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Popular pressure is all we have
Good luck, Alberta
There isn’t any great mystery to what happened last night in Alberta. The results were foretold in the riding-by-riding projections. The UCP had more rock-bottom support than the NDP had and so the only real votes that were in play were dancing around the edges of a clear UCP victory.
Of course, no committed social democrat likes to talk like that. It’s too defeatist. How can we really know the result of any election before voters have the chance to have their say? Every single vote counts and how dare anyone suggest that door knocking on e-day is not what wins elections.
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These are fine myths to hold to but they are very much just myths. We saw the same thing in Ontario. The NDP and the Liberals needed everyone to believe that if all of their supporters would just vote, they would win. In an article was about how the Liberals and the NDP had a path to victory over Ford, consider this quote from an anonymous NDP strategist, nine days before that vote: "For us, the last part of this campaign is going to be pushing really hard on our strengths and matching our strengths to the cost of living and affordability."
And yet, these myths betray reality. At the risk of being defeatist and negative, the truth is that no amount of work during an election period can unseat a party that has rock-solid support in a majority of ridings. It’s impossible. And lying about it being possible burns volunteers, gives people false hope and makes it look like a party is deeply unserious.
But there’s the rub: the NDP is not a serious party.
It isn’t a serious party because it trades in these lies and rhetoric rather than doing the basic work of organising a base. It can’t organise a base because, really, the party hasn’t stood for anything concrete in many decades and it’s very difficult to organise a base when you act for nothing.
Now, I don’t mean that they say they stand for nothing. The NDP says it stands for a great many things. And the things are fine. But they don’t actually act for anything in that they don’t actually do the things they say they stand for.
And the act is getting tired.
But it is important to be fair: did the ANDP lose because it was a pale Liberal party that tried to occupy 60% of the space that Jason Kenney would be happy to occupy? No. They wouldn’t have won if they had a more radical platform. Social change doesn’t happen because an NDP somewhere finally decides to do politics. It’s a long process. A slow process that is built inside and outside the party. And that’s the critical weakness here: there’s no willingness or appetite to actually build this party into something useful. As I have seen many people say today and previously, it’s a party that’s addicted to losing, confoundingly under the guise of saying it’s committed to winning.
The only good news is that elections in this country barely matter. We have oriented everything in Canada towards the markets and no political party will change that with a single mandate (or even multiple mandates). Regardless of who would have won last night, corporate Canada would have had an ally in the premier of Alberta. With Notley, they would have at least had someone who probably wouldn’t force the corporate sector to eat truckloads of shit. But that shit can be sweetened by Danielle Smith’s honey: a true win-win situation for them.
For Albertans and Indigenous people in the province’s territory, it’s varying degrees of lose-lose: from lose-ish to very much devestating. But, as it has always been in Canada, that just means that social struggle — popular struggle, whether civil rights movements or movements for self determination — are the only option. They were the only option last week, they were the only option yesterday and they remain the only option today.
Popular pressure will stop some of Smith’s reforms. Popular pressure will create local solutions to the worst of her policies. Popular pressure will goad her into doing something that forces her to resign, at some point. Popular pressure has always been, and continues to be only way forward.
But the real problem for people who oppose the status quo — that giant tent of individuals who don’t make enough money to be able to go to restaurants or to buy a new car or save money for retirement or make rent or buy food for their kids or pay for a bus pass — the real problem for everyone who opposes the direction of folks in power is that there is no path in Canada to turn popular pressure into something semi-permanent.
Labour and social democracy have both failed to develop the kind of paths that exist on the right: the way they’re able to absorb everyone from a freaky anti-vax flat earther to a lowly rancher who doesn’t want to pay taxes, from bored and unhappy church ladies to disenfranchised young men who look like old men. They have paths for these people to get involved in their political apparatus, to shape it, to respond to them and to express their ideals, regardless of how incoherent or damaging those ideals are to the stated status quo. Because they also have the means to buffer the popular sentiment of party activists as it might conflict with the most important entity in society: capital.
But we don’t have this on the left. We in fact scorn it. And until we realise that it’s the only path to building any level of power in this country, we will continue to lose, scratching our heads and asking aloud: why can’t we seemingly do anything?