Socialist Voice, May 22, 1978
As reported in our last issue, the April 19-23 convention of the Montreal Central Council of the Confederation of National Trade Unions (CSN) voted in favor of "an independent and socialist Quebec" and called on Quebec workers to build "their own independent political organization" to achieve that goal.
"The adoption of this position," say the editors of the revolutionary-socialist biweekly Lutte Ouvričre, "constitutes the most significant development in the Quebec labor movement since [the Parti Quebecois victory] November 15, 1976. It is a giant step forward for the entire labor movement."
The task now facing union activists, they say, is to fight to get the whole labor movement to adopt these positions. "CSN members should get the resolutions adopted in their local unions, their federations, and their city-wide councils. They should fight to reverse the decision of the CSN’s Confederal Council, which didn’t want the next convention of the CSN [scheduled for June] to take a position on the national question.
"We should demand that the union movement, especially the Montreal Central Council, which is in the vanguard on the national question, fight the undemocratic draft law on the referendum. According to the terms of this PQ bill, the labor movement would be obliged to join ‘umbrella committees’ led by the bourgeois parties in the Quebec National Assembly.
"The unions are beginning to elaborate their own position on the national question, expressing the workers’ interests. They should be able to fight in defense of that position during the referendum."
The Central Council decision was taken in the face of strong opposition by delegates who are supporters of one or another of the Maoist groups En Lutte (In Struggle) and the Canadian Communist League (Marxist-Leninist). The vote to support Quebec independence was 160 to 104.
Also participating in the Montreal Central Council convention were members of the Ligue Ouvričre Revolutionnaire (LOR—Revolutionary Workers League). The LOR, with its founding organizations the Groupe Marxiste Revolutionnaire and the Ligue Socialiste Ouvričre, is "the only organized force that has fought consistently for the perspective of independence and socialism in Quebec," Lutte Ouvričre points out.
"For years the Trotskyists have carried on this struggle, denouncing all attempts to subordinate the working class to the capitalist parties, or to build artificial Chinese walls between the national struggle and the anticapitalist struggle. It is not by chance that this central perspective of the Trotskyists coincides with that of the first significant component of the labor movement to adopt a position on the national question.
"It underscores that the strategic perspectives advanced by the revolutionary communists converge with the real movement of the working class."
Members of the LOR at the Central Council convention sold the April 19 issue of Lutte Ouvričre, which contained the statement on these pages.
The translation is by Socialist Voice; subtitles by Lutte Ouvričre.
By the Editors of Lutte Ouvričre
Since November 15, 1976 the imperialist bourgeoisie and the federal state have been conducting an economic, political, and judicial offensive against the Quebec nation and its national rights. It is a policy of intimidation—ranging from the great "national unity" campaign with its Pepin-Robarts-style advertising barrage, through Trudeau’s threats and the sabotage of the Keable commission, to the economic blackmail symbolized by the Sun Life getaway.
But there is a notable absence of any response by Quebec. The Parti Quebecois government has simply retreated on all fronts in the face of these attacks. Sun Life has not been nationalized. Head offices are free to function in English. The RCMP continues to operate freely on Quebec territory (like everyone else, it is preparing for the referendum). The Levesque government agreed without flinching to stop the proceedings of the Keable commission, while it patiently awaits a final decision by the imperialist Supreme Court.
The PQ retreats
The PQ is not only retreating on current questions. This party, which only a few years ago was talking of a "unilateral declaration of independence" once it had won power in elections, is more and more diluting its initial goal. Levesque declares in Toronto that the PQ has no intention at all of breaking up Canada. Claude Morin [minister of intergovernmental affairs] states that the PQ’s "sovereignty-association" formula belongs to the same "family of solutions as the "third road" proposed by [Liberal leader] Claude Ryan. We still don’t know the question that will be asked in the referendum: will we have to choose between two "third roads"?
These retreats by the PQ are not accidental. They are the expression in practice of the bourgeois nationalist nature of this party. Playing by the rules of the capitalist game, the PQ’s goal is to improve the lot of the Quebec petty bourgeoisie within the imperialist system using the "only Quebec capitalist, the state," as Camille Laurin [cultural affairs minister] puts it. The creation by the PQ of a "Quebecois national capitalism" based on a formally independent state would not challenge imperialist domination. Claude Morin underscored this last March 7 when he said that a "sovereign" Quebec would participate in the imperialist military alliances NATO and NORAD.
Even in its most "radical" phase the PQ has never questioned the presence in Quebec of the foreign multi-national corporations; the most it sought was to "civilize" them. In these conditions the PQ’s independence would be nothing but a caricature of national liberation that would not benefit the workers in the least.
What’s at stake in the national struggle
It is impossible to end national oppression without a complete break with imperialism, the expropriation without compensation of all imperialist interests, and the establishment of economic planning under workers’ control. Of course, there is no question of doing that as far as the PQ is concerned.
This party wants to continue the exploitation of workers in a future "sovereign" Quebec. That side of the PQ government’s balance sheet is already filling up. There have been two budgets imposing austerity on the workers. [Health Minister] Denis Lazure has continued the cutbacks program in the hospitals inaugurated under his Liberal predecessor Claude Forget. In the schools there have been layoffs and moves to roll back educational reforms; in the public sector an antiunion "new regime." And to top it all off, there is an "antiscab law" that in fact authorizes employers to use scabs to "protect" their property.
In short, the PQ government has thrown itself zealously into the anti-working-class offensive being carried out by the Canadian ruling class since 1975.
But while the PQ unhesitatingly accepts the rules of the capitalist game, the Canadian bourgeoisie in turn is putting up fierce resistance to the PQ’s plans. The federal state is the underpinning of its political, economic, and military power. Whatever "moderation" and "good will" the PQ may display, the Canadian imperialist bourgeoisie will never renounce its direct authority over Quebec. As a quarter of Canada’s market and a reservoir of resources and cheap labor power, Quebec is much more important for Canada’s rulers than the old colonies were for the European powers.
Politically, even sovereignty-association would challenge the hold of the Canadian bourgeoisie over Quebec. And it would have disastrous effects on the fragile regional equilibrium of Canada, encouraging a further development of centrifugal tendencies in the various provinces. This would run counter to the centralizing goals of Canadian big business, weakening it not only against its competitors but in relation to its own working class.
But what most frightens imperialism is the possibility of a new explosion of working-class and national struggles in Quebec following a victory in the referendum: these struggles could quickly overflow the framework established by the PQ. In the context of the capitalist crisis, any partial victory on the national question, even some form of "sovereignty" for Quebec, would be a historic catastrophe for the Canadian ruling class.
Hence the increasing number of scarcely-veiled threats of military intervention on the part of the federal politicians. The bourgeoisie will resort to whatever methods it requires to prevent even a semblance of "independence" for Quebec. It will not sacrifice its interests on the altar of a possible referendum when it holds so many trumps economically, politically, and militarily. We should be mindful that since Confederation the federal government has intervened militarily some 20 times in Quebec.
How is the PQ responding to federal intransigence? Its response is a simple one: retreat all down the line. By trying to make its plans more agreeable to the Canadian bourgeoisie and by playing down "sovereignty" and increasingly emphasizing association, the PQ may hope to defuse federal opposition. By watering its wine it no doubt hopes to increase its popular support during the referendum. But it’s a false calculation. The PQ’s retreats disorient its own supporters without in any way diminishing the opposition of the Canadian ruling class, which sees in these retreats only a sign of weakness.
Independence requires the mobilization of the working masses
The only way to build a favorable relationship of forces against the centralized political and military apparatus of the Canadian bourgeoisie is through mobilizing the working masses. And that is why the PQ government is unable to resist the federal offensive. It is a bourgeois party, committed to maintaining the capitalist system. If it were to set out to mobilize the population in a real struggle against national oppression, it would lose everything. Not only would the imperialists react brutally by withdrawing their capital, but the PQ itself would be threatened by the mobilization of the workers and their allies. The masses would not be satisfied with a simple "favorable bias" [a reference to the PQ’s self-declared "favorable bias" toward the workers—S.V.] but would struggle to achieve all their social and national aspirations. And that would bring them up against the PQ government itself.
The Parti Quebecois refuses to harness the potential power of the working masses. Instead it does all it can to hobble the workers’ mobilizations. It will never be able to lead the national liberation struggle to victory against Canadian imperialism.
As the National Bureau of the CEQ [Quebec Teachers Federation] said, it is impossible to separate the struggle for national liberation from the struggle for emancipation of the workers. National oppression and capitalist exploitation are two sides of the same reality: Quebec’s domination by Canadian and American imperialism. Only by getting rid of these imperialist interests can real national liberation be achieved. And only the working class is strong enough to carry this struggle through to the end.
The PQ’s compromises only encourage the Canadian bourgeoisie to pursue its anti-Quebec offensive, whose goal is to inflict a sharp defeat on the national liberation movement. The federal elections, the draft legislation for a federal referendum, and Ryan’s nomination as Quebec Liberal leader are all part of this campaign.
And there’s a lot riding on the outcome. If the Canadian ruling class manages to resolve the present political crisis, to put Quebec in its place, and to reaffirm the supreme authority of the federal state, it will be in a very strong position to continue its offensive against both the Quebec and English-Canadian labor movements.
On the other hand, a defeat of the Canadian ruling class on an issue as vital as the very structure of the state would open up a very favorable situation for the workers of both nations. It’s worth recalling the statements by the former Liberal minister Guy St-Pierre, who said he feared not independence as such but the development of a "Portuguese"-style situation — the danger, from his stand-point, that the toiling masses would make gains amidst the great upheaval of bourgeois institutions. The Canadian imperialist ruling class has a highly developed class consciousness. It knows how to recognize its interests and to defend them.
The working class cannot be indifferent toward the outcome of this struggle, given its importance and especially in light of the PQ’s retreats. The LOR [Revolutionary Workers League] is fighting to get the labor movement to undertake in its own name the mass struggle for Quebec’s independence by giving it a socialist content. We are seeking its direct involvement in political action to seize the leadership of the national liberation movement from the PQ and to carry it through by getting rid of imperialist interests and achieving an independence that serves the working people.
This struggle takes concrete form today through active support to Operation Liberté against the federal police, the RCMP; the campaign for repeal of the federal laws that deny women the right to free abortion on demand; the struggle to free the political prisoners rotting in the federal prisons in Quebec; and so on.
The various Maoist and Stalinist groups are unanimously opposed. to independence, or "separation," as they put it. They seem completely unaware of what is involved in the present confrontation between the federal state and the Quebec national liberation movement.
Their central argument is quite simple, even simplistic. National oppression will be ended only by the overthrow of capitalism and thus the bourgeois state. The workers of both nations must unite in this task. Consequently, the Maoists say, Quebec’s "separation" would be a false solution diverting workers from the struggle for socialism. According to this argument, Quebec’s national liberation must await an eventual and hypothetical pan-Canadian socialist revolution.
But things will not happen that way. The Canadian state is a prison house of peoples. The crisis of capitalism has brought about a sharpening of national oppression and in response to that oppression a rise of national liberation movements not only in Quebec but also in Acadia, among the Native peoples, and so on.
The problem can’t be reduced to identifying the federal capitalist state and its provincial counterparts as the common enemy. The question is how to mobilize the masses, including the oppressed nations, against that state. And how to use that mobilization to shake and even put in question the existence of the federal state. By opposing independence the Maoists propose in fact to leave the concrete terrain of the national question to the bourgeois nationalists, who can continue to divert the proletariat’s energy and desire for national liberation.
At the same time they refuse to see that the struggle for independence, if led through mass mobilizations, would threaten the federal state itself. But the bourgeoisie has not been slow to understand this. That’s why it is campaigning hysterically even against the timid plans of the PQ. It’s too bad that in the great confrontation now shaping up between the supporters of "Canadian unity" and the supporters of the national aspirations of the Quebec masses, some people who claim to be "Marxist-Leninists" are on the wrong side of the barricades.
These false "communists" argue in defense of their absurd position that what is needed’ is "the unity of Quebec workers with the English-Canadian workers." Another fine — and abstract — principle. Any real unity requires in the first place that the Canadian working class express its solidarity with Quebec’s national struggle, and understand that this struggle is proceeding toward independence. Otherwise the Canadian workers will be acting like the Maoists: struggling for "Canadian unity" with "leftist" arguments at the very time that the Canadian imperialist bourgeoisie and its federal state are driving hard against independence.
For a workers party based on the unions
It’s not just that the PQ’s social and economic policies are directed against the workers and their allies. It is also leading the national struggle into a dead end, if not the slaughterhouse. The workers and their allies cannot rely on this bourgeois party to defend their interests.
They need their own political party — a party that will be based on mass mobilizations to win real victories, and that will aim to break completely with imperialist domination of Quebec. This party must be a mass workers party, independent of all the capitalist parties and armed with a program that fully responds to the demands of the working class and all the exploited and oppressed sectors of the population — women, immigrants, Native peoples, gays and lesbians, and so on.
There is no such party at present in Quebec. The only mass organizations are the unions. The Quebec workers have displayed great militancy in recent years. But the union leaderships have done all they could to channel these mobilizations and this radicalization toward unofficial support of the PQ, blocking the independent political action of the workers.
Now that the PQ is in power we are paying the price. The full scope of the PQ’s offensive against the working class can unfold without meeting organized and united resistance from the labor movement. Instead, the latter presents the sad spectacle of a divided union movement competing for favors from the PQ, each federation raiding the others for affiliates.
The divided demonstrations of May Day are the most striking example of this treacherous policy of the union bureaucracies.
Economic struggles cannot be separated from political struggles. You can’t give unofficial support to the PQ politically if you want to maintain a firm attitude of militant opposition toward this government. And you can’t organize an effective response to the capitalist offensive against real wage levels, jobs, women, students, immigrants, and so on, without exposing the responsibility of the PQ government, which is actively participating in the Canadian ruling class’s offensive against working people. Collaboration with the PQ paralyzes the labor movement just when we should be gathering all our forces in defense of our gains.
Thus breaking with the PQ is posed as an immediate necessity before the working class. Within the mass organizations of the working class, the unions, we must point to this concrete reality to raise the necessity to build a workers party. And we must pose the necessity for the unions to participate actively in building this party if it is to be something more than a small sect isolated from the mass of the workers.
This party should struggle for independence; it should fight to fulfill all the demands of the working class and oppressed layers of the population. If such a party is built around current struggles, it will not be a plaything of the bureaucrats and reformists.
The union bureaucracy opposes this perspective. It will take a real struggle to achieve it, including a struggle in the union conventions. And it will only be achieved by opposing the bureaucracy’s class-collaborationist line.
This perspective must be advanced wherever there is a debate taking place over the tasks facing the labor movement, national liberation, and political action. That is why militants must support and build the conference of the RMS [Trade Union Militants Tendency] on the workers party, which is set for May 13.
For the workers republic of Quebec
There is no use kidding ourselves. The real national liberation of Quebec, the definitive emancipation of the workers, requires a struggle to the death against American and Canadian imperialism. But the exploiters are not invincible. The Vietnamese people triumphed over the Pentagon’s war machine. And 90 miles off the coast of the United States the Cuban revolution was victorious.
Why? Because the revolutionists in those countries went all the way to the socialist revolution, and because they relied on mobilizing the toiling masses. As well, they understood that their struggle was not a national struggle separated from the rest of the world, that it had to be carried on within an internationalist perspective through working to build links with revolutionary struggles elsewhere in the world.
Those are valuable lessons for us in our struggle for social emancipation and national liberation. That is why the Revolutionary Workers League (LOR) belongs to the Fourth International, the world party of socialist revolution, which combines and coordinates the work of activists in more than 50 countries on five continents. For the LOR, the struggle for a workers party based on the union movement is part of the struggle to build the mass revolutionary party — the only instrument that guarantees a definitive victory over world imperialism.
Copyright South Branch Publishing. All