Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Exploring the Indigenous background to Bolivia’s ‘Process of change’

The Five Hundred Year Rebellion: Indigenous Movements and the Decolonization of History in Bolivia, by Benjamin Dangl, AK Press 2019

Two historic currents of thinking have informed the program that Bolivia’s government, led by the Movement Toward Socialism (MAS), has been attempting to pursue — with some notable successes and a few equally notable failures — since 2006.

One is a revolutionary tradition of anticapitalist struggle led by Marxists based in the miners’ union and the labour movement, which entered a sharp decline following the country’s turn to neoliberal privatization and austerity in the mid-1980s.

The other is a revived and re-imagined vision of indigenous societies offering an alternative, inherently non-capitalist perspective of communal existence in harmony with nature, which survived the 300 years of Spanish colonization and 200 years of creole “republican” domination, and in recent decades played a prominent role in the mass movements and uprisings that resulted in the MAS electoral victory of 2005.[1]

This new book by Benjamin Dangl, moderator of the now-defunct Latin America-focused website Upside Down World, analyzes the latter movement and its rediscovery and interpretation among Indigenous intellectuals in the wake of Bolivia’s National Revolution of the mid-1950s. The book, writes Dangl,

“argues that the grassroots production and mobilization of indigenous people’s history by activists in Bolivia was a crucial element for empowering, orienting, and legitimizing indigenous movements from 1970s postrevolutionary Bolivia to the uprisings of the 2000s. For these activists, the past was an important tool used to motivate citizens to take action for social change, to develop new political projects and proposals, and to provide alternative models of governance, agricultural production, and social relationships. Their revival of historical events, personalities, and symbols in protests, manifestos, banners, oral histories, pamphlets, and street barricades helped set in motion a wave of indigenous movements and politics that is still rocking the country.

“The book focuses primarily on Aymara-based indigenous movements and groups in the Andean highlands of Bolivia, largely in and around the capital city of La Paz. Aymara activists, leaders, and intellectuals in this region are highlighted here because of their striking production and use of history in indigenous movements and political thought.”

The focus of the book, which is based on Dangl’s recent doctoral dissertation at McGill University and his extensive field work in Bolivia, is on the Kataristas, a movement that self-identified after the Indigenous leader Túpac Katari who led an armed insurrection against Spanish rule in 1781. Dangl traces the formation and development of Katarismo as a current of political thought developed in the late 1960s and 1970s by young Aymara intellectuals and union leaders who organized in opposition to the attempts by the nationalist and military regimes after 1952 to put an end to an emerging Indianista consciousness and movement through a land reform that essentially treated its subjects as peasants, not Indians, and subjected their largely self-sufficient communities increasingly to dependency on production for markets beyond their control.

Dangl documents how the ancient ayllu communal traditions of collective production and rotation of leadership were still being practiced in mid-century and beyond, coexisting uneasily and in increasing conflict with the state-run rural union structures imposed by governments bent on replacing their indigenous governing structures. He shows how, in opposition to the nationalist narrative of Bolivia’s post-independence history, the Katarista current sought to decolonize indigenous history, reinventing indigeneity not as stigma but as a subject of emancipation, a political project. “Kataristas,” says Dangl,

“maintained that colonialism had never ended and that the National Revolution and the military regimes that followed it constituted not liberation from empire and colonialism but rather a new form of neocolonial domination. They worked to build a campesino union that was independent from the state and directly empowered the rural, indigenous sector rather than the Nationalist Revolutionary Movement (MNR) and military governments of the 1960s and 1970s. A lasting result of such Katarista efforts was the 1979 founding of the Unified Syndical Confederation of Rural Workers of Bolivia (CSUTCB), a national independent union.”

Along the way, they found themselves allying with the Bolivian Workers’ Central (COB) and forming an “intersectional identity” as “both indigenous and working class.”

Dangl devotes an entire chapter to the Andean Oral History Workshop (THOA) and its role in recovering and distributing indigenous history “to indigenous and working-class Bolivians through unions, speeches, protests, manifestos, and monuments to Katari.” The THOA played a critical role in the 1997 formation of the CONAMAQ,[2] a national ayllu network.

“The indigenous historical production and discourses examined here,” says Dangl, “took on further importance at the start of the twenty-first century. Protesters resisting corporate globalization and state repression once again raised the symbol of Katari at the barricades, renewing the legacy of his eighteenth-century siege. Under Bolivia’s first indigenous president [Evo Morales], indigenous histories, symbols, and consciousness gained more prominence through the rewriting of the country’s constitution, rescuing the model of the ayllu and indigenous justice, championing a state-led process of decolonization, and elevating the works of prominent indigenous historians and thinkers. The seeds of these twenty-first-century political uses of the past can be traced to the twentieth-century postrevolutionary movements and organizations discussed here. As contemporary Bolivian politics and movements demonstrate, the struggle to wield people’s histories as tools for indigenous liberation is far from over.”

The THOA and Kataristas were also in part reacting against a primitive but ossified Marxism that had been prominent in the Bolivian workers’ movement for many years. For example, an influential manifesto adopted by the miners’ union in 1946, the “Pulacayo Thesis“ of the FSTMB,[3] argued that it was the proletariat, “the revolutionary class par excellence,” that would organize the peasantry, which it lumped together with petty-bourgeois sectors of the population. Although it proclaimed that the workers should “work together with the indigenous communities,” the Thesis offered no analysis of those communities or the peasantry, the overwhelming majority of the population, or of what this task might entail.[4]

However, it seems to me, from a reading of Dangl’s text, that the movement he describes in detail may have done much to counter and overcome the historic disconnect between the two intellectual currents, Marxism and indigenous thought, so often identified in Bolivian studies.[5] This is nowhere more evident than in the Political Thesis of the CSUTCB adopted by the 4,000 delegates to its Second National Congress following a lengthy process of debate and amendment. “Katarista thought,” says Dangl, is “distilled in this document.”

“Two elements of the thesis stand out for their allegiance to the Katarista current in the CSUTCB: the first is the use of a preconquest civilization as a source of orientation and legitimacy, and the second is drawing on an indigenous, as opposed to strictly working class-oriented, historical analysis of the centuries of indigenous oppression and resistance in order to highlight injustice and embolden the CSUTCB’s struggle.”

The thesis is included as an appendix to the seminal book by THOA cofounder and sociologist Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui, Oppressed But Not Defeated: Peasant struggles among the Aymara and Qhechwa in Bolivia, 1900-1980. This English translation, now out of print, was published in 1987 by the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development. I have scanned the text and publish it here to make it available in digital format. I have standardized the spelling of Túpac Katari’s name, variously spelled as Túpac and Túpak in the UN translation, and retained the spelling of Qhechwa (usually rendered now as Quechua). In addition, I have corrected some obvious typos and one mistranslation, indicated in a footnote.

Richard Fidler

* * *




To all peasant comrades of the nine departments.

To all the brothers of the original nations and cultures of our country.

To all the comrade workers.

The members of the Executive Committee of the CSUTCB have enormous satisfaction and legitimate pride in publishing the trade union and political ideas of the peasants, approved at the II NATIONAL CONGRESS in La Paz, June 1983. Approxi­mately 4,000 delegates, men and women from all departmental and special federations and from provincial unions and grass root representatives discussed this document in Committees and plenary meetings in the course of one week. This document is therefore the product of the concern, work and discussion of peasant workers. It is not the result of the sort of ministerial interference which occurred during the years of movimientista manipulation under the Military-Peasant Pact. Nor is it the copy of any doctrine.

This effort is intended to generate our own thinking. For almost five centuries during the colonial and the republican period our enemies wanted us to think what they wanted us to think, to talk only about what they were interested in, to live imitating them and to accept oppression, exploitation, racism, contempt for our culture and displacement.

This manifesto is our response to that history of subjection. It rejects all forms of subjugation and is an attempt to build a new society which is free, just, without hunger, where we can live like human beings. The central ideas of our policy are rooted in the age-old struggle of our people. Let us recall for example the great Aymara, Qhechwa, Guarani and other uprisings more than two hundred years ago headed by Julián Apasa (Túpac Katari) and his wife, Bartolina Sisa, Gregoria Apasa, Julian’s sister, José Gabriel Condorcanqui (Túpac Amaru) and his wife Miacaela Bastidas, by the caciques Tomás Katari, by Apiawayki Tumpa, by Pedro Ignacio Muyba, by Pablo Willka Zárate, by Desiderio and Pedro Delgadillo and by so many other leaders of the continuous struggle of our people.

Such attitudes, organization and thinking provide one of the most fertile sources from which to revive our own history, while renouncing the distorted official history our children are taught at school. We also learned these lies and often we were ignorant of our own history.

We are aware that a people which forgets its own history can never be free. History is thus the beginning of what we are today.

The other source of inspiration for our own history is the building of the new union movement, whose history is more recent. Starting more or less at the time we first rejected the single peasant tax imposed under the Military-Peasant Pact, it developed over twenty years of resistance to military dictatorship, up to the recent struggles to regain our trade union and political liberties.

The first document to summarize the central ideas in our thinking was the Political manifesto of the VII National Congress of the National Confederation of Peasant Workers of Bolivia, Túpac Katari. It was called “Túpac Katari” to distinguish it from the government sponsored confederation. This Congress took place in La Paz in March 1978.

Later, at the I Congress of Peasant Unity, in June 1979 in La Paz, called by the Central Obrera Boliviana, this document was approved and ratified fully. Finally this document constituted the main subject for discussion at the II National Congress in June 1983. Revised, extended and developed, we now have a document setting out our union and political manifesto, the result of many years of struggle, sacrifice and dedication.

We, the current leaders, refuse to accept and will never accept class reductionist ideas which transform us to the status of mere “peasants.” Nor do we accept ethnic reductionism which transforms our struggle into a confrontation between “Indians” and “whites.” We are the heirs of great civilizations. We are also heirs to a permanent struggle against all forms of exploitation and pressure. We want to be free in a society where exploitation and organized oppression do not exist, in a state which, recognizing all national groups, develops our different cultures and authentic forms of self government.


Ch’upiyap marka (La Paz, October 1983)



We the Aymara, Qhechwa, Camba, Chapaco, Chiquitano, Canichana, Itenama, Cayubaba, Ayoreode, Tupiwarani and other peasants are the legitimate owners of this land. Though we are the seed from which Bolivia was born, we are, even today, treated as exiles in our own land.

The peasants of Bolivia are the legitimate heirs of the great prehispanic societies, which built the Andean civilization and the civilizations of the tropical plains. Our history is not merely a matter of the past: it is also the present and the future, involving a permanent struggle to affirm our own his­torical identity, the development of our culture, to become the subjects not the objects of history, with our own personality.

In spite of having different languages, systems of organization, views of the world and historical traditions, the different peoples who inhabit this land are linked together in a permanent struggle. In the first place, we have all suffered the effects of colonial domination, imposed by the Spaniards and by the republican ruling classes who have always subjected us to discrimination and have transformed us into second class citizens. This also applies to many workers in the countryside and in the cities who through mestizaje (intermarriage), the imposition of the Spanish language and acculturation have lost their own cultural roots and who are also victims of the ruling colonial mentality. Because we are all oppressed, we share a common cause — the struggle for liberation.

In practice we are united because we share the same conditions in our lives and work. Nevertheless, because we own our own plots of land, some define us as “petty bourgeois,” thereby establishing class differences between us. They divide us into landowners and landless, peasants and labourers. Others define us as a class in the process of extinction, serving only to increase the ranks of the proletariat. We disagree with these opinions because an analysis of the social and economic structure of our country shows that dependent capitalism with colonial characteristics is the dominant mode of production of which peasants are an indispensable component. Whether as producers of foodstuffs and cheap commodities or as labour power we have sweated to feed the growing mines and cities and enriched the exploitative minority.

Therefore we the peasants do not consider ourselves marginal or a decadent class doomed to disappear. We are still the majority of the population. Nor are we a petty bourgeoisie just because we own plots of land. Land for us is mainly a condition of production and an inheritance from our forbears rather than a means of production. Therefore we do not believe that the socioeconomic differences between us constitute barriers to our unity. These differences are secondary if we compare them to the contradictions posed by the capitalist system, which nourishes itself on our work and our wealth. Whether as labourers in agro-industrial enterprises or as small agricultural producers in cattle raising, fishing or forestry, we share the same suffering and discrimination. We share a common cause of liberation because we are rural workers.


Prior to the arrival of the Spaniards we had a strong community tradition. Hunger, theft and dishonesty were unknown. In the Andean region our ayllus, markas, suyus were the basis of a great civilization in which autonomy and the diversity of our forms of work were respected. Different peoples shared the vast eastern plains, living in freedom and respecting each other. They worked as gold and silversmiths, creating music, developing elaborate hunting, fishing and gathering methods, always respectful of the environment.

This autonomous development was interrupted violently by the Spanish invasion in 1492. Since then we have been reduced to the condition of a colonized people referred to generically as “Indians.” We have been stripped of sovereignty over our territories. Even our dignity as human beings has been denied. The expansion of Spanish mercantile capitalism through theft, encomiendas, mercedes, tributo, reducciones, misiones, serfdom, mit’a and other forms of exploitation and undermining our culture has fragmented our society. Alien systems such as private property and the exploitation of the majority by the minority have been imposed on us. Colonial domination introduced a long period of systematic exclusion of our people from the structures of political and economic power and destroyed all forms of self-determination. We have been forced to bury our own social practices and forms of life in cultural clandestinity.

Our people have not been passive. Our history is one of permanent and tenacious struggle against those who have tried to dominate us. Since conquistadors set foot on our soil, all our peoples — Aymaras, Qhechwas, Tupiwaranies, Ayoreodes, etc. — have risen against injustice in pursuit of liberation.

The great freedom movements of 1780-81 shook the foundations of colonial domination and showed that colonial power was not invincible. Therefore we consider the true liberators from colonial domination to have been Tomás, Dámasco and Nicolas Katari in the Potosí region, Túpac Amaru and Micaela Bastidas in the Cuzco region, Andrés Túpac Amaru and Gregoria Apasa in the valleys north of La Paz and Túpac Katari and Bartolina Sisa in the Altiplano. The seeds of liberation sown by the katarist struggles descended from the Apolobamba Mountains and extended towards the eastern plains. In 1804, an Indian from the plains called Pedro Ignacio Muiba, together with the cacique of San Pedro, Manuel Maraza, disregarding the authority of the Spanish Governor, freed all slaves of the carayana adventurers who had taken over land and deprived its true natural owners of their freedom.

The emergence of the republic was of no benefit to us. The Olañetas, Murillos, Caceres and other criollo heroes changed from the side of the Spanish monarchy to the criollo side, wresting from us the anticolonial struggle, to inherit the privileges previously enjoyed by the Spaniards. This is why, since the foundation of the republic, the criollos were an ineffective substitute for the colonial power and were only able to construct a caricature of a republic. They retained the colonial structures and the same relations of exploitation and oppression. Our taxes have continued to sustain the economy of the new republic. Criollo latifundistas continued to expropriate our lands, subjecting us to pongeaje. The extermination of native people was intensified in the eastern plains with the exploitation of quinine (Peruvian bark) and rubber, devastating the rich lands of Moxos, depriving the area of its rich natural and human resources. Ultimately this culminated in the breaking-up of the country’s territory.

Discrimination and racial oppression were strengthened by the introduction of the restricted vote and numerous prohibitions. Peasants were not allowed to walk freely through the streets and plazas of the cities. We could not vote or be elected. In the plains we did not even have the right to a life of our own because we lived under conditions of slavery. Using every possible means from massacre to a systematic denial of our identity and our cultural values, the oligarchy tried to eliminate us.

But ours is not only a history of humiliation: it is also one of struggle to change this unfair criollo society inherited from colonial times. Many uprisings, including those led by Zárate Willka, Apiyawaiki Tumpa, Santos Marka T’ula, the communities of Jesús de Machaka, Caquiaviri, Chayanta, are evidence of this. They were repressed brutally by the oligarchy. After treating us as second class people, they attempted to force us to become citizens so that we should offer our lives in the front line trenches in the Chaco war. They used us as cannon fodder to defend the republican pro-imperialist oligarchy. They vented their fury against our Guarani brothers for whom frontiers had no meaning.

Nevertheless, the blood spilled in the Chaco was not in vain: it nurtured the awakening of a new conscience among the peasantry.

In 1936 our brothers in the Cochabamba valleys organized the first rural unions against the latifundistas who had usurped the land. In the Altiplano, the struggle for the right to education and to end pongeaje led to the organization of a series of massive Indian congresses held in 1942, 1943 and 1945. New organizational methods such as strikes on the latifundios were grafted on to our old traditions of struggle. After Villarroel fell from power, the oligarchy reacted against these achievements by ignoring rural unions and violently repressing them. Again in 1947 we had no choice but to rebel. Our struggles were no longer isolated. Our brothers, the miners, were becoming organized and also struggling against the exploitative rosca.

Popular mobilization culminated in the 1952 uprising and the introduction of some progressive laws such as agrarian reform, nationalization of the mines and universal suffrage. But the ruling class appropriated the revolution and betrayed its aims, swindling the people of the expected gains.

The agrarian reform of 1953, which has been used as a political banner by those parties who claim to be the country’s saviour, was undermined by the individualistic nature of the model. Land was divided into parcelas and unproductive forms of smallholding were encouraged. The so-called agrarian reform was the culmination of an extended process of fragmentation of our community-based organization. We can also see the strengthening of a new, large landowning class in agro-industry and cattle-raising in the east of Bolivia, which mercilessly exploits the many sugar-cane workers, cotton pickers, farm labourers, etc. These large landowners receive all kinds of state benefits. The agrarian reform has never reached many regions. The latifundistas have continued to exploit Siriono, Ayoreode, Chiquitano, Guarani labourers using colonial systems and methods.

Although universal suffrage allowed us greater political participation, it was impaired by the desire to manipulate us like a submissive electoral mass. Peasant unionism was transformed by the political groups in power into an instrument of manipulation. They wanted to transform us from pongos in the field of production to political pongos.

This official and manipulative unionism was strengthened from the Barrientos period onwards with the Military-Peasant Pact. They went to the extreme of supplanting our trade union organizations by corrupt paid leaders who used our name unscrupulously to proclaim the assassins of the people as leaders of the peasantry.

The Military-Peasant Pact has only brought suffering and massacres for the genuine peasants such as those of Tolata, Epizana and Melga. It has meant anti-peasant policies such as the single agricultural tax, successive devaluations, military coups, persecution, imprisonment, confinement and the death of some of our leaders.

Since the 1960s we have struggled against the manipulation of our trade unions and against anti-peasant policies in the search for a new trade unionism based on our genuine grass-root organizations. This new peasant awakening can be found in the struggle against the single agricultural tax, the emergence of the Bloque Independiente Campesino and the independent organization of the colonizers affiliated to the Central Obrera Boliviana.[1] During the governments of Ovando and Torres new tendencies emerged within and outside the CNTCB and the leadership of this organization was temporarily wrested from the manipulations of the Military-Peasant Pact at the VIth National Congress which took place on the 2 August 1971. At this Congress our leaders once again took up the path established by Túpac Katari, Zárate Willka, Santos Marka T’ula and others. However, the coup which installed Banzer in power once more halted the independent development of the rural union movement and our organizations were left without leaders. The legitimate leaders were replaced by paid coordinators and by enemies of the peasants such as Oscar Céspedes, Clemente Alarcón, Pascual Gamón, Pedro Surco, Dionisio Osco, Leoncio Torrico, Vidal Jiménez, Willy Román, Miguel Trigo, Simón Peñaranda and other drug dealers. During the seven years of Banzer’s rule the anti-peasant policies were applied with ever greater force.

However, throughout those years our underground resistance continued and the dictatorship’s anti-popular measures, such as the 1972 devaluation and the January 1974 price increases, were opposed. Twenty thousand brothers in Cochabamba protested, using a new method of struggle — blocking the roads. The army repressed them violently in the massacres at Tolata, Epizana and Melga, thereby unmasking the true aims of the Military-Peasant Pact. The blood of those compañeros who fell in Tolata has permanently marked our enemies and also made our road to liberation more fertile. This is how, in the midst of a repressive period, we peasants have been able to build up our organization. Our leaders, elected in Potosí in 1971, regained the leadership of our main union organization at a mass rally held in Ayo-Ayo on 15 November 1977 by rejecting the coordinators and caciques paid by the fascist regime. Since then all attempts to revive the Military-Peasant Pact have been a resounding failure in the face of the new, unified, militant unionism.

We peasants were involved actively in the recovery of democratic freedoms by participating in the national hunger strike in December 1977 together with women in the mining communities and all the Bolivian people. The whole process of reorganization from the base, which we undertook in order to end government control, was given added impulse in March 1978 by the VIIth Congress of the National Confederation of Peasant Workers Túpac Katari in the presence of leaders of the FSTMB and the COB.

In the course of the struggle we came to see that our trade union movement was part of the wider struggle of all the oppressed in Bolivia. We realized that we are linked through class solidarity with our brothers in the mining, manufacturing and construction sectors and that we also share common historical, cultural roots and the struggle against common enemies. This is why we undertook the task of strengthening our relations with the main workers’ organization of Bolivia. This culminated in the First Congress of Peasant Unity which took place on 26 June 1979.

The Confederación Sindical Unica de Trabajadores Campesinos de Bolivia, affiliated to the Central Obrera de Bolivia, was established at this event. The CSUTCB’s work respects the diversity of traditions of struggle and of organizational forms, thus representing all the oppressed in the rural areas. This process is continuously being strengthened by incorporating into the main organization the sugar-cane cutters, the rubber tappers, the brazil-nuts gatherers and cotton pickers. Likewise, links have been established with organizations in the villages in the east, northeast and south of the country.

The representativity at national level of the CSUTCB was fully confirmed by the massive mobilization of people opposing the Natusch Busch coup and the devaluation imposed by Lidia Gueiler’s government in November-December 1979. Road blocks were set up throughout the country, bringing transport to a total standstill and preventing the distribution of foodstuffs. The 1979 blockades showed us once again that racist prejudice against peasants continues as they struggle in support of their legitimate claims. Prejudice is still so strong that even the leadership of the COB was unable to understand fully the origins of our struggle. However, this experience, together with the process of union reorganization we undertook when democracy began to reestablish itself in the period 1978-80, showed us that we are united in struggle with the workers of this country, while maintaining our own character and our specific claims.

The progress of our struggle drew the attention of drug-dealing fascist opposition who took power on the 17 July 1980. On this occasion, the CSUTCB was present alongside the COB and the Comité Nacional de Defensa de la Democracia (CONADE). Our Executive Committee issued instructions to block roads and our leaders went to the provinces to continue organizing the resistance in clandestinity. But this time the fascist onslaught was worse than ever before. Mining centres and villages were invaded and bombed, in spite of fierce resistance by miners and peasants. The main leaders of the COB were assassinated, imprisoned and deported. This prevented the possibility of continuing to call an effective general, indefinite strike and the blockade of roads. The UDP, and those parties which call themselves the “vanguard” of the Bolivian people, were unable to lead the resistance and it was finally broken. In these difficult circumstances, the Executive Secretary of the CSUTCB took over the leadership of the clandestine COB. The outstanding role in the resistance played by the peasant movement and the leadership of compañero Genaro Flores in the task of reorganization undertaken by the COB caused the paramilitary groups of fascist drug dealers to [attempt to][2] murder him.

A number of peasant leaders such as Florencio Gabriel in the north of Potosí, Macedonio Layme in Achacachi and many other compañeros were among the union and political leaders who were killed in the resistance. However, to the extent that CSUTCB was rooted in each community and each rural union in every region, the policy of eliminating the leaders, intimidation and terror did not achieve its aims. Thus our struggle has made a decisive contribution to reestablishing democracy. Before the military government declared an amnesty in 1982 our organization was already back in full action from the time when compañero Genaro Flores returned from exile. He declared publicly:

“I have returned to continue the struggle of our people and to continue in the footsteps of Túpac Katari.”

Thus we were able to wrest from the military dictatorships the recognition of our organizational and political rights, fully confirmed at the Vth National Congress of our organization which took place in La Paz between the 5 and 8 of July 1982.

The reestablishment of democracy has thus been the fruit of our joint struggle with all Bolivian workers. Since the 10 October 1982 we have achieved the recognition of our trade union and political freedoms. So far, however, this so-called representative democracy does not represent the interests of the national majorities. The parties comprising the UDP have made repeated attempts to establish a parallel government sponsored union by imposing political pongueaje and the old clientele system of the MNR. These aim to divide the peasant movement and to weaken our union and political independence, transforming us into a submissive and docile instrument of government policy. Moreover, the demagogic promises made by the government to improve our living conditions and to meet our claims have never been fulfilled. This is why we had no choice but to resort to blocking the roads again in April 1983.

For all these reasons our struggle will continue until we gain our real freedom, defending our principles of union and political independence and strengthening our unity around the CSUTCB and the COB.


Our five centuries of struggle against different forms of oppression and exploitation have provided us with valuable experience and lessons for the future. In the first place, our oppressors have attempted systematically to strip us of our historical identity by a variety of methods. They tried to make us forget our true origins and reduce us to mere peasants with no personality, history or identity. However, our entire history has demonstrated that we know how to resist such attempts. In this struggle for liberation we have held on to our character as Aymara, Qhechwa, Camba Chapaco, Tupiwarani, etc. and we have learned that we can achieve liberation without losing our cultural and national identity, without being ashamed of what we are; we will recover our lost dignity.

Second, we have seen new forms of capitalist exploitation added to the colonial system. Our history has taught us to identify and differentiate these two forms of exploitation and oppression. Workers, peasants and other sectors identify in our struggle against colonial oppression because we share common cultural roots and because we share the common aim of eradicating forever all forms of racial discrimination and of exile from our own land. Along with our brothers the workers we struggle against capitalist exploitation, seeking a society in which there are neither exploited nor exploiters. We reject the reduction of the whole of our history to one single factor, either a class struggle or an ethnic struggle. It is in the practice of both these dimensions that we recognize our unity with the workers and also our own, distinct personality.

Third, our history shows us that we have been able to adapt and renew our methods of struggle without losing continuity with our historical roots. For example, we have adopted a trade union form of organization without forgetting our mallkus, kurakas and our own forms of organization. We do not need outsiders as leaders. We have our own, such as the brothers Nicolás and Dámaso Katari, Túpac Katari, Pablo Zárate Willka, Apiyawaiki Tumpa, Bartolina Sisa, Túpac Amaru, Miacaela Bastidas, Santos Marka T’ula, Florencio Gabriel, Pedro Rivera, Facundo Olmos, Macedonio Layme, Pedro and Desirio Delgadillo and all the militants who fought and gave their lives for our liberation.

Fourth, our history teaches us that our peoples were capable of organizing a society where hunger and exploitation were unknown, where rulers did not gain power in order to steal or to take advantage of their position. These great civilizations developed knowledge and increased their productivity in farming, cattle rearing, in engineering works, jewelry making, textiles and the metal industry. All the knowledge built up over the centuries was ignored and destroyed after the Spanish conquest and today we are reduced to living in conditions of hunger, scarcity and exploitation. For this reason, it is necessary to retrieve and update this scientific knowledge and combine it with modern technological improvements in order to build a society in which productivity is high and hunger or exploitation do not exist.

Fifth, our history has taught us who are our enemies. A minority has grasped the leadership and organization of our country. During the colonial period it was a Spanish oligarchy of encomenderos, priests, land and mine owners. During the republic it was the criollo oligarchy of landowners, mine-owners, merchants, industrialists, bankers and military men. During the last few years this oligarchy has put on a disguise, using populist and pseudo-leftist language in order to assume the representation of the majority and retain their own privileges. The capitalist exploiters and the new rich who live off our labour are visible enemies. But we also have hidden enemies who are the product of the capitalist colonial system we live in, and who, chamaleon-like, change their colour. Finally, there is an enemy we do not see — the state. It channels neo-colonial and imperialist interests through a multiplicity of mechanisms of domination. At times they are repressive and violent, at others they have more subtle methods of control. In either case, the whole power structure has to be changed, not only the governments that rule it.

We must therefore stop being manipulated by the ruling caste that talks, thinks and acts on our behalf and which controls the government as well as the state. The time has come for us to determine our own path to liberation, to refuse to be a ladder which serves the political ambitions of the current rosca ruler or of the roscawawas.

Finally, our history tells us that we are able to develop a unified struggle of all the rural oppressed, without losing respect for the diversity of our languages, cultures, historical traditions and forms of organization and work. We must end the false process of cultural integration which makes our cultures homogeneous and which attempts to depersonalize us by imposing the Spanish language on us, and we must put a stop to acculturation and alienation. The CSUTCB should become an increasingly genuine and unified expression of this. This also has implications at a political level. Our struggle must aim to express this diversity in all aspects of national life. We do not want patchy or partial reforms. We want lasting liberation and a multinational and multicultural society. While maintaining the unity of a single state, the state should combine and develop the diversity of all the nations of which it is comprised: Aymara, Qhechwa, Tupiwarani, Ayoreode and others. There cannot be true liberation if the multinational diversity of our country and the variety of forms of self-government of our people are not respected.


Trade unionism is a form of organization adopted from the experience of our brothers the factory workers. It has become so rooted among us that it channels everything we rural workers hold important in the struggle to defend our social economic, cultural and political interests. Prior to the emergence and adoption of trade unionism, our action was and, in some areas, still is guided by our traditional organizations such as the ayllus, cabildos, etc. In our view such traditional organizations do not conflict with trade unionism, rather they are complementary.

Rural unionism is different in nature from urban workers’ trade unions. The rural union takes up our grievances and is also a genuine communal form of government. On the whole it is not a means of challenging the employers. It can be used to organize our productive and social lives and to confront the invisible master — the state — and the capitalist system that oppresses us. These characteristics typify our organization and distinguish it from the experience of the factory workers’ unions.

The first rural unions emerged following the Chaco war. They were organized in 1936 by the ex-combatant Qhechwa farm workers. The organization of the unions was not the work of any leader or any party: it was the result of our own efforts. The unions then decided to struggle for the abolition of pongueaje and the haciendas, for the right to education, reflecting demands that had already been made in many areas by the mallkus, kurakas and traditional authorities. A partial victory was obtained with the agrarian reform of 1953 which was manipulated by the Movimientista intellectuals who allocated the best land to the owning class and their relatives and reduced us to smallholders.[3] Nevertheless, we gained valuable experience from this first stage of the trade union struggle (1936-1952) because we created a grass-root movement led by disinterested leaders who were prepared to put their lives at risk in the struggle.

However, this trade union democracy was undermined when the MNR came to power. The MNR began to organize the rural unions from the top down in order to ensure they served each government, as a ladder to the benefit of each leader or group. Such manipulation continued throughout the MNR government of 1952-1964 and, during the period of military governments, civilian manipulation was replaced by military manipulation through the Military-Peasant Pact, 1964-1978.

Such experiences have taught us to reject those forms of trade union which depend on the government. We reject apolitical and “yellow” trade unionism because that only seeks gifts and handouts from the powerful and because it encourages divisions and the growth of patronage.

Since the awakening of the peasantry we have struggled to achieve and have been building in practice a new form of trade unionism. We claim that trade unionism should be:

ONE: In spite of our differences of language, culture, forms of work and traditions of organization, all the oppressed of the rural areas should build a single organization with a single leadership.

DEMOCRATIC: Because that expresses our tradition of community democracy and because it is the expression of the grass roots, where leaders are appointed by the peasants themselves and not imposed from above.

INDEPENDENT: Because we reject any type of tutelage or interference by individuals, groups or parties from outside our organization and because, politically, we are guided only by our own political beliefs.

IN SOLIDARITY: Because our cause is the cause of other workers, not only in this country but beyond our frontiers too. But, above all, because we have won our own place in the Central Obrera Boliviana, the main workers’ organization in the country.

REVOLUTIONARY: Because we struggle for the peasants, miners, factory workers and other oppressed workers for our liberation from all kinds of capitalist exploitation and colonial oppression, for a more just society without exploiters or exploited. Because we are struggling for genuine and consistent leadership which guarantees that the struggle of working people will continue until final victory is won.

Freedom without loss of our historical and national identity!

Our liberation will be the result of our own efforts!

It will never be granted by generals, intellectuals or the new rich!

We are oppressed but not defeated!

Long live peasant unity!

Long live the unity of the Bolivian workers!

Glory to Túpac Katari!

La Paz, June 1983

Second National Congress of the CSUTCB

[1] Colonizers. This refers to the landless or near landless who have settled on newly opened up areas in the tropical eastern regions of Bolivia. [Note by UN translator]

[2] Correction of mistranslation of “atentaran contra su vida.” In fact, as Dangl’s book says, Flores was paralyzed in the attack, but not killed. [RF]

[3] Movimientista intellectuals refers to certain members of the Movimiento Nacionalista Revolucionario. [Translator’s note.]

[1] La Migraña, No. 20, http://www.vicepresidencia.gob.bo/IMG/pdf/migrana-20.pdf.

[2] Consejo Nacional de Ayllus y Markas de Qullasuyu – National Council of Ayllus and Markas of Qullasuyu.

[3] Federación Sindical de Trabajadores Mineros de Bolivia – Nation-wide Mine Workers Federation, founded in 1944.

[4] For a detailed account of the origins of the Pulacayo Thesis, and of the Trotskyist organization that spawned it, see S. Sándor John, Bolivia’s Radical Tradition: Permanent Revolution in the Andes (University of Arizona Press, 2009).

[5] See, for example, Álvaro García Linera, “Indianism and Marxism: The Disparity between Two Revolutionary Rationales,” in Plebeian Power: Collective Action and Indigenous, Working-Class, and Popular Identities in Bolivia (Haymarket, 2014).

Sunday, May 19, 2019

The TIPNIS case: International tribunal faults Bolivia, calls for reparations

Leading environmentalists find government violated Rights of Nature and Indigenous peoples as defenders of Mother Earth

[The following news release was issued May 15 by the International Rights of Nature Tribunal, a body created in 2013 pursuant to a recommendation of the first World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth, held in April 2010 in Tiquipaya, Cochabamba, Bolivia. That conference was sponsored by the Bolivian government headed by President Evo Morales.]

On May 15, the International Rights of Nature Tribunal (hereinafter the Tribunal) released on its website its ruling regarding alleged violations of the Rights of Nature in the case of the Isiboro Sécure Indigenous Territory and National Park (TIPNIS) in Bolivia.

The TIPNIS case was presented by representatives of Subcentral TIPNIS and the TIPNIS women’s organization before the Tribunal during its session in Bonn, Germany, on November 7 and 8 of 2017. The Tribunal agreed to try the case in January 2018 and decided to send an International Observer Commission to Bolivia to determine the facts and meet with all parties involved. Following a visit to Bolivia, the Commission — comprising Alberto Acosta (Ecuador), Shannon Biggs (USA), Enrique Viale (Argentina) and Hana Begovic (Sweden) — presented its report in January 2019. That report is the basis of the Tribunal’s ruling, which concludes that, in the TIPNIS case, the Plurinational State of Bolivia has violated the Rights of Nature and of Indigenous peoples as defenders of Mother Earth and failed to comply with its obligation to respect, protect, and guarantee the Rights of Mother Earth as established under national legislation and relevant international regulations (p.82).

The French naturalist Alcides D’Orbigny (1802-1857) called the region now known as TIPNIS “the most beautiful jungle in the world.” This territory became the “Loma Santa” in the “Casa Grande” where the Mojeño Trinitarios, Yuracares, and Tsimanes Indigenous peoples sought refuge during the “rubber rush” in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The region was declared a national park in 1965, and in 1990, after the first indigenous March for Territory and Dignity, it assumed the double status of national park and Indigenous territory. On February 13, 2009, the Yuracaré, Tsimane, and Moxeño Trinitario peoples obtained the deed for 1,091,656 hectares, a small fraction of the initial request due to settlements by Andean migrants and the use of the valleys for coca leaf plantations in the area known as “Polygon 7” of TIPNIS.

In 2008, the government of Evo Morales hired the Brazilian company OAS to build a highway that would divide the protected area of TIPNIS without ever carrying out a comprehensive environmental impact assessment of the three sections into which the road fragmented the park.

In October 2011, the Eighth Indigenous March, after being repressed by police forces in the town of Chaparina, achieved the enactment of Law 180 for the protection of TIPNIS, Article 3 of which expressly prohibited the Villa Tunari-San Ignacio of Moxos road or any other road crossing TIPNIS.

Six years later, in 2017, Law 180 was repealed by Law 969, which is what led this case to be presented before the International Rights of Nature Tribunal.

The report by the International Observer Commission that visited Bolivia from August 15 to 23 of 2018, presented sufficient evidence that the highway will expand the deforestation already present in Polygon 7, lead to the expansion of coca leaf production, and affect biodiversity, causing the irreparable loss of natural beings. The report also presents evidence that there was no consultation for the free, prior, and informed consent in good faith of the Indigenous peoples of TIPNIS, and that the colonization processes in Polygon 7 is already having negative impacts on life of these people.

Based on all of this evidence, the International Rights of Nature Tribunal deems proven the allegation that the Plurinational State of Bolivia, and in particular the Government of Evo Morales Ayma, have violated the rights of Mother Earth in the TIPNIS case. Likewise, the Tribunal believes that the Bolivian State has violated the collective and individual rights of the nations and Indigenous peoples of TIPNIS.

The Tribunal’s sentence proposes several reparations to be made immediately, including:

  • An immediate and definitive end to any type of progress in the construction of road infrastructure in “Section II” from Isinuta to Monte Grande in the interior of TIPNIS.
  • The repeal of Law No. 969 and the subsequent preparation and enactment of a law guaranteeing the conservation and protection of TIPNIS.
  • The recognition of the territorial rights and autonomy of the area of the former Bosque de Chimanes forest concessions in favor of a Multiethnic Indigenous Territory (TIM, for its initials in Spanish), to guarantee the control and management of the northern zone of TIPNIS.
  • The adoption of effective measures to halt the advance of colonization toward the central area of TIPNIS.
  • The cancellation of plans for oil expansion in TIPNIS.
  • The identification and punishment of those responsible for human rights violations in Chaparina in 2011.
  • The recognition of the State’s responsibility in the lack of justice so far and a public apology by the president of the Plurinational State of Bolivia.
  • The implementation of the Mother Earth Ombudsman’s Office, which has yet to begin operating nine years after its establishment under Law No. 71.
  • The cessation of all pressure designed to discipline and control organizations that defend Mother Earth and the issuance of guarantees to fulfill this task, which is essential for the reproduction of life on Earth.

The International Rights of Nature Tribunal was created in 2013. Its sentences are based primarily on the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth adopted at the first World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth, which was held in April 2010 in Tiquipaya, Cochabamba, Bolivia. The Tribunal’s resolutions and sentences have an ethical character that is essential for building a true Earth community to prevent a sixth extinction of life on Earth. Without ethics, no government, institution, or person can recover the humanity that is needed now more than ever to prevent the collapse of the Earth’s vital cycles.

The Tribunal is made up of judges of recognized ethical and scientific authority regarding the Rights of Nature that have been appointed by defenders of Mother Earth from different parts of the world. In the particular case of this sentence and given that the Morales administration promotes the rights of Mother Earth internationally, it has requested that the sentence be reviewed and signed by other judges who have participated in different hearings by the International Rights of Nature Tribunal. The members of the Extended Tribunal listed as signatories are:

Tom Goldtooth (Dine’ and Dakota, USA), Cormac Cullinan (South Africa), Vandana Shiva (India), Osprey Orielle Lake (USA), Simona Fraudatario (Italy), Fernando “Pino” Solanas (Argentina), Ute Koczy (Germany), Yaku Pérez (Kichwa, Ecuador), Blanca Chancoso (Kichwa, Ecuador), Maristella Svampa (Argentina), Ruth Nyambura (Kenya), Nnimmo Bassey (Nigeria), Ashish Kothari (India), Enrique Leff (Mexico), Francesco Martone (Italy), Antoni Pigrau (Catalonia), Casey Camp Horinek (Ponca, USA), Antonio Elizalde (Chile), Horacio Machado Aráoz (Argentina), Rita Segato (Argentina), Valerie Cabanes (France), Arturo Escobar (Colombia), Rocío Silva Santiesteban (Peru), Patricia Gualinga (Kichwa Sarayaku), Atossa Soltani (USA, Iran), and Mario Melo (Ecuador).

* * *

Note: The full text of the tribunal’s judgment may be downloaded here in Spanish and English. The English translation is legible albeit apparently unrevised in a few places. For example, the last sentence in para. 48 should read that “57 of the 58 [communities consulted] indicated their rejection of intangibility,” if it is to correspond with the original Spanish text.

The tribunal’s judgment is, as it says, “ethical” and is not binding on the Bolivian government. For the government’s initial response to the 2011 TIPNIS protests, see Geopolitics of the Amazon, by Vice-President Álvaro Garcia Linera, published in English translation in several posts on this website and subsequently as a pamphlet in pdf format by Climate & Capitalism.

Monday, April 15, 2019

No shortcuts: The climate revolution must be ecosocialist

A red-green manifesto for the 21st century

Only a mass socialist, feminist, internationalist, pro-peasant, anti-racist, indigenous, and anti-colonial movement can save humanity

This declaration was drafted by Daniel Tanuro* and adopted by the national leadership of Belgium’s Gauche Anticapitaliste. My translation, below, was initially published by Ian Angus in his excellent ecosocialist journal Climate & Capitalism. – Richard Fidler

The mobilization against climate change continues to build, gaining new social layers beyond the initial circles of environmental activists and tending toward a systemic critique of capitalist productivism with its underlying competition for profit. Particularly significant is the fact that young people are joining the struggle. On March 15 more than a million people, a majority of them youth, went on strike for the climate around the world in response to the call by the Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg. The movement is very deep, although at present it is limited to the major countries of the Global North. It reshuffles cards, upsets agendas and puts all the actors — politicians, trade unions, associations, social movements — on notice to answer two fundamental questions:

  1. Why are you not doing everything possible to limit to the maximum the terrible catastrophe that is growing day by day, and to do so in compliance with democracy and social justice?
  2. How dare you leave such a mess to your children and grandchildren?

The sacred cow of capitalist growth

These two questions go unanswered because they touch on the sacred cow of capitalism: growth. “Capitalism without growth is a contradiction in terms,” said the economist Joseph Schumpeter. Today, this contradiction unfolds before our eyes as the fundamental cause of an insurmountable antagonism between capitalism and a respectful relationship of humanity with the rest of nature based on “caring” and not on looting.

If we insist on this point, it is not primarily for ideological reasons or because “degrowth” would in itself constitute a societal project, but because our capacity to limit catastrophic climate change now depends directly on the speed and determination with which society will decrease its consumption and material waste. It is urgently necessary to reduce these flows (especially CO2 flows), to escape productivism and to enter into a new mode of production of social existence underpinned by the values of sharing, cooperation, respect and equal rights. This is possible only by ending the production of exchange values for the profit of competitive capitalists through a new social engine: the production of use values to satisfy real human needs, unalienated by commodity fetishism and democratically determined in respect for the limits of ecosystems.

The radical nature of the transformation to be carried out is clear in the Special Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Global Warming of 1.5°C. In its summary, the IPCC concludes that global net CO2 emissions must be reduced by around 45% by 2030 in relation to 2010, and to this effect pleads for “profound transformations at all levels of society.”

Widely reported by the worldwide media, this conclusion nevertheless presents a somewhat toned-down portrait of the situation, which is extremely serious. The full report compares four possible “pathways” or scenarios for the reduction of emissions, graphically displayed as follows:

AFOLU: Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use. BECCS: Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage. CDR: Carbon Dioxide Removal

According to Scenario P1, to have one chance in two (which is not much) to remain below 1.5°C warming during this century, we should adhere to a three-stage trajectory:

  1. “net global emissions” of CO2 must decrease by 58% between 2020 and 2030;
  2. They must then continue to decrease, reaching zero by 2050; and
  3. Between 2050 and 2100 emissions must remain negative.

Scenarios 2, 3 and 4 show that the further we move away from this trajectory, the greater the risk of exceeding 1.5°C, which could only be corrected by withdrawing CO2 from the atmosphere using “negative emissions technologies” (NETs). The objective of a 45% reduction by 2030 suggested by the IPCC, and repeated by the media, corresponds therefore to a trajectory situated somewhere between scenarios 2 and 3, implying a slight increase beyond 1.5°C by 2050 and a fairly extensive deployment of NETs. Already in its previous report (AR5, 2014) the IPCC presented some scenarios based 95% on the use of NETs. It now confirms this approach. But this is questionable. Indeed, the degree of deployment of NETs indicates the extent of our inability to stop the runaway train of capitalist accumulation. Assuming that these technologies would help to avoid the cataclysm that is threatened by exceeding 2°C (an assumption that is probably science fiction), the fundamental antagonism described earlier would inevitably recur later in an even more acute form. That is why we are not in a “crisis” but facing a choice of civilization.

Let’s go back to the four scenarios. To understand them, one must know that “negative net emissions” mean that the Earth is absorbing more CO2 than it emits. The “net emissions” are obtained by deducting absorption from emissions. The absorption is at first natural: green plants feed on the CO2 in the air, and the CO2 dissolves naturally in water. At present, about one half of the 40 gigatonnes of annual “anthropogenic” CO2 emissions (due to human activity) are thereby withdrawn from the atmosphere. “Net global emissions” therefore run around 20GT/year. (On the one hand, we are only talking here of CO2, not the other greenhouse gases; their emissions are not accounted for in the “carbon budget.” On the other hand, CO2 absorption by ecosystems tends to decrease as a result of warming, especially because hot water dissolves less CO2 than cold water.)

To reduce emissions to zero by 2050, scenario 1 of the IPCC relies solely on the possible intensification of these natural mechanisms mainly through reforestation and improved soil management. The precautionary principle would call for remaining there, banishing NETs. But in that case it would be necessary to very, very radically confront the drive for profit. The IPCC excludes that possibility. It clearly states in its fifth report that the climate models presuppose a fully-functioning market economy and competitive market mechanisms. So full speed ahead toward technology. But what does that have in store for us?

The key political question

The most mature of the “negative emissions technologies” is bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS). It consists of replacing fossil fuels with biomass and storing the CO2 from combustion in deep geological layers. As green plants grow by absorbing CO2, the BECCS in the long run should lower the atmospheric concentration of this gas. Besides the fact that there is no certainty that geological reservoirs are impermeable, this “solution,” if it is to have a significant impact, requires that very large areas (equivalent to about 15%-20%  of today’s permanently cultivated land area) be devoted to the industrial production of bioenergy. Whether these lands are in cultivated or non-cultivated areas, this can only intensify dangerously the already considerable pressure that bioenergy exerts on biodiversity and food crops today. Therefore every effort should be made to avoid BECCS. Should it nevertheless be implemented in order to avoid the worst, it would have to be very strictly limited. In any case, it is categorically necessary to promote the strongest and fastest possible reduction in emissions.

But that is precisely the political crux of the question. Capitalism has been built and continues to be built on fossil fuels. Governments have done almost nothing since the Earth Summit (Rio, 1992), and emissions have continued to increase so we are now in a critical situation. The largest and fastest possible reduction of emissions would necessarily involve the very rapid destruction of a huge amount of capital, of an unprecedented “bubble.”  The most important sectors of capitalism oppose this with all their might, so two tendencies are crystallizing in the ruling class: that of Trump, Bolsonaro and some other climate denying leaders on the one hand, and on the other hand that of “green capitalism” which, to avoid an excessively brutal bursting of a bubble that is too big, argues in effect for scenario 4, with a massive deployment of BECCS, a “temporary overrun” of the 1.5C limit and cooling of the planet during the second half of the century — since these people imagine that the Earth’s temperature is as easy to regulate as that of their “smart house.”

Everyone understands that the first tendency is simply criminal, but the second one is barely less. For three reasons:

  1. No one knows if BECCS and the other technologies envisaged will actually remove enough carbon from the atmosphere to return below 1.5°C after exceeding this threshold;
  2. No one knows how to avoid the likely adverse effects of BECCS and other so-called solutions, especially on the biodiversity and food of the world’s population; and
  3. Climate change is a non-linear phenomenon. The risk increases very seriously that a major accident with irreversible consequences may occur during the “temporary overrun,” for example the breaking up of the gigantic Thwaites or Totten ice-sheets in the Antarctic, which would ultimately bring about an increase of three to six metres in the ocean level.

Gauging the scope of a staggering challenge

We repeat: irrespective of what the IPCC says, every effort must be made to try to fit within scenario 1 and to follow the three stages in the trajectory cited above, or to deviate from it as little as possible. This should be the goal of the climate movement. But we must be aware of what that means. It means considering the following elements:

  • CO2 emissions account for 76% of “anthropogenic” greenhouse gas emissions;
  • 80% of CO2 emissions are due to the burning of fossil fuels;
  • More than 80% of humanity’s energy needs are covered by the use of these fuels;
  • The fossil energy system is largely unsuited to renewable sources, and must therefore be scrapped as soon as possible, whether the facilities are profitable or not;
  • These facilities account for about one fifth of the world’s GDP, to which must be added the assets constituted by fossil fuel reserves, nine-tenths of which must remain in the soil if we are to have a little more than one chance in two not to exceed a 1.5°C temperature increase.
  • The most recent fossil installations are located in the so-called “emerging” countries (China, India, Brazil, in particular) and in other countries in the global South, which are not the main historical contributors to the climate imbalance;
  • The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (adopted in Rio in 1992) states — rightly! — that each country must contribute to saving the climate according to its historical responsibility and capabilities;
  • Renewable energies are enough to satisfy human needs, but the technologies needed for their conversion are more resource-intensive than fossil technologies: it takes at least ten times more metal to make a machine capable of producing a renewable kWh than to manufacture a machine able to produce a fossil kWh. The extraction of metals is a big consumer of energy (and water).

From these data, the conclusion to be drawn is obvious: Scenario 1 — optimum for humans and non-humans — represents a gigantic challenge, not only technically and conceptually, but also and above all in terms of the necessary coordination for global balances. Indeed, it is a matter of respecting the key principle of North-South climate justice (designated as the “principle of common but differentiated responsibilities” by the UN Framework Convention) while:

  1. making huge investments to build a new global energy system based 100% on renewables;
  2. using for this construction an energy that is still more than 80% fossil, therefore emitting CO2;
  3. using part of this energy to extract and refine the rare metals and rare earths that are essential for the operation of “green” technologies (the extraction of these metals consumes a lot of energy and water, and generates a lot of waste because of their diffuse presence in the rocks);
  4. and staying within the envelope of the drastic reductions in global net CO2 emissions mentioned above (58% reduction between 2020 and 2030, etc.).

We say it forcefully: it is absolutely impossible to comply with the bundle of socio-political, temporal and physical constraints summarized above without an overall and extremely radical anti-capitalist program. It’s not just about planning and streamlining production; production needs to be drastically reduced in order to reduce the amount of energy consumed, wherever possible.

Without this drastic reduction, it will be impossible to offset the emissions from the construction of the new renewable energy system, on the one hand, and to prioritize the right of the South — especially the countries that international institutions scornfully call “the least advanced” — to develop, using what fossils humanity can still use, on the other hand.

Without compensating for these two causes of emissions, there is no way to reduce net global emissions by 58% by 2030, by 100% by 2050 and by more than 100% in the second half of the century. Even under the assumption — promoted by the IPCC — of a 45% reduction in emissions by 2030, the problem is insoluble if we do not go beyond the capitalist logic.

Make what is necessary possible

The growth dynamic of capital and the inaction of its political representatives have literally brought us to the brink. What should be done to avoid tipping over it? That is the question to ask. First, it is imperative to answer this objectively, without subjectively limiting ourselves, that is, without being confused by what is or is not feasible within the capitalist political, economic, social and ideological context, which distorts everything and stands reality on its head. Secondly we must see what is to be done to make possible what is necessary, what obstacles must be overcome, how much time may be needed, with what consequences, and how to confront them. To proceed in the converse direction, starting from the “capitalist possible” in order to determine what “must” be done (in reality, what capital allows) is to posit that the historical and social laws of profit must prevail over the physical laws of the Earth’s climate. This is absolute methodological nonsense (and by the way, this nonsense shows that the ideology of human “domination” over the rest of nature is not only absurd but also blinding, and therefore dangerous!).

Objectively, it is indisputable that blocking the growing disaster requires a very radical anticapitalist plan, completely reorienting production, exchanges, relations with the “global South” and the worldview. In the so-called “developed” capitalist countries, the main axes of this plan would be:

  1. Suppress unnecessary and dangerous production. “Every tonne of CO2 that is not emitted counts,” the scientists tell us. They do not draw the logical conclusion: the priority should be to stop the production and consumption of weapons, packaging and plastic gadgets, to combat the obsolescence of products and to ban advertising. In the USA, as an indication, the combined emissions of the military industry and the Defense Department are around 150 million tons of CO2 per year (not counting the emissions of the 700 or so US military bases abroad!).
  2. Suppress the useless transport of commodities, localize production as much as possible, favor short supply circuits, impose an increasing tax on kerosene (to be distributed to the countries of the South via the Green Climate Fund). Air and sea transport emissions currently account for 5% of global CO2 emissions and are increasing rapidly as a result of capitalist globalization. According to a study by the European Parliament, these sectors could produce respectively up to 22% and 17% of global CO2 emissions in 2050. It is urgent to close this tap.
  3. For the mobility of people, invest massively in public transit and effectively promote the use of bicycles in good conditions. Discourage the use of the private car, promote employment close to home, provide more services within local territories. Rationalize air travel by means of free, personalized, non-exchangeable air mobility rights.
  4. Create territorial public firms assigned to insulate and renovate all buildings within 10 years. The neoliberal policy of incentives and taxes on insulation-renovation is too slow, socially unfair and focused more on promoting the production of renewable energy by home owners — and on the irrational development of the markets of “green capitalism” — rather than reducing energy consumption through insulation. Urgency and reason require us to end this policy as soon as possible.
  5. Leave fossil fuels in the ground. Expropriate and socialize the energy and finance sectors without compensation or repurchase. Set up a decentralized public energy service. The fossil and financial sectors are intimately linked through investment loans and share ownership. Without breaking the lock they constitute, it is not possible to organize in ten years the rapid transition to an economy based on 100% renewables (and thus nuclear-free). This is the keystone of the structural reforms to be imposed.
  6. Break with agribusiness and capitalist exploitation of forests. Increasing natural absorptions of CO2 does not replace the reduction of emissions but complements it. Promote agroecology using appropriate techniques to accumulate maximum carbon in soils. Promote direct links between consumers and producers. Ban industrial farming and popularize a non-meat diet. Replant hedges, restore wetlands, stop “concretization.” This is the spare wheel, to implement immediately.
  7. Respect North-South climate justice. This implies in particular: abolish debts; at the least honor the commitment of Northern countries to give $100 billion a year to the Green Climate Fund; cover in addition the “losses and damages” caused to the South by the warming provoked mainly by the North; abolish the patent system on energy technologies; ban the market in carbon emissions credits, carbon offsets, biofuel imports and other types of relations characteristic of “climate neo-colonialism”; guarantee freedom of movement and settlement for migrant people.

A better life for the greatest number

Short of resorting to despotic methods, it is obvious that such a plan is not even conceivable if it does not also include an equally radical social component. This is essential in particular if we are to properly address the issue of changes in social behavior. By themselves, focused on consumption, some of these changes are likely to be “unpopular” among certain segments of the population (for example, kerosene taxation and air travel rationing). Observing this through the small end of the telescope, some ecologists (from well-to-do circles) call for a “strong government.” However, ending the capitalist dictatorship of profit in the sphere of production makes it possible to trace in the sphere of consumption the path of an ecological transition which is synonymous not with regression but with a substantial strengthening of democracy and improvement in the quality of life of the social majority. This is the job facing us if we are to make the transition desirable.

In the countries of the North, the main axes of this second component of the anti-capitalist alternative are the following:

  1. Redistribute wealth, and restore equal liability of all incomes — including from global sources — to progressive taxation. Determine a maximum salary. Refinance the public sector, education, research, and the health, childcare and cultural sectors. End the subordination of scientific research to profit, refinance it, orient it towards supporting the transition and improve the status of researchers;
  2. End capitalist market supremacy: free education, public transit, health care, child care. No charges for consumption of water and electricity corresponding to basic needs, with steeply rising prices beyond that level;
  3. Ban layoffs and ensure decent jobs and incomes for all. Provide training in new trades for workers in the activities to be suppressed, while guaranteeing maintenance of income, social conquests and work collectives under their control. Enact a sliding scale of hours of work for all without loss of salary to ensure a radical reduction in the work week, with costs paid by the entire capitalist class. Lower the retirement age to 60 for everyone. Extend maternity and paternity leaves. Job guarantees and the shorter work week without loss of pay are necessary not only to confront the challenges of climate change and the digital revolution, but also to ensure that the needed economic and social measures do not adversely alter social relations to the detriment of the work force. Greater leisure is also likely to open opportunities for other pleasurable pursuits that can supplant the consumerist pressures that serve as a substitute for the misery of human relations dominated by commodity fetishism.
  4. Radical extension of democratic rights. Voting and eligibility rights at all levels, for everyone from the age of 16. Elected officials to be subject to recall, their incomes aligned with the average wage. Active policy aimed at extending citizen control and participation, particularly in the various aspects of the transition plan (such as insulation-renovation of buildings, transport and mobility, economic reconversion, changes in the agricultural model, management of territories, etc.). Maximum decentralization and democratization at the territorial level.
  5. Equal rights for women and LGBTQIA+. End discrimination in education, employment, in the city. Gender parity in representative assemblies and all organs of the ecological transition. Free abortion and contraception on demand. Socialization of the tasks of social reproduction.
  6. Develop a culture of caring, responsibility and sobriety. Increased support for adult education. Ecological reform of education, aimed at awakening consciousness of belonging to “nature.” Strengthening and socializing care activities for people and ecosystems. Municipal and public management of resources (water, renewables, scenic sites, etc.) under democratic control. Development of a dense network of repair / recycling / reuse / reduction activities supported by the public authorities. Encouragement to civic activities and respect for the autonomy of social movements.

Small steps and a large gap

As Einstein said: “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” By regarding as sacred “the fully functioning market economy and competitive market behavior,” the IPCC itself closes off any possibility of resolving the climate problem. It is indispensable to reject capitalist “realism” — this insane profit drive — if we are to find a way to limit the catastrophe and prevent it from becoming cataclysmic.

The main difficulty is not technical but social, and therefore political: the necessary alternative cannot be organized from above. It requires imperatively a powerful mobilization at the base, a generalized responsibility. Let’s dare to say it: we need a global self-management revolution to democratically address, at all levels, the combined social and environmental crises. Only the exploited, the oppressed and the youth can go all the way in bringing about the indispensable reforms, in all areas. However, there is a chasm today between this urgent anticapitalist alternative and the level of consciousness of the majority of society. How is it to be overcome, to be bridged, at the earliest possibility? That is THE strategic problem to be resolved.

As anticapitalists, we are confronted daily with this objection: “You are right, of course, but what you propose lacks credibility, it is not realizable, we need concrete answers, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.” So the question arises: shouldn’t we opt for small steps? Or conversely, admit that “we’re fucked,” that “collapse” is inevitable and that the only way out is to “create small resilient communities,” as the “collapsologists” say?

Anticapitalists are in favor of reforms, we do not postpone everything to the “big day” of the revolution. Small steps are positive when they strengthen the social movement and encourage it to go forward. What we question is the idea that it is possible to introduce another society gradually through a strategy of small steps. Why? Among other things, because this strategy spreads the transition over time, in flagrant contradiction with its urgency. We also question the “miracle solutions” that often accompany it, and that fail to meet the challenge. So what is to be done, what perspective is to be adopted, what strategy can we propose that will not be paralyzed between insignificant minimalism and impotent maximalism?

First, tell the truth…

We think we must first tell the truth. Our anticapitalist alternative leaves you wanting more? That is normal, it could not be otherwise. Together, we need to transform your hunger into an appetite for something else, to generate the idea of a society that produces less and shares more, for real needs, in respect for humans and non-humans, a society that appeals to the imagination. That is the function of the 13-point draft program outlined above. It is necessary to fight both the anxiety-inducing defeatist discourse and the pseudo-realistic discourse propagating the illusion that the optimum scenario (the IPCC’s Scenario 1) could be realized — or at least approached — by following a less radical path.

In the United States, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez proposes a “Green New Deal.” In Europe, Jean Jouzel and Pierre Larrouturou plead for a “climate finance plan.” There are now more and more such proposals for less radical paths. The lines are moving, and that is undeniably a positive effect of the social movement. However, if we examine them in detail, we find that these proposals have three points in common:

  1. they bypass the key question of the indispensable reduction in energy consumption, material production and transport;
  2. they do not exclude the use of negative emission technologies such as BECCS, or so-called “miracle technologies” such as hydrogen;
  3. most often, they refrain from taking a clear stand for compliance with the commitments toward the South, against the purchase of emission credits and carbon offsets, etc.

Therefore, we must be clear: these less radical paths, which are presented as more realistic than the anti-capitalist alternative, fit more or less clearly (very clearly for Larrouturou-Jouzel, who want to save the European Union) within the project of “green capitalism.” They all involve varying degrees of “climate neocolonialism” and harsher warming effects on humans and non-humans than in Scenario 1 — not to mention the sword of Damocles of the irreversible and large-scale tipping point mentioned above.

… and build social mobilization

The strategic problem of the gulf between objective necessity and subjective possibilities will not be overcome by proposing alternatives at a discount. It can only be overcome through the development of social mobilization. This development is indeed the lever to advance the level of consciousness on a mass scale. The line that we propose in order to do this can be summed up in a few words. Do not let up. Instead, expand, converge, organize, democratize, deepen, challenge, radicalize, invent. Let’s briefly comment on them:

Never let up! The task before us is long-term. We have a chance to limit the damage only if we place it within the perspective of a permanent struggle. In the immediate term, this means in the first place rejecting any idea of an electoral truce, in the framework of the European election or other polls. In the longer term, this means consciously building on the destabilization and delegitimation of the established powers. The political agenda, its temporality and its institutions are not ours. “We do not defend nature, we are the nature that defends itself.” Let us look to each perceptible manifestation of the disaster that is under way — there is no lack of them, alas! — as a way to increase the pressure and relaunch action.

Expand! The movement has been constantly expanding since the heat wave of the summer of 2018 in the Northern Hemisphere. This is one of our main assets. We must consciously continue on this path, organize new mobilizations, repeat the strike of March 15 on a larger scale, methodically lay the groundwork for a global uprising for the climate involving tens of millions, hundreds of millions of people. We are life in the face of death. Our ambition must be commensurate with the challenge.

Converge! It’s not just about winning new sectors of youth, or new regions, new countries. It is also a question of working patiently to bring together social-trade union, feminist, peasant, anti-racist, anticolonial and indigenous struggles at the grassroots level, across borders. The contribution of feminists is important, especially because they emphasize the importance of “caring.” That of indigenous peoples is inspiring because it shows the possibility of a new vision of relationships between humans and non-humans. The peasants of Via Campesina are already at the forefront, with their agroecological program and direct action practices. The key strategic challenge is to detach the social-trade union movement from its alliance with productivism; this means, primarily, the reappropriation of the collective reduction of labor time, making it THE ecosocialist demand par excellence.

Organize, democratize and deepen! These three goals go hand in hand. In general, with some exceptions, the current movement suffers from a lack of organization and democracy. This is partly the result of its spontaneity, obviously a good thing in itself. But there is a void. Today, it is filled by individuals, by long-standing associative structures, and by initiatives of small groups on social networks. We must go beyond this stage, avoid “substitutism” and prevent attempts to coopt the movements. Not to let up, but to build long-term convergences requires a movement rooted in non-exclusionary and democratic grassroots structures, that is to say, general assemblies that elect people with revocable mandates to represent them transparently wherever the struggle is coordinated and determines its objectives. This mode of organization is the best way to deepen awareness, to move from immediate issues (sorting waste, etc.) to more structural issues.

Challenge! Greta Thunberg has shown the way. Political and economic leaders are trying to co-opt her image, but so far she has not fallen for “greenwashing.” In Davos, in front of the European Parliament and elsewhere, she has blamed the leaders without compromise, without hesitation. Let’s follow her example. Let’s abandon any illusion that the political system “will come to understand” the need to be “more ambitious” because there are so-called “win-win” solutions to reconcile growth and profit with the climate (that’s a joke, there are none!). Let us adopt an autonomous position, of systematic and uncompromising distrust. Let’s dare to disobey. Systematically, joyfully and deliberately let us undermine the legitimacy of the wealthy, their political representatives, and of all those who refuse to leave behind the productivist and growth-oriented framework.

Invent! As part of the challenge, legal actions such as 350.org’s trial of the century and immediate demands have their place. Let’s challenge decision-makers to take concrete action straight away: include the obligation in law to reduce emissions, insulate all public and parapublic buildings, make public transport free, ban advertising, abandon major works, etc. The list of possibilities is endless. In the longer term, the climate movement means that we have entered a new period of history in which the “ecological question” will traverse and articulate more and more clearly all social issues. Working towards the convergence of struggles in an intersectional perspective follows logically. This poses now a long series of unresolved questions. For example: what political tool can be forged in the course of the struggle so that it is able to proceed from the anti-capitalist struggle to the construction of a new world?

Radicalize! We must become aware of our strength. Without the climate movement, COP21 would not have set the goal of keeping warming below 1.5°C. We must demand that this step forward be followed by concrete measures, and ensure that they are up to the challenge and socially just. This is the meaning of the current movement. The wealthy and their political representatives are under pressure because they know that the challenge of climate change is potentially revolutionary. All currents are under pressure, so the lines tend to move. So, rather than letting ourselves be drawn into the mined terrain of the strategy of small steps, let us widen the gap. To do this, confront each new proposal with the scientific diagnosis of what should be done to stay under 1.5°C of warming without resorting to dangerous technologies while respecting obligations towards the South as well as social justice. Finding that “there is no fit” will help the movement to become radicalized to the point where it will be able to propose itself an anti-capitalist program that meets the challenge, and to fight to impose the formation of a government on this basis.

A race at frightening speed

Will it work? Nobody can guarantee it; we are caught in a race at frightening speed between the hope of salvation and a plunge into barbarism. From this angle, the situation presents some analogies with the one that existed before the First World War, which Lenin characterized as an “objectively revolutionary situation.” The subjective factor was totally unable to prevent the butchery of 1914-18, but from that butchery there arose the Russian revolution  — which was suffocated from outside and strangled from within. A century later, a similar question is posed, on an even more disturbing scale: how far will humanity have to sink into the trenches of climate catastrophe before finally turning against capitalism to rid itself of this criminal system once and for all? Will the revolution — the irruption of the masses on the scene where their fate is at issue — meet the challenge? Will capitalism, on the contrary, maintain its bewitching power?

These questions are unanswered. They remind us of Gramsci, and his famous quote about combining the pessimism of the mind with the optimism of the will. That optimism is a categorical imperative, because we are certain of only one thing: the outcome of the race between the disaster and consciousness of the disaster depends on the re-emergence on a mass scale of an emancipatory project capable of overcoming the terrible threats to humanity posed by productivist folly.

For the ecosocialist project, there is no shortcut, no way other than struggle.


* Daniel Tanuro is a certified agriculturalist and eco-socialist environ-mentalist. His books include The Impossibility of Green Capitalism (Resistance Books, Merlin and IIRE).

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Québec solidaire vows to fight CAQ government’s racist bill

National Council reaffirms party’s program on separation of church and state, rebuffs QS leaders’ attempts at ‘compromise’

As it had threatened during last fall’s election campaign, the newly-elected Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) government has introduced legislation to prohibit a wide range of persons “in authority,” including teachers, from wearing symbols of their religious beliefs while exercising their functions.

Those affected include judges, prosecutors, police, and jail guards, but also teachers, childcare providers, public transit operators, health and social service workers, municipal and administrative tribunal and board officials, etc.

Bill 21, “An Act respecting the laicity of the State,” also provides that those delivering or receiving government services may lose their jobs or be denied services if they refuse to uncover their face for identity or “security” reasons. Similar provisions, adopted under the previous Liberal government but suspended pending a legal appeal, will now be implemented pursuant to the CAQ’s decision to shield its legislation from civil liberties challenges using the constitutional “notwithstanding” clause.

Prime targets of the legislation are obviously Muslim women wearing headscarves or other clothing they associate with their religious beliefs. A “grandfather” clause exempting employees in their current jobs would effectively bar them from promotions or other public employment.

The government bill — with its racist connotations — comes in the wake of the murder of six worshippers in a Quebec City mosque in January 2017 and the recent massacre of 50 Muslims in Christchurch, New Zealand by right-wing racists, and is consistent with the pattern of reactionary scapegoating of minorities increasingly practiced by many government leaders in the major capitalist countries as they heighten austerity and restrict immigration.

Bill 21 is supported by the Parti Québécois, which had earlier, when in government, sponsored a widely-criticized “charter of values” with similar provisions that the PQ had hoped would win the support of Québécois apprehensive at the changing pluricultural face of Quebec society and fend off pressures to integrate ethnic minorities through more effective French language training and affirmative action in employment.

The bill is opposed by the opposition Liberals and by Québec solidaire, now the second party of opposition in the National Assembly following the defection of a PQ member.

Québec solidaire has a mixed history on these issues. It is now almost 10 years since the party adopted its position on laicity (or, as it is more commonly known in English, secularism). It made a clear distinction between the need for state neutrality toward religious belief or lack of belief, and the freedom of individuals “to express their own convictions in a context that favours exchange and dialogue.” It would allow “state agents” (employees or officials) to wear religious insignia such as a crucifix or hijab.

However, the program would also remove this right from those whose clothing was deemed to promote religion or interfere with their duties or safety standards. And in subsequent years QS leaders, drawing on these hypothetical caveats in the party’s program, began adapting to other parties’ attempts to impose dress codes not only on state employees but on citizens from minority ethnic communities. In a previous article, I cited several such instances involving QS members of the National Assembly. The relevant account is excerpted in an appendix following this article.

These positions were endorsed in 2010 by the QS National Coordination Committee (CCN), the party’s top executive body. They drew support from a Quebec government inquiry, chaired by Gérard Bouchard and Charles Taylor, that in 2008 had proposed a ban on the wearing of religious insignia by a limited number of state agents — prosecutors, cops, prison guards and the speaker and deputy speaker of the National Assembly — while exempting teachers and “other state agents.”[1]

(Taylor has since renounced his signature on this report, declaring after the Quebec City mosque attack that legislation along such lines had provoked an increase in hate speech and assaults especially against Muslim women.[2])

The party’s adaptations to state intolerance reflected as well a tendency of the same QS leaders to seek common ground with the Parti Québécois, also expressed in several attempts over the years to get the QS membership to agree to electoral alliances with the PQ — all of them rejected by party congresses.[3]

The CAQ bill has provoked a growing wave of public opposition from civil liberties groups, school boards, and some unions. Meanwhile, many Québec solidaire members had expressed unease with statements by newly elected QS members of the National Assembly indicating support for a “compromise” that would adopt the Bouchard-Taylor report’s position. The party opened a discussion on the issue, which was placed on the agenda of a National Council (NC) meeting held March 29-31.

Three positions emerged from this debate. A relatively small “laicity collective” called for a complete ban on religious signs by public employees at all levels. Because this proposal conflicted with the party’s program, it was ineligible for debate at the CN meeting, which was confined to “interpreting” the program and had no authority to pre-empt a position adopted in a duly constituted membership congress.

A second position — endorsed by several internal QS commissions and ad hoc collectives — rejected the MNAs’ compromise and supported a position of “open laicity” that generally rejected any prohibition on display of religious beliefs by public employees.

The party executive then moved to put two options before the NC members, both of which began with the same “whereas” clause: “that in all cases restrictions on the wearing of religious signs are possible when these contravene one of the four criteria set out in article 7.5.2 of the Québec solidaire program (proselytism, duty of discretion, exercise of the occupation or safety standard).” Option A would ban such signs for persons in authority exercising “a coercive power,” as supported by the MNAs, while Option B stated that “Whereas the discretionary duty applies to the actions and decisions of persons and not to their appearance, no particular rule concerning religious signs should apply to certain professions instead of others, including those that exercise a coercive power.”

The National Council meeting voted overwhelmingly in favour of Option B.

However, this was followed by a second vote, also proposed by the party executive, which asked NC members to choose between two options: one that would bar those dispensing or receiving government services from wearing clothing that conformed to any of the four exceptions allowed by the party program; and another that would allow such services to persons wearing clothing that covers the face, “except for considerations of identification or safety.” The latter option was adopted. This position, which in practice would affect the tiny minority of Muslim women who wear a niqab or burqa, moves QS uncomfortably close to the discriminatory positions of the CAQ, Liberals and PQ on this aspect.

So in the end the party program on “open laicity” as it is often called, was reaffirmed, albeit with its explicit limitations, while the MNAs’ attempts to find some compromise with opposing positions were largely rebuffed. However, it remains for a party congress to amend the QS program to remove the caveats that have served as a pretext for the slippages of principle that have characterized the party’s public positions over the past decade.

In other decisions the 330 NC members voted to continue making the party’s program on climate change its main campaign for the coming year. That program, which presents many progressive concepts but within the framework of a general “green capitalism” approach, should also be the subject of critical analysis along with the position on laicity as the party prepares for its next convention, to be held toward year-end, and where it plans to complete and review its program as a whole.


Excerpted from “Québec solidaire prepares to confront a new government of austerity and social and ethnic polarization,” Life on the Left, October 20, 2018.

Quebec’s new premier, François Legault, threatens to implement as a priority the CAQ’s plans to prohibit the wearing of “religious signs” among state-employed persons in positions of “coercion” (cops, prosecutors, judges and jail guards) or “authority” (including elementary and secondary school teachers, and perhaps others).

Québec solidaire has waffled on this issue for many years. The party claims to adhere to the principle of separation of church and state. In 2009, the resolution adopted at the party’s first convention on program stated that the party distinguishes between the need for state neutrality toward religious belief or lack of belief, and the freedom of individuals “to express their own convictions in a context that favours exchange and dialogue.” As I reported at the time:

“Delegates voted in favour of allowing ‘state agents’ (employees and officials) to wear religious insignia (a crucifix, hijab, whatever), but added some caveats that leave much to subjective interpretation and enforcement by employers: ‘provided they are not used as instruments of proselytism’ and do not interfere with their droit de réserve (duty of discretion), or ‘impede the performance of the duties or contravene safety standards.’ Delegates rejected other resolutions that would impose no such restrictions or, alternatively, would impose secular dress codes on civil servants, and they rejected as well a proposal to refer the whole issue for further decision at a later convention.”[4]

While these caveats were problematic, QS leaders in subsequent years went further and began adapting to other parties’ attempts to impose dress codes not only on state employees but on citizens from minority ethnic communities.

In 2011, the sole QS member of the National Assembly, Amir Khadir, voted with the other parties for a PQ motion to ban Sikhs from entering the legislature because their ceremonial kirpans were to be deemed “weapons.” Ironically, the motion was prompted by an incident a month earlier when four members of the World Sikh Organization were turned back by security guards when they came to testify to a parliamentary committee in favour of the right of Muslim women to wear face coverings when receiving government services — which a Liberal government bill then under debate would have denied.

In 2013, when the National Assembly was again debating the PQ government’s now-infamous Charter of Values, QS leader Françoise David tabled a bill that if adopted would have enacted a “charter of secularism” that banned “state agents” from wearing signs indicative of personal religious belief. David described this as an “historic compromise.”

Although in 2017 the three QS MNAs voted against the Liberal government’s Bill 62 prohibiting citizens from wearing face coverings when receiving or dispensing public services, they called instead for adoption of a “genuine” charter of secularism. QS leader Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois said their position was a “compromise” that takes a harder line than the Liberals in that it would bar people who wear overt religious symbols such as turbans and hijabs from working as judges, jail guards and cops.

These positions, which clearly violate the QS program adopted by the membership, have prompted a number of protests from defenders of civil liberties, including a very strong “Open Letter” addressed to the party by a number of QS members including prominent human rights lawyers.

Unfortunately, during their swearing-in on October 17, the new QS MNAs told reporters that they intend to support the “compromise” that would ban religious signs for persons in authority. But at least one — Catherine Dorion, representing Québec-Taschereau — said later she was not really sure what her position would be.

These issues should be on the agenda of the QS National Committee meeting, now scheduled to take place December 7-9. The party’s reaction to Legault’s forthcoming legislation will be an early test of the adherence to basic democratic principles of its new parliamentary deputation.

[1] The report is no longer available on line. However, here is a summary of its key recommendations: http://tinyurl.com/y4gclrxy.

[2] Quoted by André Frappier, “La laïcité au Québec, un débat de société en évolution.”

[3] See, for example, “Québec solidaire: No to an electoral pact with the PQ, Yes to a united front against austerity, for energy transition and for independence.”

[4] “Quebec left debates strategy for independence,” https://lifeonleft.blogspot.com/2009/12/quebec-left-debates-strategy-for.html.