Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

In Struggle!

Fight Linguistic Privileges

Support the Absolute Equality of Languages and Nations!


First Published: In Struggle! No. 89, May 26, 1977
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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The PQ wanted to give a symbolic number to its “Charter of the French Language” bill: they called it Bill 1! The PQ’s first bill is, in fact, the bill of the nationalist hoax by which a segment of the bourgeoisie in Quebec aims to constitute itself as a monopolist block, by stirring up national divisions among the proletariat and the people.

Linguistic oppression is an integral part of the national oppression of Quebec and the French-speaking minorities elsewhere in Canada. Thus, outside Quebec – as the struggle of the Franco-Ontarians in Essex County has just illustrated – the right to an education in one’s mother tongue is totally flouted, even in areas where an important proportion of the population is French-speaking. In Quebec, where French-speaking people constitute the majority, the bourgeoisie has always upheld the privileges of the English language, and uses language differences, the most apparent sign of national differences, as a means of discriminating against French-speaking, and especially working, people. Because he doesn’t speak English, the French-speaking worker in Quebec is refused jobs, or else confined to underpaid jobs. The fact that presently among all the ethnic groups in Quebec, the French-speaking population has the second-lowest standard of living... the last place in this infamous ranking being held by the native peoples, tells the whole story! One hardly needs to point out that thousands of French-speaking workers in Quebec are forced by the capitalists to work in English. The hysterical campaign against the use of French in aviation Quebec shows us clearly the result of this policy of discrimination and oppression based on privileges for the English language. The result is the division of the proletariat and the people, and the development of racial hatred.

While the capitalists rub their hands in glee to see certain Canadian trade union organizations, like those of the pilots and air controllers, split, divided by the chauvinism and racism that they have engendered, many English-speaking, French-speaking and immigrant workers are led into supporting the chauvinist and nationalist policies of “their” capitalists, be they English-speaking, French-speaking or of foreign origin. It is in this way that mistrust is created between workers, even though they often work side by side in the same factory. If someone happens to shout “bloody Frenchman”, a “bloody English” and, of course, a “bloody immigrant” is likely to follow: division creates division, chauvinism creates chauvinism. That is the logic of bourgeois politics: oppress nations, grant privileges to one language at the expense of another, poison the atmosphere with racial prejudices in order to counter the solidarity of workers of different nationalities and to prevent the proletariat, united above and beyond national differences, from taking up the struggle to the end against the bourgeoisie.

It is in this context that we must understand the very harmful effects of the passionate debate launched by the PQ’s language bill. In particular, this bill arrives at a crucial moment for the Canadian proletariat, when the bourgeoisie’s attack with its Wage Control Act is now accompanied by an unprecedented betrayal on the part of union bosses to disarm the proletariat and submit unions to the dictates of the big bourgeoisie (Morris’ secret agreement with Trudeau, tripartite summits in Ontario and Quebec, etc.). That is why Marxist-Leninist and class-conscious workers have a great responsibility at the present time. Particularly with regard to the language issue, we must do our utmost to develop a rigorously correct position and to defend uncompromisingly the proletarian point of view.

On all questions, uphold the point of view of the proletariat

To establish a correct position in the current language debate, it is first necessary to ask one question: from which point of view must one take up the question? The PQ’s nationalists will say, from the point of view of the Quebecois nation; Trudeau, Clark, Broadbent and Co. will answer in chorus, from the point of view of “Canadian unity”. How should we answer all that? Will we be “federalists”, will we be “separatists”? Will we be champions of “Canadian” patriotism or the champions of Quebecois “national culture”? No, comrades! Our point of view is not that of the nation, but rather that of the proletariat. “Traitors to the nation!” the capitalists will shout. Rather, traitors to the capitalist ruling class – yes, that we are, because we know that what’s hidden behind your fine speeches are your interests as an exploiting class.

The capitalists are good mystifiers: they want to have us believe that their interests as an oppressing class are the interests of all classes, the interests of “the nation”. No, Mister Capitalists, as you know very well there is not and there never will be the national question, above and beyond classes. There was the “national question” of the aristocracy, and today there is the “national question” of the capitalist ruling class and the “national question” of the proletariat. And the “national question” raised by the proletariat differs from the “national question” of the nobility and of the bourgeoisie to the same degree that the proletariat differs from the nobility and the bourgeoisie.

For the bourgeoisie in general, and for the Canadian bourgeoisie and its Quebecois nationalist segment in particular, the “national question” means forging a “national” market and a “national” State, means also the elimination, more or less, of the “foreign” bourgeoisie, in order – oh! ultimate patriotism – to better exploit the “national” proletariat. The “national question” of the bourgeoisie is also the oppression of nations and national minorities, outside and within the country, always under the pretext, obviously, of “patriotism”. To profit from national oppression to over-exploit important segments of the proletariat; to provoke racism, chauvinism and nationalism amongst proletarians of various nationalities tn order to divide them – that is the “national question” of the capitalist ruling class.

But for us, comrade proletarians, what is the “national question”? Essentially, it is to defend our interests. And what are these interests? They are to unite solidly, across national lines, in the struggle to the finish against the capitalist system and the bourgeoisie. For us, the workers, our weapon is solidarity, it is the awareness that we all form, whatever the language wo speak or the colour of our skin, one single class exploited by a minority of capitalist parasites who are very much in agreement, despite their national rivalries, to crush us.

Break down national barriers

Capitalism created nations, but, in its development, created at the same time the conditions for their disappearance by multiplying all kinds of relationships between nations, within one country or on a world-wide scale. But at the same time as capitalism – especially since it has reached its imperialist stage – creates the objective basis for the fusion of nations, it tries desperately to erect artificial barriers between them, so as to maintain itself as a system of oppression. Thus, by persecuting the culture, language, customs and institutions of nationalities, by setting nations one against the other, by inflaming national animosity, the bourgeoisie alms at consolidating national barriers in order to protect its part of the spoils of capitalist exploitation, to attack the class consciousness of workers and to sow strife in the camp of the proletariat.

The “national question” of the bourgeoisie means the creation of national barriers by restrictions and oppression so as to consolidate the capitalists class privileges. Totally opposed to that of the bourgeoisie, the “national question” of the proletariat means, on the contrary, working for the destruction of national barriers by fighting against national oppression and national privileges in order, precisely, to bring together nations and to regroup as solidly as possible the entire proletariat in the common struggle against capitalism. Because this – the solid unity of all Canadian workers, whatever their nationality or ethnic group – is essential if we are to achieve our strategic goal, the socialist revolution in Canada. That is why all nationalism that eulogizes the nation to better maintain national barriers; the nationalism of the oppressive English-Canadian nation like that of the oppressed Quebecois nation, is s sworn enemy of the proletariat.

From the proletarian point of view, only the highest possible democracy can solve the national question

For the proletariat, there is only one way of solving the national problem: the application of the most consistent and coherent democracy. What does that mean? That means that the proletariat must struggle against any infringement on the rights of nations and national minorities: it must attack all privileges, for all nations or national minorities whatsoever. To use Lenin’s expression, it is in a way a “negative” task, i.e., it means opposing all discriminatory or restrictive gestures towards nations or national minorities without ever transforming this opposition into the promotion of a particular culture or national language.

The proletariat must defend the civil equality of nationalities because civil rights are a means of struggle for the proletariat, and we must try to see that these rights be applied as widely as possible. The proletariat defends freedom of language because it favours the combat of the proletariat. As Stalin said about Russia,

Language is an instrument of development and struggle. Different nations have different languages. The interests of the proletariat of all Russia demand that the proletarians of the different nationalities inhabiting Russia shall have full right to use the language in which it is easiest for them to receive education, in which they can best oppose their enemies at meetings or in public, state and other institutions. That language is the native language. (...)[1]

Our Party demands “the right of the population to receive education in their native languages, this right to be ensured by the establishment of schools for this purpose at the expense of the state and of local government bodies; the right of every citizen to speak at meetings in its native language; the introduction of the native language on a par with the official state language in all local public and stats institutions.” [2]

Finally, the proletariat must recognize the right of nations to self-determination, up to and including separation. This is a fundamental right, because if the union of nations is not completely voluntary it can only lead to division and oppression. And obviously union cannot be voluntary unless it includes the freedom to separate.

Let the nationalities themselves decide, when this question faces them, whether “national independence” is useful or harmful to them, and, if useful – in what form to exercise it. They alone can decide this question (...)

We have “the duty to see to it that the wishes of these nationalities are really Social-Democratic (Editor’s note: Marxist-Leninist), that these wishes spring from the class interests of the proletariat; and for this we must educate the proletarians of these nationalities in the Social-Democratic spirit, subject some of their reactionary “national” habits, customs and institutions to stern Social-Democratic criticism – which, however, will not prevent us from defending these habits, customs and institutions against police violence.[3]

In general, then, this is the programme of tho proletariat on national question: the right of nations to self-determination, including separation, the total suppression of all privileges for any nation or language whatsoever; and the proclamation by the State of a universal law guaranteeing equality for the rights of nations and national minorities.

In order to fully achieve this democratic programme, the proletariat must seize hold of State power and overthrow the bourgeoisie that will tend constantly to oppress nations and national minorities as long as capitalism exists. In this way, the struggle for the equality of nations and languages is an essential part of the struggle for socialism, because only proletarian democracy will be able to guarantee this equality. But on the other hand, it is not only possible but essential to struggle under capitalism to apply the communist programme concerning the national question. Indeed, this is a necessary condition to further the struggle for socialism. In Canada, for example, when English-speaking workers, side by side with French-speaking workers, take up the struggle against the privileges of the English language and the chauvinism encouraged by the capitalist ruling class, not only will it be possible to force the Canadian bourgeoisie to respect the rights of the Quebecois nation and French-speaking minorities across Canada more fully; but also, the French-speaking proletariat will be able to see in practice that it is by fighting for socialism in a unified way across the country that its specific oppression, linked to national discrimination, can be resolved. And this reasoning, valid for English and French-speaking workers, is also valid for the oppressed and exploited masses of the Indian and Inuit peoples.

The linguistic programme of the proletariat

In Canada, the “national question” of the bourgeoisie is also a systematic policy of national oppression, and, in particular, of language discrimination. The denial of the rights of the French language, not to mention those of the Indian languages, and privileges for the English language – this to, in short, the language policy of the Canadian bourgeoisie. To this the proletariat must answer unanimously across the country by demanding a general and universal law guaranteeing the equally of languages and the suppression of all national or linguistic privileges, whatever they may be. Much more than a declaration of principle, this law would permit any citizen to demand the repeal of any discriminatory measure and to prosecute offenders. We should put forward this demand of the Canadian proletariat across the country and even demand that it be written into the Canadian constitution.

In practice, this means that wherever there is a certain linguistic concentration, Canadian workers, and in general, all Canadian citizens, should be able to work, study and live in their mother tongue, as determined by the multinational realty of Canada, i.e., in English, French and the Indian and Inuit languages. It means that all linguistic discrimination – in the hiring of a worker, for example – should be forbidden and punished by heavy penalties. In the field of education, the proletariat must oppose all forms of national constraint and must fight on this level, as on others, for a single, multinational structure that aims explicitly at preventing a linguistic community from enjoying privileged conditions, and that encourages the elimination of artificial national boundaries. The programme of the proletariat must therefore favour the creation of a single, non confessional school system on a Canada-wide basis – something that doesn’t prevent wide provincial or or regional autonomy – having a curriculum based on a common syllabus.

The existence of such a system also implies, certainly, the elimination of private schools, privileged reserves of the bourgeoisie or profit-making machines for capitalist companies. Also, for ethnic minorities (immigrants), the public schools should provide certain courses in their national languages in order to facilitate their integration into the Canadian proletariat.

But, some will say, has IN STRUGGLE! gone mad? Is It proposing bilingualism a la Trudeau or the Union National’s “free choice”?[4] Certainly not! For in practice, this bilingualism is nothing more than the obligation for French-speaking people to speak English. Or again, it is the bureaucratic policy of the federal State that wants, forcibly, to make unilingual civil servants bilingual, rather than to hire unilingual English and French-speaking (and Indian) civil servants who by working together would be able to provide multilingual administrative services. As for the “free choice” of the language of education included in the Union National’s ex-Bill 63, it was a hypocritical measure, because, by not guaranteeing the rights of French-speaking people and by sustaining the privileges of the English language, this “free choice” meant, in fact, the “free choice” of attending English schools... or starving because of the bosses’ discrimination!

But the nationalists will ask us: what will happen to the “nation” if education in English is not forbidden? Aren’t the Quebecois in danger of being assimilated? The “English” made the immigrants go to English schools; isn’t it just that the “French” in turn force them to go to French schools? And there you have it – once again immigrant workers are cannon fodder in the language war; once again constraint and once again division; once again the “national question” of the capitalist ruling class instead of the “national question” of the proletariat! Why do so many immigrants attend English schools presently? Because it’s easier to get a job when you’re English, because the English language is the key to privileges. But if, in fact, we attack these privileges, language choices will no longer be subjected to the least constraint, direct or indirect. And then, if the movement of history came to mean the assimilation of one or the other of the nations or national minorities, that would not correspond in the slightest to a national oppression, but rather to the objective tendency of economic development to dissolve national frontiers by creating a world-wide network of increasingly closer economic, social and cultural relations.

It is essential to break with nationalism and chauvinism

The defense of the communist (Marxist-Leninist) programme on the language issue is of fundamental importance right now in Canada. In effect, the national question is the Canadian bourgeoisie’s main weapon for dividing the proletariat and corrupting its class consciousness. Thus, with it its Bill 1, the PQ is trying to use one of the most obvious aspects of national oppression to drag Quebecois workers into its project of building a truly Quebecois monopoly bourgeoisie. Thus, also, Trudeau and the Liberal Party are in the process of uniting all the segments of the Canadian bourgeoisie and are also trying to involve the proletariat of the English-Canadian nation in the struggle against Quebec and its legitimate right to self-determination. Furthermore, the PQ’s current offensive on the language issue also corresponds to an offensive of the entire Canadian bourgeoisie, including its Quebecois faction, to maintain the wage freeze and to attack the working-class movement by chaining its organizations to institutionalized class collaboration.

Now, in the language debate where the unleashing of hysterical chauvinism by the English-speaking bourgeoisie is a fine bedfellow for the PQ’s reactionary nationalism, we see all the so-called defenders of the working class – like those union leaders in Quebec, hoarse from praising the PQ – line up with the bourgeoisie to cloud the class viewpoint of the proletariat. Worse yet, groups calling themselves revolutionary defend the ultra-nationalist viewpoint according to which the PQ isn’t “radical” enough and doesn’t defend “the nation” well enough! For instance, the Trotskyists in Quebec, whose slogan “For an independent socialist Quebec” aims only at completing the PQ’s bourgeois nationalism with a social-democratic mask, have welcomed the PQ’s project, all the while criticizing it as not “radical” enough vis-a-vis the English language. But today we find a new voice in this chorus of reactionary petty-bourgeois radicalism. And it’s very serious for the Canadian proletariat, because this voice is that of an important Marxist-Leninist group, whose mistaken positions are a great danger for the Canadian proletariat in its struggle to rebuild its single Party.

Thus, we must not hesitate to criticize firmly the ultra-nationalist position of the CCL(ML). In its newspaper The Forge (April 14, 1977. p. 5) the League titles “The PQ’s White Paper on the French language in Quebec: a nationalist attempt to divide the working class”. However, when you read the article, and the accompanying one that deals with the situation of Franco-Ontarians. you can see that the League condemns Bill 1 on the basis of a position even more nationalist, a position apparently “to the left” of the PQ, but that in fact is even further to the right. Indeed, Bill 1 would sow division, not because it makes French the only language of the State, nor because it curbs the rights of immigrants and English-speaking people (and French-speaking people), but rather because it doesn’t oblige everyone, including English-speaking people, and Inuit and Indians living in Quebec for centuries, to go to French schools: “So Quebecois and certain immigrants will be forced to go to French schools and the others will not!”

In short, for the League, the bourgeois nature of Bill 1 stems from the fact that only French-speaking people and certain immigrants will be forced to go to French schools. Injustice! Everybody should be forced to go. That’s how the League trades the communist principle of the absolute equality of languages for systematic constraint and absolute privileges. The League goes so far in its nationalism as to affirm that the French-speaking people of the other provinces have a right to their schools, but not the English-speaking people of Quebec, including many workers, because these people are part of the dominant nation. To “punish” them for having been born into the wrong nation, English-speaking workers should in turn suffer linguistic oppression, according to the League. In another article (The Forge, April 28, 1977. p. 4) the League categorically condemns the very existence of English education in Quebec, a province containing almost as many English-speaking people as all the Maritime provinces put together! Generous, in spite of everything, the League grants English-speaking people in Quebec the right to study Shakespeare in English: “it means abolishing English schools in Quebec and maintaining a single French system, at the same time respecting the rights of English Canadians to study their language and their national culture”.

For the League, education in English in Quebec would be illegitimate because it was imposed in 1760 by the English conquest of New France! The ultra-chauvinists have already gotten us used to the revenge of the Plains of Abraham, and then the revenge of the cradle, and why not, after all, the revenge of the schools... At this rate one could very well say that education in French is just as illegitimate because it was imposed on the native populations by the French conquest of Canada in 1534!

The League fights privileges... by taking away rights

Abandoning a class viewpoint for that of “the nation”, trading the proletarian point of view for ultra-nationalism, the League in fact proposes another programme of division for the Canadian and Quebecois proletariat. After having asked the bourgeois State to curb the civil rights of English-speaking people in Quebec by denying them the right to vote in the referendum on independence (see The Forge, March 3, 1977. p. 12. and our analysis in IN STRUGGLE!, no. 87. p. 3), now the League is suggesting that their right to study in their mother tongue be taken away. And while the Ministry of Roads in Quebec has just proclaimed a regulation to prevent the hiring of English-speaking workers as temporary employees, the League has not even pretended to protest the PQ’s bill aimed at privileging the French language. Indeed, the League assumes the defence of the reactionary and chauvinist position that says that to eliminate the privileges of English-speaking people in Quebec, including many workers, it is also necessary to take away their rights. [5]

Formerly, the Regroupement des comitÚs de travailleurs, that opportunist group in Quebec whose descendants have now rallied the League, put forward the slogan of “critical support” for the PQ, because Quebecois workers were nationalist, and a too-obvious disavowal of the PQ could have endangered its opportunist manoeuvrings to take control of unions. Today, nationalism is still very present in the working class of Quebec, as is the demagogy of the PQ, which takes the legitimate hatred of Quebecois workers for the Canadian capitalist ruling class that is responsible for its national oppression, and turns it against English-speaking and immigrant workers. In these circumstances, defending the communist programme is undoubtedly more difficult, but it is all the more important, and any faltering on the part of Marxist-Leninists in this regard can have very serious consequences. Undoubtedly it is easier to float with the current, and to take an ultra-nationalist position instead of standing up to nationalism. That is the position that the Communist League has taken, a position that shows that its “correct line” is in fact deeply marked by opportunism, by opportunism.

Comrades, we must be very conscious of our responsibilities towards our brother workers of all nationalities in Canada, and we must do our utmost to convince them that our positions are correct. The future of the unity of our class depends upon it. And without this unity, victory will be impossible.

Dare to defend the communist programme!
Fight against linguistic privileges!
Fight for the unity of the Canadian proletariat!

Endnotes

[1] Stalin, “The Social-Democratic View of the National Question,” Works, Vol 1, Russian Edition. p 34.

[2] Idem, p. 43

[3] Idem, p. 51

[4] This refers to Bill 63, passed by the Union National government, allowing immigrants to “freely” attend English language schools.

[5]These new opportunist positions of the League on the language issue and on that of the referendum are not isolated incidents, nor minor errors occurring “by accident” in a line that is perfectly correct. Already in the Statement of political agreement that was at the origin of the League, one finds the affirmation that the Quebecois nation is “an important reserve of proletarian revolution&@8221; (p. 48). Analysing the national question for a bourgeois point of view, the League has once again substituted nationalism for class analysis. And what does this class analysis tell us? It tells us that it is the interests of the oppressed people of the Quebecois nation to ally themselves with the Canadian proletariat in the struggle for socialism, because, finally, that is the definitive solution to the national question. It also tells us that the Quebecois elements of the Canadian bourgeoisie are no more interested in the revolution than is the Canadian bourgeoisie in general, and that, on the contrary, they are the sworn enemies of the proletariat.