Spartacist Canada No. 145
NDP Props Up Liberal Gangsters
Corruption, Capitalism and "Canadian Unity"
For Quebec Independence!
The spectacle of formerly powerful federal Liberal cronies and ad men baring all and breaking down at daily hearings of the Gomery inquiry became an instant hit with Quebec TV audiences. After being bullied into voting No in two sovereignty referendums, the Québécois don't know if they should fume or laugh their heads off at the use of government money to try and buy their patriotism with "pro-Canada" fishing ads, t-shirts and golf balls. The tales of shady characters meeting in Italian restaurants and kickbacks in cash-stuffed envelopes, complete with an unresolved car bombing, capture the corruption and patronage that are part of capitalist "democracy" everywhere. But the bottom line of the sponsorship scandal is the story of how far the rulers of this country will go to prevent Quebec independence.
With the minority Liberals having won their May 19 confidence motion by a single vote, the federal government of Paul Martin has been temporarily restabilized. Support from the 19 NDP MPs was key to this, enabling the anti-worker Liberal gang to turn around and convince the real moneybags of power—the capitalists of Toronto's Bay Street and the myriad operatives around Montreal's Power Corporation—to give them one more go at damping yet another "national unity" crisis. The moneybags agreed, and multimillionaire Tory MP Belinda Stronach, heiress to the union-busting Magna auto-parts giant, crossed the floor on the eve of the confidence motion to give the Liberals that crucial vote.
The NDP's role in propping up the tottering Liberal regime speaks volumes about this servile, pro-capitalist social-democratic party. It also shows graphically the role of the trade-union bureaucracy in tying the working class to the capitalists and their state. It was Canadian Labour Congress head Ken Georgetti and Canadian Auto Workers president Buzz Hargrove who reportedly demanded that the NDP sign the pact with the Liberals or forego official labour support in the next election. "Corridor coalitions" with the Liberals in exchange for largely phantom "reforms" have long been an NDP staple. The latest is grotesque even by NDP standards, as party leader Jack Layton played to crude anti-Quebec bigotry, railing that the Tories were "getting into bed" with the "separatists" of the Bloc Québécois (Toronto Star, 29 April). The NDP has always been a chauvinist opponent of Quebec's national rights, but seldom have they put the case so baldly.
Even with the temporary reprieve of the budget vote, Martin and the Liberals are stuck with the sponsorship albatross, and the federalists are in huge trouble in Quebec. Sovereignty is polling at 54 percent. The Liberals are predicted to lose their few remaining francophone seats to Gilles Duceppe and the Bloc in the elections (the Tory yahoos and Anglo-chauvinist NDP aren't even a factor). Meanwhile, the provincial Liberal regime of Jean Charest is reeling from crisis to crisis. Most recently, a strike by close to 200,000 postsecondary students—the largest in Quebec history—succeeded in facing down the government and stopping many of its planned education cuts. Even Charest's beloved Employers Council is questioning his leadership. No federalist could be elected dog catcher in Quebec right now.
The sponsorship program was part of former prime minister Jean Chrétien's "Plan B" against Quebec's right to self-determination. When first confronted with the mounting evidence of corruption and kickbacks three years ago, Chrétien sniffed: "Perhaps there were a few million dollars that might have been stolen in the process, but how many millions and millions of dollars have we saved because we have re-established the stability of Canada by keeping it a united country?" "Mission accomplished," he boasted on his retirement a year later, "We can be proud that the country is now more united than ever."
Less than two years later, the whole shoddy edifice has crumbled. A column by Richard Gwyn of the Toronto Star (29 April) put it well:
"Although it really sticks in the craw to cite him as an authority, Alphonso Gagliano, the disgraced former Liberal cabinet minister, is probably correct when he says Quebec's separation is now 'unstoppable.'…
"The 2007 election in Quebec is very likely to be won by the pro-separatist Parti Québécois, headed by that same likeable Duceppe in place of the PQ's current leader, the unlikeable Bernard Landry.
"Thereafter, a referendum will follow as night does day.
"Exhaustion, on both sides, will probably produce a separatist win, at last….
"To a considerable degree, we've already divided ourselves up. All the businesses that might leave a separated Quebec have already left.
"Anglo-Quebecers have either left or have accommodated themselves to being a minority within another nation….
"Quebec is already separate, except that we can't bring ourselves to admit it."
Quebec is a nation with its own language and culture and an increasingly distinct political economy. The continued existence of an artificial "united Canada," where one nation dominates and oppresses the other, has inflamed national animosities and tensions, including in the working class. In English Canada, the "pro-Canada" patriotism pushed by the NDP and labour tops binds the workers to the interests of their own exploiters. Meanwhile in Quebec, the labour misleaders push the workers to support their national capitalists, via the bourgeois-nationalist Bloc and PQ. The Trotskyist League/Ligue trotskyste advocates Quebec independence in order to remove this source of division between the workers, and bring to the fore the need for them to fight against the capitalist exploiters of each nation, not each other.
Anti-Quebec Chauvinism: Poison to the Workers
The British-derived Canadian capitalist class built its power and tremendous riches through the exploitation of workers from many nationalities and races. It has also been past master at the game of "divide and rule," skillfully manipulating religious, ethnic and national divisions within the working class—Protestant against Catholic, English against French, Canadian-born against immigrant, white against Asian and black.
But nothing poisons the fighting unity of workers in this country more than the never-ending "national unity" crises. In English Canada these invariably come with ravings against Quebec or "the French" in the right-wing "popular" media—the tabloids, rock stations, etc. that most workers rely on for information. The same "save Canada" crap, more slickly packaged, comes from the leaders of the NDP, labour's so-called political arm. It's not surprising then that so many Québécois workers believe the nationalist dogma that English Canada is a mass of retrograde and ignorant blockheads, all set against them.
Opposition to national oppression has fuelled class and social struggles in Quebec for decades, and particularly over the 40 years since Quebec threw off the shackles of the Catholic Church and emerged as a modern society through the Quiet Revolution of the 1960s and early '70s. This was a period of tumultuous social protests and workers struggles, culminating in the general strike of May 1972, when trade unionists took over radio stations, factories and whole towns. Far from offering even token "solidarity," NDP leader David Lewis supported jailing the Québécois labour leaders, while the Canadian Labour Congress used the occasion to condemn Quebec's national rights as "selfish." Confronted with such hostility, Quebec workers turned increasingly toward nationalism and the Parti Québécois.
Ever since, the Canadian rulers have been obsessed with how to "stop separatism." Since 1968, every significant prime minister has been a federalist from Quebec, each promising to "solve" the Quebec question—and each failing.
The rulers first tried to counter the growing social and national discontent in Quebec with Pierre Trudeau, crowned Liberal prime minister in 1968. Today, a whole generation of youth in English Canada, particularly in urban Ontario, has grown up believing that Trudeau was a liberal reformer who made Canada a fairer, more tolerant country. Behind this legend lies a very different reality. Despite his sops of "bilingualism and biculturalism," Trudeau came to power to keep Quebec "in its place." He sent the army into Montreal to round up hundreds of left nationalists in the 1970 "October Crisis," and prepared a long-term military occupation later that decade under the secretive "Exercise Neat Pitch" (see "Independence for Quebec!" SC No. 139, Winter 2003/2004, for more details). Trudeau and the Liberals threatened to ignore any popular vote in favour of Quebec sovereignty, and intimidated, cheated and lied to ensure that the Québécois voted No in the 1980 referendum.
In the late 1980s and early '90s, nationalist and pro-independence fervour again rose in Quebec. This was largely in reaction to the Anglo chauvinism that went into overdrive over Tory prime minister Brian Mulroney's attempt to soft-soap Quebec nationalists through a constitutional amendment recognizing Quebec as a "distinct society" (the Meech Lake accord). While small-town Ontario bigots stomped on the Quebec flag and Western rednecks railed against "privileges" for the French, tens of thousands of Québécois took to the streets calling for sovereignty. Mulroney's Progressive Conservatives blew apart, producing both the Western yahoos of the Reform Party, core of today's refashioned Tory party, and the nationalist Bloc Québécois.
Corporate Canada was forced to switch back to the Liberals, hiring Jean Chrétien—a sort of Trailer Park Boys version of Trudeau—as their latest hope to "save Canada." Like his mentor, Chrétien was propelled to the top job by a near-psychotic obsession against "the separatists," including hard opposition to any special status for Quebec. That is how he won the Liberal leadership in the first place, denouncing his main opponent, Paul Martin, for his support to the "distinct society" sop.
During Chrétien's decade in power, Canadian corporations made massive profits as labour and the oppressed were hammered again and again. Finance minister Martin oversaw huge cutbacks in social programs, including the theft of billions from the Employment Insurance fund to "fight the deficit" (i.e., pay off his banker buddies). Immigrants, especially Arabs and Muslims, suffered vicious assaults on their rights. Social protest under and, especially, against Chrétien was met with police repression, usually followed by some jarringly arrogant comment in mangled French or English. Yet it is a scandal over a relatively meager $300 million or so in sponsorship money that now threatens to take down the seemingly unbeatable Liberals—because it's about Quebec.
The rulers of this country were aghast at their near defeat in the PQ's 1995 sovereignty referendum. First haughtily assuming that the Québécois would never vote Yes, the Chrétien gang panicked when faced with contrary evidence. Like Trudeau before them, they sent the army on mysterious "maneuvers" on Quebec highways, and secretly prepared for a military intervention in case of a Yes victory. Almost the entire fleet of CF-18 jet fighters was relocated from its Quebec base on the eve of the vote.
With the Tories and NDP in tow, the Liberals tried every dirty trick in the book to win the vote. The most notorious example was the fraudulent "love-in" just before the referendum, which saw tens of thousands of English Canadians "spontaneously" descend on Montreal under the sickening guise of an outpouring of "my Canada includes Quebec" affection. The resources for this massive event, aimed at bullying the Québécois into voting No, were provided by some of the biggest Canadian corporations, who offered time off work, plane and train fares, free long distance and countless other perks. All of this was of course utterly illegal under Quebec's referendum campaign laws. Testifying at the Gomery inquiry, former senior Quebec Liberal organizer Benoît Corbeil admitted that without the Liberals' dirty "secret" funds, the federalists would have lost the referendum.
These tactics in turn inspired the Liberals' famed "Plan B" following the near loss of the referendum. The "Clarity Act," passed into law in 1999 (with the NDP's support, naturally enough), codified the denial of Quebec's democratic right to self-determination by requiring that to acquire independence the oppressed minority nation would need the near-inconceivable approval of the oppressor. The shady dealings around the sponsorship program were part of this whole scheme.
A measure of how thoroughly the Quebec national question dominates Canadian bourgeois politics is provided by the Chrétien government's stance toward the 2003 U.S.-led war on Iraq. The Québécois massively opposed Canadian participation in this brutal assault—with local demonstrations of up to a quarter million in the dead of winter, Quebec had perhaps the biggest antiwar protests in the world in proportion to population. This is in large part because the Canadian military is perceived in Quebec as an enforcer of national oppression.
These protests gave great pause to the Canadian rulers, who feared that openly backing the U.S. would give ammunition to the Quebec nationalists, who were already smelling blood around Chrétien's sponsorship follies. As Pierre Dubuc, editor of the left-nationalist paper l'aut'journal, noted in his widely circulated May 18 "Letter to Progressives in English Canada: No, It's Not a Tempest in a Coffee Cup!":
"Some day, former Prime Minister Chrétien's memoirs will no doubt reveal that these protests played a crucial role in his decision not to participate in the war. Mr. Chrétien feared that the government of Bernard Landry would take advantage of the opportunity to bring the issue of Quebec independence to the table. Mr. Chrétien and Mr. Landry could not have been unaware that the first motion in favour of independence was tabled in the Quebec National Assembly by J.N. Francoeur during the conscription crisis in 1917."
Canadian nationalism (and its substrate, anti-Quebec chauvinism) blinds workers in English Canada to the reality that the real source of their daily exploitation and oppression is the limitless thirst for profits of their "own" Canadian capitalist class—the same fat cats who finance the Liberals' campaigns for "national unity." It is a crime that the vibrant and multiracial working class of English Canada gets roped into these campaigns, instead of directing their ire at the gang of capitalist criminals who rob them blind. It is also a crime that the chauvinism of the English Canadian labour misleaders keeps pushing Québécois workers into the arms of their own class enemies in the Bloc and PQ. Quebec independence would remove this key source of tensions and divisions among the working class.
Anglo Chauvinism, Quebec Nationalism and the Left
Our Marxist approach to the national question is modelled on that of the Bolshevik Party of V.I. Lenin and Leon Trotsky, which in 1917 led the only successful workers revolution in history. Crucial to this victory was the Bolsheviks' unwavering defense of the rights of oppressed nationalities in the tsarist empire, while also seeking the best road to unite the toilers across national barriers. In "The Discussion on Self-Determination Summed Up" (July 1916), Lenin explained how, in the framework of a common revolutionary program, Marxists in oppressor and oppressed nations face different specific tasks:
"In the internationalist education of the workers of the oppressor countries, emphasis must necessarily be laid on their advocating freedom for the oppressed countries to secede and their fighting for it. Without this there can be no internationalism. It is our right and duty to treat every Social-Democrat of an oppressor nation who fails to conduct such propaganda as a scoundrel and an imperialist….
"On the other hand, a Social-Democrat from a small nation must emphasise in his agitation the second word of our general formula: 'voluntary integration' of nations. He may, without failing in his duties as an internationalist, be in favour of both the political independence of his nation and its integration with the neighbouring state of X, Y, Z, etc. But in all cases he must fight against small-nation narrow-mindedness, seclusion and isolation…."
In English Canada today, proletarian revolutionaries must unstintingly fight Anglo reaction and advocate Quebec independence in order to break the grip of chauvinism over the workers. In Quebec, while supporting independence and opposing all manifestations of national oppression, the central task of revolutionaries must be to fight against the bourgeois nationalism which dominates among the workers.
The bulk of the pseudo-socialist left in Canada does the exact opposite: in English Canada they promote "Canadian unity" and/or the Anglo-chauvinist NDP, while in Quebec they paint Québécois nationalism in "progressive" colours. The Communist Party of Canada is the clearest example. While its English Canadian leadership openly endorses the status quo of a "united Canada," its Quebec wing, the PCQ, is a key player in the left-nationalist Union des Forces Progressistes (UFP) and has just formally endorsed Quebec sovereignty. Not surprisingly, and not for the first time, these misnamed "Communists" appear to be about to formally split along national lines. Groups like the International Socialists and Socialist Action are little better. In English Canada, they are simply left appendages of the NDP, while in Quebec they work to build the UFP.
The kaleidescope of left nationalist groups in Quebec—UFP, Option Citoyenne, etc.—all promote the fantasy that independence as such will usher in a just and free society in Quebec. L'aut'journal's Dubuc, who is also a spokesman for SPQ-Libre (Syndicalistes et progressistes pour un Québec libre), writes in his "Letter to Progressives" of "Quebec's need to have its own social project, a project that can only be realized within an independent Quebec." In fact, the myth of a socially progressive independent Quebec under capitalism is also pushed by the PQ, whose regimes have regularly attacked unions, immigrants and the poor.
The exploitation and oppression that are intrinsic to capitalism can only be swept away through mobilizing the social power of the working class in a socialist revolution. How to get there? The more radical elements on the Quebec left, grouped around the anarchists and Maoists, denounce the nationalist illusions of the UFP, SPQ-Libre et al., only to "reject" independence outright as "divisive," as if the federalist status quo wasn't. This can lead nowhere. To break the grip of bourgeois nationalism on the Quebec working class and render it conscious of its historic task of leading the oppressed in anti-capitalist struggle, revolutionaries must recognize the weight of the national question and advocate independence to remove it from the political agenda. This must be accompanied by opposition to the pro-PQ politics of the Quebec labour tops, who have betrayed so many struggles on the altar of "national solidarity" and "concertation" (collaboration) with Quebec governments and bosses.
In English Canada, a fight must be waged to break workers from the "save our Canada" social democrats of the NDP, who sell the lie that labour and capital have interests in common. Central to this is uncompromising opposition to the Anglo chauvinism of the ruling class. Only by showing in practice that they are principled opponents of the Canadian ruling class and defenders of the oppressed can proletarian revolutionaries in English Canada demonstrate to the Québécois workers the need for class unity against capitalism.
This Is Capitalist Democracy
Responding to the Gomery inquiry, the bourgeoisie's political and media pundits tell us how "shocked, shocked, shocked" they are at the apparently limitless corruption of Canada's "natural ruling party." What's shocking is that these phoneys don't choke on their own hypocrisy. Anyone who has ever come close to a successful businessperson or big-shot politician knows the cardinal rule: eat or be eaten. Concern for "ethics" in this context is the homage vice pays to some kind of virtue.
Using skills well-honed by their "customer service" and "public relations" specialists, the capitalists and their political spokesmen babble about "democracy" and "justice," the better to hide the daily crimes of their system—its exploitation, oppression of women and minorities, poverty, violence, etc. Even the most "democratic" bourgeois state is an apparatus for the repression of workers and the oppressed. Its various institutions—cops, judges, prisons, army—are not "neutral" arbiters but the hired-and-paid enforcers of the capitalist class. In the midst of the Gomery revelations, Quebec Chief Justice Michel Robert blurted out the open secret that "separatists" couldn't possibly be named judges, provoking outrage in Quebec. As for parliamentary elections, the wads of $100 bills that helped grease palms for Quebec Liberal candidates are merely symbolic of a venal system where every few years the workers get to "choose" which gang of thieves will oppress and exploit them.
As Lenin explained in 1918:
"The working people are barred from participation in bourgeois parliaments (they never decide important questions under bourgeois democracy, which are decided by the stock exchange and banks) by thousands of obstacles, and the workers know and feel, see and realise perfectly well that the bourgeois parliaments are institutions alien to them, instruments for the oppression of the workers by the bourgeoisie."
— The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky
The real scandal is capitalism, a system that is corrupt and rotten from top to bottom. From John A. Macdonald to Brian Mulroney and Jean Chrétien, Maurice Duplessis to Mike Harris, all Canadian governments—federal and provincial, Liberal and Tory, NDP and PQ—have enforced the brutal rule of capital, usually with a generous dose of patronage and pork-barrelling. This is hardly unique to Canada. In the U.S., the self-appointed democratic model for the "free world," money, influence-peddling and power have always been tightly knit, as majestically described in many a Gore Vidal novel.
At every step, the misleaders of labour work to tie the workers to the interests of their "own" national capitalists, as against the broader interests of workers as a whole. At the same time, Quebec's status as an oppressed nation trapped in a "united" Canada only exacerbates the suspicions and divisions within the working class fostered by the capitalists and their labour lackeys. Quebec independence would not be a panacea: it will not resolve the many-sided oppressions meted out every day by the capitalist rulers of Washington and Wall Street, Ottawa and Bay Street, Quebec City and rue St. Jacques. But it will remove an obstacle to the workers' consciousness of their own class interests, and as such help their struggles. The working class of this country desperately needs a workers party to lead the fight for socialist revolution.