[ Home ]  [ Canadian Bolsheviks ]  [ Documents Index ]  [ Reminiscences Index ] [ About ]

Rethinking the ‘NDP Orientation,’ 1973-1975
(Click here for an Overview of this discussion and a list of documents)

An Outline of Our NDP Policy (1975)

(LSA-LSO Discussion Bulletin, Vol. 11, No. 1, November 1975)

The following is the edited text of the report on the New Democratic Party by the Political Committee to the January, 1975 plenum of the League for Socialist Action/Ligue Socialiste Ouvriere Central Committee. The report was given by George Addison.

This report aims to take another step forward in our analysis of the New Democratic Party, the labor party in English Canada. We have spent a good deal of time over the last two years developing and setting down our position on the NDP. There are several reasons for this. In part, we have responded to new challenges of the class struggle, that posed new questions about our NDP work. In part, we have responded to the need to restate our basic concepts periodically for any work area where we conduct a complex tactic for a long time. And we've also reacted to challenges to our NDP policy by two minority currents within our ranks, the Revolutionary Communist Tendency, and the current led by Ross Dowson. Both these groupings have split from our ranks, and they are represented today by the Revolutionary Marxist Group and the Socialist League respectively.

This discussion has generated quite a substantial range of documents that outline our policy on the New Democratic Party much more fully than ever before. A major section in the 1973 resolution discussing the NDP is reprinted with other material in the pamphlet, The NDP, the Marxist View. After the 1973 convention, John Riddell and Art Young picked up the NDP question again in their polemic against Ernest Germain, "The Real Record of the Canadian Section." (International Internal Discussion Bulletin, vol. X, no. 16)

The January 1974 plenum adopted two documents, both reprinted in the LSA/LSO Internal Information Bulletin (IIB); "Our Tasks in the New Democratic Party Today" IIB vol. 2, no. 2, Jan. 1974) and "Class Collaboration and Independent Working Class Political Action: Some Fundamental Aspects of Our Policy Towards the NDP" (IIB vol. 2, no. 2, Feb. 1974).

There is also the material from our July 1974 federal election campaign in Eglinton riding, much of which is re-printed in the pamphlet and in "Our Approach to the 1974 Federal Elections" (IIB vol. 2, no. 8, Sept. 1974).

This report is based on the general line of previous LSA/LSO convention and Central Committee positions on the NDP. I will review these positions in part and refine them a bit in places. Beyond that, I want to provide a bridge from the starting point of the NDP discussion —basic questions of what it is and our general approach to it — to the problems of our current intervention in the NDP. The latter side of the question centers on the creative use of tactics and is much more complex — the job of finding the right tactical tool to use at the right time.

The discussion so far has centered on basic questions: what the NDP is and how revolutionists approach it in general. We emphasized basic principles, and leaned heavily on the writings of Lenin, Trotsky and Cannon for our guidelines. This was necessary to educate ourselves on these concepts, and get to the root of the errors of the currents within the movement challenging our positions on the NDP. But such a debate always has a danger. The need for an effective, flexible intervention in the labor party can be shunted to the background in our thinking. Thus, one aim of this report is to underline the importance of maneuvers and tactics in our work.

Scope of this Report

There are a number of questions that this report will not deal with. We will not evaluate the history of the New Democratic Party and its predecessor, the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), except where necessary to characterize the basic nature of the party. There are some interesting questions to take up in the future, such as why a labor party emerged in English Canada and not in the United States or Quebec, or the dynamics of the formative period of the NDP.

Second, we do not aim to evaluate the history of the Canadian Trotskyists intervention in the CCF and NDP. There are many unexplored questions here that Canadian Trotskyists should study to learn the lessons of the past. But this is not necessary to develop our intervention in the NDP today, or to stand on the correct positions that are our heritage.

Third, we will not deal with the labor party question in Quebec. We should note that the question is posed differently there. The NDP cannot be described as a labor party in Quebec. It has no substantial roots in the unions, and very little working class support. We have supported the NDP in Quebec in federal elections, as a political tendency of the workers movement running against the bourgeois parties, and further as a tendency that projects to some extent the need for a labor party in Quebec, because of the character of the NDP in English Canada. When the NDP ran a few candidates in Quebec provincial elections, we supported them for the same basic reason. But the NDP is only one of many forces that must come together to build a labor party in Quebec, and among these forces its importance is small.

Our Basic Position on the NDP

We define the NDP as a social-democratic labor party. We have also used the definition Lenin applied to the British Labour Party, calling it a bourgeois workers party. Let's look at the ingredients of these definitions.

The parts of these definitions refer to different criteria used to describe a party. The first and most decisive one is that of program. The NDP's program is committed to the maintenance of the capitalist system. It supports and defends the right of Canadian big business to exploit the workers. It support Canada's imperialist world role. The NDP's program is based on defense of the Canadian capitalist state, and on the nationalist concept that "Canadian" interests should be defended against the interests of oppressed nationalities in Canada and the interests of all other countries. The NDP's program also includes its parliamentarism. To the proletarian means of mass struggle, it counterposes sole reliance on parliament and elections to change society.

Where NDP governments have taken office, they have expressed this program in life, administering the capitalist state for the ruling class. None of the reforms advocated in the NDP program go beyond the boundaries of the capitalist system; its aim is to make capitalism work better. The NDP program is fundamentally procapitalist or bourgeois. In this sense we can define the NDP as a bourgeois party.

This understanding enables us to predict and warn working people that an NDP government with this program will not serve their interests. But it is not a sufficient definition, because it does not explain what makes the NDP different from the other bourgeois parties. To do this, we must look at another criterion.

What sector of the population is it whose interests the NDP leadership reflects and defends? Like other social-democratic parties around the world, the NDP represents the interests of a certain layer of the labor movement – the union bureaucracy. This is a privileged and corrupted petty-bourgeois layer, whose positions depend on their role as mediators between capital and labor. Their privileges depend on the maintenance of capitalism, but at the same time they depend for their livelihood on the basic defensive organizations of the working class. They maintain the support of a conservatized part of the working class in imperialist countries who have picked up a few material privileges from capitalism. As Lenin said, "the bourgeoisie managed to bribe the workers and to create among them a wide stratum... which is not so wide after all when compared with the broad masses of the workers. This stratum is thoroughly imbued with bourgeois prejudices and pursues a definitely bourgeois reformist policy." (V.I. Lenin, British Labour and British Imperialism, p. 270)

This means that while the NDP's program is not basically different from that of other bourgeois parties (It is rather similar to the program of the Parti Quebecois for example.) the NDP functions as a tendency in the workers movement. This is decisive for us in our tactical approach to the NDP. The NDP presents itself as a party that represents the interests of working people. Its organizational base and political power is in the mass organizations of the labor movement, and in the fact that masses of workers believe that the NDP represents them and for that reason actively support it. This is quite different from the Liberal and Conservative parties, which receive the votes of many workers, but whose organizational base is the money and muscle of the ruling class itself, in the organizations and direct influence of the capitalist class.

In addition, the workers' belief that the NDP is their party is not simply an illusion. The NDP does rest organizationally on the workers movement, not the ruling class. The NDP is in fact the instrument through which an important sector of the working class became politically active and moved to build a party based on its mass organizations — a profoundly progressive process. It is the only party that has played this role.

In summary, defining the NDP as social democratic indicates that it is a party within the working class movement, with a procapitalist leadership and program reflecting the interests of the labor bureaucracy.

Why We Say "a Labor Party"

Some social-democratic parties function essentially as ideological tendencies within the workers movement, in competition with mass Communist parties and often with other workers parties with significant support. The NDP however is the sole mass workers party in English Canada, and it is structured and generally viewed as the party of the English Canadian trade union movement as a whole. This is the feature we point to when we say that the NDP is a "labor party."

The designation "labor party" describes a kind of party that is the single mass party of the labor movement of a country. It has developed in Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Canada — countries where a party of the trade unions emerged, dominating the political life of the working class. This kind of party differs from social-democratic parties in much of Europe that emerged and function as ideological tendencies in the workers movement.

A labor party has characteristic features: the tendency to be widely inclusive, representing within its ranks a very wide spectrum of the left-wing political opinions with the unions. Its organizational structure is loosened by direct trade union affiliation, and its program tends to be more open to question, especially in the formative period of such a party. As a party of the unions, it is often an easier field for revolutionaries to work in, where they can defend their rights in terms similar to the way they defend their right to be in a union. On the negative side, because a reformist labor party is the single mass working class party, it is a special obstacle for the revolutionary advance of the workers, special measures must be taken to deal with it.

Lenin described the British Labour Party as "a labor organization of four million members which is half trade union and half political party, and which is led by bourgeois leaders." He advocated that British Communists enter the party and work within it. The NDP is a pale reflection of the British Labour Party. But even so, its character as a labor party gives us a heightened responsibility and opportunity to participate in it. We have only one major reformist target to deal with, rather than a number of them.

The definition of the NDP as a social-democratic labor party sets out the fundamental contradiction of the NDP. Expressed in programmatic terms, this is the contradiction between the needs of the masses, which require revolutionary change, and pro-capitalist program of the party. Expressed sociologically, the contradiction is that while the NDP's membership, financial base and electoral support rest on the organized labor movement, its leadership is rooted in the petty-bourgeois bureaucracy sitting on top of the unions.

We see this contradiction being resolved through the emergence of a mass revolutionary party with strong roots in the labor movement, that can sweep aside the obstacle posed by the NDP. But such a party does not yet exist. We are only a tiny propaganda group striving to increase our forces and influence. So we intervene in the NDP, a tactic to help advance our aim of clearing the NDP out of the way. As the report by Gary Porter at the last plenum stated, the starting point of our orientation and of all our tactics is fundamental opposition to the NDP.

Our Long-Standing Position

This basic approach is not new; it is part of the heritage of our movement. This conception of the political role of social-democratic parties is the common programmatic heritage of the Fourth International, and of the Communist International of Lenin and Trotsky — part of the program the Canadian Section was founded on and built on. Here is how it is spelled out in the 1946 Political Resolution of the Revolutionary Workers Party, Canadian section of the Fourth International. After speculating whether the CCF would increase its strength and develop into a labor party, the document states:

"15. Our basic strategy towards the CCF is determined by our fundamental programmatic position. This strategy can only be one of irreconcilable warfare against the CCF. The CCF must be regarded as a dangerous rival to the revolutionary party. Its influence in the labor movement must (be broken) and its working class following won over to the revolutionary party. In essence our strategy towards the reformist CCF does not differ from our strategy to the Stalinist LPP, which likewise is basically reformist although its privileges derive primarily from the Soviet bureaucracy rather than the trade union and parliamentary bureaucracy at home as is the case with the CCF. We repeat: unless the revolutionary Marxist party triumphs over reformism and Stalinism in the working class movement, not only is the victory of the proletarian revolution excluded but the advent of fascism and a third world war is inevitable,

"How shall the revolutionary party triumph over reformism? This is a question of tactics flowing from our basic strategical line. These tactics are determined by the objective conditions of the class struggle, the relationship of forces between the revolutionary and reformist parties, by the internal situation in the reformist party."

The document then goes on to consider the tactics the party can use in relation to the CCF.

That basic long-range goal: clearing the CCF/NDP out of the way of building the revolutionary party, is the same today as it was in 1946. But we have to develop tactical tools to do the job. And since the job of removing the NDP from the road is far from over, we will continue to use such tools in the future. We have an orientation to the NDP, a special approach to it, that includes all the tactics employed in our work.

In order to gain the widest possible hearing for our ideas, and in order to give expression to the progressive significance of the NDP as a party of the workers movement in opposition to the traditional bourgeois parties, we put our criticisms of the NDP's program in the context of support for the NDP against the capitalist parties.

In this period, we consistently give critical support to the New Democratic Party in elections. We support the party, as a labor party, against its bourgeois opponents. We criticize the leadership and program of the party from a revolutionary-socialist point of view, and point out its inadequacy as an instrument to achieve socialism. But it would be a mistake to try to sum up our whole orientation to the NDP, our overall approach and all the different tactics we use, under the general heading of "critical support". You can see the difficulty when you consider that in the United States, the Socialist Workers Party often gives critical support to candidates of the Communist Party. In this case, critical support is given around a specific election for a specific purpose. But in the case of the NDP, it is an ongoing tactic for a whole period. Furthermore, the SWP does not do fraction work in the CPUSA. The SWP doesn't tell workers to join it. The SWP doesn't tell them to fight inside it for a class-struggle course. The SWP tells workers in the CP to get out —to leave the CP and join the Trotskyist party instead.

Five Areas of Tactics

Let's look at five areas of tactics that we use in the NDP. This doesn't claim to be a complete list, but it covers a number of the central points.

1. United Front Policy. We press the NDP to join in and help initiate broad actions on different questions. Of course we as an organization are not in a position to demand that the NDP join with us in common action, as the Communists did to the Social Democrats in the 1920's. But we are sometimes able to force the NDP or sections of it into broader united front actions in which we also participate. When we put demands on the capitalists and their government, we call on the NDP leaders to take up these demands. We want them to leave their hallowed parliamentary chambers and mobilize the masses in action. Posed in this way, our program takes on greater attractiveness.

Often we gain wide NDP support for campaigns in which we play a leading role. And often our united front initiatives succeed in drawing important sections of the NDP into actions that have great positive results for the class struggle as a whole. Two good examples of this are the abortion campaign and the movement against the war in Vietnam.

2. For NDP governments. We call for NDP governments in Ottawa and the provinces, except Quebec. We demand that NDP governments implement socialist policies. We call on the NDP leadership to break from its pro-capitalist policies, and lead the struggle for a government of the workers, a government independent of the bourgeoisie.

This is the application in English Canada of the point in the transitional program that reads: "Of all parties and organizations which base themselves on the workers and peasants and speak in their name we demand that they break politically from the bourgeoisie and enter upon the road of struggle for the workers' and farmers' government. On this road we promise them full support against capitalist reaction. At the same time, we indefatigably develop agitation around those transitional demands which should in our opinion form the program of the workers' and farmers' government." (The Transitional Program for Socialist Revolution, L. Trotsky, p. 94)

Thus, we are calling on the present leadership of the working class to break from the bourgeoisie and fight for power. We concretize this in many ways. We called on the federal NDP to break from its tactic coalition with Trudeau and fight for an NDP government. We call on the NDP to campaign for office on a program of socialist demands. We call on NDP governments to legislate in the interests of working people. We urge the NDP to support and lead mass actions of workers and their allies.

We will not support any form of class collaborationism, like the NDP setting up a bourgeois government or entering one, or forming a parliamentary bloc with one.

Another Canadian application of the workers and farmers government slogan is our call for NDP governments in the provinces, and for workers governments in the municipalities. We do not project that a workers government in British Columbia or in the city of Vancouver can break free of the framework of the bourgeois state. Nonetheless, we call for such governments to legislate and fight in working people's interests, and to help drive ahead the struggle for a workers and farmers government of Canada. We demand that the NDP enter municipal elections, and fight for an NDP city government. We demand that the NDP city or provincial governments mobilize and lead working people in the struggle for state power, the only way the problems will be solved.

3. Electoral Policy. We give critical support to NDP candidates in elections, and we call on working people to join and build the NDP campaigns. This applies to all federal elections and to all provincial elections in English Canada in this period. This tactic draws a class line in the elections between the mass party that organizationally at least is based on the working class and the parties of the bourgeoisie. It also helps us get a hearing among the ranks and supporters of the NDP for our program, and for our criticisms of the NDP.

In the context of electoral support. we sometimes run our own candidates in a few ridings also contested by the NDP, but where our running cannot affect the outcome of the election for the NDP. Sometimes we ask the NDP to leave a riding open for us — we did this when we ran against the Tory George Hees in Broadview in 1958, and when we ran against Liberal External Affairs minister Mitchell Sharp in Eglinton in 1974. This helped us pose our independent campaign in a way more understandable to NDP supporters.

4. Work inside the NDP. In general, we aim to intervene in the life of the NDP through a combination of public education on questions before the NDP and fraction work within the NDP. The balance of these two elements varies greatly depending on the situation inside the NDP, the opportunities outside. and the strength and size of our own movement. Our fraction work in the NDP today is more limited than a couple of years ago when the opportunities were greater, especially in Ontario. Our comrades in the NDP participate in the internal life of the party, gaining respect as activists committed to building the party and taking part in the NDP's internal debates. We aim to build a mass class-struggle left wing within the party. We participate in caucuses or left formations inside the party, and sometimes initiate them.

This fraction work complements the use of our press and public organization to address the debates in the NDP and pose the alternative of a revolutionary party. Fraction work is an aspect of our overall intervention.

In certain circumstances, an entry into the NDP is called for. This means giving up a public Trotskyist organization and sometimes the independent Trotskyist press for a period in order to concentrate all our forces on developments inside the labor party. This is a difficult tactic, because we temporarily give up propagandistic tools essential to our work in the long run. It should be used with great caution — and generally with a short-run perspective. We must be alert to the possibility that an entry may be necessary at a future stage of the NDP's development.

5. Building the New Democratic Party as a labor party. Even in English Canada, the NDP still gains the support of only a minority of unionized workers. Its labor base is weak. For the most part, it does not even participate in civic elections. We work to strengthen the NDP's base among working people. We are partisans of the NDP against the traditional parties of the bourgeoisie. We want working people to join the NDP and become active in it and fight for a socialist course. We urge unions to affiliate to the NDP, and to open discussions of the NDP's program. This helps us raise political issues inside the unions, as well as to strengthen the working class composition of the NDP.

The use of these and other tactics in relation to the NDP is varied and flexible. The art of revolutionary politics is making use of the right tactic at the right time.

The Framework for Tactics

Let's take one last look at the five areas of tactics I just discussed. You can see that the first three areas I mentioned — our united front policy, calling for an NDP government, and giving critical support to NDP candidates in elections — these tactics might apply to any mass working class party in any country. For example, in France, we can call for united fronts embracing the mass reformist Socialist party and Communist party; we can call for an SP-CP government; we can call for a vote for SP or CP candidates. None of these tactics are obligatory all the time, but they must all be considered. But we do not do consistent fraction work within the French Communist Party. We do not call for its members to build a "class struggle tendency" within it. We don't tell workers to join the Communist Party, or to build it in any sense. We argue that the program, leadership and counter-revolutionary character of the Communist party is a finished product. We tell workers to leave the CP and to join our party. The same general policy holds true at this time for the French Socialist party.

Yet we use these tactics in the NDP. This is not because the French SP and CP are qualitatively more reformist or more rightwing than the NDP. In qualitative terms they are similar mass reformist parties with a working class composition. In fact we have even carried out entries into the French SP and CP in earlier periods, when they were not basically different from what they are today and would not exclude this today.

Our tactical approaches to the New Democratic Party are generally hung on our position of support of the NDP against the bourgeois parties. We aim to go through the experience of the NDP with the working class, to participate in the struggle within the NDP and the trade unions against the NDP's right-wing leadership and to lead this struggle. We judge that there is great progressive significance at this stage in workers and their mass organizations joining the NDP and strengthening its still-weak labor base, and urge workers to join the struggle for a socialist course inside the NDP against the NDP leadership.

We explain to workers that the NDP is not an adequate instrument to achieve a socialist Canada, and that it is necessary to build a revolutionary party. But we recognize that they are not going to learn this lesson just by listening to us. The key factor will be the combination of our educational work with the experiences they have with the NDP and its leadership. We do not tell workers that the NDP's leadership and program is a finished product. We challenge them to fight to change that leadership and program. Intervening in the struggle inside the NDP in this way is the best way to break workers' illusions about the NDP and win them to the program of the Fourth International, to the process of building a revolutionary party.

But to use these tactics creatively, it is essential to bear in mind their framework. At the Oberlin classes in August 1974, we described the four basic principles of NDP work:

  1. Support to independent working class political action. Developing the consciousness and confidence of the masses in their independent power.
  2. Opposition to all forms of class collaborationism —from popular front alliances to bourgeois NDP governments.
  3. No support to the program of the reformists. Putting forward the alternative revolutionary program.
  4. Our basic strategy — building the revolutionary party.

The Dowsonites' Challenge to Our Orientation

I'll now turn to a challenge to our orientation to the NDP posed by the current led by Ross Dowson, now organized as the Socialist League. We have faced a problem here, because this current split from our ranks before we were able to force it to participate in a discussion on our NDP policy.

This current originated in the 1972-73 internal discussion as the United Tendency (UT), the grouping of the LSA-LSO members who agreed with Dowson's view that Canadian nationalism is progressive. The UT declared itself dissolved after its defeat at the April 1973 convention, but six months later it reconstituted itself as the "Labor Party Tendency" (LPT). In January 1974, the LPT submitted a document, "The Subversion of our NDP Orientation," (IIB, vol. 2, no. 3, Jan. 1974) but it was limited to scattered criticisms of LSA/LSO policies, and did not aim to present an alternative line. Before this document could be discussed, the LPT fell apart, with Dowson leading a number of its members in a split from the Fourth International, founding the Socialist League.

The supporters of the LPT still in the Canadian section reconstituted themselves as the Transitional Program Tendency. They submitted the document "Submission on the NDP" to our Internal Information Bulletin (IIB, vol. 2 no. 7, June 1974), and at about the same time the Socialist League published a slightly different version of the same document in pamphlet form ("Against Sectarianism," by W. Shier, A. Levi and J. Jennings.) Once again almost all the TPT's members left the section before their document could be discussed.

So we had two tendencies in such a hurry to leave the Fourth International that they couldn't even wait for a Central Committee plenum to consider their views. It's too bad. They might have learned from the discussion, and we could have all educated ourselves from a good internal debate. Since both the LPT and most of the TPT have walked out, we're under no obligation to discuss their documents. Nor is this necessary. But there are a few points in the TPT document that we should take up now. They point out the crucial theoretical errors of the Socialist League, errors that led them to abandon the Marxist position on the NDP and take up the role of apologists for the NDP leadership. Each point I'll mention in the TPT document is also found in the Socialist League edition of it — the wording is a little different but the political line is identical. So in each case the TPT document represents the line of the Socialist League.

The TPT document begins by rejecting the use of the term "social democratic" to characterize the NDP, or its leadership and program. "In fact," the TPT says, "not even a significant layer of the leadership is social-democratic in the classical sense of repudiating certain key Marxist beliefs while attempting to remain in a Marxian tradition. Their ideology does not even reach the levels of Kautsky or Bernstein having never even dealt with, let alone repudiated, Marx. Saintly socialists like Salem Bland and J. S. Woodsworth have been enough for them. Their reformism is liberal and opportunist rather than hardened and social-democratic." (p.3)

We dealt with this question earlier. If you use the TPT's so-called classical definition of social democracy, you would have trouble finding a social democrat in the world. I don't think Olaf Palme, Willy Brandt, Golda Meir, Harold Wilson or Francois Mitterand claim to "remain in a Marxian tradition." Someone should send the Socialist League a copy of the Frankfurt declaration of the Social-Democratic Second International.

We define a social-democratic party as one that bases its program on the interests of the labor bureaucracy and on their loyalty to capitalism and the capitalist state. In this sense, the term "social democratic" tells us a great deal about the NDP, and is crucial to understanding the party.

What does the TPT mean when it says the NDP leadership's program is "opportunist" rather than "hardened" "liberal" rather than "social-democratic"? It's what you might say about the leadership of a newly-formed women's liberation group, of the naive leaders of a student association. It suggests that the NDP leaders are pragmatic and well-meaning but ignorant "saintly socialists." The term "social democratic" points to their hardened character, fixed on a rigidly pro-capitalist course aimed at defending their privileges and power.

No Role for Reformism?

The Socialist League goes on from here to postulate that since the NDP represents only a minority of the working class, and the majority of workers supporting the capitalist parties, the NDP therefore cannot betray the workers' immediate interests. The TPT document explains;

"Relative to the class as a whole, it would be inaccurate to see the NDP or even the NDP leadership as the major purveyors of reformism to the class. The proletariat is sufficiently weak and the bourgeoisie sufficiently strong to need no conveyor belt. They can send it on directly through their educational system and the mass media without having to rely on social-democratic translators or priests. It is precisely in this context, of the relative backwardness of the class, that the NDP as a whole represents a step forward. The NDP, reflecting the illusions as well as the aspirations of advancing workers, has not yet betrayed the consciousness of the class. In fact it is yet to be confronted by this consciousness, in any sustained or direct way, on any issue, let alone betrayal." (p. 3.)

We have a different concept of the role of the labor leadership, and of the NDP leadership.

According to the Socialist League Canadian workers are so benighted that the world crisis of working class leadership has not yet become a factor here. We're still at the stage when the bourgeoisie does not need the assistance of its lieutenants in the labor movement, a stage that ended in other imperialist countries before the beginning of this century!

Needless to say, we have a different concept of the role of the labor and NDP leaders. Why haven't Canadian workers gone further? Why are a majority of them not yet even convinced that they need a party of their own? Haven't they had enough experience by this time to show them this? Of course, the recent relative prosperity of Canadian capitalism and other historical factors play a role. But the key factor is the labor bureaucracy, consistently holding back every struggle, misleading and miseducating the working class. While it is true that the ruling class is the origin of reformist illusions and faith in the capitalist system, the labor bureaucracy plays a necessary role in carrying these illusions to the best organized and most conscious workers. Thus they also bear responsibility for the fact that the NDP remains a minority party federally, and has little presence in Quebec.

You might think that if the Socialist League had any doubts that the NDP is a "purveyor of reformism," the role of the NDP governments would convince them. But it's here that the TPT document makes a further astonishing error. We had a debate with Ross Dowson on this question at the January 1974 plenum, and comrades should re-read Art Young's contribution on NDP governments IIB, vol. 2 no. 5). But the TPT document is much more clear on this than Dowson in January.

What Class Does Barrett Serve?

The document argues against terming the NDP governments "bourgeois governments."

"It is also crucial that we realize that something important happens with the election of a labour majority in parliament. It is an important consistency with our established call for the election of the labour party to describe such a government as a labour government, to support it and to call for it to struggle against the state ... .

"As dialecticians we understand the interpenetration of opposites, but where is the evidence of qualitative change that would suppose the election of a labour party would transform it into a bourgeois government? How does the election of the Labour party, which we called for, turn it into an instrument (rather than the victim) of bourgeois rule, one day after the workers have elected it? It is like saying that a trade union becomes transformed as an institution the moment a strike is over and it signs a contract; because it has agreed to adhere to and participate in the administration of the contract ... .

"With the victory of a labour party, in the parliamentary arena, the social contradiction is no longer between the ruling class as represented by the state-government versus the workers. It changes to that of the workers and their elected representatives versus the state, a much more naked and politically sophisticating experience." (p. 10)

Note that for the Socialist League, joining a cabinet to administer the bourgeoisie's state is the same thing as a union signing a contract to firm up the gains won from the bosses through struggle. For us, one is the essence of class collaboration, the other is an expression of the ongoing class struggle.

Note that for the Socialist League, forming a government to administer the capitalist state is a way of defending the workers' interests, just like signing a union contract. Note also that they make no distinction between the class character of the NDP as a party and its leadership, asking how the "election of a labour party would transform it into a bourgeois government." Unfortunately it's not the party that constitutes the government, it's the cabinet members — the party leadership!

Note also that the Socialist League is not talking about the theoretical possibility of the NDP coming to office in exceptional circumstances, and under pressure from a mass mobilization of workers, such that it began to act independently of the ruling class and to institute some anti-capitalist measures. That's a hypothetical possibility, but not a likely one. Nor are they talking about the demand that the NDP break from the bourgeoisie and rule in the interests of the working people. No, they are talking about the present NDP provincial governments, of Schreyer, Blakeney and Barrett!

These governments don't bear any relationship to workers and farmers governments. They are not "labor" governments in any sense. They don't have any capacity or tendency to take decisive action against capitalist property. Politically, they are controlled by the bourgeoisie. They rule on behalf of the bourgeoisie, to defend bourgeois property — and are therefore bourgeois governments. They are administering the capitalist state for the ruling class.

The class contradiction is not between the bourgeoisie and the Barrett government, but between the Barrett government and the state, on one side, and the party ranks and trade unions that thrust it into office, on the other.

How can we call for an NDP government and then oppose it when it is elected, the TPT document asks. Masses of workers want to oust the bourgeois parties from the government, and replace them in government by the party that rests on the workers mass organizations. That is a progressive notion, and we can support it, and join with the workers in fighting to win an NDP government. But we do not support or identify with the illusions of the workers that the NDP leadership and program will serve their interests. We accompany our call for an NDP government with a sharp warning that such a government, led by the Barretts and Schreyers, on their pro-capitalist program, will serve big business, not the workers. In the words of the transitional program, we call for the NDP leadership to "break from the bourgeoisie, set out on the road of the workers and farmers government." When the NDP leadership takes office, when they set up a bourgeois government with a pro-capitalist policy, that's a betrayal, and we're not giving them any support in that. They have carried out an act of class collaboration, and as Cannon said, we stop short of that experience. We're not about to tell the working class to take poison, or for that matter, to take it ourselves to prove that it is no good.

Each of these errors is a clear break from Marxist principle, an explicit repudiation of what Marxists have been explaining about reformist workers parties since 1914 and earlier.

On many other points, the errors of the TPT document might seem to be terminological. A closer look at how the TPT defends these formulations shows that even here, the danger of fundamental error is plain to see.

The TPT document says; "Certain terms come together to spell out their own logic. The NDP as a Bourgeois Party, Tactical Orientation, Critical Support, these spell sectarianism. Labour Party, Unconditional Support, Strategic Orientation are also intimately tied together — they spell out the necessary way forward for revolutionaries." (p. 6,)

We discussed at our last plenum what is wrong about the term "unconditional support," and why it is wrong to use this formula to sum up our attitude to the NDP, (See the report by Gary Porter, p. 18, IDB vol. 2, no.4) Let's look at a couple of other formulas.

The Importance of Tactics

The Socialist League believes that calling our orientation to the NDP a "strategy" rather than a "tactic" is essential if we are to avoid sectarianism. What kind of distinction are they trying to make here? They never define what they mean by "strategy." The word is often used loosely to describe the framework for an action, even if the framework is short-lived "The NDP's election strategy was to hammer at the issue of corporate tax ripoffs." There's nothing much wrong with that.

But we usually use the word "strategy" in a more scientific sense, to describe the general way we see our objectives, to describe our main line of march, our basic direction. That's why we talk of a strategy of party-building to achieve the goal of establishing workers power.

By insisting that an orientation to the NDP must be termed a strategy, the Socialist League opens the door to serious error. If they view strategy in the same sense as we do, are they saying that for a whole period the NDP "strategy" will be the road to party-building, independent of any twists and turns in the class struggle? This could lead to a dangerous schema blinding you to developments outside the NDP. It could lead you to start subordinating considerations of principle and program to the "strategic" need to work inside the NDP.

The TPT document's deprecation of tactics is very disturbing. Over and over again, they describe "tactics" as less important work. For example, they say, "reducing our NDP orientation to a tactic places it on the same level as an approach to Catholic organizations. It would also indicate that we no longer saw the NDP as THE political arena of the radicalization. How else can we permit ourselves such a paltry relationship as depicted by the normal Leninist use of the word tactics." (p. 4.)

Paltry and insignificant — like the October insurrection or 1917, a mere affair of tactics.

We can only reply that tactics are important tools. They are what enable the revolutionary party to grow and develop. Our orientation to the NDP falls in the realm of tactics because it is determined by factors that are conjunctural, that can change: the NDP's strength and labor base, our numerical weakness, the general shape of the class struggle. We don't foresee these factors changing for some time. It's a long range tactic, and it is central to party-building in this period. But it's still in the realm of tactics, within the Leninist strategy of party-building. There's nothing paltry about that.

To call the NDP the political expression of the working class and the focus of our politics — at first glance, this is nothing more than a sloppy formulation that tries to point to an important truth. But in the hands of the Dowsonites, such formulas begin to spell out an incorrect schema.

The TPT document says the NDP is "THE political arena of the radicalization." (p. 4.) It says "If the NDP is a labour party, then logically it would be the arena where the context for the leadership of the class will take place." ( p. 3) Again, it says: "Because we see the NDP exercising political and organization hegemony over the class for a considerable time, and because we see it as the main vehicle of the rising class consciousness for the whole next period, with various components of the radicalization coming under its umbrella, we have a strategic orientation to the development of mass left wings in its ranks." What we see here are the errors of schematic thinking. The TPT document sees the whole radicalization necessarily unfolding within the NDP or under its "umbrella." Such thinking would have blinded us to the real development of the youth radicalization in the 1960's.

This kind of schema leads to false tactical conclusions. The Revolutionary Communist Tendency in our movement, for example, postulated that the main radicalization of the working class would take place in the trade unions, outside the NDP. Their conclusion was that NDP work was peripheral, that they should concentrate on building caucuses of revolutionists in the NDP and then pull out. The method is the same as that of the TPT: basing today's tactics on speculation on the future course of the class struggle.

Many variants are possible. Workers may flood into the NDP. Or the main class battles may stay on the industrial level. Or a radicalization outside the industrial working class may be reflected in left-wing groupings in the NDP. We are prepared to use a variety of tactics to intervene in the class struggle wherever the action is. We have to be flexible, to move adroitly and quickly into new developments in and around the labor party.

But one thing is certain. In the process of radicalizing, the working class will come up against the political obstacle posed by the NDP, by its reformist leadership and program. Our strategy is to build an alternative program and leadership, and to lead the working class in clearing that obstacle out of the way. All our tactics are directed to that objective.

The same kind of problem exists with the slogan "Win the NDP to Socialism," which the TPT claims "tersely describe(s) the necessities of our direction in the NDP." and attempts to formulate "the overall strategic imperatives of the class." (p. 7)

"Strategic imperatives" aside, what is the problem with this slogan? The problem is that it could be misleading. It could be taken to mean that we think the NDP can be transformed into an instrument to achieve socialism. Perhaps the author of the TPT document realized this, for we read that "'Win the NDP to Socialism' ... abbreviates our greater slogan 'For a Class Struggle Programme and a Socialist Perspective.'" Clarity would be served by using the "greater slogan," instead of the ambiguous "abbreviation."

I think the problem is trying to sum up our orientation or work in the NDP in a single abbreviated slogan. Of course, we want to say that we have an aim in building a class-struggle wing in the NDP, that we aim to win our fight in the NDP. You can't very well build a caucus in the NDP around the slogan "Smash the NDP," or "Fight for Socialist Policies Even Though The NDP is Washed Up." The class struggle caucuses we build should aim to win socialist policies, to change the program of the NDP, to oust the right-wing leadership.

The TPT document also makes a serious error on the question of building the revolutionary party. They say that we are the nucleus of a future revolutionary party, but only in that we "are the only embodiment" of the revolutionary program. Left out of their definition of nucleus is the question of cadre. We're more than just a program, we are also an accumulation of cadres, trained in revolutionary politics. They also leave out our world movement, the Fourth International.

The Dowson group extended that error when they split. They justified their split from the Canadian section saying we were only one component of the future revolutionary party. They claimed to favor "a" Fourth International, but do not support the one that exists. We are not the nucleus of the party, they say but are only a potential component like the Socialist League, forces in the Waffle, and heaven knows who else.

I refer comrades to the 1970 Organizational resolution of the LSA/LSO that spells out our long-standing view:

"Is the LSA/LSO the revolutionary party? Certainly it is not a party in the commonly understood sense of presenting itself before the masses as a contestant for political power against all other political forces. In this arena, today, it is a supporter and partisan of the New Democratic Party. Nor is it the revolutionary party as it must be, the party that is required, capable of leading the masses to power. It remains a propaganda group, and a relatively small one at that.

"What then distinguishes the LSA/LSO from other groupings now in competition with Trotskyism, or yet to appear? Is Trotskyism merely one tendency among many, which together or in various combinations, will make their contribution to the building of a vanguard party?

"In so far as we are the only force that carries the program of the proletarian revolution in this country, separate and apart from and in contest with all other formations, we are a party — the party of the Canadian socialist revolution. As for our forces, however much they may fall short in quantity or quality of what we regard as necessary, as historically required, they must be measured by their revolutionary dynamic. They are the possessors of the program of the proletarian revolution; they are the heirs of the revolutionary struggles of the past, and they are the continuators of that struggle today. Our growing forces represent the revolutionary party as it exists today. They are what conscious revolutionaries have been able to assemble and educate through immeasurable efforts over the past decades. Many component forces must be brought together to build the revolutionary party. But the LSA /LSO is the indispensable foundation on which it must be built."

That was the concept rejected by the Dowson group.

They have no such confidence in the LSA/LSO, and they have no such confidence in themselves either.

We are the nucleus of a party, in the Leninist sense of the term. We don't have any qualms about saying that. But we are not a party in the sense the word is used by the NDP and the public at large. We do not contest against the NDP for political power or for the allegiance of the masses of workers. Rather the political party we support and join is the NDP. That's why it's inaccurate and misleading for us to call ourselves a party.

Many other questions are raised by the TPT document. I've dealt only with a few of the more important ones. But before moving on, we should note the error of method that runs through the TPT document. They draw their conclusions about the NDP and their NDP policy on the basis of an estimation of the present consciousness of the masses and the present relationship of political forces. The objective needs of the masses may be mentioned, but do not figure in their thinking. The same is true for the basic principles of Marxism. We saw the same kind of error in the Dowsonite position supporting Canadian nationalism, and discussed it in that debate. You can call it a subjectivist error. It runs counter to the basic method of the transitional program.

Ross Dowson's 1970 Contribution

The TPT document concludes with an appeal to the traditions of the Canadian section. "Thirty-two years of application of this (transitional) method to the Canadian class struggle are summed up in our NDP orientation as developed in the 1970 LSA document and explained here." What are we to make of this? It's clear the TPT document — the present Dowsonite position — is a complete break with the basic positions defended by Canadian Trotskyists over the years. But are they correct in saying they stand on the line of the "1970 LSA document?"

The document they refer to is "Our Orientation to the New Democratic Party — as a Strategy and its Tactical Application." It was written by Ross Dowson in 1970, and the Political Committee adopted its line, intending to submit it for a vote at the 1970 convention. However before the convention took place the leadership reconsidered its course, and decided not to submit it for a vote at the convention. This was because the bulk of the document is a history of the Canadian section's work on the labor party question over the decades. We don't vote on questions of historical interpretation and the document was a historical study, not a line resolution.

As a history, the document presents a record of our work in relation to the CCF-NDP, as Ross Dowson saw it in 1970. I personally question some of the historical points Dowson raised, and find many of his facts incomplete. Leading comrades who experienced the events he describes often remember them differently. It's all good raw material for some much needed historical work.

But today the TPT and the Dowson group make quite a noise about this document, saying it sums up our orientation to the NDP, and the positions of Trotskyism on the NDP question. Read the 1970 Dowson document and you find it does nothing of the sort. To start with, our basic principled position on reformist labor parties, outlined for example in the 1946 document I quoted from, are missing from the document. Our orientation to the NDP is not defined, and not explained in clear terms. The NDP itself is not scientifically defined.

To say that a document like this describes our fundamental orientation, as the Dowson group does today, is to make a basic error of method. It amounts to saying that we can deduce our position on the NDP from descriptions of the consciousness of the masses, without considering their objective needs, or the principle Marxists have developed to analyze reformist workers parties.

Many of the terminological problems of the TPT document are also present in the 1970 document by Dowson. "Unconditional support", "intensive fraction work with a non-split perspective," "both an opening to and a barrier against," "both on the road and athwart the road," " win the NDP to socialism" all these formulations are used in the document in a journalistic way, with no explanation of their meaning. While stating that the NDP cannot be reformed to serve the revolution and is a reformist party, the document does not say whether or not it can be termed social-democratic.

There are also sentences that seem to point to the schema the Socialist League developed on the NDP. For example: "Our orientation to the NDP, to the labor party, is an orientation to the working class in its process of developing political class consciousness." The document contains the error we analyzed in January on "unconditional support." But most of the faulty formulations are not clearly wrong, but rather confused and ambiguous.

Dowson's major error was not in writing the 1970 document, but in later taking its weak points and building on them, taking its ambiguities and resolving them in the direction of major errors. It's in this sense that you could say that the 1970 document opened the door to the Dowsonites' present adaptation to social democracy.

But overall, there isn't much for us in the 1970 Dowson document. It doesn't present our basic policy through the years on the CCF and the NDP. Nor does it present the current revisionist line of the Dowsonites. It neither proves nor disproves Dowson's claim that we've "changed the line" of the Canadian section on the NDP.

What do we make of this claim? We've done a lot of work on our NDP policy in the last two years. We've corrected some formulations, corrected the weakness of our education on basic principles and strengthened our tactics on some points. All that is right in the tradition of the Canadian section. Applying your line means learning from experience and correcting errors: when you can't do this, you've become a barren sect without prospects.

The Dowson forces claim that they represent the continuity of "Canadian Trotskyism" on the labor party question. But earlier I quoted from a document on the labor party, from our history, that presents a position totally and fundamentally different from the line and method of the Dowson group today. There is no lack of other documents and articles that reveal the same contrast.

To supplement the documents, there is our record: 30 years experience in active intervention in the social-democratic labor party, most of them hard years for Canadian Trotskyists. We did not liquidate: we fought liquidationism and conciliationism towards social-democracy again and again, in internal struggles and against our opponents. Whatever weaknesses our line may have had, it was sufficiently strong and firmly based on Trotskyist principle, to enable us to assemble and educate the cadres that defended the Canadian section against the splitters in 1972-74. The break, the change in line, is the enormous gulf between the Socialist League and the traditional views and activities of the Canadian section on the labor party.

Our Experience with the Waffle Grouping

In arming ourselves for our next big openings in the NDP, we must also learn the lessons of some tactical errors we made during the upsurge of the "Waffle" caucus in the NDP.

The "Waffle" caucus was a left wing grouping in the NDP that arose in 1969 around the document "For an Independent Socialist Canada." It was launched independently of us, and we had some trouble getting into it and working with its leaders. They had all kinds of illusions about their ability to win the NDP to their program, and about Canadian nationalism. But they were figures of some authority. They rapidly won big support in the NDP, and were soon leading a very formidable caucus with hundreds of active supporters across the country.

So our work in the Waffle at that stage had to have a clear emphasis: to get integrated into this formation. We joined it, built it, defended it against the party brass, and made constructive proposals to help carry the fight against the rightwing in the most effective way. We downplayed our criticisms of the Waffle leadership's shortcomings and errors.

Now it is often necessary to weight our intervention in a left formation in this way — to emphasize our support, to emphasize building it. We often put less emphasis on our criticisms for a period in order to encourage a movement to go forward, and to get integrated into it.

The leaders and the militants of the Waffle were generally still reformists in their outlook, left social-democrats. But as the struggle developed, it taught them some lessons about the NDP and about social democracy. Within a couple of years a significant number were looking beyond the NDP, concluding that the NDP was bankrupt as a vehicle for socialism — that you could not "win the NDP to socialism" and that a different kind of party was needed. We had to shift the weight of our intervention in tune with this evolution, giving heavy weight to our fundamental positions on the NDP, our basic opposition to every form of reformism and social democracy, and the errors of the reformist and nationalist line of the Waffle leadership. We had to present our organization more forcefully and explain who we are. That's just good tactical sense. Ultimately we had to make an adjustment. For example, the speech by Ross Dowson that is re-printed in the pamphlet: "The NDP, the Marxist View." In that speech, "Trotskyism and the NDP," he explained that the NDP is not adequate for socialism, why you have to build a revolutionary party, and how we've set about that task. But that came late in the day, in May 1971, only weeks before the Ontario Waffle's exit from the NDP. And we won almost nothing from the Ontario Waffle experience.

Much more can be said on this experience. We learned a good deal from the errors of our Waffle intervention. The political problems have been largely eliminated. That's a tribute to the strength and health of this movement.

But the clearest way to show we have overcome these problems is to look at our work today, in the British Columbia NDP. Here, our comrades are building the left-wing opposition to the Barrett leadership, particularly around the Vancouver Area Council of the NDP, and the NDP's Standing Committee on Women's Rights. But we are also consistently raising our criticisms of the program and the half-measures of the left reformists leading these formations. And we're stepping up work to present the program of the LSA.

The Vancouver comrades did this well around the municipal election in December 1973. On the one hand they pushed the Vancouver Area Council (VAC) to run a full NDP slate, and encouraged and built the NDP campaign, which was led by left forces in the party. At the same time we presented an effective program for the NDP slate, to the Vancouver Area Council, counterposed to the reformist program of the VAC leadership. Then we topped off by running our own candidates in the elections, while giving critical support to the NDP candidates. So we combined NDP fraction work, building the left, raising criticisms of both Barrett and the left reformists, and presenting and building our own organization. We balanced these elements according to the needs of the situation at that time. It contrasts with the inflexible one-sided intervention we made into the Waffle.

In the future we have to pay more attention to balancing these various elements in different situations, to maneuvering in the NDP. Our line on the NDP is not limited to criticisms of its reformist program, although that is part of our task. We also challenge the NDP to adopt class-struggle policies, and we enter into the struggle to achieve these goals. We're not just out to convince people that the NDP leadership and program are rotten, but also to strengthen the NDP's program as far as possible, and push as best we can to force the party to carry out some actions that advance the class struggle.

We have no intention of being sideline critics of the NDP. We don't think we will build a mass revolutionary party by one-to-one recruitment of those convinced by our regular educational work. We see the NDP as an arena where we maneuver, seize openings, eliminate opponents, fuse with leftward-moving forces. We have to be flexible with our tactics, ready to change gears and move in on new openings quickly.

This is the principled, non-sectarian framework for developing our intervention into the New Democratic Party.

Copyright South Branch Publishing. All Rights Reserved.
www.socialisthistory.ca  ▪