Why the NDP is a field of battle.
The question of the Canadian labour party, the party built by the trade union movement and the fusion with the former members of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation(CCF) , the antecedent social democratic party to the New Democratic Party, has been the subject of much debate within the Canadian left and now with our dialogue with the comrades of the Trotskyist Fraction-Fourth International, taking an international dimension as well.
The following document, adopted at the May 2019 national convention of Socialist Action/Ligue pour l’Action Socialiste (SA/LAS), elaborates in full our orientation to this field of class struggle, and in doing so contributes to a fuller understanding of how revolutionary socialists help build working class political independence in countries where bourgeois workers parties dominate the political landscape.
We certainly welcome contributions to this discussion, and are ready to talk with any force on the international left, especially comrades in New Zealand, Australia, Great Britain and Ireland about our experiences, our strategy and its tactical application of in confronting the labour lieutenants of Capital on their home political turf.
Independent Working Class Political Action in English Canada:
Some Fundamental Aspects of
Our Policy Towards the NDP (presented to the Socialist Action Convention in 2019)
Our political analysis and tactical approach to the mass Labour Party in Canada, the New Democratic Party, was elaborated in a report by Gary Porter to the January 1974 Plenum of the Central Committee of the League for Socialist Action/Ligue Socialiste Ouvrière. Porter’s report represented the majority view of the Political Committee. It was adopted by the plenum and published in the LSA/LSO Internal Information Bulletin, Vol. 2, No. 4, February 1974. Our work n the NDP and its predecessor, the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, began in the 1940s, years before 1974 discussion. But this report represented a major clarification of our position and a further development and clarification of our line.
It is vital to state at the outset that our NDP policy and our fraction work in the NDP occurs within our fundamental line of march. We are building an active, independent and public revolutionary socialist party through action in many areas and through socialist education and propaganda under our own red flag. Our NDP policy and fraction work is simply part of that process.
This document outlines and reinforces that position updated to the present reality. In general, we are applying the Marxist-Leninist method to worker-based parties with petty bourgeois leaderships and bourgeois programs aimed at reforming capitalism, rather than overthrowing it in favour of the construction of a workers’ state building socialism.
The original report by Porter to the 1974 CC Plenum was written in the context of clarifying and redefining our NDP policy at a time when the policy was being challenged by the Revolutionary Communist Tendency from an ultra left and sectarian perspective The RCT held that the NDP was losing its working class base, and that we should orient our work inside the NDP to a smash-and-grab maneuver with the “new revolutionary vanguard.”
We also faced the Labour Party Tendency perspective which was an adaptation and subordination of the revolutionary party to reformism. This discussion proved extremely helpful to the majority of the Political committee and subsequently the Central Committee, helping us to clarify and make precise how revolutionary socialists must define the mass Labour Party in Canada, develop a policy toward it and challenge the reformist leadership before the Canadian working class. The leading comrade in the Labour Party Tendency was long time leader of the Canadian section of the Fourth International, Ross Dowson. He made the following verbal observations as evidence the Political Committee majority was abandoning the previous policy on the NDP.
- a) that the section on “Starting Points for an NDP Debate” in the Political Resolution at the convention of. 1973, begins with our opposition to the NDP; comrade Ross explained that we always began with our support.
(b) that the document talks of critical support but does not use the term “unconditional support.”
(c) that the document refers to our NDP policy as a “tactic” rather than as a “strategy.”
(d) that the document does not use our “traditional terminology”; does not use concepts like the idea that the NDP is both “on the road and in the road” to workers power.
(e) that in summarizing our practical work in the NDP, the document does not correctly describe our fraction work. It does not explain that all our comrades belong to the NDP and that we have a non-split perspective.
Porter’s report responded to each of these points.
This report outlines our general concepts and principles, and shows how they apply to the New Democratic Party. This report is a discussion of fundamentals. It aims to restate a number of the basic concepts which underlie our tactical approach to the NDP. It describes how these tactics are built on our general positions in support of independent working class political action and against class collaboration, in support of a revolutionary course and against reformism, for the building of a revolutionary party and against all obstacles to this task.
There are three reasons for having such a presentation at this time. First, a general consideration. In the NDP we are engaged in a sophisticated tactic, on the labor party question. This kind of work demands periodic discussion of the principles and goals these tactics aim to achieve — to prevent possible disorientation in our work, or any kind of political accommodation to the social democratic leadership of the NDP. In the past, our documents have given greater attention to the tactical problems in the NDP than to the foundations for our policy. This report aims to even the balance.
Secondly, there may be some new opportunities in the NDP. The NDP is the government in Alberta and British Columbia now and the official opposition in Ontario. SA has active members in B.C. and Ontario. The federal party has been dominated by openly pro imperialist petty bourgeois class traitors, lawyers and former capitalist diplomats such as Murray Rankin and Hélène Laverdiere. These two and others, in fact a third of the caucus, mostly hard right wingers have withdrawn their candidacy and are not running in this year’s federal elections. The resulting nominating campaigns in the NDP vote rich ridings may open some possibilities for us. Meeting new challenges adroitly demands clarity on the basic concepts. This report thus provides a basis for discussion of our response to these challenges.
Third, we have seen the emergence of various small currents in the NDP attempting to influence the party in a leftward direction. These currents include NDP for LEAP, Momentum, and Courage.
Of course, the Socialist Caucus, led by Socialist Action challenges the right wing social democratic leadership with a program of democratic and transitional demands and a slate of socialist and working class candidates. The socialist caucus has 1500 adherents and represents by far the biggest organized left current and the only socialist current in the party. The other currents are left social democrats in the Canadian context. But at least some of their followers may be open to revolutionary socialist politics
We have also seen a rise in cynicism among some labour and student militants towards the NDP. These people fail to understand the working class base of the NDP which includes most of the class conscious workers. They see only the social democratic bureaucracy and the bourgeois reformist program of the party
This cynicism is enhanced by the support of the federal Party leadership and the actions of NDP government’s austerity policies of neoliberalism including balanced budgets, and the painstaking slowness of their often-minor reform measures. For example, in the last Federal election, the Mulcair leadership supported a balanced budget, after years of Conservative Stephen Harper’s conservative austerity and social cutbacks. The Liberal leader, Justin Trudeau, deftly advocated a deficit budget and enough reforms to appear to outflank the NDP from the left, although the Liberal Party is the party of choice of the ruling class in Canada.
Notley’s NDP Government in Alberta has become the advocate of the global oil cartel in the face of growing environmental opposition to hydrocarbon fuels. Horgan’s NDP Government in B.C. has granted a global LNG consortium massive tax and other subsidies. Horgan has saddled British Columbians with massive debt to build a huge power dam in the Peace River valley in support of a massive fracking operation to exploit natural gas resources in BC. Neither of these governments show any actual concern for indigenous rights in these areas despite their talk. We look at our position on NDP Government in this document, which is different than our position on the party itself.
But the cynicism these betrayals engender in some, works against working class interests. It enervates militants and draws them away from the sharp fight against the NDP class traitors and the union bureaucracy upon which they rest.
Finally, there are those in the Canadian left and internationally who mistakenly conclude that our work in the NDP is a form of entry work, which it is not. It is fraction work as we will see.
Our NDP Policy Excludes Support to Popular Fronts
Although the NDP has a bourgeois program and a petit bourgeois leadership, it is not a popular front. In fact, our understanding of what constitutes a popular front, and what does not, directly affects our policy on the NDP. Our view of the NDP is based on its character as a party in the workers movement. Our support for it aims to draw the class line between the working class and the bourgeoisie, in the electoral arena and in daily struggle. Support of popular front type formations like the Committee of Progressive Electors (COPE) in Vancouver is contrary to this method. Such a position is incompatible with our long-standing policy on the NDP.
Time after time we have confronted problems in Canadian politics in which the issues were posed in just this way. During the formative period of the NDP, a large debate opened up as to what the class character of this new formation would be. The leading sectors of the trade union and CCF brass presented the coming party as a liberal-labor alliance, and did what they could to realize their aim. The Stalinists also eagerly tried to make the NDP a multi-class alliance, with their concept of an “anti-monopoly coalition,” a kind of popular front. We rejected these concepts, and waged a vigorous campaign for a class party, a labor party with a class struggle program.
In Vancouver we have long fought the Committee of Progressive Electors (COPE), a municipal formation with many of the characteristics of popular fronts. We called on the NDP to run under its own banner in the civic arena with a full slate and on a class struggle program. In 1972 we succeeded in forcing the NDP to run a full slate against COPE after a big educational discussion.
In Montreal, when the FRAP was formed for the 1970 civic elections, the key question for us was whether or not it was moving towards becoming a clearly working class formation, or a kind of peoples front like the COPE. For a considerable period of time in Quebec the biggest single obstacle to independent working class political action is the support of the trade union bureaucracy for the bourgeois Parti Quebecois. To this class collaborationism, and to popular front proposals, we counterpose class independence in the political arena, through the formation of a labor party in Quebec based on the trade unions.
We have often met this question, and we often will in the future. Our NDP line has been forged in the battle against popular frontist conceptions advanced by both the Stalinists and Social Democrats in the labor movement.
Why We Oppose Class-Collaborationist Coalitions
Why do we “critically support” the NDP, a reformist party with a class collaborationist program, but deny any form of support to reformist and class collaborationist alliances like COPE in Vancouver or the amorphous anti monopoly type coalitions proposed from time to time by the Stalinist Communist Party in Canada
The 1973 Political Resolution of the LSA/LSO said: “Revolutionary Marxists give critical support to the NDP as the elemental alternative to the parties of the bourgeoisie, while giving no support to its reformist program and leadership.”
The Riddell/Young document in 1974, responding to Comrade Ernest Mandel’s criticism of our Labor Party analysis and tactics, puts it this way: “The analysis of the NDP as a party of the working class is the principled basis for critical support of the NDP.” It continues:
“The LSA/LSO holds that the tactic of critical support to non-Trotskyist currents in elections is limited to candidates or parties who represent currents within the working class movement, or whose candidature represents a step toward independent working-class political action. There is no principled basis for critical support to candidates of bourgeois political parties, or of class-collaborationist electoral alliances, no matter how these candidates are viewed by the working class.”
These statements illustrate our starting point. We do not lend support, critical or otherwise, to bourgeois or petty bourgeois parties or groupings. We do not vote for their candidates. This includes the Green Party which supports capitalism and advocates a program entirely within the framework of capitalist property relations and the continuation of the capitalist state
For us, support to the NDP in any form is only possible after we analyze it to be a party of the working class, a party based on the trade unions. By these same criteria, we oppose the Parti Quebecois, a thoroughly bourgeois party, despite its wide support from workers. In 1974 we also pointed to the Chilean situation
The Example of Chile
The example of Chile proves that popular front alliances are an active and pernicious danger in working class politics today.
TheLSA/LSO Political Committee statement on popular frontism characterizes the Chilean Unidad Popular (Popular Unity) as a popular front. It reads:
“The Chilean Popular Unity was a programmatic electoral alliance formed to nominate a single candidate of the ‘left’ in the 1970 presidential election, Salvatore Allende. While its electoral strength rested on the mass base of the Communist and Socialist parties, the UP also included smaller parties which were not working class in character. While paying lip-service to the long-range goal of socialism, the Unidad Popular’s concrete program was class collaborationist, limited to reforms which would not break Chile from the grip of capitalism. In order to win Christian Democratic support in the congress for his election as president, Allende pledged not to change the armed forces, the judiciary, the bureaucracy or the educational system. Allende’s cabinet included, as well as leaders of working class parties, politicians from bourgeois parties, and, during certain crucial periods, representatives of the armed forces.
Such coalitions between parties of the exploited and parties of the exploiters are necessarily limited, as the statement explains, to a reformist bourgeois program — a program not based on the needs of the workers and their allies, but on the preservation of the bourgeois state and capitalist property relations. This is a precondition for including bourgeois forces in the first place. Such alliances confuse the workers and cut across their class independence and self confidence as an independent class force; derailing the struggles of workers and placing them in tow behind a bourgeois program and a bourgeois alliance. Whether they are called unions of the left, coalitions, popular unities, or just plain popular fronts – we can never support them. We oppose them and demand that the workers parties break from these alliances and contest for power in their own name. We demand that the workers parties adopt our program. We counterpose the policy of the united front — unity for action for specific class struggle goals.
“What is crucial is the essential purpose of such alliances, which is to form a coalition government with a sector of the bourgeoisie. There is nothing new in the fact that such alliances contain only very weak bourgeois parties — or, for periods, no bourgeois parties at all. In Spain in 1936 the Stalinists and Social Democrats very rapidly became the leadership of the Popular Front. The policies of the Popular Front were Stalinist and Social Democratic policies. The bourgeois parties in the coalition lacked any social base — they were, as Trotsky wrote, only a phantom of the bourgeoisie. Despite this the coalition was based on subservience to the bourgeoisie. Trotsky considered that a vote for the Popular Front, or a vote in the parliament for a Popular Front budget would be treachery.”
Popular Fronts — Reactionary to the Core
We deny that popular front coalitions are capable of representing workers’ interests in any way. They represent the interest of the workers’ petty bourgeois leaderships, who see the task as winning reforms compatible with capitalism, and see collaboration with sectors of the ruling class as the best means to this end. Popular fronts are therefore designed to seize upon the developing militancy and political class consciousness of the workers, and to redirect them back into the dead-end of class collaboration.
Where such formations are elected to office, they serve to defend the capitalist system in stormy times. No verbiage about socialism alters this essential fact.
Even without being elected, such formations play a very pernicious role. They serve as a brake on the workers’ inclination towards proletarian means of struggle for anticapitalist demands; they redirect the struggle back into the electoralist dead-end. They refurbish in the minds of the masses the delusion that they can eliminate their oppression through the ballot box, and through compromises with the capitalist class.
Far from being organized to mobilize the workers as an independent class to struggle for their own interests, popular front coalitions are organized to advance the program of class collaboration. Opposition to popular frontism has been a fundamental tenet of Trotskyism since its inception.
What if the working class is clearly going through an experience with popular frontism? Should we not go through this experience along with them, in order to point out most effectively the error of this course? Is this not what we are doing in supporting the NDP and calling for NDP governments: going through the experience of a reformist labor party along with the workers?
James P. Cannon spoke on this question in his 1948 plenum report on our opposition to the Wallace campaign. In this report he had occasion to review some basic fundamentals about our approach to mass reformist workers parties, and I shall refer to it at several points in this report. Comrades can find it in the Education for Socialists series entitled Aspects of Socialist Election Policy.
“It has been argued here that ‘we must go through the experiences with the workers.’ That is a very good formula, provided you do not make it universal. We go with the workers only through those experiences which have a class nature. We go with them through the experiences of strikes, even though we may think a given strike untimely. We may even go with the workers through the experience of putting a reformist labor party in office, provided it is a real labor party and subject to certain pressures of the workers, in order that they may learn from their experience that reformism is not the correct program for the working class.
“But we do not go through the experience of class collaboration with the workers. There we draw the line. We did not go through the experience of the workers when they supported the imperialist war. We drew back when they went through the experience of people’s fronts in Europe. We stood on the side and we told them they were wrong. We did not compromise ourselves. If another man takes poison, you do not have to join him in the experiment . Just tell him it is no good. But don’t offer to prove it by your personal example.”
Our Policy on COPE in Vancouver
What is our policy towards popular front type formations? Our experience in Vancouver provides an example. When the Stalinists launched their class collaborationist project called the Committee of Progressive Electors (COPE), the NDP did not at first run candidates against COPE in the municipal elections.
Instead they gave it tacit support and so did the Vancouver and District Labor Council. Many NDP members and unionists worked for COPE’s campaign — a campaign for momentary and inconsequential reforms for an alliance of all progressives, workers and bosses alike.
We denounced COPE, ran our own candidates against it and explained why the NDP should break from COPE and run against it. We won that battle in 1972. The NDP did break with COPE and fielded a full slate on a clear NDP ticket. Our policy was correct. It isolated us at first, but it gained us considerably more influence among NDP workers in the longer run, because we were seen to be correct of course they have since relapsed and COPE is still there. But SA will not support it.
What We Do Not Support in the NDP
Some have asked how then we can support the NDP, whose program is also class collaborationist to the core. The answer is clear. We have the same approach to the program of the NDP as we have to the program of the COPE. Our policy is irreconcilable opposition. But there is something in the NDP we can support — its class character as a political party of the labor movement; even more, its character in English Canada as a labor party.
Some have asked how we can call for NDP governments. Don’t they turn out to be just as class collaborationist as the Allende regime? They certainly do. And our attitude to the NDP governments in British Columbia and Alberta is fundamentally similar to our attitude to the Allende government. Both are essentially coalition governments with the bourgeoisie; both are bourgeois governments. In fact, the Horgan government is an alliance with the B.C. Green Party, a bourgeois Party. We will defend both against attacks from the right, but we will not support the Notley or Horgan governments
Of course, we call for an NDP government in Ottawa and the provinces. We call on the leaders of the working class to take the power and carry out measures in the interests of the working class. We call for the election of the labor party to office, and challenge its leadership to carry out socialist policies. We challenge all those who claim to act on behalf of the workers, who claim to be the workers’ leadership, to lead, to act in the interests of the workers and their allies. We support any measures they take in this direction. But when they betray the working class, as they do when they form a bourgeois government and defend capitalism — we do not support that betrayal. We do not support a bourgeois government.
The NDP in Office — A Bourgeois Government
Why do we call the NDP governments “bourgeois?” They are administering sectors of the bourgeois state. They work within the framework of the bourgeois power incorporated in this state. They accept the authority of the bourgeois constitution, courts, legal structure, governmental bureaucracy, and repressive apparatus. They accept the financial limitations imposed on these governments by the bourgeoisie. They accept the bourgeoisie’s rules for the parliamentary game.
These governments come into office with the consent of the bourgeoisie, and act as instruments of bourgeois rule. They defend the bourgeois profit system, capitalist property relations.
Do we believe the NDP leadership can be won over to socialism or that the NDP can ever lead a socialist transformation in Canada? Absolutely not. Not now, not ever. That is why we are building an independent revolutionary socialist party on Leninist principles. No other organization can succeed. Everything we do is subordinated to building our party, including our NDP policy.
The class character of these governments is bourgeois. We project the need for a workers and farmers government, one which is independent of the bourgeoisie, independent of its state apparatus, and which can take far-reaching measures against capitalist property.
These bourgeois governments have a special weakness which permits us to adopt a special tactical approach to them. The bourgeoisie rules, not through one of its own parties, a party shaped, led and directly controlled by the bourgeoisie, but through a government composed of leaders of a party of the labor movement. The NDP ministers are subject to the pressures of the rank-and-file of the party which they lead, and which thrust them into office. The NDP does not accept corporate donations and in B.C. they enacted a law that maximum annual personal donations to a political party be $1200. The contradiction between the leadership and the rank-and-file of the NDP becomes more acute, because the leadership is now administering the state of the class enemy.
Our tactical approach focuses on this contradiction, and seeks to rally the ranks of the NDP and labor movement against the pro-capitalist policies of the NDP government. This approach described in the in the 1973 Political Resolution as follows:
“Where the NDP is in office, we must seek to mobilize broad campaigns and actions encompassing rank and file forces from the party and the trade unions aimed at the NDP cabinet; initial steps would include campaigns for the new government to implement the more radical aspects of the NDP program which usually comprises some far-reaching demands adopted by the rank and file in convention. Provincial NDP governments should be pressured by mass actions to use their wide constitutional powers to carry out far-reaching social innovations and reforms…Demands to this effect can serve to polarize the ranks of the party in opposition to the reformist misleadership in office, and thereby present important opportunities to the socialist wing to intervene around a class struggle program.”
The Role of Stalinism and Social Democracy
We are not only opposed to bourgeois parties, and to alliances with them. We are opposed to Social Democracy and Stalinism, which are petty bourgeois tendencies in the workers movement. Cannon took this up in his 1948 report, with reference to the social democratic Labour Party in Britain, which was in office at that time:
“But then the question is raised — the fact that the question is raised shows some confusion on the question of the labor party —comrades ask; ‘Well, what is the British Labor Party?’ If we judge it by composition alone, we must say it is a ‘workers’ party’ for it is squarely based on the trade union movement of Great Britain. But this designation ‘worker’s’ party’ must be put in quotation marks as soon as we examine the program and practice of the party. To be sure, the formal program and the holiday speeches of the leaders mutter something about socialism, but in practice the British Labor Party, is the governing party of British imperialism. It is the strongest pillar holding up this shaky edifice. That makes it a bourgeois party in the essence of the matter, doesn’t it? And since 1914, haven’t we always considered the Social Democratic parties of Europe as bourgeois parties? And haven’t we characterized Stalinism as an agency of world imperialism?
“Our fundamental attitude towards such parties is the same as our attitude toward a bourgeois party of the classical type —that is, an attitude of irreconcilable opposition.”
We oppose the programs of Social Democracy and Stalinism and we oppose their parties. We view their parties as the agencies of the bourgeois class in the workers movement. We consider their programs, based on preserving the status quo, which means preserving the capitalist system, to be thoroughly counter-revolutionary and in no sense progressive. These programs act to divert and frustrate the workers in their struggles for their class needs — needs which cannot be met by capitalism. The reformist and class-collaborationist nature of Social Democracy and Stalinism makes it theoretically impossible, and we have seen this in practice, for these currents and parties to adequately defend even the immediate interests of the class.
We do not believe that these parties reflect the “spontaneous consciousness” of the workers, or that they defend the immediate interests of the workers. We do not regard them as some necessary and progressive stage in the development of working class political action. They betray the workers’ most immediate interests, and stand as giant obstacles to the building of a revolutionary party.
Our Tactical Approach to Reformist Workers’ Parties
If our attitude to Social Democratic and Stalinist parties is one of principled opposition, based on their counter-revolutionary program and practice, our tactical approach towards expressing that opposition is different than with pure and simple bourgeois parties. This flows from a very important fact that although these are petty bourgeois tendencies, they are tendencies within the workers’ movement, at least in the imperialist countries. Comrade Cannon, speaking of parties like the Labour Party in Britain, has this to say:
“But the composition of such parties gives them a certain distinctive character which enables, and even requires, us to make a different tactical approach to them. If they are composed of workers, and even more, if they are based on the trade unions and subject to their control, we offer to make a united front with them for a concrete struggle against the capitalists, or even join them under certain conditions, with the aim of promoting our program ‘class against class.'”
Cannon goes on to define what our approach would be to such a party if it developed in the U.S.:
“We would oppose such a ‘bourgeois workers’ party’ as ruthlessly as any other bourgeois party, but our tactical approach would be different. We would most likely join such a party — if we have strength in the unions, they couldn’t keep us out — and under certain conditions we would give its candidates critical support in the elections. But ‘critical support’ of a reformist labor party must be correctly understood. It does not mean reconciliation with reformism. Critical support means opposition. It does not mean support with criticism in quotation marks, but rather criticism with support in quotation marks.”
We never cease our public criticism of their leadership and program. We never cease to counterpose our program to theirs. Only under strict conditions and for very short terms do we ever give up our own public organization. Normally we pose our party as well.
But the fundamental fact that these are parties in the workers’ movement is the necessary precondition even to lend critical support to these parties or their candidates. And even then, critical support is a tactic. Our basic attitude is one of opposition.
The Contradictory Character of the NDP
Let’s look more closely at the NDP. What is the NDP? How have we analyzed it and what is the nature of our attitude and tactical policy towards it?
We have described the NDP as a Social Democratic labor party. This formulation describes its contradictory character, a party based on the unions, but saddled with a petty bourgeois leadership and a social democratic program.
The Riddell-Young document explains the NDP’s character as follows
“As a social democratic party, the NDP has a pro-capitalist, bourgeois program. This fundamental characteristic has led Leninists to refer to Social Democratic parties as ‘bourgeois parties’ reserving the designation ‘proletarian’ for parties with a revolutionary Marxist program.
“At the same time, the NDP, like other Social Democratic parties is a current within the labor movement. Its leadership is a petit bourgeois bureaucratic layer whose base is the trade-union bureaucracy. Its composition, in terms of membership, financing, and voting base, is working class and rooted in the union movement. Representatives of affiliated unions, moreover, have a commanding voice in party councils. As a party which is working class in its composition and social base, the NDP stands in contradiction to the Parties of the bourgeoisie. Its contest against these parties, to use Comrade Germain’s phrase, ‘takes the objective character of a class confrontation.’ (Quatrieme Internationale, Mai-Aout 1973, p.59). This decisive characteristic has led Leninists to speak of the ‘working class character’ of parties like the NDP, to refer to them as ‘parties of the workers’ movement’ or as ‘workers’ parties.’
“The analysis of the NDP as a party of the working class is the principled basis for critical support of the NDP.”
But we do not just say that the NDP is a Social Democratic party. We add that it is a labor party — a workers’ party with special features. Riddell and Young explain the term:
“Canadian Trotskyists’ designation of the New Democratic Party as a ‘labor party’ emphasizes the NDP’s working-class base, and its character as the sole mass political party of the trade unions. The term helps explain the great step forward for the Canadian working class represented by the formation of the NDP in 1961.”
The NDP is A Social Democratic Party.
Both the Political resolution and the Riddell-Young document refer to the NDP as a Social Democratic party. Now this is new. Previously we had not described the NDP this way, nor had we been careful to educate our party in this concept. We had referred to the program and leadership as Social Democratic, but when speaking of the party, we would usually call it a “labor party” and let it go at that,
Calling the NDP a “labor party”. says a great deal about its internal dynamics. It points to the contradiction in the NDP between bureaucracy and rank-and-file, the contradiction which characterizes the labor movement in which the NDP is rooted. But it does not say anything about who controls the party’s program, structures, and activity. It, therefore, tells us nothing about the role the NDP plays in the class struggle.
When the NDP was being formed, and before the leadership consolidated its grip, we refused to concede in advance that the “New Party” would be an opportunist, Social Democratic party. We sought to win the “New Party” to a different course, to our program. But that period ended many years ago. The Social Democrats firmly grasped the leadership of the party, shaping its structures and program, and by and large controlling its activity.
The NDP is Social Democratic to the core. Its program is one of loyalty to Canadian capitalism, to the Canadian state. It thus opposes the right of the Quebecois to break from that state. Its defense of “democracy” against “totalitarianism” is a euphemism for defense of the interests of the imperialist powers against the workers’ states, and against proletarian revolution. It views the bourgeois state as being above classes, as a neutral arbiter, as an empty vessel which can serve good purposes, even “build socialism,” once the NDP is in office.
The NDP leadership is a petty bourgeois layer whose interests conflict with those of its worker base. This layer is rooted in the petty bourgeois bureaucracy in the trade unions. The trade union leadership’s perspective is determined by their materially privileged position, and their role as mediators between the opposed classes. Their position as a privileged social layer depends on the maintenance of capitalism, without which their function and their privileges would disappear.
They are imbued with lack of confidence and even disdain for the workers they lead. They are ignorant of, or fear the independently mobilized power of the working class fighting for its needs. They are overawed with respect for the bourgeois state and its institutions, and for the legal, orderly and parliamentary path. They see the road to gains for labor not through independent class mobilization, but through class collaboration, and in the political field, through capturing the government and using the capitalist state to improve the lot of the workers. From this flows their parliamentarist and electoralist strategy.
The trade union bureaucracy, the most decisive element in the NDP leadership, draws around it an assortment of professionals, ideologues, and preachers, whose social outlook is fundamentally the same as theirs.
The structure and organization of the NDP are also Social Democratic to the core. The NDP is an all-inclusive party, whose membership has an extremely low level of political activity. Its membership structures are designed not to intervene in the class struggle or to determine party policy but as parts of a vote-getting apparatus. The superficially democratic structure of the NDP veils a bureaucratic reality: the party leadership frees itself from membership control; the parliamentary caucus establishes its independence from the party convention; when the NDP is in office, the NDP ministry establishes its independence of any democratic party control. But the leadership bears down heavily and brutally on challenges from the left, even a left reformist opposition such as the Waffle. The LSA/LSO was banned, and revolutionists are periodically expelled.
All of these features are longstanding characteristics of a Social Democratic party.
A Program that Betrays Workers’ Immediate Interests
The NDP may take a correct stand on many questions — it may take stands which we support. But the NDP’s program as a whole is counter-revolutionary. It does not represent the interests of the workers in any sense — long-term, or short-term. The NDP and the union leadership are presently failing even to defend the workers’ standard of living —the most elementary and immediate task of workers’ organizations.
We need only look at B.C., where the NDP is in office. This party’s program is bankrupt. It fails to defend B.C. workers from austerity, or unemployment. Instead the Horgan government supports the massive capitalist energy projects like Site C dam and the LNG industry. It fails to bring in childcare. It hasn’t even met the $15 per hour target yet. We have worked out a clear position in opposition to the Social Democratic leadership and program of the NDP. We stand in clear opposition to the government it forms. We write articles attacking the Horgan leadership for its wretched betrayals. We move opposition resolution in NDP riding associations and trade unions.
The NDP as a Detour
The Riddell/Young document calls the NDP “a detour for the English-Canadian working class.” It continues: “While the formation of a mass labor party was an historic step forward, the absence of a revolutionary vanguard organization with mass working-class influence permitted the establishment of a labor party which was Social Democratic in character.”
The move of the Canadian Labor Congress towards independent political action; its move to launch a political party directly based on the union movement; the affiliation of hundreds of thousands of unionists to this party — this process was a great historical conquest of the Canadian working class.
But there was nothing progressive or inevitable about the fact that this process led to the establishment of a party which was Social Democratic in character. This was a result in large measure of the default of the Stalinized Communist Party. The CP had a historic opportunity in the 1930’s and 1940’s to lead the workers towards class independence on a revolutionary program. This opportunity was lost because the CP itself had been derailed by Stalinism from the revolutionary path, the path of the class struggle. Far from leading the constitution of a labor party, it opposed this process from the right, and leaving the road clear for the Social Democrats to win political hegemony in the labor movement.
From these considerations flows our fundamental position on the NDP. As a Social Democratic party, it betrays the workers, historically and in relation to the immediate day-to-day needs of the class. It cannot be reformed; it cannot become an adequate instrument for revolutionary struggle. It is a massive obstacle to the building of a revolutionary party. Our aim is to remove that obstacle. This bourgeois workers party is not our party. Our fundamental attitude is as Cannon outlined it: one of irreconcilable opposition.
Unconditional Support and Critical Support
To say that the NDP is an obstacle to building the revolutionary party, an obstacle which we aim to remove, only poses the problem. It does not provide an answer to the problem. To say that our attitude to the NDP is one of fundamental opposition describes our purpose, our goal. It doesn’t describe how we get there. We have developed a variety of tactical tools to overcome the obstacle of mass reformist workers parties. They include the tactic of support of the NDP. They include campaigning to help win the affiliation of trade unions to the NDP. They include joining the NDP, selling memberships to the NDP, fighting to win the NDP to a class struggle program. We’re familiar with these tactics and have been applying them with considerable success since the NDP was founded. They all form part of our long-standing and proven policy towards the NDP.
It’s not the aim of this report to recapitulate or develop these concepts. It aims to single out some fundamental topics of importance. One of these is the dispute which occurred in 1974 over “unconditional support of the NDP” which has divided the leadership in the past. . How should we describe the nature of our support of the NDP? Let’s discuss this question.
First, a passage from Cannon’s report in 1948. It indicates how he viewed this question, when speaking of the labor party whose foundation we posed as a key task before the U.S. labor movement.
“I mentioned before the well-known fact that our support of a labor party, leaving its program undetermined for the moment, is not unconditional. It is critical. Under the heading of our labor party policy we have certain minimum demands. There are two. One, we demand that the unions launch their own independent party under their own control. That is the first demand. Second, we propose that this party adopt our revolutionary transitional program. But even under these conditions we will maintain our own party with its full program.
“So, we are not fanatical labor partyites at all. There are very serious limitations and conditions that we put when we say we want and will support a labor party. Now, what will we accept, at the present state of development, as a minimum condition for our critical support of a labor party or labor ticket? The minimum condition is that the party must be really based on the unions and dependent upon them, and at least ultimately subject to their control as to program and candidates. Under that condition, as a rule, and as things stand now, we will give critical support to the candidates in the election, even though the party does not in its first appearance accept a program that we advocate for it.
“Under that limited minimum condition — that it really represents the unions engaging in independent political action, and not some variation of bourgeois political action supported by the workers, we will give critical support to the candidates in the election. But we heavily emphasize the critical nature of our support, and we don’t obligate ourselves in advance to give that in every case. It usually depends on the relationship of forces. You can easily conceive of a situation where our strength would be such, or the conditions or the issue would be such, that we find it more advisable to run a candidate of our own against a candidate of even a ‘genuine’ labor party.”
What has been our practice in Canada? We have viewed both the CCF (since the late 1940’s) and the NDP as labor party formations, and we have used different terms to describe our approach to them. In the late 1940s and 1950s we termed our attitude to the CCF one of “critical support.” We explained that this meant that we supported the CCF, even though we opposed its leadership and program. When the NDP was formed in 1961, we used a different term to describe our attitude: “unconditional support.” We usually defined this meaning that we supported the NDP as a labor party, even though we opposed its leadership and program — we did not lay down “conditions” with regard to leadership or program.
In the 1970 document on Our NDP Orientation comrade Ross Dowson stressed the concept of unconditional support, and wrote several paragraphs to explain its meaning.
The 1973 Political Resolution used the term “critical support” to describe the idea of support independent of program and leadership. It states:
“Since last year, comrade Dowson and some other comrades have been using a third term to describe our approach: “unconditional but critical support.” The founding statement of the Labor Party Tendency indicates that it views the Political Committee’s failure to use this term as strong evidence of its abandonment of our long-standing policies on the NDP.
What real political differences, if any, are contained in this terminological dispute?
At first glance, it would seem that both when we used the words “critical support” and when we used the words “unconditional support” we were trying to say the same thing. We were trying to explain that we do not lay down conditions to the NDP with respect to its program and leadership — conditions which must be fulfilled or we will not support it. We do not say, for example, that we will support the NDP only if it ceases to vote for the budget of the Trudeau government. Rather we say that we support the NDP despite such betrayals, despite its bankrupt leadership and program. This is the concept which has formed part of our “longstanding orientation to the NDP”, and which we put forward today. The fact that we express this concept through the term “critical support” is no grounds for claiming that “the orientation has been dumped.”
I think there are several reasons why “unconditional support” is not a good way to describe our approach to the NDP. First, our support is really very conditional. The 1970 document on Our NDP Orientation has a section entitled “Unconditional Support” which states a whole series of conditions for our support. I would state the conditions differently. The differences which may exist on this section are worth further discussion. But what is important is that we all agree that our support of the NDP is a tactical question, which depends on the state of the class struggle, and the relationship of forces between ourselves and the NDP’s reformist leadership.
There is a second objection. We use the word unconditional to mean “all the way,” “without reservations.” This is the way the YS/LJS supports the Canadian section — unconditionally. They identify with the LSA/LSO — with all its aspects. Unconditional support is what we give to revolutionary organizations. The same term should not be used to describe a tactical approach to a reformist workers party.
Describing our policy on the NDP as one of “unconditional support” creates confusion and can and will miseducate cadres. Our policy on the NDP is one of “critical support,” of “support as a labor party,” of “support despite program and leadership.” Formulations like these contain the concept that we do not lay down conditions to the NDP which must be fulfilled or we will not support it. Further, they are balanced formulations, which do not pose the problems contained in the ambiguous formula, “unconditional support.””
Our Policy in Practice
We lend critical support to the NDP and its candidates as a means of fighting the Social Democratic leadership and the trade union bureaucracy and their sell-out programs. In the same way, we call for the election of an NDP government. As Cannon said:
“It would be a good thing to read over again Lenin’s advice to the British communists back in 1920. He explained that they ought to support the labor party candidates for Parliament. But he said ‘Support them in order to force them to take office so that the masses will learn by experience the futility and treachery of their program, and get through with them.’ It was not solidarity with the labor reformists but hostility which dictated the tactic that Lenin recommended. I think his advice still holds good. The labor party is not our party and will not be our party unless it adopts our program. Otherwise it is an arena in which we work for our program.”
We know that it will take massive and deep-going political experiences to fundamentally alter the relationship in the class between us and the NDP. We know too that this will take a little time. Therefore, we do not see our tactic of critical support as a fleeting or temporary policy, but more long term.
This tactic is designed to exploit to our advantage and to the bureaucrats’ detriment, the fundamental contradiction in the NDP — the contradiction between the reformist and class collaborationist program sustained by the petty bourgeois leadership and the needs of the worker base of the party which requires revolutionary solutions.
We join the party, all of our comrades who can, and we do fraction work in the party attempting to win support for our demands and to organize that support against the program of social democracy and the NDP leadership. We point to the contradictory aspects of this party, that it is a break from capitalist parties towards independent working class political action, but a party with a bourgeois program and petty-bourgeois leadership, a party which cannot lead a fight to meet the needs of the class.
We explain that it is correct to join this party, but that workers and other oppressed layers should fight for a program that meets their needs, that is, our program, and we call for NDP governments, and pose their task as implementing our program.
We work to build a class struggle opposition in the NDP on a platform of key democratic and transitional demands. As the Political Resolution states:
“The intervention of revolutionary socialists in the NDP would have a much-reduced purpose if it aimed only to recruit a revolutionary faction, or to build a caucus which merely brought together members of different quarrelling revolutionary groups. Our aim is more ambitious — to provide a program for the broad struggle against the bureaucratic right wing leadership, and for a socialist course, and to lead this struggle in action. Such a caucus will be built around a platform of key democratic and transitional demands.”
We counterpose this longstanding concept to the concept put forward in the preconvention discussion last spring by the RCT — that we should set up revolutionary fronts oriented to the concerns of the vanguard. That is not our view. We aim to initiate and lead a class struggle left wing based on a platform which expresses the burning needs of the masses.
The difference is that we aim, in the future, to lead the workers, and they don’t have confidence that they ever will. The nature of the application of our tactical policy is outlined in the Riddell/Young document:
“‘Then, of course, we continue existing as a party outside such an opportunistic party, and we consider only the possibility of penetrating such a labor party — but as a party we remain outside.’ In these words, Trotsky describes the framework for the present orientation of the LSA-LSO to the NDP. This orientation consists of critical support to the NDP as the mass political party of the English Canadian labor movement. It is not an ‘entry’ into the NDP. It entails the work of a portion of LSA members (‘fraction work’) inside the NDP, and an orientation of intervening in the politics of the NDP and the labor movement through independent activity outside the NDP, independent propaganda, independent mass campaigns on particular issues, and all the public activity of the LSA. Thus we intervene in the politics of the NDP both within the NDP, within the unions, and from the outside. The balance of the different sides of this work depends on the political conjuncture. Its aim is not to build a centrist or left-centrist current in the NDP. Its aim is to increase the working-class influence and build the cadres of the Canadian Trotskyist movement.
“The LSA-LSO; has used many vehicles to attempt to intervene in the rank-and-file struggle against the NDP leadership, and to lead it with our program. As well as fraction work inside the NDP, these include working in the unions in favor of their affiliation to the NDP, and to build opposition in them to the NDP leadership; building independent campaigns, like that against the Vietnam war, and now in defence of the Cuban Revolution, the right of self determination for Venezuela and so on. which can rally support of the NDP ranks and put maximum political pressure on the NDP leadership; and independent initiatives in the name of the LSA-LSO. An example of the latter is the Canadian section’s campaigns in municipal elections, which are normally uncontested by the NDP in Canada — campaigns which not only provide an example of effective revolutionary agitation in a broad arena, but which help generate pressure on the NDP leadership to alter its ‘non-partisan’ stance in civic elections.”
The reaction of the Social Democrats to our policy and our work
The elected members of the party and its full-time bureaucracy are implacably opposed to our work. They know it is aimed at them. They know we understand their support for capitalism and for their own privileges. They know that we push for demands that go beyond capitalism and point toward its overthrow, that we oppose imperialist predations tooth and nail.
They have structured the party, in large measure in opposition to a takeover by a rank and file led by us, in highly undemocratic ways. Electoral candidates must be vetted and approved by the leadership, unions are underrepresented at all levels in the Party course compared to the electoral district associations which have a far higher number of petit bourgeois academics, teachers, preachers and professionals, a small undemocratic committee chooses which resolutions come to the convention floor. At the last federal convention, a radical resolution supporting Palestinian Rights Against the Apartheid Israeli State was supported by 35 electoral district associations and never made it to the convention floor. During the debate on Palestinian Rights, the leadership stacked the microphones with right wingers far ahead of the discussion.
The parliamentary caucus claims not to be bound by party policy. In the past there have been waves of expulsions in Trotskyists from the NDP and the more we succeed the more they will consider this option again. We organize energetic defence campaigns on the right of socialists to be in the labor party and the anti democratic nature of the leadership. It becomes a clear fight between their class treachery and our principled working class program.
Our NDP policy is support for the party as a labor-based mass party in English Canada and irreconcilable opposition to its social democratic leadership and bourgeois program. We understand the development of a mass independent labour-based party is a major advance for the working class, but the social democratic, class traitorous leadership and bourgeois program are major obstacles to be overcome
We do not practice entry sui generis in the NDP. Nor do we have a “French turn” smash and grab strategy. Ours is fraction work by some of our members while we build an open active revolutionary socialist party
We support NDP Governments from the capitalist opposition and press when they attack the labour base or actions in defence of labour, or the capitalist class tried to oust a democratically elected NDP government, but otherwise we oppose it as a bourgeois government and strive to mobilize workers and party members against moves by the government to defend capitalism
We build a socialist opposition not only to the program of the social democrats, but to the social democratic leadership itself. Currently we do this by organizing a Socialist Caucus with 1500 supporters, its own magazine, “Left Turn” and by running Socialst Caucus slates against the leadership.
We, as an independent revolutionary socialist party mobilize independent anti capitalist, and anti-imperialist campaigns and urge unions and NDP ridings to support them and denounce the leadership efforts to oppose them
We promote our paper Socialist Action at NDP events
Our purpose in NDP fraction work is to lead militant workers, students and others to a socialist opposition to social democracy and thus help get past this obstacle to working class victory in Canada.
At bottom our NDP policy is designed to be the best way in relation to the NDP of building the revolutionary socialist party in Canada, steeped in the struggles of” the working class for political independence from the ruling class and in opposition to the Social Democratic treachery of the party’s leadership.
Tactics in relation to mass parties of the working class
Trotsky’s “French Turn”
The French Turn refers to the classic form of entryism advocated by Leon Trotsky in his essays on “the French Turn”. In June 1934, he proposed that the French Trotskyists dissolve their Communist League to join the French Socialist Party (the SFIO) and that it also dissolves its youth section to join more easily with revolutionary elements. The tactic was adopted in August 1934, despite some opposition. The turn successfully raised the group’s membership to 300 activists.
Proponents of the tactic advocated that the Trotskyists should enter the social democratic parties to connect with revolutionary socialist currents within them, and steer those currents toward Leninism. However, entry lasted only for a brief period: the leadership of the SFIO started to expel the Trotskyists.
The Trotskyists of the Workers Party of the United States also successfully entered into the Socialist Party of America to recruit their youth group and other members. Similar tactics were also used by Trotskyist organizations in other countries, including The Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland and Poland. Entryism was used to connect with and recruit leftward moving political currents inside radical parties.
Since the turn in France, Marxists have used the tactic even if they had different preconceptions of how long the period of entry would last.
A “split perspective” is sometimes employed in which the smaller party intends to remain in the larger party for a short period of time with the intention of splitting the organization and leaving with more members than it began.
The entry tactic can work successfully, in its own terms, over a long period. For example, it was attempted by the Militant tendency in Britain whose members worked within the Labour Party from the 1960s, on and managed to get a controlling influence in the Labour Party Young Socialists and Liverpool Council before being expelled in the 1980s.
Deep entryism/entryism ‘sui generis’
In these types of entryism, entryists engage in a long-term perspective in which they work within an organization for decades in hopes of gaining influence and a degree of power and perhaps even control of the larger organization.
In ‘entryism sui generis’ (of a special type), Trotskyists, for example, do not openly argue for the building of a Trotskyist party. ‘Deep entryism’ refers to the long duration.
The tactic is closely identified with Michel Pablo and Gerry Healy, who were leaders of the Fourth International in the late 1940s and 1950s. The ‘deep entry’ tactic was developed as a way for Trotskyists to respond to the Cold War. In countries where there were mass social democratic or communist parties, it was as difficult to be accepted into these parties as Trotskyist currents as to build separate Trotskyist parties. Therefore, Trotskyists were advised to enter secretly, and not to come forward as Trotskyists with their full program.
In Europe, this was the approach used, for example, by The Club in the Labour Party, and by Fourth Internationalists inside the Communist Parties. In France, Trotskyist organizations, most notably the Parti des Travailleurs, have successfully entered Communist-led trade unions and mainstream worker-based parties
This tactic involves having comrades who can, join a mass worker’s party, such as the NDP, to deepen the understanding of workers about independent working class political action, and to organize militant workers in struggles against the social democratic leadership and bourgeois program of the party. The objective is to expose the reformist leadership and program and win workers and others to revolutionary socialism and the revolutionary party. In our case. We organize our work through the Socialist Caucus which we lead. It has its own magazine, has a facebook discussion group, meets in conferences, proposes policy resolutions and action to affiliated union and riding associations, organizes speakers and send delegates to party conventions. It fights for a socialist program and a democratic party structure and practice, and runs an open Socialist Caucus slate against the social democratic slate. At the federal convention in 2018 our socialist caucus candidates won between 15% and 30% of the votes, and one SC candidate won election to an important position.
The independent revolutionary socialist party, meanwhile carries on a full public life, publishing its own paper, organizing actions, carrying on a full range of agitation and propaganda to recruit and train revolutionary cadre and deepen its connection to the working class.