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Ignores difference 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 capitalism."

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 chauvinist maneuvers?

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.

Lenin’s position

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." (ibid.)

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 it.

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 self-determination?

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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