Reflections on the Death of Jack

Reflections on the Death of Jack Layton

Don Currie, Chair CPS

August 25, 2011


The untimely death of New Democratic Party (NDP) leader Jack Layton is a moment of sober reflection on several levels by those of us who adhere to Communist principles.

The first thought that comes to mind is that no worker or farmer who understands that the system of state monopoly capitalism exists for the benefit of the rich and powerful will rejoice at the passing of a leader who in his own way dedicated his life to challenging that reality on behalf of the people who must labour to live.

Jack Layton it is obvious believed passionately in grass roots activist electoral politics. ¬†He learned his politics as an urban activist during a 15 year tenure as Toronto Councilor. In his 2004 book, ‚ÄúSpeaking Out ‚Äď Ideas that Work for Canadians‚ÄĚ (Key Porter Books Limited) and in his final statement to Canadians shortly before his death[1], Layton outlined his vision for the future appealing for the election of an NDP federal government. ¬†Largely inspirational his legacy and beliefs will resonate with Canadians deeply dissatisfied with the direction our country has taken over the decades of Liberal and Conservative government.

The capitalist press is rife with speculation such as the Lawrence Martin piece in the August 24, 2011 issue of the Globe and Mail predicting a crisis on the left resulting from the death of Layton.[2]  That is what the parties of the profit system, the elites of wealth and privilege, the war faction in our society, those who hate and fear the organized labour, farm, peace and patriotic movements of our country, hope will happen.

Communists reject such baleful analysis of the passing of a prominent social democratic politician.  That is what the right-wing in Canadian parliamentary politics wants to happen.  While the establishment politicians of the parties of the profit system dutifully participate in a period of public mourning, they are already working to split the ranks of the official opposition and deepen the domination of the state by private finance capital.

In the absence of a mass revolutionary party of the working class, the Communist left is duty bound to do everything it can to strengthen the parliamentary opposition to the right-wing Harper Conservative government and its program of IMF austerity, massive arms spending, participation in NATO wars, sell-out of Canadian energy and mineral natural resources and privatization of the social gains of the people. 

What are the limitations of that task?  The question can only be answered from a class revolutionary standpoint that is consistently Communist.  That is our unique responsibility.  Why are we Communists and not social democrats?

What is it that must be said soberly and without the doctrinaire rhetorical flourishes so irksome and off putting and rarely understood by workers?  What is the reality at the moment in Canada?

The reality is that the NDP is the expression of the present level of political consciousness of working class, farmer, urban and rural middle class resistance to state monopoly capitalism.  There is ample evidence that social democratic ideology is the dominant ideology among the left of centre electorate of Quebec, has deep roots in the west, for decades formed government in Saskatchewan and has produced for a short period an NDP government in Ontario.  The NDP is the governing provincial party in Nova Scotia and Manitoba and is poised to become the next governing provincial party in British Columbia.

Social reformism reached its highest level of influence in federal electoral politics in the last federal election.  It peaked at over 4.5 million votes and now has the status of official opposition in the House of Commons.  For the first time in its history, social democracy is positioned to take power at the federal level.  

State monopoly capitalism is alarmed at that prospect and is making plans to prevent it from happening.  That reality will make parliamentary electoral politics an intense front of anti-monopoly struggle going forward.  It is not the only one, nor is it the decisive one.

The decisive front of class struggle remains that between organized labour and monopoly.  That front of struggle will intensify as the Conservative government institutes its IMF austerity program on the people of Canada.

Communists do not trivialize these developments.  Communists evaluate the level of mass consciousness and refrain from pouring scorn on what the people consider to be of importance.  Neither do we remain silent about that reality or fail to speak frankly about the limitations of capitalist electoral politics.  

An NDP victory at the federal level could result in economic and social benefits to workers and farmers depending on the content of the extra-parliamentary political struggle that brought it about.  It is also a fact that those benefits will never be permanent under capitalism.   Wherever the NDP/CCF has held power it has failed to permanently eradicate both relative and absolute poverty.  Capitalism remained and continued to exploit the labour of workers and farmers and reap the benefits of their labour.  Above all social democracy has failed to keep Canada out of imperialist wars, and in fact has given support to such aggression.  The social democrats refuse to deeply ponder these failures of their ideology and theories.  

The parties of the profit system, the Liberals and the Conservatives have deepened Canada’s integration into the global system of state monopoly capitalism that Lenin defined as imperialism.  The imperialist system is in a state of both general crisis and cyclical economic crisis.  The crisis is expressed in permanent NATO wars of aggression such as that underway in Libya.  Nuclear war remains the major threat to humankind.  The NDP, seeking popularity, has marginalized that issue and rarely speaks of it.

The Communists say to working Canadians, to the unemployed to those living in poverty - it is important to fight for partial economic gains.  We have no choice unless we agree to live on our knees.  We work for the defeat of the parties of capitalism, the Liberals and the Conservatives.  We engage in that struggle unconditionally.

We Communists also say that a social democratic victory in a federal election is desirable and may ameliorate the age old curse of unemployment, poverty and war, but it will not eradicate it.

That is the essential difference and it is a big one, between Marxism and reformism.

To the extent that Jack Layton helped to move the political process in our country closer to more economic justice, improved the conditions of the people of Canada, defended public health care system, defended¬† universal pensions, kept alive the struggle for affordable housing, elevated the struggle of women for equality of rights, opposed racism, championed the cause of children and youth ‚Äď his legacy is secure along with that of Tommy Douglas and other militant social democrats in the history of capitalist reformist politics as we know it.

There is another stage of politics developing out of the current stage and limitations of reformist capitalist politics. ¬†It is anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist and pro-socialist in content. ¬†It will call upon Canadians to consider an entirely new path for our country. ¬†It will require and entirely new type of politics, that we Communists call class struggle politics. ¬†It will openly and decisively challenge the power of state monopoly capitalism. ¬†It will take Canadians beyond the task of wresting small gains from an exploitive system and lead to something entirely new ‚Äď socialism.

Jack Layton did not share that vision of Canada however he never faltered or ceased to remind all Canadians that there was something better than exists presently. 

We Communists agree wholeheartedly with that sentiment.

Left Turn Canada!