The national question, that is, the relationship of national struggles to the class struggle, the relationship of nationalism to the struggle against imperialism and capitalism, is one of the most crucial and hotly debated problems on the left today, both in Canada and elsewhere.
We are all aware of the role played by nationalism in the war of national liberation waged by the Vietnamese against the United States, and we can see the rise of national consciousness in many of the other countries of the world that are dominated by foreign, and for the most part American, imperialism. Within the United States itself, ideological disagreement on the national question has caused fundamental divisions amongst left-wing movements.
In Quebec, the rise of national consciousness has become particularly noticeable in the past few years; but in English Canada too a growing Canadian trade union movement and an increasing feeling of opposition to United States domination testify to the necessity for socialists to clarify their position on the national question as a basis for their leadership of the struggle for a socialist Canada. This is no sterile theoretical problem: how we view the question of national independence in Canada has very important practical consequences in our political work.
The debate enters into every field of activity, from working in the New Democratic Party to trade union organizing, from campus activity to the anti-war movement. The recent NDP convention, for example, saw an attempt by some members to give that party a pro-independence perspective, an attempt that was defeated but is bound to be carried on by various caucuses within the NDP throughout the country. In the trade unions, too, there is an emerging movement in the direction of independent Canadian labour organizations – while on the other hand, the American unions are constantly trying to extend their control over Canadian unions. Only a few months ago, the rank and file membership of the Canadian Brotherhood of Railway and Transport Workers defeated an effort by their own leadership to lead them into an American union. The left was divided on this question of the CBRT, reflecting its general division on the national question. Some groups, as ourselves, supported the membership decision, while others opposed it, condemning its “bourgeois nationalist” aspects.
Some people with left-wing sympathies are bewildered and dismayed by the existence of so many small movements, all calling themselves revolutionary, all putting forward different theories as to how socialism is to be achieved in Canada. Why can’t these groups get together they ask, and forget about their abstract and petty theorizing? As the examples of the NDP, the CBRT, and many other questions show, however, this “theorizing” has very much to do with practical work. For example, we feel that an independent Canadian trade union movement is of first importance in the Canadian struggle – the League for Socialist Action (Trotskyist) and the Communist Party of Canada think Canadian workers should remain in the AFL-CIO. The two positions are in direct opposition to each other – clearly unity between groups holding diametrically opposite views on what is practically to be done is impossible. And as we have said, the national question is fundamental to every area of work in Canada at the present time.
Although the relationship of national independence to socialism has been a matter of debate for some time now, very few groups or individuals have actually published in full their positions. What follows is the contribution of the Progressive Workers Movement to the discussion. This is a Marxist-Leninist position as we understand it in the present Canadian context. We do not claim to have produced a work completely free of error, but we do think that our position is basically a correct one – both in terms of its analysis of the past and the present, and in its suggested program for the future.
We wish to make it clear that we consider the problem not from the point of view of nationalism, but from the point of view of socialism. That is, we look at the national question not from some abstract bourgeois nationalism, but from the desire to find the best method of struggle for socialism in Canada. We do not assert that the struggle for independence is more important than the struggle for socialism – but neither do we assert, as some others do, that the two struggles have nothing to do with each other. No, the question is not whether we should be socialists or not, but rather: what are the tasks of socialists, given the present Canadian situation? And to answer that question, one must have some kind of general perspective on the internal situation of Canada and on the position that Canada occupies in the world. It is not enough merely to declare that socialism is the answer to Canada’s problems, that only through socialism will exploitation, alienation, racism, etc., be done away with. To say this is merely to state a truism, a truism that is equally valid in the United States, in Vietnam, in India, in England, and in every country in the world. Surely no one would argue that the road to socialism is absolutely identical in all these countries, and in our country as well. Precisely, the question is: how is the struggle for socialism to be waged in Canada?