First Published:October Number 7, Autumn 1979
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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LE QUEBEC, LA QUESTION NATIONALE, by Gilles Bourque and Anne Legare, Paris, Francois Maspero, 1979, $7.00 available in French only.
“We thus consider the Parti Quebecois to be the party of the non-monopoly bourgeoisie.” (p. 203) This is the principal conclusion of a book by Gilles Bourque and Anne Legare. Their point of view is distinctly different from that of the majority of Quebec’s leftist intellectuals, who still view the PQ as a party of the petty-bourgeoisie, with a right wing to be sure, but also a left-wing on which the working masses can perhaps rely to force the adoption of proworker measures.
The authors show how the PQ makes maximum use of the state apparatus to foster the development of Quebecois capitalists. They clearly formulate the PQ’s objective: “By means of the reorganization of non-monopoly capital, the Parti Quebecois aims without a doubt to create a monopoly bourgeoisie which will replace Canadian capital in the not too distant future” (p. 208) “without significantly infringing on imperialist capital” (p. 204)
The book presents several interesting hypotheses about the history of the Quebecois bourgeoisie, which deserve a closer look. For example, Jean Lesage’s Liberal government in the early ’60s is analyzed as the representative of monopoly capital, whose forced concessions to the non-monopoly bourgeoisie were not sufficient to prevent the latter’s political representatives (Levesque, Morin, Parizeau) from leaving the Liberals and founding the PQ. Another example is the significant parallels drawn between the PQ and the Union Nationale of Maurice Duplessis, which is characterized as a party of the non-monopoly bourgeoisie, favourable to American imperialism and anti-worker.
The authors also present an unfortunately rather confused overview of the contradictions between the monopoly bourgeoisie and various regional interests. The local capitalists make use of “provincial powers to the fullest possible extent” and “create political parties working on the regional levels to defend their interests” (p. 219) occasionally relying on American imperialism.
However the authors point out that it is only in the case of Quebec that these regional interests represent a real threat to Canadian federalism, because “the reality of national oppression and the arduous struggles it has given rise to enables the Quebecois bourgeoisie to hope to find the allies and support necessary for the realization of its political goals” (p. 209)
Despite the book’s many interesting ideas, Bourque and Legare are still mired in “marxology”, currently academically fashionable, which leads them to sometimes develop analyses which are clearly erroneous.
In a striking example of this, the authors, essentially taking up the theses of Tom Naylor and Jim Laxer (intellectuel leaders of the nationalist left in English Canada), state:
1 – that “Canadian independence was ... more or less a free gift on the part of the home country, and was scarcely demanded and still less fought for.” (p. 91)
2 – that the Canadian bourgeoisie has essentially restricted its activities to the banking and commercial sectors, that it “has never been able to develop itself into a hegemonic force on the industrial plane... It is therefore obvious that the Canadian bourgeoisie cannot play the role of a true national bourgeoisie.” (p. 107)
Concerning the question of independence as a “free gift,” Bourque and Legare make the mistake, among others, of isolating Confederation in 1867 from the sometimes violent struggles against British imperialism which preceded it, in particular the 1837-38 Rebellions.
As for the alleged near-absence of Canadian capitalists from the industrial sector, Bourque and Legare offer no proof of this whatsoever. We could, on the contrary, point out the existence of such large Canadian industrial monopolies as Stelco and Dominion Textile, which have been around since the first decade of the century.
Let’s look now at the conclusion of the book, which is unfortunately too short, lacks evidence to back it up and is contradictory.
The authors can first of all be credited with taking into account and bringing together the various schools of thought about the relation between the national question and the struggle for socialism. As well they take a clear position on certain crucial questions: “full equality between peoples can only be realized under the hegemony of the working class” (p. 228); nationalism often brings in its wake a certain chauvinism toward other nationalities (Indians and Inuit); finally, “no support should be given to a pro-imperialist party like the PQ and no alliance with it should be sought.” (p. 230)
Bourque and Legare also say that the struggle against national oppression can be reflected in the slogans for independence or for regional autonomy depending on the political juncture. This is quite correct. But they falsely conclude that “the call for political independence seems to us to be at the present time (underlined in original – Ed.) the best option.”
This conclusion, which contradicts many of the ideas put forward in the book itself, stem from one of the authors’ criticisms of Marxist-Leninists: according to them we are wrong to put forward that the principal contradiction in Canada opposes the entire working class to the Canadian bourgeoisie, “because the proletariat has not yet given itself even the embryo of a revolutionary party.” On the contrary, they continue, the main contradiction is “first and foremost between the different fractions of the ruling class” (p. 230), in other words, the contradiction between the Quebec nationalist bourgeoisie and the Canadian monopoly bourgeoisie.
Bourque and Legare fail to see that the principal contradiction in a country is an objective fact, which is determined neither by the level of political consciousness nor by the degree of political organization of different classes.
What is a principal contradiction? Mao Zedong, in On Contradiction, describes the principal contradiction as the one “whose existence and development determines the existence and development of the other contradictions or acts on them.”
Let’s look at the political situation in Canada. Exploitation, the crisis, national oppression, American imperialist penetration are all problems caused by or aggravated by the dictatorship of the Canadian bourgeoisie. The overthrow of this class by the working class of our country is the key to remedying all these ills.
In Canada, as in all advanced capitalist countries, the fundamental contradiction opposes the social character of production to the private character of ownership of the means of production. The expression of this contradiction in class terms takes the form of the struggle between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat.
Since Canada is an imperialist country with a bourgeois democratic regime, this fundamental contradiction (bourgeoisie/proletariat) is also the principal contradiction, one to be resolved by socialist revolution.
Our country is not under foreign occupation. If it were, the principal contradiction would be between the people and the occupier, and the struggle to be waged would be a struggle for national liberation. Nor is our country under a fascist dictatorship, in which case the principal contradiction would be between the people and fascism.
Let’s return now to the authors’ contention that “the proletariat has not yet developed even the embryo of a revolutionary party” (our translation).
This contention is false. The recently-created WCP didn’t pop out of nowhere. Even before the creation of the WCP in September, the Canadian working class did indeed have the embryo of its revolutionary party in the League.
By basing themselves on this argument to analyze the principal contradiction, the authors make two mistakes. First of all, the argument is erroneous. Secondly, their reasoning is equally erroneous. In fact, whether or not the proletariat has its vanguard party does not change the principal contradiction.
The authors in their analysis tend to underestimate not only the actual degree of working-class organization but also its objective strength and its potential (particularly in English Canada) to organize to overthrow bourgeois rule.
They overlook the past struggles of our country’s proletariat: the 1919 general strike in Winnipeg; the strikes and demonstrations during the Great Depression; the might of the Canadian Communist Party in the 1930s. They also forget the present-day struggles: the 1976 struggle against the wage freeze; the postal workers’ confrontation with the state last year; the momentum now building up among union rank-and-file to fight government cutbacks in social services.
Because of these theoretical errors, and errors of concrete analysis, the authors conclude that the principal contradiction is “first and foremost between the different fractions of the ruling class.” This is in contradiction to the fundamental Marxist analysis of the history of society and of the motive force for its transformation.
Marx and Engels, in The Communist Manifesto, declare that “the history of all societies up to the present has been the history of class struggle.” They define this basic struggle in each historical period as a struggle between “oppressors and oppressed, in continual opposition,” and not between members of the ruling class.
The authors’ analysis of the principal contradiction leads them to the conclusion that Quebec’s independence is necessary. They add that “the struggle to achieve full national equality in a socialist Quebec state seems to us the proper objective around which to politically organize Quebec’s working class.” (p. 231, our emphasis).
This position is one form of the “independence and socialism” line that we have already criticized (for example, in our brochure, La question nationale quebecoise, le point de vue de la classe ouvriere).
Even if the authors don’t end up giving “critical” support to the PQ, as the majority of the people with this position do, their position is no less erroneous.
First of all, it must be understood that, under present conditions, supporting independence objectively – independently of the authors’ wishes – means supporting the PQ, because right now it is the PQ that is leading the independence movement in Quebec.
But, in addition, with or without the PQ, Quebec’s separation would constitute a setback for the socialist revolution in Canada. It would divide the leading and principal force of the revolution, the working class, and of course divisions within its ranks would weaken the working class. We need working-class unity and a tight alliance with Canada’s oppressed nationalities to fight the bourgeoisie.
To achieve this unity, the struggle for the national rights of the Quebecois can and must, as of now, be waged as part of the struggle for socialism in Canada.
This is exactly what the WCP is doing, as the League did before it. It is fighting for recognition of Quebec’s right to self-determination. It participates in struggles to win other rights denied the Quebec nation: the right to work in French (at Pratt and Whitney), an end to discrimination In employment (at Air Canada), and the right to equal health and education services for all the people (the struggle of the Common Front of Quebec public sector unions).
Despite these serious shortcomings, the book is still interesting and worth reading (although unnecessary jargon makes some passages hard to read). It’s an important contribution to the debate among intellectuals on the Quebec national question.