Is the Party Over? What's the hope for the NDP?
Today I was on The Current to debate the proposed name change of the NDP. The name is the least of their problems is my view. David Michael Lamb, the guest host, asked me why I wasn't going the NDP convention. I answered, "I've kind of given up on the NDP." Frankly, it didn't even occur to me to go. I have been involved in efforts to change the NDP since the 1980's in Ontario and with a few exceptions (getting them to support the Morgentaler clinic), it has been almost impossible to get them to change. Their response to opposition from the Waffle , a powerful youth opposition reflecting the new politics on the 1960's until now has been to crush it.
Paul Dewar, the Ottawa NDP MP who seems to be doing an excellent job, is taking the opportunity of a debate on changing the name of the party to propose a process of thorough going debate about what the party is doing. He is enthusiastic about the possibilities of change and I wish him luck. I am sure he and I agree on many things. Libby Davies, another fantastic NDP MP, is currently on a mission to Palestine, as usual doing and saying what a progressive politician should be doing and saying. Follow her blog on rabble.ca
Libby was part of the effort to transform the party in 2002 called the New Politics Initiative. Most of the leadership of the NPI no longer see the NDP as an instrument of change. The NDP defeated the NPI's proposal for a new unitary party of the Left at the 2002 convention by promising to incorporate our ideas. Instead Jack Layton has moved the party more towards the other parties, more professionalized, less and less presenting any kind of alternative vision. Paul Dewar said that the NDP unlike the other parties has real debates at convention. That's true, but like the other parties, the NDP doesn't really have discussions where they try and learn from opposition and from their own mistakes and look at debate as an opportunity for transformation rather than a threat to their power.
On this eve of the NDP convention, next week-end in Halifax, here is an excerpt from Transforming Power about the NDP and NPI experience.
"Over the years I have had to acknowledge that political parties seem to be just about the most intractable organizations around. I have been trying to convince the New Democratic Party to change since the 1980s, using various methods. Frankly, it was easier to win legal abortion in Canada against the power of the church, the police, the courts, and the government than to get this rather weak third party to change in any fundamental way. The pressure on political parties to conform to the existing political system is so great that they seem incapable of behaving in a way that is accountable, transparent, democratic, and effective. It is no wonder that so few people want anything to do with them.
"In 2002, using some of the ideas from the Workers Party in Brazil and some of the lessons we learned from the NDP experience in Ontario, I got together with Jim Stanford, who is the chief economist for the Canadian Auto Workers, and we came up with the idea of the New Politics Initiative (NPI). We noted that the New Democratic Party was not attracting the youth of the anti-globalization movement, so we pulled together a group that was half old-time left-wing activists and intellectuals and half newly minted activists from the anti-globalization movement. Stanford and I proposed a manifesto for a new party that would be, in deference to the anti-authoritarian politics of the new movement, signed by grassroots activists in addition to well-known leaders.
What became clear over the course of the NDP convention, where we brought a resolution calling for the formation of a new party, was that the NPI is really about transforming left-wing politics by bringing together the best traditions of old left with the radical democracy of the new left..."The NPI was able to bring a bit of the spirit of the anti-globalization movement onto the floor of the NDP convention, chants, costumes, and face paint included. More than that, in a profoundly cautious political party, 40 percent voted for a radical proposal to initiate a new party. Indeed the impact may have been strong enough to open the NDP to formally including a political opposition for the first time in its history..."On the left internationally, two currents are emerging. On the one side, social democratic parties in England and most of Europe are moving to the right and embracing the so-called “third way,” meaning corporate globalization with a slightly more humane face. "The other current is emerging through the anti-corporate-globalization movement and some socialist parties in Latin America. This current strongly opposes corporate globalization and sees radical democracy, engaging citizens at every level of government, as the way to counter corporate power. As someone who has given up on the NDP more than once in my long political career, I feel a greater sense of optimism today that a new kind of political party that brings together most of the forces fighting for social justice is a real possibility." full article here