The New Democratic Party Socialist Caucus strives for a socialist Canada in a socialist world. For nearly 20 years it has uniquely and successfully advanced this goal inside North America’s only mass, labour-based political party. From convincing the NDP to fight for public pharma care, for public dental care and free post-secondary education, to getting Canadian troops out of Afghanistan, the Socialist Caucus has led the way. From opposing pipeline construction to promoting public ownership of the energy industry; from demanding an end to public funding of religious schools to trying to keep socialism in the party constitution, the SC has been on the progressive cutting-edge. Its candidates consistently win 10 to 40 per cent support when they run for provincial and federal party executive positions, and always do so on a clear, principled socialist platform. The SC was instrumental in initiating the leadership review in 2016 that toppled “balanced budget no-matter-what” Tom Mulcair. It helped to win endorsement at the NDP federal convention for a cross-country discussion of the Leap Manifesto.
From this perspective, the SC embarked with others in September 2016 to draft Sid Ryan for NDP federal leader. The joint effort produced a 17-point anti-capitalist platform that continues to influence the leadership race. Unfortunately, Ryan decided for personal reasons not to run. To date, no candidate has embraced most of the socialist policies set forth in the Draft Sid platform, nor even adopted the range of anti-capitalist measures advanced by Jeremy Corbyn in the British Labour Party. No campaign, so far, has created an open, bold, militant movement of the kind that brought 200,000 new members into the BLP.
Presently, four registered candidates (following the exit of Peter Julian) are in the race, which is now in the home stretch. One candidate has emerged to the left of the others. Manitoba MP Niki Ashton describes herself as a “progressive feminist” – in place of the term “socialist feminist” she invoked earlier. Her lead slogan is “When they privatize, we nationalize.” While advancing a very commendable proposal for the creation of a postal bank, and a set of infrastructural public works, Ashton does not target any current corporations for nationalization. That stance makes it impossible for her to lead the rapid green energy transition so urgently needed to end carbon energy dependency. To her credit, she was quick to attack the Justin Trudeau government’s pledge to increase military spending by 70%. And she stood firmly with Montreal supporters of Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike in Israeli jails. Unfortunately, Niki does not demand Canada Out of NATO (which was the policy under Tommy Douglas). Nor does she support Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against the apartheid Zionist state. She rightly decries the insidious trend towards precarious work, but does not champion legislation to re-distribute available jobs, especially to young workers, via shorter hours without any loss of pay or benefits.
Notably, Ashton is the only candidate who calls for meaningful democratic reform of the internal workings of the NDP, pledging, for example, that under her leadership no member will be blocked from obtaining an NDP nomination and then running for MP who expresses support for Palestinian rights. She talks about being the only candidate for “fundamental change”. But she has not even begun to build an explicitly radical left caucus or structured socialist movement within the party. In fact, Niki’s campaign is headed by people not particularly known for their roots in militant social justice movements, class struggle or socialism.
Socialists are an integral part of the working class movement. That includes unions and the labour-based NDP. We are not indifferent to any process that impacts on the capacity of workers to fight for emancipation from capitalist rule. This class partisan outlook of ours applies full force to the NDP leadership race.
So, here are the stakes. Not only is Ashton visibly to the left. Two of the candidates, Charlie Angus and Jagmeet Singh, are markedly to the right, demonstrated by their reluctance to oppose pipeline projects and to drop post-secondary school fees. They boast of endorsements from party establishment figures, including MPs and MPPs who, frankly, are a big part of the problem. Their approach closely resembles the internally undemocratic regime, and the fiscally conservative stance of the failed Tom Mulcair leadership. They deserve to be defeated decisively.
One other, MP Guy Caron, the single-minded proponent of Basic Income, occupies the mushy middle of the quartet. He merits consideration as an alternative to a right wing front runner if Ashton proves unable to make it to the final ballot count in the one-member-one-vote election that culminates in October 2017.
Based on the above factors, the Socialist Caucus urges critical support for Niki Ashton. Unlike other tendencies and individuals on the NDP left, and some leftists outside the working class organizations, who have given her uncritical, blanket support, the Socialist Caucus takes a more objective, long range view of the struggle for a Workers’ Agenda and the socialist transformation of society. Frankly, radical change will not be accomplished by any one of the four candidates, nor by social democracy as an institution.
To win, socialism will require a movement of millions fighting to implement a programme to eradicate the capitalist system of exploitation, oppression and environmental catastrophe. Nothing less than the expropriation of big business and the establishment of a planned economy under workers’ control will fit the bill. If war, hunger and disease are to disappear, and if civilization is to survive, nothing less will do. Such a movement will be based on new mass workers’ organizations thrown up by the class struggle, which will converge with tendencies that emanate from the traditional bodies of the working class.
Regardless who becomes NDP leader in October 2017, the necessity of strengthening a militant, class struggle left wing in the unions and the NDP will be greater than ever. Its central political task will be to push Niki Ashton supporters to the left, to fight for socialist policies, and for much greater democracy inside the party — or to confront the more openly pro-capitalist policies of her elected male counterpart.
In the best of circumstances, Niki Ashton would have already embraced the 17-point Draft Sid platform. She would have opened up her campaign to the Socialist Caucus and to other grassroots radical activists, inside and outside the party, with an invitation to participate as partners. That didn’t happen in Niki Ashton’s 2012 leadership bid. But it is precisely the way to build an un-stoppable movement for socialism in the NDP and Canada today. That is what the Socialist Caucus advocates. To that end, we urge working people and allies to join the NDP.
We ask all New Democrats to vote for Niki Ashton for leader, and to keep pushing her to the left.