First Published: The Worker, Vol 10, No 15, June 14, 1978
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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Ultimately our principle differences with the Challenge piece will revolve around that favorite question of Leninists, “What is to be done?” But, since it has some bearing on the matter, we’d better ask “What is to be done about what?” We have to get at the facts.
According to Challenge the potential civil war comes from the struggle between the Quebec capitalists behind Levesque and the English Canadian capitalists behind Trudeau. Further, the U.S. and French capitalists are both backing Levesque(which he probably finds confusing). The workers in Canada should not be taken in by any of these nationalist goings on and should proceed with the fight against racism and for socialism. We think the Challenge account is overdrawn and inaccurate.
Alliance? What alliance? Levesque is a provincial premier, not a head of state. Canada has an alliance with the U.S. and has always protected U.S. profits in Quebec. Doesn’t Rockefeller have enough problems without starting a civil war to steal what he already owns? The U.S. is nervously watching events, hoping to make the best of whatever happens. But it is unlikely that the U.S. rulers want a shoot out taking place in Canada. Provincial representatives all make trips to the U.S. and many of them say the same things as Mr. Landry. Trade is basically north-south and the provincial representatives always talk like continentalists. If having meetings with Rockefeller means alot then Trudeau has Levesque beat by a mile, since he has seen a lot more of America’s first family of blood and billions.
The French imperialists, as the citations from The Worker indicate, are taking the opportunity “to fish in troubled waters”. They do stand to gain something, but they’ll be careful about the risk. So far they haven’t caught anything, and it should be mentioned that part of the Quebec story is that they were betrayed by France, dealt away, a long time ago.
So, the PL description of who is contending with whom in Quebec and Canada is a little out of whack. The external factor is distorted. It should probably be noted here that there is no army in Quebec (except the Canadian, that is), so there is not the makings for a formal confrontation, let alone orthodox war. There is not so much as a hint that the U.S. or France would even provide Levesque with a struggle with which to honorably dispatch himself in the event of Trudeau shutting him down.
We have made light of this matter because it is an understandable kind of error, we have made it often ourselves in the past. It could very well be that our comrades in PL have come to their view based on things we have written over the years that fell short of the mark. The PL analysis is too hastily drawn. It passes over lightly the source of the potential civil war. Challenge looks for a culprit and comes back with a list of “local and outside bosses”. Look again.
The culprit who can destroy our unity is not far to seek. Examine the development of capitalism in Canada and you will find him staring you in the face. The culprit is the two hundred years of racist oppression of French Canadians. Two hundred years that are coming to an end because the working masses of Quebec have been fighting back with a vengeance. The capitalist class has always dictated that the language of business, and therefore the key to any kind of future or hope, is/was English in the province of Quebec where the working people speak French. In the mines and factories a grievance had to be filed in English; safety signs were in English; the formen all spoke English; the best schools were for the English. The workers over the past two decades have been changing all this. They have developed an appetite for such changes. They are in the forefront of the struggle against racism. The ruling class is terrified of further such developements. Racist oppression of the French Canadian nation has a human face and it is that of Pierre Trudeau who threatens to block revolutionary developments in Quebec.
It is the factor of national oppression of Quebec that has sharpened the class struggle and made the French workers the most militant in North America. They’ve had several general strikes in recent years and May Day just past was celebrated in 26 cities, the industrial center of Tracy-Sorel was closed for the day. Quebec teachers unions have distributed manuals on how to teach socialist ideas. The Anglo-Canadian capitalist class is terrified by this challenge to their power. Trudeau tried to decapitate the movement when he declared the War Measures Act and sent his troops into Quebec to look for a small band of police inspired terrorists. The ploy failed.
Today the bourgeois nationalist Rene Levesque is premier of Quebec, having been elected on the strength of a social democratic platform which has brought some crumbs such as a law banning scabs at strike bound plants and the highest minimum wage law in Canada as well as laws making French the language of the workplace. Most of his reformist crumbs are poisioned, however, as any reader of The Worker/L’Ouvrier would know from our regular exposures of his machinations. In his campaign for election he promised that he would call a referendum on independence if he won. He is now planning to carry out that pledge. Trudeau and the Ango-Canadian capitalist class have said “no” to separation and are starting to count their cartridges. Which brings us back to our favorite question. What is to be done?
The Canadian Party of Labour believes that we should follow the strategic line of Lenin. He wrote the book. We have one capitalist state that includes two nations. The French Canadian nation has not yet freed itself from national oppression. Levesque, trading on this, is going to pop the question: Yes or no to independence? Fight for socialism? Smash racism? That won’t get it, comrades. We have to bite the bullet.
We must fight for the right of Quebec to self-determination, both in English Canada and Quebec. Lenin put it this way : “The weight of emphasis in the internationalist education of the workers in the oppressing countries must necessarily consist in advocating and urging them to demand freedom of secession for oppressed countries. Without this there can be no internationalism. It is our right and duty to treat every Socialist of an oppressing nation who fails to conduct such propaganda as an imperialist and a scoundrel. This is an absolute demand, even if the chance of secession being possible and ’feasible’ before the introduction of socialism is only one in a thousand ...” That’s our job in English Canada, especially in the face of the referendum debate. But our Party is also in Quebec, where we publish a French paper. What should our line be there? ” .a socialist belonging to a small nation must emphasize in his agitation the second word of our general formula :`voluntary union’ of nations. It other works our comrades will continue to attack Levesque and advocate remaining in Canada.
Lenin has further to say (putting it mildly) on this point : “People who have not gone thoroughly into the question think there is a ’contradiction’ in Socialists of oppressing nations insisting on ’freedom of secession’, while Socialists of oppressed nations insist on ’freedom of union’. However, a little reflection will show that there is not, nor can there be, any other road leading from the given situation to internationalism and the amalgamation of nations, any other road to this goal.”
Our comrades in PLP will have no problem understanding this matter. To say “Get out of Panama” is to recognize the right to self-determination (It is not an endoresement of Torjios); to say “Smash Apartheid” is to endorse the right of the black masses of South Africa to self-determination. These are democratic (anti-racist) demands fought for by Communists in full knowledge that they will only be attained permanently in a socialist society. But Communists must be in the forefront of these reform fights. How else would you know they were Communists?
Which brings us to a self-criticism. In an earlier piece, quoted by Challenge, we said the winning of self-determination unless it was under the proletarian dictatorship would prove to be “vacuous”. That is a mistake and contrary to Leninism. Winning a reform in the context of a revolutionary struggle is never “vacuous”. Winning the right to file a grievance in French isn’t “vacuous”; winning a busing system to provide black children with a better education is not “vacuous”; and winning the right to self-determination is not “vacuous”. As Lenin pointed out long ago any one of these reform questions may become the spark for a revolution. It is the job of the revolutionaries to see the chance in each of these struggles, to link the struggles to the socialist program. You have to get out into the intersection to do that. You can’t stay close to the curb and merely be for socialism. The anti-racist will fight for the right to self determination.
To say “fight for socialism” in the event of an armed struggle over independence and not to say Quebec has the right to self-determination would be a cowardly, right-wing step. Left in form, right in content. The fact of the matter is that during the War Measures Act it was an act of treason to support Quebec’s right to separate and any new crisis would bring the same penalty. The Canadian Party of Labour was the only Party to defy the War Measures Act and call for self-determination for Quebec and the overthrow of the capitalist class. We’ve been in the intersection before, we’re not intimidated by its perils as Challenge suggests. Our Party attracted many new fighters in that chapter of the class struggle.
We agree that the job of a Communist is to bring revolutionary leadership to the class struggle and to struggle daily for socialism. But to be concrete about that revolutionary work we believe the PLP and InCAR would greatly assist the class struggle in Quebec and Canada by winning U.S. worker’s organizations, particularly the unions with members in Canada to support Quebec’s right to self-determination, an end to discrimination against French workers, and a pledge to resist any use of force by the capitalist class. “Hands off Quebec” would serve as a slogan in event of Trudeau attacking.
The struggle for the right to self-determination, just as the struggle against racism, is a part and parcel of the proletarian revolution – provided it is led by revolutionaries.
No one in the Quebec working class is looking “for nationalist-capitalist solutions”. A major trade union body, the CNTU, has just attacked Levesque as anti-working class. CPL and others have fought to raise “socialist consciousness”. We did this concretely by organizing working class support for the Q.I.T. strike, and denouncing the Sun Life pullout.
The loud and long advice about how ”it would be suicidal to look for nationalist-capitalist solutions” and the concern that French workers will be ”conned” is all barking up the wrong tree (though we should point out to Challenge that the pro-Moscow C.P. shares that view, along with the ”theory” about Rockefeller). The Quebec working class is not enamored of Levesque or nationalism. The major union forces have attacked him as anti-working class. But, Quebec workers are not going to be told by the biggest boss, Trudeau, that a referendum can’t be held or acted upon if it’s affirmative.
The English Canadian press reeks with violent diatribes against Levesque and the possibility of independence. If we want to ever see the red flags flying in Canada it is in English Canada we had better resist Trudeau’s ”nationalist-capitalist solutions”. There won’t be any trouble between workers if we fight for the right of Quebec to self-determination. This is vital to the revolutionary movement. In Canada it is the right-wing and the racists who try to isolate and oppress Quebec by saying that are concerned about ”all nationalities”. Trudeau’s forces recently organized a conference of immigrant leaders and anointed them the ”third force” to save Canada from ”separation”. The CLC leadership recently added fuel to the fire by piously declaring for unity, and blocking a move from major industrial unions to recognize the oppression of Quebec. The ruling class was sweating bullets before that vote. It is the right-wing and racist forces in English Canada that are greatest danger to a unified working class, Levesque is not their equal. They and Trudeau are the forces saying no to the rights of French workers. There isn’t a shred of ”socialist consciousness” in the ”revolutionary” who can ignore or turn his back on the question of the right to self-determination (anti-racism is only a less exact expression of that concept).
Lenin was often exasperated by Socialists who waved such slogan as ”revolutionary mass struggle against capitalism”, but wouldn’t touch the national question, thus clearing the way for the social patriots whose views on the oppressed nationalities were plain racist. Lenin was moved to write over and over again such lines as these. ”This is why our ’struggle against annexations will be meaningless and not at all terrifying to the social patriots if we do not declare that the Socialist of an oppressing nation, who does not conduct propaganda, both in peace time and war time, in favor of the freedeom of secession for the oppressed nations, is not a Socialist and not an internationalist, but a chauvinist!” Unless the earth has changed and there are no longer any oppressed and oppressor nations we will stick with Lenin’s thesis. We’re mighty happy to do so, because it is so obviously a crucial concept in bringing about the revolutionary proletarian dictatorship.