Jan. 21 - "Wherever there are nations at this stage in history that are oppressed by imperialism and have a distinct geographic configuration, communist workers and youth are in favor of independence." That proposition is ascribed to Michel Prairie, a leader of the Communist League in Canada, in Steve Clark's January 22 Militant report on the SWP's recent educational conferences.
This thesis, Clark asserts, is "a political conquest of the modern communist movement." But it doesn't seem to correspond to the position taken by the Communist League and the Militant over the recent period in campaigning for Quebec's right to self-determination.
"Whether or not the working-class vanguard should advocate the independence of an oppressed nation is a purely tactical question," League leaders Steve Penner and Michel Dugré explained in a May 1992 International Socialist Review article. "There are no broad forces advocating Quebec's independence," the article noted. "There is no political basis for communists or other vanguard fighters to call for an independent or sovereign Quebec under current conditions," its authors stated categorically. The position they advanced amounted to a call for Quebec autonomy, promoting "the demand that the Quebec government be granted all the powers needed to combat national oppression."
The position of the Militant appeared to evolve over the course of the recent Quebec referendum campaign, beginning with a focus on the demand for autonomy, not independence, as the "concrete expression of Quebec's right to self- determination." By the campaign's conclusion, however, the Militant seemed almost to be using the terms "autonomy," "sovereignty," and "independence" interchangeably, as though for Marxists they were synonyms.
In the wake of the Quebec referendum, given the current dynamic of the national struggle and the intransigence of Canadian imperialism in rejecting its most minimal demands - factors reinforced by the economic crisis - it may well be argued that the slogan of independence should today be a component of the socialists' program in addressing the Quebec national question. But isn't it incautious to recommend the universal application of this tactic for an entire historical stage? I look forward to clarification of your position.
Jan. 20 - In the January 22 Militant article by Steve Clark, there is a sentence concerning the communist position on independence which is incorrect. It reads, "Wherever there are nations at this stage in history that are oppressed by imperialism and have a distinct geographical configuration, communist workers and youth are in favor of independence."
Communists support the right of national self-determination of oppressed nations. National self-determination can mean many different things in different countries and at different times: civil rights, democratic rights, cultural autonomy, political autonomy "sovereignty association" (as in the case of Quebec today), or independence. The key is the right of the oppressed nation to decide for itself, and the communists support for whatever option the oppressed people decide on, up to and including independence.
The way the sentence reads, communists always support independence for oppressed nations, which is not the case.
The meaning of other phrases in this sentence also seems to me to be imprecise. What does it mean to say "at this stage in history" and "distinct geographical configuration"? Also, communists support the right of self-determination of oppressed peoples not only in imperialist countries but also in deformed and degenerated workers states.
Jan. 28 - Susan Berman's response to a reader's letter (both printed in the Feb. 5, 1996, Militant) provides useful information on the history and nature of Quebecois national oppression. But it raises as many questions as it answers.
Communists always support the right of self-determination for oppressed nations and nationalities, but this is not the same as advocating independence. Here every struggle must be judged on the basis of its own dynamic.
I don't think the Militant has yet proven the case that the dynamic of the movement is clearly for independence rather than autonomy. And if it is, there is still the question of what slogan to advance. While communists certainly support the right of the Quebecois to form their own state, even under capitalism, why would we not advocate an independent workers and farmers Quebec? Is a democratic revolution on the agenda in imperialist Canada?
Finally, while I certainly support the Militant's position in the recent referendum, it is unlikely that the national struggle in Quebec will be settled by any kind of referendum. And I find it inconceivable that that revolutionaries would organize a referendum where the Quebec bourgeoisie could vote, but non-Quebecois working-class would be disenfranchised. Minorities in Quebec cannot be given a veto, but they must have a voice in what is their future too.
P.S. Feb. 10 - I think the last few articles on the threatened partition of Quebec were much better than Susan's article.
However, I do think we need to repudiate in some way the position that might be paraphrased "the Quebec bourgeoisie merely scapegoats the `ethnic' vote, but we communists will eliminate it." That is the road to partition, ethnic cleansing, and all the rest.
Brooklyn, New York
Feb. 9 - I am a socialist and an avid reader of the Militant, but the articles by Susan Berman on Quebec have shaken my confidence in the paper's credibility. The articles are not based on actual facts.
The reason that the French lagged behind is not because of the English, but due to the influence of the church hierarchy, and the fact that there was no compulsory education until after World War II, resulting in the highest illiteracy rate in Canada at that time.
Over the past 50 years there has been a huge devolution of power from the federal to the provincial governments, specifically giving more power to Quebec than any other province. Out of the last 50 years, for 35 years our prime minister has been from Quebec. For years, the elite in Quebec have indoctrinated the masses with the myth of anglophone persecution and exploitation of the French.
Several years ago my husband owned a small manufacturing business and applied for an operating loan from the federal government. He acquired several contracts to sell the product, but was told that he would have to move to Quebec if he wanted a loan. Consequently, the contracts were lost and the business went under.
The rest of Canada has to conduct all their business, both government and private, in both English and French, but in Quebec it is French only. No English signs or product labels are allowed, but if we don't have English and French labels in our little shop, in Ontario, we could be fined. In Quebec, it is the non-francophones that are the oppressed. The fact that their rights are continually being violated has been condemned by the United Nations.
Quebec has received a much higher percentage of transfer payments per capita than other provinces. The rest of Canada has also suffered monetarily because of the Official Languages Act; having to spend so much on making everything French and English. Despite the fact that 75 percent of Canadians are primarily English speaking, a rapid growing percentage of employment opportunities are being denied to them, both in public and private service. The French are also given higher wages. Even though a person may have a working knowledge of French, jobs are given to those with a French background.
I would be in favor of Quebec separating, but not for the reasons that Susan Berman states, but because the rest of Canada is suffering because of being blackmailed by Quebec. The Quebecois have been fed a great deal of untruths, and I resent the fact that the Militant has seen fit to support them.
Lavina G. Shaw
St. Thomas, Ontario
Feb. 9 - I am a bit confused by part of your editorial on Quebec independence ["Champion Quebec independence," Feb. 12, 1996, Militant], although I agree with most of it. Yet it notes that 49.4 percent of voters voted for independence - implying that a majority rejected independence.
The Militant endorses Quebec independence now, nonetheless. Does that mean that independence should occur over the wishes of the majority? If so, is that because in the Militant's view, the anti-independence voters were propagandized by a ruling-class media blitz, and that perhaps as a result their wishes do not count?
It's one thing to say that building the pro-independence course is the correct path. It's another to say that independence should happen, whether or not a majority wants it.
Melrose Park, Pennsylvania
Feb. 10 - Thank you for your article "Why Militant supports Quebec independence." It has stimulated me to read more about Quebec history, mainly because your explanations are superficial, contradictory, and unsatisfactory. In some cases you intimidate me (an anglophone, and worse... an ethnic) with "if a revolutionary government... were to organize a referendum, it would ensure that only Quebecois could vote on the question of national self-determination."
Are you writing from the point of view of "pure laine" Quebecois (a "pure wool" Quebecois), the self-appointed term used by Quebecois of French European descent? What does Susan Berman propose a revolutionary government do with the "non- Quebecois minority"? In spite of this she describes "an independent Quebec that will open its arms to workers of all nationalities." I know that many pure laines are not racist, and it would be unfair to say that separatists in particular are racists. However, the leadership of the separatists and the provincial police apparatus have a bad, racist reputation. The writer assures that "the working class in Quebec will have to push these misleaders and their mouthpieces in the labor movement aside." But until they do, I am not suicidal enough to give them a YES vote for separation.
Your historical review of Quebec resembles a Jehovah witness account of religion - very simplistic! I cannot try to argue all these items now. Suffice it to say that although pure laines were discriminated by the European-descent anglophones in the past, this injustice has hardly any reminders in the present. "Language-segregated" schools are in place because Partí Quebecois Bill 101 says so, forcing most immigrants to attend French schools. French and English hospitals are staffed by both groups working together and provide identical care. If white or blue-collar workers are exploited, it is not because their first-spoken language but for reasons you know only too well. Where do you get your data that Quebec has the highest poverty rate? How does it compare to that of Newfoundland?
You focus on the francophone society as a very under- privileged group, but if you turn to other groups you would find equally appalling figures. The Inuit of Ungava peninsula have a need for self-determination but they cannot separate themselves from the south - at least not yet. Malcolm X and Steve Biko spoke about creating black African societies separate from white society. This would solidify the self- perception and pride of the people, enhancing self- determination. It was achieved on philosophical and organizational levels.
Physical separation, however, has many different ramifications and consequences and cannot be carried out without mass mobilization, violence, and even civil war. The writer seems to approve this option: "The fight for Quebec's independence won't be won at the ballot box but through revolutionary struggle led by Quebecois workers and youth in the streets." I am all for such struggle but only if the revolutionary platform answers "yes" to two questions: 1) Does it benefit the majority? and 2) Is it justified?
First, in Quebec the francophone are the majority, but until now there is no reliable date to show that 51 percent of them want separation. This is because many residents of Quebec from the "non-Quebecois minority" were unfairly rejected during the voter registration process and there were numerous incidents of shady practices with the ballot boxes on referendum day. The public has yet to hear about the legal investigations into these issues.
Second, is separation justified? From your perspective, you must convince the readers that separating francophone workers from anglophone, Native Canadian and ethnic minority workers across the country will deliver a lethal blow to the "Canadian imperialist state." It sounds like a typical divide-and- conquer plan that would play right into the hands of the U.S. empire. What better than a fragmented Canada and a weak Quebec nation to serve free enterprise, which would suck up hydro- electric power, lumber, and minerals.
Thus, you have not convinced me that separation would advance the cause of workers in Canada or Quebec, but then you might say my ethnicity forbids me from having an opinion on this issue.
Juan Carlos Chrigwin
Deportation in Sweden
Workers at the Scania truck plant in Sodertalje, Sweden, and their metalworkers union local are supporting a young co- worker's fight against deportation.
Gabi Behnan came to Sweden from Lebanon when he was 16 years old in 1988. After eight months he got permission to stay and work, and a month later he was hired at the Scania plant, a few miles south of Stockholm.
On March 1, 1995, Behnan was called to see the police in Sodertalje. Someone told the police that his father was from Syria and he had lied about his citizenship. Six months later Behnan was informed that his permission to stay was revoked, and that after almost eight years in Sweden he should leave the country.
Behnan is appealing that decision. He and the chairman of the local union at the plant, Bertil Ahnberg, wrote a letter about the case in January to Leif Blomberg, the minister of immigration who was the former chairman of the national metalworkers union in Sweden. A week later the union sent out the letter to newspapers.
On January 30 about 40 people came to a meeting called by the union to start a solidarity committee for Behnan. The meeting discussed organizing a demonstration, circulating petitions on the job in support of the young worker, and going to see Blomberg in person.
The letters column is an open forum for all viewpoints on subjects of general interest to our readers. Please keep your letters brief. Where necessary they will be abridged. Please indicate if you prefer that your initials be used rather than your full name.
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