Friday, May 31, 2013

Montréal conference debates strategy for Quebec independence

Québec solidaire poses need to link sovereignty with a progressive social agenda


A conference on “national convergence,” which met May 26-28 in Montréal, brought supporters of Quebec’s three pro-independence parties together to explore the possibility of common action that would help clear the way for the election of a pro-sovereignty majority in the National Assembly.

The conference was initiated by supporters of the Parti Québécois, hoping to find a way to restore the PQ’s hegemony over the sovereigntist movement, already fractured by the growth over the last year of the left-wing Québec solidaire and a new party, Option Nationale, founded by dissident PQ members.

The PQ, governing for eight months now with a minority of seats in the National Assembly, has not only failed to increase popular support for independence; it has undermined it by implementing a neoliberal austerity program that has frustrated and disappointed many of the party’s traditional supporters in the unions and social movements. Among those attending the conference were prominent leaders of Quebec’s major union centrals — the FTQ, CSN and CSQ — all of which are sympathetic not only to independence but to the PQ.

But the conference also attracted activists who are much more critical of the PQ. A featured speaker was Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, a leader of the militant student strike of 2012, an anticapitalist and not a PQ member.

Québec solidaire, despite reservations, agreed to participate in the conference and sent an official delegation headed by the party’s new president, Andrés Fontecilla. And on the eve of the conference, QS deputy Amir Khadir published an “Open Letter to the Independentists” in his blog on the QS website, setting out the main lines of the party’s message to participants.

The following is my translation of Khadir’s open letter, followed by a report I have compiled from various sources on the conference proceedings and decisions. (I did not attend.) At a QS nomination meeting in Quebec City’s Jean-Lesage constituency, May 15, Khadir read the first half of his open letter.[1] And several paragraphs from it were read to the Montreal conference by Andrés Fontecilla in his official greetings on behalf of Québec solidaire.

– Richard Fidler

Open Letter to the Independentists

By Amir Khadir, Québec solidaire MNA for Mercier

Quebec employers have historically been the staunchest and most effective opponents of Quebec’s economic and political sovereignty. But many independence supporters continue to entertain the hope that a section of the economic elite will again some day, as in 1995, give the green light to those who, like the leadership of the Parti Québécois, await their authorization before calling the people to an appointment with their future.

It must be noted that things have indeed changed. The nationalist segment formed by certain barons of Québec Inc. tends to be increasingly reined in and isolated. During the last 15 years, the dominant economic elite in Quebec has been so closely integrated with the elites of Bay Street and Wall Street that it embraces all their major political schemes. In my opinion, no convergence is possible between this elite and the independentist project.[2]

The incredible compromises and political acrobatics of the Parti Québécois to help the Québecor media empire (Amphithéâtre, Hydro-Québec)[3] were no doubt conceived in the hope that this would make it a strategic ally in any future independentist initiative. But no matter how exceptional and disinterested this support may be (which of course remains to be proved or tested), Québecor represents a very small fraction of the Quebec employer class. The bulk of the organized forces of the private sector act consistently and constantly to keep Quebec within the present status quo, which suits them perfectly.

During the eight months it has now been in office, the PQ has subordinated its decisions to the wishes of the business elite, often in a caricatural way. The progressive independentists who for a great many years have given their support to the PQ are witnessing in discouragement this party’s inability to determine its orientations independently of business interests. This process has entailed many painful and controversial flip-flops for which the PQ is paying dearly in popular support. Many are now asking how the party expects to arouse people’s enthusiasm and obtain the support it needs to win a majority of seats, a necessary condition if it is to act decisively and jump-start the process leading to the independence of Quebec.

How indeed does the PQ expect to inspire, mobilize, convince the people to demonstrate the collective courage needed to achieve sovereignty when, once in office, it reneges on all of its most basic promises — repeal of the healthcare tax, increased mining royalties and taxes on the wealthy — out of fear of frightening off the business community?

How can it count on the support of the grassroots after cutting into the meagre incomes of social assistance recipients, in disregard for the contrary opinions of everyone except a few trash radio hosts? How can it attract the middle classes after cutting health care by hundreds of millions and pursuing in almost every respect the underhanded privatization of services and the PPPs initiated by the Liberals? How does the PQ expect to mobilize the most active and progressive sectors after appointing Pierre Karl Péladeau, a major opponent of social rights and social democracy if not the state itself, to head up the largest public undertaking — enough to make René Lévesque rage in his tomb at the shame of it all?[4]

How does it expect to rally the ecologists, with the distressing clientelism involved in bartering one of the jewels in Quebec’s natural heritage at Val Jalbert in order to keep the support of a few local caciques and barons of the engineering firms, at great cost to the taxpayers?[5] What signal does the PQ send to the vultures circling around our natural resources, and to the rest of the world, if it is not that the PQ is as “disposed” as Jean Charest’s Liberals were to selling off our resources at a giveaway price. And that it is not even capable of resisting the mining lobby, to keep a commitment as simple and easy as making 2025 the deadline for protecting 50% of the territory, and 2020 for protecting 20% of the North, reneging on our international undertakings at one fell blow.

Is that an inspiration for the people to whom we want to give the taste of liberty and independence?

How can the PQ hope to convince our people that sovereignty is for their own good after abusing its principles to the point that it goes after some of the worst off of the deprived by allowing alcohol at gaming tables and slot machines — in full knowledge of the great risk of pathological gambling this entails — something even the Liberals had not dared to do?

While the big corporations, with their billions in reported profits, pay only 2% of the effective taxation in Quebec, while some $90 billion belonging to the very wealthy and their companies is located in tax havens, the PQ, for lack of political courage and with a myopia worthy of [former PQ premier] Lucien Bouchard, has set its sights on achieving a zero deficit by cutting services and increasing the burden on ordinary citizens. Why, then, should people take the risk of following a party as insensitive and fearful as this in an adventure as engaging and “tumultuous” as the march toward independence?

Some lessons to be drawn from elsewhere

In an enlightening article on the results of the recent elections in Ecuador,[6] Atilio Boron, an Argentine political scientist and sociologist, purports to draw some lessons from the convincing victory of the socialist president Rafael Correa. They could serve us well. After six years in power, and notwithstanding the fierce opposition of the business elites, big media groups and even the National Assembly, the outgoing president Rafael Correa managed to increase his electoral support, winning 57% of the votes on the first round — an amazing feat! This seems all the more surprising in that Correa had obtained only 51% in 2009 and even less in the first round when he was elected at the outcome of the “Citizens Revolution” of 2006.

According to Boron, Correa’s convincing success proves that

“if a government obeys the popular mandate and implements public policies that benefit a majority of the citizens — which, after all, is what democracy means — the loyalty of the electorate can be considered assured. The manipulation of the media oligarchies, the conspiracy of the ruling classes, and the schemes of imperialism collide against the wall of the people’s loyalty.”

Correa’s triumph also demonstrates that “the conformist theory so widespread in conventional political thinking that ‘power erodes’ is applicable in a democracy only when the power is exercised on behalf of the wealthy minorities or when the processes of social transformation lose their substance, hesitate and end up being diluted.”

Commenting on his victory, the Ecuadorian president himself took pains to insist on the importance of acting with determination: “Either we change the country now or we’ll no longer change it… The project of creating a social order based on the sumak kawsay, the ‘buen vivir’ [living well] of our indigenous peoples requires that we act with speed and determination.” Unlike Correa, and despite the thousands of sympathizers ready to act, enthusiastic to begin mobilizing for independence, the PQ goes about timidly managing a province, often in the footsteps of the Liberals.

A large majority of the PQ members of the National Assembly are profoundly uneasy and must think, as we do, that we deserve better as a political horizon. A province is for the vanquished (pro vincia as defined by the imperialists). But for independence, we have to overcome the obstacles erected by the adversaries of sovereignty. Those who sincerely and in good faith continue to look to the PQ to achieve independence are faced with a question: In the present conditions of the acquiescence of the PQ leadership to business interests, how can this party perform the audacious acts that must accompany the march of the Quebec people toward their national independence?

The PQ is clearly waiting for a permission from the employers that will not come. For those of us who want independence without awaiting that permission, I point out, in all modesty mixed with enthusiasm, that there are other political choices. A choice that comes naturally when we draw up a clear-eyed balance sheet on the past and present of the Parti Québécois. That balance sheet has been drawn repeatedly since 1997, and it gave birth to the RAP, then the UFP and then to Québec solidaire.[7] That is how we developed a social agenda and a strategy to make Quebec a country.

A strategy for independence

The extraordinary ferment of the “Quebec spring” in 2012, like the citizen revolt in the St. Lawrence river valley against shale gas development in 2010, showed us that democratic practices of popular mobilization based on meetings, discussions around the kitchen table, demonstrations and public debates can produce growing support for a seminal idea that initially seemed to have little traction. The fight for national independence, which has all too often been reduced to the fear of threatening economic stability, can only recover the full force of its potential for social mobilization by being linked to an extensive democratic process, attracting broad rank and file participation. The strategy and objectives of accession to independence must be defined and based on this participation, and this constitutes an exercise in popular sovereignty.

The Constituent Assembly that Québec solidaire proposes as a strategy for achieving independence is the means by which the people of Quebec can freely regain control over their destiny, independently of the pressures of the National Assembly and the media oligarchies and business interests who defend the status quo. Independence will not come about through the action of the political class, even if it is supported by a marketing campaign or a two-day Summit — like the one on Education[8] — representing limited interests.

Citizen power, based on a universal suffrage that reflects the plural composition of Quebec society (equal representation of women and men, its historic communities, the diversity of its socio-economic and cultural communities), will define a collective project for a country, a project that can provide an impetus for change and the taste of freedom. This citizen power, invested with the means and powers conferred by the institution of the Constituent Assembly, can offer as well the prospect of an unimagined relationship of forces of a scope that has eluded the sovereigntist movement for the last 15 years — since the Committee hearings held across Quebec in 1995 by the partners behind the proposed referendum on sovereignty.

For 15 years now the federalist forces have been striving to “neutralize” the principal levers of the process of accession to independence (Caisse de dépôt, prominent business leaders, tacit support of France) and to clutter our route with several other obstacles, including the so-called referendum “Clarity Act.”

These manoeuvres at the summit, for the benefit of the federalists, explain to a large degree the unfortunate procrastination of those who have awaited illusory “winning conditions,” usually understood as the approval of the economic actors. The success of these manoeuvres at the summit also indicates that the response must be found in the rank and file and that from now on any new strategy for accession to independence can be based only on a relationship of forces that favours the people. The crucial question that must be addressed is what conditions must be assembled in order to build the broadest possible support of the popular classes?

The response to this question offered by the example of Rafael Correa in Ecuador is that “if a government obeys the popular mandate and implements public policies that benefit a majority of the citizens … the loyalty of the electorate can be considered assured.” The proof to the contrary of this statement is found in the PQ’s fate since its turn to neoliberalism of the last 15 years — a fate eloquently illustrated by the PQ’s collapse in popular support as a result of its major retreats on social policy since taking office.

The middle and lower classes constitute, after all, the ultimate ally that counts. Most, the majority, are the ally whose “x” on the ballot will be the most decisive on the day that really counts: the day when we decide on our independence.

The idea of independence is not limited to the defense of our economic interests (which are often those of a wealthy minority), or the glorification of our pride in our identity (the expression of which sometimes excludes the newly arrived and visible minorities). Independence is based on the collective will to build a world in common, in which our society can freely define its institutions, its values and its political future. That is precisely the meaning of the principle of self-determination of the Quebec people, at the foundation of the Constituent Assembly.

The political evolution of Ecuador is a good example of this promising dynamic. Correa’s success rests on the spaces of political freedom conquered by the Ecuadorian people, particularly thanks to the constituent process of 2008. It constitutes therefore positive proof of the strategic effectiveness of a constituent assembly in establishing a relationship of forces for the social and popular movements, to confront the power of the defenders of the status quo.

That is the most democratic, inclusive, effective and legitimate strategy for rallying all of the active and fighting forces in our society. These forces come most often from the ranks of the artists and the trade-union, popular, feminist, student, ecologist and independentist movements. Their convergence is the only one that is really necessary to the collective development of a new political dynamic that will favour the majority of the population, the only ultimate guarantor of our national independence.

– Amir Khadir, MNA (Québec solidaire)

* * *

Conference decisions highlight agreements, but also divisions

The “national convergence” conference attracted several hundred participants[9] not only from the sovereigntist parties and trade unions but also from a range of social movements, the so-called “civil society.” It was organized by the Nouveau Mouvement pour le Québec (NMQ), an organization founded in the summer of 2011 in the wake of the defection from the PQ legislature caucus at that time of several MNAs who criticized the party leadership for (among other things) its failure to advance a pro-independence agenda. Although it operates as a pressure group on the PQ, the NMQ seeks to rally non-péquistes behind this objective.

The NMQ’s stated goals include restoring independence as an organizing focus in Quebec politics, uniting independence supporters, and developing a role for citizens in the independence movement irrespective of party affiliation. Like Québec solidaire, the NMQ advocates the organization of a constituent assembly in which the Québécois can “themselves draw up a comprehensive national offer… for all Québécois, and not against Canada.” Its mission statement says that it mobilizes around national independence, democratic reform, the “fight against corruption” and for “energy independence,” but with a current focus on “the question of national independence.”

The conference heard speeches from some notable personalities, including former PQ premier Bernard Landry, then broke into five workshops to discuss referendum strategy, electoral reform, citizens’ mobilization, how to elect a pro-sovereignty majority government, and the possibility of adopting an electoral platform common to all sovereigntist parties.

Some of the key speeches and decisions taken by the conference participants illustrated the disarray of the Parti Québécois in face of mounting opposition from other independence supporters.

Opening speaker Guy Rocher, a leading sovereigntist intellectual, said that while in his view the various pro-sovereignty currents could cohabit within the same party, the PQ, “time has taken its toll, and a single party can no longer be the sole carrier of the independentist cause.”

Bernard Landry, while insisting that the independence he favours is “neither on the left nor the right,” acknowledged that the PQ could no longer monopolize the sovereigntist movement. “It’s obvious,” he told a post-conference press scrum. “There are other independentist parties than the PQ. What matters is that there be convergence so that the independentists support each other on the fundamental mission, which is independence.”

But the PQ leader and Quebec premier Pauline Marois took a less nuanced approach in comments to reporters the next day. The PQ, she insisted, is “the locomotive” of Quebec independence, and alliances between the party and Québec solidaire and Option Nationale are not necessary, since the job at hand is “to have a party that holds a majority at the head of the government.” Marois has often called on the other sovereigntist parties to scuttle themselves by joining the PQ.

But Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, the student leader, spoke to the concerns of many participants when he told the conference: “As long as the national question and social justice are not frontally raised, we will have neither justice nor independence,” adding that “real” independence is possible only if we question our “productivist and energy-intensive regime.”

In contrast, Joseph Facal, a former PQ minister and now a right-wing columnist in the Québecor media, warned that “determination must not be confused with radicalization.

“The emphasis placed on ecologism, on the redistribution of wealth, has put the real engines of the national struggle — patriotism transcending social and economic divisions, collective pride, national identity, the desire to endure — on the back burner.”

Facal, writes former Québec solidaire interim president André Frappier, “managed to express the objective impasse of the idea of electoral agreements without a programmatic rapprochement.” The new QS president, Andrés Fontecilla, drove this point home in his address to the conference. “In our view,” he said, “it is essential to associate the country we propose with a progressive social agenda, to give it a social content.”

He quoted extensively from Amir Khadir’s “Open Letter,” adding that a major challenge before the independence movement was to win the support of “the newly arrived néo-Québécois.” Fontecilla is himself of Chilean origin. “I don’t have the impression there were many of them here this weekend. We have to remedy that…. We can only convince them by associating them in a project that will change their life. Independence at any price without such a project … will not convince them.”

And Fontecilla defended another major theme of Québec solidaire, the need to establish an electoral system based on some sort of proportional representation. The conference adopted that proposal, calling for a system of “proportional representation with a regional redistribution of votes” that would “reflect more closely the popular support of the parties and be consistent with political pluralism.”

However, conference participants also adopted a resolution calling for a study to explore the possibility of holding primary elections involving all three parties to select a common candidate in various ridings. Given the disparity in memberships — the PQ boasts 90,000 members, while QS has about 14,000 and ON about 8,000 — this would most likely favour the PQ everywhere. In fact, all three parties compete for much the same constituency: urban working-class voters. In east Montréal, where Québec solidaire candidates have polled more than 20% of the vote in a half-dozen or more ridings, their main competitor is usually the Parti Québécois.

The PQ’s preponderance was also evident in other debates. A proposal to address the question of defense of public services and the central role of the state was defeated in a workshop, some participants arguing that these were matters to be left until after independence.

Among the adopted resolutions was one urging the Conseil de la souveraineté, an umbrella body largely dominated by the PQ and the other sovereigntist parties, including QS and the federal Bloc Québécois, to give much greater weight in its structure to citizens’ organizations and reduce the parties to observer status in the Conseil.

And the conference also endorsed a proposal favoured by the NMQ and pioneered by Québec solidaire: that before a referendum is held on sovereignty, an independently elected constituent assembly be established to debate and adopt a draft constitution that would then be put to a popular vote in a referendum. As the NMQ summarizes it, this would mean two referendums, one on a constitution, the other on independence. And, it notes, the proposed assembly would “offer non-sovereigntists the opportunity to participate in a constitution-making process.”

The proposals for a constituent assembly and a greater citizens’ role in the Conseil de la souveraineté have both been endorsed by participants in the Estates-General on the sovereignty of Quebec, an ad hoc body composed of prominent pro-sovereignty activists, which has been holding public meetings throughout Quebec in recent months in an attempt to generate or increase support for independence.

The balance sheet of this conference is a clearly a mixed one. While some of the proposals adopted would, if implemented, reinforce the fractured PQ hegemony over the pro-independence movement, others could be used to broaden the national struggle to encompass other layers of Quebec society, to increase the weight of the social movements within the sovereigntist milieu, and to help mobilize public opinion around the concept of building “another,” progressive Quebec with the potential to mount a serious challenge to the neoliberal consensus in which the major parties, both Québécois and federal, are mired.

– Richard Fidler

[1] I have slightly amended the translation to conform with his oral presentation. See also a video of the candidate Sébastien Bouchard nominated at the meeting, where he presents QS as the party of the social movements, many of whose activists are in the hall. (In French, of course.)

[2] The italicized sentence was omitted in Khadir’s oral presentation.

[3] In May 2011 Parti Québécois MNA Agnès Maltais (now a minister) introduced a private member’s bill in the National Assembly that would immunize from legal challenge a controversial contract for construction of an arena (the Amphithéâtre) that was to be financed in part by Québecor. QS MNA Khadir forced debate on the bill by denying it unanimous consent for immediate adoption. This year the PQ government appointed Québecor CEO Pierre Karl Péladeau to head the board of directors of Hydro-Québec, the province’s public power utility. The Québecor media (including the Journal de Montréal and Journal de Québec) have traditionally been sympathetic to the PQ. In recent years both newspapers locked out their unionized journalists, who then published their own independent dailies.

[4] The PQ’s founding leader, René Lévesque was the Liberal minister who in 1962 nationalized private (and Anglophone-owned) power companies to create the Hydro-Québec energy complex.

[5] The PQ government recently gave the go-ahead to build a dam and electric generating station at a famously scenic waterfall in Val Jabert. Among the dam’s supporters was the chairman of the Union of Municipalities, a defeated PQ candidate. The decision has provoked widespread outrage among environmentalists and the local population.

[6] Apparently a reference to this: “Elecciones, cuatro lecciones.”

[7] See “Québec Solidaire: A Québécois Approach to Building a Broad Left Party (Part I).”

[8] A reference to the PQ government’s recent education summit that effectively ratified its rejection of free tuition and its decision to index post-secondary tuition fee increases.

[9] Close to 520 according to organizers. “Some 200,” according to André Frappier in Presse-toi à gauche.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Foundations for the consolidation and action of an ecosocialist network

The following is my translation of the founding statement of principles of the Quebec-based Réseau écosocialiste, the Ecosocialist Network. The text, as amended by the founding meeting of the network, was published in the May 1 issue of the web journal Presse-toi à gauche. For a report on the founding meeting, see “Quebec ecosocialist network – ready for action!

The Réseau écosocialiste is on Facebook at For an introductory brochure (in French), see brochure-finale.pdf.

Richard Fidler

* * *

A. Context: The global resistance to a crisis-ridden neoliberalism

1. After 25 years, capitalism in its neoliberal version is experiencing a far-reaching breakdown that began with the great recession of 2008. It is a triple crisis:

economic, accompanied by policies of austerity, brutal cutbacks, bank bailouts, deepening social inequality, and great suffering and frustration. The most adversely affected are women, minorities and the more vulnerable among us.

environmental, with ravaged ecosystems nearing exhaustion due to unbridled exploitation of hydrocarbons, greenhouse gas emissions and an unsustainable mode of production and consumption.

• but also a crisis of democracy. With the omnipotence of “markets” and the financial oligarchy, capitalist democracy is ever more a hollow shell.

Finally, it is a global crisis of the system that underscores the impasse of contemporary neoliberal capitalism.


2. However, the crisis and the attacks on the populace by the ruling classes have produced extensive mass mobilizations around the world. The Arab Spring and the anti-dictatorial revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia. The indignados of Spain, the repeated general strikes in Greece and Portugal. The massive mobilizations in France and Great Britain. The Occupy movement in the United States. And here in Quebec, the revolt of the student youth in the spring of 2012, which resulted in the largest mass mobilizations since the 1970s.

3. Periods of crisis can also be moments when capital reinvents itself, developing new accumulation strategies. But they are also moments during which the forms of struggle and strategies of the popular classes, the dominated, are reinvented as well.

B. Ecosocialism as a response to the capitalist impasse

4. Ecosocialism is a new political project synthesizing an anticapitalist ecology with a socialism cleared of the logic of productivism. This is the reasoned human response to the dual impasse in which humanity is now confined by the present mode of production, which exhausts human beings and nature. Ecosocialism points to those who are really responsible — the ruling classes, particularly the globalized financial oligarchy — and proposes an alternative way out from the crisis: the deepening and renewal of the emancipatory project of socialism in the conditions of the 21st century.

5. Ecosocialism fights the engines of the capitalist system: exploitation and the endless search for maximum profit, the consumerism and productivism that exhaust ecosystems, globalization with its unbridled competition that encourages social and environmental dumping, imperialism and wars of aggression, racism, colonialism and all forms of oppression. It is a project for building an alternative society to capitalism, one that requires us to reconceive not only the aptness of the system of production and exchange, but also the content of what is produced and the modes of consumption.

6. Ecosocialism differs from the “socialisms” of the 20th century, all of which failed in terms of ecology, democracy and social equity. Arising out of wars and turmoil, they were characteristically militarist, hierarchical and elitist throughout their existence. They confused state ownership with socialization, reproduced the dominating and destructive modes of capitalism, and ultimately deprived the popular classes of any control over the means of production and the state, for the benefit of a privileged bureaucratic class. Ecosocialism, in contrast, must be democratic, self-managing and egalitarian. It proposes to revolutionize the relations of production and the productive forces. It advocates the distribution of wealth, the recognition of ecological constraints, ecological and democratic planning, and popular sovereignty.

7. Ecosocialism refutes the false solutions of green capitalism and the Social Democracy. Green capitalism is a hoax which, in the name of sustainable development, promotes carbon markets and fuels the search for maximum profit, maintains neoliberal globalization, and aggravates the environmental dumping suffered by the developing countries. It is a “green-washing” of the current paradigm that avoids the real debate concerning the liability of the capitalist mode of production for the profound environmental crisis afflicting the planet. The Social Democracy has consistently advocated redistribution of incomes without questioning the foundations of accumulation and thus the power of financial capital. During the golden age of postwar capitalism it was able to develop the welfare state and share the “products of growth,” but it has failed lamentably in the face of neoliberalism, often becoming its best defender. Since the outbreak of the crisis in 2008 it has become the promoter of bank bailouts and the harbinger of austerity policies, well-deserving of the moniker “social liberalism.”

8. Ecosocialism rejects the model of unending growth imposed by capitalism. Ecosocialism defends the need to reduce some production and consumption that leave behind an unacceptable ecological footprint. Ecosocialism proposes a radical restriction of the sphere and volume of production and, more generally, of extractivist development. This objective will not be attained simply by eliminating useless and harmful production (weapons, etc.), by fighting the planned obsolescence of products, or by suppressing the ostentatious consumption of the wealthiest layers of the ruling class. More radical measures will be necessary, such as the transformation and decentralization of the ways in which goods are produced, the abandonment of fossil energies (oil, gas and coal) and the adoption of a sustainable energy regime (solar, wind, geothermal, etc.), of electrified and accessible public transportation, in order to limit as best we can the damages from climate warming while guaranteeing high calibre human development based exclusively on renewable energies. We are for an economic reconversion that preserves the interests of the popular classes within a perspective of “fair transition.” Our project aims for an economy that is democratically managed, serves social needs, and breaks with consumerism, advertising and the generalized commoditization that leads to destructive wastefulness.

9. Ecosocialism is an internationalist struggle because globalized capitalism must be answered with the solidarity of the peoples of the world. We recognize the responsibility of the capitalist countries of the North for the environmental problems now afflicting the peoples of the South, while we are critical of the model of retroactive and belated development that perpetuates an unsustainable mode of production. We denounce unfettered and polluting industrialization and its effects on the global climate; the pillage of natural resources; the hoarding of arable land; and the militaristic expeditions conducted in order to plunder resources. All decisions made in one location concerning the production of goods, transportation or energies have repercussions on a world scale. Ecosocialism acts within a perspective of North-South climate justice in the struggle for the protection of the planet’s environment. Ecosocialism likewise notes that capitalist globalization has also been fuelled by militarization and regionalized wars. Women especially have suffered rape and the generalization of violence. Racism has been exacerbated by globalization and the policies of militaristic plunder, and the struggle against racism is also at the centre of the ecosocialists’ struggle.

10. Ecosocialism must also include among its objectives the abolition of patriarchy. Women produce 80 percent of the food consumed in the poorest countries of the world, but they possess only 1 percent of the lands. Because women are primarily responsible for household food production, they are the first victims of climate change: drought, flooding of lands, erosion of riverbanks, etc. Establishing a fair and equitable society requires taking into account the demands of women. They are poor and capitalism benefits from the exploitation of their unpaid labour in family and child care. More than thirty years of neoliberal policies have been devastating for women. The right wing has mobilized against the right to abortion. It has attempted, with relative success depending on the country, to limit choice for women. The rights of gays and lesbians have evoked mobilizations against their right to marriage. Violence against women has become a global axis of mobilization for the women’s movement. But it is above all the generalized contempt for women’s bodies expressed in the new media and capitalist globalization that has clearly illustrated the close links between capitalism and patriarchy. The commoditization of women’s bodies by prostitution and pornography has assumed unprecedented scope.

11. Ecosocialism is not a utopia that we await with folded arms. We participate in social and environmental struggles alongside all those who resist. Opposition to the exploitation of shale gas and petroleum exploration in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Support to the struggles of the aboriginal peoples against the government’s Plan Nord, for the defence of their ancestral territories and their right to self-determination. Rejection of austerity policies, the struggle to preserve jobs or to guarantee a decent income, a reduction in labour time without loss of salary. Defence of trade-union rights. Development of renewable energies and electrified public transportation. Fight for free education. Defence of the commons and public services as a means of struggle against women’s impoverishment and the sexual division of labour. Struggle against violence against women. So many battles and immediate struggles that enable us to build the necessary relationship of forces to lead the longer-term fight for ecosocialism.

C. Conditions for the implementation of ecosocialist perspectives

(a) Democratize the economy by reorganizing the energy and natural resources, industry, agriculture, trade, transportation and finance sectors to make them serve the common good.

12. The ruling class will stubbornly resist efforts to establish a truly democratic management of the economy through redistribution of wealth, a freeze on privatizations, and the establishment and expansion of free public services guaranteeing access to fundamental goods and services such as education, health, water, energy, housing, transportation and culture. This resistance can only be broken by the democratic nationalization and socialization of natural resources, strategic industrial sectors, and the banks in order to build a public economic and financial system that eliminates the blackmail of capital flight and restores priority to peoples’ needs and the protection of the environment.

13. Ecological and participatory planning will be the result of collective decisions guided by the substantive needs of the population and respect for ecosystems. It will allow us to put an end to decision-making on production by the major owners of companies and the banks that will benefit only them. Ecological and democratic planning starts with establishing needs democratically within companies and at the local, regional and national levels, guaranteeing the right of everyone to live in a healthy environment that is protective of ecosystems.

(b) Revitalize democracy in an independent Quebec by giving it economic, social, participatory and representative content.

14. The defence and reconquest of democracy begins with the dissolution of the repressive bodies (anti-riot police, professional army) and the struggle to expand the democratic rights of the social organizations (right to trade-unionization, right to strike and to demonstrate through direct action and civil disobedience if necessary). But beyond these essential defensive measures, a real ecosocialist democracy would seek:

➢ to enable all citizens to make the economic and environmental decisions that are strategic to the life of our society;

➢ to generalize gender (male/female) parity in political representation and to struggle against the various forms of patriarchal domination;

➢ to introduce participatory democratic procedures at all levels within the institutions of the state (participation in the development of budgets, etc.) and to generalize the principle of eligibility for various positions of responsibility;

➢ to block the ways by which elected representatives escape the control of those who are represented and to impose popular control over elected officials within the context of representative democracy.

15. These democratic demands, and the battles they will entail, will come up against the federal state’s domination of Quebec, which is reduced through national oppression to the status of a political minority. A genuine democratic reconquest of Quebec society cannot avoid the struggle for the independence of Quebec and an end to the domination of the federal state. The economic, social and democratic struggles can culminate in the election of a constituent assembly, the election of which will itself constitute the beginning of a break with the domination of the Canadian state over Quebec and can, through the exercise of popular sovereignty, enable us to end our status as a political minority, secure the independence of Quebec and define institutions that expand citizen power in all spheres of society. Quebec’s independence is for us indissolubly linked to the social project of going beyond capitalism.

(c) Promote the convergence of the social and political struggles.

16. During the “maple spring” [printemps érable] the student movement challenged the neoliberal school and the subordination of education to the interests of the dominant economic minority. The women’s movement challenges the unequal division of labour and of salaries, the oppressive nature of social roles, and violence against women — in short, the patriarchal domination that structures capitalist society. The indigenous peoples are mobilizing in defence of their ancestral territories and recognition of their national rights. The trade-union movement is every day engaged in fighting employer arbitrariness in both the private and public services sectors. Popular movements are waging increasing struggles on the consumption front (housing, urban development, etc.). The ecology movement is mobilizing to protect the environment. Left-wing political parties must draw on these experiences in order to go beyond partial struggles and outline in their programs the paths toward a redistribution of powers in the direction of civil society.

17. An ecosocialist orientation rejects the artificial separation of labour promoted by the Social Democracy between the work of the party, limited to the formal political sphere, and activism in the social organizations. The transformation of society will not be achieved by fragmented social activism or political action limited to the electoral arena alone. Only the convergence of social and political struggles in a comprehensive overall movement will enable us to build the necessary relationship of forces to be able to challenge the policies of the ruling class. To secure the convergence of social and environmental struggles, we must promote as best we can the emergence of unitary and democratic forms of self-organization and self-management of these movements.

18. In the trade-union movement (and sometimes in other social movements) there is generally majority support for a strategy of social concensus-building with the ruling class and the state. Ecosocialism, given its analysis of the responsibility of the dominant classes for the economic, political and environmental crises, criticizes this strategy and opposes to it a strategy of class-struggle unionism. The wage-earning class cannot adopt as its own the objectives of the ruling class, or it will find itself in an impasse. Union militants who are ecosocialists must promote the class independence of their mass organizations in which they are active and try to build unity in action, including with the other social movements. As a political party, we cannot avoid participating in the strategic debates within the social movements that can have an antisystemic dynamic essential to social transformation.

D. Tasks of the ecosocialist network

19. The tasks of the Réseau écosocialiste will be organized around the following axes:

(a) Form a centre for the development of ecosocialist perspectives and participate in the programmatic debates of Québec solidaire to advance the orientations of the network within that party’s local, regional and national bodies. Ecosocialism is aware of the links between patriarchy and capitalism. Within that perspective, the Réseau écosocialiste must develop its thinking on the fight against patriarchy and promote the position of women in the organization, recognizing the achievements already made on this issue and remaining vigilant against any regression.

(b) Ensure the implementation of such orientations and policies and work to get Québec solidaire to engage in campaigns and activities in opposition to the anti-ecology, austerity and patriarchal policies of the dominant classes and neoliberal political parties. In this sense, the Réseau écosocialiste must do everything it can to open spaces for involvement and mobilization within Québec solidaire, in non-electoral as well as electoral periods. The network will therefore work to transform the party’s structures, to reinforce its democracy and combativeness; this implies promoting greater participation by the rank and file.

(c) Build, expand and consolidate the presence of Québec solidaire in the social movements and, within this perspective, help to make our party a party of the streets capable of forging solid links with the social movements. That is our starting point for contributing to its construction and expansion. The network will work for the establishment of a trade-union collective within the party, a national QS-campus student coalition, and a network of feminist activists in various regions and within the different authoritative bodies of the party.

(d) Organize debates and educationals on ecosocialist perspectives both as party activities and on an independent basis. Within the party, promote democratic, transparent and decentralized structures and encourage rank-and-file participation.

(e) Forge links with ecosocialist organizations world-wide and relay international campaigns on environmental and social issues within Québec solidaire and Quebec society.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Québec Solidaire congress reaffirms the party’s independence from the neoliberal parties

I had to balance my agenda this past weekend (May 3-5) between two events: the congress of the Canadian Association for Latin American and Caribbean Studies, held here in Ottawa; and the Ninth Congress of Québec Solidaire, held at the University of Quebec in Montréal (UQAM).

The following are some notes on the latter event, which I was able to attend on the final day, Sunday, when some important decisions were made by the more than 600 delegates. This was the largest congress to date for this party, founded in 2006, which doubled its membership to 14,000 during the past year in the wake of the student upsurge. My account is supplemented by some additional details on the proceedings of the previous two days provided by QS delegate Marc Bonhomme and media reports.

A major objective of the congress was to update and supplement the party’s platform in the 2012 Quebec election, in anticipation of another election expected within the next year or so, as the Parti Québécois government lacks a majority in the National Assembly.[1] The congress also had to update the party’s financial structure to correspond to new party-finance legislation; elect a new president of the party;[2] launch the next phase in the party’s process of adopting a program; and draw a balance-sheet on its experience in attempts to negotiate electoral alliances with other pro-independence political parties.

‘Credibility’ and pipelines

Heading into the congress, party leader Françoise David told the media that QS had to ensure its platform in the next election featured “credible” economic proposals — code for moderate measures that do not offer a perspective of going beyond capitalism. She repeated this message in her opening remarks to the congress. David and her fellow QS MNA Amir Khadir then followed up with a news conference featuring the party’s Green Plan, unveiled in the 2012 election, which won plaudits from environmental activists but was consistent with a “green capitalist” orientation — even though the Green Plan was not on the congress agenda!

The congress did in fact effect a minor re-orientation, although not necessarily along the lines David was proposing. It approved stronger measures to counter tax evasion; greater support for French-language training and integration of non-Francophone immigrants; increased access to government information including establishment of a national (Quebec)public high-speed digital network; secondary and tertiary transformation of resources by “local enterprises… making government assistance conditional on compliance with social responsibility and tight environmental criteria within a perspective of transition to promote self-managed and socialized enterprises”; improvements in teachers’ working conditions and democratization of the universities; increased support to the homeless and increased independent monitoring and control of the police including, of course, repeal of repressive legal constraints on demonstrations. (Québec solidaire already agitates for dropping the thousands of charges laid against demonstrators during the past year.)

The congress also agreed to launch an ecology campaign later this year. It will focus on a number of themes including the need for the construction of mass public transit facilities, which would gradually move toward providing transit free of charge to users. And in the debate on the party’s definition of its political objective in the forthcoming election, the delegates voted that QS present itself “as a party prepared to govern, defending the common good [bien commun], and the only alternative to neoliberal policies.” A proposal to define the platform as “reasonable” (code for “credible”) was rejected. A nuance, but signifying unease with David’s formulation, some delegates told me.

An emergency resolution, adopted in the closing moments of the congress without much debate, calls on the party to “support citizens’ efforts to have an extensive and open debate on Quebec’s pipeline projects.” This refers mainly to various proposals, unopposed by the PQ government and the other parties, to bring tar sands products into and through Quebec. These projects, strongly opposed by Quebec environmentalists, have not been addressed so far by the QS members of the National Assembly. Furthermore, some of their recent statements have left the door open to support of oil and gas development in the Gulf of St. Lawrence — although the QS Green Plan opposed this development and called for “an exit from petroleum” for Quebec.

New QS president favours ‘a party of the streets’

Four candidates contested the election of party president, to be co-spokesperson with Françoise David. (Under the male-female parity rule in the QS statutes, the party president now had to be a male.) The candidates’ platforms, which were debated in the weeks leading up to the congress, reflected somewhat distinct views on how each conceived the party’s course in the immediate future. Delegates elected Andrés Fontecilla on the first ballot, which means he got more than half the votes (the actual count was not disclosed). Fontecilla had campaigned on a relatively left platform that emphasized the need for the party to avoid parliamentary opportunism and give greater emphasis to its extra-parliamentary and extra-electoral activity as a “party of the streets” as well as the ballot-boxes.

Fontecilla is of Chilean origin. He came to Quebec while still in his early teens, his family fleeing the Pinochet dictatorship. A self-professed “child of Law 101,” like other immigrant children after the mid-1970s required to attend French public schools, he is a fluent orator with just a trace of a Castilian accent in his speech. A well-known social activist, with a background in the student movement and Latin American solidarity, Andrés won 24% of the popular vote as QS candidate in Laurier-Dorion, a multi-ethnic riding in downtown Montréal, in the last election. He summarized his approach in a pre-congress article (my translation from the French):

“…the parliamentary struggle and the electoral activity it involves are but one aspect of the equation. They must be complemented by the mobilization of broad social sectors and by the development of an organizational culture within the party….

“Our party aims, ultimately, to ‘go beyond capitalism.’ Although Québec Solidaire has not fully defined this concept, our project implies some fundamental transformations in our economic and political system with a view to achieving greater redistribution of our collective wealth and a deepening of our democracy.

“This ambitious program cannot be adapted to shortcuts aimed at obtaining more seats in the National Assembly. Our election victories must therefore count on a thoroughly deliberate support from an electorate that desires not only to get rid of a government at the end of the race but to build another, radically different Quebec.

“The best guarantee of development of our program is found in its radicalness and originality. These orientations reduce the possibilities for electoral alliances with other parties, but they enable us to stay the course. In the middle and longer term this will pay off since the electorate will  see clearly that our proposals are not diluted in an exclusive search for more deputies.”

In his victory speech at the congress, Fontecilla (who addressed the delegates as “comrades,” a term not often heard in QS), pointedly emphasized the importance of joining in the struggle against petroleum development in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the various pipeline projects.

No electoral agreements with the neoliberal parties

A QS congress in March 2011 had debated and rejected proposals from party leaders David and Khadir, among others, that the party try to negotiate “tactical” electoral agreements with the PQ or the Greens (Verts) that would have each party refrain from running candidates against the others in selected ridings, and thus facilitate the election of QS MNAs. The issue arose again in December 2012, when the QS National Council mandated the party’s National Coordinating Committee (the party executive) to probe the possibilities for political and even organizational rapprochement with Option Nationale (ON), a new independentist party originating in a 2011 split from the PQ. By then it was already evident that an agreement with the PQ was a pipedream, and in any event the current PQ government’s right-wing drift was already alienating even large sections of its base.

This congress received a report on the overture to the ON, based on three formal meetings between ON leaders and a QS delegation that included Françoise David, and the attendance of two QS leaders at the recent ON congress. The report concluded that “it would appear premature… to end the discussions,” while conceding that an electoral agreement for the next election seemed to be ruled out. It found that while the two parties might agree on sovereignty, electoral reform, free post-secondary education and a few other issues, ON “is not a party that will fight social injustice” and is indifferent or hostile to feminism. And its independentism is essentially a remake of the PQ’s “neither left nor right” version — that is, the neoliberal status quo.[3]

After a general debate on electoral alliances the QS congress delegates voted by a substantial majority to reject any alliance with another political party while remaining “open to any common action and collaboration with any group that concurs with our platform.”

Greater dependence on state funding

The debate on party finances was imposed by two problems.

On the one hand, the QS national office and structures are heavily indebted from expenses incurred during the last three election campaigns, although the local riding associations are mostly debt-free. The QS National Council in December decided that two-thirds of the state election expenses rebate would henceforth go to the national office, the remaining one-third to the local associations. It also established a committee to look at longer-term solutions and report to this convention.

On the other hand, the new PQ government’s election financing reforms — ostensibly motivated by the recent revelations of massive corruption resulting from under-the-table payments to the big-business parties under assumed names and straw men, in circumvention of legislated limits on corporate political contributions — have (inter alia) limited per capita voter contributions to parties to $100 a year and abolished the tax credit. But they raise state subsidies to recognized parties to $1.50 per voter from the previous 87 cents, while making further state funding contingent on how much a party receives in voter contributions, the amounts per voter increasing the more contributions the party receives.

The combined effect of these legislated reforms is to make the party much more dependent on state funding and its electoral results. This will inevitably reinforce pressures on the party to adapt its policies, actions and election platforms to whatever it deems most acceptable to the broadest layers of its potential electorate.

I won’t go into detail on the specific proposals debated and adopted at this congress, in part because I was not present at the debate. However, I am told the committee’s proposals were largely accepted, although many local associations understandably complained that the greater centralization of finances in the national office would restrict their already-limited autonomy at fund-raising efforts. And it will require closer membership scrutiny of spending decisions by the national leadership, which has already displayed its penchant for mass media exposure, often at the expense of political clarity.

Debate opens on feminism, family and sexual diversity

This convention also launched the party debate on the fourth stage of debating and adopting a more comprehensive program for the party. This stage will be devoted to developing the party’s underlying approach and proposals on feminism and issues related to it, including the situation of women in the party and the continued implementation of parity representation of men and women at all levels of Québec Solidaire. Like the previous stages of the program adoption, party members will be encouraged to involve non-party activists in the debate.

The participation notebook for this phase — labelled “For a Feminist Society of Solidarity: Women, Families, Sexual and Gender Diversity” — was introduced at this congress, in a discussion held mid-way through the proceedings. In coming weeks and months, further materials will be circulated, an educational camp will be held, and then proposals from the ranks will be presented for debate, following which (in May 2014) a congress will be held to adopt a program.

Any observer of Québec Solidaire will be impressed by the strong presence of women in party structures and debates and other activities. For example, QS is the first party in North America to present a full slate of candidates in recent elections that was 50% or more composed of women. This is a unique feature of the party, and a major factor in its success so far in establishing a solid presence in Quebec’s political landscape. It contrasts very favourably with the dismal record of so many “left of the left” parties of the past, mainly of Stalinist orientation but including more than a few of Trotskyist or related origins. The UK Socialist Workers Party is only the latest of these ersatz “Leninist” parties to suffer ignominy over the arbitrary and authoritarian actions of its male-dominated leadership.

Some of Quebec’s relatively large Maoist (“Marxist-Leninist”) parties of the 1970s imploded in the early 1980s in part as a result of a belated feminist challenge among their membership, and a fair number of QS leaders learned from that experience — not least Françoise David herself, who went on to become a leader of the Quebec Women’s Federation and initiator of the March for Bread and Roses and later the World March of Women before participating in the foundation of Québec Solidaire. But, as many QS women will tell you, there are still some major challenges to be met in educating the party as a whole on the question of feminism and women’s liberation. This promises to be a rich debate.

[1] For an analysis of the election result, see my article in the current issue of Studies in Political Economy. A shorter version was published here; the SPE version is currently behind a subscriber firewall.

[2] When QS president Françoise David was elected as QS’s second deputy in the National Assembly, Amir Khadir deferred to her as the party’s parliamentary co-spokesperson, opening a position for the non-parliamentary co-spokesperson under the QS statutes.

[3] For a detailed critique of Option nationale, see Bernard Rioux, “Derrière le couronnement de Jean-Martin Aussant.”