First Published: Canadian Worker, Vol 5, No 8, July 20, 1973
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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En Lutte (In Struggle) published by Charles Gagnon and a circle of associates from various unspecified political groups has appeared after several months of promotion, and claims to be an advance in proletarian politics in Quebec. This kind of claim, coming from a figure with the doubtful political reputation of Charles Gagnon, is worth a closer look.
After a long silence following his participation in the political manoeuvering of the 1970 October crisis, Gagnon published his theoretical contribution to the debate in Quebec leftwing politics: For the Proletarian Party. This brochure was hailed by many nationalists, stunned by the failure and collapse of the FLQ, as the “proletarian position” on the Quebec struggle. Its politics have been incorporated intact into the general political line of En Lutte. In his brochure, Gagnon pleads for the necessity of the formation of a revolutionary party of the working class as the main strategic task of Quebec revolutionaries. A subsequent brochure published by Gagnon’s “equipe du journal” (newspaper committee) noted that one of the newspaper’s main jobs would be to “show that the national liberation struggle is an anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist one, and how and in what way the proletariat must take the lead in this struggle.” This clause, ranked third in the prospectus, now occupies first place in En Lutte’s program.
In his first editorial, Gagnon analyses the experience of the left movement in Quebec during the ’60s, pointing to three main illusions that held back revolutionary development: 1) nationalism, as in groups like the RIN (Rassemblement pour l’Independance Nationale, which later fused with other similar groups to form the Parti Quebecois), which propagated myths about a “free state of Quebec;” 2) union leadership as either revolutionary or potentially so; 3) “participation” – the ideas of “workers’ control”, from NDP and Trotskyite to Trudeau’s local initiative handouts.
All well and good – but something is missing. Gagnon makes no mention of the FLQ, beyond a doubt the most important political movement of the Quebec left in terms of its Canada-wide political impact. For Gagnon (who, along with Pierre Vallieres, served as co-founder and ideologue of the terrorist movement) to repudiate as an “illusion” the experience of the FLQ, including its legal cover structure would also mean to repudiate the politics of the FLQ. Apparently, the FLQ and its adventurist provocations don’t qualify as an “illusion” – or else many would-be revolutionaries still have plenty of illusions!
Vallieres, in his book Choose has chosen – to return directly to the bosses’ embrace and opt openly for the PQ. But Vallieres also performed the vital service of debunking the FLQ mystique and exposing its impotence, if not out-and-out corruption. Gagnon, the “proletarian” side of the penny, can’t bring himself to mention terrorism: he, one of its leading theoreticians and now, supposedly, repented. And as for the political ideas that underlay FLQ terrorism, here they are today, on the pages of En Lutte, still trying to line up Quebec’s sorely tried workers behind the liberation of the nation. Vallieres, more cynical but also more realistic, retreats into the arms of Rene Levesque where national liberation will come about thanks to the Parti Quebecois. Gagnon’s “stages” theory is fundamentally the same, since “national liberation” is still the condition of socialism.
En Lutte states that “... independence will mark real progress for the people according to the extent which the Quebec proletarian state is able to develop as an instrument of struggle against foreign oppression...” The key words here are “Quebec proletarian state” and “foreign oppression”. And it goes on: “This is why the strategic position of the working class and the labouring masses is in practice the same concerning the national question as concerning the question of socialism: at the present stage it is a matter of fighting for the building of the proletarian party.” What clearer demonstration of the open aim of Gagnon’s national socialism than this: to shackle the construction of a working-class party to the question of national liberation. Far from building the party workers need to lead the fight against the bourgeoisie on its home ground – that is, all across Canada – we are to be enlisted in another dreary episode of “stages”, but with the sweet promise that THIS TIME, national liberation equals socialism because (take it on faith, comrades!) it is an anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist struggle. This is much more sophisticated than Vallieres’ nutty thesis of Quebec as a proletarian nation, but it boils down to the same old beans: it’s our nation against the foreigners.
Gagnon concedes that in Canada “certain political groups are developing whose objective is, struggle against bourgeois power.” But here in Quebec, why wait for workers to take power elsewhere, even in Canada? This pearl is predicated on 1) the idea that class struggle is strikingly more advanced in Quebec than elsewhere in Canada and that anything other than commitment to the nation holds Quebec workers back from winning national-socialism; 2) that the working class of Canada is fundamentally different from that of Quebec, and that our immediate enemies and oppressors are not the same bourgeois state; 3) that workers in the rest of Canada are fundamentally less oppressed than those of Quebec; and 4) that the nature of capitalism is thus fundamentally different in Quebec from elsewhere in north America.
But do these assumptions hold water? Does the fact of racist oppression of French-Canadian workers and national oppression of Quebec workers mean that national liberation (which, according to traditional Marxist-Leninist theory, is based on an alliance with the supposedly anti-imperialist bourgeoisie of one’s own nation) justify splitting the forces of the Canadian working class?
Class struggle in Quebec is more acute at present than in much (but not all) of North America. But an acute class-struggle situation (which in the case of Qu6ec clearly reflects the delayed, and thus very rapid development of industrial monopoly capitalism) is, of itself, no guarantee of the advanced development of proletarian forces. The main organizational expression of advanced class struggle is a revolutionary communist party, founded on the principles of Marxism-Leninism. Such parties exist in the USA and Canada, (Progressive Labour Party and CPL) and their aim is openly the overthrow of the entire capitalist system, from coast-to-coast. For class-conscious workers in the USA and Canada, the question of the party is not one of abstract “strategy”. Class struggle cannot be advanced by discussion of the merits of a vague, future party. But by real, militant communist parties, parties of the class, not the nation.