal differences are negligible. Finland is able to maintain a system with free post-secondary education for everyone. Most advanced capitalist systems outside the US are able to maintain superior types of universal health care systems. Compared to capitalism as it exists in many countries, the US has far more freedom of expression, rights for women, democratic features, etc.
However, the protections of the social safety net, the power of workers, government control over resources and the economy, are being eroded in most capitalist countries, often with the aid of parties that call themselves "socialist" or "social democrat". This happens because economies are dependent upon the systemic needs of the capitalist system. At present, these demands ,as represented for example by the Troika in Europe, include austerity, privatization, more flexible labor markets, cutting government services, pensions, and workers, demands which will reduce the quality of life of all those who do not benefit from rich returns from profits. However, the measures also help to improve investor confidence and the conditions for extracting profits. even though in the short run they can produce shrinkage in GDP.
I expect that the NDP will not do well in the next election. The Liberals will most likely be stronger buoyed by having a new more charismatic leader. In the polls they are already ahead of the NDP again. The split in the "progressives" could very well enable Harper to return with a majority or at least a minority government. Perhaps this could lead to a merger of the NDP and Liberals eventually, but certainly it will not lead to any radical change in our dependence upon the systemic needs of the capitalist system.
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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