First Published: The Worker, Vol 10, No 10, April 19, 1978
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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“What a misfortune it is for a nation to have subjugated another.” Karl Marx
“Can a nation be free if it oppresses other nations? It cannot”. V.I. Lenin
Quebec must have the right to self-determination. Trudeau and the Canadian capitalist class think otherwise. They intend to dominate Quebeckers as in the past. The Prime Minister has even shown a perverse glee in hinting at use of force in keeping Quebec. (Old “just watch me” with his “sword”)
It is a watchword of the worker’s movement to stand for “unity”. We want the closest possible unity between Canadian and Quebec workers. October 14, 1976 organized by the CLC and the QFL was a beautiful display of that unity and it put the fear of organized labor into the haughty rulers of Canada. French and English workers shut the country down.
No doubt the Canadian ruling class would like to smash that unity. In recent years Quebec workers have led the most advanced and militant struggles and their brothers and sisters in Canada have followed their lead, particularly the rail and postal workers. We prize that unity and mean to uphold it.
Now due to years of exploitation and intimidation of Quebec, the old question of independence is being raised and the workers of Canada and Quebec must see it through with an eye to our sacred class ties. We can answer the challenge easily and confidently. Yes, of course, we recognize the right of Quebec to self-determination, because our ties with one another are close, brotherly ties, the ties of class comradeship tested in struggle. Canadian workers are democratic people with no chauvinistic territorial or cultural claims on the people of Quebec. We have nothing in common with the narrow dictatorial opinions of that millionnaire Trudeau. He belongs to the nation of the rich and wants to hold others against their will: a typical representative of his class.
The right of self-determination means that only the nation itself has the right to determine its destiny, that no one has the right forcibly to interfere in the life of the nation, to destroy its schools and other institutions, to violate its habits and customs, to repress its language, or curtail its rights...
In the fighting for the right of nations to self-determination, the aim of Social-Democracy is to put an end to the policy of national oppression, to render it impossible, and thereby to remove the grounds of strife between nations, to take the edge off that strife and reduce it to a minimum.
This is what essentially distinguishes the policy of the class-conscious proletariat from the policy of the bourgeoisie, which attempts to aggravate and fan the national struggle and to prolong and sharpen the national movement.
And that is why the class-conscious proletariat cannot rally under the “national” flag of the bourgeoisie. J.V. Stalin Marxism and the National Question.
Some have said that we must call for unity and let it go at that. It wouldn’t do. It would only please those like Sun Life and Canadian Pacific who want to dictate to Quebec. At the recent CLC convention Joe Morris succeeded in having the call for self-determination rejected in favor of a vote for “national unity”. He certainly knew the difference. Let’s put the matter straight. Unity can only be achieved through mutual respect, there can’t be a “catch 22”. It’s because we desire unity that we stand for the right of self-determination.
The Socialists cannot reach their great aim without fighting against every form of national oppression. They must therefore unequivocally demand that the Social-Democrats of the oppressing countries [of the so-called “great” nations in particular] should recognize and defend the right of the oppressed nations to self-determination in the political sense of the word, i.e. the right to political separation. A Socialist of a great nation or a nation possessing colonies who does not defend this right is a chauvinist.
To defend this right does in no way mean to encourage the formation of small states, but on the contrary it leads to a freer, more fearless and therefore wider and more universal formation of larger governments and unions of governments – a phenomenon more advantageous for the masses and more in accord with economic development. V.I. Lenin. Socialism and War.
The workers of Canada and Quebec have great class battles before them. Together they will win those battles and go on to overthrow capitalism.