between oppressor and oppressed
How Not to Defend Quebec:
The Example of ‘In Struggle’
Socialist Voice, May 22, 1978
By Christian Corbiere
Charles Gagnon, a leader of the Maoist organization En
Lutte/In Struggle (IS), has just completed a "Canadian tour" on the
"Quebec national question." In a statement issued at the outset of the
tour, IS defined its goal:
"IS wants to make the point of view of the popular
masses known, the point of view which loudly and clearly affirms that
the national rights, including the right to self-determination of the
Quebec nation, must be firmly defended. The point of view that only the
steel-like unity of the working class of the two nations against its
common enemy, the Canadian bourgeoisie, can put an end to the misery and
oppression, including national oppression, experienced under
Although IS makes a fierce effort to take its distance
from the capitalists’ national-unity campaign, and proclaims loudly that
it supports "Quebec’s right to self-determination, up to secession," the
campaign it is carrying on at the same time against Quebec
independence leads it dangerously close to positions that play into the
hands of Trudeau and Co.
Opposes Quebec Independence
For example, IS identifies the Quebec independentist
movement with extreme rightist elements like the Mouvement Reformiste
Social of Jean-Marc Brunet. (See IS’s pamphlet, For the Revolutionary
Unity of the Workers of all Nations and National Minorities, March
1978.) How does that demark it from the bourgeoisie’s campaign, which
seeks to identify all concrete actions by the Quebec nation against its
national oppression as the work of a movement of fanatics?
IS should know that the ruling class’s slander campaign
against the Quebec independentist movement is simply aimed at preparing
the English-Canadian population for intervention by the "democratic"
federal government against the national rights of the Québécois. Who,
then, benefits from In Struggle’s amalgam of independentists with avowed
fascists like Brunet, if it isn’t the Trudeau government with its
Another example. The big-business media in English
Canada have been campaigning hysterically against the Levesque
government’s language legislation, Law 101. Again it’s an attempt by the
ruling class to paint the defense of the national and language rights
of Quebec as a reactionary, racist movement that wants to oppress the
English-speaking minority (even though the law leaves basically intact
the extensive privileges of that minority).
No sooner was Bill 101 introduced, however, than IS
launched a campaign against it: Claiming to defend "absolute equality in
law of languages and nations," IS accused the Quebec government—in terms
that echoed the most reactionary elements of the Canadian ruling
class—of "replacing discrimination by discrimination," and "forcing
anglophones to speak French through outlawing the use of English
in various areas of activity." (See the supplement to In Struggle,
June 18, 1977.) It sounded a lot like the English-Canadian chauvinists’
hysteria about "shoving French down people’s throats."
In reality there is no equality of languages or nations
in Canada or Quebec today. The language rights of francophones are
denied and violated throughout the whole of English Canada. But in
Quebec the English-speaking minority continues to have an outrageously
privileged status on all levels. Law 101 was only a very modest, very
inadequate attempt to restore some balance linguistically.
What is the concrete effect of IS’s campaign in English
Canada? It reinforces the chauvinist campaign against the national
rights of the Québécois and for maintaining the privileges of the
anglophone minority in Quebec. But the task is to defend Quebec’s right
to pass laws in defense of its language without facing intervention by
the federal government or economic blackmail such as Sun Life’s decision
to move its head office to Ontario.
In calling for "absolute equality of languages and
nations" — that is, absolute equality between the oppressor and the
oppressed nations — IS claims to stand on Lenin’s position on the nation
question. But Lenin had a very different attitude. He never approached
the question of national oppression abstractly, but began by
distinguishing "between the nationalism of an oppressor nation and that
of an oppressed nation...." (Questions of National Policy and
Proletarian Internationalism, Moscow, no date, p. 202)
He strongly emphasized that "internationalism on the
part of oppressors or ‘great’ nations as they are called ... must
consist not only of the observance of the formal equality of nations but
even in an inequality of the oppressor nation, the great nation, that
must make up for the inequality which obtains in actual practise."
However IS, in its general propaganda, puts Quebec
nationalism and English-Canadian chauvinism, the struggle for Quebec
independence and the federalist campaign for Canadian unity, back to
back. Lenin’s vital distinction between the nationalism of oppressor
nations and the nationalism of oppressed nations is completely lost on
IS tends to overlook the concrete conditions that
prevail in English Canada — in particular, the multimillion dollar
campaign against Quebec being carried systematically throughout the mass
media, uniting all the political parties. Everything in the arsenal of
the ruling class of the oppressor nation is being thrown at the
Québécois, in an effort to intimidate this oppressed national minority.
No, it’s not a struggle between equals. The whole weight
of Canadian imperialism has been thrown into the balance in the struggle
against the oppressed Quebec nation.
The nationalism of a nation revolting against three
centuries of national oppression cannot be compared with the nationalism
inspired by Canadian imperialism in order to maintain its rule over all
the exploited and oppressed in the Canadian state.
Canadian unity vs. self-determination
IS’s verbal support for self-determination is
counter-balanced by its propaganda for Canadian unity. It seems that
even IS members themselves have trouble finding their way through it, as
was shown clearly by the group’s conduct at the recent convention of the
Canadian Labor Congress.
The CLC leadership proposed a resolution that refused to
recognize explicitly Quebec’s right to self-determination. During the
debate, members of IS spoke for the resolution although they
criticized it for not recognizing the right of self-determination up to
secession. They abstained on the vote. Then, following the
convention, the newspaper In Struggle denounced the
resolution as "an opportunist declaration which gives the labour bosses
the required latitude to line up behind the chauvinist oppressive
bourgeoisie should a crisis situation arrive."
It’s good that In Struggle has finally realized (even
if it’s after the fact) that the resolution didn’t really defend
Quebec’s right to self-determination. But how does IS explain the
strange behavior of its supporters at the convention itself? Don’t
readers of its paper deserve an explanation? Doesn’t it indicate that IS’s line on Quebec has some ambiguities?
Completely disoriented by this resolution that bore a
close resemblance to their own line, IS supporters objectively lined up
on the side of the very elements that defend Canadian unity against
Quebec’s right of self-determination.
Defend Quebec in practice
In recent issues of its newspaper IS has tended to
modify its attacks on the Quebec nationalist movement, centering its
blows on the chauvinist campaign of the Canadian ruling class. If this
continues, it can represent a step forward.
But words and writings are not enough. What is IS doing
concretely in English Canada to defend Quebec’s right to
It says: "We are not speaking only to Marxists or only
to the working class, but rather to those in the country for whom
democracy and social progress are real concerns."
Does that mean that IS wants to reach agreement with all
those who support Quebec’s right to self-determination
unconditionally? Is it ready to organize a mass campaign to defend
that right? Unfortunately, there is no indication that this is the case.
Instead of involving the broadest possible forces in its
tour "in defense of Quebec self-determination," IS conducted the tour in
a completely sectarian fashion — not to develop a real movement in
defense of Quebec’s rights but simply as an attempt to extend its own
organization on a pan-Canadian level. It even went so far as to exclude
from its "public" meetings members of other organizations that
unconditionally support Quebec’s right of self-determination, up to and
including independence. IS refuses to discuss and collaborate with those
who do not share its views.
There aren’t 57 varieties of struggle in defense of
Quebec’s right to self-determination in English Canada. There is only
one: to fight uncompromisingly, unconditionally, and without let-up in
active opposition to the Trudeau government’s national unity campaign.
This means organizing the broadest possible united front against the
threats of military intervention, and economic sabotage by Sun Life and
other imperialist corporations. It means repudiating all forms of
coercion, refusing to participate in any way in the poisonous campaign
against Quebec’s national struggle. And it means centering all one’s
blows not against the independentist movement in Quebec, but against the
Canadian unity campaign.
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