May 28, 2016 - No. 22

"More than a Movement, Less than a Party"

Attempts to Wreck the Movement of the Working Class to Realize Its Aim

The following item was submitted to the organizations of CPC(M-L) at all levels in June 2008 as part of the work of engaging all Party members and activists in summing up the experience of CPC(M-L) and of the workers' and peoples' movement for empowerment. This work was carried out in preparation for the 8th Congress of the Party held in August 2008.


The context of the "more than a movement, less than a party" line goes back to the refusal of the political parties of the bourgeoisie to address the demands of the people for renewal, expressed in the Citizen's Forum on National Unity of 1990, known as the Spicer Commission, and the People's No vote during the referendum on the Charlottetown Accord. Following the defeat of the establishment forces in the referendum, the bourgeoisie declared "business as usual" following which the 1993 federal election took place which brought in the Chrétien Liberals and decimated the old Conservative Party. The equilibrium of Canada's system of government with a national party in power and a national party in the opposition which periodically changed places was destroyed. After the 1993 federal election, CPC(M-L) pointed out that it was not just the Conservative Party which was finished but that the Liberals and NDP would follow suit. Instead of renovating themselves by bringing themselves on par with the strivings of Canadians for empowerment, the more all the political parties of the establishment spoke about change and renewal, the more change and renewal were the casualty of their actions.

Within this context of the crisis of the political parties and political system, the social-democratic and Trotskyite left in Ontario went into action during the Days of Action against the Harris government's anti-social offensive to rescue the NDP. To be precise, the line of "more than a movement, less than a party" was first expressed as the need for "more than a coalition, less than a party."

An interview with Hardial Bains, published on March 16, 1997 in TML Weekly a few days before the Sudbury Days of Action on March 21-22, 1997, explains the attempt to divert the workers' movement against the anti-social offensive into a vote bank for the NDP. The Sudbury Days of Action were the first to be organized without the backing of the trade unions. Neither the Ontario Federation of Labour, nor the local district labour council supported it. Speaking to the significance of this development, Comrade Bains stated:

The OFL wants to run from its responsibility to develop the protest movement and take it further. But it doesn't want to completely withdraw from the movement. It wants to orient the protest movement towards the fulfilment of the aims of the NDP. In this respect, the NDP is emerging as a disruptive and splittist force in the movement because it is pushing its own sectarian aims. This means that the focus is going to move towards the role of the NDP more than that of the trade unions. The NDP has its self-serving aim, which is to come to power, and it tells the people that the solution is to vote to bring the NDP to power. That is all that the people need to do, they are told.

It should not be forgotten that when the NDP was in power, it went on record for having presented the thesis that when they are in power they cannot implement the resolutions of their own policy conventions. They said that when they are in power, they become the representative of 'all the people of Ontario,' not of the NDP. But when the NDP Convention made its decisions, it did so in the name of establishing policies for the government that would represent all the people of Ontario. In power, the NDP very conveniently forgot this and changed its position. So more and more the focus is going to be on the sectarian, disruptive and splittist role of the NDP. And more and more workers and others will have to cope with this. It is not an issue of coping with the OFL and some of these trade unions. It is an issue of coping with the NDP.

The aim of the trade unions, and of their associations like the OFL, is not to radically transform the situation. They do not want to take the movement further than their narrow trade union aim. If they did that, then the OFL would have to justify its actions. Of course, some could argue with the OFL that they are going against the Fightback Resolution that was passed. Very well, there would be a fight on that. But in the end, what would be exposed is that the sectarian, disruptive and self-serving role of the NDP is the real problem. What would also be exposed is the self-serving aim of those who present the theory of the NDP as the 'lesser evil.' It would be seen that they want to bring the NDP to power because of their own direct interests and connections.

Further to this, Comrade Bains was asked to comment on the efforts to turn the movement against the anti-social offensive into electoral support for the NDP, an effort which the interviewer described as an "attempt to split the movement on the basis of partisan politics." Comrade Bains responded:

First of all, the elections are the least partisan thing there is. If you are to say that the elections are partisan, then it is the partisanship of the bourgeoisie. No election has made any difference. You have the bourgeois parties competing as to who will occupy the positions of premier or prime minister, the cabinet ministers, the secretaries and the top echelons of the civil service and so on. So you cannot say the elections are based on a battle of partisan politics. Partisan politics necessarily means to stick with the aim of your class. That is partisan politics. To say that the word 'partisan' refers to 'party politics' is really misleading in the sense that it covers up which class these parties are affiliated with. It is done to promote the fraudulent idea that the people have a choice between one party and another through elections. Because people want real problems to be solved and detest the splitting of the movement on the basis of party politics, they actually like it when things are dealt with on what is called a 'non-partisan' basis. What this shows is that what the bourgeoisie calls 'partisanship' is not really partisanship.

CPC(M-L), in so many words, states that there is a movement. It has its aim, that is the aim of defeating the anti-social offensive and winning victory for the pro-social program. It states that this aim has to be taken through to the end. So how much more partisan can you get? That is the most partisan statement. It means that the working class will have to pay attention to not allow the aim of the movement to be put in the secondary position; they should not permit it to be subordinated to somebody else's aims. As a sectarian force, this is what the NDP is doing. It does not even have the capacity to create a broad political spectrum of the left against the offensive of the bourgeoisie. It is interested in coalitions only so long as such coalitions agree to submit to its aim. It is a grouping of the left supporting the centre, not of the left supporting its own aims. It clearly does not want to have either a working class movement with its own aims, or the left with its own program. The call of CPC(M-L) is to stick with the aim of the movement. The issue is not whether you support CPC(M-L) or the NDP or something else. The issue is to realize the aim of the movement.

What we call party politics is the straightforward presentation of one's program: This is CPC(M-L), its program, its general line, the way it looks at the whole world, its short-term and long-term aims and so on and so forth. It is an appeal to join CPC(M-L). You cannot go to the movement and say that the aim of CPC(M-L) in participating in the movement is to recruit members and that this supersedes the aim of the movement itself. But this is precisely what the NDP does, as do others. The NDP demands that the aim of a political party should supersede the aim of the movement. CPC(M-L) does not think that the workers should agree with this. This is what the issue is. The working class cannot subordinate itself to the demand that the left should unite with the centre, which means, in plain language, that the left should not have its own program.

Enter "more than a movement, less than a party." The conception appears in the November-December 1998 issue of This Magazine in an article by Sam Gindin, then staff member of the CAW, entitled "The Party's Over: The NDP just keeps looking more and more like the tax-cutting 'business-friendly' Liberals." A rider on the article stated that while Gindin's views did not represent those of the CAW, they "reflect the debate currently going on within the CAW." In the article, Gindin outlines the crisis that developed amongst NDP supporters when the federal NDP announced that it was going to be more "business-friendly" and, according to Gindin, "'moderated' its commitment to rebuilding our social programs and fairer taxation by shifting its emphasis toward reducing the debt and a general tax cut (i.e. catching up to the federal Liberals)."

The federal NDP's announcement poured salt on the wound that social-democracy had suffered in Ontario with Bob Rae's government having initiated the anti-social offensive, paving the way for the Harris government to take it up in all earnest, causing the crisis in social-democracy to deepen....

Gindin's article comments on the call for strategic voting to defeat the Conservatives in the 1999 Ontario election. He used these comments to lead into his main point. The "debate within labour" on "strategic voting," Gindin wrote, "can't be contained simply by questions of electoral tactics; it has begun to evolve into a more fundamental question of political opposition and the role of the NDP." These fundamental questions, he said, posed questions for "activists and people who believe in progressive politics." Should they "give up on the NDP as a vehicle for radical change?" Should they "consider creating a new party," an option Gindin described as "the recently unthinkable." Finally, he posed the option of "just giving up on the party question as a whole and shifting to movement building." He wrote:

The dilemma might be summarized as follows. We cannot change capitalism without addressing the issue of state power and of developing our own power. This means creating an effective structure directed towards building a political opposition to corporate power. Coalitions have a role to play but they are no substitute for that structure. Coalitions are generally too single-issue dependent, too loose and too fragile to sustain the kind of struggle that is necessary. The NDP is not an effective political opposition and changing it now is simply not on. Converting the NDP into a vehicle that is about mobilizing, education and changing how we think about politics goes against everything in the party's recent history, structure and culture. It is inconceivable, for example, that a young labour activist inspired by shop floor struggles and the street politics of the Days of Action would get excited about taking the battle into the moribund NDP.

Sam Gindin did not deliberate on the various options that he says were posed to the members and supporters of the NDP. With the implicit conclusion that what it needed is a new party, he wrote:

Yet, moving on to form a new party remains premature. It's not just -- as divisions within labour show -- that right now there is no critical unified mass for this project. And it's not just because of the tremendous disenchantment among activists about political parties in general. The main problem is that there is no clear sense (here or in left movements abroad) about what exactly would be different enough about a new party to prevent it from sinking back into the same old muck.

Consequently, Gindin proposed that everyone's energies should be put "into a different kind of project." He suggested:

Suppose we said the party question had to be postponed for five to six years, and in the meantime we would apply ourselves to building a "structured movement" -- something transitional that is more than a coalition and less than a party. It would, of course, campaign around immediate demands (no mobilization can be successful if it doesn't also include self-defence and immediate goals), but its drive would be less toward alternative policies, than to an alternative politics. The goal would be to develop our political capacities -- our understanding, our ability to win others over, the creation of new forums and structures for studying, working and fighting together.

He went on to describe a "new movement" that would not field candidates, nor support any particular party. Its focus, he proposed would be "on issues."

It would therefore avoid -- at least for the time being -- the sterile debate over whether to go into or stay away from the NDP. Some activists would remain in, some out, and some would just support the NDP as the best electoral alternative. But what this new movement actually did, and how it influenced national debates, would have an impact on all parties, and particularly the NDP. Such a movement would have to tap into the tremendous impatience for action that already exists throughout society, while also developing the patience for the long haul. (To paraphrase an overheard quote, "Anything that can be completed in only one lifetime isn't worth doing.")

Gindin proposed that individuals prepared to support "this new organization" would pay dues, and support "local activities" and "national structures." This would involve supporting "organizers and a newsletter that might evolve into a weekly newspaper." While union endorsement and support would "naturally be welcome," he said "any notion of trying to forge a prior consensus among trade union leaders would kill this project." He suggested that the "new movement" would "create spaces for the participation of individual workers and activists that would be neither limited nor controlled by the kind of trade union officials who see rank-and-file mobilization as at best a headache and at worst a threat."

Gindin gives the "new movement" a particularly "local potential." Referring to the Days of Action, he states:

There is no shortage of local issues to mobilize around as the impact of globalization plays itself out in the restructuring of the economy and the state, pushing costs down to communities and municipalities. That potential was brought out in the mobilizations across the country over the past few years, the most dramatic being the local coalitions formed around the Days of Action. Yet we never figured out, across the movement, what these local groups could do after the initial events. Similarly, there is an obvious and crying need for national themes that reinforce local struggles and give them some larger meaning. As capitalism fails to deliver on its promises and global finance reveals its destructive anarchy, there is more and more room to question the corporate elite's credibility and even competency, expose its moral bankruptcy, and challenge the legitimacy of its leadership role in our society. This can be expressed and developed through national campaigns around the broad democratic themes of regaining control over our lives and direction over our society -- things like a focus on the democratization of finance.

In fact, the issue is not that the "we," as Gindin puts it, never figured out "what these local groups could do after the initial events." The issue is that the NDP was so discredited that it could not turn these local organizations of activists into its appendage. In many of the Fight Back organizations, policies had been passed prohibiting official political party participation, precisely to prevent the NDP from attempting to use them for electoral purposes.

In any case, Gindin suggested that the "new movement" could be launched with "four or five prominent leaders (reflective of the diversity within the left)" who would reach out across the country, "inspiring people with a new sense of the possibilities both locally and beyond." Within a "reasonable time period," "structures would be formed locally and nationally by the dues-paying members" who would also work to "develop national themes that support local activity and provide it with a broader context."

This movement would, of course, eventually have to confront the issues of state power and electoral politics. But by postponing direct action, these questions wouldn't be asked in a vacuum. They'd be rooted in what had actually happened over a period of (hopefully) intense struggle and debate, which raised demands and created opportunities among a population fed up, angry and, above all, in motion.

Gindin suggested that during a period of roughly five years, the NDP might be influenced by the "new movement." He argued that the "new movement" would be a strong one and that it might force the NDP to "pay attention." He suggested that "just as it is the power that business exerts from outside formal politics that gives it its weight inside these parties, including the NDP," the new movement might create change of the NDP "from the outside,"

By the end of the five years, there might actually be some concrete base for discussing whether to ally the movement with a transformed NDP. Or we might conclude that we now need to create a new political party that could include the remnants of the NDP.

Gindin wrote that while nobody could predict what would happen, the key thing was "to create the kind of movement that will ensure the left's relevance to whatever the next stage might be." Canadian Dimension published a summary of Gindin's article and requested responses. Gindin's article either coincided with or inspired a flurry of activities to "ensure the left's relevance." On October 27 and 28, 2000 in Toronto, a meeting called "Rebuilding the Left" was held. According to an article in Canadian Dimension, the meeting was "the result of months of discussion among trade union, anti-poverty, feminist, anti-racist, queer and student activists about prospects for a new anti-capitalist movement." Sometime in the same period the "Structured Movement Against Capitalism" (SMAC) was formed in Winnipeg. Its founding statement says that the "project originated in response to an essay by Sam Gindin ... In that essay, Sam presented the thesis that what is required at this point in time is something "more than a movement, but less than a party." He referred to it as a "structured movement against capitalism."  SMAC stated that "Similar projects exist in cities right across Canada."

"SMAC" explained its name by stating that "anti-capitalist" expresses in the clearest way possible the present stage of the actual movement." Further, it states that to insist on "any particular alternative as a condition of unity" would be to restrict in conditions where "there is an ongoing discussion about what the alternatives to capitalism are." Further, it defined "anti-capitalist" because it "sees all the most serious problems of the day -- poverty, oppression, racism, sexism, environmental degradation, etc. -- as being promoted and sustained by capitalist exploitation, or at the very least, that capitalism is incompatible with any solution to these problems." As to its "structured movement," it stated that "a movement without structure and organization is at the mercy of those forces which defend capitalism and are highly structured, organized and financed." It goes on to state: "This position does not imply that the movement should adopt the hierarchical and anti-democratic forms of structures and organizations utilized by the capitalists. Rather, the movement must develop forms of structure and organization which facilitate the accomplishment of its aims." The movement, it stated, "must be capable of providing itself with a vision, with leadership and with the strategy and tactics required to defeat institutions which are better organized and have access to far more resources."

While those on the "left" worked to rebuild the left from scratch, so to speak, others went into trying to renovate the NDP to be more movement-friendly. In this vein, the "New Politics Initiative" [NPI] emerged in June 2001. It began with a promise of "a process of regional consultation" "to receive input from grass-roots activists." It issued a Discussion Paper entitled "The New Politics Initiative: Open, Sustainable, Democratic." Referring to the rising movement against the neo-liberal anti-social offensive, "from Vancouver to Seattle to Quebec City," the NPI invitation stated: "A growing political movement needs a strong political party to roll back corporate power, and ensure real democracy in our lives and in our communities."

We need a political party that is open. We need a party based on the idea that change involves Canadians working together in a broader citizens' movement for more choices in our democracy, in our economy, and in our lives -- and not just be contesting elections.

In the face of an arrogant government, a divided and incoherent right, and the growing failure of a corporate-dominated economy to improve our quality of life, this is a time for the left to go on the offensive -- not a time for retreat and "moderation."

The NPI was openly a faction of the NDP, but did not attach itself at the hip. It wrote:

We are working with the NDP in its renewal process in the hope that, with organizations and activists from many grass-roots social movements, other political formations, and citizens organizations (like the Council of Canadians), as well as individuals (some of whom have never been involved in politics before), a new party can be created which will be deeply democratic and effectively challenge the system which currently excludes so many of us.

Sooner or later, one way or another, with or without the NDP, a new party is needed to support and link social change movements, including labour and environmentalists, and to reflect and represent the new progressive energy that we see in so many places.

Calling on people to "join with us to build the kind of political voice this movement and this country needs," the NPI described itself as comprised of people from a "broad range of backgrounds, activism and interest," united in "the belief that the only way for a left party to gain credibility is to reconnect to the energy and activism of grass-roots social change politics." It suggested that this party "must provide an alternative to corporate-dominated political machines, not just to the policies they represent. In other words, we need a new kind of politics -- not just new policies. Our party must represent a different approach to democracy, in the very way it operates."

The NPI defined its vision of a renewed NDP as one in which both the "social change movements" and the NDP would have to do their part:

Social change movements need to open up to the importance of electoral politics in setting the national agenda. But the New Democratic Party needs to open up to the renewing force of social change activism and participatory democracy.

In its discussion paper, the NPI described the "left" as being "at a crossroads," putting it within the context of the deepening anti-social offensive, the struggle against it, and the "set-backs" suffered by "our goals of social justice, equality and sustainability... in this lean-and-mean world of privatized, globablized, business domination." It stated that despite the setbacks, it rejected "the idea that the sun has somehow set on the ideals of egalitarianism, solidarity, redistribution, community responsibility, and socialism: ideals that have motivated generations of human beings to fight to limit the economic and political power of private wealth." In other words, it could not accept the fact that social-democracy was finished.

It stated that it was significant that the "new generation of activists embrace the term 'anti-capitalist' as a defining feature," describing it as a "huge opening to honestly and forcefully challenge the underlying precepts of a market system that perpetually generates hardship and inequality." Finally, it declared:

Far from retreating defensively and adopting so-called "moderate" values, we have an opportunity to loudly call out that the emperor has no clothes: decades of pro- business policies have not delivered better life prospects or a healthier environment for the vast majority of Canadians (let alone those in the Third World), and it is time once again to think about fundamental changes in the way we organize our society and our economy.

The NPI set "Building Canadian Democracy" as its first task. It stated that "the left can and must reclaim the moral and political initiative in exposing this increasingly corrupt process and demanding reforms which not only make our electoral process fairer, but more importantly put real decision-making power into the hands of Canadians every day of the year." The notion of building Canadian democracy is one of strengthening the party-dominated system of representation by making it more fair and equitable, transparent, etc. in the same sense as the political parties of the establishment approach it. In this regard, NPI called for proportional representation, campaign finance reforms, such as the now in place ban on corporate contributions to political parties, strict control of lobbyists, freedom of information legislation, and an "active enumeration program" to reverse the "alarming disenfranchisement of hundreds of thousands of Canadians, most of them poor." In addition it called for limiting corporate media concentration, granting wider access to the media by "those who don't happen to own their own newspapers," etc. In sum, the NPI called for "a new, broader mandate and a more representative structure of governance."

It also called for a "fundamental rethink of what democracy means to Canadians." It stated that "for too long social-democrats have not seriously challenged this corrupt process, and hence leadership in the debate over democratic reforms has been ceded, ironically, to the right. Challenging this frightening trend, and recapturing the initiative in the struggle to defend and expand democracy, can be a crucial spark for revitalizing the whole left movement." In calling for "new politics, not just new policies," the NPI described these new politics as a continuous movement to ensure electoral gains.

We need an ambitious, principled party that participates in electoral contests. ... And parties that win elections, of course, subsequently enjoy some ability to implement their policies and visions, although that ability is crucially constrained and tempered by the dominant economic power exercised in our society by corporate power. As too many NDP governments have found to their chagrin, you don't 'win power' simply by 'winning an election'. Unless we are organizing and preparing ourselves to actively press for progressive change all the time, even winning elections may not advance our cause.

The most important task facing the broad left in Canada today is to nurture and build the myriad of campaigns and movements fighting for key improvements in society ... and to ensure that these movements have a strong and consistent political voice. ...

This central movement-building task is clearly complementary to the goal of electoral campaigning. When Canadians are motivated and mobilized, actively fighting for their rights every day of the year, they will be less apathetic and less subject to the shallow manipulation of electoral gimmicks. These movements can change the parameters of political debate [...]

... [W]hen election time comes, Canadians who participate in these movements will naturally support candidates who have won their trust in working year-round for their social and environmental goals. This requires that the demands of these movements cannot be sacrificed in the interests of short-run electoral positioning by the political party; these demands, rather, must be front and centre. .. When left candidates are elected, they should become the parliamentary voice of the active citizens' movements that are the real engine of social change. Despite their current cynicism, social, labour and environmental activists understand clearly that government makes important decisions and that electoral processes are crucial to the evolution of society. They can be won back to engaging again in electoral politics, but only by a party that is seen to be an integral party of their struggles, not a paternalistic elite that begrudges their independent capacities to make demands.

This, then, is the core of the 'new politics' that our initiative aims to promote. ... We don't want a 'representative' politics, where we choose leaders to manage our concerns; we want a participatory politics, where our leaders march beside us in our common struggles (as NDP Members of Parliament did in Quebec City). Our goal is to empower and organize mass numbers ... for a better world, everyday and everywhere. When we succeed in this, the left's electoral present can only get stronger and more meaningful. Ultimately, this will lead to the election of a progressive government.

Finally, the discussion paper stated:

Many NDP members obviously share this vision of building a democratic and mobilized social change movement. But the NDP as an institution can no longer claim to represent the enthusiasm, the vision, and the moral authority of many Canadians who long for fundamental changes in the way our society works. Too many compromises have been made....

We need a political party that concerned, progressive Canadians can support -- without holding their noses, or needing to argue that it is a "lesser evil."... We need a political party which contests elections in an energetic and creative way but which also understands the limitations of electoral politics, which fights for fundamental improvements in Canadian democracy, and which privileges the grass-roots activism of average Canadians as a crucial force in progressive social change.

The NPI set a time frame for this new party to come into being. It was to take place at the NDP convention in Toronto on January 24-26, 2003. That convention elected Jack Layton as the new leader of the NDP and the NPI welcomed the election of an "activist leader." In its January 2003 newsletter NPI stated:

The [NPI] commits to make the most of the opportunities which Layton's leadership will present the party, and the left more generally. [NPI] supporters, continuing to work both with the party and outside of it, will aim to strengthen social change activism around a range of labour, environmental, and international issues, while also strengthening links between that activism and the arena of partisan politics. ...

The election of an exciting, progressive leader alone will not overcome these difficulties. Many progressive activists who should be the NDP's core constituency remain distant from the party, and cynical about electoral politics. Poor and working class Canadians, who should support our call for social and economic justice, are mostly unengaged from traditional politics.

There is a pressing need for the left (including the NDP) to rebuild its support among these Canadians... it will take new policies, new internal structures, and above all a new vision of how to conduct left politics, one that goes far beyond traditional electoral campaigns to encompass a much broader range of political activity.

The last meeting of the NPI was held in February 2004 whereupon it dissolved itself.

While the NPI was exhausting itself, Gindin and others had carried on their program to build a new party. In 2001, at the time of the NPI's invitation, Gindin described it as:

[A] call to stop whining about the NDP and either radically reform it or start a new party on the left. The sponsors of the NPI ... are surely right to insist that there is both a unique opportunity and a desperate need to respond to the gap in left politics. But does that particular strategy and content provide that magic 'something' we have been waiting for?

In Gindin's opinion, NPI underestimated "the depth of the crisis in social democracy, and the extent of the alienation with electoral politics." He went on to state:

The point is that social democracy, as an alternative to neoliberalism, is in crisis worldwide. Its therefore not a matter of fixing the NDP, but the more intimidating prospect of reinventing a politics that doesn't currently exist anywhere (suggestive experiments do of course exist, but though inspiring, they remain localized and embryonic.) Parallel to this, neither organized workers nor the young protestors whose energy any new movement must tap are likely to rush into any new party. Both are certainly frustrated with their lack of control over their lives, yet their attitude to any kind of formal politics is distrust, a hyper-wariness of being treated like "political commodities" for someone else's agenda, and a skepticism that will insist on waiting for any new organization to prove itself.

In contemplating our response, (the "our" being readers of a "Marxism mailing list"), I think we must see the present political moment as transitional. Every orientation -- street politics, social democracy of the centre or left, socialism -- is in the midst of internal confusion and debates that will, especially if they are successful, only cause more debates and splits. ... So the basic question is how can we go though this difficult period of instability -- necessary because superficial unity is neither possible nor desirable -- while maintaining a civil working relationship among ourselves?

Gindin advised that "we must figure out how to remain independent of the NPI, yet constructively engaged with it." Others disagreed with him, with a spokesperson for Rebuilding the Left, Ernest Tate, stating that "This debate about the NDP crises, represents one of the most important developments in the recent history of working class politics in the country -- much greater and more profound, in my opinion, than the birth of the Waffle in the NDP in 1971, which was the last major challenge to the party's leadership from the left." He added that the NPI should be of interest to everyone in Rebuilding the Left because it posed the question: "what could a future mass party of the Canadian working class look like."

By August 2003, Gindin and others had established the "Socialist Project" as the next step in the "more than a coalition/movement, less than a party" plan. It placed its origins in the first meeting of the Rebuilding the Left which was held in the fall of 2000. It described the gathering as one where:

[S]ome 750 activists responded to a call to "rebuild the left" by developing a structured movement against capitalism. This call for a new political formation that would be "more than a movement, less than a party" was similar to other initiatives in Canada and around the world that have been undertaken as the traditional organizations of the political left have waned.

The call was based on the understanding that the discovery and creation of a new kind of left politics is not going to be easy. It was in this spirit that, when the first Toronto Initiative faltered, a group of independent socialists continued to meet with other activists from across Ontario to try to learn from the experience and find a way forwards. ...

Out of this process -- a ray of sunshine during the long winter of 2003 -- the political statement now in your hands was completed, launching the Socialist Project as a new political formation on the Canadian left.

The statement of the "Socialist Project" identified its organization-building task as follows:

We need to build an organization of the left that sees itself as more than a single-issue movement but, at this moment, is less than a party. We do not think that movement politics alone -- given what we are up against -- can by itself adequately address the kinds of structures and strategies we need. Political parties are needed precisely because we need to make the connections across movements, to form a common struggle for social transformation ... to develop more generally alternate responses to the concentration of economic and political power to defend our ideas and past struggles and advancing collective, participatory solutions to social problems. At the same time, we do not think that jumping prematurely to the formation of a party is the answer.

We admire the energy, courage, and creativity of movement politics. But our experience in Canada has convinced us that single-issue politics, coalition politics, street politics, and the politics of the spectacle -- however much they have contributed to reviving a new sense of possibilities -- are not enough. ...

Why then not form a party? Because in principle we do not want to proclaim the formation of a party before we have talked to others about what such a party might look like and what its role might be.... A party would have to play a major role in shaping the various sections of the working class into a political force with a common identity in a common project to challenge the capitalist system. We therefore consider it a precondition to any party-building to establish a working class base that can participate in the process of deciding what kind of party we need.

If a party is to be eventually formed, we think it should be the outcome -- not the starting point -- of a sustained period of working, discussing, arguing, and learning together. It must emerge out of our political struggle against class exploitation and in the struggle against the sexism, racism and homophobia that often divide us.... As we grow, new and difficult questions about organization, strategy, and objectives will be raised. What we will eventually become therefore remains an open process that can only be determined by a politics that begins to define and make our own future, free of the constrained vision of democracy and equality that capitalism provides.

In July-August, 2006, shortly after the CAW voted to leave the NDP, Gindin wrote another article on his political project, this time in Relay, the magazine of Socialist Project, using the decision of the CAW to pull out of the NDP as his starting point. Under a subhead called "Taking 'A New Politics' Seriously," Gindin stated that the question to be addressed was "to figure out how to go beyond the NDP." In this article, he came up with a proposal for "Permanent People's Assemblies" as a starting point. He stated:

The political choices we confront today are not real choices because we don't in fact have the political capacity to implement them and -- more distressing -- we haven't figured out a way of developing such capacities. At some point we are going to have to build a new political organization. Not a different party, but a different kind of party. We need a party that addresses how we build our collective political capacities, to not just come to power, but to do so with the intent of using that political power to transform states so that they are democratic in the fullest sense of further developing our capacity to transform our workplaces and communities and contribute to genuine global solidarity. That is, to move towards replacing capitalism.

What kind of party might this be? What kind of relationships, structures and struggles should we be creating and experimenting with now, so that kind of party might be possible in the future? How do we bridge our immediate needs for self-defence with such a longer-term project? Might it, for example, make sense by setting up 'Permanent People's Assemblies' -- regular meetings of representatives of various progressive groups, including union locals, in each community -- to provide mutual support, share and expand resources, determine some common priorities, and work to the development of a common platform.


In the March-April 2007 issue of Canadian Dimension, Gindin elaborated his proposal for "Popular Assemblies." He presented it as "an experiment" that might "hold out some promise" in a situation where the NDP is finished and where the "socialist Left, whether 'independent' or in formal groups, is also at an impasse," and where the same can be said for "the anti-globalization and social-justice movements." "There are no answers waiting on a dusty shelf somewhere," he said.

To be continued with discussion on the neo-liberal conception of politics without political parties and the evolution of political parties in Canada -- from Oligarchic to Cartel.

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