Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Workers Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist)

’Independence and Socialism’: a dead-end for the Quebec working class

An analysis of the positions of the Centre de formation populaire

First Published:October Spring 1980
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
Copyright: This work is in the Public Domain under the Creative Commons Common Deed. You can freely copy, distribute and display this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line as your source, include the url to this work, and note any of the transcribers, editors & proofreaders above.

As the referendum approaches, many of Quebec’s self-avowed “left-wing” intellectuals and trade unionists, who say they want to defend the interests of the Quebec working class as well as fight against the national oppression of the Quebec people, have started promoting “tactical support” for the Parti Quebecois and, therefore, a “yes” vote in the referendum.

This position is not surprising, since it is the logical result of the line they defend, the theory of “independence and socialism.”

This line considers Quebec independence as a necessary stage and a step forward in the struggle for socialism in Quebec.

We will show how this in fact is a dead-end, how the separation of Quebec would be a major setback in the fight of the Quebec and Canadian working class to seize power from the capitalist class.

We will show that though the promoters of “independence and socialism” maintain they wish to fight against the capitalist class, against national oppression and for the working class and the people, the strategy they put forward can only lead in precisely the opposite direction.

To prove this we will examine the publications of the Centre de formation populaire (CFP – Centre for Popular Education). [1] Why the CFP? Simply because its documents and its activities give the most systematic and developed example of the “independence and socialism” line.

Since the fall of 1979 the CFP has publically supported voting “yes” in the PQ’s referendum, despite the fact that it makes many criticisms of this party. The CFP sees the referendum as a step towards independence, and it tries to show that independence would be a great step forward for the working class.

Yes or no to separation

The CFP “puts forward the proposal for political independence as a fight to be waged and to be won, as a demand to be developed in the workers movement if it is part of a strategy for the struggle for socialism...” [2]

This raises a major question: can Quebec separation be part of a strategy for socialism? Can separation be a step forward in this struggle?

Even though the separation of an oppressed nation can never, under capitalism, be considered the definitive solution to oppression, it can be desirable or necessary in certain cases.[3] Each concrete case must be examined.

Communists always firmly defend the right of nations to self-determination, that is, their right to decide freely if they wish to live in association with other nations within a single state, or if they wish to have their own separate state. This is a fundamental and inalienable right.

But communists also take a position on which of the two alternatives is most desirable in each particular case, according to what will most benefit the fundamental interests of the working class, in other words, according to which choice will most advance the working-class struggle to overthrow the power of the bourgeoisie.

As Stalin explains:

It would be impermissible to confuse the question of the right of nations to freely secede with the question of whether a nation must necessarily secede at any given moment. This latter question must be settled quite independently by the party of the proletariat in each particular case, according to the interests of social development as a whole and the interests of the class struggle of the proletariat for socialism. [4]

In Quebec’s case, separation would divide the working class along national lines. It would direct the Quebecois working class towards supporting “its” capitalist class. It would slow down the development of class conciousness among Quebecois workers. It would leave the leadership of Quebec’s national movement in the hands of the bourgeoisie, and so would hinder the development of a revolutionary united front between Canada’s working class and oppressed nationalities.

And it would do all of this without resolving the Quebec national question.

This is why we say that in the case of Quebec, separation can only be a strategic setback for the working class and socialist revolution, both in Quebec and in Canada as a whole.

The mirage of ’real independence’

What are the CFP’s arguments to prove that the separation of Quebec would be a good thing for the workers and the people?

The CFP sees four advantages to what it calls “real independence”: it would hurt the “Canadian bourgeoisie,” attack American imperialism, sharpen the crisis, which is seen as favourable to the “political development of the masses,” and, lastly, enable the people to make some gains in the fight against national oppression.

Hurt the Canadian bourgeoisie

According to the CFP, the demand for independence is “likely to change the balance of forces in favour of workers because it would hurt the interests of the Canadian bourgeoisie, threatening those interests by driving a wedge into the bourgeoisie’s political framework (the Canadian federal state), which is the ultimate guarantee for its continued existence and development. The political independence of Quebec jeopardizes the entire power structure of the Canadian bourgeoisie, as well as its relationship with US imperialism, because the loss of Quebec would mean the loss of part of US influence.” [5]

First of all, it is totally false to claim that “the entire power structure of the bourgeoisie” would he put in question by Quebec separation. Such a change would in fact be nothing but a redivision of power between various groups of capitalists. The two states that would result would be just as bourgeois as today’s Canadian state.

Secondly, even such a redivision would certainly not end the presence of big Canadian monopolies in Quebec.

Let us look more closely at these two points.

Quebec separation would certainly hurt the interests of the Canadian capitalist class [6], especially its monopoly fraction, which wants nothing to do with such a change. It would take away its political control over a portion of its present territory and market. But who would profit by this? This is the question the working class must ask, and which the CFP conveniently “forgets” to mention.

This political and economic control would fall into the hands of the Quebecois bourgeoisie, which would be considerably strengthened by it. The great “change” would hurt the Canadian monopoly capitalists by strengthening Quebecois capitalists, who would thus be given a helping hand to reach the monopoly stage. [7] In other words we would thus encourage the creation of a new imperialist state in North America. Some progress for the working class!

But the CFP does not just talk about “hurting the interests of the Canadian bourgeoisie.” It goes much further and claims that by breaking the bourgeoisie’s “political framework,” the Canadian federal state, separation would jeopardize “its entire power structure.” It continues by stating that the demand for independence is “hard for capitalism to accept in the North American context,” [8] because in Canada “the development of capitalism has always gone hand in hand with Confederation.” [9]

This is the sort of confusion the CFP is spreading. Just because Confederation developed along with capitalism in Canada doesn’t mean that it is the only possible form of bourgeois state, nor that it is essential for the continuation of exploitation! Breaking a “political framework,” replacing Confederation with two separate states, in no way means that we have changed the class nature of the state.

In fact, all that would be put in question is the division of power between fractions of the bourgeoisie. But the “power structure” of the capitalists over the workers would be unchanged.

Perhaps the separation of Quebec is “hard to accept” for a section of Canadian capitalists, but capitalism itself wouldn’t be hurt by it.

Strengthening one enemy at the expense of another, exploiting the contradictions within enemy ranks, is something the working class can do when it serves its interests and advances its struggle. But under no circumstances can it do this when it means sacrificing its fundamental interests, when it hinders rather than serves its revolutionary strategy. This would definitely be the case if Quebec were to separate. Separation would undoubtedly weaken a certain section of the Canadian bourgeoisie, but it would also do considerable damage to the revolutionary strategy of the Quebec and Canadian working class as a whole.

But when the CFP talks of “hurting the interests of the Canadian bourgeoisie, and jeopardizing its power,” it implies that separation would mean that the Quebec people would at least be rid of some exploiters: the Canadian monopoly bourgeoisie. Again, if we look at reality it is clear that this is not the case.

If today Sun Life, Canadian Pacific and Air Canada are moving or threatening to move their head offices, they are doing so essentially as economic blackmail to prevent the Quebec people from freely deciding on their future. But if Quebec were to separate, why would Canadian monopolies, always in search of profits, stop selling, investing and exploiting in Quebec?

Don’t forget that in the North American context, a separate Quebec would be a small and relatively weak inperialist power compared to Canada and, above all, the United States. The Quebecois bourgeoisie would certainly not have the strength, and therefore the will, to prevent Canadian and American monopolies from exploiting Quebec’s working people.

Guy Joron, Quebec minister of consumer affairs, cooperatives and financial institutions, declared to Toronto businessmen in January that it would be “business as usual in a “sovereign” Quebec, and that their activities could continue as before.[10]

“Open a breach in the North American system of domination”

According to the CFP, separation would also jeopardize the Canadian bourgeoisie’s links with US imperialism. It would mean “a new balance of forces, a breach in the capitalist system of domination in North America.” [11]

But what is this “capitalist system of domination in North America”? It is the capitalists’ dictatorship over the people, and as we have seen, separation would make no fundamental difference to this dictatorship.

But what the CFP is really trying to say here is that separation could weaken US imperialism, attacking its presence and its domination in both Quebec and Canada as a whole. Once again the facts show that this would not be the case at all.

At the present time US imperialism is declining on a world scale. It is increasingly hard-pressed by the third world peoples, who are throwing off its domination, and it is faced with the growing strength of its greatest rival, Soviet social-imperialism. In this context, what is US policy towards Canada? It is a policy of strengthening its control, increasing its plunder of our resources and tightening its political and military domination. If Canada were to split in two, the US would have no reason to change this policy.

Imperial Oil (an Exxon subsidiary), GM and Ford are not about to give up the least bit of the fabulous profits they make in Canada. And the Canadian bourgeoisie as a whole, any more than its Quebec section, has no intention of making any changes in this situation.

As for the PQ, over the last three years it has given ample evidence that it is quite prepared to come to terms with US imperialism in Quebec.

All sectors of the Canadian bourgeoisie are agreed to continue the NATO / Norad military alliance. For several years the PQ program called for the withdrawal from these two treaties to create the mirage of “real independence” But it didn’t take long for it to reverse its position.

One argument used by the CFP to show that independence would hurt American imperialism is that the US is opposed to independence. What simplistic logic! At the present time it is clear that Washington would rather have a united Canada and a relatively stable political situation along its northern border. But this doesn’t mean it wouldn’t try to profit just as much, and more if it could, from a divided Canada.

No one can claim that the United States was pleased with the election of a PQ government in Quebec in 1976. Yet who can deny that Washington has profited from the resulting crisis in the Canadian bourgeoisie to strengthen its position in our country?

“Deepen the crisis” to “speed up the political development of the masses”

The CFP claims that independence will not just “shake up” the bourgeoisie, but also that:

The struggle for political independence may allow a deepening of the present crisis of the Canadian state by sharpening contradictions between the ruling classes and may speed up the political development of the Quebecois and Canadian working masses. [12]

Thus, the present crisis within the ruling class should, spontaneously, lead to “speeding up the political development of the masses”!

But what develops “spontaneously” in capitalist society? Only bourgeois ideology. Why? Because the capitalist parties and media have considerable resources devoted to spreading this ideology.

A crisis within the ruling class can only encourage the political development of the people if systematic and consistent work is carried out to counter the capitalists’ propaganda. History has amply demonstrated that proletarian ideology always develops through a determined fight against bourgeois ideology, never “spontaneously.”

Just look at what the ruling class is saying about the present crisis. The media, politicians and a host of groups in the service of the capitalists are busy spreading chauvinist ideas against Quebec in English Canada and among English Quebecers. The closer the referendum comes the more this “political education” is likely to take on unprecedented dimensions.

In Quebec, narrow nationalism, identifying “federalism” as the enemy and spreading the idea of the “family” of all Quebecois, is being propagated as never before. The nationalist bourgeoisie is working overtime to convince Quebec workers not to demand too much and to help “their” elite build its own country.

If we don’t oppose all of this, it can only lead to the growth of bourgeois nationalist ideas among Quebec workers, rather than working class, internationalist ideas.

To advance toward revolution, the working class must develop its consciousness of being a class with common interests radically opposed to those of the capitalist class. It must also understand that all forms of oppression (national oppression or the oppression of women, for example) serve the interests of the capitalists, not the interests of the workers.

Who oppresses nations and nationalities? Who fosters division, scorn and hatred among the nationalities? In whose interest is it? No one but our common enemy, the bourgeoisie, the enemy we wish to attack and destroy. But we can only do this if we also resolutely fight this oppression and this divisive bourgeois ideology.

This fight against oppression, great-nation chauvinism and narrow nationalism was an important factor in the Russian proletariat’s victory over Czarism and the bourgeoisie. As early as 1904 Stalin explained:

As we know, the goal of every struggle is victory. But if the proletariat is to achieve victory, all the workers, irrespective of nationality, must be united. Clearly, the demolition of national barriers and close unity between the Russian, Georgian, Armenian, Polish, Jewish and other proletarians is a necessary condition for the victory of the proletariat of all Russia.

That is in the interests of the proletariat of all Russia.

But the Russian autocracy, the bitterest enemy of the proletariat of all Russia, is constantly counteracting the efforts to unite the proletarians. It brutally persecutes the national cultures, the languages, customs and institutions of the “alien” nationalities in Russia. It deprives them of their essential civil rights, oppresses them in every way, pharisaically sows distrust and hostility among them and incites them to bloody collisions. This shows that its sole object is to sow dissension among the nations that inhabit Russia, to intensify national strife among them, to reinforce national barriers in order to more successfully disunite the proletariat, more successfully split the entire proletariat of Russia into small national groups and in this way bury the class consciousness of the workers, their class unity.

That is in the interests of Russian reaction; such is the policy of the Russian autocracy. (Stalin, Works, Vol. 1, p. 35) [13]

Promoting Quebec independence consolidates divisions rather than confronting and fighting them, it blocks the growth of class consciousness in the Canadian proletariat. Instead it develops the idea among Quebecois workers that they have more in common with “their” bourgeoisie than with the rest of the Canadian working class. The promoters of independence also abandon the work that must be done with English-Canadian workers to fight chauvinist ideas of contempt or indifference towards their Quebecois brothers and sisters and the struggle for the respect of their national rights.

The idea of the “political development” of the masses arising spontaneously out of a crisis within the bourgeoisie is a vulgar example of what Lenin denounced when he talked about the economists and their theories of “spontaneity.”

There is much talk of spontaneity. But the spontaneous development of the working-class movement leads to its subordination to bourgeois ideology. [14]

The CFP hasn’t come up with anything new. To drag Quebec workers along behind the nationalist bourgeoisie the CFP has come up with the classic reformist ideas that oppose real political education, education that is not done “spontaneously” but through the systematic propagation of scientific socialism, Marxism-Leninism, in the heart of struggles, and through the relentless fight against bourgeois ideology.

This is just as true for the national question as it is for any other question. The present crisis in Canada can help the working class on one condition, if a scientific analysis of the national question and the means to resolve it are propagated; on the condition that constant education is done with English-Canadian workers to explain the necessity of defending the rights of the oppressed nationalities and Quebec’s rights to self-determination; on the condition that we clearly identify the Canadian bourgeoisie as a whole as the target, the common enemy responsible for both national oppression and exploitation. Quebecois workers must see more and more clearly that the Quebec nationalist bourgeoisie is leading them into a dead-end, not to their liberation, but rather to the capitalists’ prosperity at their expense.

This is precisely the education the WCP is doing across the country. And this is precisely what the CFP is against, prefering to watch the “spontaneous development“ of narrow nationalism and great-nation chauvinism.

In other words, they would rather take the easy way, the road that gives free rein to the development of bourgeois ideology, the road that, because of contempt for the masses, capitulates totally before the task that must be done and the education that must be carried out.

Gains against national oppression

Lastly, says the CFP, the demand for independence “is a demand that can help workers insofar as the changed balance of forces would allow them to make gains against the most important manifestations of national oppression.” [15]

The first question to be asked is: what are the most important manifestations of national oppression? To start with, Quebec’s right to self-determination is denied. Certainly, separation would change the situation, since Quebec would no longer be forcibly kept within the Canadian confederation.

Formally Quebec would have won its right to self-determination.

But what are the other important manifestations of national oppression and what would happen to them with separation?

Other political rights are denied and numerous inequalities exist: wages are lower in Quebec, unemployment is higher, social services are of lower quality, it is often impossible to work in French, cultural development is limited, etc.

In a separate Quebec the people would continue to face all this. Quebecois capitalists would certainly have no interest in raising Quebec workers’ wages, nor in developing and improving social services. On the contrary, they would call on the people to tighten their belts even more in the name of the “higher interests of the nation” and the need to “build a new country.”

It is no accident that the PQ states in Challenges for Quebec that in a sovereign Quebec workers should not seek wage parity with Ontario. It is no accident that Energy and Resources Minister Berube complained last December in the National Assembly that Quebec workers (those in the public sector Common Front) “still suffer from the egoism of their class” (sic). [16]

Also, one must be very naive to think that the Quebecois bourgeoisie would force Canadian and American monopolies, who would no doubt continue to invest in Quebec, to fully respect the right of Quebecois to work in French. After all, this might put the brakes on foreign investment. The most we might see would be a few measures intended to open up top positions in the companies to Quebecois managers. It is no accident that Bill 101 has so many loopholes.

Quebec separation would NOT do away with the national oppression of the Quebec people. This oppression would continue for the people just as much as before. Some aspects of it, like the wage differential, might even get worse due to the policies of the Quebecois bourgeoisie. Similarly, the oppression suffered by Native people in Quebec would no doubt be continued by the capitalists in power.

The Quebec people would have, for all intents and purposes, won the recognition of their right to self-determination but at the cost of strengthening the Quebecois capitalist class and putting off the socialist revolution far into the future.

The Quebec nation can and must win the right to self-determination within Canada in order to use it as a weapon against oppression and the inequalities it faces, but without separating.

Lenin compared the right of oppressed nations to self-determination to the right of women to divorce. He made this comparison to show how the recognition of these rights does not automatically imply separation. But it is extremely important for these rights to be won because they make it possible to fight against oppression. A woman who has the right to leave her husband has a much better basis to demand equal treatment than if she is a prisoner within her marriage. Similarly, if the Quebec nation wins the right to freely decide whether or not to remain in Canada, it will have the use of a fundamental democratic weapon to fight discrimination.

The fight for the right to self-determination must be waged by the whole of the Canadian working class along with the Quebec people. This will strengthen the strategic unity needed to make the revolution in Canada. It will develop the class consciousness of English-Canadian and Quebec workers. It will ensure a proletarian leadership in the fight against national oppression.

This is vital if we want to progress towards socialism. In fact, if the working class is to defeat the powerful enemies facing it, it cannot fight alone. It must win to its side all possible allies and build a united front of all forces that have an interest in overthrowing the bourgeoisie. The oppressed nationalities must be included among these forces. The Quebec people are an extremely important force to be won over to the socialist revolution. Their enemy is the same as that of the Canadian working class as a whole: the bourgeoisie.

Promoting independence does exactly the opposite. Instead of uniting the Quebec people and the working class against the bourgeoisie, it divides them from the rest of the working class. It delays socialist revolution and unites the Quebec people with the Quebecois bourgeoisie.

The mirage disappears

When we look at the facts, the “real independence” pushed by the CFP is shown up for what it really is, a mirage and an illusion intended to attract Quebecois workers and tie them to the interests of the nationalist bourgeoisie. Looked at concretely, one by one, the so-called advantages that workers would gain from Quebec separation go up in smoke. And the disadvantages are great: holding back the achievement of the working class’s basic aim, the seizure of power from the bourgeoisie, and therefore the resolution of Quebec national oppression at its source.

Thus the working class would be sacrificing its struggle for socialism, which is the only way to do away with national oppression and exploitation, in return for a few meagre changes, for crumbs.

Stalin explains that the idea that separation can resolve national oppression is nothing but a dangerous illusion:

The formation of the new independent national states... did not, and could not, eliminate either national inequality or national oppression, for the new national states, being based on private property and class inequality, cannot exist: a) without oppressing their national minorities b) without enlarging their territories at the expense of their neighbours,... c) without submitting to the financial, economic and military domination of the “great”, “imperialist powers.” [17]

The CFP’s line is a typical example of what Lenin described as characteristic of revisionism:

To determine its conduct from case to case, to adapt itself to the events of the day and to the chopping and changing of petty politics, to forget the primary interests of the proletariat and the basic features of the whole capitalist system, of all capitalist evolution, to sacrifice these primary interests for the real or assumed advantages of the moment – such is the policy of revisionism. [18]

The basic question: the principal contradiction

In a document entitled “Canadian Marxist-Leninists and the Question of Quebec independence,” the CFP attempts to analyze – and refute – the WCP’s positions.

The CFP lumps the WCP and In Struggle together in this pamphlet, but it is basically the WCP’s position that it tries to attack.

Most of the CFP’s argument centres around the definition of the principal contradiction. For once it has put its finger on the problem: its analysis of the question reveals the basis of its erroneous position and is at the heart of our divergences.

How does the CFP define the principal contradiction?

At present the contradiction that is politically principal does not oppose the bourgeoisie to the proletariat but opposes different fractions of the bourgeoisie. [19]

How does the CFP defend this position:

...we are far from open and organized opposition to capitalism by the masses. The politically principal contradiction unfortunately lies elsewhere! [20]


Where is the revolutionary mass movement that would politically put into question capitalism and the domination of the Canadian bourgeoisie on a wide scale? [21]

It certainly isn’t in the CFP! This type of argument, this whining about the “weakness” of the revolutionary mass movement, is typical of the petty bourgeoisie’s contempt for the workers’ movement.

Despite the strength and intensity of workers’ struggles, despite the important growth of the Marxist-Leninist movement among the masses over the last five years, the CFP has the nerve to sit in its ivory tower and decide that the workers’ movement is not “revolutionary enough,” not “militant enough” in its struggle against the bourgeoisie to suit it.

“Unfortunately,” the CFP cries. And faced with this “misfortune” what does it conclude? That we must go with the tide. It quite frankly says that if the revolutionary movement were stronger then perhaps it would be worth considering. But for now it will take care of the fight between fractions of the bourgeoisie. One rarely sees such an open expression of petty-bourgeois opportunism, such contempt for the masses, such a refusal to lift a finger to build the revolutionary movement and such a propensity to line up on the side of the stronger.

So, according to the CFP the socialist revolution has to be underway for the principal contradiction to be between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. For the CFP the principal contradiction in society is the sharpest, most evident, struggle at a given time, the one at centre stage, “the given balance of forces between the classes,” [22] as it puts it.

To evaluate this definition of the principal contradiction one has to ask why one bothers to define a principal contradiction in society in the first place – in order to determine the direction of revolutionary strategy, to determine what kind of revolution must be accomplished in a given historical period, what is its leading force, and who is its target.

It is in this sense that Mao Zedong says that the principal contradiction is the one “whose existence and development determine or influence the existence or development of the other contradictions.” [23]

It is the key link, that most important relationship which, if reversed, will radically transform all of society. The principal contradiction is also an objective reality. It exists independently of the degree of organization or consciousness of the classes concerned, and independently of the extent or sharpness of the contradiction between them.

To develop a revolutionary strategy it is absolutely vital to analyze this objective reality, this contradiction that determines all the others.

Given this, what are the practical implications of the CFP’s position? What is the strategy that follows from its definition? What is the target that must be attacked and what is the leading force in the fight? It’s target is the rest of the Canadian bourgeoisie. The leading force is the Quebec nationalist bourgeoisie. And there you have it, the “revolutionary strategy” the CFP proposes to the Quebec workers’ movement: ally with the nationalist bourgeoisie against the rest of the Canadian bourgeoisie.

This is the basis of its position. But since the CFP would rather not present it so clearly, it deforms the Marxist theory of contradictions. It tries to present the principal contradiction as the most “evident” contradiction, rather than the contradiction that determines revolutionary strategy.

But if one returns to the Marxist definition of the principal contradiction it is clear that the present political crisis around the Quebec national question connot be the key link that would allow a radical transformation of Canadian and Quebec society as a whole.

On the contrary, this crisis and the contradiction between the two sectors of the Canadian bourgeoisie are themselves determined by the existence of the contradiction between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat.

Whatever results from the confrontation between the two sectors of the Canadian bourgeoisie, there will he no change whatsoever in the contradiction between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, not in Canada, nor in Quebec.

But if the contradiction between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat is reversed and the proletariat takes power, the whole of Canadian society will be radically transformed and the rivalry between these two groups of capitalists will be ended.

All the CFP’s reasoning around the principal contradiction have but one end: to justify theoretically their call to the workers’ movement to tail after the bourgeoisie. The least we can say is that its theoretical “performance” is pretty pitiful.

The reason is simple. The CFP doesn’t get much practice making Marxist analyses, on the principal contradiction or on anything else. It never would have started talking about Mao Zedong’s theory of contradiction if our positions, our work and the development of our influence hadn’t forced it to do so.

Given the pitiful results of this first attempt we can only make the following suggestion: either take a fundamental look at your ideas and seriously begin to study Marxism-Leninism, or give up any attempt to refer to it once and for all.

A bourgeois conception of the fight against national oppression

From what we have seen it is clear that the CFP does not analyze the Quebec national question and separation from the point of view of the working class and revolutionary strategy.

What point of view is there left but a bourgeois point of view? And this is in fact its perspective, both in defining the national movement and the fight against national oppression, as well as in discussing the question of separation.

How to fight against national oppression

What does it mean to struggle against national oppression in an advanced capitalist country like Canada? What should be the goals of the national movement? To do away with this oppression, to eliminate it and to win equality. The way to do this is to attack the source of the problem by overthrowing bourgeois power and establishing workers’ rule, socialism. One might think that this definition would he obvious to people who claim to be socialists and who want to fight national oppression.

But the CFP has another definition of the struggle against national oppression:

It is the struggle of a dominated nation that aspires to eventually become a real nation-slate, in the full sense of the term, and therefore, among other things, achieve political independence. [24]

The important thing to notice here is that for the CFP the fight against national oppression suddenly no longer has any connection to the struggle for socialism. Although in some documents the CFP has made a certain link between national oppression and capitalist exploitation, this link disappears when the question is how to end the oppression of the Quebec nation.

National oppression was born along with the bourgeoisie, it is practised by this class, which profits from it both materially (superprofits wrung out of the workers of the oppressed nationalities) and politically (divisions among the working class and the people). As long as the capitalist class is in power it will never give up this weapon, which serves its interests so well. The people’s struggles can force it to concede certain national rights, but these rights will never be guaranteed and national oppression will never be eliminated as long as the bourgeoisie’s dictatorship continues.

But the CFP does not see the elimination of bourgeois power as the solution to national oppression, nor as the goal the national movement should set itself.

Spontaneously, with no hesitation, the solution put forward by the CFP is “the method of bourgeois nationalism, the method of nations drawing apart from one another, the method of disuniting nations...” [25]

For the bourgeoisie, “fighting national oppression” in fact means ensuring its own domination over “its” national territory and market, and, therefore, setting up its own state.

As Stalin explains very clearly, nations and nation-states first appeared with capitalism’s triumph over feudalism.

A nation is not merely a historical category but a historical category belonging to a definite epoch, the epoch of rising capitalism... The British, French, Germans, Italians and others were formed into nations at the time of the victorious advance of capitalism and its triumph over feudal disunity. But the formation of nations in those instances at the same time signified their conversion into independent national states. [26]

However, other nations found themselves included in multi-national states – this is Quebec’s case – where the bourgeoisie of the dominant nation carried out a policy of systematic oppression against them.

In contrast to that, the multi-national states that are based on the domination of one nation – more exactly, of the ruling class of that nation – over the other nations are the original home and chief arena of national oppression and of national movements. [27]

The peoples of oppressed nations have resisted this policy, fighting in many ways for the respect of their rights. The history of Quebec is full of examples of this resistance: the daily struggle to protect one’s culture and language, the fight against conscription during World War I, the mass demonstrations of the ’60s, and the continual struggle in the factories for the right to work in French.

The bourgeoisie of the oppressed nation also resists, but in its own way. What is the significance of its nationalism?

The chief problem for the young bourgeoisie is the problem of the market. Its aim is to sell its goods and to emerge victorious from competition with the bourgeoisie of a different nationality. Hence its desire to secure its ’own,’ its `home’ market. The market is the first school in which the bourgeoisie learns its nationalism. [28]

A good way for the bourgeoisie to control its own market is to create its own nation-state. This is what Levesque means when he talks about becoming an “adult” people; he wants the Quebecois bourgeoisie to have its own sovereign state (with or without an association) to control the territory, the taxes, the market and the people of Quebec.

This solution, the creation of a Quebec nation-state, is the same one put forward spontaneously by the CFP. This is the strategic goal the CFP has established for the fight against national oppression.

From criticism to critical support

The CFP’s “independence and socialism” line has today brought it to propose a “yes” vote in the referendum.

For a long time the CFP bent over backwards to distinguish itself from the PQ’s positions. Not so much because of the PQ’s attacks on the labour movement but more because the party was not for “real independence.” The CFP tried to show that its demand for independence wasn’t the same thing as the PQ’s sovereignty-association. But the argument couldn’t last long: what is a state that controls all legislation and all taxes if not an independent state?

The problem is that the CFP had dreamed of a Quebecois nationalist bourgeoisie that would achieve independence in one jump, vigorously taking on the Canadian monopolies and American imperialism. But reality has contradicted this dream, and the real flesh and blood nationalist bourgeoisie, represented by the PQ, understands perfectly well that if it wants to achieve its independence, or “sovereignty,” it is not in its best interests to provoke a violent confrontation. It knows that it does not have the strength to break all the economic and political links it has with the rest of the Canadian bourgeoisie and with US imperialism.

After vigorously protesting these unpleasant facts, the CFP nonetheless had to lake a position on the approaching referendum.

It clearly expressed its choice last fall:

The best strategy for the workers movement in the current battle is to express its political autonomy by giving tactical support to the independentist “yes” option, thus opening a breach in the North American system of domination.” [29]

The CFP’s utopia of “real” independence can only lead to the reality of the PQ’s project. And the CFP is forced to recognize this.

“Independence and socialism” can only lead the CFP to support the Quebecois capitalist class, one way or another. After all, either the supporters of “independence and socialism” promote a two-staged strategy, the first stage being a separate and capitalist Quebec, and therefore dominated by the Quebecois bourgeoisie; or, to get around this problem, they maintain that independence and socialism must be realized at the same time. But if we do both at the same time, what enemy must we attack? The whole of the Canadian bourgeoisie, since we are still within a united Canadian state. So this strategy proposes that the Quebec working class, alone, launch itself against the power of the Canadian bourgeoisie to seize power arid achieve Quebec independence with a single blow. It proposes mobilizing only one-third of the working class to attack the common enemy of all workers and people in Canada.

The strategic absurdity and the utopian and suicidal nature of this orientation sooner or later pushes the supporters of “independence and socialism” back to the first variation, “independence first and socialism later,” in other words, support for the Quebecois bourgeoisie.

One last question. Whatever happened to the “political autonomy” the workers’ movement was supposed to express with its “tactical yes” in the referendum? The logic is hard to follow:

The working class and the working people “must first step forward on a political terrain where they are not the main protagonist, but rather, a secondary force, on a battlefield where the main “forces are made up of other social classes, other social blocs.” [30]

By “social blocs” the CFP really means on one side the Quebec people as a whole, and on the other the rest of Canadian society. In the end this is the same idea as the “one big family” of Quebecois put forward by the PQ, but just a little more subtle, more “left-wing.”

This whole idea of a “social bloc” is just a way to promote the alliance of the Quebec working class with “its own” bourgeoisie.

In other words, the working class must first follow after the nationalist bourgeoisie and fight at its side, until one day, spontaneously, step by step, its autonomy may develop. This is just another example of the great perspectives the CFP is offering the workers’ movement.

How much longer will so-called progressives keep on telling the Quebec workers’ movement that is it is still too young to walk on its own, that it must stay in the arms of “its” bourgeoisie?

An independent working class stand can and does, in fact, exist right now, on the Quebec national question and on all political questions in Canada.

It is the working class that can truly rid our country of national oppression, and the task of leading the Quebec national movement to victory falls on the working class. It must move to seize this leadership from the nationalist bourgeoisie, not “one day,” not “later,” but right now.


[1] The Centre de formation populaire (CFP – “Centre for Popular Education”) is a small group set up in Montreal in the autumn of 1970. Its activities include research, the organization of conferences and courses, and the production and distribution of documents intended for use as “political education” for workers, in particular active trade unionists. The CEP originated in the “political action committees” (CAPs) and the FRAP (“Political Action Front”), a nationalist and social democratic group that was active in Montreal municipal politics in 1969-70. During its history the CPT has been linked to the Regroupement de comites des travailleurs (“Organization of Political Action Committees”), which inherited and carried on the right opportunist and spontaneous line of the CAPS, and the opportunist group, “Mobilisation.” The CFP’s line is narrow nationalist, reformist and left-wing social democrat, with strong conciliatory tendencies towards revisionism. It opposes the Leninist conception of the party and puts forward an ultra-spontaneous line on the organization of the working class. It talks of the need for an “autonomous political workers organization”. This organization is supposed to emerge from the unions and community groups through the development of minimal programs on particular questions, but especially, at the present time, around the question of Quebec independence.

[2] CFP, Le mouvement ouvrier quebecois et ses revendications a propos de la question nationale, April, 1979, p. 13.

[3] In Ireland’s case, for example, Marx and Engels put forward the need for separation. A good collection on this subject is Ireland and the Irish Question, Collection of writings by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, International Publishers, New York, 1972.

[4] Stalin, Report on the National Question, Works, Vol. 3, p. 55.

[5] CFP, Le mouvement ouvrier..., Op. Cit. p. 14.

[6] It is important to note that when the CFP talks about “the Canadian bourgeoisie” it deliberately excludes the Quebecois bourgeoisie. As far as we are concerned, capitalists in Quebec together with those in the rest of Canada all form a single ruling class. For a more developed study of this question see p. 108.

[7] For more on the means the Quebecois capitalist class intends to use to reach the monopoly stage, see p. 116-120.

[8] CFP, Le mouvement ouvrier..., Op. Cit. p. 14.

[9] Ibid. p. 14.

[10] La Presse, January 31, 1980.

[11] CFP, Le referendum: un enjeu politique pour le mouvement ouvrier, third quarter of 1979, p. 18.

[12] CFP, Les “M-L” canadiens et la question de l’independence du Quebec, May, 1979, p. 13.

[13] Stalin, The Social-Democratic View of the National Question, Works, Vol. 1, p. 35.

[14] Lenin, What is to be Done, Peking, 1973, p. 40.

[15] CFP, Le mouvement ouvrier..., Op. Cit. p. 16.

[16] National Assembly, Quebec City, Journal des debats, Fourth session, 31st legislature, Tuesday, December, 18, 1979, Vol. 21, No. 83, p. 4671.

[17] Stalin, The Immediate Tasks of the Party on the National Question, in Marxism and the National-Colonial Question pp. 138-139.

[18] Lenin, Marxism and Revisionism, Collected Works, Moscow, Vol. 15, p. 37.

[19] CEP, Les “M-L”..., Op. Cit., p. 7.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Mao Zedong, On Contradiction, Selected Works, Peking, Vol. 1, p. 331.

[24] CFP, Le mouvement ouvrier..., Op. Cit., p. 4.

[25] Stalin, The International Character of the October Revolution, in Marxism and the National-Colonial Question, p. 377.

[26] Stalin, Marxism and the National Question, in Marxism and the National-Colonial Question, pp. 28-29.

[27] Stalin, The Immediate Tasks..., Op. cit., p. 137.

[28] Stalin, Marxism and the National Question, Op. cit. p. 31.

[29] CFP, Le referendum..., Op. Cit., Cover page.

[30] Ibid., p. 17.