Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Class analysis of the Quebec language bill

First Published: The Worker, Vol 10, No 26, December 6, 1978
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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In our last issue we began a review of the positions on Quebec’s Bill 101 advanced by various groups. The first portion dealt with the position of the Communist Party of Canada, and showed how its opposition to “privilege for any nationality or any language,” in the context of Quebec’s official language law, is a call to English Canadians and immigrants to “fight for your rights”. The CP echoes Trudeau. Of course how can you expect a party that supported Brezhnev’s invasion of Czechoslovakia to have any principled stand on “the right of nations to self determination.” (If you missed the first installment, you can obtain a copy by writing to CPL, PO Box 1151, Adelaide St. Postal Station, Toronto, Ont.)

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Approximately the same line on Bill 101 is advanced by In Struggle!, but in an even more overt form. “With Bill 101, making French the only official language, the Parti Quebecois eliminates all guarantees for the linguistic rights of the Amerindians and other Native peoples, as well as those of Anglophone workers in Quebec. (Uphold the revolutionary unity of the workers of all nations and national minorities in Canada, March 1978, p. 14.) Now we’ve already shown that Bill 101 does not “eliminate” guarantees of minority language rights. In fact it offers protection to the languages of native peoples where none previously existed, and to the English language it continues to provide a privileged status. In Struggle ’s appeal is dishonest, in practice leads to association with chauvinist sentiments of the most outrageous form. Even if In Struggle and the CP back off from joining in a Trudeau-led campaign around language rights in Quebec, they totally abandon an essential duty of revolutionaries in the oppressor nation: the fight against chauvinism and privileges. Among English Canadians, both within Quebec and elsewhere, the communist task is to fight against talk of “language rights,” and to convince workers to sympathize in general with any measures, like Bill 101, which redress centuries of oppression. Among immigrants in Quebec, this work must be done with a maximum of sympathy and appreciation for the racist oppression they have suffered and continue to suffer, principally at the hands of Trudeau and Co. This can never be done by statements recognizing the right of Quebec’s immigrants to English schooling. It can never be done by siding with the Trudeau-financed cultural nationalists who pose as leaders of immigrant communities, and espouse the lie of multi-culturalism. It can only be done by winning immigrants to a united struggle with Quebec workers against national oppression. Practically, this requires that Quebec’s immigrants learn French rather than English.

In defense of its position on the language question, In Struggle cites Lenin’s opposition to “official languages.” In Struggle uses the letter of Lenin to attack the spirit of Lenin. In his articles on the subject, Lenin was opposing the language of the oppressor nation, Great Russia, being imposed by force on the multitude of oppressed nations within the Russian empire. After the Bolshevik revolution, Lenin and Stalin advocated a policy of protection of local languages, of encouraging their cultural development. Many languages that had no written form in 1917 were given official encouragement, under socialist rule were able to develop a written form, schools and literature. Is it conceivable that Lenin would have wound up defending English language rights in modern Quebec?

In Struggle’s position on the national question is pervaded with chauvinism. The group advocates, for example, bitter attacks on Levesque in its propaganda within English Canada. This panders to the most backward chauvinism of English Canadian workers. In Struggle denies any significance to the struggle against national oppression: “In our epoch, the national movement in our country has nothing revolutionary about it.” (op. cit., p. 50). As an example of In Struggle’s total confusion on this question, its literature freely interchanges “French Canadian,” “Francophone” and “Quebecois,” though these terms all mean very different things.

If In Struggle’s position seems extreme, its own lunatic fringe goes one better. The Bolshevik Union, which preys on In Struggle splinters, lauds the “mass protest” against Bill 101. (Proletarian Revolution, Vol. 1, No. 6.) Citing the various anti-PQ protests organized in immigrant communities by reactionary priests and federal government agents, it proceeds to land a notorious incident on Montreal’s Mohawk reservation at Caughnawagha. The Caughnawagha “protest” was waged as “a matter of principle”, according to BU, because in fact no real grievances existed. The Caughnawagha Indians go virtually without exception to a nearby English high school. No French high school exists in the area of the reserve. And although the elementary schools fall under federal jurisdiction, because they are located on the reserve, Trudeau is too cheap to build a high school on the reserve. Consequently, the Mohawk Indians are forced to seek education off the reserve, and therefore fall under provincial law. However, because all of their parents have been educated in English, there seems little question that under the law they are all eligible for English education if they desire.

What a shame that the Mohawk Indians, who have suffered even longer than the Quebecois from English chauvinism, should be turned against their natural allies. Don’t we see the hand of Ottawa, and the Dept. of Indian Affairs, in this pathetic affair? And yet so-called communists, who are supposed to oppose all forms of national oppression, link themselves to such a chauvinist crusade. Bolshevik Union notes that “native people see Bill 101 as a threat to their survival,” and that “immigrant proletariat joins the protest.” How ironic that this is not a struggle over defense of Indian languages, or immigrant languages, but of the “right” to learn the language of the oppressor, of British and U.S. imperialism of 400 years of chauvinist oppression within Canada of native peoples, immigrants, Metis, Quebecois, Acadiens, Inuits, etc.

Though the literature of the notorious Communist Party of Canada (M-L), led by Hardial Bains, is hard to take seriously because of the group’s suspicious and frequently provocative behaviour, nevertheless it is instructive to review its position too. The CPC (ML) literature is largely confined to platitudes. Beneath the often incomprehensible and contradictory slogans, one pattern emerges: the CPC-ML proclaims “vigorously oppose Rene Levesque’s ’independence fraud’”, condemns the PQ’s “cultural Nationalism”, and advocates “reject the line of reactionary cultural nationalism and fight for the genuine national liberation of Quebec under the bright red banner of genuine independence, democracy and socialism for Canada”. The fight against national oppression has no place in the Bains program, except as a goal “under socialism”. (Today’s Struggle – tomorrow’s bright red future, 1977.) In a recent article in its English language newspaper, the CPC-ML’s sole comment on the language question was : “Levesque and the PQ promote the ’language question’ as a major political issue and turn language into a factor which disunites the proletariat in Quebec and splits the ranks of the Canadian revolution.” (Peoples Canada Daily News, Oct. 26, 1978) Effectively, CPC-ML defends the status quo, and writes off any agitation around language as “divisive”. But what is really divisive in the working class is the English chauvinism which statements such as this one encourage. A more practical example of CPC-ML’s line on the language question is provided at its major Montreal rallies, where guru Hardial S. Bains hectors the crowd for hours on end... in English. Presumably Bains believes Quebecois workers should fight “disunity” and “splits in the ranks of the Canadian revolution” by learning to “speak white”.

The Forge is much like the Communist Party, in its skilled camouflage of a chauvinist position by a smokescreen of fine-sounding rhetoric. In a recent article titled “PQ sells out Quebecois’ right to work in French”, quite correctly protesting the compromising policy of Levesque towards the large English corporations, The Forge tacks on: “But by prohibiting the use of English, the PQ attacks the rights of the English Canadian minority to information in its language. It’s a sure fire way to pit English against French.” (The Forge, July 28, 1978). Once again, we remind our readers that the PQ is not “prohibiting the use of English”. In fact, the very Forge article was supposedly attacking Levesque’s concessions to the use of English!

Like its masters in Peking, The Forge is skilled in demagogy. Theoretical articles in Peking Review may deceive their readers into thinking China “opposes the two superpowers, the U.S. and the USSR”. One has only to look at the real world, of course, to recognize that China has a cozy alliance with U.S. imperialism, and that it snuggles up to Nato and German militarism. If The Forge defends the French and Belgian invasion of Zaire, why should we expect it to oppose an English-Canadian invasion of Quebec? All The Forge has to do is convince its followers that the principle contradiction is Canada’s opposition to Soviet social-imperialism, and magically the democratic right to self-determination will be dropped, and condemned as a revisionist ploy to divide the anti-Soviet united front. Forge is already well along the way: it has advocated, for example, strengthening of the Canadian army (whose last major operation was to invade Quebec). A recent issue of its English language paper (The Forge, Nov. 2, 1978) had four articles attacking the PQ, yet not one article attacked English Canadian chauvinism!

We present these positions in order to contrast them with the principled internationalist position of the Canadian Party of Labor. The 12 theses on the national question, published in a recent issue of our newspaper, are a step towards a programmatic statement of this position.

Our position on the Quebec national question was sharpened in the course of a debate with the U.S. Progressive Labor Party, which unequivocally denied the right of nations to self determination. But few “leftist” organizations are stupid enough to be so overtly chauvinist. Most of them, as this report has tried to demonstrate, pay lip service to “the right of self-determination” but in practice pander to the chauvinism of the oppressor nation. Let nobody be confused by their dishonesty.

In all of the organizations we have criticized, there is a common thread. Each is more concerned with the nationalism of the oppressed nation, of Levesque and the Parti Quebecois, than with the chauvinism of the oppressor. Their English language newspapers show this in particularly disgusting form: without exception, they dwell on attacks against the PQ, nationalism and Bill 101. They all cry about “English language rights”. This can do nothing but strengthen the elements of chauvinism that now exist in the consciousness of workers in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto and Halifax, and that at the present time is the greatest obstacle to unity of English Canadian and Quebecois workers. Behind all of these groups we find the rancid aroma of Canadian nationalism, which has cursed the Canadian left since the Communist Party first told us to “put Canada First” back in the 1940’s and 1950’s. For the CP, this is justified as “anti-US imperialist” Canadian nationalism. For The Forge, it is “anti-USSR social imperialism” Canadian nationalism. For In Struggle, Hardial Bains and others of their ilk, who are now opportunistically trying to redeem some revolutionary credentials by belated criticism of Chinese revisionism and support for the Albanians, we can presume their Canadian nationalism is an inheritance from their long association with Maoism.

Only the Canadian Party of Labor’s revolutionary program gives full recognition to the struggle against national oppression, and its place within the class struggle, without erring either in the direction of petty-bourgeois nationalism or taking the even more frightening deviation of great nation chauvinism.