The Future of the Canadian Left, Advocate, 13/04/2016

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All snark aside, there really are a lot of different flavours of left-wing politics in the unexpectedly big tent of the NDP. And they’re not very mutually compatible. More of an alliance of always-distinct singular directions. 

We stick around because of more than just being polite enough that none of us can be the first to walk out. Being in Canada’s actual social democratic party, you have a few genuinely common goals. Mainly, living in a fair society free of poverty, violence, and suffering. And you generally believe such a thing is actually possible to achieve. 

Stephen Lewis throws down the gauntlet for idealism at
last weekend's NDP convention. Although, in the words
of many critics during the party's resolution debates, even
his ideas don't go far enough.

But the particulars of what such a society would be and what the best rotes to achieve it would be? That’s all open to debate, sometimes a pretty angry debate that involves metaphors of throwing garbage all over people’s lawns. A funny thing to say about a bunch of environmentalists. 

That kind of pluralism of ideals and methods has always existed on the progressive end of political activism. The pundit class and our so-called “realistic”* opponents often call this a weakness. Having no unified program or discipline within the coalition means we’ll just argue among ourselves and not actually get anything done.

* That’s what conservatives call themselves when they’d prefer not to brand themselves that way so they can be seen as progressives. 

It was the insult levelled at Occupy, and at the anti-WTO protesters in Seattle back in 1999. But the values those diverse demonstrations endorsed and promoted have spread to progressive movements around the world. 

The point was never to start Occupy: The Political Party running candidates in elections. The point was to get progressive politicians, activists, and organizations around the world framing their thoughts, plans, and policies to alleviate inequality and attack oligarchy. Mission accomplished. Now let’s do it.

So here’s my basic take on the singular directions I’d like to toss into NDP society.

The left in the modern world can’t rely on the state. My generation came of age during George W Bush’s war in Iraq, which was followed by Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden’s revelations about the full extent of government misconduct. The state is too dangerous a creature to put our faith in.

Probably the biggest state intervention to build a better society that has
existed in my lifetime so far. I hope I never see a bigger one.
That isn’t a wholesale rejection of the state. But it is a demand that the state not be the first and only option for blocking unjust inequalities and preventing poverty. 

For example, a government-subsidized national daycare program would provide a lot of people stuck in poverty traps with opportunities to invest in building their own wealth. Stephen Lewis (father of Avi, son of David, grandson of Moishe**) called a national daycare strategy necessary for feminism.

It certainly is, as such a plan would provide freedom from financial hardship for many women forced to choose between looking after their children and earning enough to pay for their food and shelter. 

But state-administered solutions like nationally-subsidized and regulated daycare remains only one element of feminism. It will take much more profound and difficult cultural change to end the sexist attitudes that women suffer from every day.

Such a cultural change requires changing the very moralities and characters of millions of individuals in Canada and billions of individuals around the world. No legislature can manage that with an act of law.

Until my own book on environmental activism gets a
wider release, the major theoretical influence I'll toss to
my fellow NDP members on how to do people-centred
politics in the 21st century will be Antonio Negri.
That’s just one example, but it shows the framework of how day-to-day politics really needs to work. State law, policy, and enforcement isn’t enough to change culture. We need social movements for that – exposing people to difference in ways that show them the true injustices of the world around us. 

We need social movements that connect with people in such a way that we all join them. We can’t wait for governments to provide answers to all our problems. All governments can do is build institutions that – when they work properly – throw money at the right places of a social problem to make a difference. 

In all other aspects of politics – the fundamental ethics and moralities of our society lived out and bouncing together day by day – government intervention is oppressive, draconian, makes matters worse, and sets the problem back by encouraging popular resistance to solving the problems it’s trying to tackle.

Here’s the general philosophy that I’d like to promote in Canada’s social democratic party, the NDP. Understand that the government is the servant of the people, that all people (not just the ones who were born inside our borders or have filled out the proper entry forms) deserve a fair and just world, that government is not a universal answer to our political problems, and that changing public morality is a process of love and mutual understanding.

I sound like a fucking hippie, I know.

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