Tuesday, January 15, 2013

NDP may remove references to "socialism" in preamble to party constitution

The New Democratic Party, the main opposition party in the Canadian federal parliament, may rewrite to preamble to the party constitution. The preamble still has a few phrases that make favorable reference to "socialism".
The predecessor of the New Democratic Party(NDP), the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), had as its party platform a document that would make many present NDP members run for cover. The document was called the Regina Manifesto. The term "manifesto" became a cause of great concern because it was associated in the public mind with the Communist Manifesto. It made no difference that the official party line and the early leaders were all staunchly anti-communist.
The CCF was founded in 1932 and the Regina Manifesto adopted the next year at a convention in Regina. The Manifesto as well as calling for pensions, universal health care, and the nationalisation of major industries also said:
" No C.C.F. Government will rest content until it has eradicated capitalism and put into operation the full programme of socialized planning which will lead to the establishment in Canada of the Cooperative Commonwealth."
The CCF Saskatchewan provincial government was able to introduce the first free hospital care system in North America in 1946.
By 1956, the CCF changed its position to that of a social democratic party that accepted capitalism and a mixed economy. The Winnipeg_Declaration replaces the socialist aim of eradicating capitalism with the following:
"The CCF will not rest content until every person in this land and in all other lands is able to enjoy equality and freedom, a sense of human dignity, and an opportunity to live a rich and meaningful life as a citizen of a free and peaceful world."
The NDP was founded in 1961 and combined the old CCF with the labor movement. The preamble to the constitution of the party makes several references to democratic socialism, the principles of socialism and association with socialist parties around the world. It is this preamble that has caused the difficulties. The preamble is not that long so I will post it so that you can compare it with the revised version that was not voted on at the last convention:
The New Democratic Party believes that the social, economic and political progress of Canada can be assured only by the application of democratic socialist principles to government and the administration of public affairs.
The principles of democratic socialism can be defined briefly as:
That the production and distribution of goods and services shall be directed to meeting the social and individual needs of people within a sustainable environment and economy and not to the making of profit;
To modify and control the operations of the monopolistic productive and distributive organizations through economic and social planning. Towards these ends and where necessary the extension of the principle of social ownership;
The New Democratic Party holds firm to the belief that the dignity and freedom of the individual is a basic right that must be maintained and extended; and
The New Democratic Party is proud to be associated with the democratic socialist parties of the world and to share the struggle for peace, international co-operation and the abolition of poverty.
The 2011 NDP convention was held just weeks are the NDP made huge electoral gains to become the Official Opposition for the first time ever. In order to broaden the appeal of the party, the party brass and others wanted to scrap any references to socialism. The furthest the revision would go is to refer to social democratic principles. Here is the revised preamble:
The New Democratic Party believes that social justice, equality, and environmental sustainability are vital to achieving a strong, united and prosperous Canada for all.
To that end, the New Democratic Party is dedicated to the application of social democratic principles to government.
These principles include an unwavering commitment to economic and social equality, individual freedom and responsibility, and democratic rights of citizens to shape the future of their communities.
New Democrats hold firm to the belief that individual freedom and dignity are basic rights that find the fullest expression in healthy and prosperous communities, where individuals can realize their full potential and contribute to a stronger Canada.
Established in partnership with the Labour movement in 1961, the New Democratic Party is the voice of working people in the Parliament of Canada, advocating and implementing laws that advance their collective and individual interests.
New Democrats are proud to stand in solidarity with its allies around the world working for international peace and justice, ending discrimination and exploitation, eliminating poverty and ensuring that wealth and power are in the hands of the many and not the few.
Any reference to socialism or any suggestion that capitalism might be replaced by socialism is entirely lacking. Most of the document is rhetoric of the sort that most any progressive party might produce, including the Liberal Party of Canada. Note that the reference to production not being for the sake of profit is also eliminated. There was no vote on this amendment at the convention as Brian Topp, who was then Federal Director, moved to send the motion back to the federal council for further consideration.
Amazingly, over the next few months, the preamble actually disappeared from the copy of the constitution that was posted on the NDP website! Without any explanation or acknowledgement that anything had happened it just as mysteriously reappeared.
The current federal director of the NDP Nathan Rotman said that the motion that had been referred to the federal council and there had been a small group of party elders and others who had consulted on the issue. This panel will report it conclusions at the upcoming meeting in February. They will then put forth a motion to be voted upon or they may wait to see if any riding associations put forth amendments to the constitution.
I would expect that some riding associations will suggest amendments in line with what the party brass want and just as certainly there will be strong opposition especially from the Socialist Caucus. Whatever the wording change, the reality is that the NDP has moved rightward for decades. As James Laxer wrote in an e-mail:
“Like other social democratic parties in the West, the NDP has adopted much of the outlook of the neo-liberalism that is the dominant ideological strain in the market-centred era of globalization.The NDP has been able to challenge the Liberals as a less corrupt, more principled and somewhat more progressive party that occupies centre-left ground.”
As I understand it, socialism is the socialization of the major means of production, distribution, and exchange plus production on the basis of need not profit. The New Democratic Party has nothing to do with that. Indeed a former New Democratic Premier of M anitoba, Gary Doer, now serves as the Conservative government's ambassador to the US and the present leader of the NDP, Thomas Mulcair, was a former minister in the Quebec Liberal government. Whatever changes in wording are ultimately made, the NDP will still be called socialist by many in the media while not being socialist at all.

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