Saturday, October 14, 2017

Singh's victory was a direct repudiation of the left by the NDP -- It is pointless to pretend otherwise

In the two weeks since Jagmeet Singh was elected leader of the federal NDP in a first ballot landslide where nearly half of party members did not even bother to vote at all, the dust has settled to reveal a party that neither wanted nor embraced any serious change of course or path of introspection after the catastrophe of 2015.

It is often worth waiting to see the narratives that emerge in the days following a vote such as this one and these have varied from the predictable to the farcical.

Predictably the party pundits and establishment -- as well as, significantly, a variety of right wing or liberal media commentators outside of the party -- have embraced Singh's victory as the dawn of a new era of leadership that will be aimed at electorally besting Trudeau and that rejects any silly notions of radicalism or leftism.

Of course, the very same people also embraced Mulcair's victory in exactly the same way in the 2012 leadership contest.

Singh is regularly framed as a serious contender against Trudeau not due to his polices but due to his perceived charisma, good looks and even his hair. This is par for the course in a neoliberal politics that infantilizes voters and that intentionally seeks to dumb down the discourse and minimize differences between the parties.

As I have noted before, it is no mystery why the mainstream media to a degree celebrates folks within the NDP like Singh and Mulcair as they represent a non-threatening, centrist oriented version of "social democracy". If there is no real left, there is no real left and there is nothing that makes the notion that truly anti-capitalist or socialist ideas are absurd or not to be taken seriously more creditable then when what used to be a socialist party itself repudiates these ideas.

New Democrats and "progressives" should stop feigning surprise when the mainstream media casts a spotlight on politicians in the NDP like Singh. It makes perfect sense that they would.

The NDP's marginalized left supporters were reduced to trying to claim a "moral" victory that is not at all readily apparent to anyone who is not looking to desperately seek out any reason at all why socialist or anti-capitalist activists should continue to support or work within a party that would have been best abandoned a generation ago.

The line that emerged from this quarter was not that the leadership results showed yet again the futility of trying to shift the party left -- a tactic that has failed for over 40 years with ever decreasing results -- but rather that somehow the "left" and the candidacy of Niki Ashton had pushed all the candidates to take more socialistic positions in the wake of the ouster of Mulcair.

But this position is silly and simply ignores the fact that events both outside the NDP and outside of Canada played a far greater role in what little ramping up of the left rhetoric that there was. Justin Trudeau's outmaneuvering of Tom Mulcair on the "left" in the federal election, as well as the campaigns of Sanders in the United States and Corbyn in the UK framed a context where any candidate was going to strike a more mildly "left" tone.

This is indicative of a new and broader shift to the left in the progressive wing of the public both domestically and internationally that, sadly, the NDP had basically nothing at all to do with.

It is more than a bit a humourous -- as well as a sign of its total irrelevance within the party -- to see what is left of the NDP's left framing the leadership contest as showing its "influence" when the sole candidate running on anything remotely like a serious leftist platform only got 17.4% of the votes of the 52.8% of New Democrats who got around to casting a ballot.

If this signals that the "left" is a serious force in the NDP, I fail to see how. Especially as there is no evidence at all that Ashton or most of those who backed her will try to set themselves up as an opposition within the party.

There was not much of a left socialist case for continuing with the NDP going into the leadership race (and whatever one there was rested rather tenuously on Ashton)  and any serious analysis of the results would indicate that there is even less of one now, especially in light of the party's total repudiation of a shift akin to that occurring in the British Labour Party.

The notion that Ashton or any other campaign pushed the party to the "left" is fanciful at best, diversionary at worst, and is more wishful thinking than so-called analysis. I think this will be borne out rather quickly.

Now, with the former deputy leader of the odious ONDP in charge, and with the focus being on the most shallow of charismatic electoral considerations,  you can look forward to an exceptionally light and entirely rhetorical version of "social democracy".

The left in Canada seems trapped in a feedback loop of either insisting that the NDP is or can be a vehicle that it is not and never will be, or of suicidally eschewing left electoral vehicles or coalitions outside of the NDP altogether. Singh's easy victory and the total absence of a cohesive and significant left alternative to it either within the NDP or in federal Canadian politics more broadly shows that while the conditions are clearly there to directly challenge neoliberal austerity capitalism ideologically and politically on the larger stage of party politics, leftists and socialists continue to be either unwilling or unable to take the steps necessary to do so.

See also: Conundrum: Niki Ashton and the NDP leadership campaign


  1. The “left” in Canada had a real opportunity to assert itself in this leadership race, much as it did in the UK with Labour post GFC. That it fared so poorly is a reflection not on the NDP but on the inability of our side of the fence to get its shit together in time to make a difference. That, and Canada is not at this point in history a left wing country—not even leftist enough to pull off a plurality. It’s easy to blame the NDP and complain and grouse about the mainstream media, but mostly we have ourselves to blame. Time to really get organized. Time to teach ourselves how to speak to people who may not share all of our views to support us. It’s a gargantuan task but it can be done. But it will require us on the left to do a hell of a lot less talking and more doing. For example: I see that Momentum (Canada) has a cool festival coming up in Ottawa: The World Transformed. The first thing that came to mind for me when I saw the announcement was, how much is this going to cost? And how many full time organizers and staff could have been hired with that money? I mean, if we are serious about changing things then, shit, we need to start thinking in a serious strategic way about how to do it. Likely you all have seen me say this before and changes are good you see me posting it again and again.

  2. Thanks very much for this, Michael. I hadn't been following the NDP election closely at all, so I was somewhat baffled by some of the coverage I was seeing. This really helps.

    1. Michael Laxer, I suggest you seek nomination in your riding in the next general election and test your views. If elected you will speak with greater authority.

    2. I have no interest in running for the NDP and I can assure you that if I did I would not be allowed to run for any nomination.
      The "democracy" in the NDP is a sham.