First Published: In Struggle! No. 176, October 16, 1979
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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A few months from now Quebecers are supposed to be deciding by referendum vote what kind of constitutional ties will exist in the future between Canada and Quebec. In fact, however, it is already evident that the Parti Quebecois intends to put a different question before the people: giving the PQ a “mandate to negotiate” a new deal with English Canada. The PQ says that the “sovereignty-association” formula is the way to redefine the ties between Canada and Quebec: both political sovereignty and economic association.
The PQ has a rather limited definition of sovereignty, or at least its leaders do. Hence, Quebec is already pledged to remain a member of NATO and NORAD for its “self-defence”. Its idea of association goes even further. Thus there will be a single monetary system and central bank for both Quebec and Canada, the free circulation of goods and people, etc.
The claims of the Quebec government to the contrary, the referendum bears very little resemblance with the exercise of the democratic right of self-determination. First, there is Bill 92. It ensures that the debate will be restricted to the alternatives put forward by the capitalist parties. All those who want to enter the debate are required by law to join one of the two organizations no matter what their viewpoint is. The “democratic” choice is between joining the Quebec Liberal umbrella group favouring the status quo or the PQ coalition for sovereignty. One thing is already preordained: neither the debate nor the referendum question will deal with a definite political status or new constitution for Quebec. The “choice” offered the electors will be a purposefully vague constitutional formula subject to diverse interpretations and more particularly to negotiation between capitalist politicians.
The Parti Quebecois, originally called the Mouvement souveraineté-association (M.S.A.), has been around for ten years now. Its activities in that period have been little more than a modern revival of the age-old scenario played out in the 19th century after the 1837-38 rebellion against the British colonial regime was put down. Bourgeois nationalists have been working hard for over a century now to make the Quebec people think they had a “favourable bias” towards the demands raised by the various mass movements. In every case the objective has been the same: to take over control of those movements and use them as levers to improve their “bargaining position” in their haggling with the English-Canadian capitalists. George-Etienne Cartier was one the ’heroes” of the 1837-38 Patriot Rebellion. Afterwards he made it big from the building of the Canadian railroad system. Cartier was the most prominent salesman of Confederation to the Quebecois and became a minister in John A. MacDonald’s Conservative government. In other words, Cartier plain and simple used the Quebecois people as a springboard to attain his place in the ranks of the big bourgeoisie. One thing is for sure. All of the farmers, petty-bourgeois and workers did not lay down their lives at the battles of St. Charles and St. Eustache so one of their members, hero or not, could become a capitalist exploiter!
Why did workers support Maurice Duplessis’ Union Nationale in the thirties and forties? Certainly not because they wanted to be fired upon at Murdochville, Louiseville or Asbestos. The workers wanted to get rid of the corrupt Taschereau regime. Hopes ran high that, as Duplessis promised, Quebec would become prosperous by winning new powers from Ottawa, particularly the authority to set up a provincial income tax.
Why did a significant number of workers support the nationalist movement of the sixties? It was not because they were aching to hear more patriotic ads extolling the virtues of Labatt “50” ale. Nor were they dreaming in technicolour about the proud day when Denis Héroux would make his first million from porno flicks. The driving force was not the prospect of forcing the Inuits off their land in James Bay. Workers were not inspired with the mission. of helping Quebec’s industrialists and bankers grab a bigger piece of the profit pie in overseas or domestic markets.
Why did many workers vote for the PQ in 1976? It was not because they hoped to see their health services deteriorate. It was not in order to watch public schools become schools “for the poor” again while private schools for the rich are being given new life. It was certainly not because workers expected to be clubbed on the Commonwealth Plywood picket line or get shot at in the Robin Hood strike.
Workers can thereby draw the lessons from the past 15 years of struggles conducted under the banner of the Nation quite clearly: a certain number of capitalists and petty bourgeois have made a mint; the only green left over for the workers have been the “distant fields” of traditional folk songs, to say nothing of the black billy clubs bounced off their heads.
“A workers’ Quebec”, “Down with imperialism”. Those were the battle cries that stirred thousands upon thousands of workers, housewives, welfare recipients and students to take to the streets of Quebec in the early sixties, until Levesque came upon the scene to impose his “civilized”solution to the exploitation and oppression of the Quebec people.
It doesn’t take a magnifying glass to see who it is that Levesque is actually out to ’civilize’: It is not the big capitalists but the labour movement. The Mouvement Souveraineté-Association was created to milk the militancy of the mass movement with the help of the sold-out union bosses. The PQ today continues to work in the same way to channel the people’s anger at injustice into building Quebec into a “normal” capitalist country. The only normal thing about that capitalist pie in the sky will be the “normal profits” going from the majority into the pockets of a small home grown French-speaking elite.
The history of the Quebec nationalist movement for the past 15 years speaks much louder than the fiery rhetoric of Levesque and Co. Sovereignty-association does not serve the interests of Quebecois workers. It is nothing more than a jazzed up version of Duplessis’ call for “provincial autonomy”, Lesage s promise that Quebecers would become “masters in their own home” and all the other nationalist formulae that have been trotted out to fool workers over the years.
That is why the efforts by the official songsters for the Nation to woo the workers movement come Increasingly to naught, as fewer and fewer workers are willing to hum along.