Reply to an article by Céline Hequet and to a few others
André Frappier argues in this article that social protest develops unevenly within the Canadian state, that the Quebec struggle develops in distinct ways and tempos and is necessarily directed against the Canadian state as an obstacle to its social transformation. But, he adds, this in turn underscores the need for Quebec independence supporters to build alliances with workers and progressive popular forces in the Rest of Canada who, even if unconsciously, share an objective interest in fighting the oppressive features of the Canadian state. They should therefore welcome the Quebec fight for national independence as a contribution to their own fight for social change.
André starts by referring to an article in the binational web site Ricochet that dismissed the Quebec independence struggle as retrograde and senseless. Its author, who identifies with the left-wing party Québec solidaire, has the merit, he says, of openly expressing a “current of thinking” that exists in some left circles in Quebec but is seldom voiced.
My translation from the original text published in Presse-toi à gauche.
– Richard Fidler
By André Frappier
November 28, 2017
Céline Hequet’s article in Ricochet grappled directly with the issue of independence. Her opinion represents a current of thinking within the left, and within Québec solidaire (QS) as well, although there it is never expressed openly. This current is expressed today around the debate over the fusion between QS and Option nationale (ON); an example is the opposition to the fusion as it is expressed by the St-Henri-Sainte-Anne QS constituency association. This article is addressed to these questions.
Hequet’s article makes no analysis of the Canadian state as a state serving the big Canadian bourgeoisie and the multinational corporations, and omits any consideration of the social forces that will have to mobilize to end that domination.
She argues that the struggle for national liberation now refers only to old memories, at best to a desire to take comfort in what is closest to us, like a commune of cat-lovers. But there is no need to separate to achieve that, she says. She questions the specificity of Quebec identity, associating it with poutine and cretons [greaves or cracklings] or with being vaguely social-democratic in inclination.
She suggests that the sovereignty project rests on conservative foundations and ultimately leads us to conclude that any true spécificité québécoise can only be retrograde, so we should stay in Canada. “That is why wanting to liberate the ‘Quebec people’ is now meaningless.... We don’t know exactly who we want to liberate, or from what.”
Nature of the Canadian state
If we want to take an unblinkered view of this question, we must first define the nature of the Canadian state. This will help us understand the type of oppression that affects the peoples and nations within this state, and accordingly how to organize the response to it. And since the question of independence is central in this debate, we must also define the particular ways in which the Quebec nation differs from the rest of Canada.
The Canadian state exercises the most fundamental functions of any “sovereign” bourgeois state: control over the military, control over monetary policy, a monopoly on representation of Canadian capitalism vis-à-vis other states, control of criminal law, and control over a series of legal and regulatory functions in relation to the economy. It is absolutely clear that the central state is the ultimate instrument of defense of the relations of production against any possible threat to that domination. This domination was built by overcoming the resistance of the indigenous nations and the Métis and through the subordination of the Quebec nation.
National oppression in Quebec
The source of Quebec’s national oppression is Canada’s configuration as a state structurally and politically organized to maintain the domination of the big bourgeoisie and the banking and financial establishment. This has had two important consequences. What could be referred to as a Quebec capitalist class has two components.
First, a small number of individuals completely integrated with the Canadian (and increasingly foreign) transnational corporations. They are simply Francophone members of the Canadian bourgeoisie, such as the Desmarais, the Bombardiers, etc.
As Pierre Beaudet has written:
[translation] “Québec Inc. is in part a branch of Canada Inc. or North America Inc., that is, a bourgeoisie that acts essentially as a subaltern component or relay of Canadian (and/or US) capital.... But Québec Inc. is also a ‘regional’ bourgeoisie with its base in Quebec although aiming to ‘North Americanize’ itself. Québec Inc. is also the upper layer of the State and its numerous apparatuses, including the major enterprises created in Quebec’s Quiet Revolution such as Hydro-Québec, the liquor board (SAQ) and especially the Caisse de dépôt et de placements or the top management of the Desjardins Movement.
“This latter ‘bourgeoisie’ does not own the means of production, as in the private sector. But it plays an important role in the state mechanisms that serve the overall ‘collective’ interests of capitalism, and it shares their values, of course. Nevertheless, this elite is also ambivalent. Parizeau’s project would have given it a central role, but that went nowhere. Thanks to its class position, it does not want a Quebec that would stand out from North American capitalism as a whole, so it does not seek, for example, reforms that would challenge the pillars of the present financialized capitalism.”
The other group is composed of Quebec small and medium sized enterprises representing mainly light industry involved in the production of consumer goods.
So Quebec’s national oppression is not a conjunctural question. The political and ideological requirements of Confederation excluded any constitutional recognition of Quebec’s distinct national character, which is at odds with the cohesion and integrity of the central state apparatus.
This oppression is manifested in a domination that is economic but also political, cultural and ideological. It goes together with campaigns of disinformation, or even the straight out “Quebec bashing” that is the regular agenda of various mass media and political personalities in the Rest of Canada. Corruption, it is alleged, is worse in Quebec, Quebec is more racist, etc.
More recently, the Canada-Europe free trade agreement (CETA) has again demonstrated the priority given by the Canadian state to the economy in the western provinces, to the detriment of Quebec, the protection of Quebec’s cheese industry giving way to the liberalization of western beef exports. It is worth noting in this respect the naiveté of the political leaders of the Bloc Québécois (BQ) and the Parti Québécois (PQ) in their embrace of the very financial parameters underlying the CETA.
In the field of culture, the preservation of our achievements continues to be a constant struggle, as illustrated by the CBC and Radio-Canada decisions to make deep cuts in cultural programming, especially in Quebec, while producing a series of programs on the history of Canada with a distinctly neo-colonial flavour.
Any constitutional change must be accepted by the federal parliament and at least seven provinces representing 50% of Canada’s total population. In fact, this constitution was imposed without the approval of any political formation in Quebec. Moreover, it allows some reforms without the requirement of Quebec consent. For the Canadian state, referendums held in Quebec on its constitutional status are only consultative exercises, without any binding effect on the rest of Canada. The federal Clarity Act provides that the House of Commons could, prior to any negotiation in reaction to a Quebec vote for sovereignty, determine the validity of the referendum question and the level of popular support needed to open such negotiations with Quebec.
The fight for independence
To speak of independence is to reject economic domination and the pillage of our natural resources by foreign multinationals. It is to impose popular control over our natural resources, our workplaces, the sustainability of our economic development and the development of our regions. It is to refuse to submit to the dictates of free trade, which allow development that serves the interests of the most powerful companies, disregarding the needs of the majority of the population. It is to gain full control over all of our economic policies — budgetary, fiscal, commercial, monetary and tariffs.
To speak of independence is also to demand full powers over our political decisions, the political institutions that we want to establish in order to promote the most inclusive and participatory democracy. It is to have full power over our international policy and the principles underlying it.
To speak of independence is also to have full autonomy to legislate concerning the French language without fear of being overruled by the Supreme Court of Canada. It is to have authority over the cultural policies we wish to develop, using essential means of communication to expand access to cultural property and uphold a culture that reflects the desire for a social transformation informed by principles of justice and solidarity.
Independence, thus conceived, implies its reappropriation by the popular left and social movements. It is the opposite of the PQ’s sovereignty-association, which upholds free trade.
The fight for national liberation and the strategy of pan-Canadian alliance against the federal state
Today the national liberation struggle in Quebec poses the whole question of a societal transformation and accordingly relationships with the people of the Rest of Canada. The Quebec people, and the trade-union and popular social forces can find a viable way out only by going beyond the confines of a struggle limited to Quebec, and by building strategic alliances with the First Nations and the working class in the Rest of Canada. The fight for national liberation of the people of Quebec can then be based concretely on social transformation in Quebec but also in the rest of Canada.
This alliance cannot be achieved unless the living forces in the Rest of Canada break with federalism and Canadian nationalism and support Quebec’s right to independence.
The fight for independence is not, therefore, a struggle directed toward the Quebec state alone or confined to Quebec territory, as if it were simply resisting a foreign invasion. It is part of a struggle against the central federal state and, from an objective standpoint, this raises the problem of power at the level of the Canadian state as a whole.
In this regard, it is necessary to consider the challenges facing the working class in the Rest of Canada, but also in Quebec. First and foremost, it is illusory and contrary to the lessons of history to think that we can develop a struggle simultaneously and with the same tempo in both Quebec and the Rest of Canada. The Marxist-Leninist organizations were shattered on this issue in the early 1980s when they denied the specificity of Quebec while promoting the unity of the Canadian working class.
Quebec’s struggle for national liberation is in the first place the expression of a rejection of foreign intervention, including by the Canadian bourgeoisie and its institutions. In this sense, the political vision of a social transformation is not the same in Quebec, and does not proceed along the same roads as those taken by the social and progressive movements in the Rest of Canada.
Furthermore, what is most lacking is not so much the lack of openness of the people or social forces in Quebec toward the Rest of Canada but rather the Canadian nationalist sentiment and chauvinism so often expressed toward Quebec by the political, working-class and popular organizations. This is a decisive obstacle that leads them to ally with their own establishment, which promotes the same feelings against Quebec.
This lack of understanding must be overcome if we are to form fighting social alliances. I have been active all my life in the Canadian trade-union movement, and it is not the need to work together that is lacking, but the lack of understanding, if not the denial, of the distinct reality of Quebec. The Canadian Labour Congress (CLC), the largest Canadian union organization, begins its congresses, even in Montréal, by the singing of the Canadian national anthem. All the speeches are in English and the Francophones, if they want to be understood, have to speak in English. There is an interpretation service but only the Francophones use it; the Anglophones do not, with a few exceptions. And this is only one example among so many others.
Dynamic of struggles
However, Canadian workers envy our capacity for mobilization and the fact that we have managed to build Québec solidaire, a left-wing political alternative of considerable size. But that is precisely because the social and distinct reality of Quebec allows that possibility — as it allowed the spread of the student struggle in 2012 in the biggest mass social movement ever seen in Quebec. A situation that is hard to imagine in the Rest of Canada.
In fact, there are a number of important powers allocated to all the provinces, and not just Quebec, such as education and the administration of health care. But there is no specifically Canadian struggle (exclusive of Quebec), although Quebec social struggles are often uniquely Québécois in their articulation. The major areas of struggle are provincial. At best, we can talk of binational or pan-Canadian struggles, as in the case of the postal workers. The workers and popular movement in the Rest of Canada is fragmented and limited regionally in terms of its perspectives and mobilization.
The only solution is to be found in a perspective of alliance with the living forces of Quebec. But to get there it must comprehend Quebec’s distinct dynamic and support its right to independence. As long as it is continues to support the federal system it will be confined to supporting the institution that serves the big bourgeoisie, to its own detriment. A defeat of the fight for independence of the people of Quebec would also be a defeat for the workers movement in the Rest of Canada.
The political implications of a victory in this struggle are huge. Independence can only be achieved through a broad mobilization for popular control of our institutions and our resources. This struggle can only be led to its conclusion and to victory on the basis of the fight for a new egalitarian society.
Imagine the impact of such a social struggle — a thousand times more intense than the student spring — on the population in the Rest of Canada. But imagine also the reaction of the Canadian establishment, the banks and rating agencies. They are well aware that the struggle of the people of Quebec for their independence is a real danger to their privileges and the institution that maintains them, the Canadian state. From this perspective, the struggle for Quebec independence, for a social transformation, can only encompass the peoples and nations in the Rest of Canada by fueling and inspiring their own dynamics of struggles for social change.
Note: This article includes some passages taken from Révolution permanente, a 1978 publication of the Ligue ouvrière révolutionnaire [Revolutionary Workers League]. It also incorporates some recent contributions by Bernard Rioux.
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