The privilege of becoming ‘astonished' by major events is the prerogative of a pacifist and reformist petty-bourgeois. The Marxists, especially those claiming the right to leadership, must be capable not of astonishment but of foresight.
(Leon Trotsky, "The Middle of the Road," 1935)
Marxist perspectives are by necessity a guide to action. Political activity, without the guide of theory, leads to adaptation to current prejudices and inevitable mistakes. Theory without activity leads to academic irrelevancy. The Marxist method proceeds from the general, to the particular, and back again and by a series of approximations seeks to determine the course of events. Real-world events not only provide the proof of our method; they also enrich our theory. To the degree that we are able to point a way forward, to advise the revolutionary forces when to advance and when to consolidate our gains, will determine the success of the Marxist tendency over all other tendencies in the labour movement.
As seen by the documents of the International Marxist Tendency (www.marxist.com), the general tendency is for increased revolutionary movements on a world scale.
Imperialism has found the limits of its power in the Middle East. Despite the supposed victory in the cold war, and immense firepower, the US military is bogged down in an unwinnable war in Iraq. This has consequences on the home front where the US Government has gone from surpluses to the largest budget deficit in history. George Bush's latest budget saw across-the-board cuts in every area except military spending and homeland security, and yet the deficit still grows. US Imperialism is the most reactionary force on the planet. Increasingly, the US working class is starting to link the war to austerity at home. Only a minority now support Bush and the war, and there are the first movements among the American workers such as the New York transit strike and the immigrant workers' demonstrations. There is a tendency for the "left" to belittle the potential of the US workers; in the next period we will see just how wrong these prejudices are.
While US Imperialism faces a new Vietnam, the revolutionary movement is reaching levels not seen since the 1970s, or even the 1930s. In Latin America, the workers and poor peasants have inflicted a series of defeats upon Imperialism. From Argentina, to Brazil, to Ecuador, Bolivia and Haiti, from Venezuela to Mexico, the workers are advancing. The same way as we have economic globalization under capitalism, we also have the globalization of political struggles. Workers around the world look towards these movements and are inspired. They contain the most important lesson for any working class militant - that it is possible to win. The Stalinists and Reformists always tried to frighten the workers with the invincible power of Imperialism and multi-national corporations. They told the workers they must moderate their demands or face a backlash. This was the ideology of defeat. Now worker activists see that the successes of the Venezuelan revolution were made possible precisely because the movement did not compromise with the oligarchy. Lenin said that for the masses, an ounce of experience is worth a tonne of theory. Success breeds success and these movements have international implications. This is why Latin America and Venezuela are so dangerous for the Imperialists.
The Canadian Economy
There is a belief, promoted by the corporate media and amongst parliamentarians, that Canada is somehow immune from the forces acting on the rest of the world. The UN regularly states that Canada is one of the most pleasant countries to live and "Peace, order and good government," are the defining features of Canadian politics. The truth is that Canada is indeed as good as capitalism gets, but this tells us more about the sorry state of world capitalism than anything else. Canada is not immune from world events and an economic crisis in the US, or political crises in Latin America, will hit Canada hard.
Previously (see Canada and the Crisis of International Capitalism) we have explained how the backbone of the Canadian economy rests on the export of manufactured industrial goods to the USA. In 2005, Canada exported almost $370-billion in goods and services to the USA, 59% of which were industrial goods, machinery and automobiles. Canada and the USA have a higher level of bi-lateral trade than any other two countries. Exports to the USA are consistently over 30% of Canadian GDP, with a $110-billion trade balance in Canada's favour. It is clear that Canada relies heavily on the US market.
What then is the prognosis for the US economy? Over the last 5 years there have been two main pillars of growth for the world economy. China has attracted massive investment from around the world and now has built a powerful export industry. The market of choice for China, and the rest of the world, has been the consumer debt driven boom in the United States.
The USA has been posting growth rates consistently twice that of Europe, however they have done this by expanding consumer, corporate, and government debt. The US economy now requires more than $2.2-billion dollars every day from foreigners to make up for its lack of savings. There is overproduction in the auto industry; Ford, GM and Chrysler have maintained sales by discounting but the result has been reduced profits. Above all, low interest rates have fuelled a massive speculative bubble in housing. Increased employment in the housing sector has in turn resulted in more consumer spending. It all adds up to a cycle, where low interest rates promote more spending, which promotes more debt. This can continue for some time until inflation starts to kick in and the system goes into reverse. Raising interest rates to deal with inflation will burst the housing bubble, which in turn destroys jobs in the construction industry, and leads to an end of the consumer boom. But now, on top of the classical crisis of overproduction, there is a huge debt load to deal with. The debt that previously extended the boom will have to be paid back with interest.
The Marxists are not the only ones to recognise the imbalance. In a February 6th speech, reported in Bloomberg, Governor of the Bank of Canada David Dodge warned that once the US current account deficit cannot be sustained, "we could see global economic growth slow sharply, unless there was corresponding growth in domestic demand outside the United States.'' Dodge continued to warn that if this is accompanied by more protectionism, ``a period of very slow growth could, perhaps, be punctuated by periods of outright recession.'' Unfortunately for Dodge, there is no other obvious candidate to replace the American consumer.
Protectionism is a real danger for the world economy, which would hit Canada especially hard. The softwood lumber dispute was just a taste of possible future measures. The US placed tariffs worth approximately $1-billion per year on Canadian lumber exports. Despite the devastating effect this had in logging communities, it is only a small amount of total trade. However, US lawmakers are becoming increasingly protectionist and are pointing to China and Canada as key culprits. China is refusing to let the value of its currency, the Yuan, float and it is seriously undervalued. This gives Chinese goods an advantage on world markets and has worsened the American balance of trade.
Since the advent of the anti-globalization movement, left Canadian nationalists have presented protectionist measures as somehow progressive. Marxists are not in favour of either free trade or protectionism. Free trade merely works to the advantage of the large multinational corporations and the Imperialist countries. On the other hand, when protectionism becomes endemic it raises costs and strangles the world market. Let us not forget that the slump of the 1930s was prolonged due to protectionist measures, and it took a world war to reverse the situation. Free trade and protectionism are merely two sides of the same capitalist coin. Socialists propose an exchange of goods based on need and not profit, a rudimentary example of which is the oil-for-doctors plan between Cuba and Venezuela.
If the capitalist powers fall into a war of competitive devaluations and trade tariffs it will serve to prolong and deepen any slump. They are trying as hard as they can to avoid such a scenario but the WTO talks are stalled and they may not be able to reach any compromise. The capitalist class is stuck in a minefield with very little room to maneuver.
It is very difficult to predict the exact timing when the contradictions in the world economy will be resolved by a slump. The debt driven boom could collapse in the next six months, or it could continue for two or three years. All that is certain is that, just as a man cannot lift himself up by his own ankles, this will be resolved sooner or later. The trigger for such a "correction" may reside in the US itself, or may be external. The bureaucracy of the Chinese Communist Party has discovered the wonders of capitalist production and has ditched the final remnants of Marxism. They will find that they should have paid better attention to Marx's teachings on overproduction. China's new capitalist industry is preparing a classical crisis of overproduction that will have massive repercussions for the world economy (not to mention Chinese politics).
The collapse of the housing bubble would also affect Canada. Canadian housing prices have grown 37% between 1997 and the start of 2006. This is much less than the 154% in Britain, or 73% in the USA; however, if the worldwide housing bubble were to burst it would not leave Canada unaffected. The US relies on Canadian lumber for its housing industry and there has also been a significant boom in employment connected to housing. Over the last year, employment in construction was up 87,300 and skilled trades grew by 77,300 positions (StatsCan). This equals 88% of net employment growth in the private sector.
The US economy has effectively set an hourglass timer on the length of the boom in Canada. However, there are important tendencies within the Canadian federation that will define the character of Canada's crisis. Lenin explained that politics are concentrated economics. While this was never meant to be a statement in support of economic determinism, it is clear that both the economic and political centre of Canada is moving westward.
Since the end of the Second World War, Canadian economic and political power has been concentrated in Ontario. Southern Ontario's huge manufacturing base has provided an engine for the Canadian economy. The working class has managed to take advantage of this situation. Strikes such as GM Oshawa 1937, and Ford Windsor 1945, laid the basis for the strong industrial unions in manufacturing that won significant concessions. On the political front, while most Canadians view the Federal Government as something outside and even alien, Ontarians are much more likely to see Ottawa as "their" government, similar to how they view the provincial government. Both the industrial and political basis of the dominance of Ontario is being undermined and the general trend is for this erosion of influence to continue.
A combination of a high dollar, high oil prices, and cheap-labour competition from places such as China, has led to a crisis in Canadian manufacturing. Steven Poloz, Chief Economist and VP of Export Development Canada, warned of the possibility of "Dutch disease" in October 2005:
"Dutch disease can be contracted by any economy that produces a key resource and has a manufacturing sector, too. Suppose the world price of the resource shoots up, causing the sector to boom. This will generally cause the economy's currency to appreciate, putting stress on the manufacturing sector. Something like this happened to the Netherlands in the 1970s, when energy prices jumped and the Dutch guilder rose - hence the name of the illness."Obviously, the current situation has the potential to inflict Dutch disease on Canada. Oil prices have ratcheted higher in the past year, boosting the Canadian dollar into the mid-80s against the U.S. dollar. While high oil prices benefit some exporters - producers of petroleum, oil and gas equipment, energy exploration companies and engineering firms - others receive fewer Canadian dollars for each U.S. dollar export sale. Only if exporters are importing some inputs do they have any chance of offsetting the stronger currency, because those import costs are reduced."
Since this editorial was written Dutch disease has hit full force. 200,000 manufacturing jobs have been lost since November 2002. According to the Canadian Labour Congress (Feb 10, 2006) this rises to 314,000 jobs lost when blue-collar jobs linked to manufacturing are taken into account. However, rather than lower interest rates to help manufacturing, the Alberta-based Federal Conservatives have supported rate rises to prevent inflation in the oil patch. Oil and the Canadian dollar have continued to boom at the expense of well paid unionized jobs in Ontario. More and more plants are closing and it is only a matter of time before there is a political outcry. It seems as if the newest threat to Canada's Federation comes from the west and not the east. This tendency will continue as political instability in the middle east and Venezuela seem likely to ensure high oil prices into the future, while the USA is less able to afford Canada's manufactured products. The situation will not be improved when the Alberta oil sands come online with the largest reserves of oil outside the Middle East.
Canada's business class has used the crisis in manufacturing to enforce a counter-revolution on the shop floor. Productivity, defined as real GDP per hour worked, was up 5.2% in the manufacturing sector during the last year while employment and hours worked were down. Marx defined this as an increase in relative surplus value as the capitalists attempt to squeeze more profit out of the sweat of the working class. In this they have been aided and abetted by the union leaders signing contracts that increase the rate of exploitation. While there was also an increase in investment in more efficient equipment (now cheaper in the US due to the strong loonie), the majority of this increased productivity comes at the expense of the health and family lives of Canadian workers.
The tempo of the class struggle
It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness. At a certain stage of development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production... Then begins an era of social revolution.
(Karl Marx, "Preface to the Critique of Political Economy," 1859)
It is a basic tenet of Marxism that a society that is capable of developing the means of production and improving the standard of living of the population will tend to be stable. Conversely, a society that is incapable of development will enter a period of decline and convulsions. Marxists consider the First World War as the point where capitalism outlived its relative productive potential and had to kill millions in order to save its system. In Part One of these perspectives we outlined the broad features of the world and Canadian capitalist crisis, in this section we shall look at how that crisis affects the working class and tempo of the class struggle in Canada.
Canada's net worth totals $4.76-trillion or almost $150,000 per person. Viewed this way it would appear that everybody should be happy and that the country is heading for a stable future. Unfortunately, when one looks at the actual position of Canadian families, in what is supposed to be a boom, you get a very different picture indeed. The underlying trend in Canada, and throughout the advanced capitalist countries, is that this is a boom at the expense of the working class. According to the Vanier Institute of the Family, real average earnings per hour have decreased 35-cents since 1994. Over the same period, the average workweek contracted by approximately 90 minutes due to the trend towards part-time labour. Lower pay and fewer hours mean less money. The only way working families have been able to keep their heads above water is by increased participation by women and by increased debt. Marx explained in the Communist Manifesto how the average wage would tend towards the minimum wage for continuation of life. Previously this meant that men received paid employment while women carried the burden of unpaid housework and child-rearing. Women have now won more opportunities to gain paid employment, but women's equality under capitalism merely results in the lowering of wages so the family income remains unchanged. It is no longer possible to raise a family on a single income. Average family income per year has been essentially flat for the last 5 years and has only increased $500 in real terms since 1990. Income disparities are still significant with the richest 20% taking in five-and-a-half times more than the poorest 20% each year. 3.6-million Canadians live in poverty, which includes 12.4% of all children. Interestingly, child poverty cannot just be explained by the dynamics of the capitalist labour market. Between 2000 and 2003, British Columbia had a 4.4% increase in child poverty to 18.5%, the highest in the country. At the same time changes to Social Assistance criteria by the Campbell Liberals led to a 37% reduction in recipients, also the highest in the country.
The burden of debt increasingly continues to weigh upon the working class. Annual family spending is now at a level that is 0.5% higher than earnings and the debt-to-earnings ratio has increased by 34% since 1991. Debt now represents 125% of annual earnings and workers have only been able to service this debt due to low interest rates, growing housing values, and the low unemployment rate of 6.5%.
The Vanier Institute's 2005 Report on Canadian Family Finances states:
"The soaring ratio of debt to disposable income is clearly an indicator of increasing financial stress. In an aggregate sense, it portrays an inability of a growing number of households and families to keep up financially. The rising debt to income ratio means that many households are cash-strapped and are unable to pay for their everyday or special purchases... and so they borrow. They borrow more and save less. This is in spite of a growing number of dual-income families. The degree of financial stress is climbing. Rising interest rates will certainly increase this stress."
Capitalism is clearly creating a disaster that will be realized as soon as the boom ends and interest rates increase. In December 2005, 86% of Canadians already saw themselves as making no progress or falling behind the cost of living. The key question for those wishing to change society is, "what effect is this having on the class-consciousness of the working class?"
2005 was a banner year for the class struggle in Canada. According to the Government of Canada, 428,860 workers participated in strikes or lockouts - a number not seen since 1989 (HRSDC, "Chronological Perspective on Work Stoppages.") What is even more amazing is that this high number was achieved while Ontario had only 10,866 workers involved in work stoppages, a lower number than any year since 1976, when record keeping began. There is clearly a combined and uneven development of the class struggle across Canada. Québec labour, under attack from the Charest Liberals, had the most workers striking for 30 years. British Columbia, which has had sustained labour militancy since the election of the Campbell BC Liberals had more days lost on picket lines than any year after 1992. And on the federal level, the Telus and CBC lockouts pushed days lost to a 17-year high. Increasingly, Canadian workers are dusting off their picket boots and learning the basics of the class struggle.
In the insightful essay, "The Trade Unions in the Epoch of Imperialist Decay," Trotsky explains how the labour bureaucracy increasingly becomes fused with the bourgeois State. Without these people, capitalism would not be able to last the week. More and more, the labour leadership adopts a position of arbiter between the interests of the capitalists and the workers. The workers (with the help of the Marxists), must cast off this bureaucracy before matters can be finally settled with Capital. In periods of class peace, the labour leaders gain independence from the rank-and-file and move to the right to more closely represent the wishes of their friends in management (who they spend more time with anyway). When the workers move, they put their leadership under pressure to represent their interests. The old bankrupt layers are either expelled or reform themselves when they see which way the wind is blowing.
The combined and uneven development of the class struggle helps explain why Québec and BC are hotbeds of activity, while Ontario is quiet. It is clear that after the betrayal of the 1996/7 Ontario Metro Days of Action against the Harris Conservatives that the Labour Bureaucracy has gained a large degree of independence from the rank-and-file. In no way are Ontario workers "content." In many ways they face more burdens than other sections. The same burning anger exists in Ontario (and the Prairies and Maritimes) but has yet to find an outlet. Even more than this, the labour leadership diverts every possible avenue for labour action. The closings of manufacturing plants such as GM Oshawa, Domtar in Cornwall, and BF Goodrich should be issues to fight back against. Instead unions are negotiating sweetheart deals and layoffs.
The Conference Board of Canada ("Industrial Relations Outlook", 2006) has recognized this trend towards class-collaboration in the face of "globalization,"
"Unions now recognize the need to build more flexibility into collective agreements. Take, for example, the 2005 auto sector labour negotiations. Buzz Hargrove, President of the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) and a labour leader renowned for toughness, signed a collective agreement with Ford that included layoffs. Why? He argued that Ford could not afford to lose market share to foreign competitors. Unions recognize that they have to work with management in order to ensure that, at the very least, the jobs that remain are good jobs. Hargrove's concessions are an indication that in some cases, the lines between labour and management are blurring." [emphasis added]
Once workers and their organizations start accepting the logic of capitalism, all is lost. The truth is, that at a certain point capitalism cannot afford decent wages. The solution is not for Canadian workers to accept Chinese wages; the solution is to work to overthrow capitalism and adopt the tactics of the Venezuelan workers - occupation while demanding nationalization. Trotsky explained that betrayal is inevitable once you abandon the fight for socialism. He wrote in the Transitional Program, "If capitalism is incapable of satisfying the demands inevitably arising from the calamities generated by itself, then let it perish. "Realizability" or "unrealizability" is in the given instance a question of the relationship of forces, which can be decided only by the struggle."
While ex-lefts such as Hargrove are negotiating "flexibility," the Conference Board goes on to detail the increased militancy of management that is resorting to concessionary bargaining and lockouts to force their agenda. CBC and Telus were key lockouts in 2005 and currently 600 workers are locked out at the Stora paper mill in Nova Scotia. Defined pension schemes are an area that corporate Canada is singling out as "unsustainable" too, and we should expect growing confrontation over this issue.
Canadian Capital is seeking to improve its share of the surplus value produced by the labour of the working class. They do this by speed-ups, by longer hours, and by reduced benefits. Another way the capitalists can maximize surplus value is to reduce the public sector and attack public sector unions through privatization and contracting out. Marx explained that the public sector was "non-productive" labour for capitalism. A nurse in a public hospital creates no surplus value and this expenditure has to be financed in part from the profits of Capital. Saying this labour is non-productive is not a value judgment on our part. In fact this work is essential to the running of society. But from the point of view of the capitalist economy (and many individual capitalists) it creates no profit and serves no purpose. In that sense, it is a value judgment of their system. It explains their desire to privatize Medicare against the best interests of the entire population. There has been a global tendency towards de-nationalization. OECD figures show that public sector employment in the UK was 21.6% of all workers in 1985. Thatcher's Conservatives managed to reduce this to 12.6% of the workforce by 1999. Germany went from 15.5% to 12.3%, and Ireland from 20.2% to 14.6% during the same period. The USA maintained its low value of 14.6%. Two main western countries stand out resisting this trend. In Canada 20.2% were employed in the public sector in 1985, and according to Statistics Canada there has been a modest decrease to 18.5% today. France has remained above 20% over this period and the attempt by the French ruling class to redress this competitive deficit explains some of the mass strikes seen in that country. Canada can look forward to more of the same medicine as the various levels of government seek to achieve a level playing field with the USA.
Now the bourgeois are looking towards friendly right-wing governments such as BC, Alberta, Québec, and the new Federal Government to help them push their advantage and maximize profit. Back-to-work legislation is becoming more common, especially in the public sector. But this has its limits, as it breaks the "gentleman's agreement" of the post-war social contract. In exchange for the right to organize and the grievance procedure, Canadian workers gave up the ability to strike while under a contract. This was a lousy deal as it took power away from workers who would previously down tools at a moments notice. It placed control in the hands of expensive lawyers and the bourgeois labour-board. Workers are now expected to submit to the labour board while back-to-work legislation removes the effective right to strike during negotiations. This tactic has been successful in ending the 2004 Newfoundland and the 2005 Québec public sector strikes where the leaders capitulated to bourgeois legality. These leaders forget that if workers were not prepared to break the law there would be no labour movement today. However, in British Columbia, the working class is learning that there is one law for the rich and there is another for the poor. The ruling class has used the legislative tool too many times and it is being blunted. The Marxists can be proud of the fact that we were key players in proving that bourgeois law can be broken with mass action. The UBC Teaching Assistants were the first to defy Campbell and since then the movement has spread. BC is on the perpetual verge of a general strike and anything could set it off. The movement has also brought forward new militant leaders, such as Jinny Sims of the BC Teachers Federation, who more closely represent the wishes of the rank-and-file. Once workers learn to defy the law it represents a serious breakdown of the capitalist order. We must watch developments closely. The key point is that without a mass revolutionary tendency, the movement will be protracted and go through advances and retreats. We must use the movement to steadily build our forces and in a modest way grow to a position where we can play a role.
The general tendency over the coming period is for an increased level of class struggle in Canada. This does not mean there are more strikes today than yesterday and more strikes tomorrow than today. There will be victories, and there will be defeats. One section of the class or the country will move forward while others will move back. Eventually the Ontario workers, especially those in the manufacturing industry, will break the control of the parasitic bureaucracy and adopt their rightful position within the mass movement. A new leadership will emerge and will itself be renewed. The impact of outside events such as the positive example of the Venezuelan revolution can also spur things on. The degree to which the revolutionary forces can orientate to the workers movement, and not lose our heads in mass events, will determine what role Marxists can play in the future struggles. Above all, the increasing working class struggles will not be cordoned-off into collective bargaining. More and more as workers understand the role of capitalism they will seek a political expression for their aims. This is the bedrock that explains the current crisis of confidence in Canada's bourgeois democracy.
The Crisis of Confidence
The economy, the state, the politics of the bourgeoisie and its international relations are completely blighted by a social crisis, characteristic of a prerevolutionary state of society. The chief obstacle in the path of transforming the prerevolutionary into a revolutionary state is the opportunist character of proletarian leadership: its petty bourgeois cowardice before the big bourgeoisie and its perfidious connection with it even in its death agony.
(Leon Trotsky, "The Transitional Program," 1938)
When one looks at the state of world capitalism there are few points of strength. After the collapse of the Soviet Union the bourgeois declared victory and even claimed the "end of history." Yet at the time of writing, Iraq is sinking into a civil war, French workers and youth are again organizing a general strike, and Imperialism is facing defeat after defeat in Latin America. In Canada, the crisis is in its early stages, but it is being expressed by a crisis in confidence in bourgeois institutions.
The election of the Harper Conservative minority government is in no way indicative of a movement to the right in Canada. The ruling class are happy to rule through the Liberal or the Conservative Parties, but what they demand is a strong government that can push through their conservative agenda. More and more the general public is starting to see that one party is just as sleazy as the other and will do anything for power. Poll after poll show a complete lack of confidence in bourgeois democracy and their politicians. The David Emerson floor-crossing affair proved to people that it really doesn't matter who you vote for, the capitalists always win. And they call this democracy! The election of a second minority government, with increased representation from the New Democratic Party, is in many ways a defeat for corporate Canada.
In Québec the movement of the working class and the youth has finally resulted in the formation of a new left party, Québec Solitaire. It is not accidental that this coincided with the poor showing of the bourgeois-nationalist Bloc in the Federal election. A large portion of the sovereigntist vote in Québec is, in fact, a vote against the status-quo and against the Canadian State. Trotsky explained how Ukrainian nationalism was merely an outer shell for an immature Bolshevism and a similar process is taking place here. The workers (Francophone and Anglophone) are looking for any outlet to vent their frustration. For the first time in a generation there is the opportunity for the formation of a genuine party of labour in Québec. There are massive reserves of support for a radical policy and all it needs is for the unions to break with the petit-bourgeois PQ and the Liberal Party. Unfortunately, many on the left in Québec have capitulated to petit-bourgeois nationalism when they should be promoting socialist internationalism. Marxists firmly defend the right of the Québec people to self-determination, but we point out that on a capitalist basis it would not solve any of the problems of the working class. We stand for the unity and common interests of all workers, irrespective of nationality, as the means by which to overthrow capitalism and a basis on which to create a new society. There has not been a better time to change the dynamic of Québec politics from the national question to the class question since the days of the Common Front and the Québec general strike movement of the early 1970's.
The minority Federal Government is inherently unstable. The Conservative agenda is to privatize Medicare with the support of the BC, Alberta, and Québec provincial governments, cut social services and daycare, and increase Canada's military presence overseas. But the Conservatives have even less of a mandate than the corrupt Liberals who preceded them. Either the corporate masters of the Liberals and Conservatives will crack the whip and force the parties to cooperate or, barring a historic betrayal by the NDP, this will be a short-lived government.
2.5-million people voted for the NDP in the 2006 elections; this equals the NDP's highest ever vote. The parliamentary cretinists in the leadership of the NDP only see the vote as translated into 29 seats. In fact it is much more than that - it is a reflection of the growing opposition to the status-quo in Canada. Over 35% of the electorate do not even see a reason to vote and these are the exact people - poor, youth, and immigrants - who would benefit from a working class policy. One commentator mentioned that if we only counted youth and women voters we would have a majority NDP government. We previously explained how the NDP could have mobilized the majority of the population against the Afghan war (see Troops Out of Afghanistan! - Canadian Imperialism comes of age). Similarly, they could begin a campaign to nationalize oil and gas, which has the support of 49% of Canadians. Millions of workers would be prepared to take action against the privatization of Medicare. Again and again, on issue after issue, there is the opportunity for a mass movement to erupt but the NDP and labour leaders refuse to lead it.
Dialectics explains that change does not occur in a straight line, but by transformations of quantity into quality. For years there can appear to be no change while contradictions are gradually building up beneath the surface. Eventually, a critical point is reached where a small input can lead to radical change. In these perspectives, we have detailed the economic crisis of capitalism and how it leads to poverty, exploitation and oppression. In turn, the working class has reacted to the attack on their living standards with a strike wave not seen for a generation. However, despite poll-after-poll showing support for anti-corporate, anti-imperialist, and even socialist policies, there has been relatively little movement on the political plane. The NDP leadership, federally and provincially, have maintained their positions or even moved to the right. The only positive position held by the federal NDP during the elections was counter-posing corporate tax cuts to funding social services. Apart from that, they refused to oppose the Afghan war, backtracked on their position of opposition to the "Clarity Act" in Québec, and jumped on the law-and-order bandwagon by supporting mandatory minimum sentences for young offenders. In BC, the NDP bureaucracy has moved far to the right and are working to break the link with labour in an attempt to inoculate the party from the mass movement on the streets.
In the 1920s, Trotsky criticized the Stalinists for propping up the TUC labour bureaucracy through the Anglo-Russian committee. The Stalinists thought they could prevent intervention against the USSR by uniting with the bureaucrats on the general council of the TUC. What they actually did was give the reformists left cover for their future compromises. This aided the leadership in their betrayal of the 1926 General Strike and dealt a severe blow against the growth prospects of the British Communist Party. Subsequently, the TUC bureaucrats dumped the committee as so much used material. The class contradictions in Britain resulted with the election of the first Labour government and its subsequent split into the centrist Independent Labour Party with 100,000 members. Trotsky's writings on Britain contain many lessons for present day labour militants in Canada and all should take his Transitional Program as a guide to activity in the workers' movement. Marxists do not take a hysterical sectarian approach of denouncing the leaders, but neither do we align ourselves with them or take responsibility for their compromises. The right wing may appear to control the organizations of the working class but there are great forces building up beneath them that they cannot control.
The logic of the class pressures in Canada is that eventually a left wing and even centrist tendencies must form within the labour movement and the NDP. If we looked at the situation empirically we would say that the right is in complete control and there is no hope for opposition. But we are not empirics; we are Marxists who attempt to reveal the underlying contractions within complex processes. Even now there are the first symptoms of movement within the party. Individual students and young workers are joining and are looking for a radical policy. As of yet it is only a trickle and the majority of activists are aspiring young bureaucrats. But the youth are always the most sensitive barometer of processes in society and we expect this trickle to increase. In Québec, during the federal election, the NDP candidate in the Montreal riding of Outremont, Leo-Paul Lauzon, declared himself in favour of nationalizing oil and gas. He also said that we should look towards Chavez and Castro as positive examples. Lauzon managed to get a respectable showing of about 7,000 votes. These are small isolated symptoms that have not yet coalesced into a tendency, but we would be remiss if we did not point them out. It is significant that Lauzon should cite Venezuela as a positive example, as this issue is a growing banner for a left policy. Honest workers and youth in Canada will turn to the successes of the Venezuelan revolution. Under the impetus of the Russian Revolution, in 1919 the British Labour Party passed their historic Clause 4, committing the party to nationalization. Venezuela can play a similar role in Canada and throughout the world.
Trotsky was correct when he stated that the political situation as a whole is chiefly characterized by a historical crisis of the leadership of the proletariat. But we are not anarchists and we cannot do an end-run around history. Marxists orientate towards the mass organizations of the working class because we understand that the laws of history and the working class are stronger than any bureaucracy. Eventually there will be a break in the situation, which will open up tremendous opportunities for the Marxist Tendency. But we must be patient and steadily build our forces. The strength of the International Marxist Tendency is the methods, traditions, and ideas it defends. That is the only thing that separates a revolutionary policy from that of Stalinism, sectarianism, or reformism. The precondition for success is to train youth and working class militants in the ideas of Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Trotsky. Each trained and educated Marxist won now will mean a hundred, or a thousand, under the impact of events. We call on all those wishing to overthrow capitalism to join our fight. In the words of Eugene Debs, an unorganized socialist is a contradiction in terms. It is a long fight, and stamina is also an important virtue for a revolutionary. But eventually, in one country or another, the working class shall come to power and begin the socialist transformation of society.
March 27th 2006