The Canadian left

Time to build a stronger socialist movement in Canada

Global trends have opened the door, but stronger organizations are needed
Photo: Patrick Denker

Aggressive capitalism is kicking the crap out of us, so we should see if we can start a public conversation about the need for an alternative political and social system.

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It’s shocking that capitalist businesses have become so dominant. They literally rule the world. In Canada, the low-profile Canadian Council of Chief Executives is all powerful when it comes to influencing government.

We can see the corporate greed all around us. Four out of 10 Canadians — many of them earning around $11 an hour — can’t pay their bills but Canadian corporations are sitting on at least $630-billion in cash they’re refusing to invest in the economy. Unfortunately, even when people know about the damage caused by capitalism, they’re often too afraid to discuss alternative political ideas such as socialism.

Powerful people fearful of the threat of social upheaval have demonized the words socialism and communism, and this scares the hell out of many people.

Mainstream media are owned by corporations that seldom, if ever, report on alternative political systems. And if ideas aren’t laid out before the public, they really don’t exist.

People are fed up

Despite the lies and badgering that come from corporations and the wealthy, people in many countries are fed up with traditional politics. They’re fighting back against corporations and governments that are joined at the hip.

Those who supported the Brexit vote for Britain to leave the European Union and the millions who voted for Donald Trump are, among other things, anti-establishment. They feel they have been ignored and left behind.

It seems that many Canadians share the same views. Seventy-one per cent of people taking part in a large poll in June said they believed the same populism evident in the U.S. is on the rise in this country. Many of those interviewed were working class or poor.

Ekos pollster Frank Graves found that 70 per cent of those polled believe that almost all the economic growth over the past 20 years has ended up in the hands of the top one per cent. Almost 25 per cent of Canadians believe there is a good chance they will lose their jobs in the next couple of years.

Our political system works mainly for the handful of people who control the parties.

Only 11 per cent of Canadians have been members of a political party in recent years. When it comes time to elect new leaders, the candidate who sells the most cheap memberships often wins.

Potential socialist vote

I believe there is such dissatisfaction with mainstream political parties that, if we adopted proportional representation and people felt their vote counted for something, thousands of Canadians would vote for a well-led socialist party.

I am not an authority on alternative political systems, but if a party wanted to give power back to Canadians it might:

  • Get rid of neo-liberal policies
  • Greatly reduce business lobbying
  • Change the tax system to make it more just
  • Implement a switch in economic policy that would reduce unemployment
  • Re-instate powers of the Bank of Canada so it could make no-interest loans to governments and reduce borrowing from corporate banks
  • Buy back and nationalize assets that are required to protect the public interest, and Introduce a proportional representation voting system

So, is there a strong socialist party that is capable of advancing the cause? Sadly, the answer is “No.”

I’ve compiled a list of the socialist and communist groups I’m aware of in English-speaking Canada. (I’m not discussing socialism in Quebec as it is a big topic on its own. The province has had a number of fairly successful socialist parties over the years.)

NDP is not socialist

First, just to clarify, the NDP is not a socialist party. The NDP says it’s a social democratic party, but it moved so far to the middle in the 2015 election that the Liberals were able to outflank them to the left with a few progressive promises.

There are three small groups trying to push the NDP to the left: The NDP Socialist Caucus, Momentum, which describes itself as the NDP’s left alternative to austerity, and Courage: A coalition of the independent left that says it wants to “put democracy back into the NDP.”

Other groups include the Socialist Party of Canada, Socialist.ca (International Socialists), Socialist Alternative, New Socialist and the Communist Party of Canada.

Once a bastion of socialism and communism, there still are many strong socialist adherents in labour, and a few small but effective groups across the country, such as Solidarity Halifax.

Leap Manifesto important

Another important development is the Leap Manifesto. It’s not a party and it’s not socialist but the document presents a progressive way forward that should be of interest to socialists. It has been endorsed by more than 46,000 people and organizations.

It’s disappointing that not one of the few English-language groups has been successful in attracting more than a few dozen followers. They seem incapable of attracting new members. This is particularly upsetting, because there are opportunities out there that haven’t existed for years.

Some critics say the groups are more of a hindrance than a help when it comes to representing socialism to the community.

I’d like to see a couple of groups prove the critics wrong. If they really care about what they’re doing, they should buy a new organizing manual and develop a new strategy. Most important, they need to get out and speak to people in the language of everyday people not the jargon of socialism.

It would be great to see independent socialists now on the sidelines move into one or two of the groups and give them new life or — if necessary — take them over. Or, of course people can also start a new group.

Some folks could get together and create a place for discussion — perhaps a closed Facebook page — where ideas could be shared. The Bullet, an excellent online publication, is there to unite socialists.

While socialists don’t have a chance in hell of getting their ideas into mainstream media, they should make a stronger effort to get onto alternative media sites.

I hope that my criticisms and pressure from other people reading this will put a fire under the butts of these socialist groups and encourage those hanging back to get involved.

Nick Fillmore is a Toronto freelance journalist and social activist. He worked for the CBC for 25 years and is now concerned about how misguided CBC managers are destroying Radio One with too much mindless content. His blog is: nickfillmore.blogspot.com.
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