Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Debate on the Quebec national question: Discussions underway

First Published: The Forge Vol 7, No 40, November 19, 1982
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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On Nov. 11 some 60 members of the Workers Communist Party attended a meeting to debate the party’s errors on the Quebec national question. Two Forge journalists, Marjolaine Cote and Martine Trudel, were on hand and prepared this report.

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Party members first pointed out how chauvinism had shown up in their work and had affected them as Quebecois.

The most often cited example was the uneasiness felt by many the day after the referendum. One woman, involved for years in community work, recalled a Forge distribution at a Parti Quebecois meeting on the eve of the referendum: “We could tell that the “no” would win. Everyone was discouraged and the only thing I had to say was that they should spoil their ballots and oppose the PQ’s separation plan. I felt that I had nothing to propose to combat our national oppression.”

A worker from Sidbec (a Quebec government-owned steel company) explained how for years the WCP militants found themselves in contradiction with the others workers. “On the one hand, we were in favour of developing an industry as important as steel in Quebec. But we spent our time lambasting the PQ. Over a five-year period we never succeeded in building a united front. It was only recently that we began to rectify the situation and identify the federal government as the one mainly responsible for Quebec’s oppression.”

A party member from the Norman Bethune Bookstore in Montreal criticized the fact that for many years half the books sold at the bookstore were in English, despite the fact that the clientele was mainly French-speaking.

Most of those who intervened said they agreed with Alain Saulnier’s criticisms of great-nation chauvinism (see article above). Many, however, stressed that they would like to think about this and debate before deciding on a new position toward independence.

Extent of errors

On the evaluation of the party’s errors different positions were presented. Several believe the party’s work was extremely negative on the national question, as well as on other issues like the woman question.

An ex-member felt that the party’s chauvinist errors (great-nation chauvinist or male chauvinist) should be linked with a more fundamental issue: the concept of the vanguard party, based on democratic centralism. He feels the party not only committed serious errors but is also destructive to the development of progressive forces in Quebec.

Others intervened saying they refused to draw such a negative assessment of the party’s work.

While recognizing the extent of the WCP’s errors, especially concerning political rights for the Quebec nation, an ex-Dominion Bridge worker recalled the struggles waged by party militants for French as the language of work.

Others underscored the importance of placing the errors in their historical context. Following the October Crisis and the PQ’s hold on the national question, many progressive forces in Quebec separated the struggle for socialism from the struggle against national oppression. It was in this context that the Canadian Communist League (Marxist-Leninist) was born. Several militants also pointed out that they had above all adhered to the League on an anti-capitalist basis.

Dissolve the organization?

Through the debate on the national question, different views were also expressed on the future of the party.

In various forms and for different reasons, the option of dissolving the organization was taken up by several people. One woman, for example, could not imagine that the questioning could be carried out in a healthy and scientific way within a party that had been so marked by dogmatic and Stalinist conceptions. She believes that it will be possible to establish a revolutionary organization in the future, but she wants to take the time to seriously think about it.

For others the party should stop intervening publicly to re-examine its political line and practice on the national question and seriously re-evaluate Marxism-Leninism, and the party’s overall line and program.

However others, who also want to see profound changes, are opposed to destroying the organization or making it simply a forum for debate.

“I have no intention of saying I wasted four years in the PQ and seven years in the WCP”, said a worker from Valleyfield. “In the referendum my heart was on the side of the “yes” vote and maybe I will support independence. Workers in our area tell us, continue your work but correct your errors.”

These people feel the party’s errors should be submitted to the criticism but that we should try to rectify them while involved in the class struggle and the struggle against national oppression.