[ Home ]  [ Canadian Bolsheviks ]  [ Documents Index ]  [ Reminiscences Index ] [ About ]

Socialists and the October Crisis, Part 6

[ Part 1 ] [ Part 2 ] [ Part 3 ] [ Part 4 ] [ Part 5 ] [ Part 6 ]

Labor Challenge December 7, 1970

Labor Challenge December 21, 1970

Québec Rally Demands:
Free Political Prisoners

by John Lejderman

MONTREAL, Nov. 26—"Pierre Trudeau is solidly anchored in the old concept of the Québec nation... From the beginning of the crisis to the end, his sole aim was to teach Québec that it is a province like the others, but if it is to be different at all, then only as one that is better policed."

Thus René Lévesque, most applauded speaker of the evening, summed up the significance of Ottawa’s anti-democratic offensive at last night’s meeting of the Comité Québécois pour la Défense des Libertés (Québec Committee for the Defense of Freedom).

The enthusiastic crowd of about 3,000 at the Paul Sauvé arena made up the largest protest meeting yet against the repression and represented the real foundation of a broad united front to defend democratic rights in Québec. The attendance was all the more impressive since, owing to the repressive atmosphere, the committee was unable to get a hall until two days before the meeting, allowing only one day for publicity with little advance press coverage. The audience was mainly working class.

In addition to Lévesque, leader of the Parti Québécois, speakers included Fernand Daoust, secretary of the Québec Federation of Labor (CLC), Matthias Rioux, president of the Montreal Teachers’ Union, Michel Bourdon, vice-president of the Montreal Council of the Confederation of National Trade Unions, Jean-Marc Piotte, professor at the University of Québec, and Canon Jacques Grand’Maison of St-Jerome.

All the speakers demanded an urgent attack on the social injustices in Québec instead of police measures against those who denounce these problems. All of them called for a united front of all political groups to defend individual freedom.

Bourdon, fired by the CBC for denouncing censorship during the recent crisis, lashed out against the "totalitarian undertaking of Trudeau to force us to be silent." The trade unions, he said must play a key role in fighting the repression. "We have to step up our political action program at the CNTU convention December 6."

Fernand Daoust of the QFL strongly defended the position adopted by the three trade union federations on October 21 against the imposition of the War Measures Act. Alluding to the GM strike at Ste-Therese, where autoworkers are demanding the right to work in French, he denounced the fact that "workers are forced in their own country to express themselves in a language which is not their own."

PQ leader René Lévesque urged the audience to support the Parti Québécois to avoid "anarchy" or "fascism." Although the role of Lévesque and the bourgeois PQ during the crisis was largely confined to calling on the Bourassa government to act "responsibly," "like a real government," he was applauded frequently by the audience.

A spokesman for the Comité Québécois called for the formation of local committees in the factories and schools. A Petition was circulated with the five main demands of the CQDL: immediate release and compensation of victims of the War Measures Act; immediate repeal of all the "emergency" laws; an immediate end to police harassment of citizens; withdrawal of the Canadian army from Québec; and solutions to the real social problems of Québec.

A large banner on the wall, Free the Prisoners of War, expressed the demand that must become the focal point of the anti-repression mass movement in the coming months. Some of those facing trumped-up charges of FLQ membership have already been convicted. Many more face trial in coming weeks, including the 13 political prisoners charged with "seditious conspiracy." Among the latter are Montreal CNTU leader Michel Chartrand, civil liberties lawyer Robert Lemieux, defense committee leader Jacques Larue-Langlois, and writers Pierre Vallières and Charles Gagnon, who will come up for trial January 6.

The political militancy of last night’s meeting was not only expressed in the tremendous applause for the speakers, but also in the extreme receptivity to the revolutionary socialist press. More than 1,300 copies of the two Trotskyist papers were bought. La Lutte Ouvrière, headlined "Free Michel Chartrand and the Other Political Prisoners," and Jeune Garde, headlined "6,000,000 Québec Hostages," obviously expressed the sentiments of this new growing mass movement.

The task now is to carry forward the defense, not only in Québec but also in English Canada.

Support Québécois, Devlin Urges Left

Bernadette Devlin has issued a message of solidarity with the "liberation struggle of the Québec people" and denounced the repression.

In a message to the Comité Québécois de mobilisation pour l’indépendance et le socialisme (Québec Committee to Mobilize for Independence and Socialism) in Paris, the young leader of the civil rights movement in Northern Ireland declares

"To all who are struggling for the liberation of the Québec people and who dare to stand up to imperialism and capitalism, to all who are victims of the repression with which corrupt regimes defend themselves, we proclaim our support.

"In Ireland we have experienced imprisonment without trial and we ask those who support the struggle of the Irish people to defend our comrades in Québec. It is the same struggle, and the same victory. Power to the people!"

The Québec Committee in Paris was organized by Québec students. According to Québec-Presse, the Montreal trade union weekly, they have distributed leaflets and posters, held a press conference and a mass meeting at the Mutualité to explain the political and economic situation in Québec.

The mass meeting was sponsored jointly with the Comité français pour la défense des prisonniers politiques Québécois (French Committee to Defend the Québec Political Prisoners). Among the 20 or so prominent French personalities associated with this group, Québec-Presse reports, are Charles Bettelheim, economist, Alfred Sauvy, professor, Jean-Marie Domenach, publisher of Esprit, and Nicole Dreyfus, a lawyer long active in "drawing international attention to the fate of Québec’s political prisoners."

The Nov. 16 issue of Rouge, the organ of the Ligue Communiste, French section of the Fourth International, reports a meeting on the Québec situation at Rouen Oct. 29. Speaker was an editor of Rouge, Jean-Pierre Beauvais. Rouge reports that the meeting, attended by close to 200, was part of the league’s "campaign of information on Canadian problems, the struggle of the Québec people, and the struggle against the repression in Canada."

War Measures Crisis:
How Left Faced Trudeau’s Blackmail

by Dick Fidler

How did the left react to Trudeau’s assault on the Québécois nationalist movement?

The massive raids and arrests under the War Measures Act marked the first major move by the federal and Québec governments to block the rising mass movement for an independent Québec, the most explosive manifestation in Canada of the new radicalization of recent years.

This highly conscious attempt by the capitalist rulers of this country to isolate and intimidate the left called for an equally firm and serious response from the targets of the repression.

That response did not materialize, unfortunately. While the Québec labor leadership registered its opposition to both the War Measures Act and the successor law, the labor movement in English Canada, aided by the New Democratic Party leadership, reversed the NDP’s earlier opposition to the repression and underwrote the principle of the new reactionary legislation. It endorsed the illegalization for the first time in years of a political movement, the FLQ. And it has done nothing to protest the trials of leading nationalist and labor leaders in Québec, among them Michel Chartrand, a CNTU leader.

The NDP and labor leadership capitulated to the anti-FLQ hysteria in part because they are reformists, not revolutionaries; they see the capitalist state not as the ultimate instrument of class oppression that it is, but as a socially neutral arbiter ruling in the interests of the democratic majority.

But what was the reaction to the crisis among those tendencies which consider themselves revolutionary? Most of these, too, failed the test. And they failed precisely because their respective political outlooks prevented them from meeting the challenge posed by Trudeau’s attack.

The Communist Party, for example, itself a prime target in the past of repressive laws, has responded with appeals to oppose the new legislation. But the CP has undercut this formally correct position by failing even to mention, let alone defend, those now charged under the War Measures Act in Québec.

Is it because the CP is bitterly opposed to the mass movement for Québec independence? Its opposition to the mass movement for a French Québec is well known. In English Canada, the CP has undermined defense actions by attempting to exclude members of the League for Socialist Action, which supports Québec independence, from groups it participates in.

In a statement issued October 16, the CP central committee declared: "What is at stake is democracy, the national and social aspirations of the French Canadian people, and not least, the ability of Canada to stay united and regain its independence as a truly sovereign bi-national state based on an equal partnership of the French Canadian and English speaking peoples."

This puts the struggle in Québec on the plane of simple liberalism—as a fight for equality with English Canada, not for national liberation or sovereignty. The CP’s view that capitalist Canada must remain "united" leads it to deny even the democratic right of self-determination to the French Canadian nation. Thus its "Metro Toronto Committee," in a leaflet on the War Measures Act, called for "a new Canadian Constitution ... which will enable Canada to remain united." It spoke of "the right to fight for national self-determination of the French-Canadian people in a new Canadian Confederation"! But self-determination means precisely the right to choose to live outside "the Canadian Confederation." The CP’s position amounts to telling Québécois they have the right to divorce, so long as they don’t break up the family!

The CP opposes Québec’s struggle for national liberation in practice because it sees Québec’s independence, and the socialist dynamic of this struggle, as a fatal threat to its projection of a "democratized" Canadian capitalism, under which Canada could achieve "unity" and independence from U.S. imperialism without a socialist victory.

Another tendency which is also uneasy over the distinctive dynamic of Québécois nationalism is the Canadian Liberation Movement. It too favors a "united Canada" but clothes its positions in "revolutionary" rhetoric. While pretending to sympathize with Québec nationalism the CLM treats it as not substantially different from the anti-U.S. imperialist movement in English Canada—"for the same rights, equal justice and a common liberty," in the words of the November issue of New Canada, the CLM’s monthly newspaper.

But to reduce the Québec struggle to a struggle simply against U.S. imperialism is to miss its essential feature—its powerful thrust against Anglo-Canadian imperialism and its central state power, the government at Ottawa. It is to ignore the difference between the nationalism of an oppressed nation Québec, and the "nationalism" (chauvinism) of what iri Québec is an oppressor nation. It ignores the special tasks in Québec flowing from the double oppression of the Québécois.

The Maoist groupings responded to the crisis with seemingly opposite interpretations. The Canadian Party of Labor devoted a special issue of their organ Canadian Worker on the crisis to an attack on the FLQ ... for its nationalism! "The FLQ puts the struggle for ‘national liberation’ (bosses’ liberation) ahead of the struggle for socialism (workers liberation)," it declaimed.

For CPL, the national revolt of the Québécois has nothing to do with socialism. In one unbelievable passage Canadian Worker went so far as to lump together the nationalism of labor leader Michel Chartrand, the Montreal labor-based opposition party, FRAP, and Québec-Presse, the trade union weekly, with the demagogic Canadian "nationalism" of the Toronto Star and Walter Gordon—all of whom, it claimed, "approve of FLQ objectives!"

The other major Maoist grouping, the Canadian Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist), also known as the Internationalists, came out with uncritical support of the adventurist FLQ.

How to explain the contradictory lines of the Maoists? For both groups, Québec nationalism is irrelevant to their strategy. They share in common an ultraleftist analysis which couples a grossly exaggerated estimation of the level of consciousness of the working class with absurd characterizations of the present political regime.

As the November 7 issue of People’s Canada Daily News, organ of the CCP(ML), puts it: "The peace period has been terminated by the fascist compradores who have signed their death warrant. It is the people who will soon carry out the execution." The issue goes on to assert that "the broad masses" have now recognized the fraud of bourgeois democracy and are ready for the revolution.

The CPL’s Canadian Worker phrases it, "Communist ideas are already being grasped by the working masses," and projects their tiny group’s feeble connection to the working class as a sufficient base to unleash the revolutionary struggle.

This idealized view of the workers’ consciousness exempts the word-mongering ultralefts from the necessity to formulate a program. Everything is reduced to the simple question: for or against the revolution. Since revolution is considered to be imminent, there is no need to build a mass movement. And those who speak of defending democratic liberties are of course "agents of imperialism."

Thus PCDN ridicules the "Trotskyites" for calling "for the development of a ‘mass movement’ " against the War Measures Act, for "claiming that the people should be discussing ‘women’s liberation’ and other such irrelevant nonsense," and for supporting the "social fascist" NDP. A CPL leaflet boasts they will not "become lap-dogs for civil libertarians. " In several cities, the CCP(ML) have attempted to break up meetings called to protest the repression.

The truth, of course, is that while Trudeau’s repression is reminiscent of fascist methods, Canada has not gone fascist.

The mass movement has not been smashed; its organizations, including the trade unions, remain intact and capable of acting independently in defense of the workers’ interests. Far from launching an all-out assault on the entire left and workers’ movement, the bourgeoisie has moved carefully and deliberately, picking off the most vulnerable or best-known elements, alleged FLQers, while using the confusion and disorientation provoked by the FLQ’s adventurism to throw a cloud of suspicion around other revolutionary tendencies, and intimidate the broad left and nationalist movement.

But the current repression will not stop the radicalization among students, trade unionists and least of all the Québécois. It is this general forward direction of the mass movement that is decisive to the future perspectives’ for the struggle.

The problem now is to assess correctly the real nature of the setback, to work to reconsolidate the movement around the defense of the immediate victims of the repression, the Québec political prisoners. A victory for Trudeau in these trials would indeed be a major setback to the nationalist movement in Québec, and encourage reactionaries across the country to step up their efforts to harass and intimidate the left.

That is why the revolutionary socialists of the League for Socialist Action/Ligue Socialiste Ouvrière—virtually alone among the organized revolutionary tendencies—reacted vigorously and boldly during the crisis following proclamation of the War Measures Act. In Québec, despite the arrest of two of its leading comrades, the LSO threw all its resources into using its campaign for the Montreal mayoralty to denounce the repression and to mobilize opposition to the witch-hunt. In English Canada the LSA and the Young Socialists have sponsored an extensive speaking tour for Penny Simpson, one of the arrested victims of the Act.

The LSA/ LSO has made the formation of united front committees against the repression and for the defense of the political prisoners a top priority of its activities in the next period.

Simpson Tour Bolsters
Growing Rights Struggle

by Al Cappe

"It was only when the civil liberties groups started protesting that lawyers were allowed into prison to see us. In the same way it is only by speaking out now that I will ever retain my right to do so."

This was Penny Simpson’s response at a meeting of 1,500 students at Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland. Someone had wanted to know if she wasn’t afraid to be making a speaking tour of English Canada to mobilize opposition to the War Measures Act (the RCMP had followed her around St. John’s). Her answer indicates the tone and purpose of her tour.

Simpson was sent on tour by the Young Socialists/Ligue des Jeunes Socialistes to help set in motion the defense campaign for civil liberties. She was arrested under the Act and held incommunicado for six days in Montreal. The trip lasted three weeks, covering twelve cities in the Atlantic provinces and Ontario and meetings ranging from 80 to 1,500 people.

What was her overall impression from those three weeks? "The tide is turning against Trudeau. The mood of the country is beginning to shift from shock or blind faith in the government, to questioning and wariness and then to real distrust and reconsideration. While I thought I’d be meeting opposition all the way instead I found a great deal of support and a real desire by many for action against the government."

The YS/LJS responded quickly to the need for the radical movement in this country to defend itself and the political prisoners in Québec. The purpose of the tour was not only to expose the government and explain the situation in Québec but also to begin the building of defence committees which would unite all groups and individuals into a struggle for the restoration of democratic rights and freedom for the political prisoners.

Every meeting held was either the gathering of those people interested in forming a committee or was a first meeting for a committee already established. Defense groups were sent up in Halifax, St. John’s, Moncton, Peterborough, Windsor, Hamilton and other centers. Whether the meeting was 100 people or 1,500 people, the individuals in attendance realized that they were not alone. They saw that others were worried and moreover wanted to act.

Support came from many quarters. A Windsor newspaperman explained his support for Simpson’s tour from his own experience: "In the first week after the Act was invoked the cops phoned our paper and told us that they didn’t ‘want’ to censor us but that they would if we ‘forced’ them to."

In Peterborough the Liberal member of parliament Hugh Faulkner politely declined to debate Simpson though he was soon to begin a tour of local high schools to drum up support for Trudeau. A group of students at Trent University decided to go around to the principals to demand equal time with him and to distribute leaflets which told the real story in the schools.

The tour had a tremendous impact not only through the favorable press coverage but through the people which it drew together. The tour showed that there is the real potential for a mass movement against the government’s repression.

Raids, Trials: Québec Repression Continues

by Penny Simpson

MONTREAL—T.C. Douglas may call them "Keystone Kops," but there’s nothing funny about the very professional way the Montreal and Québec police are conducting their campaign of intimidation against the left.

Emboldened by Ottawa’s repressive laws, they are continuing their raids. On December 2, less than 24 hours before James Cross was released, they raided the homes of four members of the Ligue Socialiste Ouvrière and the Ligue des Jeunes Socialistes.

The police didn’t seize anything, even after a twice-over search in one apartment. But one LJS member, John Lejderman, was threatened with having his head beaten against the wall, and in another case, the cops threatened to smash the door in if the building superintendent refused to let them enter an LSO member’s apartment.

On December 4, four other LSO and LJS members pleaded not guilty in municipal court to "carrying placards, banners, cockades or similar identifying symbols" during the October municipal election campaign. The charge carries a penalty of $200 fine and/ or six months in prison.

The four—Manon Léger, the LSO’s mayoralty candidate against Jean Drapeau, her campaign manager Jean Herivault, Léon Peillard and Michel Lévesque—were arrested following the picketing of the Black Watch armories by supporters of the Léger campaign the day before the vote. They were remanded to January 14.

The police searches and court charges are clearly a continuation of the harassment the LSO and LJS have experienced since the arrest of two leading members, Arthur Young and Penny Simpson, on October 16 under the War Measures Act.

The personal papers and books of Simpson and Young have not yet been returned, nor has a letter to the police demanding their return been answered.

The LSO and LJS are the only radical groups—apart from the defense committees—that have continued to function here since the unleashing of the War Measures Act.

Are the police "exceeding their duties"? They’re not exceeding their powers—they’re acting in accordance with the new "public order" act. And during the last month, two top Québec Liberals, Gilles Lalande, Liberal policy commission chairman, and Gerard Filion of Marine Industries Ltd. have publicly denounced "Trotskyists," and other groups, as "subversives."

The capitalist authorities hope to prolong and even institutionalize the repressive atmosphere the FLQ kidnappings crisis has enabled them to whip up against the left. Now that Cross is free, the police have declared that they will be able to use more ruthless methods than were possible while the diplomat remained in his kidnappers’ hands.

The trials of those charged under the WMA recommence on January 11. The year-old sedition case against Raymond Lemieux and Laurier Gravel, leaders of the St-Léonard struggle for a French school system, will be heard in the January assizes, as will the case of proabortion fighter Dr. Henry Morgentaler, charged with arranging and performing abortions.

The governments seem to think they can railroad every opponent they have in Québec while the rest of the country isn’t looking. A united defense effort in Québec and across Canada is urgently needed to breach this attack against every sector of popular protest.

[ Top ] [ Documents Index ]


Copyright South Branch Publishing. All Rights Reserved.
www.socialisthistory.ca  ▪