Out of the corner of my eye I caught, just over a year ago, some mentions in the media that the NDP had “softened its socialist language.” I paid it no need at the time, but this week, confronted with a near-toxic dose of wholesale-unquestioning-belief-in-the-redemptive-power-of-capitalism, I went in search of the NDP’s constitution for solace.
The version I found first, dated November 2011, had this delightful preamble:
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 hold 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.
That’s the kind of talk I can get behind, and was the tonic I was looking for.
Imagine my disappointment, then, when I went looking for an up to date copy of the NDP constitution only to find that all of this language was “softened” right out of the party’s constitution, replaced with a 400 word preamble that makes no mention at all of profit or capital, and denudes the mention of democratic socialism down to this:
New Democrats seek a future that brings together the best of the insights and objectives of Canadians who, within the social democratic and democratic socialist traditions, have worked through farmer, labour, co-operative, feminist, human rights and environmental movements, and with First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples, to build a more just, equal, and sustainable Canada within a global community dedicated to the same goals.
That’s more like an homage to socialism than a commitment to it.
This repositioning – leader Thomas Mulcair was quoted as explaining it away as “a better way for us to reach out beyond our traditional base, talk to Canadians who might share our vision, who might share our goals, but who weren’t too sure” – may make the NDP more palatable, but it also excises the very heart of what made the party a compelling alternative to the Conservatives, Liberals and Greens, all of which embrace capitalism with ferocity and disagree simply on the degree to which it should be allowed to be unfettered.
It’s possible to argue that this softening was simply an exercise in catching New Democratic language up to New Democratic reality: when, after all, was the last time you heard an NDP candidate singing the virtues of emancipation from capitalism on the doorstep. But it’s a significant shift, nonetheless, and one we should all mourn.
Mourn not necessarily because we are socialists at heart – and I’m not sure that I am – but rather because in decapitating its principles, the NDP makes the political landscape even more homogeneous than it was before, and turns most political arguments about the economy into non-productive arguments about how to tweak capitalism this way or that rather than discussion about serious alternatives.