Spartacist Canada No. 165
Québec Solidaire: No Choice for Workers
Fake-Marxists Unite Behind Petty-Bourgeois Populism
For Quebec Independence! Forge a Binational Revolutionary Workers Party!
Everywhere across the country, the capitalist rulers are using the economic crisis as an excuse for savage attacks on the jobs and livelihoods of working people. In Quebec, the Liberal government of Jean Charest has tabled an austerity budget that includes a public-sector wage freeze and user fees for medical services, provoking widespread protests. More than 75,000 trade unionists demonstrated in Montreal on March 20 against the Charest government’s attacks on public-sector workers fighting for a new contract. Eleven days later, 12,000 people took to the streets on a weekday afternoon to protest the budget, while 15,000 joined the annual May Day union march.
These protests have been far larger than anywhere in English Canada, even though working people there have been hit by similar austerity attacks. Indeed, whatever the particular ebbs and flows of the class struggle, ever since the 1960s working-class struggles in Quebec have generally been larger and often more deep-going than those in English Canada. These class battles have been fuelled, in significant part, by the national oppression of the francophone Québécois within a “united” Canada dominated by English Canadian chauvinism.
In Quebec as elsewhere, successful struggle against the capitalist onslaught requires a leadership that understands that the interests of the working class and the class of bourgeois exploiters are counterposed and irreconcilable. The grinding exploitation and poverty that define capitalist society will not end until the working class, standing at the head of all the oppressed, sweeps away the rule of capital and establishes a workers state, opening the road to an egalitarian socialist future. The Trotskyist League/Ligue trotskyste fights to forge a revolutionary workers party based on the program of Marxism, the essential instrument to lead this struggle.
In sharp contrast, the various reformist left groups active in Quebec have worked to tie the workers to the enemy class: championing pro-capitalist union bureaucrats, supporting bourgeois Quebec nationalists, and even in some cases standing with the chauvinist English Canadian rulers. Especially over the past two decades the left in Quebec, as elsewhere, has gone very far down the road of the “politics of the possible,” rejecting even the most nominal proletarian and revolutionary orientation in favour of “realistic” projects of refurbishing capitalism.
This political retrogression has been shaped by the counterrevolutionary destruction in 1991-92 of the Soviet Union, the world’s first workers state, product of the October 1917 workers revolution. This devastating defeat has not only emboldened the capitalist rulers to step up their attacks, it has thrown back the consciousness of working people around the world, albeit unevenly. Even the most advanced sections of the proletariat generally no longer see socialism or communism as possible or even desirable, while the vast majority of self-proclaimed socialists have moved sharply to the right in both formal ideology and practical activity.
Today, almost every self-styled Marxist group in Quebec has buried itself in Québec Solidaire (QS), a petty-bourgeois nationalist formation that poses as a left alternative to the main capitalist parties—the federalist Liberals and the bourgeois-nationalist Parti Québécois. QS held a much-publicized convention last November, a year after electing its first deputy to the National Assembly. The program discussed there stayed far away from even the most tepid challenge to the capitalist system, speaking instead of forging “a democratic, social and national alliance” with the PQ and others in support of “popular sovereignty.” Since its inception in 2006, QS’s rhetoric has never gone beyond left liberalism. Its founding “principles and orientation” upheld “democracy,” pacifism and environmentalism—all variants of bourgeois ideology—but explicitly not socialism or the class struggle.
In its social composition and political orientation, QS is not all that different from the PQ in its early, pre-government years of the late 1960s and early ’70s. Back then, a right-wing Quebec justice minister portrayed PQ founding leader René Lévesque as “the Fidel Castro of Quebec,” while an assortment of would-be radicals and left nationalists rallied to the new party. Of course Lévesque and the PQ, despite occasional rhetoric about a new “project of society,” didn’t even pretend to be pro-working-class socialists. But neither does Québec Solidaire today.
This has been no obstacle for the rogue’s gallery of pseudo-Marxists gathered in QS. Among them are the International Socialists (I.S.), whose Quebec leader Benoît Renaud does double duty as QS secretary general. Gauche Socialiste (GS), the Quebec section of the United Secretariat (USec) of the late Ernest Mandel, and the Parti Communiste du Québec (PCQ), a split-off from the Maple Leaf chauvinist Communist Party of Canada (CPC), are both affiliated to QS as “collectives.” More recent adherents include the International Marxist Tendency’s (IMT) La Riposte group and a branch of Peter Taaffe’s Committee for a Workers International (CWI), the Mouvement pour le Parti Socialiste. The ever-opportunist CPC also works in QS. All of these groups have supported the QS leadership with no substantial criticisms.
While QS has had some tenuous links with “left” labour bureaucrats in the Montreal Central Council of the CSN union federation, it has no organic base in the Quebec working class, nor does it seek one. Some left outfits—such as La Riposte and the “Masse Critique” collective of former Maoist leader Roger Rashi—argue that QS should push for stronger connections with organized labour. But their goal is only to create a Quebec version of the NDP social democrats or, at best, a “left” reformist formation akin to France’s New Anti-Capitalist Party (NPA). Citing the NPA as a model (and tipping his hat to the “21st century socialism” of bourgeois-populist Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez), Rashi writes:
“These various left-of-the-left experiments must be put in the larger historical context of rebuilding left alternatives after the collapse of Soviet-style socialism and the bankruptcy of Third Way Social Democracy.... In this perspective, both the ‘left-of-the-left’ experiments in Western countries and the ‘Socialism of the 21st Century’ experiments in Latin America, take on a new significance and a new light.”
—“Québec Solidaire: A Left-of-the-Left Formation?”, The Bullet, 11 December 2009
The NPA was founded in early 2009 as the successor to the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire (LCR), the USec’s flagship section. Far from being the “left of the left,” it represented a step to the right even for the social-democratic LCR. As our comrades of the Ligue trotskyste de France noted:
“To dot the i’s and cross the t’s, the NPA congress decided by a clear majority in favor of the name ‘New Anti-Capitalist Party’ rather than ‘Revolutionary Anti-Capitalist Party.’ It wouldn’t have changed anything to add the word ‘Revolutionary,’ as the fakers from the former minority of Lutte Ouvrière (LO) and other fake leftists who have joined the NPA proposed in order to cover up their own reformism. But to remove it—as well as any reference in their two founding documents to communism, to Lenin or Trotsky, or even to Marx, with the exception of two quotes from the Communist Manifesto—is an explicit pledge to the bourgeoisie that they are enemies of socialist revolution.”
—“‘Death of Communism’ Leftists in New Guise,” reprinted in Workers Vanguard No. 934, 10 April 2009
Reformist and populist “regroupments” like the NPA and Québec Solidaire are not a “step forward” for the working class: they represent new obstacles in the fight to forge a Marxist vanguard party.
Reformism and the National Question
One of the main debates at the QS convention was on the party’s stance toward Quebec independence. Based overwhelmingly on a francophone membership dissatisfied with the PQ, QS not surprisingly adopted a position in favour of independence (or, interchangeably, sovereignty). This was opposed by the CPC and La Riposte, the Quebec branch of the Fightback group in English Canada.
La Riposte intones that support for independence represents a capitulation to “the right wing,” and that to focus on this question is a “crime” (“Québec Solidaire Congress 2009: Working Class Unity Needed,” marxist.ca, 12 January). They even compare the national question to “questions of semantics”! While claiming to defend Quebec’s right to self-determination, La Riposte is in fact arguing against Quebec independence and for an alliance of QS with the English Canadian NDP—a party that has always defended chauvinist “Canadian unity” against Quebec’s national rights. Such a stance would have been anathema to the Bolshevik leader V.I. Lenin, who explained: “A proletariat that tolerates the slightest coercion of other nations by its ‘own’ nation cannot be a socialist proletariat” (Socialism and War, July-August 1915).
Other groups hailed QS’s stand on the national question. But the approach of groups like Gauche Socialiste and the PCQ has nothing to do with Leninism and everything to do with their endorsement of “progressive” bourgeois nationalism. GS and its predecessor groups in the USec have always supported restrictive “French only” language legislation like Law 101, introduced by the first PQ government in the late 1970s. This anti-democratic law bans English-language education for the children of immigrants and heavily restricts signs in languages other than French. For its part, the PCQ has incorporated the nationalist fleur-de-lysée in its logo, and openly backed the bourgeois-nationalist Bloc Québécois in federal parliamentary elections.
Authentic revolutionary Marxists advocate independence for Quebec as part of a program of working-class struggle against all wings of the capitalists. In the first instance, that means fighting the dominant English Canadian chauvinism pushed by the NDP and the central labour bureaucracy. In advocating independence, we also seek to break the Québécois workers from the hold of their “own” francophone exploiters and from the bourgeois-nationalist PQ and Bloc. We oppose discriminatory language laws in both English Canada and Quebec and demand equal language rights for all including in education and government services.
The Québécois working class grew with the advent of industrialization in the early part of the 20th century, and was both a victim of national oppression and the motor force for struggles against it. In the early 1960s, displacing the old Anglo rulers of Westmount and their local satraps around the Catholic church, a distinct Québécois bourgeoisie began to congeal through state reforms including the nationalization of hydroelectricity, a process known as the Quiet Revolution. Quebec was transformed from a priest-ridden backwater into a modern capitalist society. French became the main language of daily life, public affairs and business—a sharp contrast to earlier decades when Québécois workers were told to “speak white” (i.e., English) when addressing the foreman. In part due to the new restrictive language laws, by the late 1970s the Québécois also began to assimilate significant layers of new immigrants and their children.
Throughout this period, the working class engaged in waves of militant struggle, culminating in the May 1972 general strike, which saw workers take over whole towns. Such struggles were denounced by the chauvinist leaders of English Canadian labour. While NDP leader David Lewis publicly endorsed the jailing of Quebec union leaders, Canadian Labour Congress president Donald McDonald made clear the CLC’s opposition to the general strike, saying “the CLC is not interested in and will not be party to any attempt to overthrow a democratically elected government” (Globe and Mail, 15 May 1972). Openly allying with the rulers in Ottawa against Quebec “separatism,” a CLC executive report to its convention added:
“It is, therefore, essential that the Congress and its affiliated unions oppose those elements, in any part of Canada, which advocate the destruction of Confederation or a reduction of the federal powers as a means of pursuing selfish regional aims.”
This hostility, borne of the CLC tops’ role as labour lieutenants of the Canadian ruling class, helped to drive the Québécois workers into the arms of the bourgeois-nationalist PQ, which won its first election in 1976. Particularly after the defeat of its first sovereignty referendum in 1980, the PQ lashed out at the labour movement through savage strikebreaking and austerity, a process which it repeated after the second failed referendum in 1995. But the Quebec labour misleaders have remained faithful to the PQ, derailing workers struggle into bourgeois nationalism.
The forced retention of Quebec in a “united” Canada has sharply divided the working class along national lines, while the mutually reinforcing Anglo chauvinism and Quebec nationalism serve to tie the workers to their own exploiters and to foment racism against ethnic minorities in both nations. Quebec independence will not, of course, put an end to the exploitation and oppression that are intrinsic to the capitalist system. But it will remove the national question from the agenda and lay a basis to bring the decisive class questions to the fore.
Reformists and the Bourgeois State
Whether they support the Anglo-chauvinist status quo or Québécois nationalism, the fake-Marxist groups active in QS all share a deeply reformist approach to the capitalist state. While occasionally complaining that QS leaders are not focused enough on struggle “in the streets,” the reality is that they all promote QS’s electoralist program, which claims that fundamental social progress can be realized through elections to the Quebec National Assembly. This is a complete crock: to put an end to capitalist misery and exploitation, the bourgeois state must be smashed and replaced by a workers state, the dictatorship of the proletariat. 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 the 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, institutions of a hostile class, of the exploiting minority.”
—The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky
GS, the PCQ, La Riposte et al. paint the capitalist state—at its core, through its cops, courts and prisons, an organ of repression against the working class—as a potential lever for social progress. They certainly do not oppose the substantial subsidies from the capitalist state that QS receives to fund its activities—some $400,000 in 2008 alone. Indeed, GS’s parent groups in France, the LCR and now the NPA, are similarly funded by the bourgeois state to the tune of nearly a million euros a year. We Trotskyists have always refused on principle to take any money from any capitalist state, the executive committee of the class enemy. He who pays the piper calls the tune!
Quebec’s Reformist Left: The Stalinists...
To understand the political bankruptcy of the various left groups in QS, it helps to look back at their political origins. The PCQ and CPC are by-products of the Stalinist political counterrevolution in the Soviet Union that began in 1923-24. After years of war and isolation for the young Soviet workers state, and following the defeat of workers revolution in the industrial powerhouse of Germany, a bureaucracy led by J.V. Stalin usurped political power from an exhausted and demoralized Soviet proletariat. While not undoing the world-historic gains of the October Revolution—the overturn of capitalist class rule and state control of industry and foreign trade—the Stalinists rejected its internationalist revolutionary purpose. Instead, under the anti-Marxist dogma of building “socialism in one country,” they pursued a course of “peaceful coexistence” with imperialism.
The Communist parties around the world were transformed into reformist outfits seeking the good graces of “progressive” capitalists. In Canada, the Stalinist CPC has for decades championed Canadian nationalism, and has thus been thoroughly hostile to Quebec’s national aspirations. This has produced repeated splits by its Quebec affiliates who have, in turn, embraced Quebec nationalism.
The 1960s and early ’70s saw a global radicalization among youth, initially based on solidarity with the struggles of oppressed peoples in Cuba, Vietnam and elsewhere. Following the May-June 1968 general strike in France, which posed the possibility of workers revolution in the heart of Europe, many of these young leftists were attracted to Marxism as they understood it. In Quebec the bulk of such youth were won to the then more left-talking variant of Stalinism associated with Chinese leader Mao Zedong. By the mid-1970s, self-described “Marxist-Leninist” (Maoist) groups had thousands of members in Quebec.
But Maoism was (and is) a variant of Stalinist class collaborationism, having nothing in common with authentic Marxism. Deeply hostile to the Soviet Union following the Sino-Soviet split, by the 1970s the Chinese bureaucracy around Mao had forged a counterrevolutionary alliance with U.S. imperialism against the USSR. This led it to back bloody U.S.-allied despots like the Shah of Iran, support the white-supremacist rulers of South Africa against Soviet-allied black Angola, and demand the strengthening of NATO.
Carrying out the logic of Stalinist class collaboration at home, the Quebec Maoists supported a “united” Canada as a supposed bulwark against the “superpowers,” the U.S. and especially the USSR. The largest Maoist group, Roger Rashi’s Canadian Communist League (Marxist-Leninist)—later renamed the Workers Communist Party—publicly campaigned to strengthen the Canadian armed forces against “the voracious appetites of the superpowers” (The Forge, 3 June 1976). With the onset of Washington’s renewed anti-Soviet Cold War at the end of the 1970s, Quebec’s large Maoist organizations crumbled under the weight of their own contradictions and soon disappeared. Today, the leaderships of Quebec’s bourgeois and petty-bourgeois nationalist organizations are studded with housebroken one-time Maoists like QS leader Françoise David and Bloc Québécois head Gilles Duceppe.
Continuing the inglorious tradition of Maoism today is the Parti Communiste Révolutionnaire (PCR). The PCR is just about the only self-styled Marxist group in Quebec that claims to oppose QS from the left, denouncing it as a “wannabee PQ” (Le Drapeau Rouge Express, 9 November 2008). But the PCR provides absolutely no alternative for workers and radical youth. On the national question, it upholds the Maoist tradition of opposing Quebec independence, calling this a “100 percent bourgeois project” (“Programme du Parti Communiste Révolutionnaire”). At best, such a stance ignores the reality of national oppression; at worst, it leads straight to capitulation to the “united Canada” demagogy of the Canadian bourgeoisie and its agents in the labour movement. As we have seen, this is precisely what happened with the Maoists of the 1970s.
The PCR’s class-collaborationist perspective is made explicit in its “Programme,” which claims that “the road to revolution in Canada” is “prolonged people’s war.” Mao-style “people’s war” is flatly counterposed to the proletarian perspective that is central to Marxism. Due to its central role in capitalist production—in the factories, mines, transport systems—the working class uniquely possesses the social power to sweep away the bourgeois order. While the PCR dissolves the working class into the “people,” genuine Marxists fight for a socialist revolution in which the workers champion the cause of all the oppressed.
...and the fake-Trotskyists
Following the Stalinist degeneration of the USSR, the struggle for authentic Marxism was carried forward by the forces around Leon Trotsky, co-leader with Lenin of the October Revolution, who remained true to the internationalist program that animated that revolution. But the self-professed Trotskyist groupings active in QS today have long abandoned (or never upheld) the fundamental tenets of Trotskyism—most crucially, the class independence of the proletariat from all wings of the class enemy, and the defense against imperialism and counterrevolution of countries where capitalism has been overthrown, despite their bureaucratic misleaders.
The IMT and CWI originated in the Militant Tendency, a reformist outfit that buried itself for decades inside the pro-imperialist British Labour Party (see “When Militant Ran Liverpool,” page 8). Gauche Socialiste and their co-thinkers in the French NPA descend from the forces around Michel Pablo and Ernest Mandel who broke from revolutionary Trotskyism in the early 1950s in favour of “deep entry” into various Stalinist, social-democratic and bourgeois-nationalist parties. By the 1980s, under the impact of U.S. imperialism’s renewed anti-Soviet offensive, they moved rapidly to the right, endorsing every counterrevolutionary movement directed against the USSR—from Polish Solidarność (the only “trade union” ever backed by Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher) to the anti-woman mujahedin cutthroats who were killing Soviet soldiers in Afghanistan. The same stance was taken by the I.S., an anti-Communist outfit whose forebears refused to defend the Chinese and North Korean deformed workers states against U.S., British and Canadian imperialism in the 1950-53 Korean War.
In 1991-92, these groups cheered on the forces of “democratic” counterrevolution that destroyed the Soviet Union. Having played their own small part in bringing about this catastrophe, today they lie to the working people that the road to social emancipation lies through building non-proletarian, petty-bourgeois outfits like Québec Solidaire.
Still Only One Solution: Proletarian Revolution
With our comrades throughout the International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist), the Trotskyist League/Ligue trotskyste fought to the end in defense of the USSR and the bureaucratically deformed workers states of East Europe, while calling on the workers to oust the bankrupt Stalinists and replace them with the revolutionary rule of workers councils (soviets). We hailed the 1979 Soviet intervention in Afghanistan as an act of self-defense for the USSR and the only hope for social progress and women’s liberation in that benighted country. We opposed the attempt at a counterrevolutionary coup by Solidarność in 1981, which would have brought Poland under the heel of U.S. imperialism and the Catholic church. And we fought against the final undoing of the USSR, calling on Soviet workers to “Stop Yeltsin/Bush counterrevolution!” Today we continue to defend the remaining deformed workers states—China, Vietnam, North Korea and Cuba—against imperialism and counterrevolution, while calling for workers political revolutions to establish regimes based on proletarian democracy and Marxist internationalism.
Our model remains the 1917 October Revolution, and this guides us as well in our approach to the national question in multinational states like Canada. Crucial to the Bolsheviks’ victory was their defense of self-determination for the oppressed minority nationalities in the tsarist “prison house of peoples.” At the same time, they opposed the ideology of nationalism as counterposed to the internationalist interests of the working class.
While advocating Quebec independence, we fight for the workers to break politically with both the Anglo-chauvinist NDP social democrats and the bourgeois-nationalist PQ, and to reject the ideology of nationalism and its concomitant attacks on immigrants and Native people. The necessary perspective is the fight for socialist revolution throughout North America and beyond, a crucial step toward a global communist society where each will give according to their abilities and receive according to their needs. Workers and leftist youth seeking to put an end to the violent, corrupt and bankrupt capitalist system should join us in the fight to forge a Marxist workers party that struggles for the emancipation of the working class and all the oppressed.