More on the Quebec Nation

Phebus, a comrade from the North East Federation of Anarchist Communists, made a series of good points regarding by post Quebecistan? I wish… a few days ago, in which i commented on NEFAC’s position of Quebec nationalism.

I’m going to re-post his comments here, and try to answer some of them afterwards. I’ll also try to develop some of the ideas in my original post a little more. Recognizing that a lot of what i am saying is at least partly based on conjecture and “gut feelings,” i hope that comrades who disagree will not feel shy about letting me know. This is written at least as much to provoke others to show me where i am wrong as anything else… and i certainly don’t want to come off as putting forward a “line” on this, as i don’t feel i have the factual grounding to do so at this point.

This is what Phebus had to say:

I liked the article, thanks for writting it. Just a few comments…

/Like i said, on a fundamental level – peu importe 1760 – what we have here is what we have elsewhere on this blood-drenched continent./

Are you really sure about that? Is racism as structural as in the US? When I read about the US theories about race and I compare to the situation in Quebec, I dont see the same thing, especialy outside Montreal. I am not sure the same structural division along race lines exist in Quebec. A relatively recent study asking why Quebec city had an hard time integrating new immigrants found that one of the reason was because the labor intensive jobs usualy taken by immigrants are already filled by white francophones. Further more, there is no unified “white race” in Quebec. White francophones are the vast majority of the workers in the province and their are the majority in all social layers.

We have our own racism in Quebec but saying what we have here is fundamentaly the same as in the US will not help us understand the situation and fight it. The only fundamental level where it is the same is in relation to natives.

/the actual role played by the national movement (…) in elaborating a national class perspective./

I’m not sure I am following you, could you please elaborate?

/Instead, NEFAC adopts a good final position on the national question in Quebec, but bases this on a facile dismissal of anti-colonialism /tout court.

I think you are miss-reading the statement. What we are rejecting is national liberation, not anti-colonialism or anti-imperialism. If that was the case, we would not have taken the pain to try to get an historical analysis of the situation and we would just have wrote a traditional a-historical anti-nationalist anarchist rant. The mere existence of the document is a testimony to the fact that we take anti-colonialism seriously.

Furthermore, we *are* /acknowledging the need to combat national oppression where it exists, i.e. in the First Nations and amongst francophones outside of Quebec/. This is exactly what we are saying when we write: “Along the way, down the path of social revolution, libertarian communism, with its emphasis on federalism and democracy, will offer an opportunity to address the whole range of national questions existing in Canada — the Quebecois, what’s left of the french canadians, the Indigenious and others”.

What we do say is that we will concentrate on the social question, wich does not mean that we will ignore all other questions. Like we’ve explained else where, uniting the working class involves dealing with it’s divisions wich means that the working class movement will have to deal head on with issue of racism and patriarcal domination. The only real basis to unite the working class is to organise it around the needs of the most oppressed sectors, wich mean’s building an anti-racist and anti-patriarcal class movement.

/What we need to examine – and i’m not pretending to be able to do so here – is the actual meaning and implications of this “correction” of national oppression. Largely, what we can see is the elevation of Quebecois to a position of “equality” with their white North American counterparts (i.e. Quebecois workers “equal” to white English workers, Quebecois petit-bourgeois “equal” to white English petit bourgeois, etc.) – but that this “equality” relies on intensifying the inequality suffered by indigenous people and immigrants./

I think the most significant “implications of this “correction” of national oppression” is the creation of a Quebec (francophone) bourgeoisie and the rise of Quebec from an oppressed nation to a full fledge imperialist power (albeit a small one). In this perspective, the position of “equality” reached by the Quebecois relies more on the mecanism of imperialism then anything else.

As i said, Phebus makes some very good points. Here is what i have to say about them (i’ve left plaintext where he is quoting my original article and have underlined his comments):


/Like i said, on a fundamental level – peu importe 1760 – what we have here is what we have elsewhere on this blood-drenched continent./

Are you really sure about that? Is racism as structural as in the US?

Phebus is correct – what we have here in terms of structural racism is not fundamentally the same as elsewhere. What i had rattling in my head was that in terms of racist oppression that might be encountered on an individual, personal level – “hate crimes,” discrimination, police abuse – people of colour in Quebec are in a similar boat to people of colour elsewhere.

But when looking at the United States – where the economy was largely built by Black people and other racialized “minorities,” where entire cities are majority Black and have been for generations, where one third of the landmass was stolen from Mexico by force of arms, where in a very real way there exists national consciousness in several racialized groups – Phebus is correct that we are looking at a drastically different situation.

But more structural… there i’m not sure. Differently structural, though – definitely, and looking back on my post i can see that i was far too muddled and ambiguous on this. Here in Canada we often smudge what we know of the US to fill in our ignorance about our own societies – and here i think i was guilty of this lazy left habit.


/the actual role played by the national movement (…) in elaborating a national
class perspective./

I’m not sure I am following you, could you please elaborate?

Since World War II, a succession of governments – Liberal, PQ, and even Duplessis’ Union Nationale – were involved in modernizing Quebec, in a slow process and then accelerated process which in real ways has made white Québecois as much “maitres chez nous” as white Americans or white Anglo-Canadians. All that is missing is “complete” State power (though here, remember, what the Quebec provincial government has is far greater than any First Nation, or Puerto Rico, or Hawaii, or to the best of my knowledge any oppressed nation in North America).

An independent State is what nationalists hope will cement these gains – but it is no longer seen as a prerequisite for them. Nor are these gains contested by the francophone federalist mainstream, some of whom (in Quebec) actually oppose independence in part because they consider that Quebec’s national aspirations may be best served by remaining within Confederation, instead of tying to go it alone in Naftaland.

These decades of Québecois empowerment not only benefited the bourgeoisie and the middle class –some important sections of the francophone working class were also lifted up. Not all, but significantly large sections – and especially those layers who are now what some might refer to as the “labour aristocracy.” As it states in the NEFAC position paper:


For example, there is no longer a wage difference between workers from Québec and Ontario employed by the same corporation. Francophones are now present in every economic area and at all levels, from foreman to CEO. Despite some failures, French is now respected as the common language in Québec. Progress has been made in every social area where Québec used to be behind the rest of Canada (to the point of producing envy amongst Anglo-Canadian progressives)

This process does not mean that every Québecois is in the same class. But as this process does benefit some Québecois within different classes, and operates in terms of nationhood, it provides the material basis for some people to put forward “la nation” as a framework for advancing the interests of some Québecois of all classes.

Where i may differ from people in NEFAC (and also the PCR-OC) is that i don’t see these appeals to cross-class national interests as being complete bullshit. For a Québecois worker whose wages and working conditions have improved dramatically over the past fifty years as a result of the same process that has lifted sections of Quebec Inc. to the world stage, a lack of equality will not necessarily translate as a lack of common class interests. Whether or not it does will depend on questions of consciousness and community – the degree to which more fortunate sections of the working class identify with less fortunate sections, or the degree to which they identify with the process of national empowerment which in many ways has delivered real benefits…

This is what i mean by a national class perspective – and it is this more than anything that i see the national movement trying to elaborate and push forward. In other words (to mangle a classical formulation): a cross-class alliance which behaves as a class for itself, and aspires to be an embryonic class in itself to boot…

For this reason i would not formulate things the way Phebus does when he states that “there is no unified ‘white race’ in Quebec.” If by this he means that white people are divided by between Québecois and Anglos, i would agree – but i would argue that the concept of “Québecois nation” as it exists and as the nationalists frame it is looking more and more like whiteness in the Unites States.

I am not saying it is the same – just increasingly similar.

And of course it never will play the same role whiteness did in twentieth century America, because we are no longer at that stage in the game. White workers in the United States are increasingly seeing their own privileges evaporate in the heat of globalization, and so it is unlikely that Québecois will be able to benefit from the kind of “good times” that white workers in the US did under the New Deal. Leaner days are here, indeed.

But where this increasing similarity is relevant is that white Québecois – and most especially nationalists – are liable to resist this globalized capitalism in ways that have more in common with white US workers than with the radical labour movement of the 70s. (Never mind the Patriotes!) Pat Buchanan-style, not Malcolm X-style, if you know what i mean: with an increased openness to racist demagogy and national chauvinism. Even (or perhaps especially) amongst people who admire Che, loathe Bush, and consider themselves to be social-democrats or even “socialists.”

On the margins – like a canary in a coalmine – we can see an early warning of this process played out as the far-right in Quebec went from being overwhelmingly anti-independence in the 1950s to being overwhelmingly pro-independence by the time the last referendum rolled around. Some people, it seems, have not been trapped by their old dogmas…


/Instead, NEFAC adopts a good final position on the national question in Quebec,
but bases this on a facile dismissal of anti-colonialism /tout court.

I think you are miss-reading the statement. What we are rejecting is national
liberation, not anti-colonialism or anti-imperialism. If that was the case, we
would not have taken the pain to try to get an historical analysis of the
situation and we would just have wrote a traditional a-historical
anti-nationalist anarchist rant. The mere existence of the document is a
testimony to the fact that we take anti-colonialism seriously.

Furthermore, we *are* /acknowledging the need to combat national oppression
where it exists, i.e. in the First Nations and amongst francophones outside of
Quebec/. This is exactly what we are saying when we write: “Along the way, down
the path of social revolution, libertarian communism, with its emphasis on
federalism and democracy, will offer an opportunity to address the whole range
of national questions existing in Canada — the Québecois, what’s left of the
french canadians, the Indigenious and others”.

I stand corrected. I had indeed misread the document.

I guess a part of why, though, is that it is unclear how this kind of “along the way, down the path” perspective on anti-colonialism plays out in the here and now. Don’t get me wrong: i think the anarchist model of federalism seems much more humane than “to each nation its State” and such. But in the here and now, i don’t think one can support anti-colonialism while dismissing national liberation, because in practice when people act on the former they almost always conceive of it as part of the latter.

For instance: even were some oppressed community to organize with an goal of being a part of an anarchist federation of communities, if national oppression was part of what they were struggling against then i would bet they would view such federalism as a form of national liberation that they were struggling for.

So while i appreciate the correction, i should point out that NEFAC’s position is at least phrased in a less clear way than i would have liked.


I think the most significant “implications of this “correction” of national
oppression” is the creation of a Quebec (francophone) bourgeoisie and the rise
of Quebec from an oppressed nation to a full fledge imperialist power (albeit a
small one). In this perspective, the position of “equality” reached by the
Québecois relies more on the mecanism of imperialism then anything else.

I think Phebus may be right here. But i am not sure.

I think there are probably several factors which have buoyed the economic fortunes of the Québecois compared to what they were forty years ago. Allowing a transformation, as he says, “from an oppressed nation to a full fledged imperialist power.”

A list of what springs to mind:

  1. Through “internal imperialism,” by which i mean the economic development and integration of resources, lands and peoples which exist inside the maps of Quebec we were shown at school. This is one of the foundations of the Quebec economy – Hydro Quebec not only being an economic juggernaut in its own right, but also being the precondition for other important manufacturing industries (i.e. aluminum) which dominate the Quebec economy – and provide some of higher wages available to (predominantly white Québecois and male) workers. I recognize that this process is complex, and involves an alliance with some small (mainly male, neo-colonial, “progressive”) sections within some indigenous nations, and perhaps the word “exploitation” is not as accurate as “dispossession,” as the super-profits are coming less from labour than land and water.
  2. Through “external imperialism” of the kind exemplified by Gildan, Bombardier and the like. While many (including myself) have referred to Quebec as a modern imperialist nation for some time now, i admit that actual discussions of how this benefits the Quebec economy and people of different classes here remain undeveloped, especially amongst those of us on the radical left who should know better. (Or maybe i’m just reading the wrong stuff…)
  3. Actual correction of national oppression. By which i mean filling spaces and taking opportunities left vacant as the English minority in Quebec lost (or, along the 401, abandoned) places in the Quebec economy in the 1970s and early 80s. I would argue that this mostly benefited the middle class, as those anglophones whose departure provided opportunities for francophones tended to be neither bourgeois nor proletarian.
  4. Cutting one’s losses: by which i mean abandoning regions (the Gaspé, for instance) which are not cost-effective. Again, this is not so much exploitation as it is capitalism trying to flush people down the toilet, depriving them of the benefits their cousins in Montreal may take for granted. Either new industries may eventually develop (either along the lines of tourism or Port Cartier SuperMax), or else these areas will likely depopulate with those who stay being reduced to a standard of living well below the national average.
  5. Increased exploitation of immigrants. In Montreal many low wage sectors – in the manufacturing and service industries especially –rely on immigrant labour. Likewise, seasonal labourers in the Eastern Townships come from as far away as Central America and even Africa. And for some time now homecare, childcare and “domestic” workers have increasingly been women from Third World nations, doing necessary work that in previous generations was overwhelmingly carried out by Québecoises. I recognize that this phenomenon varies dramatically from region to region in Quebec, but my impression is that this is an important source of wealth, and increasingly so. For this reason i imagine that as different classes within the Québecois nation struggle against the forces of neo-liberal austerity, there will be more and more exploitation of immigrant labour.

Now in terms of importance, i think #1 and #2 are clearly the most significant factors in the upward mobility of certain sections of the Québecois nation. (Sections which i would say “share a national class interest.”) Especially in terms of the past forty years.

#3 may have had some reality in the 1970s and 80s, and gets some play from some nationalists even today, but i don’t see it as being significant at the moment – if it ever was.

#4 strikes me as a “we’ll see” factor – certainly i think increasing regional disparities play a part in what is happening in Quebec, but i don’t have a good handle on it.

#5 strikes me as having always been relevant (sometimes more, sometimes less) in Quebec, with the most significant change over the past thirty years being that cheap immigrant labour no longer simply benefits “the English bosses,” but increasingly the Québecois middle classes and bourgeoisie. (Like, when in 1970 the FLQ stated “We are with all the immigrant workers in Quebec, and it is alongside them that we want to fight the common enemy: Anglo-American capitalism” i think there was probably some basis for this to be an honest statement – when i hear “progressive nationalists” and labour leaders making such noises today i just think they’re either liars or nuts.)

But in regards to immigrant labour, too, i have too many “gut feelings” and not enough actual knowledge – and this strikes me as a problem not only of myself, but also of the left of which i am a part of.

How does this relate back to the nationalist movement?

Well, obviously there is no unified position on each of these factors, but there are certain areas of broad agreement.

The nationalist movement is almost unanimously in favour of “internal” imperialism, though the details as to how (or even whether) to cut in some Native compradors as junior partners may differ. As to “external” imperialism, there seems to be some verbal left-nationalist opposition, but i don’t see how this can be viable except as a form of hypocrisy – i.e. a modern independent Quebec with a standard of living comparable to the rest of white North America will have to encourage the Gildans and Bombardiers, not insist on “fair trade” or autarchy.

The dispossession of Anglos of course gets cheers from almost all nationalists, but as i stated i believe it is more a myth than a reality, especially now. But it plays well to the crowd, and for that reason a degree of Anglophobia will probably remain part of the common nationalist discourse as long as there is a viable English minority here.

Abandoning regions is something that i believe almost all nationalists oppose doing – it strikes against the essence of a “national” project. Especially as falling white birth rates are coinciding with increasing indigenous populations. Whether this is handled through outright subsidies to members of la nation (for giving birth, for living in certain areas, or however it is explained) or else through capitulation to the dictates of globalized capital i do not know… anyone know which radical left groups have even a toe-hold in les régions?

(Of course, there are also regions where industries may remain viable and the proletariat may remain overwhelmingly Québecois – these will be areas where the radical left should struggle hardest, as here it will be of critical importance whether the idea of “national solidarity” wins out or whether the proletariat here identifies more with the increasingly immigrant and overseas proletariat exploited by the national bourgeoisie.)


***************

So there – again – is a rough idea of where i’m thinking. Less rough than what i wrote a few days ago, and for that i thank Phebus and the other people who let me know what they thought of this.

Please – do let me know what you think!

sketchythoughtssketchythoughtssketchythoughts

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