Some Thoughts on the Québec Sovereigntist Movement
The Québéc Sovereigntist Movement (QSM) and Québécois Nationalism in general have always been something poking at me in the back of my mind during my seven years of interactions with so-called revolutionary forces in Kanada (1). For my readers outside of Kanada, or at least very unfamiliar with internal settler politics in Kanada, the Québéc Sovereigntist Movement is exactly what it sounds like: it is a movement that seeks to establish a separate Republic of Québec on all or most of the current territory of the Kanadian province of Québec. It is rooted in the contradictions between the two dominant groups of settlers in Kanada, the Francophones, concentrated mostly in Québec, and Anglophones, who are dominant in the rest of Kanada.
While I have in the past attempted to put my thoughts on the QSM down on paper (or rather to blog), two things have recently put it back at the forefront of my thoughts.
The first was about three weeks ago when a representative of a group called Réseau de Résistance du Québécois (a left-wing Québécois nationalist organization) popped up on another site I edit, asking for First Nations support for the Québec Sovereigntist Movement. The second, more recent, event was near total the obliteration of the Bloc Québécois in Monday’s federal elections.
Both of these events have lead me into recent discussions with other revolutionary minded anti-colonialists about the nature of the Québec question in Kanada. Now here I am trying to coalesce my thoughts into one place. To that end I have broken my thoughts down into the three main areas that follow.
Québécois Nationalism & the Kanadian White “Left”
When I initially arrived on the scene in Kanada one of the first things I noticed was how widely accepted it is by forces claiming to be revolutionary that Québécois settlers are an oppressed nation (oppressed by Anglo-Canada). For myself as an Indian revolutionary this immediately struck me as odd. To me it seemed obvious that Québécois nationalism was a settler-colonial ideology. In my analysis Québec was functionally – historically and currently – little different than Anglo-Canada, however acceptance of the idea of Québec as an oppressed nation has the complete support of almost all of the alphabet soup of organizations that make up Canada’s White “left.”
The Trotskyist organization I first (and briefly) was a member of, the NDP Socialist Caucus is one such example, as is the other organization that I was a member for much longer, the New Socialist Group, also takes up this line. However, the rest of the Trotskyist “left” also promotes this line as well. One only has to look at the programs or manifestos of the International Marxist Tendency’s Canadian-section (Fightback), the Socialist Project, Socialist Voice, the International Socialists etc to see this fact quite clearly. In fact during my involvement in “Trotskyism” my views on Québec and wider-Kanada as settler-colonies almost saw me as something of an internal exile.
Moving outside of Trotskyism, the situation isn’t much better. The ancient, long-time settleristic Communist Party of Canada promotes this idea, as does the ex-pro-Albania Communist Party of Canada (Marxist-Leninist). Both recognize an oppressed Québécois nation with the right to self-determination.
It goes without saying that most of the “left” unique to Québec itself (such as Réseau de Résistance du Québécois or the defunct Front de libération du Québec) see the Québécois nation as oppressed and in need of a national liberation struggle.
While I certainly had Canadian settler leftist friends who on an individual level did not buy into the whole Québec-as-oppressed-nation complex, including Trotskyists, they were few and far between. It was not until I began interacting with Kanadian “Maoists” that I encountered a settler left-wing movement that took as its line that Québec is not an oppressed nation.
However, it quickly became apparent that while we might come to similar conclusions about the Québéc Sovereigntist Movement, the Maoists and I have sharply different reasons for reaching it. For the Kanadian Maoists the Québécois national-settler project is not supported because it is a dead one. The Revolutionary Communist Party, the largest settler Maoist organization, says on Québéc that “as a nation, Quebec is no longer subjected to any form of oppression that would prevent its own development and would then justify––as some people still want us to believe––a national liberation struggle,” and that Quebec “is not on the side of the dominated countries, but on the side of the dominating countries.”
So for the Maoists it’s a question of Québéc only relatively recently becoming integrated within Kanadian and general Western imperialism. This is a process that they would most likely say began with the so-called Quiet Revolution, which saw the increase of Québécois control over the province’s economy, which had previously been dominated by Anglo-Kanada. Prior to this the Maoists are willing to accept that Québec was historically an oppressed nation.
However, drawing on the analysis of African Internationalism, I disagree with their analysis of Québécois history. In particular I take issue with the idea that Québec was historically an oppressed nation. As materialists we must understand Québec, like the rest of Kanada in relation to imperialism, White power, settler colonialism and development of parasitic capitalism. We must dissect the clearly parasitic, oppressive relations that the Québécois “nation” has with indigenous people. Only then can we come to a true understanding of the origin and meaning of the Québéc Sovereigntist Movement.
Québécois Nationalism is the Revolutionary Nationalism of an Oppressed Nation, It is the White Nationalism of Losing Colonizers
As I’ve said many times before, the principal contradiction in North America is as the world situation – it is the contradiction between oppressor and oppressed nations. This manifests on the North American continent as the contradiction between colonizers of the White nation and First Nations, the captive African colony (part of the globally dispersed African nation) and other colonized peoples.
This of course means that the principal struggle on the continent is the revolutionary anti-colonial struggles of colonized peoples against imperialist White power. The majority of the settler “left” in Canada, as discussed above, would have you believe that Québec is part of the colonized, if not the prime colonized nation within the boundaries so-called “Canada.” This is primarily demonstrated through the recognition of First Nations as nationally oppressed, but not possessing a right to self-determination up to and including separation, while that right is given to the Québécois.
As was also mentioned already, I don’t think this is the case, or ever was.
I’m not saying that contradictions do not exist between Anglo-Kanada and the Québécois settler populations as contradictions do in fact exist between the two of them. However, the contradictions between Anglo-Kanada and the Québécois are not the same as the ones that exist between colonizer and colonized. The contradictions are also not antagonistic, try as the FLQ might have in the ’70s to make them antagonistic. In fact, as the native Québécois bourgeoisie has grown significantly since the 1970s, the contradictions between the two sectors of the White nation in Kanada have become less and less apparent as the Anglo-Kanadian bourgeoisie has made significant concessions to Québec.
These contradictions that do exist are born of historic Anglophone chauvinism, which itself is rooted in the victory of the English settlers over the French settlers in the mid-1700s. However, Anglophone chauvinism does not make the Québécois an oppressed nation in the same way that First Nations or Africans are. The Québécois settler population is, and always was, a junior partner in the imperialist white power project, Canadian settler colonialism and the global system of parasitic capitalism.
Québécois nationalism is not revolutionary nationalism, but reactionary White nationalism. It is a White nationalism that attempts mask itself in the revolutionary rhetoric of the oppressed nations. The particular White nationalism of the Québéc Sovereigntist Movement can best be understood as the ideology of a losing colonialism. The Québécois did not arrive on this continent kidnapped and enslaved like Africans, nor were their lands stolen and people exterminated like what First Nations experienced. The Québécois, just like their hated rival, Anglo-Kanada, came to Turtle Island with one goal in mind: to settle the land in the name of France, and expropriate the resources of the indigenous people in the pursuit of the French imperialist project. The Québécois settler project was established on this continent as parasitic and at the expense of the indigenous people.
The contradictions that exist between Anglo-Kanada and the Québécois is the same contradiction that exists between all imperialist and colonial powers. All imperialist countries (or sub-country in the case of Québec) compete amongst themselves to divide up the resources and land of the oppressed. The struggle between Angl0-Kanada and the Québécois is a struggle for control of land and resources that do not belong to either, and never will, because they were stolen from the people of the First Nations, who, despite the best efforts of both groups of settlers, are still here.
The truth is that the real revolutionary anti-colonial struggle in so-called “Canada” is the struggle waged by First Nations people against imperialist White power, settler-colonialism, parasitic capitalism and the very existence of the Kanadian and Québécois states. Again, Québécois nationalism is White nationalism, the product of a losing colonial ideology. Returning to the earlier mentioned position of the majority of the Canadian settler “left,” The fact that the settler “left” in Canada cannot, or refuses, to see that point shows where they truly lay in the alignment of forces.
The Myth of a Historically Oppressed Québec
Finally, I would like to briefly discuss the historical myth of Québec as an oppressed nation. While I think it is quite easy to demonstrate that modern Québec is an imperialist partner, in my experience, the idea that Québec is an oppressed nation is not only a pugnacious one, but one that is based in a mythological reading of Kanadian and Québecois history.
If we’re going to take apart settler colonialism in Kanada, then the historical myth of a colonially oppressed Québécois nation must also be dismantled.
An example of this actually occurred quite recently. Recently, on another site edited by myself someone left a comment on the first article I had ever posted there, which was about the Oka Revolt. They were from the group Réseau de Résistance du Québécois, a “radical” and militant spin-off of the pro-Québécois sovereignty magazine Le Québécois.
While my French is pretty poor (and my Canadian French is even worse, as I was schooled at a British school and taught Parisian French) I was able to understand that they were asking if “we” (First Nations people) would support the Québécois national-settler project, or at least their version of it. They said they respected our “warrior spirit” and that we would make a great addition to their cause.
In order to try and convince “us” of their case for an alliance between First Nations and the Québécois national-settler project they posted part of their program, specifically the part titled Aboriginal Affairs. To say the very least it painted a very rosy picture of Native-Franco-settler relations, especially vis-à-vis the Anglo-settlers. If you were to believe the version of Kanadian and Québecois history put forth by groups like Réseau de Résistance du Québécois, then you would think that the Québécois settlers and Native people lived in complete harmony – a French and Indian utopia broken up only by the machinations of Anglo-Canada.
I told this person pretty bluntly that there version of history of was stretch to put it lightly. It was made all the more interesting by the fact that they posted it on my 20th anniversary article about Oka, which spends its first portion outlining the fact that the Québécois and First Nations did not live in peace and harmony, and that the project of the Québécois was only to displace and replace and Native people.
The fact is that groups like Réseau de Résistance du Québécois invent this fanciful version of history because it is propaganda for their cause. To recognize the real history of the Québécois settler project with regards to First Nations would be highly inconvenient for their efforts to portray themselves as an oppressed nation.
To me this demonstrated that while it is important and possible to demonstrate that Québec in the world TODAY is fully integrated into Canadian imperialism and capitalist white power, the myth of Québec-the-oppressed-nation is rooted in a mythologized reading of history, and that must also be drug out into the light. It becomes harder for a contemporary myth to be supported when the pedestal on which it is based it kicked out from underneath it.
Just as African People’s Solidarity Committee Chairwoman Penny Hess did for the entire White nation in her work in Overturning the Culture of Violence, I believe it is be necessary to expose the actual history of the Québécois settler nation and the mythology-as-history that the Québécois national-settler project and many sections of the Anglo-Kanadian settler “left” push.
(1) From the Speed of Dreams Glossary of Revolutionary Terms:
Kanada: n: Refers to the confederation established by European settlers within the borders of Occupied Turtle Island popularly referred to as Canada. A sub-territory of North America. While predominantly English-speaking, Kanada also includes the descendants of French-speaking settlers. Also spelled KKKanada.
Kanadian: adj: Term referring to the settler citizens of the confederacy of Kanada.