It Really Is About New Politics

The New Politics Initiative (www.newpolitics.ca), which made its debut at the convention of the New Democratic Party (Canada’s social democratic party) in Winnipeg last weekend, could be one of the most innovative and significant developments on the left in Canada in a long time. Of course I am a little bias since I’m a co-founder.

Contrary to what you have seen in the media, the NPI is not primarily about moving the NDP to the left. NPI is about a new kind of politics, more particpatory, more engaging, more open and more diverse.

NPI argued that the NDP had to open itself to the new forces of the anti-globalization movement by initiating the formation of a new party.

What became clear over the course of the NDP convention is that the NPI is really about transforming left-wing politics by bringing together the best traditions of old left with the radical democracy of the new left.

As Canadian Auto Workers economist Jim Stanford told a caucus meeting after the defeat of the NPI resolution on Saturday, “if anyone had told me that a young woman would be marching around the floor of an NDP convention wearing nothing but an NPI banner distributing buttons, I would have told them they were dreaming in technicolour.”

It wasn’t just the spirit on the floor of the convention that revealed the changes; it was also the extraordinary forum that the NPI held on Friday night of the convention. In an uplifting meeting, a wide diversity of people from youth to a couple who had been at the founding convention of the CCF( precurser to the NDP) in 1932 talked about why they supported the NPI.

On the edge of feeling a little like a revival meeting, what was really different about this meeting was that people were sharing their experiences rather than arguing their political points.

While the women’s movement has for years been using the techniques of sharing experiences to build a common politic, the political left has never before embraced this kind of discussion. Almost everyone had a voice here. You didn’t have to have fully formed political views to speak and the most unexpected people got standing ovations.

Even physically the meeting drew together the old ways and the new. Some people lined up at the mike and others spoke from their seats at a roving mike. To a person every particpant, even hardened old activists like myself, felt inspired by the experience.

There is some difficulty in intervening in a convention based on old top down politics with a new open participatory politic. So the NPI made mistakes. They could have been better organized on the floor. Some people who should have been able to speak couldn’t. They weren’t able to counter the spin about NPI being a hard turn to the left. Yet instead of recriminations, everyone openly admitted the weaknesses and moved on.

The NPI was able to bring a bit of the spirit of the anti-globalization movement on to the floor of the NDP convention, chants, costumes and face paint included. More than that, in a profoundly cautious political party, 40 percent voted for a radical proposal to initiate a new party. Indeed the impact may have been strong enough to open the NDP to formally including a political opposition for the first time in its history.

The other side of the activity of the NPI is to challenge the anti-globalization movement and other social movements to understand not only the importance of electoral politics but also the value of the NDP itself.

This convention showed clearly that the NDP is really a party of working people. On the flight back I sat next to an older woman who after three days of intense convention had to wake up at 5:30 am to go to work at her plant. She and thousands like her see the NDP as the party that best represents their interests.

The contempt of many on the left for the NDP misunderstands the profound working class nature of the party and its importance to the political life of thousands of working people who see no other institution in society speaking for them. The NDP may rarely due justice to this important role, but no other force on the left, except the trade unions, can claim this kind of mass representation at all.

On the left internationally two currents are emerging. On the one side social democratic parties in England and most of Europe are moving to the right and embracing the so-called “third way,” meaning corporate globalization with a slightly more humane face.

The other current is emerging through the anti-corporate globalization movement and some socialist parties in Latin America. This current strongly opposes corporate globalization and sees radical democracy, engaging citizens at every level of government, as the way to counter corporate power.

Only two people at convention openly supported third way politics, Peter Stouffer, a Nova Scotia MP and Jeffrey Simpson, a Globe and Mail columnist. Almost 40% voted to go in the other direction. Not only that but the convention almost unanimously supported a resolution that opposed the war on Afghanistan and a resolution to re-nationalize Air Canada.

So the work of the NPI is just beginning. The caucus at convention decided to build local NPI chapters and continue to bring the NDP and grass roots activists closer together.

As someone who has given up on the NDP more than once in my long political career, I feel a greater sense of optimism today that a new kind of political party that brings together most of the forces fighting for social justice is a real possibility.

Judy Rebick is the publisher of www.rabble.ca, where this commentary first appeared and a co-founder of the New Politics Initiative, www.newpolitics.ca

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