Implications of the NDP dropping the ‘socialist’ label

Blog, Poverty, Joseph Quesnel

Make no mistake about it, the NDP has contributed to the policy discourse in Canada. Both in its earlier form as the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) and when it morphed into the NDP to broaden its appeal, the party has raised consciousness about problems that others may not have noticed due to political blind spots.

Thus, it is positive change when it was reported that the party may be removing ‘socialism’ from its party constitution. The party will be discussing a new preamble at its party convention this weekend in Vancouver.

Dropping the label does not mean the party cannot fight for the things it traditionally does, like fighting to create equality or improve social conditions or combat racism. It just means it is not held back by a stranglehold that says these important goals have to be achieved through state ownership of the means of production or nationalization of key industries.

Modern social democrats often recognize the private sector can deliver publicly-desirable goods better than bureaucrats. It doesn’t mean we ought to blindly accept the private sector in all areas, but recognize that we should be neutral towards the provider of the service, if is done more efficiently, cheaper and achieves great results for the public. This means sometimes we opt for the public sector and sometimes for the private sector.

A senior party official said the move was only about semantics as it merely updates language. He said nobody uses the term ‘democratic socialist’ any longer.

However, it is quite clear the move was designed to appeal to a broader electorate. The NDP won big last election and has attained mainstream status. Perhaps they recognize that the broad public is not anti-business. Or, they could finally recognize (albeit not too openly) that the war of ideas between socialism and capitalism has been fought and won. Looking at the historical record, economic prosperity (not to mention political freedom) is on the side of free and open market economies. The debate now is between welfare capitalism and more laissez-faire capitalism.

The NDP’s change might mean it finally recognizes that.