Spartacist South Africa No. 16
Trotskyist League in Quebec and Canada
Raising the Banner of Leninism
For Quebec Independence and Socialism!
We reprint below an article from Workers Tribune No. 1 (Summer/Fall 2018), English-language publication of the Trotskyist League in Quebec and Canada. It was translated from République ouvrière No. 2 (Spring/Summer 2018). For documents and motions related to the article, please see the issue of Workers Tribune.
After launching République ouvrière last summer, the Trotskyist League in Quebec and Canada is now launching a new English-language publication, Workers Tribune. These two papers are the direct outcome of our international fight against a longstanding perversion of Leninism on the national question, which had undermined certain aspects of the revolutionary program of the International Communist League (ICL) (see Spartacist [English-language edition] No. 65, Summer 2017). This perversion was especially flagrant in Canada, a country defined by the oppression of one nation by another, where our section based in English Canada had long capitulated to the anti-Québécois chauvinism of its own bourgeoisie.
By decisively breaking from these politics, we have laid the basis for building an authentically Leninist party, which places the fight against national oppression at the heart of its program. Such a perspective has never been correctly implemented by any of the groups claiming to be Marxist in Canada. The history of the Canadian left is littered with the wreckage of organizations which crashed on the shoals of the national question. We seek to learn from the past and to correctly apply the lessons of the October 1917 Russian Revolution to the Québécois and Canadian context. Our two publications will be our tools for this, and it is through their pages that we will seek to apply our revolutionary program to reality. In this issue of WT, we are reprinting some key documents of our internal struggle, edited for publication, in order to show the process through which we came to reclaim our Marxist continuity on the national question.
The publication of two separate papers, one for English-speaking Canada and the other for Quebec, flows from our understanding that the Leninist vanguard has specific tasks in the oppressor nation and in the oppressed nation. Quebec was conquered by force and militarily occupied by the British Empire in 1759-60. The position of French Canadians as an oppressed national minority was later consolidated with the bloody repression of the democratic revolution of the Patriotes in 1837-38. The blood of the Patriotes and the oppression of francophones are the mortar with which the modern Canadian state was built. This understanding must be the foundation for any revolutionary perspective in this reactionary state, held together by the oppression of Quebec and by the British monarchy.
Our two papers represent our perspective of building two separate parties in two separate states. In the absence of an independent Quebec, our current task is to build a binational revolutionary party which fights for Quebec’s national liberation and for socialism. The building of such a party is an integral part of the ICL’s fight to reforge the Fourth International. The communist movement is by definition internationalist, and it is essential that the proletariat possess an international party that unifies the workers across national divisions and coordinates the interdependent struggles of the workers of all countries.
For a Workers Republic of Quebec!
Taking the same name as the paper of the celebrated Irish revolutionary James Connolly, République ouvrière (Workers Republic) seeks to be the voice of Leninism in Quebec. Quebec independence is a just cause which we defend without preconditions, whether under capitalism or in a workers state. As the left-nationalist intellectual Pierre Falardeau said in an interview:
“Freedom has value in itself, women’s liberation is not for something, it is positive in itself. So, the freedom of peoples is the same, we shouldn’t put.... For me, if you put conditions on this, you’re not progressive, you’re an asshole.”
Unlike the nationalists, we do not think that the proletariat and the bourgeoisie of a given nation share common interests, and we seek to channel the fight against national oppression along class lines. Since the 1970s, the hard fights waged by the Québécois proletariat have been endlessly deflected by the union bureaucracy into support for the Parti Québécois [PQ]. The workers of Quebec have interests directly counterposed to those of the parties of the Quebec bourgeoisie, whether the PQ, the Liberal Party or the right-wing Coalition Avenir Québec. RO will wage a bitter struggle to break the chains that continue to tie the workers to the nationalist bourgeoisie, chains that have led them to countless defeats.
In contrast to most of the Quebec left, we know that nothing good can be expected from the populists of Québec Solidaire. QS is not a “lesser evil” compared to the parties of the bourgeoisie and it fundamentally shares the same program, seeking only to apply a few cosmetic measures to this rotting capitalist system. We must expose the dead end that is QS, along with its pseudo-Marxist waterboys. Québécois workers cannot be truly free in a “left” capitalist Quebec. What is necessary is a republic where the workers are in power. This perspective is expressed in our slogan: For independence and socialism!
Workers Tribune: Marxist, Anglophone, Defender of Quebec
Apart from Spartacist, our international journal, Spartacist Canada (SC) has been the main paper of our tendency in Canada since 1975. Thus it was an important link to revolutionary continuity on a series of key questions for the international proletariat. SC was unique in Canada in its fight against capitalist restoration in the USSR and for the defense of the gains of the remaining deformed workers states (China, Cuba, North Korea, Vietnam and Laos). SC fought against illusions in the social-democratic NDP [New Democratic Party], exposed the Canadian bourgeoisie’s racism and hypocrisy toward immigrants and denounced its military interventions abroad. We proudly defend this aspect of our heritage and lay claim to it. However, we cannot continue to publish a paper that throughout its existence was incapable of putting forward a consistent Leninist approach on the strategic question in Canada: the Quebec national question. Until 1995, its articles on Quebec openly capitulated to the chauvinism of the anglophone bourgeoisie and put forward an assimilationist position that defended the oppression of Quebec.
We finally adopted a line in favour of independence in 1995, following a fight led by comrade Robertson, the founder of our international tendency. Even though this change represented a qualitative improvement of our program, the conclusions of that fight had never really been implemented and the section had not broken definitively with its Anglo-chauvinist framework. Spartacist Canada is also not an adequate name for a paper that puts forward the perspective of dismantling the unity of Canada through Quebec independence. Thus we are launching Workers Tribune to reclaim Leninism and break decisively with this Anglo-chauvinist past. This paper is founded on the principle that “a nation cannot become free and at the same time continue to oppress other nations”—a quotation from a speech against the oppression of Poland given by Friedrich Engels in 1847 that we are proudly displaying on the WT masthead.
The Canadian bourgeoisie maintains its ideological hold on the workers of English Canada through sacrosanct Canadian chauvinist unity. This poison is loyally transmitted into the working class through the NDP social democrats and the union bureaucracy. The English Canadian proletariat must at all costs defend the rights of Quebec, and champion Quebec independence if it wants to break politically from its own bourgeoisie and lead a successful fight for its own liberation. As Lenin said:
“The proletariat of the oppressor nations must not confine themselves to general, stereotyped phrases against annexation and in favour of the equality of nations in general, such as any pacifist bourgeois will repeat.... The proletariat must demand freedom of political separation for the colonies and nations oppressed by ‘their own’ nation. Otherwise, the internationalism of the proletariat would be nothing but empty words....”
— “The Socialist Revolution and the Right of Nations to Self-Determination” (1916)
The question of Quebec’s national oppression goes hand-in-hand with the British monarchy: these are the two elements that make Canada what it is today and without which it would in fact have little reason to exist. That doesn’t prevent the reformist left from embracing the lie of a “progressive” Canada and burying the fact that the head of state is, to cite her official title, “Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom, Canada and Her other Realms and Territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith” (loyally represented by the governor general). WT has the duty to emphasize the reactionary role of the institutions of the monarchy and will work relentlessly to lead the working-class fight to abolish these relics of the Middle Ages. The power of the monarchy is far from being purely symbolic, and it has at its disposal an entire arsenal of anti-democratic measures. Notably, the governor general has the power to dismiss an elected government and dissolve parliament, as well as the power to decree emergency measures to suspend democratic freedoms. These powers were invoked during the 1970 October Crisis to repress the Québécois workers movement, supporters of independence and the courageous militants of the Front de Libération du Québec. Abolish the monarchy!
WT will also expose the Trudeauite lie of multiculturalism, which, under the cover of a great mosaic that is supposedly open and inclusive, in fact aims to assimilate Quebec, while burying the brutal oppression of immigrants in this country. The anglophone bourgeois media constantly tries to portray the movement for independence and Quebec’s national rights as fundamentally racist. Our newspapers will denounce this Quebec-bashing, while opposing the very real racist backwardness that exists in Quebec and in Canada, as in all capitalist societies. Our articles will be in the vanguard of the fight to mobilize the workers movement in defense of ethnic minorities. Full citizenship rights for all immigrants!
Workers Tribune and République ouvrière thus embody the conception that communists must fight as a tribune of the people. As Lenin said:
“The Social-Democrat’s ideal should not be the trade-union secretary, but the tribune of the people, who is able to react to every manifestation of tyranny and oppression, no matter where it appears, no matter what stratum or class of the people it affects; who is able to generalise all these manifestations and produce a single picture of police violence and capitalist exploitation; who is able to take advantage of every event, however small, in order to set forth before all his socialist convictions and his democratic demands, in order to clarify for all and everyone the world-historic significance of the struggle for the emancipation of the proletariat.”
— What Is To Be Done?, 1902
Canadian capitalism, based on the brutal oppression of the whole working class, is also marked by the special oppression of the Quebec nation, Indigenous peoples, immigrants and women. Thus the interim task of building a binational party goes hand-in-hand with that of constructing a leadership composed of 70 percent Québécois and oppressed minorities.
The Fight Against Anglo Chauvinism
The reason we now have the basis to construct a binational organization and have been able to correct our programmatic deficiencies is that for the first time we have a real existence in Quebec. Following the 2012 student strike, the Trotskyist League recruited a group of student activists to the revolutionary program of the ICL. Our Montreal comrades were recruited to our deficient program on the national question, but what the section had written about Quebec before our 1995 line change was hidden from them. In the summer and fall of 2016, the Canadian section was shaken by an important internal struggle. With international help, our Montreal comrades read for the first time certain pre-1995 articles, notably the article “Bilingual Air Traffic Control Dispute Rocks Canada” (SC No. 8, September 1976). This article was well known in the ICL and was considered for a long time as a model for its treatment of the Quebec national question.
In 1976, the English-speaking air traffic controllers and pilots of CATCA and CALPA (Canadian Air Traffic Control Association and Canadian Air Line Pilots Association) called a strike against the introduction of bilingualism in air communications. The French-speaking workers (organized in the Association des Gens de l’Air) refused to join the strike and fought for bilingualism in air traffic control. This issue raised two questions: the question of safety and the question of the linguistic oppression of French speakers. The fight for the right to speak French at work was one of the motor forces of the [1960s] Quiet Revolution, and the right of air traffic control workers to speak French among their colleagues (outside of air traffic communications) is elementary. But in this particular case, this legitimate struggle also confronted a question of safety, because it is in fact safer and more rational to have a single language for air traffic control. Rather than explaining this problem starting from opposition to national oppression, the article expresses complete contempt for the linguistic aspirations of the Québécois and capitulates to Anglo chauvinism:
“The Quebec nationalists’ demand for French unilingualism in Quebec demonstrates their willingness to sacrifice the fight against oppression of French-speakers throughout Canada in exchange for the ‘right’ to impose French in one province. This position has profoundly reactionary consequences, in effect linguistically ghettoizing Quebec and depriving French speakers in the province of any access to English, the dominant language of the North American political economy.”
On reading this article, the Québécois comrades were outraged and wrote a document denouncing its Anglo chauvinism, while also defending bilingualism in air traffic control. Though they were right about the central question, the utter insensitivity of the article, they did not distinguish the question of language from that of safety. Recognizing the chauvinism of the article, the international comrades Coelho and Robertson were able to convince the comrades of the need for one language for air traffic control. This convergence, as well as the support of some anglophone cadres, allowed us to lay the basis for reforging a genuinely binational section in Quebec and Canada. It was this principled fusion that was the lever for later extending the fight on the national question to the International.
A major bone of contention was that even if the ICL was not for independence prior to 1995, it had nevertheless always defended Quebec’s right to self-determination, an idea that was defended by many of the International’s historic cadres. In reality, at every key moment, we opposed the exercise of this right. Though comrade Robertson first raised in 1976 that it was necessary to stand for Quebec independence, this was unanimously rejected by the rest of the international leadership. In 1977, we published the conclusions of this discussion, reaffirming our line against independence. Then, when the question was posed concretely by the 1980 referendum [on Quebec independence], the Trotskyist League called for a boycott. For Marxists, a boycott is an active tactic which looks to invalidate the result of the vote. In 1907, Lenin explained that:
“boycott is the most decisive means of struggle, which rejects not the form of organisation of the given institution, but its very existence. Boycott is a declaration of open war against the old regime, a direct attack upon it.”
— “Against Boycott”
With this line, not only were we defending keeping Quebec within the oppressive framework of Canada, but we were also calling for mobilizing the Anglo-Canadian working class behind its own bourgeoisie to smash the Quebec referendum. The Trotskyist League did not defend self-determination any more than [then-Prime Minister Pierre] Trudeau did. From the time of the Conquest, the only principled position for revolutionaries was to call for independence for Quebec. In the 1980 referendum it was imperative to call for the victory of the “yes” vote.
This refusal to defend the Quebec nation’s right to exist was very clearly expressed in our earlier articles on the language question, where we vehemently opposed Law 101. In defending “bilingualism”, SC in fact defended the privileges of English and accepted the inevitability of forced assimilation of the Québécois. This political position remained intact despite our line change in favour of independence in 1995; it was only in the course of our international struggle that we broke decisively with this program.
French has always been a dirty language in the eyes of the anglophone ruling class. For a long time there was no question of speaking it in government and the business world: “Speak White!” The anglophone elite had an explicit assimilationist policy toward Quebec and sought to reduce the weight of French speakers through an influx of immigrants who would be integrated in English. With a minority of francophones, no risk of separation. Law 101, adopted by the Quebec government, allows for the maintenance of a francophone majority while remaining in the framework of the Canadian Confederation. As Leninists, we understand that the equality of languages requires a fight against privileges for the dominant language. To this day, English has never lost its status as the language of the oppressors in Quebec. Thus we defend Law 101 and support immigrants being integrated in Quebec by learning French, while raising the demand for free, quality language instruction. Law 101 is nonetheless only a partial expression of the right of self-determination. The only viable solution remains independence.
Reclaiming Our Leninist Continuity
Quebec is a drop of francophone water in an anglophone ocean. However, the Québécois proletariat is one of the most militant on the continent. While the unionization rate is about 10 percent in the U.S. and nearly 30 percent in English Canada, in Quebec it is nearly 40 percent. The history of class struggle shows that Quebec could well be the weak link of capitalism in North America. But unlocking the revolutionary potential of the working class cannot be accomplished without a vanguard party. The ICL’s struggle against the chauvinist Hydra and the publication of our new newspapers are laying the programmatic base for building such revolutionary parties in Quebec and Canada. The tasks that our modest nucleus confronts are enormous. We must undertake the work that should have been done from the beginning of our 40 years as a section, by studying and applying to Quebec the Marxist principles on essential questions such as a workers party, women’s oppression and the nature of the Canadian state.
The first issue of Iskra (1900) was a clear declaration of Lenin’s group’s reason for existing—of the need for a solid Marxist party composed of professional revolutionaries, defined in opposition to revisionist and reformist ideas, especially the widespread economism of that period. The Militant No. 1 (1928) put forward a sharp defense of the program of Trotsky’s Left Opposition, against opportunism and Stalinist bureaucratism and for a Leninist party. Practically all of the first issue of Spartacist (1964) was a defense of Marxism on Cuba, the black question and, fundamentally, the need for an authentic Trotskyist leadership against the rapidly degenerating U.S. Socialist Workers Party, whose leadership had just expelled us because of our principled struggle to uphold the Leninist program. Each of these newspapers was committed to defending the continuity of authentic Marxism.
RO and WT claim this heritage. However, in RO No. 1, the introduction of our new paper was subordinated to other articles—programmatically correct in themselves—which we thought were more relevant at the time. This decision showed a weakness in our understanding of the central importance of a Leninist vanguard party: for Marxists in Canada, nothing is more important than the publication of a francophone Trotskyist press that fights to make the struggle for Quebec national liberation a motor force for workers revolution. With the second issue of RO, and now the launch of WT, we have corrected that error. Like our predecessors, we set ourselves the task of cohering around our program a nucleus of cadres dedicated to national liberation, socialist revolution and the fight to reforge the Fourth International.