First Published: In Struggle No. 171, Sept 11, 1979.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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The nationalists in Quebec and their supporters in the rest of Canada declare that Quebec has some ’Inalienable’ right to self-determination. What they mean by this mumbo-jumbo is that the workers in Quebec have the right, which they have to fight for, to be exploited by their ’own’ French-speaking bosses.
That was the chauvinist “vanguard” position of the Canadian Party of Labour (CPL) in September 1971 as reported in its newspaper, The Canadian Worker. The CPL has changed its tune since then and its slogan “all nationalism is reactionary” has now become “all nationalism is progressive.”
The 1977 position of the CPL was that the Parti Quebecois was a bourgeois party. Clearly, then, the PQ looked out for the interests of our enemy. However, since the language law (Bill 101) was passed, the CPL has taken the line that the PQ represents the “Quebec petty bourgeoisie” (The Worker, 22/11/78).
That may appear to be a minor change but, in fact, it means saying that the PQ is now an indecisive party, unsure if it will serve the interests of the bourgeoisie or of the proletariat. This position has a lot of support among union bosses in Quebec. They too maintain that the PQ is still uncommitted and that if the working class puts on more pressure than the bourgeoisie, then the PQ will give in to our slightest whim. Their strategy takes them from one parliamentary commission to another, maintaining their faith no matter how many times they come away empty handed.
The CLP’s desire to defend Quebec nationalism leads it ito speculate on questions like: “Should we defend Levesque if he’s imprisoned” and to answer “Yes”. Indeed, the CPL is not only interested in defending Levesque against Trudeau, Clark et ai but also against the “Maoists who insist on regular attacks on Levesque in their English-language literature.” Besides jumping to Levesque’s personal defence, the CPL also defends his policies such as Bill 101 “which protects minorities more consistently than anything existing elsewhere in Canada”. (The Worker, 22/11/78).
If the CPL could take its eyes off the bourgeoisie’s rear end for a few seconds, it would see that the PQ first appeared on the scene as a split off from the Quebec Liberal Party. Its programme then was essentially a bourgeois programme and it remains so today. This is clear in its repressive policy towards public service workers and its promise to turn small businesses into monopolies.
The CPL believes that “the oppression of Quebec is the cornerstone of Canadian capitalism” and that “the Quebec question may lead to a revolutionary crisis in Canada... The fight against national oppression by the Quebec working class can lead the way to a general struggle against the capitalist system in every corner of the land.” (The Worker, March 10, 1979) But contrary to what the CPL believes, the task of communists is not to speculate on the magic “struggle” that will spark a massive political crisis. The job of communists is, rather, to learn how to act on all fronts. As Lenin wrote, “The socialist revolution is not a single act, it is not one battle on one front, but a whole epoch of acute class conflicts, a long series of battles on all fronts”. (Socialist Revolution and the Right of Nations to Self-determination, Collected Works, Vol. 22, p. 144)
The CPL’s theory and practice is contrary to this and leads to increasing the division between French-speaking and English-speaking workers. The CPL’s tactics work against the working class adopting its own point of view and make it tail behind a very “fashionable” current in English Canada taken up by Canadian Dimension, the Trotskyists, and the revisionists of the Communist Party of Canada who look upon Quebec nationalism as something “positive”.?