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Rethinking the ‘NDP Orientation,’ 1973-1975
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Revolutionists and the NDP (1973)

Part of a resolution adopted by the LSA/LSO in April 1973. First published in Labor Challenge, July 23, 1973, and then in the pamphlet The NDP - The Marxist View in December 1973. The italicized introduction is from the pamphlet.

The following are excerpts from the Political Resolution adopted by the April 1973 convention of the League for Socialist Action/ Ligue Socialiste Ouvriere, Canadian section of the Fourth International.

The following section encompasses a description of the LSA/ LSO's orientation to the New Democratic Party, a capsule analysis of the recent experience with the "Waffle" left in the NDP, and a projection of the overall tasks for revolutionary socialists in the NDP in the next period.

The last four years have seen a marked rise of class struggles across Canada, and the beginnings of a generalized radicalization of Canadian society.

The rising labor militancy noted in our 1968 Political Resolution has continued, recorded in the uneven but generally upward trend in the number of worker-days lost in strikes. It reached a new peak in the Quebec labor upheaval of April-May 1972. The resistance to date of the labor brass to wage control threats is a reflection in part of this pressure from the ranks. At the same time there has been an increase in internal conflicts in the unions, reflecting the growing restiveness in the ranks. Power struggles have shaken many important locals; in other areas struggles have taken the form of a search for a new organizational framework, as sometimes in attempts to promote Canadian union autonomy or outright breakaways from the international unions. These conflicts have not as a rule developed around the presentation of a class struggle or antibureaucratic program.

There has been a gradual though uneven deepening of the NDP's roots in the labor movement, particularly marked in some of the semi-"professional" or white-collar layers not encompassed by previous waves of union organization. A series of provincial and federal elections have produced a mixed pattern: the NDP holding its own (Ontario, federal elections) or making important gains (Manitoba, Saskatchewan, British Columbia).

Increasing labor militancy has not yet produced widespread politicization or radicalization in the trade unions. Even in Quebec the political ferment in the unions has touched only narrow layers. As yet the unions have not broken from the mould set in the previous period of radicalization, the wartime and postwar period, when Canada's great industrial unions were organized and consolidated — and along with them was consolidated a bureaucracy and a web of restrictive legislation to hold them in check.

However, the great struggles of Quebec labor have shown how the impact of the radicalization now underway, combined with the decreasing maneuverability of the ruling class, can break the unions out of this mould and launch them forward in campaigns of great dynamism and revolutionary potential.

Today's labor force is changing rapidly in composition, reflecting important changes in capitalist economy. As a result of the penetration of large-scale capitalist industry into agriculture, only a very small proportion of the Canadian population is now engaged in agricultural production — barely 5 percent, or one quarter fewer farming operations than 10 years ago. The vast majority of Canadians live in large cities.

There has been a large increase in the number of skilled and semi-skilled salaried workers in technical, administrative, service and educational fields — resulting from the massive re-integration of intellectual labor into the productive process under postwar capitalism, and the greatly increased intervention of the capitalist state in the economy. Many of these sectors are unorganized, or only recently organized. They are often lower paid than industrial workers organized during the previous radicalization. They represent generally better educated, and younger sectors of the work force. In British Columbia, for instance, of a labor force of just under one million, nearly 200,000 workers have some postsecondary education.

These are the fastest-growing sectors of the work force, and also those sectors where the labor movement is making the most rapid gains. There has been a considerable erosion in these layers of formerly entrenched "professional," i.e., anti-union and antiworking class, prejudices. Here too, Quebec, with its powerful array of "white collar" unions among those launching last spring's public workers' strike, is showing the Canadian labor movement the image of its future.

1. Capitalist ‘Rationalization’ and the Crisis of Labor Leadership

Plant closures, rising prices and taxes, high unemployment and threats of wage controls have created growing unease and ferment among workers. Yet the bureaucracy that controls the unions has proved unable to project a strategy to defend the trade unions or workers' living standards. Accepting capitalist "rationalization," the trade union brass have failed to mount a struggle against closures and layoffs. With few exceptions (Quebec, some locals in B.C.) they have done little to organize the unemployed or unorganized-especially those sectors where women, young workers, immigrants and national minorities are concentrated.

Under their leadership the rise in real wages has not kept pace with rising productivity, slowing in recent years almost to a standstill. The Canadian Labor Congress leadership's qualified support for an "incomes policy" lends credence to bourgeois advocates of wage freeze or controls.

In general, the trade union leadership has been slow to incorporate the needs and demands of women, youth, national minorities — the most exploited layers of the working class — into their contract demands, and have given at best verbal support to independent struggles of these layers. They have confined their struggles against legal restraints on the unions to the parliamentary plane, relying on electoralism through the NDP. They supported government trusteeship of the Seafarers' International Union, and parliamentary strike-breaking against the railroad workers, longshoremen, etc.

2. The New Democratic Party and the Crisis of Leadership

The labor bureaucracy is not incapable of far-reaching action to defend its social base. In English Canada it has been obliged to move out on the political plane in advance of its counterparts in affiliated international unions in the United States by setting up the New Democratic Party, a Social-Democratic labor party based on, largely financed by, and ultimately accountable to the trade unions.

The NDP is above all the product of the restricted margin of maneuver of the trade union bureaucracy in Canada relative to the United States. The greater tensions of class struggle, flowing from the narrower economic base of the Canadian bourgeoisie and the stiff competition Canadian industry faces from more powerful imperialist neighbors (in the first place the U.S.) required the trade union brass to manufacture an instrument which could pressure the bourgeoisie on the political level.

The New Democratic Party is a labor party, both in terms of its close and organic ties to the organized labor movement of English Canada, and because of its character as the sole political mass organization of the working class. The NDP is the present expression of the political class consciousness of the working class — the elemental understanding that parallel to the economic struggle of the trade unions, a political struggle must be conducted against the parties of the bosses. In this way the NDP poses to the class the need of replacing the government of the capitalists with a workers' government.

For workers in the first stages of developing class consciousness, the NDP is a pole of attraction, a political expression of their economic struggle. It introduces these workers to politics, even if only on the electoralist level, and takes questions of political program into the trade unions. In addition, the NDP has been a meeting place for diverse currents of left politics in Canada, where the new forces set in motion by the radicalization of recent years have been able to make contact with the realities of the politics of the labor movement.

No significant layer of the working class stands outside the NDP to its left. The influence of the Communist Party in the working class has been reduced nearly to zero largely because of the CP's consistent record of opposition to independent labor political action through the CCF and NDP. Despite significant internal battles of recent years, and the exit of the Waffle leadership, no significant layer of left militants in the NDP has left the party to set up a left-wing rival formation.

As a labor party contending for parliamentary power, the NDP has established roots in the consciousness of a considerable and growing layer of the working class. It holds governmental office in three provinces and is a powerful opposition party in Ontario. The identification of the trade unions with the NDP has tended to increase over time. The NDP's voting base continues to shift from rural areas to urban centers, and to concentrate in working class ridings. The NDP's support has grown particularly in layers now moving into the organized labor movement: white collar workers, teachers, etc. — and the teachers' organizations played an important role in the NDP victory in British Columbia.

For all these reasons, the NDP, an instrument of the trade unions outside the direct control of the bourgeoisie, limits the bourgeoisie's ability to move against the working class, to restrict its power through the legislature and the courts.

But the reformist program of the NDP stands in constant contradiction to the fundamental needs of the class, which demand mass anticapitalist action, guided by a class struggle perspective and a socialist program, aimed not at the reform of capitalism but at its overthrow.

This contradiction finds daily expression in the NDP's inability to defend adequately the immediate interests of the class. In this period effective defense of the trade unions and the workers' interests can only be conducted around a class struggle program of democratic and transitional demands which together mobilize and unite the working class in struggle directed against the very basis of capitalist privilege and class rule. The central contradiction of the NDP is that its program and leadership are reformist, while the tasks before the class are revolutionary.

The New Democratic Party has been shaped and built by an experienced and now well-entrenched Social-Democratic leadership, petty-bourgeois in its social character and procapitalist in its political orientation. This leadership's outlook is one of gradual, piecemeal, parliamentary reform of capitalism, combined with readiness to rally to the defense of Canadian capitalism against any radical challenge and utilize the NDP, in such situations, to support and implement measures of a blatant antilabor character. (The record of the Wilson leadership of the British Labor Party, whose outlook the NDP leadership shares in all its fundamentals, is sufficient proof of this capacity.)

This leadership is rooted in, an ultimately responsible to the trade union bureaucracy, a social layer mired in privilege and the conservatism it engenders, lacking confidence in the fighting capacities of the movement it leads, overawed by the power and pretensions of the ruling class, and prepared to defend the status quo against any revolutionary challenge which would endanger its comfortable privileged position.

But at the same time the bureaucracy must defend its social base in the labor movement against the attacks of the ruling class, and undercut internal opposition to the extent possible, by "delivering the goods" — winning concessions and reforms for the ranks both on the economic and political level. However, this becomes increasingly difficult in a capitalist economy with declining prospects and a bourgeoisie oriented towards attempting to restore its economic equilibrium at the expense of the working class. This accounts for the increasing signs of tension between the trade union leadership and the union ranks. These tensions will tend to find expression within the NDP where they will take on a political form.

The NDP embraces the politicized working class. Not only does it reflect the radicalization now beginning in certain layers of the working class, but it is bound to reflect the struggle for a new leadership which the radicalization will pose and promote.

The allegiance of the overwhelming bulk of the politically conscious layers of the working class to the NDP's pro-capitalist leadership and program stands as a fundamental barrier to revolutionary action. Overcoming this barrier is the central strategic problem of revolutionary Marxists in English Canada. The NDP cannot be "reformed"; it cannot become the instrument for socialist victory in Canada. This requires nothing less than a Leninist party, with a revolutionary Marxist program and a democratic centralist organizational structure, a party which can only be built on the program and cadres of the Fourth International. It will be built in the struggle against the reformism of the NDP and trade union leadership — a struggle which now unfolds on the political plane in and around the NDP, and which will continue in the coming period to maintain the NDP as its frame of reference.

Revolutionary Marxists give critical support to the NDP as the elemental class alternative to the parties of the bourgeoisie, while giving no support to its reformist program and leadership. They join the NDP, and intervene in it, in order to go through the experience of struggle against reformism in the NDP along with the working class, to participate in the battles and political differentiation which take place within the NDP, to promote the building of a class struggle caucus, and win forces to the revolutionary vanguard organization.

3. The ‘Waffle’ Experience

The New Democratic Party has proved to be a particularly powerful pole of attraction and expression for the radicalization in English Canada.

The youth radicalization was quick to orient to the NDP. We saw the first indications of this in 1967-68 in the positive response in NDP ranks, among younger members in particular, to the Socialist Caucus program and policies. The formation of the "Waffle" caucus in 1969 — the first concrete indication of the possibilities for the growth of a mass left wing in the labor party — further confirmed the validity of our longstanding orientation to the NDP. The "Waffle" advanced many of the key demands of the Socialist Caucus — support of student-faculty control, of women's liberation, of the anti-war movement, defense of Quebec's right to selfdetermination, its insistence that the NDP must attempt to lead extraparliamentary anticapitalist movements.

But as a reformist and parliamentarist party, the NDP does not meet the objective needs of radicalizing youth. For all its opportunist ability to adapt to popular issues, the NDP leadership has shown itself to be congenitally unable to tolerate revolutionary-minded youth within the party. Repeated purges of the party's youth wing, the New Democratic Youth, have reduced that organization to an ineffective shell, bypassed by young radicals. The Young Socialists, whose first cadres came largely out of the NDY experience, is today bigger and more active in all areas of the youth radicalization, and is the only tendency on the campuses which gives critical support to the NDP as the mass labor party.

Nor does the NDP meet the needs of other radicalizing layers of the population. Its commitment to the parliamentary perspective conflicts with the theme of independent mass action which is so central to the radicalization. Its reformist program and leadership prevent it from digesting the revolutionary aspirations of the radicalizing mass movements. Its leadership's commitment to working within the Canadian capitalist state structure and institutions, with which it identifies the fate of the Canadian labor movement means it must necessarily oppose the self-determination movement of the Quebecois. Moreover, the NDP leadership shares the hostility of all bureaucrats to organizations outside their direct control, and thus is reluctant to inject the party's organizational presence into united front coalitions around specific issues.

Thus if the radicalization has come into the NDP, the process is erratic. New ideas confront the party's working class base, win some support, and upset the power equilibrium in the party. The leadership is challenged on key aspects of its program and strategy. But the whole process runs into a fundamental problem. The NDP is reformist, when the tasks are revolutionary. The leadership's hostility to the left, combined with organizational reprisals and the general difficulties of constructing a radical caucus in a reformist labor party, encourage sectarian reactions, and propel radicals out of the party. Yet once outside, confronted with the party's continued hegemony in the left, they are pressured to return.

Such is the trajectory of the NDP left in recent years. The "Waffle" caucus was a broad, heterogeneous formation encompassing a wide spectrum of views, from liberal-reformist and patriotic to revolutionary socialist and internationalist. Its leadership, however, was increasingly confined to a cliquish core of "new left" and nationalist elements who, lacking an understanding of class politics and a strategy for constructing a continuing left in the NDP, prevented the Waffle from developing ongoing structures and activity in the party. The Waffle's main impact was around conventions, when it succeeded in mobilizing rank-and-file activists.

At the August 1971 plenary meeting of the LSA/LSO Central Committee, we analyzed the major weaknesses of the Waffle leadership. They did not understand the class nature of the capitalist state; many had a new left concept that capitalism could be dismantled piece by piece through the creation of counter-communities as extraparliamentary alternative institutions of popular rule. They did not understand the role and dynamics of the working class in the struggle for power; hence their hostility to the trade unions in the NDP, their failure to comprehend the nature of the bureaucracy and how to fight it. They lacked the capacity for patient, sustained work within the party. And of course the Waffle leadership rejected the vital role of the revolutionary vanguard party. They were essentially left reformists, and many maintained a very sectarian approach toward other left forces, especially the revolutionary socialists of the LSA/LSO.

When they did not succeed in quickly winning over the party as a whole to their views, or in replacing the leadership, many became discouraged. Some were absorbed into the party apparatus (as with a section of the Waffle in British Columbia); others fell away, looking for shortcuts to approach the working class through ill-conceived workerist adventures (Texpack, working women campaigns, etc.).

All these problems came together and found a focus and theoretical rationale in the Waffle leadership's adaptation to and support of Canadian nationalism. They were given a decisive push from the NDP by the Ontario party leadership's moves in the spring of 1972 to proscribe the Waffle as an organized left wing within the NDP.

As the Laxer-Watkins leadership of the Waffle firmed up their identification with Canadian nationalism, they came to argue that the socialist struggle is "inseparably linked" with a struggle for Canadian "independence" which would cut across class alignments and the existing structures of class organization where these proved to be blocks to the flowering of the independence movement. This thesis was coupled quite naturally with a parallel thesis, borrowed from the "community organizing" concepts of the new left, that a breakthrough could be achieved through organizing workers independently of the "American" unions and the NDP in the "hinterland," the singleindustry or resource-based towns and cities faced with extinction as the United States proceeded to "deindustrialize" Canada. Whole communities, they argued, would be mobilized in struggle against U.S. imperialism.

This strategy took the Waffle in rapid succession from one fruitless adventure to another. In the Texpack strike, they aligned with the Canadian Council of Unions, a very small trade union center which makes a principle out of "Canadian unions for Canadian workers." In the ill-fated autopact campaign, the Waffle found itself in a de facto alliance with the United Auto Workers' declining caucus of discredited Stalinists.

The NDP leadership, seeing the Waffle's vulnerability, moved decisively to curb it. Rather than organize the struggle for democratic rights in the NDP, the Waffle leadership decided to bolt the party, pressing the Ontario Waffle to its split at the Delaware conference in August 1972. Thanks to the intervention of revolutionary socialists, a majority of those in attendance at the Delaware conference were won to opposition to the split from the NDP. The class-struggle socialists at Delaware founded the Left Caucus to "continue the struggle" to build a mass left wing in the NDP. The nationalist wing of the Waffle leadership went on to found the Movement for an Independent Socialist Canada, and has worked since August to firm up MISC as an operational movement, a process whose outcome is not yet clear.

The rise of the Waffle caucus in the NDP demonstrated the potential for building a class struggle opposition to the reformist leadership. The right wing was able to turn back the Waffle attack, in large measure due to the errors and ultimately the desertion of the Waffle leadership. But the more fundamental reason for the Waffle's non-success was that the youth radicalization which sparked it, and provided its shock troops, occurred prior to a radicalization in the labor movement of the scope required to shake the power base of the leadership. Mounting class struggles, accompanied by a diminishing flexibility and capacity to grant concessions on the part of the bourgeoisie, will speed such a radicalization, which will find expression both in rank-and-file opposition currents in the unions, and in opposition formations in the NDP, which can develop deep roots in the labor base of the party.

4. How Revolutionary Socialists Intervene in The NDP

Thus we will be confronted with new possibilities in the future for the construction of a mass left wing in the NDP. As the Waffle experience has indicated, our intervention around a clear class-struggle line can be crucial in determining the course of such developments.

A wealth of experience — internationally as well as in Canada — indicates that the only elements capable of sustained work at building a mass left wing in a labor party formation are revolutionary socialists. The reformist leaders are well aware of this; they have banned the Trotskyist organizations in the NDP and repeatedly expelled Trotskyist militants.

The intervention of revolutionary socialists in the NDP would have no purpose if it aimed only to recruit to 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 rightwing 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.

5. The NDP in Office

Where the NDP is in office, as in three provinces at present, we are challenged to seek ways to relate the radicalizing mass movements to the NDP, to challenge the NDP government to support and implement their demands.

As we expressed it in the August 1971 plenum report:

"The governmental experience is the best possible experience we can have with the NDP — not because the NDP under its present leadership will establish an anticapitalist workers government, but because the Canadian workers will only overcome their reformist illusions by seeing in action the total inadequacies of Social Democracy. But whether the advanced layers of the class succeed in drawing the correct conclusions from their experiences depends on the intervention of the revolutionary socialists .... We must pay particular attention in the next period to the development of campaigns and demands that advance our concept of a workers' and farmers' government — a government that carries out decisively anti-capitalist measures — against the caretaker concept of government upheld by the Schreyers and Blakeneys." (and we might now add, the Barretts).

Where the NDP is in opposition, we urge it to join and lead mass actions, which can help broaden its base; and we increase pressure on the leadership to respond to the mass movements. 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. The services of government should be put at the disposal of the mass movements for social change, including the trade unions, — to act as powerful supplements, not substitutes, for the mass movement. 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.

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