Workers Vanguard No. 1156
31 May 2019
Quebec: Down With Anti-Muslim Headscarf Bill!
No Illusions in Canadian “Multiculturalism” — Independence for Quebec!
The following article is translated from République ouvrière No. 3 (Winter/Spring 2019), French-language newspaper of our comrades of the Ligue trotskyste au Québec et au Canada. The bill described in the first paragraph is to be voted on shortly by the Quebec National Assembly.
One of the first decisions of the new CAQ [Coalition avenir Québec] government, elected in October 2018, was to confirm its intention to ban the wearing of religious symbols by teachers, judges and police officers. The bill, which is expected to be introduced this spring, will likely present state employees “in a position of authority” with the following choice: either remove their religious symbols or lose their jobs. Under the false pretext of defending “secularism” and gender equality, this is in fact the latest in a long series of racist attacks, carried out successively by the Liberals and the Parti québécois [PQ] when they were in power, particularly targeting the Muslim minority. Throughout this hysterical campaign, Québec solidaire [QS] has joined the racist chorus, putting forward its own measures against Muslims.
This whole campaign really took off in 2006, with the Bouchard-Taylor commission inquiry into the question of “reasonable accommodation” [of religious and cultural differences]. Since then, Quebec society has been afflicted by outbreaks of anti-Muslim racist fever triggered by capitalist politicians when they deemed it useful. In 2013, during the PQ’s “Charter of Values” affair, assaults on veiled women soared in Montreal and elsewhere in Quebec. In January 2017, as the Liberals were taking up the torch of this “identity debate,” the fascist terrorist Alexandre Bissonnette burst into a Quebec City mosque and killed six Muslims. Just a few months later, the Liberals passed Bill 62, which became the “Act to Promote Respect for the State’s Religious Neutrality.” That bill’s Article 10, which prohibited anyone whose face was covered from providing or receiving public services (including boarding public transportation), was suspended by the Superior Court in December 2017.
The CAQ’s proposed bill would extend the Liberals’ Bill 62 to include the “Bouchard-Taylor consensus”—which prohibits public sector employees in positions of authority from wearing religious symbols—while adding teachers to the mix. Although [Quebec premier] Legault claims that the bill will apply to all religions equally, it is clearly aimed in particular at the Muslim headscarf (as well as the Jewish kippa and the Sikh turban) and would allow the state to preserve a “public face” that is fully compatible with Catholicism. It is in the vital interest of the labor movement to mobilize its social power to combat these racist attacks!
The “official” attacks from the National Assembly not only encourage the fascists and all sorts of reactionary riffraff to commit their own racist attacks, but also aim above all to divide the multiethnic working class in order to facilitate the capitalists’ austerity onslaught against all workers. State persecution of Muslim women, who are among the most oppressed in society, is poison for workers’ struggles. The leaders of the main education unions (FNEEQ-CSN, FAE, CSQ) have taken a stand against the ban on the Islamic headscarf. A class-struggle leadership in the unions would immediately mobilize school employees of all categories to defeat the bill. Down with the racist anti-Muslim attacks! An injury to one is an injury to all!
The Veil and Bourgeois Hypocrisy
The false pretext of “protecting” gender equality through government bans is completely hypocritical. As Marxists, we are opposed to the headscarf and veil, which are symbols and instruments of women’s oppression, embodying a reactionary social program to confine women in the family, in the home and in a position of servitude. The institution of the family is the main source of women’s oppression and is, along with the state and religion, one of the three reactionary pillars of the capitalist system of exploitation. We stand in solidarity with women struggling to escape the tyranny of this oppressive “tradition” of the veil and all other reactionary religious traditions.
But the laws that prohibit female employees from wearing headscarves or from receiving and providing services while wearing a face-covering veil reinforce the oppression of these women. Our opposition to the veil and the headscarf is in fact one of the reasons we oppose these laws, which can only result in even greater isolation and oppression for the women who wear them. It is this oppression that fuels religious beliefs.
As Marx said:
“Religious distress is at the same time the expression of real distress and also the protest against real distress. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of spiritless conditions. It is the opium of the people.”
—“Introduction to Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s
Philosophy of Law” (1844)
This means that to combat religion, we must struggle to destroy the source of oppression. It is necessary to overthrow capitalism and its state through workers revolution, not strengthen the capitalist state by increasing its powers through repressive laws.
These laws, which encourage racist attacks and pose legal threats to employees who refuse to abide by them, will worsen the seclusion of veiled women. Many of them will be pushed even more into the arms of their family and reactionary milieu. Ahlam Ghatoussi, a special education technician who wears the veil, evoked these consequences when she said:
“It discourages me because during the PQ government’s charter of values, my friends and I were attacked on the streets because of our veil. When the door opens, people feel free to attack. I’m afraid it will again be like it was four years ago....
“I think I have stayed home enough.... I had my three children back to back, and my [last] child is in kindergarten. Now I am driven by the desire to work with people.”
—La Presse, 5 October 2018
Legault’s bill clearly opens the possibility of attacking not only veiled teachers but also teacher assistants and others working in education on the grounds that when a teacher is absent or out of the classroom, they might find themselves in a “position of authority.” These are often lower-paying jobs held by a relatively high number of Muslims. This underlines the extent to which the unity of all education workers requires a determined struggle against the headscarf ban.
Making the Quebec government’s hypocrisy all the more obvious is the fact that François Legault recently announced that the ban on religious symbols would not apply to subsidized private schools, which have historically been religious. More than half of private schools in Quebec are associated with a religious tradition, and 86 percent of students attending religious schools are in Catholic schools. So much for the “secularism of the state”! Schools of religious minorities (Jews and Muslims) account for only 1.3 percent of all students in Quebec. In fact, the majority of Jewish and Muslim minority students attend public schools, which are becoming more and more decrepit and abandoned. For free, quality secular public education in French! As a rational way to help immigrant students transition from their mother tongue to French, we demand free, quality bilingual programs.
Although the Catholic church’s almost total hold on Quebec society was shattered by the [1960s] “Quiet Revolution,” its influence remains strong today. Witness the crucifix that still hangs above the Speaker of the National Assembly. At bottom, the Catholic hierarchy and its ideology (like all religions) are just too useful to the bourgeoisie in maintaining conservatism and sanctifying capitalist class rule. For decades the Catholic clergy preached submissiveness and obedience to French-speaking workers in order to sell them as cheap labor to English-speaking bosses; they forced women to continuously have babies. Catholic “values” are the values of the bourgeoisie, not those of the proletariat! In Quebec, the dominant religion remains Catholicism. Islam will always be the religion of an oppressed minority.
We are for secularism, the principle of the separation of church and state that goes back to the time of the French Revolution. The aim was to wrest the emerging bourgeois society from the oppressive hold of an established religion (in that case, Catholicism). It was not meant to prevent people from professing or displaying their religious beliefs. Quite the contrary. It was to prevent the state from imposing a dominant religion on atheists and followers of other faiths. Religion was to become a private affair with respect to the state. This is in stark contrast to the Catholic “secularism” of Legault and the anti-Muslim “secularist” zealots of the PQ and QS.
Racism and oppression of women are inherent in any capitalist society and are necessary to maintain the exploitation of the working class by the bourgeoisie. It will take a socialist revolution, which smashes the capitalist state machinery—at its core, the army, the police, the prisons and the courts—and replaces it with a workers state based on the collectivized ownership of the means of production, to begin to tackle the material basis of these forms of oppression. The October 1917 Russian Revolution, which was the most liberating act to date for the international proletariat (and also for women and minorities, such as the Jews, oppressed under the tsarist empire), remains our model. The decisive factor in that revolution was the leadership of a vanguard party, the Bolshevik Party of Lenin and Trotsky, which is the kind of party we must build today.
For a Workers Republic
Faced with repeated racist and anti-Muslim attacks in Quebec, some are turning to Ottawa as a supposedly progressive bulwark against the [right-wing] “identitarian” nationalists. This is a fatal mistake! The Anglo-Canadian bourgeoisie is not only just as racist as the Quebec bourgeoisie but also responsible for the national oppression of Quebec, with all the anti-francophone racism that this entails.
The national question of Quebec is the strategic question in this country. The national oppression of Quebec is, along with the British crown (the queen, who is head of the Anglican church), the glue that holds the reactionary Canadian state together. Quebec’s national liberation struggle can therefore serve as a powerful motor force for socialist revolution in this country. It is crucial to fight the lies and illusions against Quebec independence propagated by the Anglo-Canadian bourgeoisie, particularly among immigrants and minorities.
Thus, unlike the overwhelming majority of the left, which grants the reactionary and xenophobic right a monopoly on criticism of Canadian “multiculturalism,” the Ligue trotskyste is committed to exposing the hypocritical anti-Quebec and anti-immigrant lie of “multiculturalism,” an instrument in the hands of the Anglo-Canadian bourgeoisie. As we explained previously:
“From the start, the politics of ‘multiculturalism’ instituted by the progenitor of the current [prime minister] Trudeau—and always supported by the pro-capitalist NDP social democrats—have had the aim of denying the national rights of Quebec, forcibly contained within Confederation. At the same time, they serve to set Québécois workers and ethnic minorities (and anglophone workers in Quebec) against one another.”
[—“Fascist Terror Attack on Muslims in Quebec,” WV No. 1106, 24 February 2017]
Specifically, Canadian “multiculturalism” denies Quebec’s national rights by presenting the people of Quebec as simply one “culture” among many others in a great mosaic. Thanks to the “official” policy of “multiculturalism,” the Liberal Party of Canada has historically been able to line up cultural communities against the independence of Quebec, while securing their vote virtually for life, notably by providing generous subsidies. It was also able to strengthen support for the government among some of the immigrant (as well as the Québécois) petty bourgeoisie and to act as a force of social conservatism to repress cultural minorities. In the name of “multiculturalism,” the Ontario Liberal government in 2004 considered the possibility of establishing sharia (Islamic law) religious courts having legal power in family disputes, while Christian and Jewish courts have been in place since 1991. We are opposed to these reactionary tribunals, which cruelly demonstrate that Canadian “multiculturalism” is the enemy of the liberation of women, Muslims and others.
Furthermore, the hypocritical lie of Canadian “multiculturalism” is but a thin gloss on the police repression that is the daily lot of many immigrants and minorities. For years, under the pretext of the “war on terror,” Muslims across the country have been persecuted by the federal state, not to mention the atrocities perpetrated by Canadian troops in Afghanistan and their crimes today in Iraq and Mali. The true face of “multicultural” Canada is seen in deportations by the thousands, which continue unabated under Trudeau. Notably, Haitian refugees have been deported since November, after a brief pause. It is crucial for the labor movement to demand: Down with deportations! Full citizenship rights for everyone here!
Immigrants, minorities and English-speaking workers have no interest in maintaining the oppressive and reactionary state that is Canada. Quebec’s independence would be a major blow to the Anglo-Canadian bourgeoisie; it coincides directly with the interest of all the workers exploited by that bourgeoisie. As a Greek immigrant said in Comfort and Indifference (Denys Arcand’s documentary on the 1980 Quebec independence referendum):
“All the capitalists of the Greek community are voting No. Why?... I am a worker and I want to support the Quebec workers. Because if I support Quebec workers, and if these people gain power, I too gain power.”
Indeed, Quebec’s liberation from under the boot of the dominant Anglo-Canadian nation would also be a step forward for immigrants and minorities. Québécois and immigrant workers share the same interests. For a workers republic of Quebec!
The racist and anti-Muslim attacks of the “identitarian” nationalists are a real gift to the Anglo-Canadian bourgeoisie. This clearly shows that after two failed referendums [on Quebec independence], the bourgeois nationalists are willing to scuttle the struggle for independence by pushing immigrants into the arms of the federalist reactionaries, thus isolating Quebec workers from their combative class brothers and sisters among immigrants and minorities. For the capitalists, profits come before the fight against national oppression.
It is urgently necessary to fight to break the ties that bind Quebec workers to their bourgeois nationalist leadership, particularly through the union bureaucrats and their allegiance to the PQ. Insofar as Quebec workers are so firmly tied by nationalism to their own bourgeoisie, it is precisely because they are subjected to national oppression. Since the federal government oppresses Quebec and the English-speaking labor movement echoes the chauvinism of their bourgeoisie, it is easy for Quebec nationalists to exploit the legitimate anger against national oppression and push the lie that the Quebec capitalists and workers have a common interest. Far from strengthening nationalism, the creation of a separate Quebec would instead allow for more clearly exposing that the interests of the multiethnic working class and the nationalist bourgeoisie are irreconcilable.
What is needed today is a struggle to build a revolutionary binational workers party that will be the most committed champion of Quebec independence. This party will also fight to win over the workers and immigrants of English Canada to the cause of independence for Quebec, against the Anglo-chauvinist poison spread by the bourgeoisie and the social democracy of English Canada. This party will be a crucial tool to unite the struggle of the proletariat, the struggle for national liberation and the defense of immigrants and oppressed minorities in the fight for a workers republic of Quebec and a socialist revolution in Canada and beyond. This perspective is reflected, in particular, in our call to build a binational party made up of 70 percent Québécois and oppressed minorities, until two parties in two separate states are established.
The “Secularism” of QS:
Same Anti-Muslim Poison
Québec solidaire is in no way a “lesser evil” amid the racist and anti-Muslim attacks of the CAQ, the PQ and the Liberals. QS is simply a new version of bourgeois populism, which seeks to channel social struggles into parliamentarism by exploiting widespread illusions in the capitalist state (see “QS et GND: charlatans populistes,” République ouvrière No. 1, Automne/hiver 2017-2018). QS is a capitalist party that simply aspires to administer the bourgeois state and give it a “left” veneer. This would not change the nature of the capitalist state; the cops, prisons and courts would still serve to repress the working class and terrorize minorities.
The current attempts by QS to posture as the “left” opposition to Legault’s anti-Muslim attacks are totally hypocritical. QS, which put forward its own anti-Muslim measures, is in tune with the other parties of the National Assembly regarding “secularism.” In 2013, QS proposed its own so-called “Charter of Secularism,” which included the denial of public services to women wearing the niqab [full-face veil]. In 2017, QS parliamentary deputies stood to the right of the Liberals when QS sought to add to the Liberals’ Bill 62 a ban on the wearing of religious symbols by magistrates, Crown attorneys, police and prison guards, as well as the president of the National Assembly. The longstanding position of QS on religious symbols is therefore that of the CAQ, minus the teachers. Regardless of the “discussion” that QS is currently pursuing to appear less racist, as a small capitalist party, it is committed to maintaining the economic and social system that is at the root of the oppression of immigrants and minorities.
QS may claim to be for Quebec independence, but with the electoral trouncing of the PQ last October, its attempts to position itself as the alternative sovereignist party have instead placed it in the camp of...Trudeau. [A QS leader] Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, in the guise of criticizing Legault’s intention to reduce immigrant admissions, reinforced illusions in the Canadian prime minister:
“We rarely agree with Justin Trudeau, but keeping a number of refugees, which allows us to play our role of solidarity with the most wretched of the planet, is a good thing.”
14 November 2018
Legault’s anti-immigrant measures, including the recent cancellation of 18,000 immigration applications, are an integral part of his racist attacks to divide workers. This poison must be fought in the working class. However, the struggle for Quebec to have its independent state cannot be separated from the struggle to control its borders. Thus, Legault’s current demand that immigration, which is now under federal jurisdiction, be brought back under the jurisdiction of Quebec is legitimate from this standpoint. Ultimately, only the seizure of power by the proletariat can lay the ground for a just and fair society for all. The current political bloc between QS and Justin Trudeau clearly shows the hypocrisy of QS’s “pro-independence” and left-sounding rhetoric.
The pseudo-socialist groups (like Alternative socialiste or La Riposte socialiste), which have committed a class betrayal by completely liquidating into QS and which sow illusions in that petty-bourgeois formation, are obstacles to the construction of a Leninist party. Only the Ligue trotskyste fights for a truly revolutionary perspective and dedicates itself, going forward, to the construction of a binational and multiethnic revolutionary workers party, the essential tool for achieving a socialist revolution. For our comrades here, these tasks go hand in hand with the building of strong communist sections internationally as part of the struggle to reforge the Fourth International.
The article “Quebec: Down With Anti-Muslim Headscarf Bill!” (WV No. 1156, 31 May), translated from République ouvrière No. 3 (Winter/Spring 2019), the French-language newspaper of the Ligue trotskyste/Trotskyist League in Quebec and Canada, denounced the push by the new Quebec government to “ban the wearing of religious symbols by teachers, judges and police officers.” It went on to identify the cops and courts as a core part of the capitalist state machinery of repression. However, as Workers Tribune (No. 2, Summer/Fall 2019), the TLQC’s English-language paper, noted: “The article bore a weakness in that it did not distinguish clearly between teachers on the one hand, and police officers and judges on the other, all of whom the now enacted Bill 21 falsely puts on the same plane as ‘state employees’ with the same ‘position of authority.’ We oppose this racist law regardless of who it applies to, but the false equation between teachers and those carrying out the repressive functions of the state only serves to cover for the true target: Muslim women teachers.” (From WV No. 1160, 6 September 2019.)