Sunday, June 19, 2011

The NDP and Libya: What would Tommy Douglas think?

By Chris Shaw
June 19, 2011

NATO bombing of Tripoli
The French anarchist writer Sebastien Faure wrote that, "I am aware of the fact that it is not always possible to do what one should do. But I know that there are things that on no account can one ever do." The NDP's Jack Layton is certainly no anarchist.

Indeed, it is even becoming uncertain if he and the NDP are even socialists anymore, but they all would do well to remember Faure's sage advice which goes far beyond anarchism. There are simply some things one should not do, not even in hopes of "broadening" the base of the party. And one of those things that one should never do is to abandon all principle for political expediency and the hope of future electoral gain.

Case in point: Last week, the NDP's MPs, all of them, voted with the Harper government to extend the Canadian Forces' "mission" (creep) in Libya. Or, in less PC words, continue to support NATO's intervention in someone else's civil war by bombing the crap out of parts of that country that won't comply with Western interests.

The NDP is now in Vancouver for their convention, still giddy from their jump to formal opposition status.

Layton was quick to assure the media that the NDP was here in part to support Vancouverites in their hour of need after the Stanley Cup riot. Smiling Jack was his charming self as he told reporters that the NDP abhorred the violence, burning and looting... in the streets of Vancouver, that is. But the NDP's vote in the Commons made it quite clear that they were quite okay with visiting wanton destruction on Tripoli as long as it was administered by NATO and Canadian warplanes, rather than by drunken teenagers from Vancouver's suburbs. The delegates, "brothers and sisters," at the convention seemed oblivious to the glaring discordance of this, demonstrating one of the clearest cases of political tunnel reality in recent memory.

Fighting to preserve the pensions of seniors from the Harper regime or the right of postal workers to strike is laudable, of course, but does one have to support Western bombing of a Muslim country to fight for social justice at home? If that's the cost, it's a Faustian bargain, destined to indelibly tarnish whatever future government the NDP hopes to form. How does one explain to those thirsting for justice at home that theirs came at the expense of death and destruction for those on the other side of the world who want no less?

The means to an end do matter. Regardless of how one tries to obfuscate or twist the context in Libya to focus on "protecting civilians," the lies of NATO and Canada about the intervention are ever more blatantly apparent. I'm sure I wasn't the only one in Canada to watch in astonishment as the NDP voted in lock-step with the Harperites to keep Canada in a war that has no consequence for Canada's survival. Moreover, to keep us in a war in a far away country where we admit we understand neither the war, those fighting it, the true nature of the war, nor the alleged purposes for which it is being fought.

The crude political calculations that the Layton gang seem to have made to support Harper may seem like mere horse trading to move the NDP further along the track toward a future goal. For the moment, these manoeuvres may work in garnering some support from the squishy political centre. But in the end, sacrificing principle for fleeting political brownie points is going to come back to haunt them with a vengeance: Principle, like honour, once abandoned, is not easily restored.

I'm thinking Tommy Douglas would be mightily embarrassed. But then, he really was a socialist and a crusader for social justice.

Jack Layton and the current NDP can't claim to be either.

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