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How the right kill social democracy

Written By: - Date published: 2:00 pm, October 12th, 2010 - 55 comments
Categories: democracy under attack, International, spin - Tags:

The following article published in Canada’s Globe and Mail details how big business and the establishment “killed” the social democratic government of Ontario in 1990. It’s short and worth reading its entirety.

The article summarises the lengths to which the right will go to subvert the democratic will of people who believe in a fairer society. And therein lie some incredibly important lessons we must always remember. I try to tease out some of these lessons from this case study below. But make sure you read the whole article!

Ontario’s NDP (New Democratic Party) government was elected government of Ontario on 1st October 1990.

within months Mr. Rae’s government faced an unrelenting, brutal four-year onslaught that was unprecedented in Canadian history.
The attacks came from all sides. It is no exaggeration to say hysterical fear-mongering and sabotage was the order of the day. Launched within the very first year of the new government, the attackers included every manner of business big and small, both Canadian and American-owned, almost all private media, the police (especially in Toronto), landlords and lobbying/government relations firms. Their goal was clear, and they had the money and power to achieve it.

Lesson 1) Money and power are against you. Don’t kid yourself into thinking otherwise.

The tactics were not necessarily subtle. Though the Soviet Union was ignominiously imploding, right-wing columnists such as Diane Francis and Barbara Amiel actually resorted to old-fashioned red baiting, smearing the government as “red” or “communist.” And after the new finance minister’s very first meeting with the banking community , a bank vice-president told him, in the presence of an aide: “Nice speech, Mr. Minister, but we’re going to kill you.” And they did.

Lesson 2) Don’t sit there and take the smear attacks. Fight back, and fight back hard. Don’t let the bastards get the better of you.

NDP government decision-makers, while innocent about so much, at least understood that the corporate world was not given to bluffing. Time after time they responded to the endless corporate blackmail by compromising on policies and commitments. In this way, they alienated many of their own followers but without ever appeasing business interests. They never could.

Lesson 3) Don’t bow to threats with compromise. Remember who voted you in and the platform you were voted in on. Stand strong.

Some business protests bordered on the disloyal. Hysterical landlords took out an ad in The Wall Street Journal warning Americans not to invest in “leftist Ontario.” Others demanded the complete repudiation by the government of its most cherished legislation, as when several coalitions of powerful business interests, managed by government relations firms such as Hill & Knowlton, demanded the NDP scrap its entire plan to amend the Labour Relations Act. This was the kind of class warfare Lenin might have admired, especially since the government had already withdrawn many of its intended changes in order to meet business criticism.

Lesson 4) Seriously. Don’t compromise.

Perhaps the most chilling and underestimated of the government’s enemies were the Toronto police, whose actions at times bordered dangerously on virtual insubordination against the civilian authorities. Here too certain newspapers and radio commentators repeatedly and deliberately inflamed angry officers against the government. Most successful was the Sun’s ongoing, systematic campaign to drive a wedge between the government and the Toronto police force, sometimes with the collusion of the police themselves.

Lesson 5) The private media are not and never will be your friend. Get your friends to help sideline and undermine the particularly nasty pro-business media.

There are a world of studies yet to be written about the Ontario NDP’s difficult and controversial years in office, none more important than the nature of the saboteurs who organized their very own Ontario coup. This includes much of the business community, government relations firms, the media and the police. There are lessons to learn here about the limits of left-wing politics in Canada. None of them are encouraging if you are a left-winger.

I suggest you read the whole article to get a better picture of just how hard it is to want to change society for the fairer. The story is insightful and intriguing.

In New Zealand we are up against the same forces. But if we learn the right lessons we can avoid the same fate.

Don’t falter, don’t compromise, and stand tall for the people who elected you. There’s a job to be done.

55 comments on “How the right kill social democracy ”

  1. RedLogix 1

    “Time after time they responded to the endless corporate blackmail by compromising on policies and commitments. In this way, they alienated many of their own followers but without ever appeasing business interests. They never could.”

    Absolutely a lesson Labour needs to learn. If you give an inch to the bullying bastards they will keep on taking, and taking.

    If you’ve fracked up. make it plain and take it on the chin on your own terms, otherwise if you’ve got a sound defense….never ever let them frame the debate by backing down.

    You may get them off your back temporarily, but all you’ve really achieved is to set up your next defeat.

  2. Bill 2

    From the linked article…”Time after time they (NPD Government) responded to the endless corporate blackmail by compromising on policies and commitments. In this way, they alienated many of their own followers but without ever appeasing business interests. They never could.”

    From Chris Hedges’ latest column How Democracy Dies Lessons From a Master “Our gutless liberal class placates the enemies of democracy, hoping desperately to remain part of the ruling elite, rather than resist. And, in many ways, liberals, because they serve as a cover for these corporate extremists, are our greatest traitors.”

    And from Monbiot’s latest column The Values of Everything “So here we are, forming an orderly queue at the slaughterhouse gate. The punishment of the poor for the errors of the rich, the abandonment of universalism, the dismantling of the shelter the state provides: apart from a few small protests, none of this has yet brought us out fighting.”

    There’s really not anything worthwhile I can add.

    edit. Oops. Sorry Red, Would have simply put the two links as a follow on to your comment if I’d noticed your quote.

    • RedLogix 2.1

      As you say, what can we add to Monbiot and Hedges there. Especially when Monbiot says:

      Common Cause proposes a simple remedy: that we stop seeking to bury our values and instead explain and champion them. Progressive campaigners, it suggests, should help to foster an understanding of the psychology which informs political change and show how it has been manipulated. They should also come together to challenge forces – particularly the advertising industry – which make us insecure and selfish.

      It’s where Helen Clark’s innate rural conservatism was her undoing. Those of us who saw past the distortions and filterings of the media knew that her heart lay in the right place; yet she held back from making her motivations and values plain to us all. And given that fully half of New Zealanders cannot see why Paul Henry had to go…you can sort of empathise with her reasons.

      And it’s why, despite all the distracting nonsenses of the fundamentalists, religion is still the pivot around which everything else revolves. The sane and sincere worship of God not only instills a sense of proportion and humility, but is the most potent means of inculcating and buttressing those ‘intrinsic values’ Monbiot is pointing to.

      • Michael Foxglove 2.1.1

        I think you make a fair point Redlogix, but I don’t think Helen Clark can take too much blame for being conservative when illustrating her vision for New Zealand. You’ve got to remember that we’d just suffered for fifteen years under Rogernomics and I’m sure she felt NZers had had enough radical change for a while.

        I agree with your point, but I think her conservatism was right for the time, because it recreated trust in the left and in government. But Clark has left the next Labour Government in the position to be able to achieve something truly great.

        • ghostwhowalksnz 2.1.1.1

          Not having a majority in the House might have had something to do with it. Its only been 2 years but everybody forgets the “Labour Party” share of the votes was only about 40% over 9 years and in MMP that gave other parties 60%

          The numbers for the NDP were 37% of the vote but 74 out of 130 seats ( they previously had 19)

        • RedLogix 2.1.1.2

          That makes sense Michael, and certainly in the first term or so HC did ride an enormous tide of goodwill, but like John Key’s smile, that alone was never going to be enough to trigger real transformation.

          At some point HC’s reticence to openly put her values on the line, left a vacuum for the right and their moneyed allies, to write their own dark version framed in faux-fascist terms such as ‘Helengrad’ and ‘Nanny State’.

          Look at the insane Herald headlines screaming ‘Attack on Democracy’ in relation to Labour’s fairly innocuous EFA (and barely changed by National).. ..yet when National completely usurps Parliamentary and Court constitutional powers with CERRA, the response is a few mild finger wags and the odd tut-tut.

          • Michael Foxglove 2.1.1.2.1

            You make a good point Redlogix. In that third term there definitely was space to move things on, and fill that horrendous gap that the Herald and co filled.

            • Colonial Viper 2.1.1.2.1.1

              Labour badly needed a major make over, and the launch of a new visionary agenda and playbook in 2007/2008. But I guess thats what time in opposition is for.

              • Draco T Bastard

                Think I said something like that on this site (I’d search but I’m feeling lazy). I said that HC should step aside for someone with a greater vision as she didn’t seem to have one. The same can be said ATM of Goff – he’s just not communicating a stirring vision of the future that Labour will try to bring about.

                ‘A man does not have himself killed for a halfpence a day of for a petty distinction. You must speak to the soul in order to electrify him.’

                Napoleon Bonaparte

                The same is true of people and politics.

                • Bill

                  Let’s try this again.

                  There is no vision from the mainstream left because… “Our gutless liberal class placates the enemies of democracy, hoping desperately to remain part of the ruling elite, rather than resist.”

                  True of Clark. True of Goff. And Brown too? Although I’d love to be proven wrong, I don’t really expect to be, but am willing to give ascribe a question mark in the short term.

                  • Draco T Bastard

                    To speak of vision you need brass ones. I agree, ATM, the left doesn’t seem to have them.

                    • Bill

                      No need for ‘brass ones.’ A heart and a pair of eyes suffice. You don’t even need much intelligence to know right from wrong. We sense it.

                    • Draco T Bastard

                      But we need to actually say it and that means not being afraid of ridicule. Also, you should probably have quoted this piece:

                      Ed Miliband appears to understands this need. He told the Labour conference that he “wants to change our society so that it values community and family, not just work” and “wants to change our foreign policy so that it’s always based on values, not just alliances … We must shed old thinking and stand up for those who believe there is more to life than the bottom line.”(5) But there’s a paradox here, which means that we cannot rely on politicians to drive these changes. Those who succeed in politics are, by definition, people who prioritise extrinsic values. Their ambition must supplant peace of mind, family life, friendship – even brotherly love.

                      The people at the top of Labour need to change and that, again, takes an inner strength.

                      And probably this piece:

                      Few people are all-extrinsic or all-intrinsic. Our social identity is formed by a mixture of values. But psychological tests in nearly 70 countries show that values cluster together in remarkably consistent patterns. Those who strongly value financial success, for example, have less empathy, stronger manipulative tendencies, a stronger attraction to hierarchy and inequality, stronger prejudices towards strangers and less concern about human rights and the environment.

                      The people on the right of the political spectrum are predominantly of this latter highlighted description. This has been shown time and time again in sociological studies which relates to my Lesson 6 and to fight that psychopathy requires that inner strength as well because they sure as hell, which is where they’re going and taking us with them, ain’t going to take it lying down (although they will, most definitely, be lying).

                  • handle

                    Just watch. Even if they do not get all their projects through, Len Brown and Penny Hulse will show up how insipid and rudderless Labour have become by comparison.

                    The Greens have been coming up with coherent progressive policy. It can be done, but Labour must get fogies like Hodgson away from strategy and give their fresh blood like Ardern, Robertson and Chauvel room to shine.

            • ghostwhowalksnz 2.1.1.2.1.2

              That 3rd term :
              Oh yes when the parliamentary agenda was controlled by Winston Peters and Peter Dunne who had 7 and 3 seats respectively ( most of the time)
              AS well being in opposition for 9 years tempers the zeal a bit- ask Bill English

  3. Absolutely – if you remember back to 2000 and the aftermath of the Winter of Discontent – this was an opportunity lost.

    To rip off Sorkin: “Were the demons were shouting down the better angels” in the 5th Labour Government?

    Too often, yes.

  4. Draco T Bastard 4

    Lesson 5) The private media are not and never will be your friend. Get your friends to help sideline and undermine the particularly nasty pro-business media.

    Lesson 5a) Put in a law that any newspaper and their parent corporation will be shut down, without compensation, if found to be lying.

    Lesson 6) The political right are anti-democratic, fascist and will use any means necessary to maintain their control of everyone else.

    • Michael Foxglove 4.1

      You’re spot on with your sixth lesson Draco. It’s critical that our parties of the left learn that the machinery of the right will gear up and do whatever it can to suppress anything that threatens their riches. Their spot in society is supreme and they will not just give it up.

      A perfect example is ACT’s shameful alliance with the Sensible Sentencing Trust. The party compromised the few values of fairness it had in order to advance the interests of the wealthy. It happens time and time again, and we should never expect a right-wing government and its business mates to let any form of fairness get in the way of their money.

      • Draco T Bastard 4.1.1

        and we should never expect a right-wing government and its business mates to let any form of fairness get in the way of them taking our money.

        FIFY

        • KJT 4.1.1.1

          As you say, we will never get real change in the interests of ordinary people as politicians are by nature extrinsic people.

          Democracy means “by the people for the people”. Not by a minority of 120 politicians.

  5. Tiger Mountain 5

    John Key kicked off today with the ‘wallet shut’ on Auckland rail and now ‘potato’ Auckland Councillor Jami-lee Ross has weighed in saying that 3 councillors with Maori heritage are enough and negate the need for assigned local iwi seats. Is that enough preliminary evidence for the theorists amongst you that the right have not said “oh well Banksie lost”, but are in fact going to attempt to aggressively undermine the new Auckland council?

    Get active and support those that can be supported in the Council and Boards in the real world beyond your keyboards.

  6. Colonial Viper 6

    Time to see the Left fight fight fight for the many against the few in an unrelenting and unforgiving way. As Michael Moore might say – this is not the time for us to sing kumbaya around the camp fire while big money and big media work tirelessly against the people.

  7. prism 7

    The left government would have to watch that it kept its eye on the pragmatic as well as the idealistic. If the vision is properly thought out and costed and is intended for long as well as short term progress then it is a matter of constantly explaining it to the electorate as in the ‘broken record’ method. This is where you keep repeating the same message, and don’t stray into side issues.

    It is no use the left being as rigid and unyielding in their minds and approaches as the right wing opposition. Their prime task is to achieve good for the ordinary citizen not to go into battle with the right, do or die. The left have to be smarter than that because they have so many different concerns, the right are stronger because of their one-eyed focus on money, getting profits whether properly earned or not, and are united in that goal as a self-interested group.

    • Draco T Bastard 7.1

      As Act have proven, not really all that united. They’re just as likely to stab each other in the back as anyone else. We have to guard each others back and point out the knife in NACTs hands.

    • Colonial Viper 7.2

      Yes, the Left have to focus on generating money as well, or shall we more broadly say generating ‘wealth’. Because a society can accumulate social and environmental capital just as well as financial capital. No good having a tonne of financial capital if you are poverty stricken in social and environmental capital.

      So generating wealth of all kinds, and ensuring that it is fairly distributed/redistributed are definitely pragmatic, hands on concerns. Always worth remembering that the facilities, services and benefits that we want our citizens to have are not going to pay for or organise themselves.

      And the idealists play a perfect role in ensuring that the pragmatists strive as hard as possible to reach as close to the ideal as possible. This is where the Democrats in the US are about to take a pounding. Compromise upon compromise upon compromise, and no one is thanking them for any of it.

  8. “Don’t give in, don’t back down, don’t compromise” is all very well if you’re talking about it as a stance purely againt corporate interests and political opponents.

    But unless political parties are going to return to the days of publishing detailed multi-page manifestoes outlining their complete policy platforms (and even then, I’d say this still applies) don’t stop listening to the people.

    They might not want what you’re foisting upon them, no matter how well intentioned it may be. But they’re your bosses, and it’s their country.

    As the last would-be despot found, dismissing people who feel passionately about something as “haters and wreckers” and contemptuously meeting a sheep rather than their leaders is a sure road to well-deserved political oblivion.

    • Michael Foxglove 8.1

      It’s not about dismissing communities Rex. It’s about standing up for them and the platform they elected you on.

      And while it may well be true that parties of the right don’t publish detailed manifestos (note John Key’s one pagers on everything from Labour Relations to Education), from what I saw from the Greens and Labour last election there was a great deal of thought and depth.

    • RedLogix 8.2

      Sorry but exactly WHO are you going to listen to? The half of New Zealanders who still think “Paul Henry was only saying out loud what we’re afraid to say”?

      Vague waffling about ‘fairness and justice’ that can be twisted to mean anything you want it to is a transparent dodge that most folk instinctively see through. At some point you have to say, “this is what we believe in and why”, explain what you plan on doing and the why you want people to get in behind and back you. Show them a picture of where you will lead them…and ask them to get in behind and back the vision with unity and energy.

      It’s called leadership.

      • prism 8.2.1

        Seems to me leadership is a word that might be banned, similar to the term ‘Dear Leader’ which I was told not to use but keeps cropping up because it is a handy throw-away comment. Leadership means different things to different sectors – when you hear it from a businessman you get the idea that he is hoping the government will assert leadership by announcing lower taxes, 90 day trials, no overtime and hopefully carte blanche.

  9. Colonial Viper 9

    Rex, quite right, in a democracy, the people own the Government and must be listened to.

    Which is why we need to work so much harder on deepening the education, perspectives and awareness of our citizens. People, after all, get the rulers that they deserve. A lazy, apathetic and unaware citizenry is going to lead to inevitably shit Government.

    • Bill 9.1

      CV. You seem to be confounding theory and reality.

      The governance structures we have (you want to call them democratic? Okay. Let’s do that just for the sake of argument.) are bought and paid for by corporate business interests. The corporate piper plays. The Government dances.

      We, the citizenry, spectate.

      • Colonial Viper 9.1.1

        Am not denying that your description resembles our current state of affairs. And in the US, it describes the situation pretty much exactly.

  10. prism 10

    Ha ha dear moderator – just mentioning D L is enough to get me into moderation when I want to refer to the ban, yet I have seen two others use the term lately. Have I been noted as a recidivist who has to be monitored? Why are you picking on me?

  11. illuminatedtiger 11

    The Nats have had a go at some of this. Anyone notice how the term “PC” (and it’s incorrect usage) came to the forefront of the nations lexicon during and after Don Brash? It’s about time someone came out and gave the term a good fisking.

    • Draco T Bastard 11.1

      Already Done. Although not specific to NZ it does report most of it’s history.
      1970/80s

      The New Left later re-appropriated the term political correctness as satirical self-criticism;

      1990s

      Widespread use of the term politically correct and its derivatives began when it was adopted as a pejorative term by the political right in the 1990s,

      • Bill 11.1.1

        Doesn’t ‘political correctness’ stem from the the craven inability of sections of the left to call a spade a spade and act accordingly? Doesn’t PC derive from the inevitable and ineffectual degeneration into niceness and ‘reasonableness’ personified by the brigades of ‘lets sit down and talk about it’ latte drinking middle class types who are incapable of dishing out a kicking to those who deserve one because ‘it’s just not civilised’? And don’t these people themselves deserve a kicking for visiting such abusive, patronising and aloof nonsense on us all?

        • Colonial Viper 11.1.1.1

          ^+1

          The slaves weren’t freed in America as a result of either ‘niceness’ or ‘reasonableness’ now were they.

          • Bill 11.1.1.1.1

            When were the slaves freed again? Weren’t the terms of slavery merely shifted slightly to accommodate market prerogatives and then swollen by the inclusion of white folks and others to the ‘brave new world’ ranks of wage slavery?

            A bit like ‘out of the frying pan and into the fire’ was all that emancipation…out of the plantation and into the factory, the ghetto and the prison system for far too many blacks.

            But sure. Niceness and reasonableness had nothing to do with it.

        • Draco T Bastard 11.1.1.2

          It does now but that’s because the psychopathic right took the term, which was being used by the left on themselves critically (i.e. using to question themselves and so to grow), and turned it into a pejorative term.

  12. AndrewK 12

    The system itself is the problem. What is of supreme importance is maintaining the institutions that ensure the wealthy minority continue with their influence on society and their self-indulgent life-styles. Regardless of who ascends to the levers of power, they have endured a vetting and conditioning process so thorough it would never let any pass who would pose even the slightest threat to the status quo.

    The establishment, whether staffed by Labour or National functionaries, exists to perpetuate itself and it perpetuates itself to the detriment of the majority, as Emma Goldman pointed out long ago, “If voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal”. The whole point of parties like the NDP or the Greens being allowed to compete in the ‘democratic’ process is to promote the illusion that voting alone may work in the interests of a practically disenfranchised majority.

    The establishment is not the government, the establishment is big business, “Government is the shadow cast on society by big business.” is how it is accurately described by John Dewey. The trouble with what is euphemistically described as ‘democracy’ in the west is the alienation of the general population from the decision making process. Decision making is subordinate to the corporate agenda -profit matters, people don’t.

    Democracy needs to be more than three seconds in a polling booth every three years. Democracy must evolve to mean that everyone participates in the decision making process in all segments of the economy- health-care, education, manufacturing, food production, transport, etc…

    • Colonial Viper 12.1

      i.e. democratic socialism.

    • ZeeBop 12.2

      Thatcher led the world in loosening finance. Why? Because the middle east started pumping oil and
      the rpices were going to get cheaper and cheaper that western economies needed more liquidity so
      that they could claim more of the business from cheap oil. As energy gets cheaper more business
      and industrial processes become viable concerns. So we saw huge stock markets.

      Now we’ve hit peak oil! High dense energy fuels are running down and starting to run out!
      This means the financial era is over, businesses where businesses would support far right
      economics because it means they would make money! This is no longer viable! Businesses
      now want consumers to come in their shops, they want to offer sustainable products, not
      because their nice, or lousy, but because that’s where the money is now. The politics have
      shifted radically to the left. Now we need economic policies to do more with the smaller
      liquidity so as to maintain the wealth that has accumlated by the elites.

      So astonishly the rich need to spend, they know that they can either spend now, and maybe
      save some of their wealth (stay very rich) or they can shutdown and lose the lot.
      So the problem is not the elite, it’s not the business classes, its convincing voters that
      yes they can have better wages, they can have better services and actually its GOOD for
      the economy that they are better SERVED by the economy, it will bail out the rich and
      the business sector while the finance sector shrinks.

  13. just saying 13

    quote: “its convincing voters that yes they can have better wages, they can have better services and actually its GOOD forthe economy that they are better SERVED by the economy”,

    This bit I agree with as an important challenge for the left. The problem is the widespread, entrenched, belief that the country would be bankrupted if we stopped pandering to the rich – that if we don’t do as we’re told, they’ll pull the plug and the country will go down the drain.

    It is a mindset that has prevailed in both major parties, and it is not being challenged, except occasionally by some of the Greens.

    • Colonial Viper 13.1

      just saying, you should say more of this stuff.

      • ZeeBop 13.1.1

        We will be bankrupt if we stop capitalism by leaving all the profit
        centers in the hands of a few, and the rest of the population are making
        ends meet according factory farming conditions.

  14. KJT 14

    “they’ll pull the plug and the country will go down the drain”.

    Not an irrational fear. Countries that have become “too socialist” ,read unfriendly to US business and finance have had the plug pulled.

    India and other third world countries have been denied development money until they “removed their socialist chains”. Others have simply been invaded (Guatemala and Honduras) had their Governments forcibly changed (Chile and Indonesia), life has been made difficult (Venezuela and Cuba) or US business interests have supported right wing Governments. (NZ, UK and Australia).

    Waiting to see what the US do to their own people if they become too fractious and demand real democracy and freedom.

    • Draco T Bastard 14.1

      We don’t need their development money as we already produce enough to feed, house and clothe everybody. We can make everything that we need and if necessary do so by ignoring patents. the invasion is a little bit more difficult but we could probably hold off one of those as well if we had the necessary defense strategy and the industry to support it.

      Waiting to see what the US do to their own people if they become too fractious and demand real democracy and freedom.

      That’s fairly obvious really and we’ve already seen the beginnings of it. If the US populace gets too uppity they’re going to be detained, at the very minimum, and probably jailed and/or executed.

    • handle 14.2

      The US is being supplanted by China and the EU. What do they want from us?

  15. Draco T Bastard 15

    Steven Pearlstein Doesn’t Understand Market Economies

    By contrast, trade policy was deliberately designed to put U.S. manufacturing workers in direct competition with the lowest paid workers in the world. Also, hotels, restaurant owners and other employers of low-skilled workers have no problem at all hiring undocumented workers at low wages to keep down pay in these sectors. This also is a policy decision — the government has decided not to require these employers to obey employment law.

    In short, the inequality that Pearlstein notes has nothing to do with the dictates of a market economy. It is the result of the people at the top rigging the rules to their benefit. They got the government to stack the deck in their favor and then hired people like Pearlstein to tell everyone that it was just the natural workings of the market.

    Ensuring that the poor got poorer is an effective way to remove them from the political process as they just don’t have the time to do the necessary research. This leaves them open to simplistic slogans and rhetoric that sounds good but is essentially meaningless.

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