First Published: In Struggle! No. 175, October 9, 1979
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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The Communist Party of Canada, local branch plant of the revisionist Russian party, tells us: “There is growing support in the trade-union movement for the aspirations of French Canada, particularly for the need to maintain the unity of the French and English workers.” (Communist Viewpoint May-June 1979, Vol. 11, no. 3, p. 16). Cleverly put. It is indeed true that a genuine sentiment exists among many workers to back the legitimate demands of the Quebec notion. But more is another truth which the CP and others always try to cover up: the labour bosses are strongly opposed to backing such demands. And the self-styled “left” tries to exploit this situation in thousand ways in order to push the nationalism of “Its” nation, in this case the English-Canadian nation.
What did the English-Canadian labour bosses do in 1970 when the War Measures Act was proclaimed and the army occupied Quebec? Absolutely nothing. Genuinely progressive people were obliged to carry on the struggle outside of the unions. What did the labour bosses do when the arch-reactionaries in CALPA and CATCA called for strike against the use of French in addition to English in air traffic control towers in Quebec? Again nothing. What are these great leaders doing today to support the fight for French-language schools in Ontario? Zilch. What kind of backing have they given to Quebecois workers who are demanding that they be allowed to work in their own language? None at all.
The labour bosses in English-Canada shouldn’t waste their breath feigning shock and dismay at the discriminatory nature of Bill 101, which made French the official language in Quebec. Nor should they be surprised that nationalist sentiments continue to run high in Quebec, including among workers. All of this is entirely predictable, given the long-standing indifference of the labour bosses to the many instances of national oppression across Canada and their open refusal to recognize the rights of the Quebec notion and other oppressed nations and national minorities. Their stance provides the Quebecois nationalists with plenty of fuel to fan the flames of their brand of nationalism.
Let’s face the facts. In Quebec, the union leaders by and large uphold the nationalist and completely bourgeois approach of the Parti Quebecois. In English Canada, the labour leaders share the chauvinist positions of the English-Canadian bourgeoisie. The main defenders of those positions In the labour movement are the CLC and the NDP.
But there are other facts as well. The chauvinism of the CLC heavies is increasingly being criticized and fought against by unions at the local and even the national level. This has happened in the course of a number of specific struggles involving workers of both nations. Opposition has surfaced at many union conventions too.
This is where the well-oiled mechanics from the self-styled “left” come on to the scene. Pulling one “progressive” position after another out of their tool boxes, they only manage to throw as many monkey wrenches into the works. All of them are great “democrats” – the CP, Canadian Dimenslon, the Trotskyists from RWL and GST, the WCP, etc. These “democratic” positions are the main obstacle to the development of a strong movement of support for the demands of Quebecois workers in the Canadian labour movement.
It is easy to defend the right of Quebec to self-determination when you are ’struggling” with the nationalist labour bosses in Quebec. It is easy and supremely opportunistic, especially when you “forget” to do the some in English Canada. And that is precisely what the WCP (formerly the League) does. It has taken on the task of cultivating and helping to push to a boiling point all expressions of nationalism which surface in various parts of the country. Hence the WCP parades around with its ridiculous programme of “election promises” neatly tailored to appeal to such sentiment in every national minority in Canada. The WCP, like the Trotskyists in the RWL and GST, is marked with extreme nationalism. When It defends the Quebecois, it makes sure that it does so on Quebec soil. It points its lance valiantly at the PQ which has tailed to go far enough in discriminating against the other nationalities. What does the WCP do outside the castle walls in English Canada? Fear not. Our noble knights are ready to do baffle against the oppression of the Quebecois out there too. Time and again they sound the clarion call to rally support for the struggle for better French-language hospitals in downtown Montreal! Wow, what courage!
The WCP are not the first knights of the realm to display such courage. In this as in other matters they are simply following a time-honoured courtly tradition. The original standard-bearer is the aging CP, which also does battle for the self-determination of Quebec...starting in Quebec. When they get to English Canada, the CP is just as opportunistic as the WCP. The CP line does not call for the self-determination of Quebec understood as an oppressed notion. It tells us we need a new constitution which recognizes the right of self-determination for not only the Quebec nation but the English-Canadian one as well! The CP treats the two nations as if they were in the some position, thereby denying the national oppression of Quebec.
The English-Canadian “left” can hardly be criticized for lack of imagination when it comes to covering up its nationalism. Canadian Dimension and the Canadian Party of Labour (CPL) have recently jumped into line with the Trotskyists of the RWL and the GST. They are calling for nothing less than the separation of Quebec. Why, do you ask? To put an end to all the inequality and discrimination? But of course. So they all claim anyway. But, wait, there’s more. The “left” goes one better. According to Canadian Dimension, the independence of Quebec would mean that “once and for all we (sic) would be rid of a politics of ethnic division” and “by getting rid of national unity as an issue, politics would polarize in this country on left-right lines” (CD, March 1979, Vol. 13, no. 6, pp. 38-39).
The capitalists in this country have taught us well. We all know who is responsible for all the economic troubles and political instability in Canada. It is the Quebec nation, better known as “the Quebec separatists”. The NDP, the CLC and the CP have also tried to teach us lessons. That is how we learned that the Quebec nation continually undermines the struggle against unemployment and for a new industrial strategy. And now we can be thankful for yet another lesson, this time from the Eurocommunists at Canadian Dimension. It is that same infernal nation which is stopping “left politics” from taking root in Canada. Quebec is just as much a nuisance to the working class as it is to the bourgeoisie! For goodness sake, let’s get that nation out of the way now and the sooner the better. And once “we” have finished with the Quebecois, our attention can then be turned to the Inuits, the Done, the Metis, the Acadian, etc., etc. Canadian Dimension has a long job ahead of it!
It is true that the working class of Canada does not have a political organization of its own. The solution to that problem is not to lay all the blame at the doorstep of the Quebec nation. It is not to try to get rid of it “peacefully” since the capitalists have not managed to crush it. The Canadian “left” can more profitably spend its time coming to grips with the unpretty fact that it is defending a thoroughly rightist position. It is not serving the ends it pretends to uphold.
The CP, WCP, Canadian Dimenson and others like them will never contribute anything to resolving the Quebec national question as long is they counterpose and juggle English-Canadian nationalism and Quebecois nationalism. They will continue to hold back the cause of socialism in Canada as long as they bed down with the NDP and keep their mouths shut as the NDP and CLC abour bosses launch their chauvinist attacks. Such a stand makes the self-styled “left” serve the nationalistic and chauvinist ambitions of the Canadian imperialist bourgeoisie. It makes them defenders of the interests of the labour aristocracy, which also benefits from imperialist axploltation.
Workers of Canada have a different task before them. It is to unite to resist the attacks of the Canadian bourgeoisie with greater and greater strength and eventually to oust it from power. One if the key battlefields which will unite the Canadian working class will be the one where the battle against national inequalities is fought, especially the battle to defend the right of the Quebec nation to self-determination.