Friday, March 22, 2013

Paul Rose and the formation of Québec solidaire

In my recent post “Paul Rose’s tortuous path in search of Quebec liberation,” I passed rather lightly over an important period in Rose’s life, when he played a leading role in the process of left regroupment that led most recently to the formation of Québec solidaire. That process, and Paul Rose’s key role in it, is recounted at length in a March 21 email article by Marc Bonhomme, then an activist in Hull, in the Outaouais region, who worked closely with him during that period.

Marc’s account adds some important details to the story, and Paul Rose’s contribution, that have not been related elsewhere. I take the liberty here of translating extensive excerpts from it, as well as summarizing some parts in my own words, as they help shed light on the recent history of the Quebec left. Marc’s original text will soon be posted on his web site. My own account of the formation of Québec solidaire is here.

Richard Fidler

* * *

Marc Bonhomme begins:

“As one who worked with Paul in the days of the Parti de la démocratie socialiste (PDS), from 1994-95 to 2002-03, I wanted to pay tribute to him and also to emphasize his contribution to the building of the Quebec political left. We should not overlook that moment in the career of this historic figure who was — as much before as after the 1970 October crisis — a man of the people, for all seasons. As the editor of L’Aut’journal notes:

“‘Paul Rose, an outstanding figure in the history of contemporary Quebec… was involved in all the important struggles in Quebec. During the 1960s, he was one of the originators of the Maison du pêcheur in Percé, the ancestor of Quebec’s youth hostels…. In 1968 he was one of the organizers of the McGill Français demonstration and participated in the notorious St-Jean-Baptiste demonstration…. During his thirteen years of imprisonment, Paul Rose fought for inmates’ rights and organized ‘labour strikes,’ a precedent in penitentiary history, demanding the right to education for the prisoners, from literacy classes to university…. After his release in 1982, Paul Rose continued his activism at L’Aut’journal, in the CSN as a union advisor and, in politics, in the Parti de la Démocratie socialiste, the Union des forces progressistes and Québec solidaire.’ (Pierre Dubuc, Paul Rose n’est plus, L’Aut-journal, 14 March 2013)”


When he emerged from prison, says Bonhomme,

“Paul returned to the political struggle with the same goal of liberation but correcting his methods, because in his view the times had changed. He eventually joined the NPD-Québec in 1992, a party that had been pro-independence since 1989 and thus repudiated by its federal big brother. Why the NPD-Québec? Because it was at the time the only credible party with a social agenda that was both independentist and left-wing. In doing so, he affirmed his clear rejection of the ‘stageist’ strategy of the multi-class Parti québécois, ‘sovereignty first and God knows what later.’…”

In a July 2001 article in L’Aut’journal, Paul Rose explained:

“As to my position on the national question when I joined the NPD-Québec (now the Parti de la démocratie socialiste), it is still the same: there can be no true independence of Quebec without a liberatory social agenda, just as, conversely, there can be no real attempts at social emancipation and struggles against poverty that totally ignore the fight against national oppression. These aspects, social and national, of the Quebec reality are, from our standpoint, intimately linked and the exact opposite of the narrowly nationalist positions of the neoliberal parties [Bloc québécois and PQ], whether in Ottawa or Québec. A reality that is just as valid in Palestine as in Northern Ireland, and for our sisters in the first nations of America.”

Bonhomme continues:

“Realizing that the party’s program was too moderate and its practice too electoralist to claim to be working for the national and social liberation of Quebec, Paul invited the anticapitalist and independentist groups and individuals, including Gauche socialiste, the Fourth International section, to join the NPD-Québec. The result was a de facto strategic alliance between the left nationalists, led by him, and the pro-independence anticapitalists.

“The first test of this alliance was the 1995 referendum, when the renovated party put into practice the principle of the united front, […] campaigning separately for the Yes with few resources, since the PQ had refused it the funding that the umbrella coalition for the Yes should have granted. The financial deprivation of this party of a few hundred members did not prevent Paul and [his brother] Jacques from setting up a makeshift caravan for the Yes that toured Quebec.

“In the Outaouais region, for example, Paul spoke to a full hall on both campuses of the Cégep de l’Outaouais, as well as making the front page of the newspaper Le Droit….”

Marc Bonhomme is critical of what he calls the tactical error of campaigning as the “Réseau populaire pour le oui, the people’s network for the yes,” instead of under the name of the PDS, which would have clarified its break from the federal NDP and reflected the new radicalism of the party. Paul Rose, he says, “was reticent about this name PDS, which ignored the pro-independence dimension; however, it had been favoured by the anticapitalists, overly concerned with demarking themselves from the ‘actually existing socialism’ of the 20th century.”

The new PDS adopted a program to replace the previous one, deemed too social-democratic although it was not social-liberal; for example, it rejected the NAFTA.

“It will be recalled,” says Bonhomme,

“that in the late 1990s Canada and Quebec were going through a big debate over the public debt, a forerunner of the current debate in the European Union, with both the federal Liberal government and the provincial PQ government cutting deeply into social spending. Paul was determined to include in the program the demand for a freeze on the payment of the public debt, as suggested by the anticapitalists….”

Bonhomme cites the program of the PDS, with its call for “a freeze on repayment of the public debt except that portion held by small savers, at least until the achievement of full employment.” See the full program of PDS, 1997.

“If one takes the trouble to glance through this program, it will be found that this freeze is far from being the only antiliberal or even anticapitalist element. So it was with this program that the PDS confronted the 1998 [general] election. Thanks to the marvels of the first-past-the-post electoral system, the PQ was re-elected as a majority government although it won fewer votes than the opposition Liberals. The PDS fielded candidates in 97 of the 125 ridings; their average age was less than 30. It was an impressive effort, due in large part to the work Paul did, especially outside the metropolitan regions, but the party’s vote, less than 1% of the total, was disappointing. …”

Meanwhile, a new formation, the Rassemblement pour une alternative politique (RAP), initiated by L’Aut’journal, with which Paul was still closely associated, sought to bring together nationalists disappointed with the rightward direction of the PQ. It ran a few candidates in the 1998 election, including Michel Chartrand (who got close to 20% of the vote running against the PQ premier Lucien Bouchard). The campaigns of the RAP and the PDS were not well coordinated, but the RAP was not seen so much as a rival of the PDS as an intermediary site for clarifying political positions between those who sought only a vehicle to pressure the PQ and those who wanted a new party, possibly one less radical than the PDS.

Other clarifying experiences were the feminist mobilizations like the World March of Women, the demonstration against the FTAA in Québec in 2000, the antiwar mobilizations in 2003, and the Mercier by-election in 2000. In the latter, the PDS strongly supported the candidate of the independent left, Paul Cliche, who ran on a platform of support for independence and rejection of NAFTA and the FTAA — and “Paul Rose was possibly the most enthusiastic, for he was aware of the need for a qualitative leap.” Many PDS members participated in the campaign, as did the RAP, the Communist party (PCQ) and many who were not in any party. When Cliche got 24% of the popular vote, the left went wild. This “spirit of Mercier” was so infectious that for a brief time even the Greens and the remaining “Marxist-Leninists” of the CPC(M-L) participated in the moves to begin building a united part of the left.

The UFP was founded in June 2002. But not before its founding was almost aborted because of differences over the proposed structure and orientation of the new party, says Bonhomme. The RAP leadership, together with the PCQ and the support of representatives of the Montreal Central Council of the CSN, wanted a coordinating superstructure that would have given them control of the party, which they proposed be a coalition of the PDS, RAP and PCQ as well as a “fourth party” of the unorganized left. This coordinating body, a sort of general staff, would then present the membership with a pre-determined program and statutes.

It was largely thanks to resistance from the PDS, under Paul Rose’s leadership, that a bottom-up process was instead adopted involving the five or six local and regional associations of rank-and-file non-party members as well as the leaderships of the PDS, RAP and PCQ. On this basis, everyone was able to participate in the development of the program (and, to a lesser degree, the statutes) of the new party, membership being open to all who signed a statement declaring that “I do not support the neoliberal parties (ADQ, PLQ, PQ)….”

According to Bonhomme, Rose’s PDS was instrumental in forestalling certain positions favoured by the leaders of the RAP and the PCQ, such as their conditional acceptance of the NAFTA (copied from the union centrals).

Paul Rose chose not to become an active member of Québec solidaire, Bonhomme says, as he did not support the procedure adopted in negotiating the fusion of the UFP and Option citoyenne in 2006. In this latter case, the UFP and OC leaderships negotiated an agreement at the top on statutes and a vague declaration of principles which were then ratified as a bloc at the party’s founding convention, without debate or amendment by the membership. Rose felt the QS leaders were insufficiently committed to Quebec independence. And he deplored their expressed disagreement with the demand for a reinvestment of $10 billion in public services and social programs. However, he did support the formation of QS, as he made clear in a big public meeting in Hull where he spoke two months before the party was founded, at the invitation of the UFP-Outaouais and a student association.

Bonhomme also attributes Rose’s gradual withdrawal from active involvement in the left regroupment process to his personal isolation — first, from his nationalist allies, when the editors of L’Aut’journal, fearful of losing the financial support of their funding sources in the union bureaucracies, abandoned the process over their opposition to a clear break from the PQ (they went on to found SPQ Libre as the PQ’s left conscience); and second, by the reluctance of his anticapitalist allies, such as Gauche socialiste, to press for programmatic clarity in the UFP, and later QS, where they were content to participate in the party leadership bodies and avoid confrontation with its ambiguities.

Says Bonhomme:

“Paul’s great merit, and I am referring here to the building of the political left, was to be the linchpin of the first clarifying process that initiated an end to the scattering and marginalization of the Quebec left. The strategic orientation uniting national liberation with social emancipation — no doubt we should now speak of ecosocial emancipation — that Paul advanced was the right one, and he was the keystone in the alliance between the left nationalists and the pro-independence anticapitalists….”

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