Choose Allies Who Won't Abandon You for the Trappings of Power: Lessons from the CCF, Part Two

When trying to change the power structure, it is crucial to choose political candidates and organizations truly dedicated to your goals. The trappings of power are very enticing. An outsider candidate, once elected, might think it’s more rewarding to compromise with the current power structure for modest change, and gain a personal place in the hierarchy, than fight doggedly for several years for real reform.

Real political change is tough, and the easy path of modest concessions combined with significant personal gain has been too attractive an option, even to many good people. It creates an overwhelming desire to compromise, especially in politicians and political organizations that are riding a popular wave to power but are not strongly committed to the movement’s goals. Serious reform can be a long battle. It’s critical to choose candidates and organizations that are truly dedicated to your shared goals and won't abandon the cause.

In 1920, the National Progressive Party formed in Canada to address the many grievances of western farmers. In the 1921 federal election, the Progressives elected 65 of the 245 members in the House of Commons. The province of Saskatchewan was a significant base of support.

The dominant Liberal Party offered the Progressives concessions on farmers’ issues and representation in the cabinet. The party leadership favored more unity with Liberals, and the issue divided the young party. From “Agrarian Socialism: Cooperative Commonwealth Federation In Saskatchewan: A Study in Political Sociology” by Seymour Martin Lipset:
Within two years the Progressive group in the House found themselves gradually led back into the Liberal fold by [Progressive national leader T. A.] Crerar and others. They continually supported the government on controversial issues against the Conservatives, although they were able to gain a few concessions from the Liberals on the tariff and the government marketing of wheat. In 1924 a few of the more radical members from Alberta and Saskatchewan broke with the Progressive Party because it was too closely allied with the Liberals

The result of the Progressive experiment taught many Saskatchewan farmers a needed lesson. A new movement requires leaders who believe in it; if they are forced to act radically, they will revert to their original conservatism at the first opportunity. In interviewing members of the Saskatchewan CCF who were active in the Progressive movement, I was struck by the number of old farmers who expressed the view that "you can't trust any politician, even those on our side," and then described the Progressive "betrayal."

Many readers of Firedoglake have seen firsthand in the past two years how important it is to choose leaders and support political organizations that are dedicated to your goals and will not abandon you. It’s crucial to choose allies that don't just talk a good game but are prepared to take real action.

In Canada, some of the Progressive officials and voters later joined other parties, including the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation. The CCF and its leadership were more dedicated to the needs of rural farmers.

Choosing candidates dedicated to the cause dovetails with the importance of having local associations and financial and social networks filled with self-elected officials. For example, much of the party leadership of the CCF came out of the western farmers’ cooperative movement and held posts in the local cooperatives. This produced a broad talent pool of potential candidates for higher office.

It also self-selects a leadership that is dedicated to the cause at all levels. If a person joins a local association, makes friends in the association, wins a first elected position in it, works up through its hierarchy and uses it as a base of support for a political campaign, those experiences will likely make the candidate committed to the organization’s long-term goals.

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