First Published: In Struggle! No. 174, October 2, 1979
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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The referendum campaign is off and running. Both the “say yes” and “say no” factions are bankrolled to the tune of millions of dollars. Billboards spring up like late-season weeds. Ad jingles and images crowd the air waves. The slogan of the up-front chauvinists is simple: “Smash the Quebec separatists”. The Quebecois nationalists prefer more dulcet tones, promising to get rid of the power of the English” and to set up a “normal country”...
For many Canadians, the Quebec national question has been dragging on for far too long. The sentiment contains an element of truth. Two hundred years is a long time. Too long. But If you want to be done with a problem you have to deal with it. And it seems that the great majority of Canadians, and that means most workers and working people, still don’t want to bother to give this crucial problem the attention it deserves.
Two centuries of pointless efforts by the capitalists to solve this problem should be enough to convince the Canadian working class of one thing at least: as long as workers remain passive and don’t deal with this question, the different factions of the capitalist class will revive it and play with it over and over again. This will be the pattern soon with other national questions too, concerning the Native peoples, the Acadians, etc.The process has already begun.
IN STRUGGLE! believes that this situation has gone on long enough. We have devoted considerable energies to date to tackling it. In fact, there have been some successful results, notably the 30,000 signatures gathered in support of the absolute equality of languages and nations. We intend to go a lot further. We are going to do our utmost to combat the situation whereby sold-out leaders confine workers to economic struggles dealing with unemployment, wages, job security, etc., while all the “real” political questions are settled by the capitalists. So, for the next few issues the editorial will be devoted to elaborating our position on the “Quebec national question”.
In what ways are the Quebecois people so oppressed? Isn’t it a fact that there is more unemployment in Newfoundland then in Quebec? Why should French-speaking people have rights that Ukrainians or Italians or any other of the ethnic communities that make up the “Canadian mosaic” don’t have? Are we going to let those blankety-blank separatists, those downright reactionary nationalists, break up our country?... The questions are well known. Many even appear well-founded at first glance. But when you look a little deeper you will find that these sugar-coated bullets have been standard ammunition for the great-nation chauvinists since this country was first set up.
Chauvinism in Canada? Come on now. Canadians aren’t like those racists in Rhodesia or the Zionists in Israel. Why, Canada is one of the most democratic countries in the world. We can’t just sit back and let the separatists destroy it. One Canada, one nation! Smash the Quebec separatists! Let’s hear it for national unity!
Who is it that feeds up a non-stop diet of these phrases? Who tries to get us to sing those slogans? Our “national” leaders like Diefenbaker, Clark, James Richardson. Provincial luminaries like Bill Davis, Blakeney and Lougheed. Those slogans are the living expression of great nation chauvinism: the total denial of the rights of the Quebec nation justified by the “higher” interests of the Canadian nation. Indeed, Canadian chauvinism ends up denying the very existence of a distinct Quebec nation.
If you want to solve a problem, the first step is obviously to recognize that it exists and to correctly identity the nature of the problem.
The great majority of Quebec understand very well that the Quebecois nation exists. They have always been defined as a specific community defined by language, a common history and territory, and by economic, social and cultural ties that unite it in a distinct fashion. It is the denial of this plain fact that lies at the core of great-nation chauvinism. And it is this chauvinism which constitues the main obstacle to a just resolution of the Quebec national question. Why? Because a just solution requires the elimination of national inequalities. It can only come about if there is absolute equality of all the nations which make up Canada. For this equality to be rest, certain practical rights must exist. The most important of these is the right of nations to self-determination.
IN STRUGGLE! is not for the separation of Quebec. That is well known. We will come back to that point in a later editorial. But IN STRUGGLE! is absolutely opposed to keeping the Quebec nation in Confederation by force. The demagogues can prove all they want what everybody already knows: that wages are lower in Nova Scotia or that unemployment is worse in Newfoundland. They can quote all the statistics they wish to demonstrate that the separation of Quebec would hurt the Canadian economy. They might even drop their anti-worker tirades long enough to prove that the struggle of the Quebecois people around the national question holds back, in various ways other struggles involving workers throughout Canada. But all those impressive figures, all that fine logic, does not alter the fact that the Quebec nation exists as a product of the history of this country. And that one single fact alone means that the Quebecois nation has the inalienable right to decide itself what its own political future will be.
The first step in trying to resolve the Quebec national question is thus to expose Canadian chauvinism. The sweet-smelling potions promoted by the soft-sell salesmen of “national unity” must be as readily identified as quack remedies as are the more obviously labelled poisons of threats and blackmail brandished by the more honest chauvinists. These gentlemen are so gung ho about Canada as it is at present for one simple reason: they went to build up Canada as an imperialist power that can “make it” at whatever cost in a world of heightened rivalries.