The NDP should reach into the radical roots of Canada’s socialist past 

Photo by: Brenden Cowan

The New Democratic Party of Canada has been the voice of social democracy in Canada for nearly a century, but they often lack teeth which is, in part, a result of a lacking sense of tradition. A look at the radical roots of socialism in Canada is needed by the NDP if they want to win more political terrain in the future.

To be clear, I criticize the NDP because I want them to win. With the threats of climate change and increasing wealth inequality mounting with every day that change isn’t implemented, the New Democrats seem to be the only party in Canada treating these facts with the seriousness they deserve. 

Canada’s history of radical socialist parties, namely the Socialist Party of Canada (SPC) from the early 20th century, are worth considering when it comes to thinking about mounting a radical shift in the political terrain towards workers control of the economy in the 21st century. 

The SCP, for example, existed from 1904 to 1925 and called for the collective ownership of the means of production and had a variety of left-wing identities within the party including trade unionists, social democrats, and full-blown Marxists. 

Likewise, when the SCP disbanded after splits within the party due to the rise of Bolshevism and the risky opposition to World War I, the Communist Party of Canada (CPC) came about and contributed a great amount to trade union movements and labour in general in the country. The CPC even managed to get members elected to the House of Commons and provincial legislatures. However, the neoliberal turn decimated a large part of the radical left-wing movements in Canada. 

The NDP have persisted as a party of social democrats, and have won some of the best socialist policies that Canadians still enjoy to this day such as our universal single-payer healthcare system. 

However, the federal-level coalition that the NDP formed with the Liberals in 2022 showed that the NDP are willing to make strategic concessions to maintain power. There are some benefits to this, such as the Canadian Dental Care Plan that will help families earning under $90,000 a year with dental payments. However, the NDP needs to tap into the radical roots of socialist thought that were more present in the early 20th century if they hope to take the majority of power in Canadian politics and implement the changes needed to overcome labour’s abject subordination to capital and the excesses of fossil fuel consumption.

The vanguardism of these early socialist movements are important for organization building and the NDP doesn’t show the same initiative in recent years to engage in that kind of arm-in-arm linking with labour-adjacent organizations. 

If the left wants to win in Canada, then the NDP needs to tap into the radical roots of socialism that underscored the early 20th century of Canadian left-wing movements. 

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