Sunday, March 24, 2013

Solidarity, Quebec politics and Québec solidaire – a presentation by Amir Khadir

Amir Khadir, one of Québec solidaire’s two deputies in Quebec’s National Assembly, was guest speaker at this year’s Phyllis Clarke Memorial Lecture in Toronto. It was a rare opportunity for an Anglophone audience to hear a presentation by a leader of Quebec’s pro-independence party of the left.

Amir’s lecture was addressed primarily to outlining QS’s approach to international solidarity in the face of neoliberalism and capitalist globalization. In the wide-ranging discussion period that followed, he spoke about the Quebec student movement, the relation between class and national questions, the aboriginal movement, the environment, how Québec solidaire sees the relation between electoral and mass action, and other topics, including some final remarks about Paul Rose’s contribution to building the left in Quebec.

Thanks to Pance Stojkovski and Left Streamed for this video presentation. Click on the link below.

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….”

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Paul Rose’s tortuous path in search of Quebec liberation

Paul Rose, Quebec sovereigntist and socialist, died March 14 in Montréal, following a stroke. He was 69.

Notorious for his participation in the 1970 kidnapping and death of a Quebec cabinet minister, for which he spent 13 years in prison, Rose went on to become a trade union activist, the leader of the Parti pour la démocratie socialiste (PDS) — formerly the Quebec wing of the New Democratic Party — and most recently a founder of the Union des forces progressistes (UFP), which became today’s Québec solidaire.

Paul Rose was part of a generation of Québécois who radicalized in the wake of the Cuban revolution, African colonial liberation, the Vietnam war and the Afro-American upsurge, and who sought to apply the lessons of these liberation struggles to the reality of Quebec’s national oppression. But Paul Rose was most remarkable because in later years — in contrast to many of his former comrades — he sought above all to develop a political strategy that could fuse the cause of national liberation with that of proletarian emancipation independently of the Parti québécois, in a period when seeking to change the world usually meant swimming against the current.

A figure of controversy to the end, Paul Rose was the subject of sharply conflicting obituaries in the major media outlets. While reporters in the Globe & Mail and the Montreal Gazette sought to describe Rose’s life and political evolution in relatively objective terms,[1] the Francophone media[2] — addressed to an audience much closer to the action, and deemed more susceptible, perhaps, to identify with Rose — denounced him as little more than a “terrorist.” Most outrageous was a sneering column by Patrick Lagacé in the mass-circulation daily La Presse comparing Rose to a “bearded salafist,” the Shining Path guerrillas of Peru, and the Red Army Faction in Germany.

Not to be outdone, federal parliamentarians voted unanimously March 18 to register their “zero tolerance toward all forms of terrorism” and to condemn “any attempt to glorify a member of the FLQ convicted for such criminal activities.” The motion was aimed in part at Québec solidaire MLA Amir Khadir, who had tried unsuccessfully to get a motion through the Quebec National Assembly honouring the memory of Paul Rose.

Québec solidaire tribute

In a short obituary note, Québec solidaire expressed its condolences to Rose’s family and friends, as well as “to the progressives and independentists who had the pleasure to fight alongside him over many years.

“Throughout his life, Paul Rose remained convinced of the need to struggle for the national liberation and political emancipation of the Quebec people. After the tragic events of October 1970, he chose to conduct this struggle on the terrain of democracy and citizen involvement.”

That last sentence covers a lot of territory in a few words. Too few, in fact. Unfortunately, Paul Rose himself, to my knowledge, said little for public consumption about the evolution of his political views and affiliations over the years. He was an activist, a militant, much less a tribune. In his few public statements for the record, he seemed more concerned with establishing the continuities, not the changes. But both continuity and changes merit some consideration, in my view.

In a 2005 interview with the newspaper Unité ouvrière (cited in the Globe & Mail obituary, incidentally), Rose described the context in which he, his brother Jacques Rose and their associates came to political consciousness. “Before October [1970], we were all in the workers or student movement. The struggle that politicized us came from the whole process of democratization of education, access by working-class sons and daughters to education. Ultimately, this youth put into practice what it was learning, creating tools of liberation in the working class. These were the groups and popular clinics, the workers’ committees and neighbourhood citizens’ committees.”

But increasingly they found their activity obstructed by the enactment of repressive laws by governments and municipalities. In Montréal, for example, an anti-demonstration bylaw, emulated by other municipalities throughout Quebec, seemed to block legal political protest actions. The new political engagement of working-class youth was a matter of great concern to the state, said Rose. “Because as long as it’s just ideas, all right, but when these ideas become demands, and militant action, it is a danger to that authority.” Unable to identify with the legalistic electoralism of the newly formed Parti québécois, Rose and his associates opted for armed action.

Early influences

A major influence in Rose’s thinking, at the time, was a book written by Pierre Vallières, a talented journalist who, like Rose, had spent his childhood in Ville Jacques-Cartier, in the shanty town of Côteau Rouge where, as Pierre Dubuc writes, “the houses were built of sheet metal and the sewers were open pits.” In his own book L’autre histoire de l’indépendance, Dubuc — who was asked by Paul Rose’s family to handle media relations after his death — has described the salient ideas in Vallières’ book, Nègres blancs d’Amérique, “the White Niggers of America,” subtitled the “precocious autobiography of a Québécois terrorist.” His account bears lengthy citation.

“This book synthesized the anger and ideas of an entire generation of young rebels of the late 1950s who, during the following decade, would identify with the revolutionary decolonization movement — more particularly, the Cuban revolution — and promote a revolutionary solution to the Quebec question. Nègres blancs articulates this generation’s interpretation of the history of Quebec, perceived as a colony of hewers of wood and drawers of water. It likewise set out, albeit in a rudimentary and fragmentary way, the project of a socialist Quebec, although oddly enough the references were not Marx or Lenin but the economists Paul Baran, Paul Sweezy and André Gunder Frank of the U.S. magazine Monthly Review, which at the time had substantial influence in the Quebec left….

“Vallières’ great gift was to have brilliantly summarized our history and our condition as Québécois in that wonderfully evocative title, White Niggers of America. It was the reverse, the mirror image, of the discourse of the Anglophone oppressor and his arrogant “Speak White.” Vallières had grasped the very essence of our américanité, shall we say, to use an expression of our day. An américanité quite different from the myth of the Québécois as a model of the American frontier colonist.”

Nègres blancs was drafted in a prison in New York, where Vallières was incarcerated along with Charles Gagnon, a comrade in the “Front de libération du Québec” (FLQ).

“Vallières and Gagnon had been jailed for demonstrating in front of the United Nations on September 25,-26, 1966 to demand political prisoner status for their comrades jailed in Montréal and to publicize worldwide the struggle for national liberation of the Québécois. They had taken refuge in New York among groups of Black Panther militants after the police break-up of their FLQ network they had just set up.

“Vallières and Gagnon had met at the University of Montréal in the early 1960s. They had both participated in the magazine Cité Libre edited by Gérard Pelletier and Pierre Elliott Trudeau. In 1964, the two of them broke with Cité Libre and created the magazine Révolution québécoise, where they advocated Quebec independence but criticized nationalism and favoured workers’ struggles. In the fall of 1965, they opted for the FLQ and clandestinity.

“After a series of violent actions, including placing bombs at the Lagrenade factory and Dominion Textiles during labour conflicts, the network was dismantled by the police; Vallières and Gagnon fled to New York.

In an article published at the time, Vallières wrote that the task was to

“provide the people with the opportunity, the motivation and the material means (a) to rise up against the established authority, (b) to conquer state power and finally, (c) substitute a ‘new order’ in place of the old structures, the conquest of power or independence being simply a stage on the path of the political, economic, social and cultural transformation of the country.”


“Vallières identified three phases in this liberation struggle: ‘1. conquest of sufficiently extensive popular support for the idea of independence; 2. opening of a period of direct actions with the goal being to provoke an initial breach in the established order, to exalt popular passions, to oblige the regime to reveal itself publicly as it is, and to undermine the morale of the adversaries; 3. finally, the general offensive.’

“Vallières and Gagnon thought the situation in Quebec called for the opening of the second phase.

“This brief summary helps us to understand the general orientation of the FLQ of Vallières and Gagnon. We should note, by the way, that the Libération and Chénier cells in 1970 shared the same outlook.”

And it was the Libération and Chénier “cells” of the FLQ that initiated the October crisis: the first by kidnapping a British diplomat; the second (which included Paul and Jacques Rose) by kidnapping Quebec’s labour minister, Pierre Laporte.

October Crisis

The October Crisis dramatically confirmed the naiveté of Vallières’ analysis. It was not hard for the governments concerned to turn the tables on these tiny groups acting solely on their own initiative. The Trudeau government’s invocation of the War Measures Act, and the resulting arrests of hundreds of political activists, revealed the real relationship of social forces, chilling free speech and throwing the left on the defensive for a period. While members of the Chénier cell managed to negotiate their exile to Cuba, the Roses and their comrades were soon arrested and sentenced to long prison terms.[3]

For interesting examples of the response to these developments by revolutionary socialists, who always rejected the theories of “minority violence” propagated by these naïve ultraleftists, I recommend the readings assembled by the Socialist History Project under the heading “The October Crisis (1970),” at Socialists in both Quebec and English Canada worked to build committees to defend the direct victims of the War Measures repression, who included, in addition to Vallières and Gagnon, such figures as trade-union leader Michel Chartrand and the leader of the movement for defense of political prisoners in Quebec — all of them charged with sedition. And articles in our newspapers explained why Marxists opposed acts of individual terror as counter-productive to the necessary building of mass movements for social change.

The War Measures repression gave Pierre Trudeau and his counterparts in the Quebec government and Montréal’s civic administration a temporary advantage; for example, in the municipal elections held in the midst of the crisis Montréal mayor Jean Drapeau was able to crush the opposition FRAP (Front d’action populaire), a new labour-based municipal party.

However, the mass movement revived within the following year, and the early 1970s saw a radicalization of the labour movement around some important strikes. The major union centrals each adopted anticapitalist manifestos. And in 1972 the jailing of leaders of the three main centrals sparked a spontaneous general strike that shut down entire cities in some parts of the province. Opinion polls registered growing popular support for the pro-sovereignty Parti québécois.

The paths not taken by Paul Rose

Meanwhile, Pierre Vallières and Charles Gagnon both renounced their “FLQ” past, but went separate ways. Vallières, in L’Urgence de choisir,[4] published in December 1971, called on radicals to join the PQ. Gagnon, in an essay published a few months later, Pour un parti prolétarien,[5] denounced Vallières as a “traitor to the cause” and rejected not only the PQ but what he termed “the nationalist dead-end.” This document became the founding text of the En Lutte/In Struggle group, and its hostility to Québécois nationalism was also characteristic of the other “Marxist-Leninist” (Maoist) groups that thrived in Quebec during the following decade.

Imprisoned during this period, Paul Rose was unable to participate in this debate on the left.

In 1976 the Parti québécois was elected to government. Notwithstanding some major reforms such as adoption of the Charter of the French Language (Law 101), its record in office was soon to disappoint those like Vallières who had viewed it as the instrument of Quebec’s national emancipation.

In the early 1980s the various Maoist groups collapsed under the combined effect of the crisis of the nationalist movement following the defeat of the 1980 referendum on sovereignty; the retreat of the labour movement under the blows of the capitalist austerity agenda (the onset of the neoliberal period); the rise of the feminist and gay liberation movements; and the opening to capitalism of post-Mao China.[6]

Left unity

According to the Globe & Mail obituary, in 1982 “Mr. Rose was granted full parole.

He wrote for l’Aut’Journal and worked as an adviser for the Confédération des syndicats nationaux trade union.

He also joined the provincial New Democrats, which had split from the federal party over the issue of Quebec independence.

When Mr. Rose tried to run for a provincial seat in 1991, mortified federal NDP officials considered legal actions to force the Quebec party to drop New Democratic from its name.

The controversy became moot when the Quebec chief electoral officer ruled that Mr. Rose couldn’t run for office because of his murder conviction.

In his most recent notable activity, Mr. Rose gave a speech at a rally in support of last year’s student protests against increasing tuition fees. He was the leader of a fringe leftist party, the Parti de la démocratie socialiste.

This last paragraph is misleading. In fact, the PDS was the remnant of the Quebec NDP following its break with the federal NDP. And Paul Rose, as its leader in the 1990s, was an active participant in the effort to join with other groups on the left to found a new pro-independence party in 2002, the Union des forces progressistes (UFP), which in 2006 fused with Option citoyenne to form Québec solidaire.

Denise Veilleux, a Gatineau QS member who was previously a leading member of the PDS, toured Quebec with Paul Rose in the 1998 provincial election. Although the PDS vote tally was quite small (24,000), she tells me that some of the meetings were well-attended, as many people came out to see and hear Paul Rose, the infamous “felquiste” of lore.

National liberation and international solidarity

“The struggle for national liberation is a class struggle,” Paul Rose said in his interview with Unité ouvrière, “because it is the people and the popular classes that suffer the real oppression.”

Quebec nationalism, in contrast to the nationalism of those who support the Canadian federal regime, “is a nationalism of liberation. It’s a people being denied its existence, that is trying to find its place in the sun, in the same way as Palestine and Ireland. These are long battles of liberation waged by the popular classes….

“It’s not the degree of aggression and resistance that determines whether or not there is oppression….

“National oppression is the negation of a people’s existence and belongingness. And the only way to be in solidarity with all peoples is to exist. Existence is the beginning of solidarity.

“To exist autonomously, to regain control, to organize on the ground, that is what’s essential…. Human reality develops from the ground up, from the neighborhood, the city, the region…. Independence and full autonomy of peoples, that is where internationalism must be built, for internationalism can have no meaning if there are no nations.”

The Irish connection

“Ireland was always a source of inspiration for Paul Rose,” writes Pierre Dubuc. “In prison, he went on a hunger strike in support of the hunger strike of Bobby Sands.

“Bobby Sands, an Irish republican of the Provisional IRA, died in prison at the end of a 66-day hunger strike. During this period, he had been elected an MP at Westminster. His death resulted in riots in Northern Ireland and a demonstration of more than 10,000 persons. Margaret Thatcher, commenting on his death, used words similar to those of Patrick Lagacé concerning Paul Rose. ‘Bobby Sands is a criminal,’ she declared.

“During a visit to Montréal, Gerry Adams, the leader of Sinn Fein, considered the political arm of the Provisional IRA, publicly thanked Paul Rose in a press conference for his gesture of support to Bobby Sands.

“During another visit to Montréal, Gerry Adams insisted on discussing once again with Paul Rose, in a private meeting I attended.

“Last summer, Paul Rose went to Ireland with his son Félix. It was his only trip to Europe. He was hosted by members of Sinn Fein and had the honour of being invited to a private pub where the only ones admitted are Irish revolutionaries who did time in prison for the cause.

“With a quite legitimate pride, Paul was pleased to relate to us that he was received with the greatest homage by his Irish comrades.”

Richard Fidler,  March 19, 2013

[1] However, the Globe editors took a quite different tack. See “Paul Rose more deserving of being forgotten than being honoured.”

[2] With the notable exception of the nationalist daily Le Devoir. See “Paul Rose 1943-2013 - En désespoir de Rose.”

[3] Rose was sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of Pierre Laporte. However, it remains unclear as to whether he was present when Laporte was strangled while attempting to escape captivity. As the Globe obituary notes, “A 1980 Quebec government investigation [the Keable commission] concluded he wasn’t present….”

[4] Translated as Choose! (New Press, 1972).

[5] See The Political Journey of Charles Gagnon.

[6] For an historical overview and balance-sheet of this experience, see François Moreau, “Balance Sheet of the Quebec Far Left.”

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

US, UK confront shifting alliances in Latin America, South Atlantic

The March 2013 issue of the Quebec monthly L’aut’journal publishes this informative article by its Latin America specialist André Maltais on some recent developments in the shifting international alliances involving Latin America — and now Africa. My translation from the French. – RF.

On June 6, 2012 the Pacific Alliance was formally created, linking Mexico, Colombia, Peru and Chile. These four countries, writes the Peruvian economist Oscar Ugarteche, all have free-trade agreements with the United States and no such accords with MERCOSUR. Lacking major national industrial sectors, their role is not to compete with but to block the regional integration proposed by UNASUR.

On June 22, the deposition of Paraguay’s president, Fernando Lugo, struck at the very heart of UNASUR. But the reply by Brazil and its regional allies was quick: first, by accepting Venezuela as a member of MERCOSUR, and then (this is less known) by reviving the South Atlantic Peace and Cooperation Zone (ZOPACAS).

Created in 1986 as an initiative of Brazil and Argentina, the ZOPACAS is an alliance of 24 Latin American and African countries that includes two members of the BRICS (Brazil and South Africa), a member of the G-20 (Argentina), and two of the major global oil producers (Nigeria and Angola). Its major objective is cooperation to keep the south Atlantic free of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction.

At the time, the conservative presidents of Brazil (José Sarney) and Argentina (Raúl Alfonsín) were worried about the Soviet presence in that part of the world. However, as Uruguayan international analyst Raúl Zibechi explains, the Western powers, including the United States, France, Germany, Japan, Italy, Portugal and the Netherlands, feared South-South cooperation so much that they voted against the constitution of the ZOPACAS at the United Nations.

The alliance functioned sporadically; the ministerial meeting called by Brazil, held in Montevideo, Uruguay last January 15-16, was only the seventh to be held in 27 years.

But for the first time in its history, the ZOPACAS brought together the defense ministers of its member countries. They adopted an action plan to strengthen their naval and air capacity, and to plan joint military exercises in the South Atlantic.

Zibechi reports that the Division of geopolitical affairs and international relations of the Brazilian war college characterized the conference as the “greatest diplomatic success” of the government of Dilma Rousseff.

Since the 2010 NATO Summit in Lisbon, which discussed that alliance’s global vocation as an intervention force, Brazil has feared a possible U.S. initiative to create a South Atlantic Treaty Organization (SATO).

When the NATO summit ended, the then Brazilian defense minister, Nelson Jobim, had criticized the NATO claims. With the disappearance of the Soviet Union, he said, there was no further reason for an alliance that was now converting itself into “an instrument to advance the interests of its principal member, the United States.”

As a developing country that repudiates any colonial or neocolonial attitude, Brazil rejects the concept of shared sovereignty that the United States proposes for the South Atlantic. Brazil sees this region as its vital space for international reinforcement and multipolar insertion in the world.

Brazil, notes Zibechi, is the sixth largest economy in the world, and no less than 95% of its foreign trade passes through the South Atlantic. The importance of the ZOPACAS is also proportional to the growth of Brazil’s economic presence in Africa. For example, in Angola, a Portuguese-speaking country like Brazil, more than 200 Brazilian firms accounted for 10% of the Angolan GDP in 2007.

The Chilean geopolitical analyst Patricio Carvajal thinks the South Atlantic is of strategic importance to everyone, since it is the main point of access to the vast continent of Antarctica.

Great Britain, which has threatened to use nuclear weapons to defend the Malvinas [a.k.a. the Falkland Islands], has just named some 430,000 square kilometres of Antarctic territory Queen Elizabeth Land.[1]

With the explosive growth in the planet’s population, and the growing demand for food and fresh water resources, says Carvajal, the Jamaica Convention on the Law of the Sea (1982) and the Antarctic Treaty (1959) will soon be relegated to the history of international law.

It is urgent, he says, that Latin America arm itself with a common maritime strategy and a naval force, the mainstay of which could be the Chilean military’s fleet of submarines, which is technologically comparable in development to that of such countries as China, Japan, India, Russia and the United States.

Caribbean maneuvers

But while NATO intrudes on the South Atlantic, Brazil and its allies in the BRICS are increasing their presence in the Caribbean, which Washington considers as almost its inland sea.

Over the last decade, says Nicaraguan radio’s political analyst Jorge Capelan, the PetroCaribe initiative, visits by the Russian fleet and even the announcement of plans for the erection of a Russian military base in Cuba, have stirred the waters, as did the recent re-election of presidents Hugo Chávez in Venezuela and Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua.

The Nicaraguan government, which in November was re-elected with close to 70% of the popular vote, has announced plans to dig a canal that will soon allow the MERCOSUR countries easier access to the Pacific Ocean.

Nicaragua has just won a coastal waters dispute with Colombia, which was preventing Managua from building a deepwater port on its Caribbean coast on the pretext that it held sovereignty over some small islands located closer to Nicaragua than to Colombia. The judgment of the International Court of Justice (IJC) in The Hague not only found in favour of Nicaragua but granted it 75,000 square kilometres in additional coastal waters.

Colombia responded by withdrawing from the Pact of Bogotá (1948), under which the South American countries resolve to settle their differences peacefully and to recognize the supreme authority of IJC verdicts.

Although the Nicaraguan National Assembly, in the wake of Colombia’s reaction, appealed for assistance to the Cuban and Russian armed forces, Capelan believes Colombia’s reaction serves the interests of the United States as it sows discord within UNASUR, but especially because it opens the way to a confrontation with Nicaragua.

The United States needs an actor with some weight in the region, says Capelan, since the 2009 coup in Honduras did not produce the hoped-for results. Popular resistance has prevented Honduras’ transformation into an epicentre for low-intensity warfare similar to what Nicaragua experienced in the 1980s.

So while Colombia is become more involved in the Caribbean, the United States is increasing the anti-drug interventions of the Marines in Central America. In an article analyzing these interventions, the Vancouver investigative reporter Dawn Paley says that Operation Martillo, which has just ended after four months in Guatemala, was aimed at pushing the drug traffickers from the west coast of Central America toward the east coast, on the Caribbean.

And things are heating up elsewhere in the Caribbean. Last November 6, 54% of the voters in Puerto Rico rejected the island’s status as a colony of the United States.

[1] The islands are now thought to be lying on petroleum deposits of up to three times the current UK oil reserves. – RF.

Latin America’s Turbulent Transitions

 Latin America’s Turbulent Transitions: The Future of Twenty-First-Century Socialism, by Roger Burbach, Michael Fox, and Federico Fuentes (Fernwood Publishing and Zed Books, 2013, 208 pages)
Latin America was the first region targeted by the neoliberal phase of capitalism, and it suffered some of its worst consequences. But it is in Latin America that neoliberalism has been most contested in recent years by new social movements of landless peasants, indigenous communities and urban unemployed.

In a number of countries, this powerful democratic ferment has led to the election of anti-neoliberal, anti-imperialist governments — a process that started with the initial electoral victory of Hugo Chávez Frias in the late 1990s.

The untimely death of the outstanding Venezuelan leader on March 5 prompted many to reflect on his government’s important achievements and the still unresolved challenges facing not only Venezuela but the whole of Latin America.

What is the nature of these new governments of the so-called “pink tide”? And what are the prospects for building a continental movement toward a libertarian mass-based democratic socialism of the 21st century, the goal that Chávez embraced and advocated in the international arena?

This timely volume presents an excellent overview and analysis of the major developments in Latin America’s “turbulent transitions” in the context of the collapse of the Soviet bloc, the weakening of U.S. hegemony, and the shifts in world trade and investment patterns that have opened new prospects for radical reform in the region. All three authors are well-known for their insightful studies of some of the countries in question. They acknowledge as well the critical assistance of two other contributors, Marc Becker (who wrote the chapter on Ecuador) and Greg Wilpert, founder of the valuable website

Introductory chapters describe and analyze the major developments and trends in Latin America in recent decades. They are followed by country-specific chapters providing greater detail on the experiences in Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador. Concluding chapters briefly discuss two countries at opposite ends of the political spectrum of progressive governments: Brazil (“challenging hegemony and embracing it”) and Cuba, attempting to update its socialism of the 20th century.

Although, as the title indicates, a subtext of this volume is the professed effort in some countries to build a “socialism of the 21st century,” the term itself (as the authors acknowledge) calls for clarification. Although Venezuela has established that as its goal, no Latin American government (with the partial exception of revolutionary Cuba) has gone beyond capitalism. However, some governments in South America are attempting with notable successes to reverse the ravages of neoliberalism. Each is pursuing distinct strategies tailored to meet the needs of its particular social conditions, subject to the limitations imposed on all of them by their insertion within the global capitalist system.

An opening chapter outlines the international context. “The old order is breaking down with the decline of the United States as the planet’s hegemonic power.” And while Washington is preoccupied with its wars in the Middle East and South Asia, its grip on Latin America has weakened as an emerging China enters this market in search of raw materials to supply its booming economy. China is now the largest trading partner of Brazil and Chile. Its trade with Latin America as a whole increased eighteen-fold in the first decade of this century, while U.S. exports dropped from 55 percent of the region’s total to 32 percent.
Although these shifting patterns do not free Latin America from economic dependency on resource exports, they do give its governments more leverage to diversify economic alliances and strategies, develop an independent foreign policy and ward off some of the worst effects of the global economic crisis. It might be added — although the authors don’t say this — that Beijing generally tends to be much more respectful than Washington of the national sovereignty of its trading partners. Its commercial relations, loans and other development assistance come with fewer strings attached.

In recent years, Latin American governments have been able to develop a number of mutually beneficial regional economic and political agreements (MERCOSUR, UNASUR and ALBA, to cite only those), while rejecting Washington’s attempt to foist a continental free-trade agreement, the FTAA, on the region.

These developments have created space for the more progressive governments to use the increased rents from resource extraction that they negotiate not only to carry out important anti-poverty income redistribution programs but also to begin to develop strategies aimed at endogenous industrialization and relatively eco-friendly processing of raw materials, a necessary step toward increasing economic sovereignty and development.

A second independence

Two hundred years after Simón Bolívar led the movement for political independence from Spain, Latin America is undergoing “a second independence,” say the authors. Bolivarianismo, the name for this movement in Venezuela, “stands for the expansion of democracy and national sovereignty to the fullest extent possible without necessarily going beyond capitalism.” However,

“the socialist project builds on this foundation, striving to construct deeper, more egalitarian democratic societies by transforming the economic order. Both of these projects are continental in character…. A critical attribute of twenty-first-century socialism is that it is built by social movements and by people organizing from below; it does not arise from government fiats nor from self-defined vanguard parties.”

Socialism, of course, has deep roots in the Latin American historical experience. Following the triumph of the Cuban revolution, there were many attempts to replicate its success through guerrilla movements in other countries. None was successful, although in Nicaragua the Sandinista guerrillas helped spark an urban uprising that toppled the dictator Somoza.

In Chile a different approach was attempted, with the election of the Popular Unity government led by Salvador Allende. It nationalized key industries, but was soon overthrown by the Chilean military backed by the Chilean bourgeoisie and Washington. The deadly repression that followed, under Pinochet, marked the inauguration of the neoliberal regime described so vividly by Naomi Klein in her seminal book, The Shock Doctrine.

The Sandinista government, while supported by Cuba, remained largely isolated. Its electoral defeat coincided with the collapse of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 and the dismantling of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Neoliberalism had devastating consequences in Latin America. Large-scale privatization, de-regulation and the gutting of existing social programs demobilized and dismantled working-class organizations. In Bolivia, for example, the powerful miners’ unions that had played an instrumental role in the 1952 national revolution were almost destroyed by privatization of the tin and silver mines, the country’s economic backbone. Throughout the continent, a vast urban precariat, the “informal economy,” was swelled by masses of peasants forced from their lands by agribusiness giants.

Trade and foreign direct investment boomed, but IMF-imposed “structural adjustment programs” prevented national governments from capturing the profits. At the same time, neoliberalism undermined the political legitimacy of Latin American governments, now “with ever fewer policy tools to lower unemployment, fight inflation, protect the environment and the workplace, or guide investment.” Parties that had once led nationalist struggles were now implementing neoliberal policies. Economic stagnation, indebtedness and poverty were augmented by successive financial crises (Mexico in 1994, Brazil in 1999, Argentina in 2001-02).

Although the traditional left was paralyzed, and a fragmented working class was unable to provide leadership, the “new multitudes” fought back in spontaneous uprisings that shook the political life of some cities and even countries.

The Caracazo, a massive revolt in Caracas in 1989 against sudden hikes in the prices of basic commodities and services, resulting in the massacre of hundreds, perhaps thousands of the protesters, encouraged nationalist army officers led by Hugo Chávez to attempt a coup in 1992. Although unsuccessful, Chávez emerged a popular hero and was able to win election in 1998. The book’s chapter on Venezuela relates chronologically how his “Bolivarian revolution” radicalized in reaction to successive confrontations with the national bourgeoisie and imperialism.

In some countries, new indigenous movements arose, their struggles shaped by both their “long memory” of indigenous resistance to colonialism and (in Bolivia) the “short memory” of revolutionary nationalism, “best exemplified by the 1952 National Revolution when armed miners and campesinos marched on La Paz to demand the nationalization of the mines and a radical redistribution of land.” Some like the Zapatistas in Chiapas, Mexico, eschewed the struggle for state power and soon found themselves in a strategic impasse. But in Bolivia the indigenous-led movements waged powerful battles against water nationalization and plans to export unprocessed natural gas, and managed to bring down two presidents, in 2003 and 2005. In December 2005 the candidate of the indigenous campesino party MAS-IPSP, Evo Morales, was elected president.

In Brazil, the movement of landless farmers, the MST, became the largest social movement in Latin America, inspiring the creation of similar movements in other countries. The MST remains independent of the Workers Party (PT), which has formed Brazil’s government since 2002. The PT’s policies in government “have decreased inequality by expanding a series of social welfare programs for the poor. But they have also embraced financial capital, multinational corporations, and a booming agro-industry completely at odds” with the MST.

Overall, but uneven, progress
While generalizations may obscure significant differences, it is possible to identify some common approaches and policies shared by the new Latin American governments.

Pursuit of regional integration. The Cuban Revolution, embargoed by Washington and diplomatically isolated in Latin America, could not have survived without massive aid from the Soviet bloc in its early years. Chile’s Popular Unity government of the early 1970s faced not only Washington’s hostility but unsympathetic neighboring governments and became a hostage of the country’s military, which finally overthrew it. The new leaderships in Latin America operate in a quite different environment. They have managed to subordinate their military forces to civilian control, in a few cases (Venezuela, Bolivia) fostering an anti-imperialist and even anti-capitalist culture among nationalist military officers and recruits. And they have formed a complex network of new alliances to defend and promote regional trade, infrastructures, and political and economic assistance.
The most innovative of these alliances is ALBA, the Bolivarian Alliance of the Peoples of Our Americas, a “People’s Trade Agreement” founded by Venezuela and Cuba in 2004, which now includes six other Latin American and Caribbean countries as full members. “ALBA’s objective is almost diametrically opposed to the free trade agreements” favoured by the United States and Canada, write the book’s authors. It promotes

“trade on the principle of solidarity instead of competition — a state-centered instead of a neoliberal approach toward integration…. The key concept is to trade and exchange resources in those areas where each country has complementary strengths and to do so on the basis of fairness, rather than market-determined prices.”

 An early example of this type of agreement is the exchange of Cuban medical personnel for Venezuelan oil. But ALBA has also been the vehicle for providing literacy training to peoples in other member countries, the creation of supranational enterprises for production of medicines and food, a continental TV broadcaster Telesur, and the regional oil company Petrocaribe supplying fuel at far below world market prices. ALBA has spawned a bank providing low-interest loans for agricultural and industrial development, and is now establishing a currency, the Sucre, as a step toward a common currency for member countries.

ALBA has influenced older regional trade blocs such as MERCOSUR, founded in 1991 by four Southern Cone countries but now including Venezuela. And in 2008 twelve countries formed UNASUR, the Union of South American Nations, which will have a parliament and a common defense council. Other projects include the founding of BANCOSUR, the Bank of the South.

In December 2011 the founding of CELAC, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, created a new alliance of 33 countries in the hemisphere, including revolutionary Cuba — but excluding the United States and Canada — as “a direct challenge to the U.S.-promoted OAS, which had dominated hemispheric affairs for decades.” As the authors note, “the United States has slowly lost its historic grip on the region.”

Anti-imperialism. In addition to regional integration, many Latin American governments look to multilateralism to counter domination and threats from the U.S. and other imperialist powers. They favour trade and diplomacy with all countries, but especially those such as Russia, China or Iran targeted by Washington because they defy Israel or threaten competition over access to oil and other vital resources.

Even Brazil, which has long acted as a “sub-hegemon, or sidekick to the United States in the region,” has, since the election of the PT government, begun “to carve out a new independent foreign policy,” the authors write. It has not just worked to expand the new continental trade and diplomatic alliances but it has played a pivotal role in standing up to U.S. hegemony — for instance, by opposing Washington’s blockade of Cuba, and sheltering deposed Honduran president Zelaya for weeks in its embassy in Tegucigalpa. And it stood behind Bolivia when that country’s eastern agro-business elites launched an attempt in 2008 to overturn the Morales government.

The record is not entirely consistent. For example, Brazil is the mainstay of the UN military forces occupying Haiti since the overthrow of its democratically elected president Jean-Bertrand Aristide by the U.S., Canada and France in 2004. But even Ecuador, whose President Rafael Correa is reluctant to use the term “anti-imperialism,” has earned its radical reputation in part from his government’s clear opposition to the coup in Honduras (Ecuador was the only holdout when the OAS voted to readmit the coup regime); its support of Cuba (Ecuador was the only country to boycott the Sixth Summit of the Americas because of Cuba’s exclusion); its support of UNASUR (Ecuador hosts its permanent secretariat in Quito); and Correa’s granting of asylum to Julian Assange, the besieged founder of WikiLeaks.

Neo-extractivism? The authors note that “none of the pink tide governments entered office on a platform promising a transition to socialism.” They attribute this to several factors, not least the collapse of the Soviet bloc and the fragmentation and smashing under neoliberalism of traditional working-class organizations, the typical base for socialist transformation. Directly confronting the claim of the book’s title, they ask:

“Can any of these governments be said to have truly embarked on the construction of a post-neoliberal society, let alone a radical anti-capitalist one embedded in historic socialism?... Put simply, how real is the specter of twenty-first-century socialism in Latin America?”

All Latin American governments are heavily dependent on exports of largely unprocessed natural resources. In the case of Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador, hydrocarbons, minerals and agricultural commodities account for more than 90 percent of their exports; but even Brazil, with a substantial industrial sector, derives over 50% of its export revenue from primary commodities.

“Are we just witnessing a neo-developmentalist twenty-first-century version of the failed import substitution industrialization project of the 1960s and 1970s, or have any of these governments begun to break with the logic of capital?,” ask the authors. They acknowledge the criticism of Uruguayan ecologist Eduardo Gudynas, that none of the pink tide governments has “substantially modified the extractive sector” or lessened its negative social and environmental impacts.

These are legitimate concerns. Excessive dependency on resource exports tends to block economic diversification. And it entails constant conflict with indigenous and campesino populations by contaminating their waters, spurning their ancestral rights and traditions, and violating international law on prior consultation of peoples expelled from their lands. Examples of such practices are legion in Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador, among others.

New development models

Bolivian vice-president Álvaro García Linera, however, is an articulate exponent of an alternative development strategy. His government, he says, has created a “regional space” that goes beyond neo-extractivism. It is indeed exporting more resources, but because it imposes much higher taxes and royalties on this production, some 80 percent of the wealth now stays in Bolivian hands. This is not neoliberalism. “The appropriation of wealth is collective.” García Linera argues that the continent rests on a new economic tripod: the diversification of international markets, greater regional economic ties, and a strong internal market.

The book cites the goals of Bolivia’s “new economic model,” which “seeks to roll back neoliberalism” by reasserting state sovereignty over the economy, promoting industrial processing of natural resources, using the higher rents imposed on resource exports to redistribute incomes through new social programs, and “strengthening the organizational capacity of proletarian and communitarian forces as the two essential pillars of the transition to socialism….” As García Linera puts it:

“We try to prioritize wealth as use value over exchange value. In this regard, the state does not behave as a collective capitalist in the state-capitalist sense, but acts as a redistributor of collective wealth among the working classes and as a facilitator of the material, technical and associative capacities of farmer, community, and urban craft production modes. We place our hope of moving beyond capitalism in this expansion of agrarian and urban communitarianism, knowing that this is a universal task, not just that of a single country.” (quoted pp. 83-84)

It is worth noting, perhaps, that the allocation of increased resource rents to domestic economic and social development strategies contrasts sharply with the way such rents were used in the heyday of neoliberalism. When Third World petroleum producers formed OPEC, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Counties, in the mid-1970s as a cartel to increase the national income generated by oil exports, much of the new wealth appropriated by the semi-feudal Middle Eastern regimes or neoliberal elites in countries like Venezuela was deployed not to national development but as deposits in imperialist financial institutions — which then loaned out this money to other semicolonial countries, locking them into debt peonage that furthered neoliberal practices when higher interest rates in the 1980s forced them into new borrowing and onerous debt repayment terms coupled with demands for regressive “structural adjustments.”

Bolivia’s development strategy, while still limited in implementation, has its distinct counterparts in Venezuela and Ecuador, where the Chávez and Correa governments have also formulated programs for industrialization and community empowerment that demarcate these countries from others of the “pink tide.”

In Venezuela, notably, the Chávez government has sought to compensate for the relative underdevelopment of social movements — itself linked to the existence of a clientelist state structure inherited from a long history of hydrocarbon and mineral extractivism — by developing alternate forms of community organization, the “communal councils.”

These, it is hoped, will function to some degree as parallel institutions of popular “protagonistic” democracy alongside and even competing with the more traditional bourgeois institutions of electoral and parliamentary representation.

In all three of these countries, new constitutions have been adopted in attempts to refound the state as a more democratic representation of its citizenry — and in Bolivia and Ecuador, to include for the first time recognition of their substantial indigenous populations (a majority in Bolivia) in new state structures that are explicitly “plurinational” and, in Ecuador, even allocate rights to Pachamama, Mother Earth.

The expectations of popular empowerment these advances stimulate often give rise to conflicts between indigenous-campesino communities (whose right to autonomous organization is now constitutionally recognized) and state efforts to develop transportation and industrial infrastructures and agricultural exports. These conflicts, as over the recent TIPNIS highway project in Bolivia, have attracted considerable international comment and criticism. Bolivian vice-president García Linera, however, describes them as “creative tensions within the revolution.”

There is more, much more, in this rather slim volume. For example, I have not even touched on the important question of political organization and new political parties, or the problems stemming from the lack thereof — a topic discussed at length. This book is a compelling contribution to our understanding of the social forces and challenges involved in these “turbulent transitions” even if, understandably, the authors remain somewhat ambivalent about their ultimate destination.

The authors leave the last word to Brazilian political scientist Emir Sader, who in Gramscian terms writes: “Latin America is living through a crisis of hegemony of enormous proportions. The old is struggling to survive, while the new has difficulty in replacing it.”

 Richard Fidler. I wrote this review at the request of Climate & Capitalism, where it was first published.