The Life and Death of the Third Way

Albert Einstein, the great 20th century scientist and socialist, once defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Sound familiar? During the most recent elections, the provincial NDP leaderships copied a strategy out of the Third Way playbook and ran on so-called “moderate” campaigns to the centre of the political spectrum, all of which have been a complete debacle, and that’s being kind.

The most painful example of this was last year’s provincial election in British Columbia, where just one month before the vote, the NDP enjoyed a 22 point lead in opinion polls. Yet the party leadership campaigned on supposedly “sensible” proposals of least resistance and a pitifully weak slogan of “Change, one practical step at a time.” Four weeks later on election day, our party was devastated, even losing two seats in the process.

During the September 2014 New Brunswick election, the NDP received 13% of the vote, despite being at 17% in opinion polls at the beginning of the campaign. An unabashed supporter of the Third Way, party leader Dominic Cardy also failed to win his seat. Perhaps most revealing is that the Green Party Leader David Coon, running to the Left of Cardy on a host of issues (including instituting a living wage, canceling shale gas projects, strengthening First Nations rights, and increasing corporate taxes and taxes on those making over $150,000 a year, just to name a few), won his seat.

And then there’s Nova Scotia, where the NDP government of Darrell Dexter lost power after one term. Dexter promised change in the 2009 election, and won. Yet when in government, he decided to raise the highly regressive HST (instead of increasing taxes on the wealthy), boosted corporate welfare (even to a point where the Liberal and Conservative parties campaigned against it during the election), and cut tens of millions of dollars from education, alienating labour and much of the activist base of the party.

Similar electoral disasters have happened to several “Third Way” social democratic parties in Europe as well. Recently, in countries such as Greece, the Netherlands, and Ireland, left-wing socialist parties of various forms have moved ahead of social democratic or labour parties in opinion polls. It should be quite clear that moving the NDP to the centre will not give us any more support.

It will only give traditional party supporters, like wage earners and modest-income Canadians, even more reason to stay home and not vote at all.

Decades of research shows that working class Canadians have lower voter turnout percentages than middle class and wealthy citizens. And that’s not just a problem of democracy. It’s a problem of the NDP, because it hurts our party the most.

This isn’t to condescendingly view traditional NDP supporters simply as “votes,” believing that we “deserve” their support. On the contrary. Our party has to work even harder than ever before to engage traditional supporters. It is working class voters and Canadians from equity seeking groups among rank and file NDP members who should be leading policy discussions in our party and creating our electoral platforms.

The premise of moving the NDP to the centre is based on the fallacy that there is a difference between maintaining our socialist and working class roots on one hand and winning government on the other. Yet more will realize that they are one and the same, as neo-liberal dogma continues to break down and fail, the middle class shrinks, and inequality continues to surge.

We may very well live in a post-9/11 world, but we also live in a post-2008 economy of wage decline and income stagnation. And as a democratic socialist party, the NDP should be the first to realize this.

It’s not just about moving the NDP to the Left.  It’s also about moving the centre to us.

The path to government for the NDP means creating active campaigns that directly take into consideration the needs of wage earners and equity seeking groups, and socialist policies that aim to radically reduce inequality, work time, protect and expand social services, and begin the process of creating a truly democratic economy and classless society.

August 2014 Edition of the Our Times Tally

Dear Right: The Left is Winning. Get Over it

It never ceases to amaze me how fast things change in the world of politics.

We all remember the 1990s. Just talking about raising wages, increasing social spending or regulating an industry was practically a thought crime. Even mentioning the word “capitalism” was to drum up fears that – heaven forbid – you were thinking about a different kind of economic system.

Two decades later, and years of neo-liberal policy failure speak for themselves – stagnant wages, increasing debt, widening inequality, and a global economic order stumbling from one crisis to another, not to mention a deteriorating environment and wars for profit killing hundreds of thousands.

Right-wing economic theory – once a hallmark of conservative thought – has degenerated into sheer lunacy. Not even the wackiest of corporate politicians would campaign on deregulating the financial industry, privatizing our health care system or giving tax breaks to banks and billionaires (even though they have no problem doing this as silently as possible when in government).

A recent Environics poll showed that 65% of Canadians believe that taxes should be raised on banks and financial institutions to reduce the deficit, and 83% agreed that taxes should be raised for the “richest income earners.” At the same time, an Abicus Data poll showed that only 21% believe that “lower corporate tax rates encourage investment and create jobs,” a theory which for two decades stood as the pinnacle credence of neo-liberal faith.

Even in the United States, a 2012 Pew Research poll showed that while 46% of 18 to 29 year olds viewed capitalism as “positive,” a higher 49% of those in the same age group viewed socialism positively. And in all ages, only 50% viewed capitalism positively and 40% viewed it negatively. This is a remarkable statistic from a country where even the “liberal” media presents their economic system and corporate interests in such an overwhelmingly positive light.

Just ten years ago, socialists couldn’t even have dreamt of these kinds of numbers.

At the same time, the right-wing media owned by the corporate elite have been debased into pure theatre and a source of comedy. A vast majority understand too well that Sun TV, FoxNews, right-wing newspaper chains and personalities like CBC host Kevin O’Leary aren’t even under the pretense of performing real, actual journalism. Admitting that you listen to them and take them seriously in front of others – especially during life’s more sensitive moments like job interviews, dinner parties and first dates – is to pay a hefty social price of utter embarrassment.

The global revolt against the failed policies of neo-liberal capitalism rests on an ancient and very well-understood reality: that injustice breeds resistance. Everywhere. Always.

Neo-conservatism’s greatest fear has come true: the class struggle is back.

The Left and labour unions have been pinned against the wall for so long, we almost forgot what it feels like to be winning. Working people may certainly be losing the economic battle against austerity and corporate power, but when it comes to the ideological clash, we’re way ahead, and we should start acting like it.

It may be difficult to feel happy in times like this, but that shouldn’t take away from us feeling confident about the rapid change in attitudes of people in Canada and around the world inspired by the vision of a more democratic, free and socialist future.

November 2013 Edition of the Our Times Tally

There's Nothing "Radical" About Socialism

The brilliant German playwright Bertolt Brecht once said that capitalists were the ultimate radicals. That is because during the past 200 years, the 1% of the wealthiest and most powerful people, along with the politicians they buy, the media they fund and the state institutions they control, helped create a world of spectacular inequality, poverty and injustice.

Yet today, intellectuals refer to those who want to build an alternative society based on democracy and fairness as militant, radical thinkers who dream up unrealistic fantasies. Much of the time, the Left is only too willing to follow along, sometimes even referring to themselves as “radicals” who are proud of being out of the ordinary.

It’s time we put an end to this nonsense. There is nothing – absolutely nothing – that is “radical” or “extremist” about socialist democracy. The values we hold dear, including the creation of a free and classless society and an economy that is environmentally sustainable and democratically-controlled by workers and communities, are those which are shared by millions of people in Canada and an overwhelming majority of the world’s population.

Bertolt was spot on, because if you want real extremism, look no further than global, corporate capitalism. Billions around the world don’t have access to basic needs like clean drinking water, housing or education, according to even the World Bank. The number of people who will die this year from starvation and malnutrition is over nine million, an increase since the 2008 economic crash.

And now, the financial criminals who helped engineer the greatest economic catastrophe since the Great Depression and were bailed out by taxpayers, apparently want even more of this radicalism in the form of further tax cuts, deregulation and attacks on the rights of working people.

At the same time, governments in Canada and the media continue to play the same game. I can’t count how many times pundits have commented on the NDP leadership race and our party’s apparent “outdated” values, saying we need to “modernize” our ideals for “new realities.”

Really? The last decade has meant nothing but increasing inequality, wage decline, evaporating pensions, global conflict, and the increased dominance of a tiny group of banking and corporate elites who play by their own rules.

If the NDP really does have to “modernize” to reflect “new realities,” wouldn’t that mean putting forth policies like public ownership of our oil industry, reducing the workweek with no loss in pay to create jobs, and creating a guaranteed annual income for all Canadians?

Maybe those media pundits have a point, because if we’re really serious about avoiding further financial upheaval, then the NDP should propose placing our banks under social ownership and democratic control. Banking and finance should be a public service, not the personal casinos of the 1%.

Again, this has absolutely nothing to do with “radicalism.” Like other policies put forth by socialists around the world, it is a practical, sensible solution to the severe failures of modern capitalism.

It’s time for the NDP to call out the real extremists in the corporate head offices on Bay Street and their fanatical, narrow-minded capitalism and propose common sense, socialist alternatives that put working people first.

Because our society simply can’t afford to give any more power to unrealistic, pie in the sky, out-of-touch radicals.