Removing Socialism From the NDP: Achieving justice not about state planning

Commentary, Municipal Government, Joseph Quesnel


Will a modernized and less radical federal NDP help the party’s future fortunes in Manitoba?
This weekend, the federal NDP intends to alter its preamble at a party convention in Vancouver. The party will remove the term “democratic socialist” from the party constitution and policy manual.
Party insiders, of course, defend the move as pure semantics. No one uses the term “democratic socialist” any longer. Thus, they are opting for the more elastic “social democratic.”
The NDP did not do as well in Manitoba — and in many places across the West — this time round. Long time observers fretted over the loss of Elmwood-Trancona, the former seat of veteran MP and former NDP deputy leader Bill Blaikie.
Of course, there are many reasons parties lose support during elections. Sometimes it has more to do with one party getting out more of its own supporters at election time. The ballot question that probably won out this time had more to do with ending the endless minority governments than many things.
But with all due respect to party insiders, this NDP move suggests more than just semantics.
The NDP is at its greatest strength ever and is re-positioning itself to replace the Liberal Party as the party where non-Conservatives can park their vote.
This means the party that began as the explicitly socialist (read: ownership of the means of production) CCF is morphing again into a more modern, less explicitly anti-business, less ideologically doctrinaire party.
The NDP won two of Manitoba’s 14 federal seats. However, they ran second in nine ridings. Would a party less oriented towards the NDP Socialist Caucus and more like Gary Doer’s NDP help the party in Manitoba? Probably.
A more modern NDP may lose some true believers, but would probably gain more in terms of middle-of-the-road Manitobans who waffle (no pun intended for those familiar with NDP history) between elections.
Not only is it good politics, it might actually mean good policy (if the change is real and not just for show). Abandoning the “socialist” label doesn’t mean the NDP must abandon its important goals, like promoting equality.
It just means they may be recognizing modern social democrats who know these goals don’t have to be achieved through state ownership or a massive redistribution of wealth. Smart social democrats nowadays are neutral towards the provider of public goods.
If it’s done efficiently and equitably, they will support it — even if it’s the private or for-profit sector doing it. These smart social democrats know Scandinavian countries have been contracting out services for years now. The important thing is the goal, not the means.
This doesn’t mean this new NDP has to pick the private sector all the time, but that sometimes the private sector does a better job, whereas sometimes it is the public.
Lastly, this means an intellectual maturation of the NDP. Most honest people today realize the war of ideas between socialism and capitalism is won and over, with free markets winning.
It wasn’t through force of arms, but a look at the world map and see the pattern of where economic prosperity exists and where it does not.