By The Comrade Ahmed Salim.
This article is a written transposition of a presentation given at a workshop for red cadres and includes several theoretical modifications and additions that are intended to serve the line struggle on this advanced issue to establish the unity of Marxist-Leninist-Maoist forces in Canada.
This modest contribution does not pretend to be an exhaustive and complete analysis of the national question from a proletarian point of view, but a general framework of which the Maoists are called upon to clarify their conceptions in order to finally consolidate the correct and scientific line. It is intended primarily as material serving, on one hand, to provide tracks for a subsequent, more in-depth theoretical work; and, on the other hand, to dialectically advance the ideological struggle towards communist unity.
1. Theoretical bases
First, we will begin by defining certain concepts so that we can begin a reflection based on a common understanding of the theoretical bases of Marxism in terms of the national question. If, as Maoists, we as Maoists have differences or misunderstandings on elementary concepts, any unity on an advanced question is impossible.
1.1 The National State, The Nation, The National Minorities:
First, the concept of ‘nation’ appears in its State form with the development of capitalism during the 18th and 19th centuries. Indeed, the disintegration of multinational empires and the gradual liquidation of feudal regimes in favour of capitalist social structures allowed the rising bourgeois classes to defend a clean “national” market and a circumscribed labour force. It is under the formula of the Nation State that the concentration necessary for the capitalist development of the productive forces will be realized, the nation being the ideal format. The appearance of bourgeois democratic republics or “parliamentary monarchies” in Europe in this period testifies to this, as do certain colonies of the first wave of colonization, such as the United States, which truly crystallised the Nation State as a structure for consolidating the power of the new ruling class, the bourgeoisie. Comrade Stalin wrote in his book ‘On The National Question’:
“A nation is not merely a historical category but a historical category belonging to a definite epoch, the epoch of rising capitalism. […]”
In fact, there were already embryonic forms of nations prior to the advent of capitalism, even in Antiquity, i.e. historical communities, albeit often disparate and more or less differentiable from one another. The example of the Germanic or Anglo-Saxon peoples who formed a myriad of fragmented populations, but sharing certain common objective characteristics such as language, territory, etc. can bear witness to this: the development of productive forces will require of these peoples a closer union which will later give rise to England in the Middle Ages and Germany in the modern era. Under feudalism, the ‘Nation’ as defined in the terms of bourgeois modernity generally formed an abstract and secondary notion, if not a metaphysical category stemming from the idea of the divine and therefore designating a vague set of peoples and communities subject to the same sovereign. The class struggle between peasantry, merchants and nobility was therefore exercised either locally, within the same principality, or on the scale of the entire kingdom. However, the ‘Nation’ as a politico-economic entity determining the terms in which the class struggle takes place will really be constituted within the parameters of the modern bourgeois State, thus conferring a properly ‘national’ character to this class struggle. To this end, Marx mentions that the bourgeoisie has delimited the framework of its own overthrow by bringing the nation into history, not by creating the nation as such since it could already exist objectively, but by creating the bourgeois unity of the nation which is its most advanced form. Stalin mentions in the same work cited above:
“The market is the first school in which the bourgeoisie learns its nationalism.”
That is to say that the bourgeoisie first becomes nationalist out of pecuniary interest, with the aim of securing its capital and circumscribing its labour force. Consequently, it is up to the proletariat to recognize its own class interests and formulate its own independent policy in the resolution of the national question.
While Marx and Lenin would rather provide bases for the analysis of the national State and Lenin’s analysis of the problem of imperialism, Stalin would rather focus his analysis around the nations themselves – independently of their State existence – in order to pose the problem of national contradictions within the same State formation. It is precisely this aspect of comrade Stalin’s contribution that interests us in the present analysis of the Canadian situation, with a critical, dialectical and scientific viewpoint.
First, let us specify that Stalin’s famous criteriology on the broad outlines of the nation that we are about to expose to you are bases of analysis which must serve and guide the democratic struggle of the masses and not restrict it. It would indeed be tempting to fall into a purely mechanistic grid which could turn out to be of a rather counter-productive nature. It is essential from an epistemological point of view not to start from concepts in order to make them correspond to material reality, but on the contrary to base oneself on material reality, in this case the national reality, in order to apply the materialist analysis which will in return serve to guide its transformation. In other words: never deviate from the dialectical approach when analysing a national situation.
Evidently, the concept of nation is the object of several divergences and polemics in the Left, especially with contemporary Anarchists and Post-Leftists. The fact is that the nation, beyond the conceptual abstraction often attributed to it or the idealistic intellectual acrobatics, is an objective category that has very tangible material effects in the lives of the masses, which cannot be stupidly ignored by leftism or other deviations. The nation is the terrain of class confrontation as much on the local level as on the world stage. If we wish to surpass it one day, we must consider it as an immediate problem to be solved. Otherwise, at the stage of imperialism, any victory of the proletariat is impossible.
Comrade Stalin begins by defining the nation as follows: “A nation is primarily a community, a definite community of people. […] Thus, a nation is not a racial or tribal, but a historically constituted community of people.” He continues with his four other fundamental criteria which are as follows: Firstly, a language community, which may share the same language with another distinct nation (e.g. Moroccans and Lebanese, English and Irish, etc.). Secondly, he identifies the community of territory, which is another fundamental feature, but it is not enough. This community still needs to be welded together by economic links between the four corners of the territory in question, hence the third criterion, which is the community of economic life. This manifests itself through the division of labour between the regions, the existence of communication, transport and trade routes, etc., and the existence of the community of economic life. Stalin gives the example of the Georgians, his native people, who until the 19th century shared the same territory, but lived in small isolated feudal principalities. It was capitalist development that welded Georgia into an emerging nation. Lastly, the fourth criterion is what Stalin calls the “community of psychological make-up“, which may seem abstract at first glance, but which designates the set of particularities specific to the national culture and which forges a kind of common psychology, and by extension an awareness of the national fact. Obviously, it is determined by the concrete conditions of existence of the nation in question: historical, geographical and others. We might add that this “national culture” is traversed by the social relations of production at a given stage of development, i.e. by the ideology of the ruling class at that same stage. It is important to underline this in order to avoid confusion and misinterpretation regarding some of Lenin’s cultural watchwords. To recapitulate, Stalin postulates that the stability, language, territory, common economic life and psychological make-up are fundamental traits for the constitution of a people as a nation. The absence of a single criterion can cause its national character to shatter. Stalin insists that these traits must be understood as a set of inseparable and mutually dependent prerequisites.
Beyond its scientific character, Stalin’s definition is particularly effective; in that it annihilates idealistic, mystifying or metaphysical conceptions of the nation, which are generally those of nationalists who see the nation primarily as a kind of cultural-symbolic or spiritual communion without material anchorage. The example of the Jews bears witness to this. Can it be said that the Jews of the world form a single nation in Marxist terms? The answer is no. It is certainly a community of religion, of culture, certainly, but it is generally scattered, fragmented and integrated into larger national groupings. As a result, they share almost no common material or even linguistic characteristics. Rather, they form a myriad of nations and national minorities, not a single trans-territorial nation. Does this mean, however, that it can be denied that they may at some stage form an oppressed social group as they have historically been? No, of course not, but this reality will certainly determine the demands and the consequent tasks to be formulated.
However, it would be misleading to apply this grid in a reified way, in the manner of a “checklist”. There are also subjective elements that can interfere with the quantitative criteria. The important thing is to understand them as general outlines capable of guiding the analysis of the national situation from a materialistic point of view in order to better transform it. In short, one must be wary of both tendencies towards empiricism on the one hand, which neglects the importance of theory, and dogmatism or bureaucratism on the other, detached from the material reality being studied. No matter what the detractors of Marxism-Leninism and petty-bourgeois Leftists say, this criteriology can prove to be of great use in drawing a portrait of this reality if it is used with the right method, that is, with the dialectical method and not the mechanistic method.
Finally, a national minority in Marxist terminology is an umbrella term for both minority nations and ethnic minorities that do not form nations. Thus, Group X may form a national minority and a nation in its own right, while Group Y forms only a national minority without forming a nation. The Canadian reality is replete with examples of this, as we will see below.
1.2 Proletarian Internationalism
Proletarian internationalism is a principle that must guide all communist action in the field of the national question. It is precisely the great enemy of both bourgeois nationalism and colonial chauvinism. It is the weapon of the liberation of the proletariat from oppressed nationalities. Nonetheless, many communists ignore all the practical and theoretical implications of this arsenal of struggle. We will make a short summary of it here with the help of the valuable contributions of comrades Lenin and Stalin, focusing on the less known aspects given it is already widely discussed in the M-L-M trainings.
Why proletarian internationalism? Because the world proletariat has no homeland, the homeland and national fragmentation are imposed on it by the development of history, by the same objective process that makes it emerge as a new exploited class. In the same way, this division of the world no longer corresponds to the necessities of the development of the relations of production of the present epoch considered as a whole, i.e. of advanced capitalism and imperialism. The working class is now confronted with the necessity and the historical task of abolishing this bourgeois division of the world and of instituting new relations between peoples.
“The aim of socialism is not only to abolish the present division of mankind into small States and all national isolation; not only to bring the nations closer to each other, but also to merge them.” (Lenin)
However, this general task of the world proletariat includes stages linked to the resolution of each contradiction, including that of national subordination in the epoch of imperialism. Therefore, just as it is necessary to take up arms to abolish weapons, oppressed nations are sometimes called upon to brandish the motherland in order to abolish the motherland. Moreover, comrade Lenin explicitly establishes this dialectic of the national liberation struggle by drawing a parallel with that of the general struggle for the overthrow of the bourgeoisie:
“Just as mankind can achieve the abolition of classes only by passing through the transition period of the dictatorship of the oppressed class, so mankind can achieve the inevitable merging of nations only by passing through the transition period of complete liberation of all the oppressed nations, i.e., their freedom to secede.” (Lenin)
The specific issue of political separation will be discussed below.
Proletarian internationalism does not stop at the liberation of oppressed peoples. It establishes a general method for resolving national contradictions at every stage of revolutionary struggle: from the historical stage of colonial or semi-colonial subjugation to the historical stage of communism. Therefore, we must keep in mind the ultimate objective at each stage of the revolution, that is, for each of the immediate problems encountered in the resolution of a given question. In this case, it is a question of the complete fusion of nations and languages. In this respect, comrade Stalin enlightens us further:
“It would be wrong to think that the suppression of national differences and the extinction of national languages will occur immediately after the defeat of world imperialism, all of a sudden, as it were, as a decree from above. Nothing could be further from the truth than such a view. To try to bring about the fusion of nations by means of a decree from above, by means of coercion, would be to play the game of the imperialists, to ruin the cause of liberation of nations, and to bury that of the organisation of fraternal cooperation among nations. Such a policy is equivalent to a policy of assimilation.
You certainly know that the policy of assimilation is absolutely excluded from the arsenal of Marxism-Leninism, as an anti-popular and counter-revolutionary policy, as a disastrous policy.” (Stalin)
This excerpt is fundamental to the understanding of proletarian internationalism since it establishes certain historical preconditions for this fusion of nations, namely a full freedom of nations to take part in this process and an advanced integration of nations into a system of world socialist economy that will only be possible in a higher phase following the proletariat’s seizure of power on a world scale. As for the cultural and linguistic situation of small nations and national minorities, their full and free expression will also be an inevitable and necessary step in the process of the fusion of the peoples of the world:
“It would be wrong to believe that the first stage of the period of the world dictatorship of the proletariat will mark the beginning of the extinction of nations and national languages, the beginning of the constitution of a single common language. On the contrary, this first stage, during which national oppression will be definitively liquidated, will be the stage of the rise and blossoming of previously oppressed nations and national languages, the stage of the confirmation of equal rights between nations, the stage of the liquidation of mutual national distrust, the stage of the institution and strengthening of international ties between nations.” (Stalin)
In short, these last theoretical elements are obviously more of a hypothesis than an implacable prediction, since the scientific experimentation of the international communist movement has never reached this stage of development. It is nevertheless an objective which must guide our work: that of overcoming the national contradictions generated by the capitalist-imperialist system of exploitation and achieving the fusion of humanity under the banner of communism.
2. Canada’s National and Ethnic Composition – the respective situation of the groups
In light of Stalin’s contributions and the analysis of historical contradictions in Canada, we can now attempt to draw a general and preliminary map of Canada’s nations and ethnic groups, which we have done with the greatest caution: to trace the contours and broad lines of demarcation between the different groups that make up today’s Canada and to identify their position and historical situation in the country’s class structure. This is an indispensable theoretical effort if we wish to understand the national question and a preliminary work to any rigorous attempt at class analysis that the avant-garde communist organization will have to undertake.
Comrade Stalin writes :
“It follows that the national question is only possible in relation to the historical conditions considered in their development.” (Stalin)
The national reality – the national contradictions – can thus evolve, change, move according to the evolution of material conditions, which makes different, new methods of resolution emerge at each stage of its development, in order in the end to advance the struggle for proletarian unity. Thus, the democratic demands to be formulated on the national question differ today from those of 50 years ago. In short, it is necessary to know how to scientifically study the national situation and to get rid of any form of apriori, which means making the concrete analysis of concrete conditions, as comrade Lenin said, while considering historical developments.
In this respect, in the great bazaar of nations and ethnic groups of the country we can therefore distinguish two main categories of collectivity that differ qualitatively by different historical and objective characteristics. On the one hand, there are the nations and minorities historically constituted on the territory of present-day Canada, which we will summarize here as “major historical national groups”, and on the other hand, national minorities resulting from immigration. Why this fundamental distinction? Because they do indeed form two distinct types of communities that differ in terms of the historical conditions of their emergence and development. It is precisely at this stage of the analysis that Stalin’s criteria are of great help. On the one hand, there are historically constituted peoples rooted in a more or less delimited territory, with common languages and economic bonds, making them nations in their own right, and on the other hand, there are a set of disparate immigrant communities on the territory which sometimes have no organized bonds or even a stable form of organization, but which are rather an addition of isolated individuals and families who do not form nations as such. In the Tsarist era, the latter category already existed, not as immigration from outside, but as internal displacement of populations – mainly national minorities – who left their home territories to disperse and settle in the urban areas of Greater Russia in search of a livelihood. This is why Lenin and Stalin address this issue and allow us, under the conditions of today’s Canada, to draw a parallel with the Russian national question of the time, particularly with regard to the issue of national-cultural autonomy. For example, it would be absurd for the Punjabi community in Canada to claim this form of autonomy, which would have no real scope other than to create artificial nations and erect artificial national barriers contrary to the spirit of internationalism. On the other hand, their situation requires them to brandish other types of claims that correspond to their reality, such as the right to employment, housing, the abolition of racial repression and discrimination, for example. In short, this objective distinction is in no way intended to establish a hierarchy; on the contrary, it serves to distinguish between the types of contradictions, which in turn will determine the methods of resolution, i.e. the demands and tasks to be formulated, with a view to ultimately establishing the full equality of peoples and languages under socialism. On the other hand, it is true that the immediate demands of certain historical nationalities and immigrant minorities may converge sporadically – the example of Indigenous and black people in the face of police violence is testimony to this – but they correspond to qualitatively different contradictions in the face of the Canadian imperialist State.
As regards the “major historical national groups”, these are either nations, national minorities, or groups of nations which generally share the features listed above and which take into consideration the material and historical particularities that may have drawn new dividing lines or contradictions in the course of developments. As for the specific question of nation status for Indigenous peoples – whether they objectively form nations by virtue of the imprint of their ancient tribal character on their current demographic situation – this is a question that we consider secondary in the Canadian situation since, on the one hand, the majority of Indigenous peoples in their respective territories have developed sufficient material foundations to consider themselves as such, but also because Canada’s colonial situation requires that they be considered as nations in their own right, insofar as they still exist as organized and identifiable communities within a given territory, otherwise it is easy to fall into chauvinism or bureaucratism that would ruin revolutionary work. With respect to urban Indigenous peoples, that is, Indigenous peoples who have left their home communities to settle in predominantly white urban centres and who make up a considerable proportion of their population, especially in Western Canada, their situation is more akin to that of disparate national minorities than to “nations” as such. It is precisely in this type of situation that we need to adopt a non-dogmatic, non-bureaucratic stance with the valuable criteriology of Comrade Stalin.
Lastly, with regard to minorities with an immigrant background, two sub-categories can be distinguished: Immigrant minorities from dominant nations, i.e. advanced capitalist countries, and immigrant minorities from dominated nations, i.e. exploited countries, which generally correspond to “visible minorities”. Under the conditions of imperialism, these two groups have peculiarities that are essentially distinct in cause and effect. There are also so-called “intermediary” nations that are subject to debate, but they do not form a significant element in what we are trying to analyse here as a phenomenon.
2.1 Major Historical National Groups :
The “major historical national groups” that can therefore be identified are the following: Indigenous peoples (First Nations, Métis, Inuit), Québécois, Anglo-Canadians, and finally French Canadians and Acadians.
Indigenous peoples are divided into three sub-groups: First Nations, Métis and Inuit. They belong to the same broad historical category, not only because of their national and ethnic characteristics, but also because they share a common historical situation in their relationship with European colonialism and then Anglo-Canadian imperialism and its legal system, which provided national bases, including through forced settlement, and drew the ethnic and territorial boundaries of these peoples.
There are approximately 50 Indigenous nations in all Canadian provinces without exception. Their population is approximately 1,700,000, which makes up 5% of the Canadian population. The population of each of the three sub-groups is as follows: approximately 1,000,000 First Nations; 550,000 Métis; and 70,000 Inuit out of a total population of 37 million Canadians. According to population projections, this population could increase by one million people in the next 15 years. In addition, there are currently 630 Indigenous communities and more than 60 languages grouped into 12 language families. The task of studying all of the country’s regional and territorial realities will therefore be a titanic one, resulting in a substantial revolutionary program.
Since the arrival of Europeans, Canada’s Indigenous peoples have gone through several historical phases: first, a phase of alliances, war and trade from 1603 to the end of the 18th century with the French and English colonial powers, which was tragic in many ways as the Empires exported their destructive conflicts and diseases to America on a scale never before experienced by the Indigenous peoples, decimating entire swathes of their populations through forced displacement, massacres and contagion – more specifically in the northeastern regions (Quebec-Ontario-Maritimes). However, they still enjoyed relative freedom and autonomy in the vastness of their territories – and even more so, if not fully, among the Indigenous peoples of the Northwest – even though the latter were often symbolically integrated into colonial possessions. It should be mentioned that Indigenous peoples had hitherto been key military and commercial players in the colonial economy, if only for the exploration of the territory, particularly under the French regime. Real dispossession will begin in a second phase of colonization, which is that of the 19th century with the development of bureaucratic colonialism that will act as an instrument of the changing economic base, i.e. emerging capitalism, and the transition from colonial mercantilism based on the fur trade to the industrial economy and agriculture. Indigenous peoples will soon be seen as “obstacles” to economic development in the eyes of the new ruling classes. This is why in the 1870s and 80s, the Liberal-monarchist bourgeoisie represented by Prime Minister John A. McDonald deployed the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) in Western Canada to bring order to the Métis and First Nations following their forced annexation to the newly created Dominion of Canada. His goal was to pacify the prairies to open them up to Orange companies and settlers. In 1876, the infamous “Indian Act”, still in force today, was adopted and officialized the integration and definitive subjugation of the Indigenous peoples to the Canadian colonial system. It made Natives second-class citizens, under the direct supervision of Indian Affairs bureaucrats. The authorities will confine and forcibly settle them in “reserves” in order to remove their capacity to resist, to take away their freedom of movement, their right to property, their livelihood and their autonomy in a relationship of direct dependence on the State, and to prepare the ground for cultural genocide in residential schools. Today, the Indian Act acts as the main legal instrument of the Canadian imperialist bourgeoisie in the defence of its monopoly interests against Indigenous peoples, a law on which it relies to maintain them in a State of underdevelopment and territorial dispossession that translates concretely into abject living conditions: critical undereducation, failing infrastructures, unemployment, widespread poverty, an astronomical suicide rate 7 times higher than the Canadian average, life expectancy 8 years below average, etc. The Indian Act is the only law that has been adopted by the Canadian imperialist bourgeoisie. Ultimately, the development inequalities, systemic discrimination and territorial segregation to which they are still subject have all the attributes of apartheid, which ultimately aims to prevent the establishment of their own national economy and institutions throughout their respective territories. Monopoly capital can thus plunder their land at will with the blessing of the bourgeois State and the provinces. It is therefore a neo-colonial relationship within the borders, a third world at the heart of imperialism, just like large sections of the African-American masses in the US. In sum, Indigenous nations and minorities are the first to suffer national oppression in Canada.
Québécois number 8.5 million and make up 22% of the Canadian population.
Quebec truly constituted itself as a nation distinct from the rest of French Canada with the advent of State monopoly capitalism in the 1960s and 1970s, which corresponds to the so-called “Quiet Revolution”. With the emergence and then consolidation of a uniquely Quebecois apparatus of exploitation, favouring the development of an advanced capitalism, an industrialized society on the ruins of Dupplessis’ old ultra-reactionary bourgeois State, the Quebec national bourgeoisie would also consolidate Quebec’s national character. By rapidly developing the so-called national productive forces, by breaking at least partially with the hegemony of the Anglo-American monopolies, by breaking with the old form of bourgeois ideology in favour of a renewed form more acceptable to the working class, and finally by realizing the cultural and democratic rights of the French-speaking majority, it promoted the detachment of the Quebec people from their backward ideological union with the rest of traditionally agricultural, patriarchal-peasant, and clerical French Canada. This is why the Quebec nation has evolved on a parallel historical trajectory and shares only the language with the country’s other French-speaking communities. It is, moreover, through this process of catching up with capitalism operated by the rising reformist and bourgeois nationalist cliques represented by the Lesage-Lévesque duo that the conditions of our national alienation will crumble, that the main contradictions in Québécois society will shift to the benefit of the fundamental contradictions of the advanced capitalist nations. First of all, it should be mentioned that the people of Quebec have indeed constituted an oppressed nation for more than two centuries – this is an objective and scientific reality. Québécois were first subjected to British colonialism and then to American and Anglo-Canadian imperialism. A few key events can be mentioned that bear witness to this historical situation of oppression: British colonialism is since the Conquest of 1759, and the imposition of a military regime, followed by the Royal Proclamation of 1763 which subjected (French-) Canadians to the British Crown and abolished their religious and cultural rights, with the constitutional act of 1791, which divided the province in two and granted immense lands to loyalist refugees, with the brutal repression of 1837-38 against patriots and the civilian population, with the act of union of 1840, a forced annexation, voluntary minorization and attempted assimilation, with the British North America Act in 1867, a definitive anti-democratic integration into the Dominion of Canada, with the conscription crisis of 1917, and many others… All these events punctuate a long period of domination of the English colonial aristocracy and the Anglo-Saxon merchant (then industrial) bourgeoisie over the economy of Quebec, and thus of the most abusive and violent exploitation of the French-Canadian working masses by foreign dominant classes. Starting in the 20th century, American imperialism will gradually impose itself as an exploitative force in Quebec and will participate in maintaining Quebec society in its State of underdevelopment with the precious help of the clerico-fascist lackeys we all know. Moreover, the social basis of imperialism is precisely the backward and peasant economy based on the extraction of raw materials – an economy which blocks any possibility of the development of a national capitalism in the oppressed nation. As a result, Quebec has already formed a colony and then a semi-colony. Some data show the effects of this situation in the 1960s: The average wage gap between French and English speakers in Quebec was 35%. Francophone Quebecers ranked 12th out of 14 ethnic groups in the wage scale, before Italians and Natives. Quebec accounted for 40% of Canada’s unemployed for a population only 27% of the country’s total. Finally, Francophones controlled only 20% of the Quebec economy.
However, it cannot be denied either that despite the inferiority of the conditions of existence of the French-speaking proletariat at the time, the material base of the Quebec economy, especially its industrial portion, was more advanced and developed than in the exploited countries of the South, for historical and economic reasons which could be elaborated separately. The parallel with the Third World that was drawn by the Vallières-Gagnon group served above all to illustrate the immediate common tasks imposed on the revolutionaries of oppressed peoples under their historical conditions. The reality is that some of these same tasks – those specifically related to the linguistic and cultural question of Quebec or to its linguistic and cultural self-determination – were subsequently assumed by the nationalist bourgeoisie, according to its own class interests, and not by the Quebec proletariat. Hence the necessity, as mentioned, for the working class to formulate its own independent proletarian policy in each given question based on its objective interests. Lenin in the text ‘The Socialist Revolution and the Right of Nations to Self-Determination’ writes:
“In practice, the proletariat will be able to retain its independence only if it subordinates its struggle for all the democratic demands, not excluding the demand for a republic, to its revolutionary struggle for the overthrow of the bourgeoisie.” (Lenin)
In the 1960s, the national liberation struggle of the Quebec people should have been placed at this particular stage of historical development under the leadership of the proletariat. However, the national movement, under the impulse of opportunist and nationalist forces of the Left, such as the RIN, the PSQ, the ASIQ, Trotskyist groups, and the whole range of independentist groups that could be grouped under the generic term of “independence and socialism movement” worked objectively to make the national struggle fall into the hands of the bourgeoisie and thus prepare the ground for the rise of the PQ and its pro-Yankee bourgeois project by continually postponing the struggle for the overthrow of capitalism. The general discourse of the independence and socialism option – or at least the one that became hegemonic – was to consider independence as a precondition for socialism. As a result, the national movement in the 1970s found itself converging and making a pact with the bourgeois reformist clique of the PQ to the detriment of the interests of the working class. Comrade Stalin had warned about this:
“Sometimes the bourgeoisie succeeds in drawing the proletariat into the national movement, and then the national struggle takes on an apparently “general popular” character, but only apparently. In its essence, it always remains bourgeois: advantageous and desirable only for the bourgeoisie.” (Stalin)
Quebec is a perfect example of this situation. In the 1970s, the national liberation struggle was completely neutralized in its revolutionary potentialities to finally be absorbed and dragged not only into a strictly legal and parliamentary struggle, but also into a struggle totally attuned to bourgeois interests. It should be mentioned that there are also specific class forces that contributed to the failure of the revolutionary and proletarian perspective in the national movement-a perspective that existed even before the M-L movement of the 1970s came on the scene, but in a rather confused and eclectic form, mainly through the FLQ. As comrade Charles Gagnon points out, these class forces are the least privileged fraction of the petty-bourgeoisie (university professors, intellectuals, etc.) and the upper layer of the working class, which together formed the class foundations of the social democracy embodied by the PQ at the time.
In short, the decline of national oppression in Quebec since the 1960s in favour of a State integrated into world imperialism in the camp of the dominant powers can be summed up in a few broad strokes:
- Reduction of the inequalities in the development of the economy and the material life of the French-speaking masses of Quebec with the rest of Canada on the one hand, and with the English-speaking masses of Quebec on the other, through the emergence and consolidation of a national capitalism, more precisely a State monopoly capitalism, although there are still remnants of these old relationships.
- Conquering basic linguistic and cultural rights against the vestiges of colonial privileges that guarantee, among other things, the permanence and even the primacy of the national language, French, within the territory of Quebec, or at least the possibility of guaranteeing it, as well as all other cultural particularities.
- Conquering the recognition of the distinct national character, granting extended competences and the referendum possibility, albeit formal, to express its right to self-determination, which combined with the prior existence of a national State, already amounts to a form of national autonomy
- The development of a Quebec imperialist bourgeoisie, however modest it may be in the international balance of power and in the inter-imperialist contradictions. It nevertheless assumes a share of the plundering of the peoples of the world in that it constitutes the Quebec fraction of the Canadian monopoly bourgeoisie. That said, some clarifications are needed about the origin of financial capital in Quebec, which is still largely dominated by Anglo-Canadian and American property.
Because of the historical conditions that have evolved in society and because of the almost total integration of the national struggle with essentially bourgeois and reactionary political forces, it can be said that the independence project in its dominant form has become alien to the interests of the Quebec proletariat, which does not mean, however, that its fundamental right to self-determination and political separation has disappeared. Let’s not forget that with the evolution of historical conditions must also evolve the methods of resolving contradictions without ever leaving the proletarian internationalist point of view. Comrade Stalin writes on this subject:
“A nation has the right to arrange its life on autonomous lines. It even has the right to secede. But this does not mean that it should do so under all circumstances, that autonomy, or separation, will everywhere and always be advantageous for a nation, i.e., for its majority, i.e., for the toiling strata.” (Stalin)
This is a fundamental principle that many forces within the “Left” still obscure, even within the so-called “Marxist-Leninist” troops, and tend to lapse into opportunism and even bourgeois nationalism. The task of revolutionaries is to analyse scientifically the contradictions where they exist and not to invent or artificially exaggerate their character. Therefore, in the concrete and actual situation of Quebec, the main contradiction is the one between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, and also the one between the native nations and the Quebec monopoly State. Indeed, the chauvinism of the Quebec State actively participates in the crushing of the Indigenous masses in their desire for self-determination, exerts a repressive political constraint that shackles them to capitalism, and with the precious help of the colonial and bourgeois legal regime of Canada, the Quebec State maintains them in conditions of underdevelopment and apartheid that are very useful for the plundering of their territory by monopoly capital.
However, if it is true that Quebec adopts an imperialist and chauvinist attitude towards the Indigenous peoples and the peoples of the world, it would be dishonest to deny the existence of Anglo-Canadian chauvinism towards Quebec and consequently of a real and persistent contradiction between the Quebec people and the Canadian State, which manifests itself punctually in linguistic, constitutional, cultural or economic issues (e.g. Supreme Court interventions on internal affairs, oil pipeline projects, censorship, media bashing, etc.) but also structurally. For example, formal bilingualism is only imposed in practice in Quebec, and lack of English language skills is still a major economic barrier for many French-speaking Quebecers and even immigrants. Within Quebec, there is also a residue of Anglophone chauvinism that defends the last vestiges of colonial privileges, such as the disproportionate overfunding of the Anglophone academic and hospital network on the island of Montreal in relation to the actual demographic proportion of this population (about 50% of universities and hospitals for a population of 20%).
Acadians and Franco-Canadians
They number about 1,100,000: 300,000 Acadians in the Maritime provinces, the majority of whom are concentrated in New Brunswick; 600,000 Franco-Ontarians; about 200,000 Francophones in the western provinces; and a few thousand in the territories. Together they make up about 4% of the Canadian population and form minorities in all provinces outside Quebec.
Franco-Canadians refer here to all Francophone communities outside Quebec. Despite the fact that Acadians are both a nation and a national minority and Franco-Canadians are only national minorities, we group them in the same category for the same reason as Indigenous groups: they are populations that not only share historical origins and a common language, which they have with Quebec as well, but they also share a common objective and historical situation in relation to the dominant nation, which currently leads them to formulate common democratic demands, to form common associations and organizations for the defence of rights, etc. However, the issue that is likely to cause confusion in the division of nations and national minorities is the Métis question in the West, where a large portion of Francophones are still present despite assimilation. There may therefore be a crossover between certain French-speaking national minorities in the west and the Métis nation. The Métis question would merit an analysis on its own in a more in-depth study.
The Francophone and Acadian peoples have shown great heroism in their long history of resistance to the repeated offensives of the chauvinist English-Canadian bourgeoisie, either to block any democratic concession or to wrest away hard-won rights. Even today, the French-speaking masses of the population are standing up in solidarity across the country to defend their linguistic and cultural rights, which are being systematically attacked by racist and chauvinistic provincial governments under the indifferent, if not complicit, gaze of federal bureaucrats. The national oppression of Acadians and Franco-Canadians is still very tangible, especially with regard to the language issue. Indeed, Francophone minorities have to fight hard just to receive an education in their mother tongue, to have access to basic services in their mother tongue, a language that supposedly enjoys “official” status. This demonstrates perfectly that the liberal bourgeois regime, like all other democratic rights, reserves it for a vulgar formal and cosmetic provision against any real implementation. Chauvinist language policies have concrete material consequences in the lives of the masses: they limit economic opportunities, erect barriers in access to basic services, basic needs like housing, stifle the cultural life of the people, and thus are likely to aggravate inequalities in development. The recent heroic struggles of Franco-Ontarians against the Doug Ford government’s shameless cuts to Francophone education are a testament to this reality of oppression that weighs on the broad Francophone masses of Canada.
Ultimately, we must fight Anglo-Canadian colonial chauvinism in all its manifestations, first as the founding ideological basis of Canada, as the heir to Orangeism, which permeates all federal and provincial State institutions and is a source of oppression, especially among other nations and national minorities in the country.
If we consider only English Canadians by origin, they are less than 50% of the Canadian population, which does not make them any less the dominant nation in Canada. They are the majority in a large majority of provinces and own the institutions of State. However, Anglo-Canadians present very different realities from one region to another. There are abysmal inequalities in development between the provinces, especially in the Maritime provinces compared to the western provinces such as Alberta and British Columbia, where living conditions and economic opportunities are very unequal. For example, living conditions in a small village in Newfoundland are more similar to those of Indigenous peoples than to English Canadians in Toronto or Vancouver. This is a significant factor to consider in the analysis of the class structure of the country and the national question.
2.2 National Minorities With An Immigrant Background:
When we use the terminology of “national minorities of immigrant origin”, it is an all-encompassing definition that refers as much to those who are foreign-born as to those who are 2nd or 3rd generation, or simply to those who belong to visible non-Indigenous minorities. What is important to remember is that they form a considerable proportion of the country’s urban proletariat, especially in the eastern metropolises. Some 80% of them are concentrated in urban centres. In the select club of advanced capitalist countries, Canada has the highest proportion of foreign-born population; i.e. 1 in 5 Canadians. It is also 1 in 5 Canadians who are visible minorities regardless of where they were born. (These are two different indicators that can intersect, but not necessarily, in both cases it is 20%) What interests us about immigrant minorities is not so much the question of language, although that is also relevant, but rather the relationship between the origin of immigrants and their position in the class structure of the country. This is why among the 200 countries of origin we can distinguish two main categories of immigrants (or people with an immigrant background): on the one hand, minorities with an immigrant background from the dominant, advanced capitalist nations, and on the other hand, minorities with an immigrant background from nations dominated by imperialism.
Firstly, it should be noted that there are hundreds of immigrant minorities and it would be impossible here to draw a portrait of each of their particular situations, of course. Moreover, establishing a portrait of the class structure of immigration is infinitely complex, since an incalculable number of factors and categories are intertwined. However, a number of broad features can be identified that can help us to lay the groundwork for a more comprehensive analysis of the issue.
Immigration From Dominant Nations
In the first place, among the immigrants from the dominant – and therefore mainly Western – countries, we find the British, the Americans and the French in the front line. Obviously, almost all of these immigrants fall into the category of economic immigration or family reunification, so there are no or very few refugees. They also have a class composition quite similar to that of Canada as a whole, i.e. with similar proportions belonging to each class, which can be partly attributed to the recognition of qualifications between advanced capitalist countries at the expense of those from exploited countries. However, it should be noted that immigrant wages in general are significantly lower than those of the Canadian-born – of all origins – which suggests that many immigrants fall more easily into the lower strata of the proletariat or petty bourgeoisie for the same qualifications, especially among recent immigrants. Another important feature is the drastic decrease in immigration from the US and Europe since the 1970s, while immigration from exploited countries – which generally corresponds to visible minorities – has increased substantially: 12% of immigrants before 1970 came from dominated countries compared to 80% in recent years. This proportion is likely to increase further with the recent waves of refugees. This is a notable phenomenon, the causes of which it would be interesting to look for in imperialist economics and global geopolitics.
Immigration From Dominated Nations
The most important in the last 10 to 15 years are South Asian minorities, mainly from India and Pakistan, Black minorities of African, Jamaican, Haitian and other origins and increasingly Filipinos. These are communities whose proletarian composition is generally higher than the Canadian average, especially among Black people and Filipinos who are over-represented in the lower strata of the proletariat: more precariousness, unemployment rates also systematically higher, up to twice the average rate. Yet they have on average more education than native-born Canadians, but hold lower-paying jobs. Indeed, more than half of them are overqualified for their jobs. We can therefore conclude that a mass of immigrants from dominated countries, often of petty-bourgeois origin, fall into the ranks of the proletariat once they arrive in Canada or simply into the lower strata of their respective classes. They then become part of the cheap labour force and the reserve army of workers from which the bourgeoisie draws at will to meet its needs according to the cycles of production and speculation. In this respect, refugees who come mostly from exploited countries ravaged by imperialist wars are particularly vulnerable to abuse by the capitalists since they often have few recognised qualifications or knowledge of the language as may be required for other categories of immigrants. As a result, they are more likely to find themselves completely helpless against the landlord class, as well as carrying a sense of hopelessness and entitlement that benefits the bourgeoisie.
In short, this remains a general scheme: for example, there are minorities from advanced countries like the Portuguese or the Italians who are more proletarianised than the Chinese, but what we have to grasp from this reality is that immigration – particularly from exploited countries – constitutes a reserve of labour useful for the good functioning of the capitalist economy. We must therefore fight dialectically for the right to immigration, the right of the world’s proletarians to seek better living conditions, and against the despicable instrumentalisation of immigration by the bourgeoisie and the exploitation of immigrant minorities, especially its visible minority fractions. Finally, in a long-term perspective, revolutionary communists must fight to eliminate the conditions that favour the emigration, a forced exile, of the poor populations of the exploited countries by removing its primary cause: world imperialism.
3. Conceptions Within The Left
In the 1970s, following the failure of the Liberation Front of Quebec (FLQ), a new perspective emerged in Quebec society and made a break with the mainstream of the pro-independence left and its class collaboration. It was the perspective of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought, which was embodied in the Vallière-Gagnon break. Let’s point out that although the FLQ was part of the broad nationalist movement, it diverged – to varying degrees depending on the wave – from opportunist, electoralist and bourgeois nationalist currents. Its general discourse could be likened to an eclectic mixture of nationalist and proletarian perspectives, the contradiction of which was exacerbated in the course of the internal struggles and subsequent waves, as was common among several armed national liberation groups in the West and in the world. In fact, the FLQ’s error does not lie in its analysis of Quebec society, although it is incomplete in some respects, but rather in the methods of struggle advocated and its strategy, which was doomed to failure. That said, it remains a heroic movement that objectively raised the level of class consciousness in Quebec and directly attacked imperialist and bourgeois interests. In this respect, it can be said that the real heirs of the FLQ, enriched by its experience, are the Marxist-Leninist movement and not the forces of petty-bourgeois opportunism recycled into the Parti Québécois (PQ).
3.1 Review Of The Positions Of The Maoist Groups Of The 1970s :
In Struggle!: In Struggle!’s position on the national question has undergone several line rectifications over the course of its existence. In the beginning, the organisation considered, in a vague and confused way, that the struggle for national liberation should be carried out only through the general struggle for socialism, but within the narrow framework of the Quebec question. This position changed and became clearer at its first congress: In Struggle! then defended the Revolution from one end of the country to the other as well as the unity of the Quebec and Canadian proletariat, which corresponded to a historical innovation within the Quebec Left and a significant advance in the construction of the revolutionary movement. As for the Indigenous peoples, the organisation will give its formal support to their right to self-determination while reserving exclusively the status of nation for the English-Canadian and Québécois people on the basis of Stalin’s criteria. They will thus be considered only as national minorities. Although the organisation justifies this choice by practical considerations regarding autonomy, it is an error of chauvinist tendency in the conditions of Canada which reminds us of certain epistemological precautions to be taken, in order to avoid deviations and preserve the dialectical method. However, In Struggle! would later rectify this line and recognise that there are nations and national minorities among Indigenous peoples. After several developments, In Struggle! will end up openly rejecting any Quebec independence project as a bourgeois illusion that undermines the immediate interests of the proletariat, i.e. the abolition of the system of exploitation.
The Communist League of Canada (Marxist-Leninist): The League will defend similar positions, namely that Quebec is an oppressed nation, that it has the fundamental right to self-determination, but that this is not desirable from the point of view of the interests of the proletariat. What differentiates it from the positions of In Struggle!, however, is that the organisation’s line rested largely on an erroneous analysis of contradictions based on the “three worlds theory”, a theory which originally identified the majority of imperialist countries as belonging to the “Second World” or “intermediate nations”. In this respect, the error of this theory is not the division of the world into three blocs, but rather the composition of these same blocs. Consequently, the League did not defend the unity of the Canadian proletariat primarily from the perspective of overthrowing the Canadian bourgeoisie, but from the perspective of fighting against the two so-called superpowers of the time, the United States and the Soviet Union. They saw independence as a factor in weakening Canadian unity against imperialism, while the main contradiction in Canada was not at this level – although they formally recognised it. As for Quebec’s national demands, the League would defend nationalist positions that were rather foreign to the Marxist-Leninist arsenal, such as the banning of the English school rather than reducing it to its real minority, or the territorial integrity of Quebec, a chauvinist anti-Leninist position that denied a fundamental right to the native peoples. Finally, during the time of the WCP, they would also deny nationhood to the Indigenous peoples, again according to Stalin’s criteria. Towards the end, they would adopt increasingly erroneous positions that put the centrality of the national movement back on the agenda, until the group degenerated and finally dissolved.
3.2 Deviations In The Present Era :
Like any given issue, the national question has its share of deviations among the forces claiming to be progressive or even revolutionary. The majority of these are major deviations that pose a serious ideological threat to the Revolution, but some may take minor forms whose character is to be determined in isolation. We will briefly outline them here by looking at the main attitudes and erroneous positions on this issue.
- The Anglo-Canadian chauvinist deviation:
This tendency is very much present among left opportunist forces of the social democratic type who defend the territorial integrity of the country or a province and who seek under their progressive veneer to establish a compromise between bourgeois monopoly interests and the interests of Indigenous peoples, thus to keep Indigenous peoples in chains to capitalism. Anglophone chauvinism also seems to have crept into large sectors of the left in English Canada – including forces claiming to be Marxist-Leninist-Maoism – but towards another social group towards whom the colonial attitude is more acceptable: Francophones. On the one hand, there is a denial of the real oppression of the Franco-Canadian and Acadian minorities, and on the other hand, there are chauvinistic prejudices about the history of the Quebec national liberation struggle. The particularity of this “woke” chauvinism is precisely its underhandedness, since it tends to instrumentalise the condition of Indigenous peoples in order to “invalidate”, to use fashionable terms, the oppression of historical minorities of European origin, as if belonging to a community born of colonisation eliminated any possibility that it might at some stage be an oppressed people itself. Yet the history of anti-colonial movements – which they would never dare to question – is full of examples. The Anglo-Canadian left’s accusations of ‘white colonisers’ against French-speaking minorities are a manifestation of this chauvinism, and have their roots in post-modernist theses, another deviation discussed below. Ironically, Anglo-Saxon nations have nothing to envy in terms of equality and respect for the diversity of peoples.
- The Québécois nationalist deviation:
Unlike Anglo-Canadian chauvinism in so-called “progressive” or “revolutionary” organisations, this deviation has the merit of always being unabashed, assertive and easily recognisable. More often, it openly claims to have a nationalist political heritage and defends dusty claims that no longer correspond to the objective situation of the Quebec masses at this stage of historical development. In addition to fantasies that are more a matter of nostalgia than of scientific analysis of the national question and the class struggle in the country, certain forces with nationalist tendencies go so far as to liquidate the revolutionary content that these same demands may have once carried within them and thus become the benevolent propagandists of bourgeois electoral parties. This deviation can be found as much in reformist social-democratic organisations like Québec Solidaire – although it coexists with an eclectic mix of major deviations – as in organisations explicitly claiming to be “Marxist” and revolutionary. The JPC-PCQ, the PMLQ, Trotskyist groupings, etc. are all examples of the latter category. The promotion of Quebec independence in the form of a proletarian-led national liberation struggle rather than the simple right to self-determination is a largely questionable position at this stage, if not outright wrong, but still acceptable from a communist point of view, making it a minor deviation. However, unconditional independence by allying with any political force, however reactionary, and under the leadership of any class, is an unforgivable position and a major deviation which objectively sets back the necessary struggle for the overthrow of capitalism. Finally, this deviation can also manifest itself in the form of Quebec chauvinism towards the Indigenous peoples, on the issue of territorial integrity for example, or towards immigrant proletarians on certain aspects of the language question.
- The anarchist deviation:
Over the decades, it has become a widespread, even dominant, position within student activist circles, the ‘anti-authoritarian Left’ or even among the so-called ‘antifa’. The anarchist deviation liquidates the analysis of real contradictions and dogmatically rejects the principle of nation, except for Indigenous peoples, paradoxically. Any other form of national recognition is equated with “statism, colonialism, or fascism”. As a result, the Quebec, Francophone and Acadian question is simply ignored, if not despised, since it does not fit into the so-called “decolonial” conceptual grid of the anarchists. On the contrary, it proposes a utopian arrangement between imaginary autonomous communities without considering the immediate cultural and linguistic problems faced by the proletarians of the non-Indigenous historical nationalities, which only the national question posed in dialectical materialist terms can resolve. Finally, this fixation on the Indigenous national struggle seems to be more of a petty-bourgeois fetishisation of Indigenous cultures, especially within the primitivist and post-leftist degrowth currents who project their own fantasies onto them without regard to the reality and will of the peoples in question. This deviation shares several similarities with the postmodern position, summarised below.
- Postmodern deviation:
These conceptions in vogue in the militant academic spheres have now become hegemonic in a considerable portion of the so-called “radical Left” to the point of even penetrating the forces claiming to be Maoist. It constitutes a formidable ideological adversary for revolutionary communists since not only does it seem to have monopolised the role of the left in the public space while defending anti-proletarian conceptions, but it establishes subjective and reifying limits to the debate that secure its own hegemony. We will summarise it briefly here, but it would require a much more exhaustive and thorough critique. It manifests itself concretely through so-called “identity politics” which reduce the class struggle to a mere factor among the so-called “anti-oppressive” struggles, to the point of liquidating it altogether. Individual subjectivity is set up as an untouchable truth before objective relations. The principle of totality is thus liquidated to make room for a collection of atomised individuals fighting according to their respective identity configuration. As a result, the national question is reduced to abstract ‘power dynamics’ between ‘racialised’ individuals and whites, with the former having to struggle against the latter. This grid does not allow us to understand the complexity of the national reality in Canada from a proletarian point of view, let alone the political tasks necessary to transform this reality. It is petty-bourgeois metaphysical and individualistic right-wing conceptions that poison the consciousness of a considerable fraction of the current “Left” and make the class consciousness of certain proletarians under petty-bourgeois ideological influence recede. By sowing division and confusion among minorities, various social groups and the proletariat, the post-modern deviation makes itself the best ally of capitalism and imperialism within the so-called “progressive” forces.
In this regard, it should be noted that there is an unfortunate tendency within these same currents – postmodern academics and anarchists – to reject any form of recognition of the national character of Quebec and, to a lesser extent, of English Canada, and to deliberately confuse all the communities born of European colonisation. They are thrown into the same catch-all category of “post-colonial” communities as immigrant minorities, the only ones with legitimate linguistic recognition being Indigenous peoples. These conceptions objectively contribute to reinforcing Anglo-Canadian linguistic hegemony by espousing the chauvinistic discourse of the federal State, which has always aimed to dilute all nations as mere ethnic minorities within a single great “Canadian” nation.
4. The Socialist Revolution In Canada
Taking this reality into account, it is clear that alongside the main contradiction between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, there is another main contradiction between the oppressed nations of Canada, first and foremost the Indigenous peoples, and the chauvinist imperialist State. The contradiction between the Quebec nation and this same State is no longer part of it even if it still exists objectively as a secondary contradiction. The tasks of the Canadian proletariat today, including the Quebec proletariat, is to fight dialectically for the right to self-determination of all oppressed nationalities, especially the Indigenous peoples who are still subject to neo-colonial relations, and to fight for the unity of the working class to overthrow the Canadian imperialist bourgeoisie. The national liberation struggle of the oppressed peoples of Canada, if led by the popular masses themselves according to their own objective interests and not those of their respective bourgeoisie or petty-bourgeoisie, can succeed in weakening Canadian capitalism and pave the way for socialist revolution, provided of course that the forces necessary for its realisation, i.e. a genuine revolutionary party, exist. The proletariat must also give its full support to the democratic struggles of the immigrant minorities in the dominated countries and recognise it as a manifestation of the class struggle, in that it is fighting the same reactionary class. If the peoples are ultimately to be brought together and their brotherhood achieved in an internationalist spirit, it will be necessary to combat both the chauvinism of the dominant nations, primarily that of the Anglo-Canadians, and ideologically combat the tendencies towards narrow nationalism within the minority nations.
Only the broadest revolutionary unity of the Peoples of Canada will succeed in demolishing the putrid old vestige of Canadian bourgeois confederation and its decaying oppressive regime. Let us hasten its inevitable downfall!
Long live the total equality of languages and nations!
Long live the popular masses of the four corners of the country in struggle against the same reactionary class!
Long live the free union of the peoples towards socialism!
Forward to an authentic pan-Canadian communist party!
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