Spartacist Canada No. 170
"Fightback," the NDP and the Capitalist State
Reformists in Action
(Young Spartacus pages)
Since the May federal election, various fake-Marxists have been exulting about the “orange surge” that catapulted the NDP onto the benches of the official opposition. Socialist Action, the International Socialists, the Fightback group and others were quick to describe this as an opportunity for the NDP to lead a fight against the Tories’ attacks on workers and the poor. While such a struggle is desperately needed, the NDP’s aim is not to uphold the interests of workers and the oppressed, but to become the next party to run the Canadian capitalist state. Thus it should come as no surprise that in the lead-up to the party’s June federal convention the leadership pushed to remove any references to “democratic socialism” from the NDP constitution.
This provided Fightback, affiliated with Alan Woods’ International Marxist Tendency, a perfect stage to pump their fists as the best defenders of the supposed “socialist soul” of the NDP. In articles and online videos they boast about their supporters’ interventions at the convention. Striking a patriotic note, one of them delighted the assembled New Democrats by proclaiming that a fight needs to happen “across this great country” so that in 2015 there can be “an NDP socialist government for the first time in the history of North America.” Another won a standing ovation when he proudly declared: “I’m a democratic-socialist and I don’t care who knows it, and we’re going to fight against the Liberals, and we’re going to beat them and the Tories, and be the government of this country” (marxist.ca, 23 June). He was right about one thing: Fightback is “democratic socialist,” a standard self-description for those who revere the bourgeoisie’s parliament and oppose workers revolution, which is the only way to end exploitation and oppression.
Despite its occasional lip service to Marxism, Fightback is an organic part of the NDP, politically and organizationally; even the latter’s support to NATO’s relentless bombing of Libya did not shake their loyalty. The NDP’s 2011 federal election platform was the most right-wing in its history, promising to boost the military budget, hire at least 2,500 more cops and “invest in small business.” This party has been in power provincially many times and, far from running “socialist” governments, has always administered capitalism with a vengeance. In the 1990s the Ontario NDP imposed across-the-board pay cuts on government workers and jailed striking postal workers; in B.C., it sent the army and police against Native protesters.
Particularly rightist even for social democrats, the NDP is what Marxists call a bourgeois workers party. Linked to the unions via the labour bureaucracy, it has a thoroughly pro-capitalist program. Parties like the NDP play a useful role for the bourgeoisie, defending capitalism within the working class where the exploiters need it most. While sometimes spouting empty “social justice” rhetoric, they direct the struggles of the oppressed into the safe channels of parliamentarism. Above all, they stand as an obstacle to socialist revolution. In his “Imperialism and the Split in Socialism,” V.I. Lenin, leader of the October 1917 Russian Revolution, stressed that “unless a determined and relentless struggle is waged all along the line against these parties—or groups, trends, etc., it is all the same—there can be no question of a struggle against imperialism, or of Marxism, or of a socialist labour movement.”
As Leninists, we aim to break workers from the politics of social democracy as part of the necessary fight to split the working-class base of the NDP from the pro-capitalist leadership and to forge a revolutionary party. Reformists like Fightback do the opposite: their everyday work strengthens the chains that shackle workers to the NDP. It is the duty of revolutionaries to expose those who endeavour in the name of Marxism to reconcile workers and radical youth to pro-capitalist parties like the NDP, thereby deceiving opponents of capitalism and enhancing the prestige of these parties. For decades the NDP has been a home for self-described socialists who, by trying to push it to the left, sink deeper into reformism and abandon any pretense of fighting for the overthrow of capitalism.
A Left Prop for the Capitalist State…
Fightback’s prominent call, “NDP to power on a socialist program!” does not at all mean workers revolution; it is a commitment to maintaining the capitalist state, albeit with the NDP at its head. In contrast, we are guided by the Marxist understanding that every state is a class dictatorship, an organ of oppression of one class by another. Our program is to struggle to smash the capitalist state through workers revolution. Only then will the working class be organized as the ruling class, as the dictatorship of the proletariat, opening the road to socialism—a classless, egalitarian society. We stand with Lenin who underscored that “the working-class must break up, smash the ‘ready-made state machinery,’ and not confine itself merely to laying hold of it.” Like the Canadian-nationalist NDP of which it is a part, a corollary of Fightback’s acceptance of the Canadian capitalist state and the Anglo chauvinism that permeates it is opposition to Quebec independence (see “‘Fightback’ and the Quebec National Question,” SC No. 162, Fall 2009).
Fightback not only rejects the need to smash the capitalist state, but shamelessly acts to reinforce its repressive apparatus. A June 7 article on their website states that as part of their leadership of the Toronto Young New Democrats, Fightback supporters officially managed a so-called “genuine working-class campaign” for federal NDP candidate Susan Wallace in the May election. Fightback sometimes postures as a defender of minority youth against cop violence, but their candidate pledged to give the police “more tools to protect our children.” We ask these “law and order” reformists to explain that to the parents of Junior Manon, Eric Osawe and all the other minority youth who have been victims of the racist cops and their “tools.”
…and a Left Cover for Cop Repression
Fightback’s campaigning for pro-cop politicians is consonant with its notorious slanders of the Black Bloc in the wake of the G20 mass arrests in June 2010. When the bourgeoisie, the NDP and the union tops vehemently denounced the supposed “violence” of these anarchists, we released a statement defending them and all other protesters against state repression despite our political differences. As we noted in a subsequent polemic, Fightback was on the other side, joining the witchhunt:
“A June 30 public meeting on the G20 events run by this group featured speakers who actually praised the cops! One of them, United Steelworkers leader and Ontario NDP vice-president Mike Seaward, declared that ‘most of the day the police acted rationally—they were good.’ Meanwhile, a Fightback leaflet for the meeting ranted that ‘the Black Bloc are not part of our movement and there is no difference between them and police provocateurs’.”
—“Police State Crackdown in Toronto,” SC No. 166, Fall 2010
That the police insinuate provocateurs into the workers movement and left-wing protests is a given for anyone familiar with the workings of the capitalist state. However, Fightback’s denunciation of the Black Bloc anarchists as police agents has nothing to do with this—it is an excuse for refusing to defend leftists against state repression.
At left-wing forums and demonstrations, the Spartacus Youth Club ensured that Fightback became well-known for its treachery. Stung by this, these reformists moan in their “Prospects for Revolution: 2011 Canadian Perspectives” (Fightback, 31 March) that “It is scandalous that some have chosen to deliberately distort our call for working class communities to defend themselves against provocateurs as some sort of love for the police.” No love for the police? Their apologia later states: “We, of course, uphold the democratic demand for the right of rank-and-file police and soldiers to form unions—defending this right potentially brings them closer to the workers.” Fightback’s line—police sí, anarchists no—amounts to kicking out of the workers movement those who break capitalist property and inviting in those who break the heads of workers and leftist protesters.
Cops, along with the military, courts and prisons, form the core of the capitalist state, which violently defends the rule of capital. Demands for cop “unions” are not “democratic” but are necessarily linked to strengthening their ability to brutalize minorities, break strikes and terrorize anyone who opposes capitalism. We demand: Cops, prison, security guards out of the unions!
Whitewashing history to cover their reformism, Fightback goes on: “During the 1919 Winnipeg general strike the Winnipeg police came over to the strikers. We ask our detractors, was this a good thing?” Only a sellout to the bourgeoisie could ignore the fact that on “Bloody Saturday,” the Royal North-West Mounted Police (predecessor of the RCMP) and a group of police “specials” killed two strikers and injured more than 30 others, placing Winnipeg under military control and effectively crushing the strike. While the Winnipeg police had earlier voted to “strike,” they pledged to “break the heads” of workers if they stayed on duty and later adopted a resolution that read: “we stand behind constituted authority and are willing to do all in our power to preserve law and order as loyal British subjects” (quoted in Norman Penner, Winnipeg 1919: The Strikers’ Own History of the Winnipeg General Strike, 1973). We ask the loyal subjects of Fightback, is this “coming over to the strikers”?
As a revolutionary Marxist organization the SYC, youth affiliate of the Trotskyist League/Ligue trotskyste, bases its principles on the lessons of the Russian Revolution of 1917, in which the class-conscious workers did not share Fightback’s touching faith that the cops could “come over.” Their attitude during the overthrow of the tsar in February of that year was summed up by Leon Trotsky: “The police are fierce, implacable, hated and hating foes. To win them over is out of the question” (The History of the Russian Revolution, 1930). Fightback may claim to be “the Marxist voice of labour and youth,” but in theory and practice its pro-NDP “democratic socialism” leads inevitably to illusions that the bourgeois state can serve the interests of the working class. Against this, the SYC fights to win youth to the perspective of building a party that will lead the working class to smash the capitalist state through socialist revolution, avenging all victims of cop terror and laying the basis for a communist future.