First Published: The Forge, Vol. 4, No. 23, June 15, 1979
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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At a time when the Quebec national question has become a crucial issue for the working class across Canada, the In Struggle revisionist clique has decided to jump onto the bandwagon. They have launched their campaign to gather signatures for their “declaration for the absolute equality of languages and nations in Canada.” This petition is nothing more than a smokescreen for IS’s chauvinist and reformist line.
The “declaration” calls on workers across the country to support Quebec’s right to self-determination and “the absolute equality of languages and nations in Canada.” In itself this is not erroneous. One cannot be opposed to such a general demand. In fact the League’s Draft Program for a new communist party puts forward the position that we must fight for the recognition of the Quebecois people’s right to decide its own future and for an end to all discrimination against oppressed nationalities in Canada.
The hypocrisy of IS’s position become apparent, however, when one compares their self-rightous declarations with the hard facts of their real practice around the national question.
Let’s take a couple of examples. In May of ’78, Charles Gagnon, top dog in the IS leading clique, told a gathering in Hull, Quebec that the closing of factories, massive layoffs and destruction of homes in Hull were not manifestations of national oppression. “The same thing goes on all over Canada,” he declared. In fact, the federal government, through the National Capital Commission, has annexed large sections of this city to neighbouring Ottawa without any prior consultation with the inhabitants of the area, in order to transform the area into a “national capital.”
The destruction of factories and communities is providing space for high-rise office buildings and high-cost housing for government employees. And of course, an influx of English Canadians is gradually anglicizing this Quebecois city.
Since Gagnon’s off-hand dismissal of national oppression in Hull, IS spokesmen have taken up this same attitude toward a series of concrete struggles. When hospital workers in the Quebec Common Front denounce the inequalties in health care that exist between Quebec and Ontario,or the general average across the country, IS accuses them of being “bourgeois nationalists.” Its all a question of “regional disparities” they claim (exactly the same argument Trudeau used for many years).
When workers demand the right to work in French, or an end to job discrimination favouring anglophones, IS says they are dividing the proletariat. As for the demands for the right to equal health care, education and the right to work in French, which the League has taken up in its draft program and in the day-to-day struggles of the working class, they are only a “grocery list” in IS’s eyes.
They refused to dirty their hands with such menial things as the concrete battles of the working masses.
IS denies the revolutionary nature of the struggles of oppressed nationalities. To them the rising consciousness of Quebecois people around the national question is an unfortunate distraction from class struggle.
In its pamphlet Uphold the Revolutionary Unity of the Workers of all Nations and National Minorities in Canada IS states: “The concept of ’nation as a reserve for the revolution has nothing to do with the strategy of the Canadian proletariat which is struggling to achieve socialist revolution.” And more bluntly “In our epoch, the national movement in our country has nothing revolutionary about it” (p. 50). What clearer declaration of chauvinism could be found?
The truth is that the struggle against their oppression by nationalities in Canada is a key element in the revolutionary strategy of the working class in our country. A third of Canada’s population consists of oppressed nationalities.
The Canadian bourgeoisie, which both exploits workers and oppresses these nationalities is their common enemy.
Our task is to unite these forces in a single movement to overthrow that enemy and build a socialist Canada. And if we are to build such a revolutionary united front, the working class must not only support the struggles of oppressed nationalities, is their common enemy waging them.
Of course, today in Quebec the PQ has taken the leadership of the national movement and is leading it to support the cause of the Quebec nationalist bourgeoisie, rather than fighting national oppression. Our task is to unmask these capitalists and win over the masses of the Quebecois people to the cause of socialism.
IS’s position on the national question bears a striking resemblance to that of the “Communist” Party of Canada (“C”PC), their big brother in the revisionist camp. Not only are they both apologists for chauvinism, but their whole approach to the resolution of the national question is fundamentally reformist.
The “C”PC calls for recognition of both Quebec’s and English Canada’s right to self-determination. This formulation serves to gloss over the fact that it is the Quebec nation which is denied that right and oppressed. Hence the “C”PC liquidates the whole national question and the struggle against great-nation chauvinism.
They then go on to call for a new Canadian constitution establishing an equal partnership between Quebec and the rest of the country. Notice, they are not talking here about a socialist Canada nor do they even suggest the fact that only a socialist revolution can put a final end to national oppression.
Capitalism itself is based on oppression and inequality and these will remain as long as the working class does not take state power and transform the whole basis of society.
IS, for its part, calls for “a general and universal law guaranteeing the equality of languages and suppression of all national or linguistic privileges, whatever they may be.” (IS, no. 89, p. 7).
This is fine. Such a law would be a good thing. But when the “C”PC and IS deny all other forms of struggle and propagate the illusion that a law could resolve the national question, they are simply trying to lead us down the dead-end road of reformism.
Such is the nature of revisionism. Empty phrases cannot cover up its betrayal of the working people. As Stalin put it in his criticism of revisionists of the Second International:
Leninism brought the national question down from the lofty heights of high-sounding declarations to solid ground, and declared that pronouncements about the “equality of nations” not backed by the direct support of the proletarian parties for the liberation struggles of the oppressed nations are meaningless and false. (Stalin, Problems of Leninism, Peking Edition, p. 69).