Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Workers Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist)

Regional autonomy: Step towards equality of nationalities

First Published: The Forge, Vol. 6, No. 3, January 23, 1981
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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The question of self-government, or regional autonomy, is taking an increasingly important place in the debate over Canada’s constitution.

Various national groups are demanding “self-government” in one form or another. The Denes of the Northwest Territories and the New Brunswick Acadian Society (at its November, 1980 special meeting) are just two examples. Inuit representatives out forward this same demand at the joint parliamentary committee on the constitution in Ottawa last December.

As the movement of Canada’s nationalities has grown over the last five or six years, so has the demand for self-government. It has become clearer and more precise.

Communists have always fought for the fundamental principle of self-government for oppressed nationalities. We call it regional autonomy. Lenin defined it this way:

This particularly calls for wide regional autonomy and full democratic local self-government, with the boundaries of the self-governing and autonomous regions determined by the local inhabitants themselves on the basis of their economic and social conditions, national make-up of the population, etc. (Collected Works, Vol. 19, p. 427)

Regional autonomy thus gives a national community, whatever its size, the possibility of running its own affairs in the region where it is concentrated.

What forms can regional autonomy take?

In a small community, at the neighbourhood or county level, for example, autonomous power could be exercised by a local council elected by the people. This would be the case for Chinese Canadians in Vancouver. Where nationalities are more populous, the economic, political, social and cultural questions affecting national life are more complex and on a larger scale. They demand autonomous power on a correspondingly larger scale, with wider jurisdiction and a more developed government structure.

Regional autonomy can take the form of an autonomous republic or, at its highest form, a federated republic. Nations with this latter status enter into contractual relations with the rest of the country and have the right to separate, that is, to break the contract. This is what we demand for the Quebec nation, for example. Autonomous and federated republics would have their own constitutions and their own governments.

The particular forms of regional autonomy, and the territories they would cover, can only be determined in close consultation with the nationalities concerned.

Clear step forward

It’s not hard to imagine the immense progress regional autonomy would mean for Canada’s oppressed nationalities. For Nothern Native people, for instance, autonomy would include recognition of their territorial rights, the protection of their hunting and fishing grounds, the possibility of preserving their languages and culture, and so on. For Penetangushene’s Franco-Ontarians, autonomy over their educational affairs would mean that the building of their school could not be challenged or slowed down.

For Kahnawake’s Mohawks, control over the administration of justice on their territory would put an end to harassement by the Quebec Police Force, which has led to events like the racist murder of David Cross.

In other words, the wider or narrower forms of regional autonomy that the oppressed nationalities would establish according to their needs would be tools enabling them to achieve equal rights.

Of course at present the very idea that Canada’s Northern Native people should control their territory runs into rabid opposition from the capitalist class. The capitalists pillage this region unmercifully, whether flooding it or plundering its mineral wealth, attacking the most vital interests of its people. Since regional autonomy would give the autonomous governments their say in the development of natural resources, this pillage would stop, and with it a source of massive profits for the capitalist monopolies.

In the constitution

Politicians like to present Canada as a paradise of democracy and freedom. In reality over eight million Canadians suffer several forms of national oppression, including genocide. We have every reason to say that Canada, like Czarist Russia (and like the capitalist USSR) is a “prison of nationalities.” This situation is sanctioned by the British North America Act, which serves as our constitution and is one of the worst in the world for denying rights.

And there will be no change with Trudeau’s proposed constitution, denounccd by all national groups as worse than what exists now.

A truly democratic constitution must include recognition of Canada’s multinational character, legal equality for nations and languages, and abolition of all national privileges, while it assures regional autonomy for oppressed nationalities.

Recognition of these rights and of regional autonomy will go a long way to helping these nationalities develop.

But let us not fool ourselves. In a capitalist society “founded on exploitation, money and hatred,” to quote Lenin (op cit. 460), even if the people succeed in winning these rights, the capitalist class will seize the first opportunity that comes along to limit or remove them. This is especially true in a country founded on the oppression of a third of its population.

History shows that socialism is the only guarantee that regional autonomy will be implemented and maintained, because socialism is based not on exploitation but on the welfare of the people and the brotherhood between workers and between nations.

When Capital rules, the logic of profit dictates that “conquered” nationalities be kept inferior and superexploited. Under socialism, individual, capitalist profit is abolished, and the very reason for national oppression is thus eliminated.

The principle of regional autonomy was developed and concretized by Lenin and the Bolshevik Party in Russia as a way of answering the needs of the peoples crushed under Czarism. The USSR, the world’s first socialist state, was consequently set up as a union of 11 federated republics with the right to secede, autonomous republics, autonomous regions, and so on.

Socialist China recognizes regional autonomy in its constitution. It has five autonomous regions, 29 autonomous departments and 69 autonomous counties. Some nationalities which were on their way to disappearing at the time of Liberation in 1949, have increased in numbers. As recently as 1979, the recognition of a 55th nationality, the Jinuc, was announced by the Chinese government. This means the Jinuc who number 10,000 will receive special protection of their territory, language and culture.

Regional autonomy is thus not a dream. The day it is established in our country will herald the beginning of a new era in the struggle for the full emancipation of our country’s oppressed nationalities.