Revolutionary Marxist Organizations
in Quebec Since the Early 1970s:
By Bernard Rioux
Groupe Marxiste Révolutionnaire (1972-1977), Ligue Ouvrière
Révolutionnaire (1977-1980), Organisation Combat Socialiste (1980-1982),
Mouvement socialiste (1982-1983), Gauche socialiste (1983-...): such is
the political itinerary taken through the anti-capitalist left in Quebec
by those whose plumb line has been the defence of the program of the
Fourth International as we understood it.
To understand the continuity of a revolutionary Marxist political
current, it is necessary to examine its history, its legacy and its
evolution. The purpose is not to inventory the errors and failures, but
rather to sift through its experiences in an effort to see what remains
valid, what has proved reliable, what should be changed and what really
needs to be uprooted if we are to continue in our efforts to build a
revolutionary Marxist organization in Quebec. This is no mere academic
I. A new far-left emerges in Quebec in the early 1970s
May 68. The student movement occupies the streets. There is a
general strike in France. The Prague Spring. The development of the
guerrilla struggle in Latin America. American imperialism staggers in the
face of the heroic resistance of the Vietnamese people. A new era has
October 68. Quebec’s universities and junior colleges are
occupied. In the following year, the nationalist movement mobilizes:
McGill français, demonstrations against Bill 63, including a mobilization
of 60,000 at the National Assembly. The "FLQ" sets off some bombs. But the
masses are in motion, "Everything is possible". "No more tradition’s
chains shall bind us." That’s the spirit of the times.
The October Crisis, 1970. The authorities strike back. The
Canadian army occupies Quebec. An army against a spirit. A spirit that
rejects Canada and its oppressive institutions. A spirit that rejects the
But the October Crisis marked the end of an era. At the end of the
1960s, the organizations of the radical national left collapsed. It was
the end of the big extra-parliamentary nationalist mobilizations led
primarily by the student youth.
The new period was characterized initially by the establishment of the
Parti québécois’ hegemony over all the nationalist forces and the labour
movement, but also by increased militancy in the ranks of that movement.
The struggles were hard fought. The strike at the newspaper La Presse
in 1971 inspired a huge demonstration by the unions in the streets of
Montreal. This demonstration was savagely repressed by the police
The common front of public sector workers produced a wave of city-wide
strikes and occupations. Sept-Îles was literally occupied by the workers.
Many radio stations were taken over by protesting workers who produced
their own programming. The trade-union movement became the centre of
attraction for activists seeking social forces that could carry their
hopes to fruition.
The Parti québécois claimed—and many believed—that it had a realistic
solution to the national struggle: sovereignty-association. A large part
of the late-Sixties left disintegrated. Membership in the PQ soon found
its theoretical rationale. First independence; as for socialism, we’ll see
later. This was the first version of the stages theory. Soon there were
more stages, each with its own theory. The PQ reaped the harvest of the
Some activists rejected this entry into the PQ, this cop-out. They had
no confidence that a former Liberal minister could lead a struggle for
national liberation. We knew this and we said so. The PQ would lead us
into a dead end. It would defend the interests of the Quebec capitalists,
not the interests of the working class and the masses.
It was around this question of whether or not to support the PQ that
the demarcation between the revolutionary left and the reformisms of every
kind took place. It was necessary to develop a class program in opposition
to the PQ. A socialist strategy.
The adoption by the central trade-union bodies of socialist-style
manifestoes raised hopes that the unions would take their distance from
the PQ. But these manifestoes had a fundamental weakness. Yes, they talked
about socialism. But they said not a word about how this proposed
socialist society would be built. They said nothing about the political
organization of the workers. And the perspective of a workers party was
rejected in the early 1970s. Most of the labour leadership opposed the
formation of a workers party. They preferred to support the PQ, whether
explicitly or implicitly. They preferred to build a bloc between the
labour movement and the PQ.
It was all set up so that the workers and mass radicalization would not
be expressed directly on the class political terrain. The desire to fight
social and national oppression would be expressed politically by a more or
less substantial support to the PQ. The workers’ radicalization would put
the PQ in power. It’s paradoxical, but true.
In the early Seventies, the revolutionary left was scattered. But some
political action committees were at work in the neighbourhoods, the
universities and the CEGEPs. Under the impact of the Chinese cultural
revolution and the dominant current in the French university Marxism,
these activist layers became vaguely Maoist (or Mao-spontaneists, as we
The organizations linked with international currents—the pro-Chinese
Canadian Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist) and Mouvement révolutionnaire
des étudiants québécois, and the Ligue Socialiste Ouvrière (Fourth
International) ¾ had little connection with the
anticapitalist activist layers that had emerged from the recent struggles.
II. The Groupe marxiste révolutionnaire (1972-77): some programmatic
(a) Some genuine programmatic achievements . . .
The GMR was formed in August 1972 by a minority that had split from the
Ligue socialiste ouvrière and its youth organization, the Ligue des jeunes
socialistes. The GMR founders argued that the LSO majority failed to
understand the Quebec national question and adhered to a right-wing
orientation in the various social movements.
The GMR defended a series of positions that were generally linked to
its membership in the Fourth International. The GMR supported Quebec
independence. From the outset it was a part of the independentist and
socialist current. It held that only the working class could lead the
struggle for independence all the way and give it a clearly
anti-imperialist dimension. Independence would be socialist or it would
The GMR shared with the majority of the left, before the hegemony of
the "Marxist-Leninists" was established, a strictly Quebec perspective,
and viewed the struggle for national liberation within a strictly Quebec
framework somewhat on the model of the struggle of the Irish people. In
fact, the GMR borrowed the formulation of its strategic perspective "For
the workers republic of Quebec" from the great Irish revolutionary James
Connolly. It was on the basis of this understanding that the GMR called
for a Quebec section of the Fourth International.
This understanding of the national question, limited as it was, allowed
the GMR to demarcate itself from the Parti québécois. It enabled it to
avoid the Maoist demarcation from the PQ which led that current to reject
not only the PQ but the independence of Quebec.
Another precious programmatic acquisition of the GMR was linked to its
understanding of the democratic question in the revolution and in the
construction of the organizations. This understanding was based on some
profound thinking by the Fourth International concerning the reality,
variety and scope of bureaucratization processes.
The GMR also shared with the Fourth International a democratic
conception of socialism and opposed its bureaucratic caricatures. We were
fighting for a socialism of workers councils, a socialism in which the
party would not be the leader of everything. We were fighting for a
socialism in which a pluralism of parties would be possible and we were
opposed to the conception of the single party. The GMR never yielded to
the concept of the monolithic party, which is a post-Leninist, Stalinist
concept that marked the entire revolutionary left in Quebec, in particular
the "Marxist-Leninist" current which we described more correctly as
The GMR was genuinely sensitive to the radicalization of women. It
understood the need for the left to defend the autonomous women’s
movement. The GMR never denounced feminism as a factor of division of the
workers and mass forces as the Mao-Stalinist organizations did until the
late 1970s. On the contrary, it always insisted that it was the oppression
that divided, and not the autonomous organization of women in opposition
to that oppression. It always emphasized the relationship between the
struggle of women and the struggle for socialism. Its central perspective
was: "No liberation of women without socialist revolution, no socialism
without the liberation of women."
The GMR was consistently concerned with maintaining a democratic
relationship to the movements in which it was involved. Its perspective of
"building the movement in order to build the party" clearly illustrates
this concern, which unfortunately went so far as to neglect the tasks of
building the organization in favour of activism in the movements engaged
in struggle. This attitude was based on the understanding—unilateral, it
is true—that anticapitalist consciousness advances more through concrete
experiences than through written or other propaganda.
The GMR situated the building of the national organization within the
framework of building an international. This internationalist concern was
manifested in the ongoing nature of the international solidarity work in
which the GMR was involved. Let us note simply its key role in building
the Québec-Chile students committees in 1973 and 1974.
(b) . . . limited by an ultraleftist understanding of the situation
and the tasks
Like the far left as a whole, the GMR had a catastrophist analysis of
the political period. In our thinking whole sections of the population
were about to free themselves from PQ influence and turn toward socialist
solutions. The strike movement would outflank the bureaucratic
leaderships. Entire layers with an anticapitalist consciousness would put
the overthrow of capitalist society on the order of the day. In 1975 the
GMR even went so far as to write that a prerevolutionary situation was
foreseeable in Quebec within the next three or four years. The GMR held
this characterization of the situation until March 1976.
(b.1) Peripheralism, or the "theory" of our externality to the
workers and mass movements
The GMR was basically a student organization. It thought it could build
itself in the revolts of the student youth that would soon occur.
Intervention in the revolt of the student youth movements would give the
organization enough credibility to enable it to root itself in the
trade-union movement. This tactic was referred to as the tactic of the
"periphery (student youth) to the centre (workers movement)". Our basic
task was to promote and support these struggles.
Influenced by the debates in the French section of the Fourth
International, the GMR then developed a second party-building tactic,
called "winning hegemony within the broad vanguard". The broad vanguard
was the layer of anticapitalist or potentially anticapitalist activists
found in the various social sectors and primarily of course, in the GMR’s
view, in the student movement. Our task was to help to connect the mass
anticapitalist fronts so that these activist layers could develop their
capacity for initiatives in action. By helping to link up these activist
layers and to develop struggles, the organization would gain credibility
and build itself.
Under the impact of the rising strike movement and in particular the
strikes in May ’72, the more radicalized activist layers began to define
themselves in terms of the workers and mass movement. It was by winning
hegemony among these layers that the Mao-Stalinist organizations were
Inspired by nostalgia for May 68 and the extraparliamentary student and
nationalist mobilizations of the late Sixties, the GMR clashed frontally
with the spontaneous mode of radicalization of the activist layers in
Quebec at that time. Its thinking lagged behind reality, to say the least.
And this backwardness was evident in more than one way. The GMR of the
early years (1972-76) opposed the fight for a workers’ party while the
left-wing trade unionists were conducting some major struggles in the
labour movement to establish such a party. The GMR denounced that fight,
somewhat like the Mao-Stalinists later, in the name of the revolutionary
party. We failed to understand that the freeing of the labour movement
from the hold of the dominant ideology will be a complex process extending
over prolonged periods of time and could assume a whole series of forms.
Even in the milieu in which its entire social base was found, the
student movement, the GMR proved incapable of understanding the importance
of the fights being led by the activist layer. The ANEQ was at first
perceived as a corporatist student organization. How could the GMR make
such an error? The explanation is relatively simple. Experience had shown
(the French May, the late Sixties in Quebec) that in a period of
radicalization of the student movement, the student syndicalist
organizations tended to blow up. What needed to be built, the GMR argued,
was anticapitalist mass cadres to organize the youth revolt. That was when
we proposed to build the Anticapitalist Tendency (the ACT). It was not
long before the GMR had to recognize that the ACT was nothing more than
itself and its immediate periphery.
III. Factors favouring the Mao-Stalinist current’s hegemony over the
We were caught in a vicious circle. We were good militants in our
intervention but we were unable to gain from the initiatives that we took.
In addition to basing itself on the pro-Mao sympathies of a broad layer
of activists, the Mao-Stalinist current responded to two needs perceived
by those militants who had gone through three, four or five years of
piecemeal work on a local or sectoral basis. On the one hand, these
militants understood the need to organize in a united and centralized way
on a homogeneous programmatic basis and to do away with dispersed efforts.
On the other hand, they felt the need to strengthen their links with the
working class. The Stalinist organizations met these aspirations.
And it was on the basis of the attitudes of the Chinese leadership to
Stalinism that entire layers of militants went from Mao-populism to
Stalinism and that the myths about the revolutionary nature of the
Stalinist policy made headway. And if this was possible, it was because
Stalinism had until then been a fairly marginal phenomenon in Quebec and
an unknown quantity in its tangible practice. The acceptance of this
degenerated Marxism from the outset was facilitated by this profound
The GMR likewise bears some responsibility for Mao-Stalinism’s winning
of hegemony over the anticapitalist militant layers. The GMR was slow to
understand (not until 1977 in fact) the need to place the work of building
the vanguard organization at the centre of its concerns. It focussed
unilaterally on the development and self-organization of the mass
movement, thereby erasing the specific role of the revolutionary
organization. Its analysis of the situation left room for extreme
overestimations that led it to set impossible tasks for itself to achieve.
Its strategic project was suspended from a single formula: "For the
workers republic of Quebec". The political and ideological struggle to
defend the revolutionary Marxist theses was not a priority. The turn
toward trade-union work was undertaken only belatedly. These factors
helped the Mao-Stalinist organizations to occupy the major part of the
far-left field in the Seventies.
They constituted a set of recipes for facilitating our marginalization
and the Mao-Stalinists’ hegemony over the revolutionary left between 1974
IV. Political maturing of the GMR, a belated phenomenon that could not
overcome its marginalization within the revolutionary left
Beginning in 1976, a series of important discussions took place within
the GMR that resulted in a more extensive and objective analysis of the
situation of the bourgeoisie, the workers movement and the other social
movements and activist layers. These discussions led to a radical break
with the catastrophism concerning our analysis of the period. The period
was correctly defined as one of a rise in the PQ’s popular influence and a
very limited and extremely slow emergence of some anticapitalist activist
layers. The GMR rejected the idea that there were anticapitalist activist
layers able to act independently of the far-left organizations. It broke
with its past liquidationism. It criticized its tendency to act as a
multifunction struggle committee tossed back and forth by the ebb and tide
of the various movements in which it was operating.
Also in 1976, the GMR abandoned its ultraleft "theories" about the
student movement and learned how to make a genuine contribution to the
student movement by participating in the struggle to democratize the ANEQ.
In 1977, the GMR prepared for its second convention. A series of new
orientations were proposed.
Under the impact of the Canada-wide general strike of 1976, discussions
with the comrades of the RMG and the LSA/LSO, and the pan-Canadian
perspective promoted by the Mao-Stalinist organizations, the GMR redefined
its strategy; it was no longer simply a question of Quebec’s liberation
struggle within a socialist perspective, but was also one of building a
workers’ alliance of Canada-wide scope and struggle against the federal
state. This development led to the proposal to reconstitute an
organization with a pan-Canadian presence.
Overcoming its unilateral analysis of the development of class
consciousness, the GMR now understood the crucial importance of the
struggle for a workers party. The fight to break workers from the
bourgeois parties could not simply be conceived as one of winning them to
the revolutionary organizations, which was and would continue to be the
choice of a very small minority among the masses. The trade-union
organizations, the only mass organizations of the working class, had a
role to play in promoting this advance toward political independence.
This was a perceptual break that enabled the GMR to draw the link
between its own struggle and a part of the trade-union left that focussed
its own efforts on this perspective. This position removed an obstacle to
the establishment of more collaborative relations with the other
components of the left within the general ambit of Trotskyism.
The GMR then began to overcome its peripheralism in terms of both its
(exclusively student) social composition and its areas of intervention.
Some members became active in hospital unions, the post office, the
automobile industry. The GMR began to place its own construction and the
dissemination of its strategic concepts at the centre of its concerns.
All of this was a notable break with what the GMR had been.
V. The fusion, foundation of the LOR, or "you can’t make up lost time
In August 1977, the Groupe Marxiste Révolutionnaire, the Revolutionary
Marxist Group (a sympathizing group of the Fourth International in English
Canada with which the GMR maintained close relations) and the League for
Socialist Action/Ligue socialiste ouvrière (the section of the Fourth
International) fused to form a new Trotskyist organization in the Canadian
The Canada-wide general strike of October 14, 1976 turned out to be the
high point of the strike movement in the Canadian state, much more than
the harbinger of a new rise of the workers movement as we were still
thinking. The PQ had taken power in 1976, introducing a major political
crisis in the Canadian state. Some important debates were developing in
the workers movement: for or against tripartism, for or against
participation in the economic summits; for or against the independence of
Quebec; what weight to assign to the demands of women, etc.
The change in the trend lines was not yet clear. We did not yet have a
correct assessment of how the unions had been thrown on the defensive
starting in the mid-1970s. The women’s movements expanded the struggle for
abortion on demand in 1977 and 1978. The feminist radicalization sank
roots in the unions. The course of events still offered some good
possibilities for building a revolutionary organization, or at least of
securing an initial accumulation of members. The Mao-Stalinist
organizations were proof of this. It was possible to build an organization
capable of becoming a genuine pole of attraction among the most
radicalized activist layers.
On all the big questions there was a political convergence with the
LSO: the analysis of the political situation, the need to fight for the
workers’ party; the importance of the struggle for abortion on demand; the
work to be done in the student movement; the need to tackle the building
of a pan-Canadian organization, etc.
The desire to overtake the Mao-Stalinist current or just to put
ourselves in a better position in the race had a major impact in
justifying this fusion. The fusion allowed us to start off with two
bi-weekly newspapers (one French, one English); to count on about 400
members across Canada and to anticipate more (the presence of 500
delegates and observers at the fusion convention in August 1977 served to
confirm the GMR members in this hope). And we were also anticipating that
the dynamics of the fusion would also promote closer relations with the
Groupe Socialiste des Travailleurs du Québec (GSTQ, a Lambertist
Trotskyist group with substantial roots in the trade unions) and possibly
a fusion with that organization.
The rapprochement process between the GMR and the LSO was begun in
1977. The process picked up speed. In June 1977, it was decided to merge
our forces in seven weeks.
The fusion was precipitated by the leading bodies in the respective
founding organizations without giving ourselves the time to clarify the
differences that still existed; without a full debate that would encourage
the participation of all the members. A whole series of temporary
agreements on matters ranging from strategic issues to internal
organizational procedures were quickly pieced together. Some members in
the organization were particularly offended by this lack of democracy in
The fused organization experienced increased recruitment. Its meetings
attracted more activists from the unions and the other social movements
than ever before. The first year of the LOR/RWL (1977-78) was marked by
some definite successes in the building of a Trotskyist organization in
the Canadian state.
But significant political differences soon reappeared: in our
activities, in writing articles, and in the educational content of the
members. Was it necessary to call "For an NDP government", the traditional
slogan of the LSA/LSO, or should we have been advocating abstention in the
elections, the traditional position of the GMR? Would we call for an NDP
vote in English Canada while rejecting it in Quebec? How were we to
explain our support for independence? Responses differed as the issues
arose in quick succession.
The differences were expressed around three sets of problems: what was
the weight of the Quebec national question in the Canadian revolution;
what form and rhythm was our involvement in the unions to take; and what
weight should be given to the new radicalizing layers among women and gays
For the members coming from the various founding organizations, but
primarily those from the GMR and RMG, the Quebec national question began
to point to a new dimension in their conceptions. Thinking the question
through in a Canadian framework helped to expand the national question to
encompass other oppressed nationalities. The form of the Canadian state,
defined as a state built on the national oppression of Quebec and other
nationalities, also defined its possible fault lines on which we needed to
focus our attack. The political crisis induced by the PQ’s coming to power
and the rise of the nationalist movement in Quebec, which did not even
seek a direct confrontation with Canadian imperialism, reinforced us in
this perspective. It was necessary to ensure that the Canada-wide workers’
alliance of the working classes and oppressed nationalities took into
account, in a radical way, this mode of construction of the Canadian
state. The search for political independence from the bourgeois parties by
the classes in each nation was to assume the form, in Quebec, of the
struggle to take the leadership of the national movement from the
bourgeois nationalists, and, in English Canada, of the struggle to get the
workers movement to break with its support of centralizing federalism and
to recognize Quebec’s right to self-determination. Opposing this entire
conception, a current originating for the most part from the LSA/LSO
called for a vote for a government of the NDP and the organizations of the
Quebec labour movement as its entire strategy.
But it was around the debate on the turn to industry that a
factionalist dynamic developed in the LOR/RWL. Rooting the organization in
the trade-union movement was a priority recognized by all comrades. But
the comrades from the LSO/LSA argued that it was necessary to get all
comrades to look for jobs in industry. All comrades, including comrades
with lengthy experience in the public sector unions, were to abandon their
jobs and turn toward the industrial unions. All political problems were to
find their solution in the hiring of the comrades in industrial jobs.
Those who refused to commit themselves to this industrial turn were
characterized as petty bourgeois opposed to the "proletarian line" that
this current claimed to defend. The members in Quebec, who refused to
sacrifice their trade-union roots in the public sector, were yielding to
the pressures of petty-bourgeois nationalism.
This workerist current began to identify tactical or conjunctural
differences with programmatic differences, political differences with
different class interests. The dynamic of the factional struggle did the
rest, poisoning the atmosphere and provoking the exodus of many members.
The economist and workerist approach to developing a presence in the
working class resulted in some political regression in the organization’s
understanding of the women’s movement. Intervention in the women’s
movement was reduced to the struggle for hiring women in male job ghettos,
an important fight but not one to which the substantial contribution of
the radicalization of women and the women’s movement to the critique of
capitalist domination can be reduced.
The logic of the workerist current led it to neglect intervention in a
political issue as central as the referendum. It was in spite of and in
opposition to this current that an approach advocating a blank ballot on
behalf of Quebec independence and the independence of the labour movement
was developed. In point of fact, the members of this current refused to
campaign around this important issue.
The economist, workerist profile taken by the organization led other
members to flee the RWL/LOR. And these departures soon included entire
tendencies. In less than one year, from April 1979 to April 1980, the RWL/LOR
went through a veritable self-destruction process.
What remained of the revolutionary Marxist current, instead of
exhausting itself in a sterile and demobilizing internal struggle to
reform the RWL/LOR, decided, in order to protect the political continuity
of the fusion, to begin anew by building a new organizational framework,
which would be the Organisation Combat socialiste/Socialist Challenge
VI. Combat socialiste: Defence of political continuity in a period of
retreat and decomposition of the far left
Combat socialiste appeared in a very difficult context, in the fall of
1980. The trade unions were going through a crisis. The labour movement
had a hard time resisting the employers’ offensive. The mass movements
were marking time. Nationally, after the referendum defeat, the federal
government had continued its offensive by moving to "patriate" the
The militant anticapitalist layers were falling apart. The Maoist left
began to disintegrate rapidly. Conceiving the struggle for socialism in a
Stalinist framework could not help but cause some major difficulties: a
lack of understanding of the national question and the radicalization of
women, the establishment of authoritarian relationships with the mass
movement, an internal regime in the organizations that was characterized
by bureaucratic centralism.
At another level, the slowdown in the pace of the world revolution had
resulted in a crisis of activism itself for an entire generation of
militants. In the summer of 1982, En lutte! dissolved. A few months later,
the Parti communiste ouvrier committed harikari. And the RWL/LOR continued
We too had to rethink what it meant to conduct a revolutionary struggle
in the advanced capitalist countries. The construction of a revolutionary
organization would be a very lengthy and complex process that would go
through a whole series of particular experiences.
The political understanding of the crisis of the workers movement and
the transformation of the relationship of forces between classes, the
understanding of the reformist hold on the masses, the lack of illusions
about the Chinese bureaucracy and its course, the understanding we derived
from the International about inter-bureaucratic armed conflicts such as
those that were then developing between the Khmer Rouge and the Vietnamese
regimes and between the Vietnamese and Chinese regimes, and the attachment
to the historic program of the Fourth International enabled the members of
the OCS to avoid the drift that led other organizations of the
revolutionary left to go under.
During the sixteen months that it existed, the OCS did not rest on its
laurels. A regular press was established; the organization got involved in
the unionization of the caisses populaires, and in international
solidarity work with the revolutionary struggle of the people of El
Salvador; it also conducted work in solidarity with the struggle of
Solidarność in Poland and with Soviet feminists. And it also made a
contribution to the debate then enveloping the En lutte! group.
Within the OCS, the women comrades drew some basic lessons from their
experiences in the RWL/LOR and identified what was needed in order for
women to play a full role in the revolutionary organization: the
organization of women-only caucuses, general meetings of the women
members, alternating female-male speakers lists and the creation of a
general non-sexist atmosphere in debates, etc. All of these developments
would be precious achievements for Combat socialiste and our current.
But the OCS members were quick to understand that no organization can
build through mere recruitment of individual members to the organization.
Only those organizations that can find a way to insert themselves in the
process of recomposition of the militant layers that are still active can
make meaningful progress by participating in the political advance of
Under the pressure of the objective conditions, the tactic of
construction developed by the OCS could be summarized as follows. The OCS
cannot build itself unless it becomes an instrument for the construction
of a unitary socialist movement for independence, an effective force in
the regroupment of the independentist and socialist layers and the
strengthening of their capacity for action. In fact this is not a tactic
for building the OCS, it is a tactic for building the independentist and
socialist current. It is a movement-building approach. This analysis was
to lead us a few months later to enter the Mouvement socialiste.
VII. The passage to the Mouvement socialiste, participating in the
recomposition of the left
Combat socialiste decided therefore to dissolve and enter the Mouvement
socialiste (MS), which had been launched shortly before by the Groupe des
(a) Our objective in the Mouvement socialiste
Our objective in entering the MS was to help build it without
renouncing our program, as we informed the leadership of the Mouvement
socialiste. We thought the MS would prove extremely attractive and become
the political framework that would organize the entire socialist, feminist
and independentist current, bringing together all the political trends
from the far left to the social democracy. The political debates,
conducted in a unitary spirit, would contribute to the maturation of its
members’ political consciousness.
(b) Conditions for this perspective
There were three conditions that would make this perspective
realizable: a rapid development of the Mouvement socialiste; the
definition of the Mouvement as a united front of the socialist, feminist
and independentist left and, in order to do this, the institution of
procedures for the coexistence of the different political currents;
accordingly, a rejection of any attempt by the MS to revert to a political
party; and finally, intervention that would coalesce in action the left
wing of the social movements.
But none of these conditions was fulfilled. Essentially because the
condition that would have cleared the way for all the others, the rapid
growth of the MS, did not occur. The thousands of individuals who had
purchased the Manifesto did not join the MS. Was it that we had failed to
understand in time the obstacles that would be erected by objective
conditions to block the construction of the MS?
(b.1) Situation of the activist layers, the decisive obstacle to the
growth of the MS
The Mouvement socialiste appeared in the context of a mass break with
the Parti québécois, a retreat of the trade-union movement and the
decomposition of the 1970s far left.
The break with the PQ occurred in the wake of the neo-federalist course
taken by the party and in reaction to the profoundly anti-union
orientation adopted toward workers in the public sector, mainly women. It
was not a break to the left from the PQ’s former nationalist, populist and
modernist project. Rather, it was a break with a party that had betrayed
its original project. With most people this break took the form of a
rejection of any and all political action. At best, the resulting forms of
consciousness remained within the framework of a class-collaborationist
reformism and devoid of any desire to engage in militant action.
Why were the activist layers who primarily defined themselves in
relation to the labour and other mass organizations so reluctant to join
the MS? The retreat and demobilization of the unions under the weight of
the crisis and the crushing defeat inflicted by the PQ on the public
sector unions had produced a corresponding retreat by these activists to
those organizations that seemed to them to be their only real
organizational achievements. It would be a misreading of these realities
to believe in the possibility of a smooth and automatic transfer of
loyalties from the PQ to the Mouvement socialiste or a growing over of
trade-union consciousness into socialist consciousness.
(b.2) Refusal of the MS to define itself as a united front of the
socialist, feminist and independentist left
Given its initial lack of programmatic definition, the MS might have
developed as a united front of the socialist, feminist and independentist
left. The Manifesto spoke of socialism, but what did it mean by socialism?
It did not say. The Manifesto spoke of democracy. But the content of this
democracy was not explained. It identified with feminism, but likewise was
silent as to what this meant. How were these objectives to be achieved?
The strategic questions were not addressed. By every logic, a wide-open
debate should have been initiated in the MS on the most fundamental
From the outset, the MS leadership refused to acknowledge this reality
of the Mouvement socialiste as a crossroads of currents, a united left in
which all the political trends within the independence and socialist
movement in Quebec could find expression.
(b.3) Refusal to implement ways for different political currents to
And yet there were differing political currents within the MS. There
was a social-democratic current, itself heterogeneous, a major part of
which later joined the Quebec NDP; a left nationalist current; a current
oriented toward rank-and-file initiatives; and a Marxist current of which
the former members of Combat socialiste were the backbone, but which was
broader than those forces.
But the social-democratic current in the leadership considered the
initial accumulation of members as only the first step toward the
launching of an electoralist political party. In the end, it imposed this
perspective by prohibiting the right of tendency and effectively excluding
the Marxist left.
The debate over the right of tendencies was imposed on the Marxist left
within the MS in an effort to preclude it from participating in the
substantive debates on the movement’s strategy. Despite the activist
contribution by this left to building the MS, the idea that it could
defend its ideas within the movement was considered unacceptable. However,
we did make a major contribution to the MS. The MS program on employment
was strongly influenced by our concepts. The organizational structures
facilitating the integration of women in an organization open to both
sexes were in large part attributable to the proposals developed by the
OCS women and their ability to collaborate with other feminists in the MS.
(b.4) Refusal of moves to unite the left of the social movements in
From the outset, the MS leadership defined itself in opposition to
intervention in the mass movements and particularly in the trade-union
movement. They referred to such intervention as "entrism". There were a
number of reasons given for this rejection of organized work by political
activists in the social movements. On the one hand, there was a reluctance
to be identified as the MS and repeat the experience of the
Mao-Stalinists, who often, in such activities, were contemptuous of the
internal democracy in the organizations in their defence of the "correct
line". On the other hand, there was the hope that the union leaderships,
or at least some sectors of those leaderships, would endorse the building
of the MS provided it respected the separation between trade unions and
politics so cherished by those leaderships. But no such approval was
This refusal to intervene in the social movements left the MS with a
choice between becoming an electoral machine or confining itself to
abstract propaganda on the need for socialism.
By rejecting MS intervention in the social movements and especially the
trade unions, the MS erected a further obstacle to its construction.
The leadership refused to translate its fight for socialism in terms of
demands, methods of action and strategic orientations for the actual
struggles of the mass organizations. Concretely, this made it impossible
to even begin developing joint action on a national level in the unions,
to take strong internationalist positions and commit the movement to the
existing campaigns in solidarity with the oppressed nations of Central
America, or Poland, or to apply the lessons that had been learned in
women-only structures by turning toward work within the autonomous women’s
movement and developing feminist and socialist perspectives in that
movement. In fact, nothing was done to show that the Mouvement socialiste
was worth building.
(c) A lost opportunity
We were unable to get across the need for a unitary and pluralist
socialist movement; to get the MS leadership to open a full and frank
programmatic and strategic debate open to all contributions by members
irrespective of the orientation that was proposed provided it was done in
the context of defending independence, socialism, democracy and equality
between men and women.
During this time, as a militant nucleus, we had taken some significant
risks in order to participate in building the MS. We had dissolved our own
organizational framework, interrupted the publication of our press,
liquidated our structures, closed our bookstores, stopped educational
classes on our own political conceptions, and stopped discussing
collectively what we thought should be done in the social movements as
revolutionary Marxists. Some accomplishments and traditions of our
organization were lost.
The Gauche socialist tendency, formed for the defence of democracy and
a class-struggle orientation within the MS, had to leave after its formal
proscription in June 1983.
VIII. Building Gauche socialiste and recognizing the nature of the
(a) A period of retreat
1982-83 was a time of crisis. There was massive unemployment, which
weighed heavily on the labour movement’s capacity for mobilization. The
fight for jobs was on the order of the day, but the dominant trend was to
favour class-collaborationist projects. The PQ government had just
inflicted a major defeat on the public sector workers. The left caucuses
were falling apart. No significant layer of anticapitalist militants
(b) Major stages in the definition of Gauche socialiste’s political
Gauche socialiste was formed at the second national meeting of the
tendency, on September 10-11, 1983. But for many members of the tendency,
the defeat suffered in the Mouvement socialiste was an inducement to
withdraw from politics.
Gauche socialiste saw itself as a transitional organization—socialist,
feminist, independentist, favouring socialist democracy. It was a strong
proponent of working in genuine social struggles with the goal of
promoting the development of anticapitalist perspectives in action.
The initial platform of Gauche socialiste contained no reference to
Trotskyism or the Fourth International. We knew there was a need for a
considerable period of discussion with the comrades from a non-Trotskyist
background who had joined the tendency.
After a year of practice and several months of discussion, the Second
Convention of Gauche socialiste, in 1984, agreed on a new basis of unity
and a resolution explaining why we were joining the Fourth International.
The document was entitled "Quelle internationalisme, quelle Internationale"
[Which internationalism, which International?].
Finally, a third phase in the definition of our political profile was
accomplished through the fusion with the Trotskyist forces in the Alliance
for Socialist Action in English Canada.
It should be noted that Combat socialiste had been a Canada-wide
organization. Our decision in the 1980s flowed naturally from our
continued adherence to the basic strategic principles developed by our
current within the RWL/LOR in 1978-80.
The entry of the OCS comrades into the MS had resulted in the
organizational disappearance of our current on a pan-Canadian scale. With
the appearance of Gauche socialiste as, de facto, a Quebec
organization, it was necessary to rethink the political necessity for
building an organization in the Canadian state as a whole. These strategic
issues were thoroughly aired and clarified anew through a process of
discussion leading up to the fusion convention of May 1988. The
unification of Gauche socialiste and the Alliance for Socialist Action
represented an important step toward overcoming the fragmentation of the
forces of the Fourth International in the Canadian state. In fact, not
since 1979 had there been an organization of the Fourth International in
as many cities in Canada and Quebec as there was now. The new
organization, Gauche socialiste-Socialist Challenge, as it was now called,
combined the efforts of comrades in the workers movement from Vancouver to
Quebec City who were active participants in the women’s movement, the
youth movement, the gay movement, and in solidarity work with the peoples
of Central America. It was a modest achievement, but significant given the
period of retreat we had just come through.
(c) Building our forces in the struggles
Gauche socialiste saw its primary task as one of building the movement
for political independence of the working class. It hinged its efforts on
the fight to build a coalition of workers, feminists and youth together
with other mass organizations. It sought to be an active participant in
the new social movements: the feminist movement, the peace movement, the
mobilizations of young people in opposition to the reform of social
assistance. Gauche socialiste was a founding participant in the RAJ [Regroupement
autonome des jeunes], the Coalition québécoise pour le désarmement et la
paix, the SCRAP-Paradis [a social assistance coalition fighting "reforms"
piloted by the minister, Paradis], and the Coalition québécoise pour
l’avortement libre et gratuit [Quebec coalition for free abortion on
demand]. And during these years it began again to carry on work in the
IX. Maintaining our course toward the construction of the
Yes, we need to rethink the time frame of the revolutionary
perspective. The fight will be longer and more complex than we once
thought. But notwithstanding the tears and the jeers by the skeptics and
doomsayers of all kinds, our patient work in real struggles has proved to
us the importance of our efforts and of maintaining our course toward
building a revolutionary pole of attraction.
The need to unite those who identify with the fight for a self-managed,
feminist and anti-bureaucratic socialist society reflects our
understanding of the need to fight to build a revolutionary socialist
organization that can sink deep roots among the working class and the
dispossessed, to build relationships of trust with the most active workers
and to map the continuity of a social agenda that is shaped through the
In Quebec, an entire generation of the revolutionary left fell by the
wayside because it had overestimated the rhythm of events and was unable
to conduct the rigorous analysis that was needed, to establish tasks for
itself that were within its capabilities, and to understand the political
needs of the activists in the social movements, because it was unable to
situate socialist democracy and respect for the dynamics of the mass
organizations at the centre of its efforts.
But the course of the revolutionary left, and of the revolutionary
Marxists in particular, also teaches us what is necessary in building a
revolutionary organization: serious analyses of the political situation
and the relative strengths of the social classes, a democratic regime that
allows worthwhile discussion, policies that encourage the integration of
women and other oppressed sectors of the population, tasks that are
adapted to the resources at our disposal, etc.
Wide layers of activists are looking around. The present radicalization
is still diffuse and uneven. But the struggles to come, like those today,
will again pose the need for a revolutionary organization that endeavours
to fight tendencies toward fragmentation and dispersion of forces and
places at the centre of its efforts the need for unity in the struggle.
The revolutionary organization will not be built through retreat to
hard and fast principles while awaiting the seizure of power; it will be
built as a logical consequence of the rejection of this system and the
need to assemble the forces who share this perspective, beyond and
irrespective of their partial identity at this point as members of a
particular social movement.
We think the best way to influence the development of the present
situation is to build a revolutionary organization capable of tackling,
even now, dispersion and division, and fighting for unity around a program
for a socialist, feminist and democratic society.