Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

In Struggle!

Unreserved nationalism – The League’s “reserve nation”

First Published: In Struggle! Vol. 6, No. 15, November 14, 1978.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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From the public debates on the Quebec national question to the hockey rinks of the Canadiens’ “stars”[1], the rallying cry of the Canadian Communist League is unmistakable and unanimous. At its Second Congress, held in February 1978, it made its position clear when it stated “the Quebecois nation is a crucial reserve for socialist revolution.”[2] For the League, the entire Quebec nation is a revolutionary force because it is oppressed.

Are nationalist movements revolutionary in and of themselves?

It may seem surprising that people claiming to be Marxist-Leninists affirm that a nation, which is made up of all classes including the bourgeoisie, is a “crucial” element in the proletarian revolution in a country that has reached the stage of imperialism. The League even adds that this is a “basic Marxist-Leninist principle.”[3]

But what are the real lessons of Marxism-Leninism on national movements? Stalin said: “This does not mean, of course, that the proletariat must support every national movement, everywhere and always, in every individual concrete case. It means that support must be given to such national movements as tend to weaken, to overthrow imperialism, and not to strengthen and preserve it.”[4]

So the question we must ask ourselves is: does the Quebec national movement strengthen or weaken imperialism? It is quite evident that a national movement which supports NATO, which proposes a common defence system with Canadian imperialism, and whose goal is to strengthen one bourgeois faction does not weaken imperialism. On the contrary, it preserves it.

Is the bourgeoisie part of the nation?

The League resorts to various tricks in its attempts to pass off its bankrupt line for the correct line. For one thing, it entertains a constant confusion about all classes belonging to the nation. This is no accident – the League is preparing its alibi.

It loudly proclaims, of course, that “within the Quebec nation, it is the oppressed people who make up the Canadian proletariat’s precious ally and not the bourgeoisie. The Quebec nationalist bourgeoisie cannot be considered an ally of the revolution but rather a fierce and dangerous enemy.”[5] One might say that this is good – the League is refusing to conciliate with the bourgeoisie. But are things really this certain? How is it possible to claim that the nation (and therefore all classes) is a reserve of the proletarian revolution and, at the same time, say that only the people (not, therefore, the entire nation) is an ally of the proletariat?

The “nationalist bourgeoisie”: a possible ally of the proletariat one day?

The League goes on to point out that its affirmation on the “fierce and dangerous” character of the “nationalist bourgeoisie” is only relative. The resolution adopted at its Second Congress states that “today the struggle between the Canadian monopoly bourgeoisie and the Quebec nationalist bourgeoisie does not constitute a reserve for the socialist revolution.”[6] What can this mean other than that the “Quebec nationalist bourgeoisie” may one day become a reserve for the revolution and be part of the camp of the proletariat?

The League maintains this ambiguity by manipulating the scientific concept of “reserve”. Stalin considered two types of reserves: direct reserves made up of allies of the proletariat like the peasantry, the international proletariat and the revolutionary movement in the colonies; and indirect reserves resulting from contradictions among the proletariat’s enemies.[7] By saying that the Quebec nation is a reserve without specifying if it is a direct or indirect one, the League is leading both itself and its readers astray on both accounts. Either the Quebec nation, including the bourgeoisie, is a direct reserve of the revolution, in which case the League is saying that the bourgeoisie is an ally of the proletariat; or else, the Quebec nation is an indirect reserve and one wonders why the Quebec proletariat, which is part of the nation, should be considered as an enemy of the revolution.

A new principal contradiction?

This flirtation with the nationalist bourgeoisie in Quebec is confirmed by the League’s formulation of its “principal contradiction in the national question”. The League, whose infatuation with contradictions is well known, has just discovered the principal contradiction of the second-most-important secondary contradictions. (We are referring to the order as defined in the Statement of Political Agreement..., the unforgettable work on the contradictions... of the League). This secondary contradiction is the one “between the Canadian monopoly bourgeoisie and the Quebec people” (our translation from the French version).[8]

The affirmation that it is the monopoly faction of the Canadian bourgeoisie alone which maintains the national oppression of the Quebec people is tantamount to converting Quebec into some sort of Canadian colony and to calling for the bourgeois democratic revolution. It denies that the nationalist bourgeoisie in Quebec (that the League defines as being mainly non-monopolist) also profits from national oppression.

The League’s “principal contradiction” totally ignores the fact that this bourgeoisie also profits from wage and other inequalities that are the result of national oppression, and that it has no interest in changing this situation. Its only objective, in its attempts to appear to be fighting national oppression, is its own consolidation.

The League, however, tells us that the “Quebec nationalist bourgeoisie” might still be able to play a revolutionary role because it is part of the oppressed nation. It remains a fact however, irrespective of what the subtle dialecticians of the League might dream up, that in Quebec and in the rest of Canada we live in an advanced capitalist country, an imperialist country, where the bourgeoisie has no revolutionary role whatsoever, no matter what faction or nation it belongs to.

The historic task today is the proletarian revolution and only the working class can lead it. The proletariat of Quebec is not a “reserve” in this struggle. Rather, it must take part in it in the same way as the proletariat in English Canada.


[1] See the article on Pierre Bouchard in the Forge, Vol. 3, No. 2, Oct. 20, p. 6.

[2] “Resolution on the Quebec national question”, October, No. 2-3, p. 66.

[3] Ibid, p. 100

[4] Stalin, The Foundations of Leninism, In Works, vol. 6, p. 147; our emphasis.

[5] “Resolution...”, op. cit., p. 74.

[6] Ibid, p. 75

[7] See J. Stalin, op. cit. p. 161.

[8] This formulation is our translation from the French version of the League’s resolution as it appeared in the journal Octobre. In the case of the “contradiction which characterizes the Quebec national question”, however, we found that what is called the “bourgeoisie monopoliste canadienne” in the French version of the resolution becomes simply the “Canadian bourgeoisie” in the English. In the paragraph following this formulation, the English version speaks indiscriminantly of the “monopoly bourgeoisie” and the “bourgeoisie” while the French version refers only to the “monopoly bourgeoisie”.

It is not our intention here to quibble over translations: minor changes in meaning or in nuance are probably inevitable. In this case, however, the “change” is substantial and simply adds to the confusion and ambiguity of the League’s line.