This pamphlet was published by the International Socialists in May 1997 during a remarkable low point in the history of the NDP in terms of popular support. Ontarians had unceremoniously turfed the Rae government in Ontario in June 1995, and in May 1996 the “first past the post” electoral system helped the BC NDP stay in power despite losing the popular vote. The June 1997 federal election saw party support bump up four points to a still miserable 11 percent.
From Rae to Romanow to Clark, and under the federal leadership of Audrey McLaughlin and Alexa McDonough, the party decisively embraced neoliberal policies, even accepting many of the ideological claims underpinning the policies. There was little popular appetite for this type of NDP and voters who embraced such policies and ideas usually went and voted for the real deal, such as the Harris or Klein Tories, or the federal Reform Party. Countless NDP voters would back parties such as the Ontario Liberals or federal Liberals as a “strategic” or “least worst” vote to keep out something worse.
The NDP’s turn in the 1990s was not unique among labour-backed social democratic parties. The New Zealand Labour Party made an abrupt and incredible turn to neoliberalism in the 1980s, decimating a robust and redistributive welfare state once deemed a Scandinavia in the south seas. In the early 1980s, the Australian Labor Party and French Socialist Party were both elected on the promise of socialist change, but capitulated to neoliberal policies amidst a right-wing media propaganda assault and threats of capital strikes.
And of course, as this pamphlet was being published, Tony Blair was elected to power in Britain under the ideas of the “Third Way” which dispensed with “Old Labour” ideas of nationalizing industry and advancing labour rights and redistributive measures. This “New Labour” ramped up privatization, introduced tuition fees, embraced the speculative agenda of finance capital, refused to rollback the damage to social housing and labour done by Thatcher, and would then march lockstep with George W. Bush into the Iraq War and all its disastrous consequences.
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