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Robert Fulford Versus Ed Broadbent

October 1, 1989 -

Shortly after Michael Harrington died, Ed Broadbent wrote an article in praise of this prominent American spokesman for democratic socialism. Broadbent pictures Harrington as a humane, idealistic yet also realistic, socialist who never lost the faith despite the ups and downs of socialism. His tribute to Harrington amounts to a profession of faith in the goodness and the ability of man to reorganize society on the basis of a commitment to liberty, equality and community. While this socialist faith has undergone certain revisions due to the obstinacy of human nature and history, the essential belief in socialism as the way to a humane future remains intact. As Broadbent puts it, "social democracy is the one form that ensures the greatest potential, no more but no less, for liberating the creative and compassionate possibilities in humanity."

Broadbent is also intent on convincing his readers that there is a good Left and a bad Left, and that the two are each other's enemies. He writes:

For the past half-century, social democrats and Communists have rightly seen themselves as arch enemies. This is because Stalinists building on a Leninist foundation perverted the meaning of socialism, with horrific consequences in Eastern Europe and in many other parts of the world. Social democrats fought this Communist destruction of liberty often at the expense of their lives. (Ed Broadbent, "Salute to a Socialist Visionary," Globe & Mail, August 11, 1989) 

It is true that social democrats have fought Communists at the expense of their lives. It is also true that Communists have fought Communists. In fact, communism is a system of warfare in which the most fanatic and ruthless win out over the more moderate within the socialist family. But Broadbent is very careless with history, to put it mildly, when he states that "the social democrats and Communists have rightly seen themselves as arch enemies."

Fortunately, Broadbent did not go unchallenged on this point. Robert Fulford, the former editor of Saturday Night and one of the contributing editors of Financial Times, takes issue with Broadbent. Fulford writes that while Ed Broadbent is a fine fellow in many ways, he nevertheless was naive, if not dishonest, in writing what he did about the relationship between social democrats and Communists. The truth is they often have been friends rather than foes, and joined by common interests. However blurry the lines have sometimes been, the historical record is quite clear.

Fulford explains that when he first enthusiastically supported the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation, the forerunner of the present New Democratic Party, he thought that social democrats and Communists were indeed arch enemies. But some time in the 1960s he realized he was part of a small minority in the NDP that believed this. Instead, many more believed in the well-known slogan: "No enemies on the Left," by which they meant that no matter how brutal a dictatorship of the Left, it was not correct to criticize. Fulford then marshalls a number of embarrassing facts.

Many social democrats were full of praise of Mao's China and hoped for a North Vietnamese victory in the war. Many more viewed Fidel Castro's government as a friend of the people. They also, writes Fulford, "fell in love with dictatorship in Nicaragua." In addition, Willy Brandt based his foreign policy in the early 1970s on friendship with the rigidly Stalinist East German government. In 1981, Francois Mitterand became president of France with Communist support. Even today, most social democrats will go to great lengths to apologize for Castro. Just recently, a feminist contributor to This Magazine (a socialist publication) remarked that Cuba is trying a lot harder than we are to overcome sexism. As proof, she cites the fact that Cuba has eliminated advertising and capitalism, and concludes that "it is tempting to wax lyrical about any revolution that can achieve that." Fulford concludes:

In 1989! Well, we Broadbent admirers have every reason to hope that, in his post-leadership, he'll make a valuable contribution to political thinking in this country, whether or not he decides to stay in Parliament. But he won't be of much use if he succumbs to fantasies of a social-democratic past that never was. (Robert Fulford, "Ed Broadbent's Revisionist History," Financial Times, August 21, 1989, p.40) 

The rewriting of history as undertaken by Ed Broadbent is all too common in the Canadian press and other circles. Fulford is to be commended for setting the record straight, although it is not likely to make a dent in the ideological armour of Broadbent and his socialist allies.