Monday, September 18, 2017

A few thoughts about the NDP leadership race...

...from a Twitter thread I wrote earlier this evening, in the unlikely event that anyone is interested in what I have to say.

First, some context to position myself: I am not and have never been a member of the NDP, nor any other political party. I identify politically with social movements. My relationship to electoral politics is skeptical but pragmatic. I see all sorts of limits to what parties and states can do, but I vote, because I've never understood why those limits should stop me from taking a low-impact but low-effort action (i.e. voting). I've lived most of my adult life in ridings where the NDP consistently places 1st or 2nd and I tend to vote NDP.

In terms of the current leadership race, I've followed it some, read some, but not devotedly. I'm no expert. My main interest has been the extent to which it might become a means through which a Corbyn or Sanders effect might arrive in Canada. Corbyn and Sanders aren't the (potential) saviours that their most ardent partisans understand them to be, but they are figures through which something different is happening, something different and positive.

And my question was, would the NDP leadership race be a way for that something different to happen here?

Importantly, the difference in question is only partially about platform and policy. It is also, and I think more importantly, about pushing institutions, i.e. the Democrats and Labour, to function differently, about materially pushing the neoliberal party form towards something else, however tentatively. That has looked different in the US and the UK because the parties & electoral systems are so different, but it's true in both. And in both it has been related to grassroots members/energy refusing to be contained by the neoliberal discipline of the party hierarchy, and making the organization function in ways, even if only small ones, that its neoliberal hierarchy doesn't like. Obviously not to transformational degrees, and less in the US than the UK, but the number of neoliberal hacks recently pushed to embrace #MedicareForAll shows that it hasn't been without impact in the US either.

The key lesson here is that even though both of those happened in part via leadership drives by people embracing the label "socialist", it isn't the presence or absence of an avowed socialist running things that has, at heart, mattered. It was those changes in organizational functioning forced on the Dems and Labour by grassroots energy that mattered. So an avowed socialist winning #ndpldr will not, in and of itself, change much. And while there are a couple of organized efforts to push the NDP leftwards, at least one of which still seems somewhat interesting, and I have seen signs of pockets of left-of-NDPers reluctantly signing up to cast a vote in a way that I haven't before, I see no evidence of sufficient kind or amount of energy to push the NDP apparatus to be anything other than what it has been.

Whichever candidate, whichever platform wins, the basic dynamics of the NDP as an organization will be more or less the same. There are people I know and respect supporting Singh, Angus, and Ashton (though, interestingly, not Caron). There are pros and cons to each, for sure, and real reasons why individuals might passionately support one or another. But the NDP as an insitution is going to emerge from this much as it entered.

Which is not to be all Eeyore about it...perhaps the Courage organization + Ashton supporters + Leap-related stuff will still crystalize into a Sanders/Corbyn moment down the road. But the NDP leadership race is not that moment.

And, with no disrespect intended to those who put energy into the leadership race, I still feel that hope, as always, lies with movements.