NDP Convention Delegates Show Party Leader Mulcair the Door; and a Note on Ukraine
by Roger AnnisApril 10, 2016
So in the end, Tom Mulcair's bid to stay on as New Democratic Party leader following the disastrous election campaign he and his advisers perpetrated six months ago went down in flames. It was not even close, as 52 per cent of NDP delegates assembled at the national convention in Edmonton voted to proceed to a leadership contest. The bandied-about number for Mulcair to stay on for at least the next few years was 70 per cent. Anne Lagace-Dowson, a delegate from Montreal, later told CBC that delegates were "surprised, even stunned" by how lopsided was the vote.
I listened to CBC's live feed of Mulcair's speech to the convention today. It was utterly lacklustre, merely repeating vague phrases and nostrums from NDP platforms in the past--'fairness', 'equality, 'make the rich pay more taxes', etc. Given the gravity of the electoral defeat the party suffered last year, the speech was surely interpreted by many delegates as insulting to their intelligence. There wasn't the slightest hint of reflection on the right-wing ('no deficits') platform on which the party waged the Oct 19, 2015 election campaign, a platform that was outflanked on the left by the Liberal Party! Indeed, Mulcair concluded his speech to the convention with a ringing "We go forward", ie, 'nothing changes'.
There are two big stories which emerge from the NDP convention. One concerns the NDP internally, and that is the strident, aggressive speech by Alberta (NDP) Premier Rachel Notley to the convention two days ago in which she argued for continued and expanded tar sands production in the form of arguing for one or more additional pipelines to "tidewater" to be constructed. There are three, large such projects being proposed. One is the doomed Northern Gateway pipeline across northern BC to the Pacific Ocean. Two is a proposed expansion of the Trans Mountain Pipeline which presently transports 'conventional' Alberta oil to Vancouver harbour and Washington state. The third, the granddaddy of them all, is the proposed Energy East pipeline that would stretch 4,500 (!) kilometers to the Atlantic Ocean at Saint John, New Brunswick. Presently, a network of pipelines transports the large bulk of Alberta tar sands production of close to two million barrels per day to 'upgraders', refineries and export terminals in Texas and Wisconsin.
Notley's speech targeted the popular movement that has arisen within NDP ranks to graft planks of the pro-environmental LEAP Manifesto onto the party platform. The manifesto was a product of the think tank surrounding Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis. Like Naomi Klein's book (and notwithstanding the book's subtitle), LEAP is a collection of modest environmental ambitions which stops well short of an anti-capitalist outlook and anti-capitalist proposals. (More on the Notley speech here in Maclean's Magazine.)
The other story of the convention, and this is the main one in my view, is the resilience and stubborness of what I can the 'ABANSP' phenomenon among left wing thinkers and activists--'Anything But A New Socialist Party'. To this observer, the 2015 election campaign was definitive proof that the NDP is not and cannot become the left-wing party to which growing numbers of Canadians aspire. Call it 'socialist', 'anti-capitalist', whatever, such a party can only result from conscious effort and intervention by leading theoreticians and activists in Canada and Quebec. Yet, everything BUT that is taking place--from ill-advised efforts to 'win the NDP to socialism', considerable resources devoted to engaging in internal political fighting
in the NDP or reporting on same, and naive belief that a 'saviour' a la Jeremy Corbyn or even Bernie Sanders will come along and do the heavy lifting that the existing left wing in Canada does not wish to undertake.
A new socialist party in Canada must not be seen as a factional move against the NDP or its affiliated unions. On the contrary, it is the only way in which class struggle politics can gain a wide hearing and it is the only way to effect what every good thinking person should wish to see--effective pressure on the NDP such that sections of the party, at least, do something, anything, to engage in meaningful social and political struggle.
I hope to write this ideas in a formal article, but there are many pressures on my writing time these days. My priority remains the daily editing and publishing of *The New Cold War: Ukraine and beyond*.
Speaking of Ukraine, the new edition of *Green Left Weekly* in Australia has published a new attack on the people of Crimea and Donbass, authored by editorial writer Tony Iltis. This article goes further than previous attacks, dismissing outright the self-defense and self-determination struggles in the two regions. Iltis writes,
"Both the movement in Kiev and those in the Donbass included ultra-nationalists and fascists (of competing types), although in the Donbass this has been disguised by a penchant for Stalinist iconography."
Concerning Crimea, Iltis writes,
"Fueling the war in Ukraine is a zero-sum-game being played by the Kiev government and its Western backers to definitively pull Ukraine out of Russia's orbit. The Russian response — annexing Crimea and giving support to the Donbass republics — is essentially reactive, if aggressive."
The article continues Iltis' efforts to construct a third camp stance on the NATO offensive against Russia and eastern Europe that would be more palatable than the admittedly crude efforts of the International Socialist
constellation of pseudo-Marxist groups. Iltis (and Green Left Weekly) has consistently skated around the facts argued by myself and Renfrey Clarke in several lengthy articles that Russia is not an imperialist power and that this finding has significant political consequences. He writes in the latest article, "Unlike during the actual Cold War, when the Soviet Union and the Western powers had different economic models, Russia and the West are now part of same global capitalist economy."
This continues his meme that events in Ukraine and then in Syria are explained by a "global rivalry" between the 'West', on the one hand, and Russia on the other. The use of the banal term 'West' in place of "imperialism" to describe the imperialist nexus of countries lined up against Russia forms part of the skating effort of Iltis and the GLW editorial board. A sentence reading "Russia and the imperialist constellation of countries... are now part of same global capitalist economy" would not work because uncomfortable questions would be asked about why the "imperialist" descriptor is not used for Russia. The near-totality of the Western left simply refuses to think about and pronounce on the precise character of Russia and why and how it acts in the world as it does. Thus, for example, the dramatic ceasefire achieved in Syria and the setback to imperialist policy in the Middle East which the ceasefire signifies is dismissed or ignored; or worse, as my article of several weeks ago exposed, some on the international left, including the ISO and 'Fourth International' groups in Europe, *oppose* the Syria ceasefire! Is it any wonder that so much of this left is in crisis or otherwise risks drifting into irrelevance?